Church as Modernist

Extra effort at Modernist practice will not address the issues of the post-modernising culture beyond our stained glass walls.  It is not lack of effort that is sinking us; it’s the unknown and misunderstood that no-one saw coming.  More so I believe it is the “misunderestimated” in Dubya parlance; that which some had seen coming but those some were shunned and silenced. Culture to people is like water to a fish, it is all around and vital, but it is invisible and take for granted.  The culture of the Church in the West is highly influenced by Modernism, but as Westerners we cannot see that.  What the Church does in the way of common-sense is linked to what the State does in Europe and North America; we don’t know any different nor recognise any need for difference.  Christianity in the West has discovered equilibrium within Modernity.  However, a disturbed equilibrium is a disaster if it cannot be countered in some way.  Like native fauna destroyed by the introduction of foxes and cats, extinction over a very brief time is a very real possibility. When faced with extinction it is not helpful to go back to the drawing-board and recalibrate the common-sense system.  What is killing the fish (and the Church) is most likely something outside the common-sense categories of scientific knowing.  You cannot plan for what you have not seen, and planning for a second time using the same set of variables just makes the dying worse.  When the established categories of observation no longer fit upon the observable world it is time to change the categories; and it is not time to reinforce them by pressing harder.  It is these newly-imagined categories that shape the new mapping.

We have been taught that the world is a Newtonian machine: data-in-data-out, the whole is the sum of the parts.  Such a mindset does not work when the system itself has come into question and there is a transition between world-views rather than stages within the one.  Unlike the Newtonian world the future for us is not predictable, so our theories of futurism must be adapted to think beyond clinical extrapolation.  In a very strong sense we don’t actually know where we are heading, just that it’s “out” and “away from here”. Purpose (teleology) must be aligned to planning and not siphoned off as internal and personal.  The vision statement of a Christian community, its planning and forecasting, and its short- and long-term goals cannot be separated from the purposes of God.  It is not good enough to build a business model and then tack scriptures on to the end of each dot point as proof texts, not good enough at all.  Planning must be driven by interaction with the God of Mission at Mission if it is to be at all relevant to the forward movement of any local church.  Without actively attentive engagement with the story of God any church’s planning becomes purposeless, since engaging with the Mission of God is the Church’s sole purpose.  We can no longer leave engagement with God in the private sphere if we are to engage in mission in the world.

It’s not just the immediate cultural thing of the country being like the 1960s in terms of neighbourliness and pace of life.  It’s that the 1960s were highly modernist and so then is the thinking of country people.  It’s not that they aren’t urbanites it’s that they aren’t Post-Modern.  We reached a Tipping Point: incremental changes in seemingly unconnected facets abruptly and dramatically tipped the balance and now everything is different all of a sudden.  Our problem is this changed reality, our problem is not theology or management or sexuality.  Those are Modernist responses, a means of trying to define the problem in terms of a box.  The box is gone, the whole system is gone, and it is our inability to read the new system and to recognise that there is one at all which is the problem.  With that in mind we don’t actually know what is emerging or what the new Church will look like to need to look like.  This is why we need to be map-makers and leaders in adaptation for our communities of worship and mission.  We can be excited that God is calling us forward to a new thing, a New Creation where all things are different and not just revamped.  We are entering World 2.0, (or even New World 1.0); not World 1.9 with patches.

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