Retooling: A Changing World; A Changing Church?

The 21st Century Retooling of the Church – Part XXXIII

I remember the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as if it were yesterday.  It was a turbulent time.  I thought the moral fabric of America was not only being tested, but torn apart.  The jeans worn by the youth of the time, tattered, torn, and filled with holes, symbolized the fabric of America.  J. F. Kennedy, our President, Robert Kennedy, a Presidential candidate, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X all died by an assassin’s bullet while George Wallace became a quadriplegic.  Beatniks gave way to Hippies as America went from getting high on poetry and literature to getting high on LSD and other drugs as their heroes too began to fall and succumb from drug overdoses. Unlike the Women’s Suffrage movement at the beginning of the millennium, the Women’s Liberation Movement burnt bras and brandished breasts in a cause challenging the morals and structures that had defined the fabric of the American family and society.  Gays and Lesbians, for the first time took to the streets, coming socially “out of their closet” demanding rights and changes.  The Civil Right’s Movement not only showcased peacefully led, but violently received, demonstrations through peace marches, but also experienced riots and looting in the Watts area of Los Angeles leading to violence and the burning of cities across America.  Tens of thousands began marching in protest of the War in Vietnam, the first unpopular war, the first war America would come home defeated rather than the victors, a war defined by the tens of thousands of body bags returning America’s youth literally back to its native soil.  Music reflected a new mantra: “Parents, you don’t understand, for the times they are a changing,” to “If you aren’t with the one you love, then love the one you are with.”  The youth of America did not trust their government calling it the “Establishment”, watching its Vice President resign over a scandal, then its President step down in disgrace rather than be impeached because of the Watergate scandal only to be replaced by a the only President who would not be “elected” as a President or Vice President into office. The “Father Knows Best” TV show image of the typical American family gave way to Archie Bunker and “All In The Family”. Those were changing times!

In the midst of all this the Church tried to remain and appear to be a constant, steady, unmovable rock in the midst of what looked like a turbulent ocean, thwarting off the waves of cultural change that were breaking on its beaches.  The “Bible Belt” that ran through South was now faced its hypocrisy as the Church was exposed as one of the most discriminatory institutions in America with Black churches, white churches, but few if any racially mixed churches.  Even in the North, churches too displayed this division not only theologically, but racially.  Church life of two Sunday services, a mid-week service, choir practice, youth groups, and Bible Schools were yielding in influence for the social fabric of America to public school activities, Sunday soccer leagues, organized youth sporting events, the collapse of Sunday “Blue Laws” making Sunday shopping routine, NFC and NASCAR becoming the gods of Sunday afternoons rather than “visiting” or doing family activities.  Image is important to the “structure” of the institutional church, and it “appeared” to be a rock, but these societal waves were beginning to erode its influence.

What the institutional church feared the most were the waves from within its structure for change, which it felt it had the influence or control.  The wave of revival always is opposed by the institutional church, but eventually  erodes formal structures, and whose ripples affects not only Christendom, but the world.  Believers with an evangelistic spirit, wanting to reach those caught in this change, the lost, birthed the Charismatic Movement and the Jesus Movements.  Those concerned with the shepherding/pastoral spirit birthed the Shepherding Movement.  Teacher arose out of nowhere producing cassette “teaching tapes” for the masses to hear, spewing forth a multitude of doctrinal and theological differences.  The voice of the prophetic spirit began to arise, something new to an institution that had lost its “ears to hear”.  What was missing was the apostolic spirit to oversee all this, thus 20th century revival was messy, producing many mistakes, even casualties. Yet in the midst of all of this, each of these “five fold spirits”, points of view, and passions influenced the Church during this time. These spirits changed the way the Church worships today, its music, its attitudes toward discrimination and prejudice, its way of viewing social injustice, and even in its structure as new churches were established but not under the banner of denominationalism.

All that was the last century, the 20th century, but now we are in the 21st Century.  How is the Church responding to: a  global world, opened up by the internet and world wide web? Social injustice locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally exposed by twenty-four hour world wide news networks and images from smart phones transmitted by ordinary people in the midst of conflicts?  the change of community from local “town meetings” and “town churches” to relationships built around Facebook and other social media tools?  starving people  who sought “foreign aide” from governmental relief organizations that have been cut back due to budget cuts and a collapsing world wide economy?   a strong Islamic influence? Eastern religions left their talons of religious influence in American society in the second half of the 20th century, how will the Church face the Islamic influences of this century?  and a generation reading their Kindles, I-Pads, and I-phones rather than their King James, 1600 and something edition of the Bible?

Beautiful but empty cathedrals in Europe are visible epitaphs of the resistance to change of the Medieval Church to the changing Renaissance, Reformational Church movement of its time.  Beautiful but empty church buildings with their wonderful architecture and stained glass windows dot the American landscape have become the epitaph of a Church unwilling to face change in our generation.  Our mega-churches, loosely formed bonds between institutional religious groups, and over all church structures too will fall and crumble, leaving only beautiful but empty tombs if the Church doesn’t embrace change now.

I propose that the 20th Century Church has seen the evangelistic birth of all five passions and points of view of the five fold during its century.  Now it is time for the 21st century Church to embrace them, allow the Holy Spirit to develop them bringing maturity to individual believers in Christ-likeness and unity as a body of believers to prepare the Church for the Lord’s return.  The Church is to be “without spot and wrinkle” for Jesus’ return. The 21st Century is a time for the Church to face its “spot and wrinkle” remover, through the Holy Spirit, and through the five fold.