The liturgy of conversion : evangelism praxis in the Methodist churches of Cape Town

Mostert, Martin (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The problem addressed is why the Methodist Churches of Cape Town do not expand vigorously through evangelism and conversion. The hypothesis is that a careful listening to church leaders and observation of the Methodist Church should establish a clear understanding of the current theory and praxis of evangelism in the Methodist Churches of Cape Town and then, by bringing Wesleyan writings and the thought of relevant theoreticians into critical conversation with those findings, it should then be possible to establish helpful “best practice” criteria for effective evangelism. This abductive reasoning is tested in various ways. Firstly, ethnographic data was assembled through interviews with eleven Methodist ministers currently working in Cape Town. They were both men and women, representing various South African ethno-cultural backgrounds and age groups. These interviews are transcribed and subjected to ethnographic analysis. The general outlines of a contemporary Capetonian Methodist theory of evangelism and conversion emerges. At this point the ethnographic process of iterative discussion is suspended, for reasons of manageability. The second data source is John Wesley’s Journal which is also subjected to ethnographic analysis. Arguments are made for the Journal to be granted greater weight in the interpreting of Wesley’s life and work by the Methodist Church. A parallel Wesleyan theory of evangelism and conversion emerges. In synthesising a grounded theory from these sources, the theory of a “liturgy of conversion” is developed. Agreements and disagreements between the two sets of data are discussed and the liturgy of conversion theory is then aimed at conceptually extending the locus of ordinary, regular liturgy to include the alternatively faithed in spaces between the churches. Based on Wesley’s model, conversational contact with those with other faith commitments is then proposed as becoming part of the ongoing, geographically seamless “work of the people” (λειτουργια). I argue that liturgical processes that occur inside church buildings can also happen outside of them, and that conversions to Christian faith is unlikely if Christians do not attempt to persuade the alternatively faithed to consider converting to it. “Evangelism” is distinguished from “evangelisation”. The ministers mostly seem to view “evangelism” as the formation of Christian disciples to live in ever-increasing conformity to Gospel values. I refer to this as “evangelisation”. However, this study is confined to a subsection of that process, which I refer to as “evangelism” – the persuasion and decision making that initiates the convert into the road of “evangelisation”. I limit my focus to the conversion experience that energises the subsequent process. The issue of the ethics of persuasion turns out to be critical, due to manipulative and coercive tactics used by many Christian communicators. A model of ethically responsible, culturally relevant persuasion is developed, and applied to the processes of a liturgy of conversion. Lastly several pragmatic possibilities are suggested for enabling and enhancing persuasive liturgical contact between the churches and those in their surrounding micro-cultures. Numerous further questions are raised about the process which would require further investigation and testing through the praxis of individual Methodist churches.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die probleem wat ondersoek word, is hoekom die Metodistekerke van Kaapstad nie meer dinamies uitbrei deur middel van evangelisme en bekering nie. Die hipotese is dat ʼn noukeurige waarneming van kerkleierskap en die Metodistekerk ʼn duidelike begrip van die huidige teorie en praxis van evangelisme in die Metodistekerke van Kaapstad sal bevestig. As ons Wesleyaanse geskrifte, die denke van relevante teoretici en hierdie bevindinge in gesprek met mekaar bring, behoort dit moontlik te word om “beste praktyk” kriteria vir doeltreffende evangelisme te bepaal. Hierdie abduktiewe beredenering word op verskeie maniere getoets. Die eerste databron is etnografiese data wat bekom is deur middel van onderhoude met elf geordende Metodistedominees wat tans in Kaapstad in die bediening staan, insluitende mans en vroue, wat verskeie Suid-Afrikaanse etnies-kulturele agtergronde en ouderdomsgroepe verteenwoordig. Die onderhoude is getranskribeer en onderwerp aan etnografiese analise. ʼn Algemene oorsig van ʼn hedendaagse Kaapstadse Metodisteteorie van evangelisme en bekering begin na vore kom. Etnografiese iteratiewe gespreksprosesse moet noodwendig hier prysgegee word weens hanteerbaarheid. Die tweede databron is John Wesley se dagboek (The Journal of John Wesley) wat ook etnografies ontleed is. Die argument word gemaak dat hierdie dagboek meer gewig behoort te dra in die Metodistekerk in die interpretasie van Wesley se lewe en werk. Die benadering lei my na ʼn parallelle Wesleyaanse teorie van evangelisme en bekering. Om ʼn gegronde teorie vanuit hierdie bronne saam te stel, word ʼn teorie van “liturgie van bekering” ontwikkel. Ooreenkomste en verskille tussen die twee datastelle word bespreek en die liturgie-van-bekeringsteorie beoog om die lokus van gewone, gereelde liturgie konseptueel uit te brei om sodoende ruimte te maak vir diegene met ʼn alternatiewe geloofsisteem in die gebied tussen en buite kerke. Binne die Wesleyaanse model word gesprekke met alternatiewe gelowiges gesien as ʼn deel van die voortdurende, geografies onbegrensde “bediening van die mense” (λειτουργια). My argument is dat liturgiese prosesse wat binne kerkmure plaasvind, ook plek het in die wêreld daar buite, en dat bekering tot die Christelike geloof onwaarskynlik is as Christene nie probeer om die alternatiewe gelowige te oortuig om bekering tot Christendom te oorweeg nie. “Evangelisme” (evangelism) is onderskei van “evangelisasie” (evangelisation). Die dominees sien “evangelisme” meestal as die vorming van Christendissipels om meer en meer te voldoen aan evangeliese waardes. Ek verwys hierna as “evangelisasie”. Hierdie studie is egter beperk tot ʼn onderafdeling van die proses, waarna ek verwys as “evangelisme” – die oortuiging en besluitneming wat ʼn bekeerling oorspronklik lei tot die pad van “evangelisasie”. Ek beperk my fokus tot die bekeringsondervinding wat dan die daaropvolgende proses inisieer. Die manipulerende en dwangtaktieke wat tans gebruik word deur baie Christenkommunikeerders maak die kwessie van die etiek van oortuiging van kritieke belang. ʼn Model van eties verantwoordelike, kulturele relevante oortuiging is ontwikkel en toegepas op die prosesse van ʼn “liturgie van bekering”. Ten slotte word verskeie praktiese moontlikhede voorgestel om oorredende liturgiese kontak tussen die kerke en dié in hul omliggende mikrokulture te verseker en te versterk. Verskeie verdere vrae word gevra oor die proses, wat verdere ondersoek en toetsing sal vereis van die praktyk in individuele Metodistekerke.

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