Many sincere Christians within all denominational groups, as well as those in non-denominational churches, are aware that something significant is missing in their walk with Christ. These Christ-followers have this gnawing and nagging sense that the way in which they have been taught to approach their daily practice of Christianity is in some way lacking. Most of these folks can accurately be described as spiritual seekers – seeking a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus and, at the same time, a clearer sense of ultimate purpose and direction.
Whenever we take the time to truly look at the writings in the Bible in general and in the New Testament in particular, we are confronted with a salient truth: the path of Christianity is intended to be and designed to be a transformational walk of faith. In other words, becoming a Christian should initially change us in some fundamental sense and further, our ongoing path of discipleship should solidify those initial changes and usher in a more profound spiritual transformation.
The dilemma of many Christ-followers as described in the opening paragraph is born out of the fact that, as a whole, this transformational character of the Christian faith appears to have disappeared or, at best, has gone into hiding. The vast majority of Christians, when pressed to engage in honest self-confrontation, will confess that they consistently find themselves asking, “Is this really all there is?”
I am no psychic and I make no claims at having special revelations from God. However, I think I can safely say that this state of affairs in the contemporary church must bring a tear to the eye of Christ. I do believe, however, that change is coming and, in fact, is already here. A few months back I discussed some of these ideas concerning “post-religious” culture on this blog. Since that time, I have become even more convinced that this radical change of the practice of Christianity will congeal and eventually itself come to be the dominant version of Christian community.
These days it is common parlance to state that American culture is now both Post-Modern and Post-Christian. In most ways I suspect this is an accurate statement. Our culture increasingly holds post-modern beliefs as sacred and Christianity, long the bedrock of America’s spiritual life, has receded in terms of status and influence. I would add to these realities a third idea: American culture is increasingly “Post-Religious.”
Even adherents of established religious traditions have realized that small group settings are more conducive of authentic spirituality. Many churches break down their membership into such enclaves; small groups of Buddhist pilgrims, loosely affiliate with a major teaching center in another locale, are springing up all across the country; and an increasing number of Yoga groups are forming to deepen members’ awareness of the philosophy behind the postures and practices they regularly perform.
If we indeed are moving toward a post-religious culture, and I believe that we are, there is an interesting paradox in all of this. The fact is that Americans are becoming far more spiritual while at the same time becoming far less religious. I am aware that the phrase “I’m spiritual but not religious” has been uttered so often it has become trite. Still, hidden behind these frequently repeated words there is a distinct reality: While we are becoming less dependent upon organized religion as a culture, we are becoming an increasingly spiritual nation.
As the next ten years unfold, I believe we will see the ministry of small groups of believers, similar to “house churches,” will increasingly dominate the landscape of Christianity. As this process evolves, these small groups may or may not band themselves together into larger bodies of varying association. One possibility is that over time these small groups will unite to form the equivalent of new denominations within the larger context of the Christian faith. Chances are, however, that the great majority of these groups will come to so cherish their independence in purpose and practice that denominational organization will be unthinkable. From a sociological perspective, this process should be interesting.
I am of the belief that Christianity as it has been known and practiced over the last two to three centuries is waning rapidly. New, vital, and dynamic embodiments of the path of Christ are emerging and this trend will continue. I think one important characteristic of the new wineskins that we see taking shape is the emphasis placed on the Divine Laws of the universe and what these laws mean to our walk of faith. Although it may not be totally accurate, it may be possible to say that we are in the early stages of a new Reformation.
The explosive growth of the Christian faith in the southern hemisphere, in China, and in the former Soviet Union is an example that something new is being birthed by God. Further, the rapid growth of the Word of Faith Movement is also an indicator that Christians and non-believers are both seeking a more experiential and practical faith. Granted, the Faith Movement has its problems. However, if one cuts through much of the hoopla and the bells and whistles used by its leaders, the Faith Movement is based on factual divine laws and these laws, when properly applied, do work. I think these trends point to the fact that whatever form the new spirituality takes, it will have a decidedly metaphysical core. In spite of the fears and objections of traditionalists, conservatives, fundamentalists, and most Evangelicals, I am of the firm conviction that this return to the true metaphysics of the gospel is both empowering and overdue.
There are many divergent perspectives on what the major aspects of the universal purpose of this age. These diverse views have components that are in agreement with one another and, at the same time, also have aspects that are in sharp contrast. No matter what view one holds, several things are certain:
- Change is happening on a global scale and it is occurring at a rapidity never seen before.
- This age in which we live presents humankind with tremendous challenges as well as opportunities.
- Boundaries between people, nations, religions, and races are falling.
- Culture is becoming increasingly global in nature.
- The interdependence of all Creation is becoming more apparent.
- Humans are increasingly becoming less religious and more spiritual.
These are but a small sampling of the themes and issues that are taking place around the globe as the first decade of the new century winds to a close. Of particular interest is the last item mentioned: that humans tend to focus less on religion and more on spirituality. The phrase, “I’m spiritual but not religious” has been uttered so frequently that it has now become trite. Still, these words reflect a growing reality in our world. People everywhere are experiencing a deep spiritual hunger and almost universally find that institutional religion will not satisfy that sublime longing.
Religions, by their very nature, will not get the job done. All religions began as an attempt on the part of humans to formalize and standardize the process of raising consciousness to a level adequate to make experiential contact with the Divine Source, no matter how it is defined. All religions began well but have ended poorly. In this age, humankind will of necessity learn to operate in a post-religious context. Formal religions will continue to exist and serve positive purposes, but will not function as a source of spiritual development beyond a certain point. Over the next ten years or so, we will witness the emergence of numerous new wineskins in which the impartation of spiritual teachings will take place. Some of these new wineskins will be highly positive and will serve the unfolding of God’s divine plan. Others will be less than what they should be and, in fact, may do more harm than good. For the individual seeker, discernment is critical.
Whatever forms the new Christianity may take, I believe it must have at least three primary elements which guide its mission and its practice. First, I see this fresh, new faith as being Creative and Progressive. By these terms I mean that the coming Christianity, while holding firmly to the core truths of its tradition, will, at the same time, find new, creative, and relevant ways in which gospel truths might be transmitted. The Body of Christ, especially in these new wine skins, will remain evangelistic but will be so in a distinctively alternative manner. Put simply, the new faith will attract potential converts through its service and its missional activities. By carrying out its Christ-given mandate to be of service, the faith will increasingly attract new members because of what the church does and what it is, not what it says and what it believes.
Secondly, the fresh, vital forms of the faith will be transformative. As stated at the beginning of this article, many sincere Christians have now sensed that something fundamental and live-giving has been missing from the traditional church for decades. The new faith bodies, small in terms of membership but highly focused in terms of purpose, will be disciple making. Spiritual formation and personal change will be the driving force of these groups of believers. Driven by the inner hunger for more of God that has been divinely placed in every heart, the new Christianity will operate under a growing awareness that God is here, he is there, and he is everywhere. Animated by that truth, the new faith understands that no one need go hungry for God. Instead, disciplines will be taught that assist individuals to become more intimate with God and generally more satisfied in their walk of faith.
Third, the new faith will be incarnational. This simply means that these small groups of consecrated believers will take seriously the Christian call to service – the privilege and the responsibility of being Christ’s hands, feet, and heart here on earth. Put simply, the new faith will have a proactive heart of service and compassion. Given the Lord these groups follow, there could be no other choice.
Taken as a whole, this trio of vital elements will give the new Christianity a solid foundation upon which to operate as the 21st Century unfolds. This fresh approach to the faith should continue to evolve as we, as the Body of Christ, encounter our changing culture in a proactive manner. Being proactive is essential, I think. For too long the Church has been reactive. This is not longer an option. Given the nature and the shifting realties of the rapidly changing world in which we find ourselves, we must proactively anticipate trends before they manifest and thereby be ready to offer the faith to our culture in ways that are consistently relevant.
Christ told us to go into all the nations and make disciples. Further, he showed us by the example of washing his disciples’ feet that we are called to nothing less than the ministry of the towel. We are not leaders, gurus, or swamis. Instead, we are servants. This, my friend, is the incarnational aspect of the disciple making church. In addition, we are now ready to put these realities into new wineskins and get on with the business at hand: helping establish the kingdom on earth.
I feel even the concept of kingdom is somewhat irrelevant and archaic. How many people really understand or relate to kingdoms, anymore? We might try something different.
At LifeBrook, for example, we like to invite people to join in the Dance of God.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved