Another article about Church politics??? I thought you were talking about books!! Yeah, sorry about, that. I promise I will be offering information about my books soon, as I have some interesting items coming into my Library next week. But for now, you’ll have to do with this I’m afraid. As the Dutch say, when the heart is full the mouth flows over.
The Churches in the western world face a very difficult task at the moment. It is not so much the decline in church membership I am speaking about. What I think the churches’ challenge is right now is how to be a welcoming place in a increasingly pluralistic society. But in order to do that we need to know where we stand (and where we draw the line). So… where do we stand? Is the Church Left, or Right? Liberal or Labour? Evangelical or Traditional? Catholic or Protestant? Modern society pushes us to make a choice and I believe that is where our greatest challenge lies.
As an Anglican I know we sometimes pride ourselves on choosing the middle way, being a “Via Media”, and we might be accused of being fence sitters. There has always been a tension in Anglicanism between the “High Church” and the “Low Church”, the Catholics and the Evangelicals. But this tension exists in all of society and as a Christian community we need to dare to walk that fine line between two seemingly opposite sides.
I feel that there is a growing sense of polarisation and dis-unity in society, and many churches follow that trend. The rift between Traditional and Evangelical is growing. This modern “You have to choose a side” approach draws us into conflict where listening and understanding is no longer at the top of the agenda. For the Church this listening has been replaced by mission statements. Yet the middle way is not a lack of choice, but a very deliberate one. As we are tempted to split into extremes we have to realise that in the centre is only one thing: Jesus Christ. As church we need to dare to make that most difficult of choices: to live in tension with the existence of both realities. Jesus never chose a side but he didn’t sit on the fence either; he always found a third way, a better way. He embraced all sides of our humanity fully. And we must never forget that he was a living paradox himself: being Fully Human, and Fully Divine. So we are called to be Christ like, but also as human as we can be.
At the moment I do not see this happening in the church. With the leadership of a number of large denominations becoming far more theologically and socially conservative than most of their lay membership, there is a growing sense of being “out of touch” with our society. As Liturgies are changed to attract more people by adjusting them to an ever-changing society, hoping to be able to increase their resources, theological and social perspectives are not updated to correspond with that. There tends to be a correlation between modern worship and conservative theology. To use some rather crude terminology, “enormous effort is put into the marketing and selling of a product, but the product itself is not being developed”.
All this modern worship is aimed almost solely at evangelisation, hoping to attract more people. But all these evangelisation efforts are preoccupying the church at the expense of interest in ecumenical dialogue and Christian unity. As dualistic as human beings are, again two options are put on the table: modernisation of worship or modernisation of theology. Most of the churches offer differing ways of modern liturgy and leave behind theology and spiritual development. Yet if the church is supposed to be the body of Christ then, just as humanity and divinity co-existed in one body, liturgy and theology, spirituality and evangelisation, personal and communal all have to co-exist in the one body.
So, where do we stand as Christians in a polarized society? Everywhere.