Philosophy Lite: Churches in the 21st century
By Raymond Smith
Most Christians today are aware that the church is undergoing change. Many new independent churches are springing up, worship styles are changing, architecture is changing from stained-glass windows and steeples to simple rectangular buildings, musical groups perform, attendees are dressing less formally, and drama and Powerpoint presentations are being used.
Most of these changes seem to be welcomed, especially by the younger generation. The churches that hold on to the old ways often find their membership dwindling. Meanwhile, church leaders are sorting all of this out and trying to determine how they should react to the situation.
The title, "The Emerging Church" has taken on a negative connotation suggesting liberalism - liberalism of the Postmodernism and Moral Relativism sort. That sort of emergence is not good.
It is good that the church is trying to keep up with the times because these new ways seem to be attracting great numbers of young people who might otherwise reject the church of the past. However, church doctrine is not up for compromise.
There are certain unalterable truths upon which all Christendom has rested, such as redemption through faith in Christ, the Bible as our only source of truth, there is a life beyond, and a time of judgment. There is also a danger that some worship features may amount to mere entertainment.
There is a new emphasis on home groups and house churches. While these options were popular in the early days of Christianity, they were often done out of necessity because of the persecution of that day. While these small groups offer close fellowship and sharing, they are not without serious problems. There must be strong and educated leadership, otherwise they may go astray in their theology. The leader must be solidly established on basic Christian doctrine.
Retreats are a popular way of deepening fellowship and commitment. For the Protestants, there is the Walk to Emmaus, a three-day weekend designed to bring the pilgrim into a deeper relationship with the Lord and with others. The ACTS retreat sponsored by the Catholics is similar in content and style. I'm not supposed to reveal any of the "secrets" of the retreat, but the food is great.
Some churches are deeply involved in the social gospel, which some fear will take the place of piety and evangelism and even cause some to think that good works will get them to heaven.
For those interested in the changes that are taking place in the church, there are books on the subject; the Internet and Google are helpful and George Barna's polls are very instructive. Go to Barna.org and click on "Updates."
The churches that grow will be those who seek to understand their member's needs and wishes without compromising basic Christian doctrines. They will be churches that challenge members to a deeper spiritual life and to find and develop their own personal ministry. They will be churches who thoughtfully address all areas of Christianity and keep everything in balance.
Raymond Smith is president of the Strong Families of Victoria.