Saturday, August 31, 2013

Changes In The Church Worldwide

The center of gravity of the Christian Church moved out of Europe to the Americas in the 20th C.  As it moves out of North America - more slowly than predicted but proceeding still, it now includes 50 million - or 100 million - or maybe only 30 million in China, and a few hundred million in Africa.

All the articles I have read in the last ten years about how the church will change as this goes forward have focused on the different styles of worship, or the doctrinal conservatism in sexual matters, or get distracted into the difficult times the churches have in their political, health, or economic situations.  All of these are worth thinking about, surely.

But I haven't seen much on the cultural drift and doctrinal emphasis changing.  Yet I think these will ultimately be greater.  We are products of the Western Church, and in America even hyper-western.  We cannot see outside ourselves well, and assume that many things that are true of the Church since the Roman Empire and on into growth in Europe will remain part of the approach forever.  Even with the Eastern Orthodox Church in front of us, more mystic and symbolic, less involved with influencing its governments, we don't quite get it. We assume we got it right and theology developed along the only possible true tracks and will be bequeathed to whatever believers there are in Shanghai or Manila or Abuja.

I believe that second piece will be one of the things that drops away in the later churches.  The idea that the church should influence the nation to be just is very western European.  There certainly isn't much of it in the NT, and Chinese believers reading the texts for themselves aren't likely to put it there.  When churches have used influence or even compulsion of NT ideas, they have been as likely to use the machinery of government to create holiness, righteousness, or doctrinal unity as general justice. Not that Christians in other parts of the world are against justice.  They just tend to see it as more individual. The exception of course is justice for themselves, which all peoples everywhere are interested in regardless of religion.  But justice for other people in general?  Not so much.

They will pick up some of the value from us as the world moves on. We may be assuming that will be greater that reason would allow.  Most places are tribal, clannish, devoted to the small group - more like the Mediterranean areas where Orthodoxy is prominent.


james said...

Actually, the Orthodox have a long history of being tightly bound with the rulers. Even under Muslim rule the millet system tended to link secular and religious government.

It seems to be an Orthodox ideal that the ruler reflect God's will and represents His authority on earth, and the ideal way that happens is with strong linkage with the bishops.

If by making and enforcing the proper laws, you can keep your subjects from going to hell, it would be criminal to refrain.

This seems to have had the effects you'd expecte. I don't know the history of the church Muslim dominated regions well, but in Russia there got to be a division between the monks (not tied to the state, and with prophetic and sometimes miraculous roles) and the priests/bishops (tied to the state and sometimes corrupted by that, but where else can you go for the sacraments?).

Which, in its own way, is also a great change from the modern West and supports your contention that things will be different.

Sam L. said...

WAIT! Twenty-nineth Century? Holey Hole In A Time Machine, Batman!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fixed. thanks