In the last part of this mini-series, pastor Keith explores how three of the most basic words in Christianity may soon no longer mean what we’ve always thought and believed.

Church

Not that we really know what this word means anyways. With all the different arrays of ecclesial expressions that continue to exist and thrive in our midst; church can mean anything from traditional orthodoxies to Jesus People communities. However, we still have to acknowledge that at some point, current cultural realities like individualism and relativism will further shape how we think and see church at the most basic levels; much like how modern realities such as  absolute truth and rationalism have deeply defined the consumeristic, hyper-intellectualized ecclesiology which dominates the entire church landscape today.

So if we play things out, one might forecast how someday “church” will no longer be defined as some organized community of faith that seeks to benefit individuals in their relationship with Jesus along specific preferences, but rather; individualism and relativism might push us to define church as more of a movement where individuals who already have an organized or self-sustaining relationship with Jesus tribalize with others along specific values.

The more individualistic our world becomes, the less church will be defined by the inter-connectedness of people. We can already see this in how far church has shifted from institutionalism, even to the point of mistakingly assuming that institutions aren’t conducive to community instead of realizing that institutionalism offers a different formation of community. As more and more Christians associate “institution” with “religion” while choosing to describe church with words like “gathering” and “family” instead, we can also see a shift from inter-connected community to equal community.

One way to illustrate this is with football. Some of us see a football team as a community where different players play specific positions which need particular skills; which creates an inter-connected community. Only the running back runs the ball so there can be no team or church without them. But nowadays, we are seeing more and more “hybrid” players who play multiple positions. We’re seeing more and more players who can all throw the ball like a quarterback and run it like a running back; which creates an equal community. If we have no running back, we’ll use a quarterback because we’re equal. We don’t define the team or church by roles, we just need players who are willing to get on the field.

However, we should also note that even the most postmodern and progressively equal communities today still have some institutionalism to them no matter how flat the org-chart appears to be. This means we still have a ways to go in our evolving definition of church, and this will continue to be the case until we can shed the habit of understanding church as what broken individuals need to be whole in Christ for a more individualistic and movement-centered definition where it’s the church that’s broken and in need of already whole individuals in Christ to give it meaning and power.

Additionally, the more relativistic we become as a society, the more churches may start to form based on how individuals value Christianity as opposed to what demographics are being preferred or catered to the most. Instead of every pastor and lay leadership team deciding who to target their dollars and programs to, the focus might shift to targeting people who see and value Jesus or Christianity a certain way regardless of age and background or even location. Over time, this might shift the landscape of churches forming as a “seniors church” or “young-family church” or “immigrant church” to forming or tribalizing as value-driven churches like “Jesus is my homeboy church” or “Jesus is my mystic church,” etc.

In this light, the next chapter of apologetics may also become less about Jesus vs. Buddha and more about Jesus vs. Jesus.

Keith C.
Emmanuel  Covenant Church

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