What’s Church for? Church as ‘Body’

Last time I got all nostalgic about the church of my childhood, the fortress into which we barricaded ourselves lest we should get polluted by the naughty world about us and start sinning, God forbid. So imagine the liberation when I grew up a bit, moved on, and discovered St Paul’s doctrine of the Body of Christ.

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The charismatic renewal movement of the late 60s and early 70s will most readily be remembered for its emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit from 1 Corinthians 12. But important though that insight was, I reckon far more significant was the other bit of the same chapter, the rediscovery of which by the charismatic movement provided a major watershed in the life of the church. Before that, you see, religion was a personal and therefore a private thing. This was the spirituality of the Anglican 8 o’clock Communion service, where the Lord’s Table was a table for two, where you ‘made your communion’, and if possible escaped without any human interaction with your fellow-worshippers.  But suddenly all that changed, and one’s spirituality was out in the public domain. Demonstrative and emotional worship, liturgical dance, small groups for ‘sharing’, prayer ministry when you were in need and didn’t mind people knowing it, an emphasis on using your gifts for the benefit of the whole: these and other new ingredients in church life formed the significant spin-offs from the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

The musical backdrop to this movement within the church consisted of short, simple and emotional ‘choruses’, often about how much we all need one another. People like David Watson in York were putting their lives where their mouths were and experimenting with community living, and ‘faith-sharing teams’ were going on the road to spread the gospel of every-member ministry to other churches not quite so far down that road. They were heady days, and great fun to live through.

But with hindsight, whilst I rejoice that one small chapter of the Bible could so radically affect the church in such a short time, I can’t help but ask myself the question ‘Why?’ Try as I might to remember, I’m not sure exactly what gospel we were living and proclaiming in those days. If anything it certainly was a gospel of personal salvation, but I think the ‘get baptised in the Spirit’ agenda was more dominant. It was a time of great internal church renewal, but I’m not sure at that stage that we had much to offer those outside the fold. All that was to change, and maybe we needed a period of getting our own house more in order, but on reflection I wonder if it all seemed a bit navel-gazing and self-obsessed.

So how well did the church in Britain learn the lessons from that era? Pretty well, actually, I would argue. Most of us do now believe that worship at least ought to be a bit inspiring from time to time. Most churches would have some sort of homegroups or study groups, even if only for the weeks of Lent. Every-member ministry has become de rigeur pretty much everywhere, at least in theory, and many churches would at some time or other offer some kind of prayer ministry. Some would argue that the charismatic renewal movement peaked and died as a movement not because it failed but because its work here was done. But I’m still left with the nagging suspicion that in spite of all that, many of us are still not sure what we’re meant to be doing with it all. If God was preparing his church, we’re not quite sure for what, exactly.

How far are the lessons learnt from this era part of your church’s life?

To what degree is your spirituality and its expression public property?

If you lived through this era in church circles, what are you fond and disturbing memories of it?

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