In her wonderful book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle describes the full scale "rummage sales" that the Christian Church has undergone every 500 years or so since the birth of Christ. Shaped by and responsive to large cultural and historical forces, the Church has been changed by context - and the shifts in authority, practice and community life have been radical in every instance. One age must clean out the ghosts and relics in the attic, so the house of one's forbears may be sacred space and story for contemporary times.
100CE - The end of the Apostolic Age, where fresh faith blossomed through personal testimony, apostolic authority, and the stories and narratives of to eye witness events. Second, third, fourth and fifth century authority is found secondarily in creeds and councils, culminating in Chalcedon in 451.
590CE - Gregory the Great becomes Pope, just as Dark Ages are ushered in by the fall of the Roman Empire. Gregory's authority institutes and extends to a broad system of monasteries and convent that solidify the faith and preserve the tradition.
1054CE - The Great Schism, when Constantinople and Rome went separate ways in terms of doctrine, papal power, and liturgical tradition. Authority becomes vested in the Church/Pope.
1517CE - Luther's 95 theses ushers in the Great Reformation, where a decaying church institution is challenged by the authority of the scripture, printed in the vernacular, ushering in the idea of the priesthood of all believers.
2000CE - The Great Emergence - where technology, globalization, intellectual scientism, institutional and familial decay lead to an anti-intellectual, post-modern revolution and the unfolding of a relational, mystical, emergent church - based on the fluid authority of the Holy Spirit expressed through relationships, experiences, and missional engagements in the world.
MY THOUGHTS:This paradigm of the half century "rummage sale" is liberating in several ways. First of all the radical changes are inevitable - wrought by trends and historical winds we cannot control. Or to put it theologically, since our Sovereign God is in charge, God is in the midst of these massive changes. We simply cannot hold on to "old church" - and if we try, we are standing in the way of the continuing work of resurrection. And when looked at from above, these historical shifts during the past 2000 years have been very good for the church. By letting that which is decayed or dysfunctional die, the Church rediscovers the mother lode - the Gospel of grace and love and justice at the heart of our faith. By getting rid of the junk, we find the true treasures and reclaiming them as the family jewels. And we are turning our energies toward telling the stories, not dusting the archives.
So, do we need to get rid of our buildings - so there is no place to store the junk? I wonder.....