Thursday, July 30, 2015

The church in the storm

The church is called to be distinctive and open in its relationship with the wider world. Distinctive because it is a community of people who ultimately no longer belong to the world (meaning not at all the physical and spiritual creation, but the world-system as it stands with its philosophies and institutions) but to Christ. Open because it is a community of people who cannot help but stand in solidarity with the world, because they are sinful people caught up in the same rebellion against God which characterises the world, and because in Christ their mission is to present to that same world the message of reconciliation.

As the culture of the world around us shifts from indifference to the church to outright hostility, maintaining both of these characteristics is going to become more difficult. There is a storm coming.

There are those churches who represent the 'old' conservative evangelicalism. They are reformed in doctrine, conservative in style. They speak a different language. They tend to be creationist, and to a greater or lesser extent rejectionist when it comes to contemporary culture. They see themselves as a persecuted minority, though this doesn’t necessarily bother them. They expect nothing from the world and ask for no favours. They are on the outside and that's probably okay with them.

These churches will survive the coming storm. Their challenge is to remain (or for some of them, to become) open to the world. The temptation to huddle together and entrench is always there.

The 'new' evangelicalism has made much more of an effort to stay in touch with the world. It generally thinks positively of culture. Churches in this stream show an interest in apologetics, and run film and book clubs. They seek to eliminate any non-essential barriers to participation in church life. They try not to be unnecessarily weird. They engage with politics. They appeal to the world not to shut them out of public life.

Life in the storm will be hard for these churches. I fear many will go under. Their right desire to be open to the world will leave them shipping water. They will lose their distinctiveness. If any are to survive, they will have to be prepared to be on the outside; if they are to thrive, they will have to go there with a willingness to keep on engaging and keep on taking hits.

It is time for judgement to begin with God's own household.

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