Up to some point in the SS Titanic’s fatal journey towards the notorious iceberg there remained a window of opportunity during which decisive action could have been taken that would have avoided the disaster that ultimately took place. We know of course that such action was not taken, at least before it was too late, and the window of opportunity closed and the ship full of partying passengers plunged into its icy tomb. I wonder is that kind of closing window image, a terminating ‘kairos’, a fading time of opportunity apt for the church of our time? Given the well documented trends of decline how long have we got, indeed have we got any time left to change the direction of SS ‘Church’, or is the ’Window’ already closed?
I was caused to ponder on this by an article entitled “Having Forgotten its Foundations, Europe’s House is Falling Apart” in the ‘Wall Street Journal’. The article claimed that the “death of Europe is in sight” because it has become morally incompetent, because it has undermined its own (Judeo-Christian) foundations. To put it another way, the Judeo –Christian metanarrative (the grand story) that was the womb that nurtured and gave form to modern Europe is now ignored and even denied by modern Europeans, particularly the intelligentsia. The result is now a moral vacuum, a society fragmenting and drowning in a moral shallowness.
Why is this relevant to those of us who live half a world away in Australia? Because we are a nation that was born and nurtured by the same now lost metanarrative at the centre of which was God, and we are afflicted with the same God-denying cancer, a society with the same moral vacuum collapsing into the same Abyss, where what is right is what I think it is and therefore nothing can be said to be absolutely ‘right’. The reality is that we are now in a ‘Judges’ society where everyone does “what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) , where there is no ‘King’ i.e. absolute authority, and certainly not God, where a Neitzschean ‘God is dead’ relativism pervades, where the ‘grand story’ is replaced by a multitude of ‘my stories’.
So what can save this society teetering on crumbling foundations? It can only be the restoration of the biblical ‘grand story’ which birthed and shaped the western civilization now collapsing. What can be the agent of such a restoration? It can only be that God-ordained body we call the church. Ah yes, the church, now weak, enfeebled, infected with the gods of the culture, fading into peripheral irrelevancy. A Laodicean St Luke-warms, having lost its first love, a pale and paling apology for the glorious Christ- created body that once was, that spread the gospel to far off pagan lands, for which men and women were burned, stoned, crucified. The Satan-terrifying body once powered by the Pentecostal Spirit, but enflamed no more. And the ‘Window’ keeps on closing’.
It could be said that the church fiddles in an Einsteinian insanity of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results that do not materialize, while the Rome of western civilization burns.
A methodist minister recently said that he thought most of his 35 year ministry had “been insane”! For he had
“Enthusiastically followed the latest ideas for ministry, evangelism and church growth. However, none of them have gone deep enough to examine, much less challenge, deep-rooted ideas about what church is”.
That would be typical of many leaders and churches, for I believe that the core of our missional unfruitfulness is a failure to go “deep enough to examine, much less challenge, deep-rooted ideas about what church is”, and to develop a new biblical ecclesiology for a truly missional church. Rather we continue with a Sunday-centric, in-drag, Christendom form model of church that persists in re-treading 20th century forms of local mission. This includes the traditional classic church plant which is culturally alien, vastly, yes vastly, too expensive and too slow to change for a culture in turmoil. And the ‘Window keeps on closing’.
So what will bring about the saving, nation redeeming change? Yes it can only be the church, but for that to happen it must be restored to that demon-quaking, Spirit powered purpose for which it was created, and in its current form it is long since past being anything like that. And the ‘Window keeps on closing’.
What is needed is for the church to be set free, unbound, from the current forms of church, culturally alien forms and long since past ‘use-by-date’ missional strategies of yesteryear. New strategies and forms are required, those which the Unbounded Church concept can release. This will require an urgent radical change such that the currently developing and fruitful alternative forms of ‘church’ move, using the title given to an imminent church conference, ‘From Margins to Mainstream’. i.e. Missional Church Communities and networks will need to become the norm not the exception. But as the traditional church gives all the appearance of sleep walking into the iceberg, how much time to we really have?
As the ‘Window keeps on closing’