Time is an elusive concept. It is something we want to “manage” but often fail at. It’s that which “slips by” and that we work ever so much to “save.” We have slow time and fast time, both based on “savings time.” From about the beginning of our stay on this earth we are taught to worry and be concerned about the “end of time.”
Our jobs want us to “multitask” in order to accomplish more things at the same time. We attend our minds our calendars, and our agenda making sure they are full and hopefully well managed. Some of us like fast food, fast cars, fast women, and fast living. We want our kids to be fast learners. We get up early and go to bed late, and take pills to wake us, and then again to put us to sleep.
Our kids grow up before our eyes. Quickly they begin to live, like us, in the fast lane in so many different ways. And so we race through life with our foot on the accelerator, maybe without really knowing why or where we are heading. And before we know what’s happening to us, we have a foot in the grave.
Our spiritual lives and the churches we attend have also often been captured by this madness. And, as a result, we have, according to C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, the “McDonaldization” of the Church. This has happened because the church itself, influenced by the church growth movement, fallen for the cult of speed. They state it thus
Many churches, particularly those driven by church growth models, come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold. Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a ‘’personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community. 1
This is the thesis that Smith and Pattison have carefully worked out in their book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. The book is about slowing down, looking at those around us, seeing our communities, its peoples, and talking to each other once again. It calls for patience, place, sabbath, and conversation among other things. When this happens we might once again hear more clearly the voice of God. Importantly, it is not a new program for churches to follow.
Smith and Pattison again saying
Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods. 2
They take the reader through chapters concerned with the attitudes of heart and practices of life that will help us to recover a vision of what it means to be Church. For a further idea of what this book is about look here: Contents.
I want to add another book to discuss from time to time, as it works itself out. This one is Broken Lights and Mended Lives; Theology and Common Life in the Early Church by Rowan A. Greer. The author was on the faculty of Yale Divinity School and an ordained Anglican priest. Learning about the faith and practice of the early Church can be of benefit. I realize that we cannot copy their faith, or their practice, because their world was far different from the one we inhabit. However the young Church was a vital one, full of the excitement of something new which they felt to the depth of their being.
Greer’s book is a reflection of this. Today I would like to consider the direction Greer wants to take us, showing what he wants to do, and how he intends to do it. He talks about this in the first page of the Preface where he says
the only thesis of the book is that theology in the early Church was always directly or indirectly concerned with the common life of Christians. From one point of view theologians attempted to put into words the corporate experience of the Church. The Christian story, continuously repeated in the reading of Scripture and in the liturgy, found its focus for the Fathers of the Church in the victorious Christ, the new humanity. …. From another perspective the Fathers sought to use their ideology to explain and to shape the everyday life of Christians. To study the dialogue between theology and common life is to realize … that no broad thesis is possible save to argue that there was a persistent concern with the dialogue.
Now — just for a comment: If we would stop and think about the possibility of prayerfully considering and meditating on the above quotation. Perhaps I’m being far too simplistic, but it seems to me to hold tremendous power and possibility. Are we in our theological considerations attempting to put into words what it is that is happening as we repeat again and again our ancient Scriptures and conduct the liturgy in worship services? How is the victory of Christ happening today in our services? How is humanity being made whole? And just how is this affecting our common life? I have a feeling that we need to consistently talk to each other, in our churches, about what we believe is shaping our life together. We need to find some intentional ways of doing this. Greer, at this point is not doing this. It is my own idea.
He goes ahead to explain his approach by saying that he treats the Fathers of the Church sympathetically. He does this by attempting to enter into and imagine the world of the early Christians on its own terms. He also states clearly that he himself is a convinced Christian. Therefore he admits that he is not an impartial observer, and thus not totally objective in his study.
It may seem that I’m spending too much time on explaining his approach. But the remainder of the book cannot be properly understood without this understanding. In the next posting about Greer’s work, I want to explore this further.
I have come to like the idea of killing off old ideas so well that I’d like to expand it today. In Part One, I suggested that Protestants should give up on a doctrine that has never really worked itself out, even though it started with the best of intention: Sola Scriptura. In Part Two, I want to suggest giving up on the designation Protestant, by letting it die. I’m not sure what this “protest” amounts to in the twenty-first century. What specifically, is still being protested? After all we have taken ourselves out of the Roman Catholic Church, and for a long time have had our own church families, the many divisions of which are called “denominations.” The various denominations are the children our branch of the Church has produced. Each of them has a different name. But they remain in the Protestant family. In leaving the RCC, and starting our own family of churches, we let it be known that there was very little about our former family that we liked. But that was a long time ago. To hang on to the Protestant designation after so many years sounds like a child who many years ago threw a tantrum because of being angry at Papa. He was too demanding, too authoritative, was corrupt, and had some ideas that were damaging to the family. So the reformers walked out in protest and became known as Protestants.
However the Church that launched the protest is all grown up now — or at least ought to be. Therefore it should no longer have the character of the angry Church of five hundred years ago. Many of the arguments that made sense then, no longer work. And if we still have issues with the RCC, they should no longer have the nature of “protest.” And there should not be the need to fight even though disagreements still exist. Now our own family has multiplied into thousands of fragments disagreeing with each other over almost anything. We have serious trouble sharing the same table with each other, or at even having conversation.
So it makes sense to me just to drop the “Protestant” label. It no longer has a usefulness. There is a need to prayerfully look for something else. After all we are Christ’s Church. Our differences with the RCC and with our brothers and sisters of other denominations have become an offense to the world. They are a huge stumbling block. Protestantism needs to die. Some say it is already dead, although I have my doubts.
Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can. …
Protestantism ought to give way to Reformational catholicism. Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints; he insists that salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith and confesses that all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church. …
I urge you to read Lethart’s entire post. What he says has profound possibilities for the unity of Christ’s Church. Let the idea of “Protestant” die.
See also: Without Intent