For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation.
Jesus never told us to put our trust in the larger institutions of culture or even the church. We must recognize that they are also subject to the paschal mystery, the dying and the rising of all things.
There are all these gifted people around but they didn’t have any power within church structures, which made people like me realize that the real power was not in the structure of the church, but in the living church. The gifted prophets in our midst.
Our faith has been about the communities faithfully modeling a way of being in the world, of being in relationship with each other and with the prisoner and the hungry. It has been about Amos, standing up to the establishment in the name of God and in the name of justice. So, I believe that the future of Christianity is indeed its past and present.
—Nontombi Naomi Tutu
The question—“What is the future of Christianity?”—must be held in relation to other questions. Right now, the most significant of those questions is: “What is the future of humankind?”
—Diana Butler Bass
One of the things that the Second Vatican Council taught us in the religious orders, and this was certainly from the Holy Spirit, is that we were each to go back to our founders and say, “What did Francis form the Franciscans for?” Francis didn’t accuse the system of being inferior. He just went out and did it better.
Allowing Ourselves Not to Know
Before beginning to discuss the future of the church and Christianity, Brian McLaren invited the more than three thousand attendees of The Future of Christianity webcast to a fifteen-minute period of silence and contemplation. We share his invitation at the end of this week’s meditations, hoping it brings a spirit of openness to your faithful reflection this week:
This is a delicate moment to address deep issues in the Christian faith. If we come in with a set of unchallenged assumptions, we can pretty much predict how the outcomes will be in our thinking. That’s why we’d like to take a few moments now, as we begin this time of reflection together, to invite you to settle into a silence. And in that silence, to be willing to say, “I have a lot of ideas. I have a lot of opinions. But I am not my ideas and opinions, and if I allow myself to be captive to my current ideas and opinions, my horizons will be really limited.”
As we sink into this silence, we’ll hear the chatter of our own thoughts, the debates and questions of our own thoughts, and in a sense when we see those arising, we can say, “Oh yes, those are my own existing assumptions.” Maybe I can just let them be, and in humility open my heart to wisdom beyond my own. Wisdom that might come to us through the faculty, through our interaction, through the discussion that will happen, but also wisdom that may just come to you. May we dare to hope that our hearts, open to the Spirit of God, could not only receive answers to our questions about the future of Christianity, but that our hearts could be so changed in this time together, our minds and hearts and desires opened, clarified, maybe even purified. So that the future can be different.
Adapted from Brian McLaren, introduction to The Future of Christianity: A Virtual Summit, Center for Action and Contemplation, recorded live on August 23, 2022. Note: This segment is not included on the YouTube video cited in other meditations this week.
- Watch the Future of Christianity summit with CAC faculty.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Christopher Holt, Newgrange Triple Spiral (detail), 2014, Ireland, photograph, Wikimedia. Joanna Kosinska, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Nasa and ESA, M104 Sombrero Galaxy (detail), 2003, United States, photograph, Wikimedia. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: From a past shrouded by time, we hold the known candle of our present moment toward an unknown and expansive future. Past, present, and future— Christ is present in each.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.