Mariner had a conversation yesterday with a person of good mind and sound scruples. It started with the topic of Lent, which is upon us, but grew into a conversation about the contemporary Christian perception of ‘church’.
During Lent there are additional worship services, as there are for any special season in the liturgical calendar. Mariner challenged the role of the church today as a center for the promotion of what Jesus represented in the New Testament and what protestant founders like Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Smith and Jakob Amman perceived as the role of the church.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, founders were adamant about submission to the spirit of God’s will. The central premise was to live life according to what God wanted rather than follow the will of false gods like wealth and self-aggrandizement. Mariner suggested that the modern church had lost its way; yielding to political authority (Pharisees), social gratification (pew Christians) and industrialized management of God’s will (name any protestant rule-setting authority).
Mariner proposed that the church, as a Christian entity, had the responsibility of evangelism, missions and social outreach – all of which are richly represented in the New Testament.
Mariner’s guest suggested that personal faith was more important than institutional (church) definitions; that the world today is not the world during Roman possession of Israel and not even the human reality of life during the Reformation. In essence, the guest was suggesting that morality and social responsibility is a condensation of the social psyche; the tools were sympathy, empathy and fairness.
Mariner suggested this was faith as a derivative of existentialism, that is, faith was a modernly equipped sailboat drifting with the weather rather than sailing with a rudder and predefined destination. The guest countered that at this moment in the twenty-first century there is no social destination, that morality is a response to a society in flux that has no traditional interpretation of social justice – let alone theological perceptions.
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A fascinating conversation for sure. The conclusion for mariner and the guest is that the traditional church of even one hundred years ago no longer exists. The doctrinal strength of Christianity does not meet the need of people in today’s topsy-turvy world. Even traditionalists who stand by the rituals of the church use the church for other reasons related to self-assuredness in a shifting society, a rule of thumb for responsible behavior in an existential world and even as a tool to joust with the political influences of government and as social standing in the community. This does not suggest that Christian responsibility is not practiced; togetherness, charity and authority as expressions of humanness are everywhere.
It is not an easy time in history to know what theologically-based faith requires. Is another reformation due?