The Wonder of the Church: Part 1 – Falling Short?
4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
Matt 16:18 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Deut 8:11-14 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Reminder: I need to go back over an area I looked at for the first time in the series on ‘Redemption’ a while back, concerning the dangers we face that undermine faith, that have come uniquely in the day in which we live. They are unique challenges because we are living in a world that is facing a) the challenge of the removal of absolutes which result in changes in society in the West never seen before, and b) the challenge of science and technology that has never ever before been seen on this planet. The results of these are that the environment, indeed the very atmosphere that we breath, is different from anything before ever faced by mankind. Not wanting to prolong these thoughts I will seek to condense or summarize these challenges into this one study.
Fitness for Purpose? The heading here is the challenge, “Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’” because it leaves me wondering how effective the modern Church is, and will be, in handling these changes? Are we living out the life and ministry of Christ through the Church in such a way that we will be fit for purpose – the purpose of extending the kingdom of God and bringing Glory to God in the face of all these changes? So, let’s consider some of them, that face us today.
The Removal of Boundaries: As we moved into the twenty-first century, the removal of absolutes from the public opinion of the West was let loose following the removal of society’s belief in God. The result of that change, which has gone on and on, is that we now live in a world – in the West at least – where boundaries are being stripped away so that anything goes.
Removal of Moral Restraint: In a world where right or wrong is simply what fits your life (as long as it apparently doesn’t hurt too many other people) then the boundaries of human behaviour are unlimited. You only have to observe attitudes to sexual behaviour, to take just one example, and the worst you can imagine is happening somewhere and, slowly but surely, is being portrayed as acceptable, however terrible you and I may think it, and as far from God’s design it may appear. Unless revival comes, it may be many decades before modern humanity recognizes the folly and the harm of this attitude, but until that does happen, society is in confusion and the strongest and most strident voices prevail. But how are our young people coping with these temptations? How are we equipping them to stand in the face of this? How many older people, feeling jaded with church life, are drifting from the Lord and even starting to participate in these things? What are we doing to counter this?
Unleashing a Communicating Planet: Never before has mankind had the ability to communicate across the face of the earth as we do today. The number of mobile phones in existence exceeds the population of the world, I am told. When the Internet first came into being, the vast majority of us had no idea of the coming earthquake in human communications, in human values, and in community changes in every major populated area of the world. Across the world TV ownership grew but that was one-way communication. The cell-phone changed all that and then Facebook arrived, and two-way communication went viral.
Leaps in Thinking: As these changes took place, the balance of power changed, in many countries at least, from a limited number of rulers to rule by public opinion, accentuated by the media, facilitated by social media. In the last twenty years, the world has changed, and the change has been dramatic and rapid, increasingly involving more and more of us. Rapidly changing public opinion, often stimulated by social media, means that the Christian voice of restraint is often rubbished, and so we are all being swept along in the fast rushing torrent of rampant and unthought-out change.
Have we been accepting the changes of the past four or five decades, changes in social and moral thinking, changes how we view the world? Have these things been eroding faith and belief? Are we those who increasingly find faith unreal and church experience even more unreal and so slowly cease to be salt and light to the world around them?
Science, Technology and the Cyber-World: Be clear in our understanding.
- Science = “activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. When science goes small it studies atoms, molecules, quarks and dark matter.
- Technology = “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in creating machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge”.
- Cyber refers to the “culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality”.
No period of history has known research in each of these areas in the volume known in the past century and, I suspect, the pace of increase has been incremental, phenomenally so. We are at a point of time when there is talk of ‘quantum computers’ that will be able to handle massively larger amounts of data, vastly faster than ever know before, and the word is that they are coming into being now. The speed of such data handling has opened the door to artificial intelligence, although the debate is about how developed this is. Big-Mind scientists such as Stephen Hawking have given doomsday warnings, that such AI development, linked to advances in robotics may mean that we are rapidly approaching a period in history where the self-learning ‘machines’ will be cleverer than humans and will perhaps determine that humans are no longer needed.
Alongside this, developments in genetic engineering and nanotechnology is now causing some to suggest that not only will we soon have the capability to do away with genetic faults and thus do away with ‘disabilities’ etc. but we will also be able to change the brain to increase intelligence and create two different levels of human beings, with the potential horrors that will accompany that.
Please understand that these are not science fiction, they are the realities on the ‘drawing boards’ of research and development NOW – plus much more. As one CGI developer (computer-generated imagery) said not long back, “If you can imagine it, we can create it on film”. The same is rushing towards practically as science and technology push back boundaries that a century ago would be scoffed at, boundaries where some say, “We are now God.”
But why? So why have I gone down this path in reflections about the ‘Church’? Because this IS the world we now live in. My own belief is that God has given us the abilities to think, reason, plan, research and develop, all for our blessing. I am blessed to be living in this age where medical research and development has meant that the literal short-sightedness of most of my life has been removed. Many others could testify to the good things that have come through modern medicine or modern surgery. It IS good and it came through human development – aided I believe by God.
And Yet: But, of course, the trouble is a) we don’t know when to stop and b) we so often use these things for national advantage and not the welfare of mankind and c) these developments can get into the wrong hands and so, for instance, biological weapons are increasingly easy to be used wrongly by the disenchanted.
Have you come across the ‘Doomsday Clock’? If not let me use Wikipedia to educate you: “The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe … an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war and climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity. The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as “midnight” and …. how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of “minutes” to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 23 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953 and 2018) … As of January 2018, the clock is set at two minutes to midnight.” This is the thinking of ‘top people’, not me.
And So? So why do we need to rethink ‘church’ apart from my earlier starting reasons?
- First, to overcome the temptation to lose perspective. God is still God, Jesus is still seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies, and nothing in the human condition has changed – we are still ‘sinners’ with a tendency to being self-centred and godless and in desperate need of salvation.
- Second, ‘Church’ is about how that works out in practice. As I suggested above, this raises questions about whether the modern church is ‘fit for purpose’ so that the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Mt 16:18).
- Third, we need to refocus on the Biblical truths about God and Jesus and eternal life, to counter the fears that are growing and growing in this present world, and to counter the temptation to believe that simply because we know more than our ancestors, we are better equipped to handle the human condition. The news every day shows we are not.