Monday, June 29, 2009

Listening to Allan Hirsch

I have at last returned from a long journey back and forth across the country visiting our pastors in conference and I will comment a bit on the input that was given by guest speakers.

Allan Hirsch was the guest speaker in an April conference. Hirsch writes from a background that includes a Jewish heritage and also a denominational heritage from the Restoration Movement as it finds itself in Australia.

In one of his blogs David Fitch includes Hirsch in what he calls a “neo-Anabaptist” movement. Calling Hirsch a neo-Anabaptist may be stretching things a bit but there is certainly some crossover between the Restorationists and the Anabaptists in their claims that it is possible to discover and to present pure New Testament Christianity, or what is sometimes known as primitive Christianity. Thomas Campbell, one of the founders of the Restoration Movement, went from being a Presbyterian to a Baptist, and from there became even more radical in claiming that it was possible to “restore” the church to its New Testament simplicity in governance and in practice. From this effort some of the points restoration churches are noted for emerged such as a denial of creeds, self-government of the local church, and not being regenerated until baptised by immersion (for which the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is seen as the defining model), and in the Church of Christ, no musical instruments in the church.

In The Forgotten Ways Allan Hirsch relies on the restorationist meta-narrative that the New Testament church was pure in all things but at one point in history, identified by him as the conversion of Constantine, everything went wrong, and has continued wrong. This meta-narrative has been challenged since the origin of the Restoration Movement in the very early 19th century and I will not discuss it further at this point. One should note that Hirsch sees a recent exception in the house church movement in China.

So much for background. Personally I find that when I peel back the restorationist meta-narrative that Allan Hirsch has many powerful insights and I think these should be listened to. At the same time, all of his work should be subjected to strong critical thinking. And finally I have this recurring question: is either “neo-Reformed” or “neo-Anabaptist” the place where we want to go?

More to come.