“To everything is a season…”
This year, we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous act of proclaiming independence from the mother Christian Church in Rome by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door on Halloween of 1517. We can easily look back today and see Luther’s action for what it was – the birth of the reformation – but at the time, only a very few understood the magnitude of his heresy. History has a way of tagging the starting points of massive change that were simply unknowable at the time of their beginning, and it follows that the same would apply to epochal shifts in our current midst. This is especially so for those who disrupt the status quo, for they are often viewed with great disdain among even their peers. The trick, of course, is to see their actions as small beginnings with very large futures.
While Luther gets much of the credit for protestantism, perhaps the greater contributor was John Wycliffe, another heretic, who a hundred years earlier wrote the first common English language translation of the Bible. Along with the invention of the printing press, this formed the early boundary of modernity, when logic and reason – on top of faith – brought about great change. In the prologue of his work, Wycliffe wrote “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” He knew that if everyday people could read the Bible, it would decimate the absolute authority of Rome. This was noted in the priestly comment, “The jewel of the elites is in the hands of the laity,” a surrender by the church to the groundswell rising against them.
I’ve just returned from a week of interesting conversation and fellowship with non-Evangelical Charismatic Christians. This was a private gathering of those deeply concerned about the future, and especially, the future of the Christian church. For those who don’t know, that term (church) is all-inclusive and represents the entirety of the Christian faith. The brand, however, has been hijacked by certain right wing Evangelicals with marketing smarts, powerful friends, designs on social engineering, and the highly appealing Gospel of Self. These people believe that their “church” is the real one, and that everyone who disagrees with them is on the outside. At core, this is the group I helped nurture at the helm of The 700 Club in the 1980s, which is the subject of my new book. These people insist they own the brand “Christian” and therefore speak and act on behalf of Christianity’s God. As a result, those of us who aren’t a part of that group are left with only one real choice: we must resign ourselves to the reality that we are no longer part of the label “Christian” and we must seek another, one that we can brand for ourselves. I’m not speaking necessarily of a “new” religion; we simply must find a way to live and worship our God outside the Christian brand, one that we believe does not have at heart the best intentions of the entire human community. Moreover, their behavior towards that human community is one of detached enlightenment, and therefore there is no real reason for them to behave as if anybody else really matters. Their path does not include anybody outside the safe confines of their tribe, and so it is easy to look the other way in the face of ongoing worldwide suffering. This position is far removed from the law of love, which is the mandate we choose to follow.
We are not leaving the Christian faith, although we will acknowledge that its public persona has utterly left us. What began centuries ago at Antioch no longer exists under the banner that was created in that community’s homes and back alleys.
In the early years of blogging, we used to get together at what were known as BloggerCons. These were annual gatherings of bloggers from around the country where we learned from each other and got to know each other. Blogger pioneer Dave Winer called these events “unconferences,” which recognized that the audience formed the expertise and the speakers were there to facilitate and guide discussions. It made sense theoretically, but it took unique cooperation to pull off a session that actually benefitted everyone. We’re so used to the concept of a one-to-many stage that it’s quite jolting to turn it around as many-to-many or even many-to-one. Nevertheless, this is an option for a connected universe, and Dave remains one of the most original thinkers in all the world.
With this in mind, let’s take a thought journey to a gathering place – IRL or URL – that functions in a manner more similar to Alcoholics Anonymous than any Christian church. This suits well our current connected universe while overcoming the inherent bias and self-serving hierarchy represented by historical Christianity (or basically any place of worship). Our structure is horizontal, not hierarchical, and the role of pastor becomes more a facilitator than speaker before an audience. Learning to love and to live life on life’s terms would be our mission, and our experiences allow us participation as we learn together and progress on a quest to become better human beings. Gatherings would be facilitated, but expertise is shared among the members, and we talk to and with each other. Our meetings are, therefore, much more intimate than the inherent detachment of audience and stage. This is not intended to “replace” Christianity. Rather, it’s built on top of our faith in the Trinity, with the difference being an emphasis on the Holy Spirit over the Son. In this sense, we identify with the label of “postChristian,” which we do not view as pejorative or faithless whatsoever. We absolutely reject the Christianese language that so many find off-putting, for we seek to attract, not coerce on the basis of fear or our specialness.
According to Pew Research, the fastest growing subgroup of religious affiliation in the U.S. is the “Nones” or “Unaffiliateds,” those who’ve left the faith of their fathers and mothers. This is primarily the decision of young people (up to 80%), which has left the church asking why. For those of us outside the “Christian” label, the reason is rather obvious, and we view this as a trend that will only continue to grow. It’s not that the sin of the world has drawn them away, as some within Christianity’s brand would have us believe. Rather, it’s evidence of the great spiritual search underway as a result, in part, of what these young people view as an untenable conflict between what they witness in practice versus what they have been taught in church. This migration away from the status quo is just one of the reasons we are declaring our independence from a label we can no longer proudly wear. Young people are leaving the church when they become legal adults because, well, they don’t believe the real God is anywhere near the pharisaical mess they’ve personally witnessed.
This is not political; this is about the God we worship. I’ve no idea what we’ll call ourselves downstream, but we need something that will allow us to practice our beliefs in public without being automatically associated with those who think of themselves as the “real Christians” of the world. We want nothing to do with them. We will love them, but we will not follow the name that they proclaim as theirs alone. They can have it and the brand associated with it. We choose simply to live out our lives in service to our fellow humans in the ways we were taught by the same book that they read. We will proclaim the Kingdom of God. We will worship together in the Spirit. We will embrace all human beings as God’s children. We will serve quietly, and we will serve openly. We will follow the laws of attraction as opposed to the laws of promotion, for promotion (showing off) is the art of mass marketing, and we are organized horizontally. As Seth Godin says, “We may dream of the mass market, but the mass market doesn’t dream of us.” We want nothing for ourselves except the right to pursue happiness in its fullness for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, wherever and whoever they may be. Love is the energy that drives us, and love exists in the present, from the Source, through us, to others. We acknowledge that we cannot receive from the Source without giving what we currently have to others, whether they know it or not. We don’t count salvations or members, for worldly power is not our goal.
We believe that Life is always in charge of our present, so we have no fear of our tomorrows. The best we can do is to be the best humans we can be; to live life on Life’s terms, for humans are utterly powerless in attempts to “manage” Life. There is no magic formula. There is no inside track. Life is hard, but it’s hard for everyone, and that’s why we need the Spirit. We will offer what wisdom we have to those who seek it, but we will force ourselves on no one. We may occupy political offices, but we will do so as servants to all and behave accordingly. It is not our goal to change the world, for we believe God lives in all and is perfectly capable of moving hearts in whichever way it best suits the nature and requirements of Life, the point being it is God’s battle and not ours.
In the linear history of God’s people – the people of The Book – we believe that what’s being currently revealed is a new form and purpose, one that is not beyond but on top of Jew, Catholic, Muslim, and Protestant. We believe that the Holy Spirit is within all of humanity and that no one is truly unique. There is no requirement, legal or otherwise, to access this Holy Spirit other than to acknowledge its reality and, therefore, its presence. We recognize that hierarchy is the enemy of the Spirit, for it is of man, born of envy, and creates the false hegemony of one over another through sets of rules that often serve only to maintain the pedestals of its overseers. We cannot say that all are equal in a system that rewards only those at the top. In a practical sense, such inequality has been historically linked to the world’s politics, academics, business, media, law, and other institutions, all of which are hierarchical systems, although some may be disguised as horizontal. Someone, history suggests, always has to be in charge. We are reminded, however, that it was not God’s choice to give Israel a king and that the Spirit has exceptional power to provide vision and even direction to those who are willing to receive it.
As such, our new faith community will be deliberately horizontal and function through the postmodern mantra of the experience and participation of all. Fellowship within the horizontal is the choice of those who are willing to love themselves and their neighbors as themselves and to enter into a relationship with life that embraces personal responsibility for both actions and reactions to it. The key is always willingness, never performance. Our internal governor is the Spirit; we reject external command and control methodology as self-serving and dangerous. We do not fear the chaos we witness in nature, and we agree with Henry Adams’ proclamation that “order is the dream of man.”
Because we are born of the religions of the book, we consider the book to be sacred. Accordingly, we must acknowledge God, the Father, and God, the Son, in our theology, but our study and our guide is the ongoing, moment-by-moment, real-time work of the Holy Spirit. It is the spirit of the Father and the spirit of the Son, and with it, we are all One and all connected. In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote that humans are like amphibians, able to live in two worlds at the same time. These are the worlds of time and distance and of the spirit. The place where these two exist simultaneously is here. The time these two exist simultaneously is now. Thus, we are people of the moment, neither regretting the past nor fearing the future. We intend to live life to its fullest, in the here and now, and on Life’s terms. This we know as the Kingdom of Heaven referenced in the teachings of Jesus, John the Baptist, and many others.
He who is in the sun, and in the fire, and in the heart of man is One.
He who knows this is one with the One.
We believe that the arts are human expressions of the moment that leave all of us with two profound responsibilities: One, to support the arts with our resources and in so doing honor the artists as God’s people and their gifts as of God’s spirit, and, two, to react in such a way that acknowledges creative expression as prophetic. Supporting the arts is a human responsibility. We do not assign this responsibility to hierarchical representatives, whether public or private. You might say that the arts are the true recipients of our tithes, not the hierarchical church, for artists are the servants of all, and the dreamers are the saviors of the world.
The only requirements for entry are our identities and a desire to better our relationships with our fellow human beings. We are self-supporting and therefore wholly reject the intrusions of mass marketing as a means of support. Local groups will support their own expenses for gatherings, whether ongoing or on occasion. A geographically local group will, by whatever means it determines to be best, name rotating member servants who will function in whatever temporary service capacities are deemed necessary by the local group. In this way, no individual will rise to hierarchical oversight.
We worship individually and in shared experiences, but we do not weigh one against the other. To do so, we believe, would place undue burden on those who, regardless of the reason, are unable to connect with others. The presence of the Spirit in each of us enables a sharing of sorts that we acknowledge subsumes shared experiences, which enables participation regardless of attendance in any group. Besides, the web enables participation on another level entirely, and we are satisfied that our ability to connect URL will only grow in the decades and centuries to come.
We simply live and work among other humans, which is our duty to the communities we serve. We register with no formal entity, for we are not accountable to any formal entity.
Finally, and of extreme importance to me personally, it must be said that this is presented merely as food for thought. It is not a formal proposal submitted for your approval. Hence, I neither desire nor do I expect a role as anything other than servant contributor to what must be an ongoing discussion. All others are invited to participate and to “test the spirit” for affirmation or rejection. It is crystal clear that we cannot exist within the current brand “Christian,” so the discussion is “what do we do with that situation.”
It may well be time for us to nail our own contentions to the corporate door of the mother church