In terms of defining events and unforgettable moments, 2014 was quite the year. Perhaps the year’s long-term impact will remain unseen for some time, yet for many—especially Christians—there are several undeniable realities from this year that are difficult to overlook. And for sure, American Christians have contributed their fair share of both good and bad throughout the year.
But have we learned (or relearned) anything new about culture, society or our own methods of engagement with the world around us? Fortunately, I think we have. So here are a few important things the Church (re)learned in 2014:
That America, Despite Strides Toward Equality, Remains Painfully Divided.
The unfolding events of recent in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere are just symptoms of a greater injustice that has been left unaddressed for many years: inequality. And not just racial inequality, but a whole host of others, including gender, economic and sociopolitical—to just name a few.
In American culture, we’ve experienced firsthand the reality that things continually change, that old policies and laws that once sufficed 50 years ago are now ineffective. Now, the Church has tried (and sometimes succeeded) in fighting these injustices—such as clergy from around the nation peacefully protesting the death of Eric Garner—yet Christians will find it increasingly difficult to remain apathetic to these cultural imperfections as more and more people walk away from a version of religion based solely on doctrine and not actions.
In 2014, the Church once again saw the value in engaging social justice and reaching over ethnic and religious divides.
That Hollywood and Church Aren’t (and Shouldn’t Be) Identical.
In 2014, Hollywood embraced a resurgence of biblical epics and blockbusters inspired by stories found in Scripture. Films like Son of God, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Noah captured the attention of millions of Americans, yet some Christians have been quick to criticize Hollywood for its biblical inaccuracy, as if the film industry is solely responsible for getting the Bible right.
But an overwhelming number of Christians have accepted this reality and moved on to where they appreciate Hollywood’s newfound interest in biblical epics. What’s so bad about pop culture embracing religious themes, anyway?
That We All Make Mistakes—Even Our Leaders.
Mark Driscoll’s not-so-graceful fall from power proved troublesome for a lot of Christians—and rightfully so. Many looked up to the man as an example of spiritual passion and conviction.
But the event has also served as a harsh reminder to the Christian community, since it challenges our traditional notions of leadership and authority. Even those who vehemently oppose Driscoll and his conduct have had to come to terms with the lofty expectations and standards we set for our leaders.
If nothing less, the Church has taken a step back from its prevailing view of infallibility within its walls. We’re only human, after all.
That the Church is Diverse, but Church Unity is Possible.
Christians aren’t really fitting the “Christian mold” anymore; believers have diverse experiences and opinions and still love Christ and desire to live their lives in a way that reflects Him. Put simply, church demographics are changing, and a lot of Christians are embracing the shift.
But even with the increasing diversity of opinion and lifestyle with the Church, if figures such as Pope Francis have taught us anything, it’s that there remains a lot of hope for the future of church unity. Time after time, the pope has made it clear that he’s interested in seeing the healing, restorative aspects of the Gospel applied to all areas of the Christian faith. This includes social justice, individual piety, and even relationships within the religious tradition.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis began the process of mending torn relationships between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, an act that symbolizes a potentially brighter future for the Church. And even though Christians seem fragmented and disassociated from each other at times, the Church and its leaders have often set examples of peace, hope and unity.
Maybe there is a better future for the Church after all.
This article was originally posted on stephendykstra.wordpress.com
Stephen is an aspiring communications student with a certain fondness for homemade espresso, books covering the Cold War era, and his cats, Willy and Watson. He lives and studies in Iowa.