Christianity is changing. Of course it has always been changing – I read once that christianity owes a lot of its success to its adaptability to circumstances and culture. But like most other things, it seems to be changing faster these days.
Christians have probably argued more about the Bible, and how to interpret it, than almost anything else. Many churches say they believe the “Bible alone”, echoing the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. Yet I believe there is always a gap between the claim and the actual belief.
I am a christian who believes the Bible reveals God to us, but I want to try to show you that everyone disbelieves some parts of the Bible.
Jesus told a very striking story. You probably know it. A man owed a large amount of money but couldn’t pay, so he asked his banker for extra time to make the repayment. And he was given time. But then he called in a small debt he was owed, and refused the poor man’s entreaties for extra time.
When the banker heard about what had happened, he was angry that the grace he had extended was not passed on.
Jesus drew the devastating conclusion: we who have received great grace from God will be judged by whether we pass that grace on to others.
It is a phenomenon reported by pollster George Barna, observed by many of us and experienced by some – feeling dissatisfied with church. Not just complaining that something isn’t perfectly the way we like it, or disliking the people, but feeling deeply alienated from the church system and knowing deep down that Jesus never meant it to be like this.
The question is, what to do about it? Tell yourself everyone else can’t be wrong so it must be you, and just grin and bear it? Quit church altogether? Join another church (often only to find it’s different, but still the same)? Give all your energies to making change? Or start a new church?
I was asked recently how many christian denominations there are worldwide. It’s hardly an important question, but some critics of christianity use the number of 30,000 to 40,000 to argue that a true God couldn’t be behind christianity because god would communicate better.
One Laptop Per Child is a US-based charity which is seeking to create affordable educational devices for use in the developing world. Due to the difficulty in providing and funding teachers in some locations, it has tried the innovative, perhaps crazy, idea of leaving laptop or tablet computers with kids without any instructions.
Outcomes have been mixed, and interesting, and have something to teach us.
Christians disagree, and sometimes argue, about many things. Current hot topics include: homosexuality, divorce, hell, evolution and Genesis, the place of women in the church, Biblical inerrancy, war, climate change, and the importance of ‘good works’ like social justice and social welfare.
Some christians get very worried about the failure of many of their fellow believers to keep to the traditional positions on these, and other matters, and the discussion can get quite heated.
But I think change may be upon us sooner than we think, whether we like it or not.
The Anabaptist are a often forgotten part of the christian church. We know about the split which separated the eastern Orthodox churches from the Roman church. In the west we are more familiar with the Reformation, where the Protestant churches split from the Roman Catholic church. But there was a third group in the Reformation, persecuted and maligned by both sides, but growing in influence today – the Anabaptists.
This book outlines what Anabaptists believe, and why they are coming into greater prominence.
LLM posted an interesting quote from Tim Keller in her blog, Enough Light. Here is a part of it:
“in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you’ (Matthew 21:31).
What is the future of the church as we know it in the western world?
I have written about this many times (see The future for the church), believing that much needs to change. It is like the tide is coming in, the island the churches are sitting on is shrinking, our feet are wet, yet things are just going on as normal.
But bit by bit, the evidence keeps coming in (just like the tide), that one way or another, things will indeed change.
Jesus famously said “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), but since the fourth century, christians have been building enormous cathedrals for him. Why?
We can read the statistics which show that, in most western countries, church attendance has fallen in the last century. In some cases it is still falling, though in others it has levelled out. The ‘leavers’ are not necessarily giving up all belief in God – many list themselves as ‘not committed’ – but some are choosing to be atheists.
But this is all statistics. There is also a human face to these changes.
Churches have been going through a remarkable revolution this past 50 years. Denominational barriers are much lower and less important. The Holy Spirit is more welcome. Christians are much more open to new ideas. But there is much more to come (I believe)!
One of the very positive influences on world christianity is the ‘simple church’ movement, and Felicity Dale (a sometime commenter on this blog) and her website Simply Church blog is one face of this movement. I subscribe to her blog and gain a lot of insight from it. And one brief recent post summed a lot of things up for me.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of books about changing the church. Probably out of desperation, I think. Things really must change, and they are, but too slowly. I’ve read a lot of good books in that time, and bypassed a few that didn’t look so good.
But here’s four books I can recommend wholeheartedly. If you read them and take notice, they can hardly fail to challenge you and lead to your church being at least a little more effective in carrying out the mission Jesus left for us.
A recent survey in Australia identified common barriers that made it more difficult for people to believe in Jesus or attend church. I think it is important that we christians consider these barriers, and do what we can to remove them. I have addressed one, Church abuse, and now I want to look at exclusivity.