Saturday, August 30, 2008

The New Reformation?

Excerpts from a recent AJC article -
"Author: Faithful abandoning church" by Christopher Dunn

Empty pews a sign of restlessness

The revolution has begun.

Quietly, maybe, but symptoms are bubbling up.

One is empty pews on Sunday morning, says author Phyllis Tickle.

Every mainline Christian denomination is declining in membership.

...(the faithful) are questioning and experimenting, looking for a way to make church meaningful again. This new movement, which she refers to as emerging or emergent Christianity, will have as big an impact as the Reformation, Tickle predicts.

That was the 16th century upheaval when religious thinkers split open the feather pillow that had been the monolithic belief system of the Catholic Church. No one was able to put all the feathers back into the bag, and it changed the world —- generating new churches, igniting wars and helping push Protestants toward American shores.

The movement is loosely organized, and often quiet. It is made up of people who have gotten to know each other through word-of-mouth, on Internet sites or at conferences where writer-pastors such as Brian McLaren and Tony Jones speak.

The movement’s members are passionate and experimental, socially conscious and ecumenical, deeply devoted to early church disciplines, such a prayer, but they feel free to question and reinterpret long-held beliefs, he said.

Troy Bronsink, a former Presbyterian pastor who leads a strand of the Atlanta movement, describes some involved as “refugees from ecclesiological abuse.”

Discussion groups and the participants’ relationships create a safe space for those willing to question the religion they grew up with and think and talk about new ways to live out their faith, he said.

Like all change movements, it faces backlash from some Christians. Evangelical leaders such as Charles Colson say the trend-followers are relativists who surrender their theology to cultural norms.

Tickle said, “When somebody says they are relativists, I want to smack them upside their heads.”

One has to take belief seriously to question and reposition a faith so that it is meaningful in current culture, she said. And the critics should get used to these faithful who look back to the roots of the faith as well as lean into the future with it.

“Before it’s over, it’s going to be 60 percent of Christianity,” she predicted.

If you would like to read the entire article, you can find it here


Alison Fincher said...

This article was interesting and informative, but I am disappointed/confused by the way the author covered potential back-lash with the community.

-Why would Emergent Christianity be accused of relativism? It doesn't seem particularly "relativistic."
-Is there any actual response to the challenge? Tickle's was either misquoted or unhelpful.

I look forward to learning more!

John Fincher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Fincher said...

I believe what is meant is that some say the new "movement" is ONLY being driven by the need to be "relevant" to these times.

I disagree, though, but this is going to be fought, tooth and nail (to the death perhaps), by the religious institutions.

These (institutions) have taken away from the INDIVIDUAL relationship Father wants with EACH of His children.

I believe it is a CLEANSING and a RETURN to what He wants.

I feel He is moving His Body.

John Fincher said...

I also don't agree with the conclusions, but just wanted to show the "movement" of the Body.


Joel B. said...

I meant to comment on this the other day but spaced it off. I just got done commenting on Steve's blog, in which he brought up this same article (although the comment is awaiting his approval), and I thought I'd share the same comment here:

Mainly through the world of blogging, which, by the way, began for me essentially through getting to know a few people through the Grace Walk Forum, I've come to meet people from coast to coast and around the world who have either left the traditional church and are growing in grace and freedom like they've never known before, and falling in love with Jesus like never before, or are still taking part in traditional church but are finding so much more real love and grace outside of the four walls. Many, as well, are bringing the grace of God from outside to within.

I think it's wonderful that while church attendance is declining, it really does seem that a lot of it is due to people truly finally getting to know Jesus!

Much of this can't be measured in numbers and statistics, at least not in the traditional ways, but it really is "church growth" in its purest form - people actually growing in their life in Christ. That's exciting!

Alison Fincher said...

Joel, I think you're right about the distinction between 'Church growth' and the number of people in churches growing. It's very important to recognize that the body of Christ is separate from the building we visit on Sunday. But I'm still skeptical where there is an alternative forum for a Christian community to meet.

The Church is the body of Christ, the community of believers. It obviously has no need of a physical space. But churches themselves evolved--and were successful for almost two thousand years--because they were a place for communities of Christians to meet together to learn about and celebrate God. What in modern culture will fill that void if we give up on churches? Where will the Church go?

Joel B. said...

Thanks to the two of you for clearing up how you are related! (in the other post) I hope the family brawl doesn't get too serious, proving who's not the smartest. ;)


Starting with the point that the body of Christ ("the church") is a community of believers, and not a building, I think is a key in all this.

I do think that over the years many people have found vital life and community within a weekly (or more often), organized meeting inside a building, and I'm very happy about that.

But in many cases it's become so very "institutionalized," and lacking in true relational body life, and often it's become a controlling hierarchy (the 'clergy' or 'leadership' in one class and the rest of the people in a lower class, submitting to the leadership), and as John said above, has taken away from the individual relationship that Father wants with each of us. The problems that people have with 'church' today are varied and widespread, but this is sort of the gist that I'm getting from people.

What people are doing, therefore, is they are leaving behind the 'system,' or the institution, but are not leaving behind Jesus, and they are finding (and/or creating) life and community in ways that truly build them up in Christ. They are meeting in homes, in parks, etc. One of my friends in Canada rents out the local library basement once in a while, and simply meets together with whoever wants to come and worship the Lord together, and encourage one another. At other times they simply go walking, and they talk with each other and encourage one another in their lives in Christ. And it's not just one person (the 'pastor') who expounds upon the word of God. Everyone is able to join in and discuss the scriptures together, as they are led.

The point is, people are not giving up on Christian community, but they're leaving behind the ways in which it's come to be formatted. In my own mind, it's not so much a question of 'where will the church go,' but of 'how will the church be the church, wherever they happen to be.'

I hope I'm coming across as simply explaining my thoughts, and not being dogmatic about them. :) As I said in my first comment above, but now in different words, I've met so many people in the past few years who have left the 'church' and have finally found Jesus. I'm simply trying to convey what I've seen.