Sunday, June 11, 2006

The FOURTH Reformation???

Yesterday, Durable Data's Glenn Layne posted a provocative piece on the nature of the church today. I am reprinting it in full for the edification of my readers.


Where are we now? I would suggest that the convulsions in the ABCUSA over the last few years are part of a larger pattern that is indicative of the fact that we are in the Fourth Reformation. Each Reformation was part of a rediscovery of Bibical truth, each overturned the established order and each was associated with a change in technology.

The First Reformation was the one that we came to revere in seminary--the Reformation of Luther and Calvin, the overturning of the oppressive rule and unbiblical teaching of the Roman church. The technological innovation that helped carry this Reformation forward was the printing press. The First Reformation was Eurocentric.THE

The Second Reformation was one of piety and missions. The Pietist movement and its parallels (such as Puritanism) reformed personal devotion while at the same time this era saw the dawn of the world missions movement. The great advance in technology that accompanied this Reformation was long-distance ship travel--especially as the New World (the Western Hemisphere) moved to the center of action. Both Europe and the new European settlements in North America participated in the Second Reformation.

The Third Reformation occurred in the early and mid-20th century. It consisted of two key developments: the rise of Pentecostalism and the resurgance of essential reformational theological developments (the "solas": only faith, only the Bible, only Christ, etc.). That resurgance can be broadly called Evangelicalism. Both brought the supernatural elements of the faith to the fore. Both added fuel to the world missions movement. The technologies association with the Third Reformation were rapid travel (steamship, rail and auto) as well as the rise of radio and the dawn of television. The Third Reformation was centered in North America, but because of its close connections to world mission has had international impact. For example, in many developing nations varieties of Pentecostal churches dominate at least the Protestant side of church.

Now we entered the Fourth Reformation. Historians will probably pin its beginnings to the 1990s. The First Reformation was primarily doctrinal; the Second, devotional; the Third was combined the two with a strong emphasis on missions and evangelism. The Fourth Reformation is building on the first three with an emerging and transforming approach to structure and relationships.

The shape of a new era is always the hardest to see in its earlier stages. This much is clear: the technology of the Fourth Reformation is the Internet. The platform of the Fourth Reformation is both worldwide and in cyberspace. At this stage, it is easier to apply adjectives to the Fourth Reformation than nouns: missional, relational, international, post-modern, and post-denominational.

As at the other Reformations, we can expect some organizations (such as denominations) to be swept away and some new ones to rise, but the new ones will be small, focused and nimble. The era of the big bureaucratic church organization is lurching to an end. We can expect that this will dominate the landscape for the rest of most of our lifetimes.

Your comments on the Fourth Reformation concept are encouraged will form the basis for at least one future posting.

His Barking Dog will be interacting with Glenn's thesis in future postings.

[Again, neither Glenn Layne nor His Barking Dog pretend to speak for anyone, any entity, any organization. We produce our postings for our own therapy and your amusement.]


AmillPresup said...

I don't think you'd be able to find anyone in any country during any time in the past 300 years who didn't see themselves as being in the midst of some huge subsequent Reformation that was worthy of being listed with the Protestant Reformation. Yet, decades pass and these things, in hindsight, are not nearly as significant as they appeared in the thick of them.

I don't believe we are in any special "fourth reformation."

I do believe in Ecclesia semper reformanda and, in that sense, we are in the midst of a reformation.

Let's reform, though; let's don't bail out when needed most.

Were I a blogger, I'd write an article about how the Netherlands used to be a hotbed of Reformed Christianity, but all the Reformed Christians came to Grand Rapids, and now the Netherlands is one of the most godless places in the world. Likewise, a pulling out of the evangelicals from the ABC just leaves us in the same position.

Then again, I'm young, pastoring my first church...not jaded, not tired or burned out... ready to stay and fight even if many of the true saints cut and run.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Dear AmillPresup,

As a matter of fact, I tend to agree with you on movements claiming "Reformation" standing today. The same would go for books proposing a need for a "reformation" in our century. Glenn's piece was provocative and worthy of distribution anyway, as your response proves.

As one of those you apparently think of as "jaded," "tired," "burned out" and favoring a "cut and run" strategy . . . sheesh! Youth truly is wasted on the young. During my first pastorate, I thought I would make a pretty good General Secretary too. Don't assume that we are all in our senescence because we favor moving on from the ABC.

The "semper reformanda" principle does not always work itself out in continuing to stay within a particular modality, sodality, or any specific organization. As I recall, the Protestant Reformation was considered an example of "semper reformanda" precisely because it did insist upon sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, and soli Deo gloria, EVEN though it resulted in an organizational separation from Rome.

Some of us with more than 50 years "in" the ABC have tried all the efforts to work WITHIN the system. Glenn Layne was a General Board member and on the National Abortion Task Force. I served a decade on the Ministers Council Senate, several years as a national vice president (denominational relationships!!!) of the Minsters Council, on the Ministerial Leadership Commission, Executive Committee of the MLC, Chair of the Western Ministerial Leadership Commission, task forces, committees, more than 25 years on my regional ordination standards committee, etc. as well as becoming the CEO of a large ABC affiliated retirement home ministry (following three relatively long pastorates). So, before you judge us all to be jaded, tired, burned out, and ready to cut and run, recognize that there is a difference between a coward who deserts the field of battle and someone who recognizes that further fighting on this particular field is futile.

Thanks for taking the time to interact. May the Lord bless you in this pastorate in abundant and surprising ways.


AmillPresup said...

I didn't insinuate that anyone was a coward...just fighting a battle that you yourself called "uphill" in comments to a previous post.

Like I said (or at least meant to say), I can understand that you are tired of struggling for something that you don't think will ever happen...bailing water in a ship that you're sure is going down. I'm sticking with the ship, though. That's all. I pray that by the time I have fifty years with the denom, I won't have to make the choice of whether to abandon ship or keep bailing...because the ABC doesn't resemble the mess it was fifty years earlier. But then again, that's optimism. I haven't been jaded by years of seemingly fruitless effort (although I've seen a thing or two. I'm not that new to the workings of the ABC or to ministry).

Think about the SBC...not that I condone the direction they've gone exactly, but no one predicted the Conservative Takeover a decade before it happened. Churches were pulling out of what they thought was a hopelessly liberal denomination. But it wasn't.

Northeast Baptist said...

Dear amillpresup -

I'm with you, but we need to regroup after the demise of ABE and withdrawal of PSW.

jesuit spy said...

Is the demise of 20th century institutional denominationalism semper reformanda in action?
As is the separation over gay identity politics.

"The Lord knows those who are his"
2 Timothy 2:19

Joel said...

I liked Glenn's article. The demise of denominationalism cannot come soon enough, IMHO. I do not think that Jesus meant for the church to be split into ineffective factions, squabbling amongst themselves over issues. Should we take the time to discuss and debate the intepretation of scripture to discern what is the truth? Absolutely. We should encourage this kind of respectful debate among Christians.

Should we work to maintain a denominational structure that is a relic of a long gone time? Absolutely not. Things like the willow creek association work because they are voluntary, they are available to anyone, and they assert no control over their members. I think Glenn is right, that we will see more organizations rise up to fill those roles that were once filled by a denomination (publishers of kids curriculum that can be purchased by anybody vs. the sunday school board...) and they will be held accountable by those who choose to use or not use their stuff.

Is it as significant as the reformation? No. Is it as significant as the next two "reformations" mentioned? I think so. It has been underway for a lot longer than the 1990's though. Parachurch organizations have been filling these roles better than most denominations for quite some time now.