Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chance for Renewal?

The news out of Europe for the Roman Catholic Church is not good. Following on the heels of a disastrous sexual abuse scandal in Ireland is an even more embarrassing scandal in Germany. The press is raising questions about how Pope Benedict XVI handled the case of a pedophile priest when he as an Archbishop. Outraged Catholics in Europe are calling out for greater accountability from their leadership—particularly from local bishops. Whatever moral authority remained for the Roman Catholic Church in Europe is quickly draining away. The church seems plagued by sclerotic leadership more concerned with the preservation of institutional prerogatives that with openness and truthfulness. I fear that excessive worry about preserving power in the hands of the clergy and hierarchy has cost the leadership its power rather than enhanced it. Will the church long survive without completing the renewal process began under Pope John XXIII but sabotaged by John Paul II?

I speak, of course, as an outsider to the Roman Catholic community. But my own Protestant community is in no less trouble. The mainline church seems determined to tear itself to pieces over human sexuality. Having accommodated itself to the culture long ago it is struggling to find a message and a purpose. Since the 1960s its numbers and influence have declined precipitously. It seems to unerringly swerve wherever the cultural wind is blowing. Will the mainline church long survive without clarity on the gospel, connection with a Christian past, and commitment to a Christian future?

My own community, for better and for worse, is Evangelical. In spite of apparent gains we have no reason to be smug. The evangelical community suffers from a nihilistic individualism that continues to fragment churches and denominations. Its churches are frequently glittering and large. Their programs are impressive. Their pastors are masterful communicators. But are they any less accommodated than their mainline sisters and brothers? Are their values rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ or in market capitalism? Are they as thoughtlessly wedded to the political right as the mainline church is to the political left? Evangelicals are no less subject to squabbling than the Protestant mainline churches. But they suffer from having no center, no tradition, and no larger community of discourse. In another generation will the Evangelical Church exists only as shards and fragments?

Perhaps the future of Christianity requires a total collapse of its current institutional forms. Perhaps followers of Jesus need to called back to his message, his gospel. Perhaps out of the ruins of our Christian present we can reclaim a Christian past. Perhaps we need to be formed once again as disciples in a community that reads God’s word, worships breaks bread, and loves one another—and the world. I am not anti-institutional. I have been a part of the institutional church all of my life and served it in my adulthood. But I wonder if the church of Jesus Christ in both its individual and institutional form has ever needed a renewal, a reformation, more than today.

1 comment:

  1. What might that institutional church need? Perhaps a return to confession, repentance and accountability to God's Word. Perhaps belief in the authority of that Word rather than humanistic pursuits that smack of works rather than faith. Perhaps another reformation or a return to the Reformation that rejected Rome.