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.