One of my goals for this blog is to read and reflect on books related to church-planting, discipleship, or anything else like that. It’ll help me get more out of my reading, and maybe you’ll come across something interesting and helpful.
On the recommendation of Bedford Holmes of Zephyr Point, I am making my way through The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G. Hunter III. As we witness the slow demise of Christendom in the western world, it seems smart to study Christian movements throughout history that were successful. The first few chapters were a bit dry – other than the rather startling personal history of Patrick (eventually St. Patrick). Patrick, a Briton and Christian by birth, was captured and enslaved by some Celtic pirates. During his captivity, Patrick’s faith was awakened, and, instead of developing resentment for his captors, he “came to love his captors, to identify with them, and to hope for their reconciliation to God. One day, he would feel that they were were his people as much as the Britons were.” Talk about redeeming grace in action!
Patrick escaped after six years, became a priest in Briton, gathered some fellow Christians, and returned to Ireland to reach the Celts. They developed their evangelistic method on the fly. Reaching barbarians was just not something that the traditional Roman church cared for or attempted. Patrick and his apostolic band came alongside the tribes of Ireland, practicing fellowship and hospitality, and planted churches – possibly as many as 55. “Within his lifetime, 30 to 40 of Ireland’s 150 tribes were substantially Christian.”
I think the most helpful parts of the book so far have been the contrasts made between the “Celtic” and “Roman” ways of doing church. The Celtic Christians were missional (sent to make disciples) to the core. They ordained priests and all manner of leaders as fast as they could raise them up (Patrick reportedly ordained a thousand priests). The Roman church was incapable of imagining faith and church taking place apart from Roman-style civilization, structures, and practices. The Roman church insisted upon control and hegemony. Sadly, after much Celtic Christian success, the Roman way thoroughly subjugated the Celtic way and the latter became a thing of the past.
The chapter I have just read makes a really clear distinction between Roman and Celtic styles of evangelism. The Roman church would present the gospel, ask its hearers to make a decision for faith, and then incorporate them into fellowship. The Celtic model first extends fellowship and hospitality, then ministry and conversation (about the gospel), and finally invites people to faith and commitment. As we think about starting a new Christian faith community, I am 100% positive that we want to follow the Celtic model when it comes to inviting new people into our fellowship!