From The Way to Christianity to Christendom to Reformation to Whatever Is Next
I follow a podcast known as The Liturgists, led by a group of millennials who represent a large segment of the population. These are people who have been hurt by the institutional church. They are people who have pushed the institutional church to listen to their cries for justice and equality and hope for a better future. These are people who have angrily given up on the institutional church. Finally, they are people who have walked away either in complete silence or, at best, with their hands in the air with a silent vow never to return.
This season of their podcast began with two episodes that intrigued me. The first was titled Is Christianity Worth Saving? (which certainly got my attention since it is kind of a big part of my life), and the second one is titled Reformation (which is about the ways we can seek transformation beyond the brokenness).
One of the things that is highlighted is something that we have come to understand about church history. An analysis of church history reveals that every 500 years, the church experiences the movement from order to disorder to reorder. In seminary, I learned it as the flow from construction to deconstruction to reconstruction It is nothing new really. What we are finally talking about is the flow about which Jesus taught. We ultimately go from life to death to resurrection.
The earliest followers of Jesus called themselves the people of The Way. They were a movement and not an established religion, as such. They were practicing Jews along with others outside of the faith who were beginning to explore this Hebrew-informed expression of faith introduced into their lives.
By the time the letters of Paul and the gospels were being written, the earliest followers were being called Christian. This group was a little more defined, yet it was still a movement. In 314 CE, the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus launched what historically is known as Christendom. Then by 500 CE, the Church was firmly established across the Roman Empire.
By 1,000 CE, the Church is more than the church. It is the Holy Roman Empire and is considered the only legitimate successor of the Roman Empire. This is where some of the greatest abuses of the Church are perpetrated.
Then we come to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation.
In 2017, I had the chance to join my son (who is the Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church in Georgetown) and his choir in the production of a CD that was centered on a Dan Forrest arrangement of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (featuring our family anvil that alluded to the nailing of the Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg), thus launching the Protestant Reformation in 1517. So the piece commemorated the 500th anniversary of this historic moment in time.
According to history, it is time for some other great shift in the global Church.
As we experience what I have been calling the brokenness of the institutional church, I think the question we might ask is, “What is next?” As we own up to the ever-growing irrelevance of the Church with each new generation, what is the reformation that is needed now?
As I have settled more deeply into many of the teachings of the mystics and contemplatives who have become active at various times in the life of the church, I have come to believe something that I have felt deeply from the beginning of my ministry.
It is the call of Christ to shed the trappings and return to the center.
The center for me is how we see ourselves as part of a larger creation. It is what undergirds my theme of “letting go and letting God.” It is about how we care for the environment, and it is about how we care deeply for the “all” to whom we refer in our motto: “ALL are welcome, ALL are accepted!” And the tagline we almost never leave off these days: ALL MEANS ALL!
The center is Christ as lived out in the Body of Christ … the movement of those who follow Jesus, this most radical Christ of ours.
So as we find ourselves deeply in the second Lenten season of a global pandemic, we are feeling deeply the disorder … the deconstruction … the death that confronts us. Maybe this is the time for us to act up and act out in transformative ways. Maybe this is the time to embrace the brokenness … the death … that we might look together toward a life to which God is calling!
What is next for us? Come and see!
Lord God, who has walked with your people and the Church through seasons of life and death and resurrection: Walk with us now that we might walk through the brokenness to the place of hope and life deeply lived in you. Amen.