This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
Disunity: I’m not going to speak on behalf of Christianity as a whole, but only to my own more limited North American context, and hope what I say here has resonances and offers wisdom for the global church.
The one element of Christianity that could die and just so impact the world in the next 100 years is its lack of unity.
North American Christianity is weakened by denominationalism, free church independence, congregationalism and perhaps the worst of all phenomenon, so problematic because it arises out of a profound lack of self-awareness–small pockets of Christians living in silos of their own devising. Not only do churches rarely serve in mission together in the world, they very rarely even entertain the idea that they could and ought to be united rather than divided.
I mean this not just on a spiritual level, but on an institutional level. Although offering various “brands” of Christianity in the faith marketplace has in some ways contributed to the vitality of Christianity in our context (thanks to folks like Rodney Stark for drawing our attention to this truth), it still does not witness to reconciliation and unity in the gospel of Christ that is central to New Testament theology. And although the marketplace approach seems to have helped us in the short term, all the indicators seem to be pointing to an epic fail in the not so distant future.
What if, instead of thinking of ourselves as franchises of a denomination that is competing for both local and national market share, we started imagining we really were on the same team? A friend wrote recently and asked this set of questions, “What if we thought about ourselves as members of one body of Christ in very practical ways by asking questions like: Is worship attendance at all churches in our community going up or down? Does increased vitality and participation in our congregation add to or substract from neighboring congregations … or have no effect whatsover?
Thinking in this way inescapably leads to the deep questions we often avoid when we think about our congregations and denominations in isolation and ignore the effect we have — positive and negative — on other Christians.
It is absolutely true: if we start by thinking that we can ignore other Christians who live all around us, then we’ll never solve critical problems by continuing to think that way.”
I think lots of us (perhaps especially newer pastors and theologians who think of the ecumenical movement as something past and a little blasé) might assume a call like this is for ecumenical rapprochement. And I wouldn’t say it isn’t a call for that. But real ecumenism can take place on the ground, in our local contexts, without big and expensive consultations between denominational structures, whenever and wherever neighboring churches simply reach out and start trying to understand each other, be reconciled with one another, and even find ways to join together not just for a periodic worship service or service project here or there, but structurally, durably, and sacrificially.
The churches and Christians who do this, leading in repentance and new life together as the one body of Christ, will lead us in this next century.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
Repentance: Totalitarian leaders and despots are stunningly lacking in the ability for self-criticism. When we can never be wrong, we are forced to continue to invest energy and time in violently heading in a direction of insanity and injustice.
Churches/Christians who cannot be wrong, who premise their entire enterprise on being right, on having the best answers, who cannot grant doubt, admit failure, are stuck in a theology of glory that has no relationship to the cross of Christ.
Those who follow in the way of Christ know that Christ led with repentance. He became sin who knew no sin. The one who had every right to avoid criticism, stand above it, slough it off, is the very one who took the critique of the whole world upon himself. Jesus Christ led with repentance.
We are called to do the same.
However, we also cannot use the weak status of this claim (look, I’m so repentant!) to turn repentance itself into another example of our continuing inability to be open to criticism. Even my claim that we should lead with repentance is itself open to critique.
God is open to question and critique, having illustrated that truth so gloriously in the cross. Inasmuch as we participate in this, we are opened up to God, and our neighbor, in love, which is the positive and proactive corollary to repentance.
Clint Schnekloth: Clint is Lead Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas, blogs at Lutheran Confessions, and is a doctoral candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary. He recently launched a new blog, Steampunk Theology.