This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why Neither Technical Nor Adaptive Change Is Enough for Today's Church.

Beyond Technical and Adaptive.

The PCUSA today needs more than a superficial, technical adjustment.  It also needs more than to adapt to a changing environment.  The denomination basically needs a complete overhaul from the ground up.
When we hear talk of a “new Reformation,” and if it is going to be more than merely commemorating the Reformation of 500 years ago, we need to do in our time what the Reformers did in theirs… only better.  For even though in effect the Reformation was a massive adaptation of Christianity to the new context of Modernity, what the Reformers thought they were doing, and intended to do, was to reground Christianity on its original foundation.  They wanted to recover in their own time the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith of the New Testament.
The results were spotty at best.  
    • First, they did not have the critical tools to discern when they were really following the gospel, and when they were just going along with the flow of history.  Thus what was presented as the real and original faith, ends up really being a decidedly middle-class, European, colonialist redaction of Christianity.  
    • Secondly, they tended to discount Jesus Christ because they maintained an inherent bias in favor of Christendom.  That is, they were committed to maintaining the Christian State.  This meant that Jesus’ most challenging and radical teachings and practices were marginalized, rationalized, or ignored.  
    • And thirdly, they had inherent bias against almost anything smacking of Roman Catholicism.  This meant that even something completely coherent with Jesus’ teachings and the practice of the early church could nevertheless be dismissed and banned for appearing too “Papist.”  Probably the most egregious example of this is the denigration of Mary, the Lord’s mother.  
Therefore, the Reformation didn’t go far enough.  It ended up being mainly a religious expression of, and justification for, Modernity and its rationalism, individualism, colonialism, racism, nationalism, classism, secularism, and reductionist objectification of everything.  By its nadir in the early 20th century, Protestantism was little more than a moralistic chaplaincy sucking up to the Modern State. 
The PCUSA has this Modernist bias embedded in its very DNA.  If we are going to be more than an anachronistic historical relic, we are going to have to excise it, and get back to the original intent of the Reformers, which was to recover the gospel of Jesus and the early church.
Briefly, it means that:
    • Seeing that all perspectives, including ours, are culturally conditioned, it is harder for us to universalize our own context and ideologies.  That being said, we are freed to release all such loyalties and rest in “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture” (Barmen).    
    • We have to get past any reflexive loyalty to Christendom.  We are gaining a better understanding of Jesus’ life and teachings as being inherently and essentially opposed to the accumulation of power and wealth.  The Way of Jesus Christ is anti-imperialistic, egalitarian, inclusive, mystical movement based on simplicity, forgiveness, justice, shalom, and love.
    • We are able now to draw from all of history and human culture elements that express the good news of Jesus Christ.  This intentionally includes whatever good things emerged from Modernity, as well as what we find in earlier and non-European contexts.  We may even locate and appreciate resonances with other world religions, recognizing the Cosmic Christ transcending culture and history.     
I don’t see this happening by means of minor adjustments in our polity or theology.  It will only happen by putting everything on the table in a courageous act of confession, penitence, and renewal.  We need to subject everything to a wall-to-wall reassessment, holding it to the standard of Jesus Christ.
In other words, what we need today is apocalyptic change, change that, after embracing disintegration, reconstructs the church from the original blueprint in the New Testament.  We have to let go of everything out of synch with Jesus Christ, and emerge into his Image which is already within us.

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