Church history has been led by men and women wrestling with questions—urgent and piercing questions influenced by ancient theology, current events and the culture of their day. Our moment now is no different.
Neue invited a group of leading church thinkers and practitioners to weigh in on what the urgent questions are for our Church today. How we answer them will define the Church of the future.
Who supports a ban on fear?
Not the kind of reverent awe-of-the-Divine that we need. We’ll keep that. But the other kind—the anxious, ominous, foreboding fear that causes people to do all sorts of dangerous and soul-shriveling things. Fear that pushes people not like us and new ideas and otherness away … let’s call it what it is and have nothing to do with it. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear, and perfect love casts out fear. We weren’t given a spirit of fear. We’ve been told to fear not. Fear—it’s great for fundraising, but terrible for faith. Great for scaring the hell out of people and not so great for bringing heaven to earth. Great for creating enemies, but not so helpful when you’re trying to love them. So let’s ban it. Enough. Your time is done here. Away with you. Get behind us. You’ve been cast out. By love. Fear. Just say no. Who’s with us?
What practices will define the Church?
There is an assortment of issues pertinent for the Church in every age. Among these are the perfection of Scripture, the humanity and divinity of Jesus and salvation by faith in and grace from Jesus Christ alone. Still, of particular timeliness today is the issue of defining exactly what the church is.
In a day when social justice is championed apart from discipleship and evangelism, unity is sought at the expense of truth and a “creative” or “profound” chat is a suitable replacement for preaching and teaching the Bible; and when it’s mistakenly becoming more accepted for any two disgruntled Christians to call themselves “church,” it is imperative churches know what constitutes a church biblically.
To that end, theologians have historically summarized the Scripture’s teachings on the church as “the marks of the church.” These marks are characteristics resulting from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in, through and for God’s people. These marks, as I explain them, define the church in every age, every culture, every denomination and every theological tradition:
- Regenerated church membership so that, while non-Christians are in the church, it is distinctly Christian.
- Qualified leadership so shepherds keep wolves from ravaging sheep.
- Preaching and worship so the church remains under the authority of Scripture and committed to the glory of God.
- Rightly administered sacraments to show the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Spiritual unity around Christ and not just community or a cause.
- Holiness, so people are pressed to live new, sanctified lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The Great Commandment to love, which counters the cultural trend of selfishness and consumerism.
- The Great Commission to evangelize and make disciples so as many people as possible experience life transformation by Jesus.
How will the Church respond to the diminishing influence of Christianity in our culture?
Christianity has a perception problem, but it’s more than a perception problem. We have fixated on sins of commission—don’t do this, don’t do that and you’re OK. But goodness is not the absence of badness. You can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right. What grieves the heart of our Heavenly Father even more than sins of commission are sins of omission—the things we could have, should have and would have done for the cause of Christ, but failed to do.
We need to be honest enough, humble enough and courageous enough to admit what’s wrong with us. And what’s wrong is this: we’re not great at the Great Commandment. And in too many instances, we’re not even good at it. When Jesus was asked what commandment was the most important, He said: “Love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength.” As Christ-followers, we ought to be defined by our compassion and wonder and curiosity and energy.
The rallying cry of the last reformation was sola fide—by faith alone. The rallying cry of the next reformation will be amo Dei—love God. We’ve got to become great at the Great Commandment.
Why don’t young leaders want to work for megachurches anymore?
In the era of “Too Big to Fail,” it should be no surprise that young leaders are steering away from megachurches for their place of employment. While megachurches may not be too big to fail, they are now often seen as “Too Big to Change”—and change is exactly what is needed in this day and age. Young leaders want to make a dramatic impact wherever they choose to work. They want to be part of a visioning process that brings about new life and new energy to the church. While megachurches may have the resources to employ young leaders, unless they can offer them a serious sphere of influence that has the potential to change the course of the church, most young leaders will offer their time, talent and energy to a church where they can see their own impact. It’s not that all megachurches necessarily need to change—many have thriving ministries and excellent leadership—but the fact remains, many up-and-coming leaders feel their contribution will be only a small drop in a very large bucket. So if given a choice, many of them will steer toward a more flexible church environment where they can maximize their leadership impact.
For more questions and answers from leaders like David Kinnaman, Chris Haw, Robert Lupton, Josh Loveless, Scot McKnight and Ron Sider, see the Winter 2009 issue of Neue.