Helpful Tidbits for the Disciple's Life                                                                               June 21, 2010

Max Weber: Founder of Modern Sociology
My Reflections
The Banqueting Table
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Rarely do I excerpt a book twice in row. Tony Jones's exposition on Max Weber, however, merits the double dip.
For whatever reason, clearly articulating why it is that extrabiblical ecclesial structures are detrimental to church growth is difficult. With so many people succumbing to the effects of foundationalism, it's hard for people to see that manmade systems are not benign: that is, they do have an effect. Below, I give a concrete example.

QUESTION/TOPIC IN FOCUS: Avoiding "routinization" as God builds his church
Max Weber: Founder of Modern Sociology
Excerpted from The New Christians by Tony Jones
Max WeberMax Weber (1864-1920), the founder of modern sociology, famously wrote that the success of capitalism was due in large part to its partnership with Calvinist theology: the strict modesty of Calvinism provided a moral curb to the relentless growth impulse of a free market. Weber, who also wrote extensively about religion, said that religious movements founded initially on the charisma of a leader or leaders will inevitably settle into routine patterns of administration and bureaucracy. The intense fervor exhibited at the genesis of a movement cannot hold for long - soon people want to make a living off of this new way of being religious. They do so by turning religious items into commodities (for example, "sacraments") and then afford themselves a salary to administer those commodities. Weber called this the "routinization of the charisma." His words have proved prophetic in every modern religious movement, all revivals and reformations of Christianity included. The question for [today's Christian leaders] is whether the temptation of routinization can be avoided or whether it's inevitable (2008:186).
My Reflections 
Our God is a God of order. I do not dispute that. As people made in God's image, our natural tendency is to make sense of things, to order things, just like God. A problem occurs, however, when we order things incorrectly. For example, the same hands that built the Temple to God's precise specifications are the same hands, metaphorically, that built the Tower of Babel and fashioned a Golden Calf. Order, to be sure, is good; as long as things are in the right order and ordered via the right means (e.g., Temple good, David building the Temple...well, not-so-good).
In an attempt to facilitate order, the U.S. educational system divides our young people into categories: pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. Coincidentally (actually, there's nothing coincidental about it), conventional churches divide young people along the same lines, creating "age appropriate" ministries for each category. Harmless? No, it's altogether harmful.
Here's why. Structures are not benign: they both send a message and create structures in people's minds by which they interpret new information. What if Paul, for example, told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he was young, but insisted he only minister among people his own age?
As social groupings go, it's true that our teens (another Western concept) have more fun running around with other teens. I do not, after all, want to act silly for hours on end at a water slide park. So, in order to appease our children, we create categories in which, by the world's standards, they'll thrive.
Now, back to Max Weber. Our "charisma," no doubt, is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit breathes and moves and then, because we haven't sufficiently understood God's categories, we try to order God into our cultural (and pagan) boxes. Does it work? Absolutely, if your goal is to build a social club at, say, a water slide park. But if your goal is to further the Kingdom of God, it is an exercise in futility. My charge? First, read the Bible and begin to discern God's categories (think families, generations, and nations). Second, don't be ignorant. Be aware of how your present social groupings are affecting you and your children.
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty (bio)
The Banqueting Table