It is pretty clear that the Church of today is not the Church of 50 years ago. We are smaller, we have fewer people under forty, and many of our adult children no longer “belong” to a church. What’s wrong? Have we failed?
No. We have not. Perhaps we are succeeding more than ever before. As the world changes, the Church changes. A theologian & historian, Phyllis Tickle, points out that in the history of the Jewish and Christian faiths, a major overhaul has happened every 500 years. There is the fall of the first and second temples in Judaism, and the Jewish center of worship moving from the Temple to the home. There is the coming of Jesus, and the birth of Christianity. Later is the “Great Schism” of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. That may not seem like a big deal to us, but it was huge when it happened. Next is the Fall of Rome (remember, it was the Roman Catholic Church) followed by the Dark Ages, and then Luther, Protestantism, and the Reformation.
There is nothing magical about the number 500, but the point is that as the world grows and changes, so does our expression of “church.” It is also very interesting that it takes about 100 years for each new “expression of faith” to emerge from the one before it. We are in the middle of a transition now!
Each time the Church changes, the previous form continues. We still have Judaism and Catholicism. While the previous expression of faith continues, something newer and more fresh emerges. We keep the values and the core of the previous faith, but we lose some of the ‘trappings.’ The newer form fits the mindset and lifestyles of the changing times. Many people continue with the form that nurtured them, and they continue to worship and grow. Others embrace the newer expression of it, and every time this happens, the faith spreads dramatically.
What is the Spirit doing? We have hints. Young adults in their 20’s and 30’s aren’t interested in declaring themselves “Methodist,” “Presbyterian,” or “UCC.” They see labels more as setting people apart from one another, and they don’t need divisions. They are more likely to welcome truth and helpful moral guidance from wherever it comes. Christians embrace Buddhist meditation, Hindu yoga, and the Native American spirituality of caring for the earth. At the same time, they may be living the Gospel values of radical care for the poor, and standing for justice.
God, the Holy Spirit is starting something new! The Spirit of God is Always starting something new! As God works through the events, challenges, wonders and people of today, we can trust that the Spirit moves as S/He will, and that we (and others) will follow!
Have a good summer! Pastor Kathy