am doing a lot of reading right now. More than usual. I have introduced some new volumes for our doctor of ministry students in the upcoming church planting class. Some of them are new to me. I selected them as supplemental reading. I don’t always read supplental texts, but felt I should for this course. We are considering the Biblical and theological framework for church planting, going beyond, or “below” the anecdotal and the technique to mine the rich veins of theological gold that not only inform mission but give it meaning.
One of the books that I’m reading I felt needed to be highlighted. The book is the Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire by Dr. Alan Kreider. I had surveyed the landscape of the book enough to know that it was worthy of a doctoral student’s choosing. I have discovered something far more.
Dr. Kreider demonstrates remarkable scholarship and pleasing prose in what would otherwise be a textbook subject. But with Patient Ferment the reader is welcomed to a world well-known by the author; a world in which the Church grows by waiting, through catechesis, by liturgical order, even mystery (to the outsiders), and by Word, Sacrament, and Prayer . . . and blood.
That the Church went into a veritable spontaneous combustion of growth owes not to a central strategy or to the stagecraft of charismatic clerical comics. Rather, the centrifugal power of the Mission of God in the world, centering on the compelling figure of a resurrected Savior who changes lives, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the only apparent reason the Church grew.
I was reminded of Jesus stealing away early to go pray. The disciples grew irritated with the Lord. “There is gold in them there pews, Lord!” Yet, Jesus resisted their call to seize the moment to launch a movement. He would launch a movement alright. But the movement would be of wonder, of love, and patiently fermenting in the hearts of believers who could not help but invite others to come and see.
I was reminded of the late Martin Thorton’s classic, Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation. The author, a retired professor from an Anabaptist Seminary, certainly doesn’t hide his pacifism or other particulars of his convictions. I respect him for it. His branch of the Christian faith is an important piece of colored atone pressed into the mosaic which is the Body of Christ. His unique faith commitments did not distract from the work. In fact, he sheds needed light on traces if not significant justification for the Anabaptist way in the Patristic period. Tertullian, for instance, compared Jesus to Cicero’s Hercules, and drew a distinction between the bold and the meek, the warrior and the Prince of Peace, “Jesus cursed for all time the works of the sword” (p. 22, quoting Tertullian, On Patience 3.2-8 [Daily, 195-97].
I put this fine volume down more convinced than before that the Church must return to the vision of a parish theology, a theology of locality, and the rule of faith (especially in the Reformed and broader evangelical parts of the holy Mosaic) as being the most powerful means of making disciples the world has ever known. This peerless Patristic investigation makes a persuasive conclusion: Patience does not preclude growth. Rather, Dr. Kreider has ably demonstrated that godly patience produces a spiritually healthy and irrefutably sustainable Kingdom growth.
My doctoral students have a choice of select books to read to fulfill their assignment. I really hope that some choose this one. The Church needs what Patient Ferment of the Early Church has.
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