Editorial: What New Paradigm?
by Herb Drake

Copyright (c) 1998, Herb Drake.

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Have you discovered the new "paradigm speak" that has captivated the churches today?

Well, I think I've tracked down the origin of this little Greek word. No, it's not in the New Testament--when the NT wants to convey that idea it uses typos. But if you want to hold your own when talking to denominational program types, you'd better know what a paradigm is.

The present paradigm speak appears to have originated in a small monograph by Loren Mead called The Once and Future Church (Alban Institute, 1991). Mead discovers two paradigms that have worked in church history, both having served their purpose and both now obsolete. The church, he explains, is hurting today because it needs to develop a third paradigm. He does not tell us what that paradigm is, but figures that defining the problem goes a long way toward solving it.

  • The first paradigm is the first century church, which he calls the "apostolic paradigm." The church is an isolated unit within the larger culture, and works against the culture in order to share the gospel and promote God's work.
  • The second paradigm is Christendom, in which the church and state are a single unit, sharing the magisterial responsibility of governing. In this case the church is identical with the culture, and stands against those who are outside the borders of the state and accomplishes God's work through national policy.

Dr. Mead does not exactly say why the first paradigm failed--rather, he says that the second paradigm "emerged." Indeed, a good question for Church historians might be, "Did the first paradigm fall or was it pushed?" Perhaps it co-existed for a long time, simply being overlooked by the establishment apparatus that came in with Constantine. My own reading of history is that God kept a remnant--a remnant that would occasionally show up on the pages of history books as an outbreak of anarchy that was put down by stake-burnings and the like.

Mead's outstanding revelation is the admission that Christendom has failed. This is quite an statement, coming from an Anglican clergyman. House church people, of course, have been saying that for centuries--so this book is a valuable one if it serves no other purpose than to bring the rest of the world up to date. But the problem with all this paradigm speak is that it says that it is up to us, meaning modern Christians--and especially those modern Christians that write denominational programs--to create a new paradigm. Now if you're like me, you will have given up on this thesis completely by now, because Dr. Mead has expressed absolutely no interest in seeing what Scripture might say about the matter.

No, we do not need to create a new anything. All that is needed is to recover the old paradigm--the apostolic paradigm--the biblical paradigm--and we will once again have a vibrant, growing, and living church. We will rediscover the church of the New Testament.

We will have the house church.

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