Robert Schmidt, a regular contributor to the online DayStar Journal, has written a paper reflecting on the Anglican missiologist Roland Allen (1868-1947), and the recent republishing of his works. Mr. Allen, who became disillusioned with the missionary methods of his day, proposed missionary work that would be far more independent of western influence. Although considered 'radical' in his own time, his views came into their own beginning around 1960. A brief Wikipedia article can be linked to here which will give you some brief initial background.
Although I actually used Mr. Allen's books at seminary (Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church), my ability to critically examine them was lessened by my lack of mature theological understanding. Reading Dr. Schmidt's article and his recommendation of the application of Allen's methods raises in my mind serious questions and concerns. What follows is my response to his article. My comments are interspersed in italics throughout his text.
ROLAND ALLEN REPUBLISHED
Robert Schmidt (http://day-star.net/journal/4-2-schmidt.htm)
The endnotes are omitted, but may be seen at the link above.
In 2001 this writer had the opportunity to visit with Hubert Allen, the grandson of Roland Allen and biographer of the famed missiologist. Together at Oxford’s Bodleian Library we re-examined Roland Allen’s unpublished manuscript, ”The Ministry of Expansion: The Priesthood of the Laity,” in anticipation of its possible publication. Thereafter we learned that nearly all of Allen’s works were to be republished by Lutterworth.
Why now publish five books written by a missiologist who has been dead for over fifty years? Why, because now the crisis is coming home. Before, in missionary lands there were simply too few ordained ministers for too many parishes and small groups of Christians seeking to worship their Lord. Now in America and Europe there are too many small parishes that cannot afford to pay a pastor.
As a young missionary to Nigeria in the 1960s I was assigned ten churches in addition to teaching at a seminary. Most of the missionaries served thirty churches, and one was responsible for sixty. A quick survey at that time showed that throughout the world there was one ordained pastor for every fourteen congregations. With the rapid expansion of the faith in China and among the Christ Bhaktas in India and the desperate shortage of Roman Catholic priests in the West, there are probably even more Christian groups without the regular services of an ordained pastor.
Roland Allen addressed this crisis in his own time with numerous books and articles. Several of his most famous works were Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?2 and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder it.3 In his writings he argued that church authorities should recognize and enable local elders of congregations to conduct a full ministry of word and sacrament. Not least because of his writings, there have been moves in many denominations and across the world to bless the ministry of the laity and authorize lay people to baptize and preside at the Eucharist.
Roland Allen came out of the “high church” tradition of the Anglican Communion with its great respect for the office of the ministry. As a student he had been inspired by his mentor, Charles Gore, the then principal of Pusey House, later to become the bishop of Oxford. In 1919 Allen asked Bishop Gore to write the introduction to the book Educational Principles and Missionary Methods. Although Gore penned the introduction, it was already clear that there were some tensions between his perspective, formed in the settled, organized church, and the insights of the missionary who had been forced to see things differently. Possibly referring to the position advocated in the book, Gore wondered about the modern lack of the “dogmatic” element in education.
Late in his life Allen penned an unpublished work, The Ministry of Expansion, the Priesthood of the Laity.4 In this book the stress between Allen’s position and the argument of Gore is brought to the breaking point. Yet Allen is careful not to make a radical split with the entire tradition with which he had been raised. In each chapter Allen is careful not to deny the basic points made by Gore. Rather, he argues time and again, those arguments are not applicable in a situation without ordained clergy.
Partly inspired by the insights of Allen and by the sheer magnitude of ministering to isolated groups in Alaska, a group of Lutheran congregations in the 1990s, affiliated with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, began training lay people to lead worship, baptize and preside at Communion services. At the same time some former missionaries sought to legitimize that practice through a resolution to the Northwest District, creating a lay ministry program. When it was clearly seen by the district that in that region it was a choice between lay ministry and no ministry at all, the lay program received the blessing of the district.
DE: This lay ministry program, which is widespread in Synod now, has presented a problem for many in regards to Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, which states that "Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church , or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call." The "call" referenced here is obviously the call to the Public Office of the Pastoral Ministry. Although breaking with Rome, our Lutheran forefathers understood the 'ministry' of the church as ordered around the pastoral office, which the saw as clearly established in the New Testament and mandated by our Lord Jesus. Having lay people lead worship and preside at the Lord's Supper is irregular in the historic practice of the church and clearly not in keeping without our Lutheran understanding of church and ministry.
As much as Allen carefully wished to build his case for lay people to preside at the Eucharist where no priest is available, his opponents then and now argue that if the lay presidency is permitted where no priests are available, what is to prevent a lay presidency at the Eucharist even when ordained clergy are available? And if that is permitted, will it not call into question the whole identity, prerogatives and even financial support of the clergy also in the organized church?
DE: These questions are still valid. Why would a parish want to call a full-time pastor when it could settle for a far cheaper lay minister? In a time of rising costs I can well see how churches will now turn to this option.
This has become still more of an issue in the years since Allen wrote his books. At that time there were huge areas of Africa, Asia, North America and Australia where there were no ordained clergy. Despite the continuing lack of clergy in places like Alaska, opponents might argue that there are fewer of those geographical areas now than there were at his time of writing. Since then, however, a number of other crises have challenged the traditional views of church and ministry.
The Cultural Crisis
The first is the cultural crisis. Christian leaders from many traditions have been those ministering to people of widely different cultures. In Tanzania the Roman Catholic priest Vincent Donovan, inspired by Allen, helped the Masai people come to their own understanding of baptism and the Eucharist. In Columbia Bruce Olson, named “Bruchko” by the Moltilone people, enabled them to understand in their own culture the nature of the Christian faith. In India Swami Dayanand Bharati, a serious student of Roland Allen, found the freedom to make baptism and Holy Communion family rites in a Hindu context. Faced with such huge cultural divides, these visionaries helped the leadership of Christian communities to arise from within the group. In similar situations this may be the only way to provide a relevant ministry.
DE: While I am not opposed to indigenous ministry, I openly wonder if these examples are the most comforting he could give. Holy Communion "in a Hindu context"? If this is the method we are in serious trouble....
This is true not only of far off places. A ministry to African immigrants in the United States within Lutheranism revealed that only eight ordained pastors are serving ninety-two different congregations. In my own experience working with an Oromo-speaking (from central and southern Ethiopia) congregation in the Pacific Northwest, the church thrives with five lay leaders who take turns preaching and leading in worship. Services are in the Oromo language; Oromo choirs introduce new music for Sunday morning services. Were the congregation to have waited for an ordained Oromo-speaking pastor, they may never have begun, nor would they have grown as fast numerically or spiritually.
DE: First, the speed of numeric growth is not the proper motivation for neglecting the establishment and training of the proper ministry. By neglecting the adequate training of pastors we risk also neglecting the theological foundation of this church. Even Jesus and Paul indicated that the foundation is critical. In no other field or profession would we use this excuse. Why are we so much more willing to take chances with the Gospel?
The Financial Crisis
A second crisis challenging the traditional conception of the church and ministry is financial. Many small congregations simply cannot afford a paid ordained pastor. This includes many rural congregations in Europe and the United States. Several years ago while I was in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, the notice came that the government there could no longer afford to support the number of theological students about to graduate. This would mean that many smaller parishes would no longer be served by their own pastor, and pastors in larger parishes would have to work alone in blessing marriages, performing confirmations and burying people.
In Allen’s own Church of England numerous magnificent medieval churches have had to be declared ‘redundant’ and their parishioners invited to travel long distances to reach one of several other churches in the charge of an overburdened ‘team ministry.’ Not surprisingly, many people lack pastoral care and sadly often cease attending church services altogether.
In the United States the crisis is so bad in rural areas that many congregations which cannot obtain the services of a retired pastor or share a pastor with several other parishes will have to close. Even those congregations that do obtain the services of a seminary graduate know that the young cleric will leave for greener pastures after a year or two. In urban areas the situation is not much better. In many urban congregations the membership has eroded with flight to the suburbs and the aging of its most committed members. Now a small group meets in a cavernous sanctuary seeking to reach out to their community while supporting a pastor and keeping the building in repair. However, in both rural and urban areas outreach and social concern for their communities are sapped by the financial burden in supporting an ordained pastor.
DE: It is true that the financial crisis in rural churches is great. However, this is not new, and the solutions to providing pastoral leadership in these churches does not have to rest on simply substituting these men with local laymen to "save a dime." One area that I believe has been largely untapped and unexplored in our Lutheran church is the concept of bi-vocational pastors. The Baptists have been using such a system for many years. We have also not exhausted the older model of multiple parishes, so widely used in the early history of our synod. But to use finances as an excuse to say we can't afford properly trained and theologically trained pastors is to put the dollar before the Gospel. What is our priority?
A third crisis is less visible to churches but more profound. This is the mass exodus of Christians from the institutional churches. This phenomenon has long been recognized in the United Kingdom and on the European continent. It is also shaping the religious landscape of the United States. In a study of the religious preferences of people in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, those replying that they had no religious affiliation were in the clear majority. At the same time most of those same people clearly identified themselves with a Christian faith tradition. Such “churchless Christians” are the fastest growing religious group in the Pacific Northwest and may soon rival other faiths across the nation.
While Roland Allen’s books do not speak directly to this crisis, they open the door for a variety of creative approaches in ministry to this growing, disaffected group. One such pattern is that of a house-church ministry carried out in conjunction with a larger “megachurch.” Already many evangelical churches are using this methodology with great success. However, an even more far-reaching house-church movement is underway across the world which sees the church in small gatherings as the primary form of the church. This may have the potential to reach those who have pursued their spiritual quest through greater sensitivities to the environment as well as those seeking greater economic justice and non-violent solutions to conflicts in the world.
DE: Small "house churches" in our modern context are really not churches at all. Even the Early Church understood the church as the body of believers gathered around the Eucharist in common worship led by a validly called pastor. These house churches only encourage such groups to divert from the Gospel in ways that suit their personal fancy. Take the environmentalists Schmidt mentions, or the social gospel proponents he alludes to. Do we really want this kind of "diversity" in the church?
Near the end of his life Allen wrote The Family Rite. In this essay Allen advocates that the family again becomes the center of the Christian church and its ministry. Church-going families have long realized that church activities often have had the effect of dividing families as the church sought to minister to various age and interest groups. Allen’s insights as well as the ancient Hebrew custom of a home-based Sabbath rite might interest those who continue in the faith without a church affiliation. Centered about the Eucharist at a special family meal, discussions about the purpose of life, the meaning of death and many ethical issues faced by various members of the family might encourage both a vibrant family life and a meaningful faith.
DE: Here one might carefully note the last line of the Wikipedia article referenced above: "His views became increasingly influential, though Allen himself became disillusioned with the established churches. He spent the last years of his life in Kenya, establishing a reclusive church of his own devising, centered on an idiosyncratic family rite. Allen died in Nairobi."
The Ecclesiastical Crisis
The republication of Allen’s works also addresses a fourth crisis. This might be called the “ecclesiastical” crisis. Though lay people easily move between denominations and among congregations, their clergy are usually locked into structures from which there is no escape. Clergy find that their salaries, their retirement, their hopes for promotion or a call to another congregation depend on how they respond to the next denominational crisis. When there is an honest debate about worship, church involvement in national politics, clergy’s sexual preferences or questions of Biblical interpretation, the issues often become political as various sides fight to gain control of the denomination and force others to accept their position.
Now nearly every denomination is wracked by divisions and threats of schism. Few lay people are involved in such conflicts because they have long enjoyed the freedom to accept or reject the teaching of church authorities especially on controversial matters. Because their income and future do not depend on the outcome of these quarrels they may be inclined to be more objective in the debates and more loving to their opponents.
Should some of these same lay people be called upon to preach, teach and preside at the Eucharist, one might see many of these denominational conflicts subside. Since their position is not dependent on a denominational party or seminary, they are most likely to represent the convictions of their congregation. Since few if any would aspire to leadership positions within the church body, personal ambition would not likely be a motivation for continuing conflict.
DE: Schmidt's argument here assumes that trained professional clergy are driven by political ambition and personal security. That may be true for some, but I feel that he sells most pastors short. Lay people may appear more 'objective' because they are more removed and are less interested in the debate at hand. They do not always understand the issues at hand and so they do not engage in the discussion. The institutional structures of modern denominations certainly pose any number of complications to church and ministry, but that in itself is not the reason to abandon them. Schmidt's model would allow local groups to accept or reject matters of theology as they determine, which does absolutely nothing for the overall unity of the church and the consistency of its message.
Such lay leadership within congregations might also serve to heal some of the divisions of Christ’s church. Despite the ecumenical progress made in the last century with the World Missionary Conference, the World Council of Churches, the World Conference on Evangelism and many inter-denominational discussions, many congregations from different denominations at the local level are still badly divided. When warned by denominational officials to watch out for the false teachings of another church, a lay minister recently said to me, “If they only let us alone, I think we could solve the differences between these two churches.” Were the leadership of more congregations made up of such lay people, we might find that congregations might better share the richness of their own traditions and receive the blessings of others.
DE: I beg to differ on how the World Council of Churches can in any way be considered "progress." Schmidt seems to see any difference in the church on theological matters as an inconvenience and an affront to the church, rather than a good faith effort to keep the message of the pure Gospel clear for the sake of the salvation of the lost and strength of the faithful.
There was a revival of interest in the insights of Roland Allen in the early 1960s. The new nations of the world were reclaiming their own heritage and independence. Like the sun, colonialism was setting in the west. Allen had long claimed that many native people in missionary lands had resisted the Christian message not because of its content but because of the imperial practices of the Western churches exercised through seminary-trained clergy. If Allen’s proposals were adopted, perhaps there might be another “spontaneous expansion of the church” across the world.
In Africa, China, India and Latin America this is indeed what has happened, not because of a change in mission policies but because the new wine of the Gospel could not be contained in the old wine skins. Independent native Christian leaders, referred to by Allen in chapter three in The Ministry of Expansion, simply carried out the mission. Using a wide variety of worship forms suited to their cultures, they sang their faith into the hearts of their neighbors. In the West, however, the home of the settled churches, Allen’s proposals were largely ignored. Perhaps the reason was best given by Sir Kenneth Grubb when he wrote that while Allen spoke of how to start from the beginning, he was less clear on how to start halfway down the course. For Grubb and most mission thinkers, change was possible in missionary lands but not at home, where the church and her policies were long established.
However, at the beginning of a new century the chief challenges to the church are not in missionary lands; they are within the churches in the West. Many denominations are aging and losing members; they also are rent by controversy. Rather than representing the ideal of a single apostolic ministry groomed by Christ, professionally-trained and paid clergy are most often responsible for continuing divisions. The most rancorous debates in the church are about such clergy, their education, their upkeep, their gender, their sexual preferences and even their sexual activities. With the vigorous debates about these professional clergy now paralyzing the very life of most denominations, will Christ’s people be able to meet the various crises they face at the beginning of a new century?
DE: Now he lays his cards down: "professionally-trained and paid clergy are most often responsible for continuing divisions." The problem is with the clergy. That's the issue. How sad that he must dismiss the whole ministerium because of his own Allen-like disillusions with current debates and disagreements. Apparently he has not considered how such issues have long been with us, going back centuries even to the earliest church. The problem is not the clergy, it is Satan, the father of lies, who infuses the church with heresy and sells it as modern thinking.
Allen was not sure that the established church as he knew it would be able to make the necessary changes. Near the end of his life he became discouraged. He saw quite clearly that the leaders of most established denominations were uncompromising in their adherence to their traditions of church and clergy. Furthermore, his own conscience forbade him to continue to accept appointments to serve as an interim clergyman because it would just continue to encourage the people’s dependence on the professionally trained and paid priests. If the regular church was not open to the lay celebration of the Eucharist, might Christians return to a more Biblical pattern and celebrate communion in their homes?
While the lay celebration of the Eucharist is practiced by some in house churches and in a few congregations without clergy, it is evident that the great majority of church people are bound in the traditions they have inherited. While many may believe, as they did in the days of Allen, that the people of God can choose their own leaders to communicate the word of God and administer the sacraments according to the Biblical example, few will break with their traditions. The institutions are simply too strong, and the ruts in the road are too deep to make any radical turns. Is there any hope then for a new and reinvigorated faith and life in the church?
Schmidt pits "tradition" against "Biblical example" because he misunderstands the latter. It is clear that he does not agree with the Lutheran church's traditional understanding of church and ministry and considers them contrary to true biblical practice.
Allen would reply, “Only in the Holy Spirit.” For Allen, it was the Spirit who was the motivation for mission; the Spirit could be trusted to lead people into the truth. The Spirit lifted up leaders and invigorated their witness. The Spirit opened doors in the hearts of strangers and provided courage in the face of adversity. Allen believed that his best book was Pentecost and the World, in which he spelled out in detail how the church should trust the working of the Spirit through the Gospel rather than through their ecclesiastical rules.
Some thoughtful Christians, tired of institutional Christianity, are leaving denominations for house churches and their more intimate fellowship. Others remain in the established churches hoping for renewal and reform. Allen’s confidence in the work of the Spirit is likely to be far more important than any form of the church. He would observe that the Spirit’s work can be observed in any shape of the church. In his openness to the leading of the Spirit he celebrated both native prophets and sympathetic bishops. Above all he suggested that the unity of God’s people does not rest in the structure of their church life but rather in the working of the Spirit.
DE: I fear that the "leading of the Spirit" here is a leading not too closely aligned with Word and Sacrament ministry. This is Enthusiasm at its worst, a plague the church has weathered through too often....
Allen argues that lay people be encouraged to celebrate the sacraments so that any small group of Christian can be completely supplied with all it needs to survive and grow as the church. Here he is careful to stress that he is speaking chiefly for those without benefit of clergy. Yet, once Christians realize that God has given the sacraments to the whole church and that each group of Christians can choose who should preside at the Eucharist and Baptism, a marvelous transformation is in the offing. Now a lack of funds need not limit the church from expansion; the ministry of peers can make the church more relevant in a time of cultural diversity. Old wounds between Christians can be healed, that together they can aid the world’s unfortunate. Though long viewed as a radical voice in missionary circles, Roland Allen’s chief contribution to the 21st century may be that he speaks a word of hope. If any group of Christians can be fully the church, no power on earth can prevail against it. Instead such a church can become the leaven in every society, and all of Christ’s people can be empowered to serve.
DE: Well, there you have it: This is an argument for doing church without pastors, period. And I suspect that this will be the continued rhetoric coming from certain quarters of the church for years to come as dollars become tighter and the availability of traditionally trained clergy also is more challenging. I think we need to carefully watch this debate and guard against a continued drift from the rightly established and trained ministry.