Dangerous Fraternal Conventicles

Andrew Fulford discusses what, according to Stephen Garber, very often differentiates those Christians who stay faithful from those who abandon the faith along the way:

Firstly, the faithful ones found answers to objections to their faith. They were able to hold their faith together with reason, and with honesty regarding the facts. Secondly, they found mentors or teachers in the faith, who were able to model for them what it meant to live out Christianity as a mature human being. Thirdly, they found a community, or friends, with whom they could live out their faith in mutual support.

He then considers fraternities as a way to implement the third factor, that of community.

Yet, congregations should not shoulder this burden by themselves. A real weakness lurks beneath the recent push among groups like Evangelicals, Emergents, Missionals, Postliberals, etc., to subsume every part of the mission underneath the visible and institutional church (that is, insofar as they do indeed succumb to this attitude; I am sure there are many counterexamples that do not). It is a mistake to think everything Christians do must be done as an official ministry of local congregations, or networks of congregations in what we call denominations. The Reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, and on the importance of vocation in the non-ecclesiastical realm, remains salutary for us today.

So, are there other ways, beyond the ministries of the institutional church, that Christians could provide these three faithfulness-producing causes for themselves? Here’s one idea I have been mulling over. I think Western believers ought to really consider reviving fraternities.

But they could be seditious conventicles! All the good order of the Church would be overthrown by meetings not controlled by the clergy!

Surely a Little Gidding would present a grave danger to society, threatening the levelling of relationships in the Church to the single Christian call of equal love. Such rogue small groups are not to be tolerated, and it behoves our pastors to steer their flocks clear of fraternal wolves. Society, after all, is what the clerics say it is.


7 responses to “Dangerous Fraternal Conventicles

  1. Haha, that’s exactly how the monastic movement was viewed.


    • Universities might be the best place for a robust culture of fraternities to begin and spread to other settings. Of course there’s always ΑΓΩ, which says no to premarital sex because it leads to dancing.


  2. It is ironic that some of the more conservative Protestant circles encourages us to read our bibles by ourselves daily but once we want to read it in a group with our friends, our competence to read the Scriptures miraculously vanishes and we need the supervision of our clerics. Good grief, whatever heretical thoughts should come to our mind when reading with our friends! But when reading by ourselves we somehow are protected by a chrism of orthodoxy … I honestly think it would be more honest to just ban us altogether from the Bible prereformation-style and censor all Scripture reading without the clergy, alone or in groups, than to go through such contortions of reasoning.

    Incidentally, I find it curious that this need for clerical policing of the ecclesiastical borders goes hand in hand with a “high church” revival in Protestantism and their emphasis upon the Christian “community” as the locus of the faith and Gospel. Needless to say, we are not Roman Catholics, how this “community” is to be identified is not self-evident, and well, bad habits die hard, and we can’t help lapsing into clerical definitions of the Church.


    • Agreed on the priesthood of all believers. Somehow we must affirm the classical Two Kingdoms doctrine – wherein both ecclesiastical and civil estates are parts of the temporal order, not properly of the spiritual – and the orderly role of the clergy in guarding the Church from false doctrine. I think what this demands is an encouragement of fraternities and conventicles, as Andrew suggests, while the clergy also step up their efforts to (as Alastair Roberts puts it) ‘employ sacred violence without pity in the service of God’s holiness’.


  3. Nice post.


  4. Pingback: Good Conditions for Fraternities at Universities | Cogito, Credo, Petam

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