The Celtic Way Of Mission:

 Leaders of the world-wide Forge church planting network invited Scott Brennan and myself to lead a global webinar on this subject. In my case I had my hand on my heart (see last week’s blog). This prompted some interesting questions:

Question 1: What is the celtic church?

My answer: Celtic Church is a short-hand term dismissed by scholars because, as was agreed in the 381 Council of Nicea’s Creed, there was world-wide  ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’. However, people like Ian Bradley and myself identify the Christian church in lands that spoke a Celtic language between the 5th – 7th centuries as having some distinctive characteristics. At a time when the church within the Roman Empire was taking on the machinery and mind-set of empire, the way of Jesus spread in Ireland (always outside the empire) and Britain (outside the empire from 410) in ways that were more indigenous. I like to call the stories of this amazing Jesus wave ‘The Acts of the Apostles Volume Two’.

Question 2: Why is this relevant to us?

My answer: If there is one period with which the 21st century can be compared rationally it is that of the fifth century: the emergence from an old civilization (Rome) into a long period of disjointedness and incoherence. Now the Christian church at one level is just one of a hundred balls kicked around the marketplace, but at another level, at first unseen by the populations, holding and building bridges for Jesus’ new civilization of love.


Question 3: Could you explain some of the markers, the ways and culture of the Celtic Church?

My answer: These Celtic Christians have been described as God-intoxicated.  They were engined in part by the desert fathers and mothers within the empire who fled the second hand churchianity of the towns to live as solitaries or groups of hermits in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, to make way on the eight deadly sins and cultivate a life of prayer and selfless lover. They became a magnet for seekers from the towns and they received each guest as if they were Christ. Although the Celtic lands developed multi-purpose tribal villages of God many also became green equivalents of the desert Christians – they practised an ascetic way of life that was yet infectious.

Question 4: What can we learn from Saint Aidan about post-colonial ways of mission?

My answer: This Irish monk sent from Iona to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons in northern England in 635 – known as the apostle to English-speakers -

a)     did not ask potential converts to adopt the culture of the evangelists’ countries as had the Roman missions and the leader of the first failed mission from Iona who asked people to leave their homesteads and come to alien royal centres.  Aidan refused the king’s offer of a royal horse, because only top people had horses and he did not want to be above the peasants. He walked everywhere in peasants clothing.

b)    He and his teams befriended and listened to the locals. They invited them to tell their stories about themselves. Only if invited did they tell their stories. They memorized the Gospels and psalms so that spoke out of the living Word in their hearts, not out of a book which no one else could read. Later Aidan’s recruit for women’s monastic villages, Hilda, inspired the first pop singer in English to sing Bible pop songs.

c)      Aidan sought to establish models of God’s kingdom on earth in the form of seven days a week monastic villages of God which had learning, praying, farming, eating, artistic scripting, guest, craft spaces. The first was at Lindisfarne.

d)     He introduced the Gospel not as a creed but as a way of life that was holistic. So he spoke truth to power. Bought slaves their freedom. Inspired rulers to act justly.

e)     He lived what he talked about. He lived a rhythm of prayer, work, soul friendship and retreat, creation care and learning, healing, prophetic challenge and love of the poor.

 Question 5: But we are missional – what’s the point of being contemplative?

 My answer: Because to do God’s work my way, without reflection on what is God’s way, is like building houses on sand. The pharisees traversed the world to gain one disciple but they failed to love the person next to them.

Posted at 12:45pm on 3rd June 2021
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