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.
So is it good or bad?
People get ready, there’s a train at the station
There are many signs that change is happening in western societies:
- Church attendances are dropping in many countries, and many congregations have become unviable. Many other churches are reviewing their strategies and looking for new ways to “reach out” to their communities. At the same time, the church is growing rapidly in many other parts of the world.
- People are looking at the Bible differently. Once it was just a few academics, but now large numbers of christians are questioning inerrancy, the literal interpretation of large chunks of the Old Testament and traditional interpretations of many passages.
- As a result, many long-held teachings and practices are being questioned and often jettisoned or at least re-interpreted – hell, homosexuality, creation, the role of women, the importance of church attendance, Jesus as the only way to God, and many more.
- More and more people are no longer following many established norms of christian behaviour – divorce rates are high, pre-marital sex is not uncommon, some branches of the church have been rocked by revelations of systematic sexual abuse and protection of the culprits by authorities, many christians are more tolerant and accepting of other beliefs and other behaviours.
- Alternative forms of “church” are becoming more common and acceptable – house or simple church, the so-called emerging church, alternative worship, christians who meet informally and sporadically – and even “regular churches” now generally have electric guitars and drums leading their singing, something unheard of a few decades ago.
- Denominational barriers have long since broken down, and christians are less interested in arguing over finer points of less important doctrines.
- Mission and outreach are changing, with less emphasis on aggressive evangelism, and greater emphasis on doing good in the community.
We haven’t been given a spirit of fear ….
Christians in English speaking countries tend to be conservative. Many see the changes around us, in the world and in the church, as dangerous and anti-faith. Many feel like Barry McGuire sang a long time ago and in a different context:
You may not like hearing it, you may be right in fearing it
But if it’s happening, we should at the very least want to understand what is going on and how God wants us to respond.
…. but of a sound mind
But I think we can do better than this. If we are praying that the Holy Spirit is guiding our thinking, can we not trust him to lead God’s people into new things that are right? I believe many of these changes (not all) are signs of the Spirit at work.
Check it out
Over the next month or two, I want to discuss a number of these formative issues, and analyse whether they are helpful or not. I’d be very interested in people’s comments.
The purpose of this blog is to be a forum for christians to learn how to follow Jesus in the 21st century. Please be part of discerning what God is and isn’t doing.