7.17.2017

Christianity 3.0 - Sketching the Outlines of the New Reformation

In a previous post I revisited a talk given by Douglas Rushkoff in 2004, titled "RenaissanceProspects."  Building on his identification of the digital age as a "New Renaissance," I suggested that since the first Renaissance was accompanied by Reformation, a new Digital Renaissance could also bring about a New Reformation?

I would like to sketch out some of my thoughts on what I believe this New Reformation will involve, and what I want to be the focal points of this blog.

Just as the Old Reformation
The New Reformation
Gave Everyone a Bible
Gives Us Greater Access to Historical Context
Emphasized the Individual Interpreter
Reintroduces Interpretive Communities
Increased Political Entanglement
Opens The Door to Political Disentanglement
Gave Us Congregationalism
Organic Organizational Structures


Enhanced Contextual Understanding: Putting the Bible in the hands of every believer was an important step towards liberating individuals from the sometimes abusive control of the institutional church. When the Bible moved into the center of authority for the believer (displacing ecclesiastical hierarchy,) individual Christians were empowered to judge the rules and beliefs of the church by appealing directly to the scriptures. 

For all the good that came of this, there was also confusion. At first it was believed that giving everyone a Bible which they could read for themselves would lead to greater clarity and unity. We did not understand, at the time, that meaning is determined by context - and unfortunately we are separated from the Biblical context by language, culture, and time.  

The New Reformation promises to give us greater access to historical context. The ease with which information is distributed, and the cross fertilization of ideas made possible by social media has lead to the popularization of Biblical scholarship. Authors like N.T. Wright and Mike Heiser, who have a firm grasp on the historical context of the Biblical authors. This shows a maturing of the Reformation ideal, which made Scripture the center of Christian authority. 

Interpretive Communities: Individualism has always played a role in Christianity. But the lingering dynamics of aural culture were still very much in effect until invention of the printing press. This guaranteed a certain level of community as devotional practice was primarily expressed in communal activities like the public reading of the scriptures, liturgy, and the celebration of the Eucharist. As the individual's interpretation, and private spiritual experience became more important - devotional practices shifted to things like private devotional reading, prayer, and quiet time. These are not bad things in themselves, but as the cohesive social activities became increasingly anemic, the result was the fragmentation of the church and the isolation of the individual believer.

The internet has helped people connect in ways that were unimaginable before. Social networks which used to be heavily weighted towards shared factors like distance, employment, and social circles, can now form in much freer patterns, along the lines of interests, personal convictions, and goals. Individual believers who once found themselves isolated in a fragmented culture, and unfulfilled by the expressions of church available to them, are now able to make connections that could inspire them to move across the country or around the globe to connect with Christian family they never knew existed. House Church's which may have been going on for years, but were invisible because of their low profile, are now, in many  cases, more easily discovered than mega-churches which all tend to blur together in the digital landscape. 

Political Disentanglement: The Church has been entangled with political power since Constantine - contrary to the trajectory set out by Jesus himself when he said "My Kingdom is not of this world." The First Reformation saw believers stand for their beliefs against the unified power of the Church/State, but early Reformation Churches, for whom the Church/State fusion felt natural, simply fell back into this unholy alliance in the form of Confessionalism.

The first real attempt to free the church from its Babylonian Captivity came with the advent of puritan Congregationalism. However, the Church's independence from the State in the west really took off here in the United States.  But even while not officially tied to the state, many Christians are still tempted to ally themselves with political powers in an attempt to further the Kingdom of God.

New movements have begun to arise however that seek to disentangle the Church from political power. Books like Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation, and Keith Giles book Jesus Untangled, give hope for a future where the church again embraces its universal message and speaks to our world with a prophetic voice.

Organic Church Structures: Early on the Biblical model of collective leadership of the church through a body of spiritually discerned mature Christians (elders) was replaced by a professional ministry class that was self selected and whose authority was derived from the concept of  appointment to an "office". The Protestant Reformation did little to address this situation. Even the democratizing Congregational model did little to erase this distinction.

This had the negative effect of created a large class of lay Christians who saw being Christian and attending Church as their only spiritual responsibilities. People who did not find a place in the body according to their spiritual gifting, had to base their commitment on moral duty instead, and the passion for being a body suffered.

This New Reformation has increased the visibility of smaller Christian communities. Peaple who thought small organic communities were the way to go - but never thought they could start one, are finding it easier to discover these groups and like minded people, due to social media. Resources and experience is now also easier to share between these groups. The institutional church seems to be in decline these days. Small organic Churches may be a necessity in the future. Some suggested reading in this area would be works by Frank Viola (Pagan Christianity, Finding Organic Church, Church Re-Imagined), Robert Banks (Paul's Idea of Community, The Church Comes Home), Graham Cray (The Mission Shaped Church), Roland Allen (Paul's Missionary Methods, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church).

As I try to work out my thoughts and learn to communicate them here on this blog, I hope you find it interesting. I hope these ideas are provoking to you as well. We need a new reformation to revitalize the church for this century.


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