Lunging into the Future

It is no secret that we in 21st century America are living through a time of extreme upheaval. To point this out now borders on extreme banality. Yet as a quick example of what I am talking about consider a recent study:

Millennials[*] are less religiously affiliated than ever before. According to the 2012 Pew Research Center report, “Nones on the Rise,” nearly one in three do not belong to a faith community and of those, only 10% are looking for one. Though many millennials are atheists or agnostics, the majority are less able to articulate their sense of spirituality, with many falling back on the label ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’. The General Social Survey of 2014 shows that the disaffiliation trend is only growing.[†]

If one still doubts that the American cultural landscape is shifting immediately before our eyes and directly under our feet, one only need to watch any of the four recent Republican Presidential debates, all of which are easily available on line. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches (in his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) that prudence requires right desire, and yet the presumptive presidential frontrunner of the Republican party today uses words in public speech which I would discipline either of my daughters for using. Chaos is ensuing.

In the midst of these cataclysmic shifts, what of the local Body of Christ? Is she simply another item in a long list of “institutions” which will have crumbled and disintegrated 100 years from now? Not according to Scripture: “for the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Not, in addition, to what we are seeing at Christ Church in Tyler, Texas. For here, we find a community of believers that is straining and pushing, prudentially, into the future. I want very simply to list several dimensions in which Christ Church is adapting with the times (not simply like a thermometer, but more closely akin to a thermostat):

  1. Evangelism & Newcomer Ministry: we are removing barriers for folks visiting our church.
  2. Worship: we are drawing & “wooing” people into the richness of our sacramental tradition.
  3. The Brotherhood of Saint Andrew: we will infuse it with a small army of new, excited men.
  4. A Christ Church App: we will soon launch a platform for “Christ Church Global”[‡] to communicate more efficiently.
  5. The Christ Church South Altar Guild: we are raising up and training leaders to perform this crucial ministry, in conjunction with our Altar Guild who serves our downtown community.
  6. Forming an Executing Committee and broad-based Launch Team for Christ Church South: as we “ramp up” to Opening Sunday, we will sow the seeds and position ourselves wisely in the community in all sorts of ways.

When it comes to church, it is no longer true that “if you build it they will come.” However, it will always be true that human beings (who are spiritual by nature) will be drawn irresistibly into the love of Christ when it is embodied by a healthy, sacrificial community of Jesus.

Anyone remember the original “creation mandate” given to the Man and the Woman in the Garden of Eden? “Fill the earth and take dominion of it.” This is what we are doing here at Christ Church, Tyler Texas. We are not simply lunging into the future. Humbly and by the grace of God, we are co-creating it.

[*]Roughly defined, a millennial is one who was between the ages of 18 and 34 in the year 2015.

[†] This study can be found here: https://caspertk.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/how-we-gather.pdf

[‡] My new term for Christ Church Downtown plus Christ Church South.

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Once upon a time, there were no secularists(?)

Very interesting (and encouraging) discussion in my Intro to Philosophy course yesterday.

One admirable student objected to my statement that prior to, say, 500 years ago, all human civilizations were inherently religious, and that thus there were no secularists prior to that time, by saying: “How do you know?”

To which I responded: “I know because the conditions which are necessary for secularism to be thought were not in place, or real, or existent, until around 500 years ago.”

In an effort to give an example or an analogy, I argued that something similar could be said of “conservatives” (since prior to Edmund Burke no one had reacted to the historically particular project of the French Revolution) and homosexuals (since prior to the late 19th century “homosexual” as a “scientific” category had not yet been invented).

I realized later that another example might be “environmentalist.” I’d argue that prior to 250 years ago there were no environmentalists. The conditions which have made this movement possible–which have made it possible for environmentalism to be “a thing”–were not yet in place.

Teaching undergrads is helping me to “bone up” on my Christian historicism.

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Faith becoming Sight

I have been meditating lately on Psalm 48:8: “As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of our God.”

You see, faith is a “hearing thing”: it comes to us, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 10:17, “by hearing.” His reminder that “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7) confirms the same point. Yet even though all this is true, and even though the book of Hebrews reminds us that “faith … is the conviction of things unseen,” nevertheless Psalm 48:8 presents us with the opposite perspective.

Yes, faith is a “hearing thing,” and, yes, we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. Nevertheless Psalm 48:8 reminds us that, in addition to all that, God desires that the contents of our faith also become visible. “As we have heard, so have we seen” means that the oracles of God, the promises of God, have now become manifest in the “real world,” the world of our sense perception, laid bare for all to see, to the glory of God. There is a time and a place for this, too. The heart of a Christian longs to see the things of faith become visible. The follower of Christ longs for the Kingdom of God—the reign of God—to become palpably present in the daily lives of men, women, and boys and girls. When this happens, faith has “become sight;” the word of God has become visible, palpable, seen.

I want to point to two examples of “faith becoming sight.” The first is Promise Academy, located in the building of New Days Community Church in North Tyler, near the corner of Broadway and Gentry. At this brand new school, in its very first year, the promises of God and the longing of God’s people are becoming visible. Here, at Promise Academy, hope is being provided for a handful of little ones (right now, the school only consists of Kindergarten; God willing, first grade will be added next year). At this school, a small number of mainly black and Hispanic kindergartners are learning how they are fearfully and wonderfully made, how God’s ways are the best ways, how trust and obedience in the God who loves them will bear fruit in their lives. All this is becoming visible: in their facial expressions, in the life of their families, in the physical beauty and orderliness of their lives (both in the classroom and out).[*]

My second example is a very different one, but one no less breathtaking: Christ Church South. The groundbreaking ceremony we experienced last week … this, too, is an example of “faith becoming sight:” a new Temple for the worship of God is being erected right in front of us! A new House of Prayer for all people and for a burgeoning community of friends in faith is being raised up, for all the world to see. Not only is God’s creation being transfigured from glory to glory, but sacred, sacramental space is being consecrated and set apart. Fr. David’s “message” at the perimeter of the construction sight “nailed it:” just imagine how many generations of lives will be impacted for the cause of Christ and the sake of the Kingdom.

All this in a contemporary world wracked by division, addiction, and heartache. A sign of visible hope, a leading indicator of Gospel victory. By the grace of God alone.

“As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of our God.”

 

[*] To learn more about Promise Academy, please visit http://promisetyler.org/

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