Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Church & Parachurch on Campus 2

In The UCCF article (http://www.uccf.org.uk/resources/articles/Ecclesiology.pdf Mike Reeves (I understand he wrote it) points to two different sources who, for different reasons believe that outreach to students should be the responsibility of a local church.

1) Steve Tibbert from New Frontiers (a charismatic & reformed denomination in the UK, rather like Sovereign Grace in the USA) writes in "What's Wrong with the Para-Church" http://www.newfrontiers.xtn.org/magazine/Volume2Issue14/article_index.php?id=400 :

My concern is to do with so called para-church organisations – mission-focused organisations disconnected from church life. I honestly believe that these organisations are set up with a desire to reach people for Christ, but while in the short/mid-term they see real evangelistic fruit, in the end they create a context where the local church feels little responsibility for mission...

University Christian Unions can be another example of such a separation. A close friend of mine enjoyed the CU at university but got disconnected from local church life, so that when university finished she was no longer involved in regular Sunday worship and for a number of months she stopped attending church...

Steve is not saying that there is no place for the parachurch (after all, his church is affiliated to or uses the resources of New Frontiers, Evangelical Alliance & Alpha). His complaint is more nuanced.

I am aware that such organisations as Wycliffe Bible Translators or Missionary Aviation Fellowship do specialist work that a local church cannot do; my concern is more with para-church organisations taking over the responsibilities of the local church. We must work to restore the church to its God-given purpose.

2) Similar concerns are shared by another grouping that the article quotes, though a slightly different analysis is given. The quotation is from someone from Church Student Ministries www.churchstudentministries.org/ (though no citation is given, and I have been unable to find the article online)

This argues quite the opposite, that a CU is a church. The problem is that a CU is simply ‘church done badly’. One proponent of this position puts it like this:
  • UCCF states ‘Our strategy is to grow a witnessing community of students on each campus.’ … By any Biblical definition that I can come up with ‘A witnessing community’ that is seeking to share the gospel and build up believers is a church. Therefore CU’s (sic) in their present form are on campus, student orientated churches.’ So, he asks, ‘what will be the difference between the two churches that we are asking students to attend?’ (That is, the CU-church and the local church.) First, he says, ‘Churches provide more mature leadership.’ Here he quotes 1 Timothy 3:2 (‘the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, selfcontrolled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…’) to conclude: ‘These are the characteristics that we would be looking for if we were appointing someone to church leadership. These are the criteria that are been (sic) sought in CU presidents. To the suggestion that CUs don’t have elders he responds: ‘my whole point is that we ask students to fulfil the role of elders without the qualifications of elders.’ He says: I hope that folk at UCCF would see that while most would agree in principle with the Priority of the local church the present structure and activities of a CU as set out by UCCF make that practically impossible to achieve. Pragmatically the message given is, be involved in everything at CU, and Oh yes do go to church on Sunday to meet some old people. (Slight parody perhaps!)"
    To correct that, he hopes to see ‘A Bible teaching local church committed to student
    work in every university or college town and city in partnership with a Christian Union
    that ran evangelistic meetings… The CU becomes the mission arm of the local
    church.

Actually, the positions of both the New Frontiers and the Church Student Ministires articles are very similar. Both agree that the CUs are doing what should be done by the local church. The NFI article is saying that they are doing so without being a church, but end up weakening the church. The CSM article is saying that they are effectively being very unhelthy churches.

As my previous post makes clear I am confident that CUs are not churches, though I understand what the CSM article is getting at. If they are not a church, why do we so often treat them like a church? Why do we have men (& women) aged 20/21 being given teaching and leadership responsibilities with the influence and responsibility equal to that of elders in a local church, when we would not consider them to be qualified for eldership in the local church?

So, we have 2 issues that need answering.

1) How can one have a parachurch on campus that doesn't weaken the local church.

2) How can one have student leadership on campus that doesn't have the responsibilities of elders without their qualifications.

In a later post, we will see how Mike Reeves from UCCF answers.

1 comment:

thebluefish said...

Mike, you'll find that three guys over here are talking through this issue as well - Gareth Russell, Tim Suffield and Luke Wood. Worth seeing what they have to say.