Mixed economy church refers to fresh expressions and 'inherited' churches existing alongside each other, within the same denomination, in relationships of mutual respect and support.
The Jerusalem and Antioch churches in Acts offer a way of thinking about this. The Jerusalem church was rather like today's 'inherited' churches, whereas the Antioch church was closer to fresh expressions. Ray S Anderson (in An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, BRF, 2007) highlights the conflicts between the two churches. We would also emphasise their mutual respect and inter-dependence.
The Jerusalem church had parallels with 'inherited' churches today:
It had a 'you come to us' mindset
It emerged among Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from across Europe to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 2.5), and its early growth was based on people coming to Jerusalem from the towns nearby (Acts 5.16). Its first instinct (though not its last) was that Gentile converts should conform to its way of being church - 'become like us'. There was strong pressure - largely resisted - for Gentile converts to be circumcised and to observe other ceremonial practices (Acts 15.1-21; Galatians 2.11-16).
It developed effective mission to its hinterland
In particular, Philip and Peter travelled in Samaria and Judea preaching the gospel with considerable fruitfulness and encouraging the new believers (Acts 8.1-40; 9.32 - 10.48; 21.20). The Jerusalem church pioneered missionary work. Many parts of the inherited church today remain highly fruitful in reaching their 'hinterland' - people who have been brought up within the orbit of church but have ceased to attend. Conventional forms of evangelism and church planting can be effective in drawing them back.
Jerusalem even bore some fruit beyond the Jewish and Samaritan populations
Think of the Gentile Cornelius. Inherited church can point to similar, if limited, fruitfulness beyond its hinterland.
In fact, the 'Cornelius event' reveals the Jerusalem church to be willing to take a huge risk – bigger in terms of 'cultural change' than anything else the Christian mission was to face. For they changed the whole of their mindset about who could be 'in' – on what basis?- a trance, and an experience of seeing the Spirit fall on a small group of people! And when you consider that they'd heard Jesus say he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel – well, it must have been some debate!
Sue Hope, Priest in charge St Paul's Shipley and Adviser in Evangelism for the Bradford Diocese
Indeed, it was missionaries from Jerusalem that set in motion the train of events that led to Antioch becoming a base for the first Gentile mission. As inherited churches resource fresh expressions, might they not be sowing the seeds of effective mission beyond their hinterland?
Jerusalem had a more traditional mindset than Antioch
It had a strong emphasis on being true to its Jewish inheritance. Jewish converts were 'zealous for the law' (Acts 21.20). Though causing division at the time, this love of tradition has proved a great blessing to the church. It gave Christianity deep Jewish roots. In a similar vein, the traditions of inherited church can greatly enhance fresh expressions today. Emerging Christians can be rooted in a rich history of faith.
The Antioch church, on the other hand, was more like fresh expressions:
It was a base for 'we'll come to you' mission
Rather than waiting for potential converts to come to Antioch, it commissioned Paul and Barnabas to plant churches across Asia Minor. In doing this, it was faithful to its own origins in 'we'll go to you' mission. Jewish converts from Cyprus and Cyrene had gone to Antioch and evangelised the Greeks, reaching people who had been ignored by the original Jewish missionaries (Acts 11.19-20).
It bore much fruit beyond Judea and Samaria
Antioch reached Gentiles whom the Jerusalem church was unable to connect with, just as fresh expressions - we pray - will increasingly serve people beyond the reach of inherited church. In doing this, the Antioch church developed new patterns of leadership and worship. For example, it seems that Christians would gather together for a meal, to which everyone was invited and in which there might be a talk about Jesus. Those who were baptised would then go on to a second stage, when they took the leftover bread from the meal and celebrated communion. (We are grateful to Dr Alan Garrow for pointing this out).
This was not so different to Somewhere Else, Liverpool's 'Bread church', where people spend the day making bread together and those who want have a separate time of reflective worship before lunch (Barbara Glasson, Mixed-up Blessing, Inspire, 2006, p40).
- Story: Somewhere Else
It created new theology
Notably by Paul, as he addressed the pastoral concerns of his new churches. Likewise, some within fresh expressions seek to interpret the gospel afresh for today's culture - not creating theology on a par with Scripture, but freshly interpreting Scripture for people coming into faith.
Yet both churches were inter-dependent.
They respected each other
The growth of the Antioch church, especially among the Gentiles, provoked a double-edged response from Jerusalem. On the one hand (reading between the lines), it seems that the leaders wanted to see if the growth was from God, and on the other, if it was, they wanted to encourage it. So they sent Barnabas, the encourager (Acts 11.22-23). Here was inherited church, if you like, both holding a fresh expression to account and supporting it.
This pattern was repeated after Paul's first missionary journey. When a dispute arose in Antioch about circumcision, Paul and Barnabas, along with the rest of the Antioch church, sought the blessing of the Jerusalem leaders for the line they were taking (Acts 15.1-3).
Given their relationships with Jerusalem, Antioch believers wanted to resolve the dispute in fellowship with the apostles and elders at the centre. They made themselves accountable because they felt connected. In turn, the Jerusalem church listened carefully to the representatives from Antioch (Acts 15.4). Its leaders had the spiritual insight to recognise God at work, give Paul and Barnabas their support and seek not to burden the new churches with too many requirements (Acts 15.28) - an example that denominations would be wise to follow today.
Whereas Jerusalem had provided Antioch with a spiritual gift by sending Barnabas, Antioch sent a financial gift to Jerusalem when Judea was threatened by famine (Acts 11.27-30) - a precursor of the financial gift from Paul's new churches when the Jerusalem church again fell on hard times (2 Corinthians 8.1 - 9.5). Support had become two way.
Interaction between the two created fruitful theology
The Jerusalem church strongly affirmed its Jewish inheritance, while entirely new pastoral questions - such as whether to eat food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8) - were posed by Paul's Gentile churches. Paul, who was at home in both Jewish and Greek-Roman culture, was uniquely placed to bridge the two and create the innovative theology we find in the letters ascribed to him.
Acts 6.7 mentions that a large number of priests believed in Christ. Wouldn't these priests have spent hours discussing how their new faith meshed with their Jewish traditions? No doubt Paul learnt much from these discussions during his visits to Jerusalem, perhaps helping him to make his great synthesis of the Old Testament and Jesus.
New Testament scholar, Eckhard Schnabel, describes how much of Paul's theology was developed in opposition to Judaisers - Jewish Christians who accused Paul of failing to maintain the priority of Israel in the history of salvation and insisted that the Mosaic law remained God's normative revelation (Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, IVP, 2008, pp200-208).
In his letters, Paul reformulated the gospel in response to the Judaisers' criticisms. He offered a Christ-centred re-interpretation of the Old Testament to show that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. It wasn't a case of Paul creating new theology on his own. Fresh perspectives arose from dialogue with his critics.
As pioneers engage both with the traditions of the church and the questions raised by contemporary culture, might they too develop new understandings that will be true to Scripture and enrich future generations? Will it be the very tensions between existing theology and new contexts that produce the most fruitful insights?
The mission of both churches complemented each other
The apostles recognised that Paul had the task of preaching to the Gentiles, while Peter had been called to the Jews (Galatians 2.7). Might inherited church have the task of attracting people within its orbit, while fresh expressions are to serve people beyond?
This pattern of inter-dependence is repeated in Acts
Indeed, it is a major theme. New Testament scholar Loveday Alexander has described a two-fold movement within Acts - a going out in mission and a referring back to centres of the faith. (See Steven Croft (ed), Mission-shaped Questions, Church House Publishing, 2008, pp141-145).
Peter goes out to Cornelius and then explains his actions to his fellow leaders in Jerusalem. He takes the risk of 'submitting his experience to the process of shared discernment' (p144). As a key part of this process, the centre listens to what God is doing on the margins. Listening and spiritual discernment are at the core of accountability
Jerusalem and Antioch have a similar two-way relationship, with shared discernment at its heart. So does Antioch and Paul's new churches, though Loveday Alexander lacks the space to discuss this. From Acts 11.19 onwards, Antioch is more to the centre of Luke's narrative than Jerusalem. Antioch sends out Paul and Barnabas, and they report back first and foremost to the brethren in that church (Acts 14.27-28).
Paul subsequently leaves on his second missionary journey, with the aim of visiting the churches he had planted and seeing how they were getting on (Acts 15.36). As a representative of Antioch, which was still his home base (Acts 15.35), he wants to support his church plants and hold them to account. This going out and referring back relationship appears to be repeated again between Paul's new churches in the larger cities and churches in the outlying areas. Ephesus became a centre when Paul preached for two years in the lecture hall of Tyrannus 'so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord' (Acts 19.10).
One of Paul's converts was Epaphras, a native of Colossae, who returned and evangelised his home city (Colossians 1.7, 4.12). When the faith of the new believers was under threat, Epaphras reported back to Paul, who was in prison possibly in Ephesus and who responded with his letter to the Colossians. This back and forth dynamic in Acts has been central to the church ever since. New centres of the faith emerge. They go out to people in incarnational mission. But there is a referring back process as these new churches form links with the centres that established them.
Loveday Alexander points out that the going out and referring back dynamic in Acts is not a story about vigorous new churches leaving behind tired old centres of the faith - fresh expressions, if you like, replacing stale expressions of church. This might be a Protestant reading of Acts. Nor is it a story about church being dominated by a single centre - about unity based on a central authority. This would be a Catholic version of Acts. It is a story about dynamic church creating multiple centres of authority. Crucially, this authority is exercised through mutual listening and shared attentiveness to the Spirit.
The basis for the mixed economy
Here then is a basis for the mixed economy, a pattern from the very beginning of going out and referring back, of listening to one another and sharing the process of discernment.
Jerusalem and Antioch provide the paradigm. Mutual listening and shared discernment enabled a more traditional and a fresh expression of church to affirm one another, complement each other and recognise that they were one in Christ.
Those who have seen Pirates of the Caribbean know that 'parleying' averts unnecessary conflict. Inherited and emerging churches need to parley! Some inherited churches may regard fresh expressions as pirates, unauthorised privateers ransacking their treasures and waylaying the unwary. Some fresh expressions have little time for structures and processes. But what if the pirates are really pioneers and the processes are necessary safeguards?
Stuart Murray Williams, Urban Expression
But at times, as Ray Anderson emphasises, they also disagreed - sharply! Is this combination of mutual support and disagreement likely to characterise the mixed economy today?
Fresh expressions owe much to the inherited church. Current pioneers have come to faith within established churches, many have received their Christian training from them and some are financed by them. Equally, many inherited churches desperately need effective fresh expressions. They can't reach large parts of society. Might fresh expressions become an Antioch on behalf of Jerusalem?
What I like about Ray's analogy is that both churches - Jerusalem and Antioch - have significant differences which are celebrated and viewed as strategic for the advance of the gospel, and at the same time there is a healthy interdependence that values the relationship between each other. Jerusalem needs Antioch to pioneer new fields and Antioch needs Jerusalem to stabilise and add depth to their pioneering of fresh expressions. It's not a case of 'either/or' but 'both/and'. As it was, so it shall be.
Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi)
For this mutuality to flourish, however, existing churches and fresh expressions must learn to love each other.
Learning to love each other is a process. How can we help it to happen, in our localities and churches? By public affirmation of one another's ministries. By prayer for each other and with each other. And perhaps most of all, by not being threatened by the other, but by concentrating our focus and our energies on the truly 'other' - the 'outsider', those without knowledge of Christ, the task and the field of mission. There's plenty of space and scope for all manner of mission activity out there!
Sue Hope, Priest in charge St Paul's Shipley and Adviser in Evangelism for the Bradford Diocese