Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Future of the Church: Now

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47)

So what about the church now? What about the church tomorrow? What about the church in our life time? It is easy to project out an apocalyptic scenario that is far beyond our immediate experience. But where do we go from here?

Here and now is the heterogenous church. There are many expressions of the body of Christ; as many expressions as there are people types it would seem - particularly in the individual oriented West. Indeed many of our churches are 'personality' driven! The reformation of culture we are undergoing, however, is obviously influencing seismic shifts in our church cultures. The postmodern emphasis on community, as well as individuality; the demand that music and ministries be "relevant" and the increasing drive to be "missional" all contribute to this cultural shift. Nevertheless, there are many churches and communities that are not experiencing the postmodern influence to the degree that most are. These churches recall a time when the church seemed much more homogenous and long for the day when that homogeneity can be recovered. But that is simply not our reality.

In the West, the church is - not, will be - but is, fragmented. Despite the common assumption that the church is being a positive influence for change in culture - and it is to a degree - today, it is probably at its most ineffective and self-absorbed. Its focus tends towards the myopic or nearsighted and thus becoming less and less effective: it problematically focuses on worship preferences, service issues, denominational loyalties and doctrinal boundaries. As the church has grown over the years and become a popular 'spiritual outlet' on the whole it has lost its focus on spiritual transformation. Interestingly, these types of problems cropped up almost immediately in the early church. Paul's epistles to the Corinthians, the Ephesians and to Timothy are good examples of apostolic "fire control." Paul was right: until Christ returns, believers live in a sin-stained world, where the tension between following Christ and following self is excruciating. If this has been a problem since the church's inception, why the fuss now? Good question. In my opinion, due to the fragmenting of the church in North America today, we have an opportunity to recover a much more genuine understanding of what it means to be the church, the body of Christ.

As I read the passage from the book of Acts quoted above, I do not discern similar emphases in the earliest expression of the church. I am particularly drawn to the phrases "Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe" and "sincerity of heart" - There is an obvious focus on Spiritual transformation and the character of Christ. In our heterogenous church environment, we do not have to seek uniformity, but can communally seek the character of Christ. The homogeneity we can find is not to be found in the externals then - worship styles, minutiae of doctrine or denominational loyalty, but rather in an embrace and embodiment of the character of Christ not only as individuals, but as communities of faith.

This means a focus on biblical discipleship, spiritual transformation and prayer-filled worship that transcends any one style. It means a "turn towards the other" in love. If our churches will allow this shift to occur, Christ will use us to transform our world in the here and now.

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