The late theologian Phyllis Tickle argued in her book, The Great Emergence, that the church goes through a “rummage sale” approximately every 500 years. It was her belief that we are currently “living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.”
Tickle’s theory has merit, noting the three distinct moments that fit her timetable.
After the first-century church came into existence under Roman persecution, another era emerged when Constantine converted to Christianity, ushering in a golden age for the faith.
Unfortunately, the golden age did not last because the Great Schism separated the church along the lines of Western Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
As time progressed, the western church began to fracture as well. The Reformers set into motion a fractured division within the western church, creating a variety of expressions.
According to Tickle, we now stand at the threshold of another hinge moment within history. Evaluating the current climate across the world, I agree with her prophetic assessment and claim.
The church is currently splitting again along the fault lines of theological and political divisions. The three main divisions emerging within the church are conservative, moderate and liberal.
Now, I will not attempt to define these categories because each is nuanced. In addition, how they define themselves may not square with how others define them. Therefore, I really do not find attempting to define them productive.
However, I think we can agree the divisions are clearly present and increasing with each year. While these divisions are worthy of critical analysis, I want to make an overarching observation.
My good friend and Good Faith Media colleague Johnny Pierce has been arguing for years that the church has abandoned the teaching of Jesus and supplanted it with a “biblical worldview.” Because of his conviction, he launched the Jesus Worldview Initiative.
Pierce points to the problems associated with the concept of a “biblical” worldview. Using the language of a “biblical worldview” absent from Jesus allows for groups to develop a theological framework separate from the teachings and life of Jesus.
For example, one could argue for the subordination of women using only out-of-context passages from the Hebrew Bible and Pauline Epistles. However, when these ideas are filtered through the teaching and life of Jesus, it’s difficult to hold to such a belief because Jesus uplifted and empowered women.
Last week, I had the distinct honor of spending time with a group of pastors. We discussed the notion of moving away from a “biblical worldview” in order to concentrate on a “Jesus worldview.”
Admittedly, this idea of recentering the Christian church around her namesake sounded strange, but we all acknowledged the reality that it’s needed. The Christian church is in a cosmic battle right now to determine the next 500 years of its existence.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this struggle during the first century, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Paul uses the Greek word kosmokrator to describe the cosmic powers at work. The word is defined as, “Ruler of this world, that is, of the world as asserting its independence of God; use of the angelic or demonic powers controlling the sublunary world.”
Theologian Walter Wink argued in his book Engaging the Powers that Paul was referring to the powerful systems working against the mission of God to bring love, justice and peace to the world through Jesus.
Jesus laid the foundation for this theological understanding and missional practice.
When pressed by a lawyer as to what might be the most important belief and practice within God’s law, Jesus stated clearly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27-28).
He does not quantify or qualify it. Jesus simply instructed his followers to love with everything they possibly have.
If the church is to institute a Jesus-centric practice of faith for the next 500 years, then we must set unquantified and unqualified love at the heart of our existence.
Love produces justice and peace. As Baptist and scholar Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Immediately after Jesus stated his theological center for the lawyer, he noted what love would look like in the streets by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Loving God and loving neighbor look strikingly similar.
The modern church faces many of the same dilemmas as the first-century church’s understanding of faith and its practice. We also face many of the same questions.
Will we allow the powerful systems at work to pull us into an unproductive struggle between factions? Will we emphasize doctrinal purity, limiting our ability to love?
Will we be more concerned about ourselves than the neighbors Jesus calls us to help? Will we marry ourselves to political movements instead of dropping everything to follow Jesus?
The church stands at a threshold moment, looking towards an unknown future. My hope, and prayer, is that in the next 500 years the church will look and sound more like Jesus than the fractured vessel we have become.
The time is now for people of good faith to rise up and declare their allegiance to Jesus over all else. Only then can we begin to deconstruct the powerful forces that divide us to restore the love of Jesus that binds us.
CEO of Good Faith Media.