Colin Crouch, Post Democracy and Grass Roots Church Movements

My guess is that when Colin Crouch, Chair of the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence, penned his short but absorbing book Post-democracy he was not anticipating that it would, in part, inspire thought about the nature of the Christian church.

When reading, however, I was struck by one paragraph that seemed to have a direct application to the idea of the church as a movement rather than an organisation.

Against the backdrop of the numerical decline in the manual working classes in Western societies and, as Crouch sees it, the related decline in mass concerted political action emanating from those social groups, he notes one movement that has bucked the trend of growing political passivity in recent years: namely, the rise of the feminist movement. Alongside the green movement, it has, says the author, "constituted the most important new instance of democratic politics at work" in recent decades.

The paragraph that struck me as having something to say (indirectly) about the church was as follows:

"Starting with small groups of intellectuals and extremists, it [feminism] spread to express itself in complex, rich and uncontrollable ways, but all rooted in the fundamental requirement of a great movement: the discovery of an unexpressed identity, leading to the definition of interests and the formation of formal and informal groups to give expression to these. As with all great movements, it took the existing political system by surprise and could not be easily manipulated. ... It is characteristic of a true major social movement that it takes a confusing and sometimes contradictory multiplicity of forms."

Those of us who have a longing to see a mass movement of Christian life which significantly effects the social and cultural landscape of our communities and nations, may wish to reflect on these ideas:

1. Mass Christian movements often start at the fringes and are easily dismissed or ridiculed in their early stages. While we look back with awe at, say, the Wesleyan movement of the C18, we do well to remember that in origin it was quirky and led by a small band of prayerful extremists.

2. A great movement requires the "discovery of an unexpressed identity". While we can rejoice wholeheartedly in the recovery across the Christian church in recent years of an appreciation of the grace of God in regard to the believer's righteous standing in Christ, his freedom from condemnation and law and the power of the new birth to deliver from slavery to sin, there is perhaps yet "more light" to be shed on the implications of this truth for our corporate life together. The discovery that, since I am in Christ, I am one with you if you are in Christ and that, when we meet together, Christ himself is present with us, no matter how few in number we are, is a truth whose power is, perhaps, waiting to be fully realised.

3. This discovery, that we the church have a shared identity and shared life waiting to be fully expressed beyond our current experience of church meetings and organised events could, according to Crouch's model, lead to the "defining of interests." Our interests as Christian believers include encouraging one another to grow in God's grace, caring deeply for one another and sharing our lives together in fellowship. Our interests include living holy lives for the glory of God.and seeking Christ's Kingdom in our lives, our families and in wider society . Our interests include a detachment from worldly priorities and a longing for the "appearing" of Christ at the end of the age when we shall be united with him forever. Our interests also include a desire to make Christ known to others by word and deed and to seek the advance of his kingdom throughout the nations.

4. The discovery of these interests could lead, in turn, to the formation of groups that give expression to them. Groups of believers who meet to pray, to feed on Christ through his word and through the sacrament of the Lord's supper, to share our lives together and to care for, teach and encourage one another. Groups where we learn from God's word and where true discipleship takes place which shapes everything about us. Groups which non-believers attend and in which they witness supernatural occurrences as the Spirit of Christ distributes gifts and manifestations to build up the members. Such groups might vary in size, in time and frequency of gathering and in numerous other secondary matters. I know what you're thinking - it sounds bit like the church we read of in Acts.

5. Such a movement could take existing systems by surprise. A system that has for so long been leader-centric could find that anyone and everyone is hosting and starting groups without asking for permission. We could find that, just as unnamed believers fleeing persecution first took the gospel to Antioch and into the Gentile world (see Acts 11), we could today see ordinary believers who have regular full-time jobs in offices, schools or factories breaking into new people groups with the good news in our multi-cultural cities and that new churches are appearing who sing the praise of Jesus Christ in Somali, Arabic and Polish. Although we may think we would rejoice in these untidy developments, we may in reality find ourselves nervous about these uncontrolled events, in similar ways to the reaction of European Catholicism 500 years ago when the reformers promised to translate the Bible into the common languages and place it in the hands of ploughmen and weavers to read and obey as their conscience taught them.

6. The fact that such a movement cannot be manipulated indicates how different it is from other structures that may exist within a society. In particular, such a mass movement is in nature quite different from a corporation or a firm, particularly as they increasingly exist in the Anglo-American economies. Such firms, which tragically (to my mind) some churches have sought to imitate, have a product or products, streamlined delivery and marketing systems, multiple layers of managers and highly powerful senior executives, the CEO being at the top of the organisation. All of which can make them efficient but also controlling.

Let me speak plainly.

I see a growing movement of believers developing outside of traditional church structures - and even outside of "new church" structures. Some of these believers are discouraged. Others are weak. And some, frankly, have significant gaps in their theology and practice. Most of them love the Lord Jesus but have fallen out of love with their previous experience of doing church. Many are longing for a way of being the church together that is highly relational, flexible and "in life".

I also think that those with gifts of leadership, teaching, pastoral care and apostleship would do well to serve these scattered believers with the word of God and with their gifts.

I'm reminded of the advice that Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones gave to the late Henry Tyler, a founding elder of what is now Church of Christ the King in Brighton. After finishing Bible college, Henry, who I knew personally, was considering taking on the pastorate of a Baptist church. Lloyd Jones urged Henry to "stay among the house churches" that were emerging in the 1970s and to teach them the word of God.

A similar phenomenon is emerging today. I hope that those outside this emerging movement who are leaders have the wisdom of Lloyd Jones as they look on and consider their response.

I have written a review of professor Crouch's book here.


Revivalfire said...


I noticed that you left a comment on the newfrontiers bloggers website and that you used to be a newfrontiers church planter.

I've been considering getting involved in newfrontiers I've also been studying organic church etc

I'd be interested to hear about your experience at newfrontiers as well as your current thoughts on church and church planting.

my current website/blog can be found here

jtrasa said...
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jtrasa said...
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