The Future of the Church?

It seems nearly everywhere I turn these days I am being confronted with a  question about the future of the church, even if there is a future.  Since I like to walk down the middle of the road a lot, I find myself responding in different ways.  Firstly, I have to ask what one means by “church”.  The institutional church will continue as long as there are people who will finance it for whatever reason.  Many will continue to support the church because they are devoted to doing God’s work, some even after their death through a bequest to the church.  Others will continue to support their church because they are concerned about their own futures after death.

At the same time there are those who have chosen to stop supporting any particular church.  These folks may have out-grown the effectiveness of what they were being fed by the church institution.  Their attitude likely is that since they no longer feel the church is relevant to their needs, why should they continue to uphold an institution that is past its due date.  Others simply may have stopped supporting the church because they may have felt hurt by the church.  I have learned over my years (often by mistakes being made) that if I close the church door in someone’s face, they are not likely going to try to get in through a window.  In the past churches have refused to marry someone unless they received an annulment from the church, despite they had children from the previous marriage.  I was asked once to marry a couple because they couldn’t get married in “their” church because they were divorced.  Yet once they were married, they would be more than welcome to fully participate in the church because they were married.

One group that operates both outside and inside the church is often known as the SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) group.  Many in this group are outside the confines (more than one meaning intended) of the church.  They may not agree with those things done in the name of the church and therefore feel they can’t support something that acts, in their minds at least, as unloving.  Others may consider themselves as part of the SNBR group but have stayed within the church.   They have continued to grow in their faith and yet feel the need for the community that is provided in and through the church.  These folks may not agree with their church’s doctrine or dogma. They continue to study their Bible but refuse to take it literally.

So when it comes down to being asked about the future of the church, I find my reactions mixed. Since the beginnings of this institution nearly 2000 years ago, the church has gone through many changes.  Interpretations and understandings of the Word of God have changed for some but not so much for others, yet change has occurred.  Just having the Bible printed in English is a change.  (The saying that the King James Version was good enough for Jesus so it must be good enough for me doesn’t really work if it ever did.)  The music of praise has changed as even organs were not used when worship began.  Old hymns were once new hymns, and so on.

Does the church have a future?  Do we need the church in the future?  These questions and others like them will have different answers for different people.  What is even more important is how people act toward one another. If we follow the Way of God (name for original Christianity) we need to accept that change though difficult is also necessary.  We need also be prepared to accept that the Spirit that lives in, around and through us does not cease to do so just because we choose to thwart or deny it.  Rather to be part of the living Spirit we need first and foremost to live lives of meaning and love, knowing that we are loved regardless of what we decide about the future of the church.

Creation isn’t done.

An interesting discussion was overheard this week between a creationist and an evolutionist.   Well, it was more of an argument than a discussion.  At one point the person speaking in favour of evolution said that one could still believe in religion and also evolution.  The person speaking in favour of the story of creation was not convinced.  It would seem that there was no room in the story of God for the story of evolution.

To me, this argument is nothing new, but it does become very difficult to accept the Bible as the literal story of creation while still trusting the teachings of Charles Darwin and such.  However, science (which is not generally opposed to religion) has proven that the earth is millions of years old and not less than 10,000 years if one uses biblical calculations.

In arguing that evolution has and is occurring doesn’t prevent me from also believing in an “other” that has been called God or Allah or Jehovah.  At one time general belief accepted that the earth was flat; the world was three distinct layers (commonly referred to as Heaven, Earth and Hell).  One of the first Soviet cosmonauts has been recorded as commenting from “outer space” that he did not see any sign of “god or heaven or angels” while supposedly in the heavens above.  It could be that he didn’t know what to look for.  On the other hand, that to only look for God in outer space is itself very misleading.

When asked about belief in God and the Big Bang Theory (the event, not the TV show) the Roman Catholic priest heading up the Vatican’s science department asked, “What was before the big Bang?” Without denying the science that the part of the universe we know came into existence with a big bang, he also suggested that God was present.

Even before humans could write, they told stories of how they came to be; of why things are like they are or at least should be, especially if power and control was to be exerted by those with it.  For about three quarters of the time the Christian world has been counting (that is to say “after the birth of Jesus”) the written stories were not available to the common person in English or French or any languages other than Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek or Latin.  (Just so you may know, I studied these three but never did very well.) As these stories and historical accounts became more readily available to those who could read, study became even more important as there is often more than one meaning in a story.  It became all the more important for me to “wrestle with the Scriptures” searching for a revelation.

The more I would wrestle, the more it became apparent to me that to view God as Creator was not inappropriate, nor was it enough to accept the literalness of the stories.  Rather, it became quite obvious to me that both arguments (for and against evolution) had merit. Yet to limit one’s thinking was not only inappropriate but sometimes dangerous.  It becomes dangerous whenever one tries to limit the existence of God.  It is dangerous to believe that God is a being who is all-powerful. It is dangerous (and downright lazy) not to accept that what once was believable can change.  I have been told that everything contains a flaw and numerous songs and stories remind us that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “that is how the light gets in”.   And for me at least, that light is in some way the Divine