When participating on the Q panel for American Ecclesiology last week, I was asked what positive and negative trends I perceive in the church. The panel was rather large and responses had to be concise. Here’s an elaboration on what I said:
Positive Church Trends:
Something very positive about current American Ecclesiology is the Post-Christendom cooperation I see everywhere. Given the decline of the church in America, the shift of the center of Global Christiantiy to Africa and Asia, the urgency of mission is upon us. Churches are reaching across denominational, theological barriers in order to engage in mission. That’s great.
Post-Christendom Cooperation – since the walls of Christian culture and ecclesiastical power (humpty-dumpty) are falling, all the kings horses and all the kings men are helping put humpty together again…but differently. It is because humpty-dumpty has fallen that we are coming together to rally in our belief that Jesus really is Lord. But the kingdom cooperation I see is not simply remedial, a product of broken walls. It is missional. In an increasingly post-Christian environment, the urgency of mission has gripped many Christians and they want to share and experience the life-renewing power of the gospel of Jesus. The urgency of mission is creating collaborative partnerships that did not exist before, but the urgency is present because Christendom has failed. The fallout is post-Christendom cooperation. We see the task as so urgent that our secondary theological and methodological differences have become, well secondary, instead of primary clearing the way for cooperation in the great task of mission.
Negative Church Trends:
Conversely, one great danger I see in American Ecclesiology is partnership, unity in mission, not in the gospel. As we respond to the great social and spiritual needs in the U.S., we are rallying under the banner of mission, not the gospel. We aren’t freshly articulating the gospel but freshly articulating methods and mission. The great danger is that we displace the gospel from the center of mission and lose its meaning and centrality altogether. Then the church history pendulum will swing from one end to the other.
Abdicating the Gospel of Mission – putting the Humpty-Dumpty of the American Church back together again is a delicate process. On the one hand, I am very glad that Humpty shattered, that the defective pieces have been exposed like: technology driven church, consumeristic church, i-church, health and wealth church, come as you are and stay as you are church, Sunday event church, impotent missionless church. All those pieces contributed to the fall, but we are scrambling to reassemble Humpty too quickly. We are rallying around mission instead of the gospel. If we continue, we will build a new Church based on missional methods, social justice, international justice, not based on teh Gospel of Jesus Christ who defeated sin, death, and evil at the cross in order to make all things new. Our sin, our death, our evil for his righteousness, his life, his glory. We are in danger of abdicating teh Gospel in the name of mission. Just read the CT interview with Rob Bell. Not much Jesus, not much gospel, but lots of justice.