The “It’s Western” Ad Hominem Attack

The “It’s Western” Ad Hominem Attack

So, I wrote an article for the International Journal of Frontier Mission in which I state that the pastor-centric model of church we have in the West is Western. You can read the article here: Two Church Planting Paradigms.

Two people are calling me out on that charge. Thanks for doing so! Here is an email exchange for those that are interested:

Hey Ted…just read your article. Thanks for writing it. I think it was helpful.

One question for you…you talk about proclamation and hierarchal leadership as if they are “western” several times in your article. Do you have examples where the primary phenomenon of the church in an eastern context or in the first 1500 years of the church did not lean towards a proclamation or that had a flat leadership structure that is preferred by the CPM model? It seems to me that “western” is used as an ad hominem attack almost subconsciously in these types of discussions…its the one thing you would never want to be…and certainly there is a lot of the phenomenon that is post-enlightentment German university influenced that we should be wary of but I don’t personally see flat leadership structures and discovery models in the east or in church history. In fact, I’d say that the West is much flatter in its leadership structures than the east if you look into East Asia and the Muslim world…it makes me wonder if the CPM model isn’t actually more of a western cultural phenomenon than the proclamation model.

Obviously I’m just thinking out loud here.

– Not buying it

Any my response:

Dear “Not buying it”,

2nd time I have gotten the same question.

Yes, using “Western” could be a problem when considering the vast expanse of the church through history. I would say that you could easily look at the era leading up to Constantine as a non-pastor-centric time in the life of the church.

Other notable “Western” examples could be the conversion of the Nordic peoples, the rise of the Huguenots in France, the Moravians in Bavaria, certainly the early Wesleyans were non-heirarchical, and many Brethren movements. Some consider the Quakers falling into this category as well, but I think sociological studies call that into question somewhat. Better than all of those, though, is probably found in the spread of Christianity among the Celts in the 3rd century. Other than Patrick himself there is virtually no evidence of church hierarchy for almost 300 years following the mass conversion of the Irish. A resource on this movement is the book “The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West–Again” by G. Hunter.

I do think “Western” is the correct term, though, because of the Reformation. The current model of church (which I call “Sola Pastora”) reveals an almost Catholic-like devotion to the idea that one man rules them all.

Consider the use of the term “pastor” in the New Testament. It is used once. It is more likely referring to gifting than an office of the church. If anything, plural eldership is the model of the New Testament and, within that model, there probably weren’t elders on a “per church” basis. I think the most likely scenario that we find for early church leadership is that there were numerous house churches meeting across a city. All of the house churches were loosely connected through relationships, and there were elders appointed in the city, overseeing a network of churches. This is quite different than our current model of the pastor acting as defacto leader and, within the past 30-40 years, the elder board supporting that leadership (a relatively recent phenomena). The Reformation, coming out of Catholicism, reformed theology but didn’t reform the concept of Sola Pastora. In fact, it cemented it.

A great book on early church practice is “The First Urban Christians” by Wayne Meeks. There is a follow-up book on the topic as well, showing how good the academic work in Meeks’ writing was (he wrote about 30 years ago). Another contemporary writer is a prof at Baylor named Rodney Stark. He’s written a bunch on the topic but his best overall work is called, “Cities of God: the real story of how Christianity became an urban movement and conquered Rome.”

The further we get theologically from the Reformation the more likely we get movement (I am personally a five-pointer – I don’t have anything against the Reformation’s theology). The more you get away from Sola Pastora the more likely you will get movements. Look at the growth of the Pentecostal church in Africa (and globally). Congregational Baptists in the early 1800s, and perhaps most important of all, the rise of the decentralized Han Chinese house church movement are further examples. I think that the Han movement will wane now as we see the leadership of the networks get training from the West and teach them that the megachurch model is the model to pursue.

From my study I have concluded that certain elements have to be in place for a movement to occur. One of those elements is grassroots leadership and activism. Without it, you won’t have a movement. Western concepts of Church, flavored by Catholicism and the Reformation’s view of the priesthood / laity dichotomy, is a problem for movements. Within Protestantism as a whole, I do think it comes straight out of the Western, North American, European founded view of pastor as leader.

I think you make a good point about “Western” being an ad hominem attack – I should search for a better term perhaps. But I do think it reflects the reality of who we are as Western missionaries and how we are influencing the global church.

I hope that helps! I think you make a fair criticism and it’s worth discussion.

– Ted

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