The mission of St. Boniface and that of the Celtic Peregrini were considerably different. The table here shows a few broad differences:
The Peregrini had a mission of translation (in terms of Lamin Sanneh) in that there was a genuine effort for the work of God to be adapted to the local culture. St. Boniface, more worried about conformity and unity within the greater church, practiced more of a mission of diffusion.
The Peregrini did ministry that was more dependent on God. They left their monasteries without financial support or communication. St. Boniface was more dependent on authority. He carried with him papers giving him authority from both Charles Martel (civil authority) and the head of the Roman church (ecclesiastical authority).
The Peregrini were unstructured in their work. They set up churches but were more focused on changing lives. St. Boniface sought to plant churches within the ecclesiastical structure of the Roman church.
The Peregrini worked from a position of service to others through education, physical help, and discipleship. As such, one could describe their work as “Empowering Encounter.” St. Boniface was an early practitioner of “Power Encounter” through desecration of pagan sites, and his death at the hands of pagans could be seen as a reverse power encounter as well.
One could sum up the work of the Peregrini as Missions from “a Position of Weakness” (us the phrase from Paul Yonggap Jeong in his book “Mission From a Position of Weakness”). St. Boniface then worked from a Position of Power.
But which is better? While there a strong supporters of “Power Missions” there is much to value in “Weakness Missions”. It seems to be consistent with the mission work of Jesus, the Apostles and the Ante-nicene church fathers. With the exception of occasional miraculous healings, power missions is more of the fruit of Constantine and Charlemagne. It may be effective at times, but Christianity’s relationship with power has always been problematic.
Some Other Considerations
1. What about the disciples of each mission style? It is hard to say much about the disciples. Presumably, the disciples of the Peregrini were leading a more indigenous church than those trained by St. Boniface. Certainly, one reason Luther, Huss, and others were so successful in breaking free from the Roman church was the failure of the Roman church to be contextualized to the Germanic culture. With the exception of Austria, nearly all German lands revolted from the Roman church when the time was ripe.
It is true that in Group Process studies, Autocratic groups (authoritarian, power-based groups) tend to have characteristics that are problematic:
-More Dependent than Democratic groups (non-authoritarian, interdependent)
-Less original in their plans and thinking
(Refer to “Group Processes: An Introduction to Group Dynamics” by Joseph Luft, pg. 14, 15, 119)
2. What are the overall strengths and weakness of the Peregrini method?
Risks of Independence:
-Lack of Accountability. The method worked because of monks who went were well-screened and trained. Without this, it would be likely that the lack of accountability would have led to critical problems.
-Lack of Structure for Perpetuity. The lack of structure meant that a better organized church was able to take over. Of course, this was back at a time when it was thought that one region should have one church. There is perhaps no place where this is still believed, so there is no great pressure for political unity and conformity today. Therefore, I don’t know if this is still a valid issue. Back then, however, the lack of structure was an issue.
-Lack of Coordination. Better organization with a strong central authority creates a clearer structure and better coordination.
-Flexibility. While there may be better coordination with a stronger organization, the ability to adapt and act quickly is lost. The Peregrini were able to adjust to their setting quickly.
-Indigeneity. With no strong outside pressure to conform meant that their work could easily be contextualized for an indigenous church.
-Ingenuity. Flexibility and interdependency creates the environment for ingenuity.
Both methods work, but I think the Peregrini are a better model for missions today. With the growth of tentmaking missions, and the general rejection of authoritarian religion, suggests to me that they have something to tell us today. But we need to recognize that good screening and training is needed for this to work.
Today, there is strong support in certain circles for Power Missions. I think that the Peregrini show the success of “Weakness Missions.” I believe the success of the early church also came from this same basic mission method.
I freely admit that people can look at St. Boniface and the Peregrini and come to a completely different conclusion. But that is good. Christians using different methods and structures is exactly what I believe is healthy with the flexible system that we see with the Peregrini (among others). Think about it.