Church leadership likes big words that sound too complicated. Should we understand them?
Here's one they don't use much, perhaps because it's yet to be understood? Post-Christendom.
Events of the last few weeks, and this morning (see later) have started me (once again) thinking about post-Christendom ... the era we've falling into so fast that most don't even comprehend it. It's the era where Christianity no longer dominates culture.
We see symptoms everywhere, yet studiously ignore it. Such as how Lord Carey, former Archbishop of the Church of England, writes to the European Human Rights Commission that Christians are being persecuted. And we see it in the insidious syncretism - implied or explicit - buried deep in the good-intentioned teachings from people like Bell and Rohr and Mclaren and many more in the mainstream of church life. Post-Christendom has fundamentally changed the context for the expression of church.
But that is not what I've most been thinking about; its more the question of "what is the church" in post-christendom? What is my role in this thing called "church". And perhaps more pragmatically, why is the church desperately clinging to something that's fast being buried beneath the deluge of change, clinging to institutional practices of ineffectiveness? Why? Where is the radical change that's needed to match the new world we're in?
There is one fundamental aspect to God's engagement with the world (and here's some more big words): that orthodoxy (about the unchanging nature of God) is not the same as orthopraxy (how his nature is expressed through the actions of his people). Orthopraxy changes, and should evolve. If nothing else, God explicitly calls us to a Spirit-led pushing of the orthopraxy boundaries, and does so now more perhaps than ever before.
I wrote to someone recently that "Church is not a democracy. It's also not a theocracy", that "think of church as the God-intentioned emergent property of community", and that church management often "measures itself by how well it manages itself."
This morning I had yet another discussion with someone about this. He's been a Christian professional (i.e. a minister) and has recently given up the formal church structures where he was the leader, and is starting a new "ministry" from the ground up. He spoke of "infiltrating" society. It's a highly attractive idea given the church's institutional barriers, but also has some deep complications. Nonetheless, at the frontier of change it's one model of practice that some need to explore.
But what about the people of the established church? Do we all walk away from our churches? Do we increasingly become inward focused? Or, do we transition our structures into a post-Christendom era, where we are one of many religions, where biblical values are not a given, where relativism holds sway and syncretism binds the cultures. What does this mean, to transition? It's unlikely to be a gentle change.
If you and I do not think deeply on this, if our denominational leaders do not face this head on, our missional value (weak as it is at the best of times) becomes increasingly eroded until its no more than a box buried in the sand, with a frayed rope that the world sometimes tugs with the passing thought "I wonder what's at the other end."
I want to write more on this; to think about our church future, especially in my personal context. How do I live as one centered in the relational absoluteness of God's unchanging love and justice, and which establishes a normality the world is (largely successfully) trying to ignore? My purposed existence is two-fold; to walk a path toward being centered in God's normality ("be perfect"), and to serve those I encounter along the way. Where does the traditional institutional church fit into that, if it does at all?