“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”—Søren Kierkegaard.
Perhaps, like me, you are looking back over the past few years seeking understanding. At the same time, we instinctively know that our living must be in the “forward” direction. We can’t return to what is past; however, improved understanding might empower our present and future living!
We live in a time of deconstruction and rebuilding. Christendom, in which the State and the Church held one another in tension to govern populations in the (primarily) Western World, has collapsed. Strong Christian rhetoric laments the loss of this privileged social position in which the Church spoke with accepted moral and spiritual authority. Many of us were formed in that world. It felt relatively safe and predictable, and we relied on it. As various scandals break, undermining confidence built over generations, the significant institutions of our history and society are perceived as fundamentally flawed, even corrupt. And the Church is not immune. A good survey of the history of Christianity and its relationship with power and privilege will help explain our present experience. Life must be understood backwards.
But life must be lived forwards! From 11 September 2001, the London Bombings of 7 July 2005, through to the recent COVID Pandemic, the 21st Century Church and the communities it serves have faced rapid societal change. Internal Church struggles mirror battles in the national context. Polarisation in nations, communities, and families reflects in the Church, alongside which we also contend with the power of the ‘status quo—that resident power of the familiar and known. Thom Rainer observes that these challenges were already on the horizon though accelerated! While the Church continues to function with decreased social capital, the pandemic and its aftermath present an opportunity for the voice of the Church to be heard more clearly. Times of crisis facilitate shifts in human inclination to embrace change, and right now, the Church has an opportunity to lead for lasting change.
As we live our collective lives in that ‘forward’ motion, we will do well to reflect on our past while moving toward our future collectively. With all that the 21st Century Church has faced in its first two decades, have we learned the value of simplicity (1 Cor 2:2)? Doing a few things well (Acts 2:42)? Are we noticing where we are losing peace and rest as core dimensions of a Sabbath-keeping people (Exodus 20:8-10)? Are we meaningfully closer to the multicultural/multi-ethnic vision of Scripture (Rev 7) as a sign of God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:11-21)? In which ways might we live into the fullness of a prophetic movement that not only notices the signs of the eschaton (Matt 24) but also speaks to issues of justice, mercy, and humility (Micah 6:8)? As the 21st Century Church—Gods people in this time—it is our privilege to honour the Gospel as it speaks in this era. We are, after all, still a movement that values ‘Present Truth’!
Pastor Wayne Erasmus DMin serves as the Church Growth and Mission Director for the South England Conference. When not working, he enjoys singing in the choir, allotment gardening, and walks with friends!