Lately, I’ve been considering that the commitment to give oneself to the spiritual care of a particular locality and the zeal to do so are cooperative. Zeal for evangelism is a kindled sense of duty to one’s neighbor. It will impel a Christian to go after him, precisely because he will never come himself. Commitment to a locality is the product of this zeal. Yet, that very commitment can serve as the stimulant to our zeal. Let’s face it: few if any of us are always evangelizing with full wind in our sails. But to know that we are bound to our neighbors and are appointed for their deliverance draws us to our fulfill our duty, even when our hearts aren’t in it. And by following through in faith, God can reignite the passion once again.
Archive for February, 2009
Here’s an intriguing biography of a 19th century Scottish missionary, Alexander Somerville. The following passage is illustrative of the visitation evangelism promoted in the Church of Scotland and also performed by his colleagues, the Bonar brothers and Robert Murray M’Cheyne:
The Students’ Missionary Society, founded by John Wilson of Bombay, continued to meet every Saturday morning of the session; and the meeting for prayer, in which none were more earnest than the three friends. They were impelled by the spiritual instincts of the new nature to work for Christ as well as to worship Him, and founded a Visiting Society for the poor and churchless of the High Street, from the Castle Hill to Canongate and Holyrood. Here Somerville first began home missions, but in a way which other earnest students would do well to imitate. ‘Our rule was,’ writes Dr. A. Bonar, ‘not to subtract anything from our times of study, but to devote to this work an occasional hour in the intervals between different classes, or an hour that might otherwise have been given to recreation. All of us felt the work to be trying to the flesh at the outset, but none ever repented of persevering in it.’ So thorough was Alexander Somerville in the visitation that he kept a book in which, on a page given to each of forty-seven families or persons, he recorded the date of each visit, the passage of Scripture read, the subject of his talk, and the apparent results” (George Smith, A Modern Apostle: Alexander N. Somerville, D.D. 1813-1889, London, 1891, pp. 13-14).
Now here’s some hands-on practical theology for zealous seminarians!
Here’s a great quote from Thompson’s Parish and Parish Church (1948 ) concerning the flexibility of the old parish principle to the modern urban context. While it was written from within the milieu of the established Church of Scotland, I would suggest that the idea carries over:
“The problem which faces the Church, therefore, is mainly confined to large towns and cities, and it is twofold: how to organize itself so as to minister effectively to these communities as a whole, and not in piecemeal fashion and with indiscriminate or overlapping agencies; and how to revive in them that intimate sense of community which has been so largely dissipated and all but lost.
“In general, and with many practical suggestions in detail, the solution proposed for this twofold problem is an emphatic endorsement of the territorial system along parochial lines, and its thorough-going application in every type of community large or small. The territorial system is described as a cardinal principle of the Church, and the parish remains as the territorial unit. Every ‘several kirk’ should be a parish church, and should bear that name, with a parish of its own as its special field, to be cultivated intensively by regular and systematic parochial visitation, and by all the agencies for old and young with which the Church can foster the spiritual, social, and cultural life of the community. This of course has always been the ideal, however imperfectly it may have been realized. Its significance in this connection is that it is put forward as the best, and indeed the only, plan which can be devised whereby the community as a whole can be evangelized, brought under Christian influences, and enabled through a common fellowship to share consciously in a finer and fuller quality of community life. The age-long method of the Church has been emphatically reaffirmed.
“To meet the special conditions in large towns and cities various expedients are proposed. These are prefaced by the readjustment of the Church’s agencies and the realignment of its forces – a process which has been in operation and must be steadily kept in view. Parish churches and parishes must be as nearly as possible in the midst of that portion of the community which they are meant to serve. Given that fundamental premise, three main suggestions are made whereby the work of the Church and its impact upon the community may be unified and strengthened, and the community itself be made practical aware not only of the unity of the Church but of its own unity.
“These are (1) the grouping of parishes into what is styled a ‘Common Parish,’ and close co-operation among their churches in united services, common evangelistic efforts, and joint meetings of office-bearers to discuss local problems; (2) the formation of Church Councils in towns of 50,000 and under, composed of four representatives from each congregation, to plan and organize united efforts, and to see that no interest of the community is overlooked and no essential service left undone; and (3) the appointment of team ministries where circumstances seem to demand it, each minister having his own distinctive office and function, but all together responsible for the work of the Church from a common center and over a wide area.
“Two outstanding features of this survey have a special relevance to the subject of this book. This first has already been noted – the emphatic endorsement of the parish as the territorial area in which the Church can most effectively exercise its ministry and fulfill its mission. Under modern conditions the parish remains the organic unit of the Church’s life and work, as it was in the earliest days of the Faith, and as it has continued to be throughout the ages. The second feature is no less noteworthy. It is that the parish is not a rigid but a flexible conception. It never has been stereotyped, either in respect of its size and population or in respect of the ecclesiastical agencies and methods at work within it. It is adaptable to changing conditions and changing methods, just as the Church is which has used it as its chosen instrument. What is essential is that, however modified, it consist of a defined area and community, with the Church in the midst as the spiritual power-house of the communal life” (288).