The church is always changing.
It adjusts and adapts to cultural shifts and needs.
Change is often initiated when new technology meets evolving theology.
There are two interesting notes about these changes:
1) When new developments arise, the previous form does not go away, it continues on but without its former prominence or influence.
Phyllis Tickle points out in The Great Emergence that 500 years ago when the Protestant Reformation happened, the Catholic Church did not cease to exist. It had a counter-reformation and made some changes.
500 years earlier the same happened with Great Schism between the Roman West and the Eastern Orthodox. Both of which survived … just in modified forms.
500 years early in the period of Councils and Creeds saw similar issues of division and adaption.
500 years earlier (in the fallout of the the Axial Age) figures like Jesus had profound effects, and some divisions, with the existing religious order of their day.
We are 500 years after the Protestant Reformation we look to be going through something similar.
2) There is always an authority issue involved in change.
Like a song, most people focus on the lyrics and the melody – for our analogy that is the theology and the technology. The driving force is the baseline – this is the role of authority.
Authority was central in every change listed above:
- Axial Age
- Jesus and early churches
- Councils and Creeds
- Great Schism
- Protestant Reformation
- Denominational decline (now)
I like to talk about collaboration, contribution, and conversation as locations of authority. I have a very de-cenereted and democratized ideal of the church in the 21st century.
I have to keep reminding people that this is not a “free-for-all” anything-goes anarchy. It is simply the church hosting a space and but not providing all of the content.
The current change is about control. We are no longer in control. That doesn’t mean that things are out-of-control!! It means that control was always an illusion at some level and required coercion and violence to maintain the illusion.
Opening up the microphone means that we are not in control of everything that is said. The desire for control keeps us from welcoming our congregation’s insights, experience, and perspectives as locations for God’s revelation and our theological reflection.
Admittedly, we are in the earliest days of the transition .. but here is the harsh reality:
People are voting with their feet and the ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ are the fastest growing religious affiliation in N. America. People are going to grow increasingly unsatisfied with being spectators at religious spectacles where their contribution doesn’t count and their experience and perspective are not valued.
Listen to the podcast and let me know what you think.