In our church, lately (in every church lately?), we’ve had more than a few sanctioned conversations about revitalizing the church. These musings have been called Town Hall Meetings and New Initiative brainstorming sessions, among other things. The revitalizing issue also comes up in other places – in staff and Vestry meetings, in the parking lot, at small group gatherings, at the outreach meetings, at the Healing Team meetings… there’s something in the air.
Recently a friend gave me a book: From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2013). The author – Wesley Granberg-Michaelson – is the former head of the Reformed Church in America and was a key staff leader for the World Council of Churches in Geneva. I started the book while waiting for a bus today and three chapters in I was wishing that I wasn’t the only one in the waiting room at my doctor’s office so I could tell others they could take my appointment time… I’d have been happy to keep reading.
The title tells us where the book (or Christianity, for that matter) is headed. I realize that this may not be earth-shattering news for folks who read blogs like this. But try this on for size: “The potential for sharp conflicts is severe between churches in the North, rooted for hundreds of years in faithful tradition, who strive to continue their witness amidst the forces of secularization, and young churches in the global South that are emboldened with spiritual enthusiasm and energy.” As Granberg-Michaelson reminds us, the “majority of Christians today are living in societies that have freed themselves from the colonial power of the West… so in many ways we are witnessing the pilgrimage of Christianity as it moves out of the dominance of modern Western culture and beyond the framework of the modern Enlightenment.”
To my surprise the rapid growth of the church in the global South isn’t Catholic or Protestant – it’s independent (not part of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox or historic Protestant congregations). “Today there are more members of such independent churches (142 million) than in the Catholic church (138 million).” And despite the rapid growth of the Christian church in the global South there are slightly fewer Christians in the world today than there were in 1910.
So what does this mean? I’ll keep reading about Timbuktu and maybe you might too..? But for me it is hard not to think about how the liturgy of the church is dominated by particular cultures… one of which is the modern Enlightenment. And I wonder if it is not only the global South that has freed itself from the colonial power of the West, at least in regard to what it means to be the church?
Heavy Monday, but tolle lege!
Jim, thank you for your witness. I know the book will have a “happy ending.” On earth as it is in heaven.