Today I received a call from a dear woman who has a sweet spirit and tender openness towards God. I had added her to one of our outreach groups, as I felt that she had a heart for reaching broken people with love and tenderness.
She mentioned that I had put her in that group. I said, yes--but if she did not want to be in it, she could just drop out. She said, no, she was touched by this, that she had often wanted to have a valued role in ministry, but had had those desires squelched because she was a woman. But she was feeling a call, using language like, "born again." What she was describing was a spiritual awakening in her life.
And in something that surely is not coincidence, when she called, I was reading from a book called Christianity After Religion: The Death of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Bass, with plans to write this blog post on this very topic.
Since our fellowship (Churches of Christ) chooses to be "ahistorical" (we don't care what Alexander Campbell believed, Martin Luther, or anyone else--we just follow the Bible--is our rather naive saying), many church leaders are unaware of or give little credence to the various Spiritual awakenings in American history.
But these historical events ought to be noted, for they give us insight into what is happening in our world today, and what will happen in the future. The comments below reflect insights and research from Christianity After Religion, with my own application to our fellowship.
There are three generally recognized "Great Awakenings" in American History:
- 1st Great Awakening (1730-1760) - This was the breaking away of churches from European styles of church government, freeing churches to be more indigenous in the US.
- 2nd Great Awakening (1800-1830) - This was a breaking away from the hold of Calvinism, with an emphasis on free will, "voluntary church membership," and "benevolence work. The leaders of the first generation of Churches of Christ in America grew up during this time, and were largely influenced by this movement in many ways.
- 3rd Great Awakening (1890-1920) - This involved a growing concern for the "social gospel" and the rise of Pentecostalism
Bass cites William McLouglin, who proposes that we are now in a 4th Great Awakening, a time which began in the 1960s. This awakening could be called many things--a shift from a modern worldview to a postmodern world, a shift from church to Jesus (for Christians), or a shift from institutional religion to spirituality.
These movements are a mixed bag, as they always have excesses. The current spiritual awakening, for instance, has seen the excesses of "religion" in 9/11, and now some 15-20% of the population are agnostic, atheistic, or simply not claiming any form of religion.
But in general, these awakenings have brought about spiritual renewal, as they have critiqued the religion of their age and sought to find a better or more complete answer to the longing in our souls. The pattern that bass identifies in these awakenings is the following:
- There is a "crisis of legitimacy" in which religious adherents can no longer make sense of their religious heritage
- There is "cultural distortion," in which people conclude that their crisis is due to the institution to which they belong.
- "Significant individuals or communities begin to form a new vision"
- As the vision starts to form, small groups of people/communities begin to form a new way
- The larger institution eventually sees the validity of the awakening and adopts it
These Great Awakenings appear to be God initiated in many ways, or God at least used them, to end ineffective and out of step leadership models, show the importance of the Holy Spirit, value women, end slavery and begin the civil rights movement, and more.
In this book, Bass also goes through the three aspects of the psychology of religion--believing, behaving, and belonging, and she shows how the progression of religion and spirituality today is first, belonging (Jesus called the disciples together before he taught them), behaving (Jesus sent out the disciples to proclaim the kingdom and heal the sick, before they truly understood who he was), and believing (finally, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ--but still does not fully understand this until the resurrection).
So what does this awakening mean for Churches of Christ? How can we look through this cultural maelstrom and not only survive, but thrive? Here are some predictions of how a small group of churches are or will seek to adapt and respond to the Spirit's leading and the culture's legitimate critiques.
- Mission, with a strong emphasis upon both social justice and the message of and about Jesus, will become both the stated and in reality driver of the church's leadership, funding, energy, etc. People will be reached through invitation into community (belonging), and will both serve together (behaving) and be served in their areas of brokenness, and then will come to faith in Christ (believing) and with an active call towards believing/trusting in the one whom they have been following and to seal the relationship with the community that they have found.
- Leadership will become decidedly about finding and empowering new leaders to fulfill the vision that God has put on their hearts. No longer will church leaders be the people to seek to control others and control the Spirit, but to empower others and let the Spirit lead them.
- Churches will modify or change how they do Spiritual formation. Large Bible classes will be replaced or supplemented with groups that do life together, meet at many different times and locations, meet virtually, etc.
- Worship will truly be seen as 24/7, breaking down the dichotomy between Sunday and the rest of the week, helping to curb the hypocrisy and the cynicism that it breeds today. This understanding of all of life and all that our body does being lifted up in worship to God will end many of the current arguments about worship. Worship will increasingly touch both the heart/emotion and the mind, the "right brain" and the "left brain," Artists and non-artists will both have things that speak to their soul. Men, women, children, teens, young adults--all will be seen and valued.
- There will be a greater fellowship between Churches of Christ and Christian churches, Baptist churches, and many Bible and non-denominational churches, and a partnership with other fellowships on many social justice issues. In a rising cultural tide of non-religious, atheism and antagonism towards Christianity, increasingly we will see what we have in common with other fellowships and learn to value, support, and learn from one another.
- Technology will be used to help people practice spiritual disciplines, and will supplement face-to-face interactions more and more. For those in certain fields such as health care or emergency response workers who must work on Sundays, they will find a form of community online.
- Giving will be increasingly tied to local and global mission--seeking the lost, serving the community, and sharing the good news--because of the values of the huge Millennial population, and because of the increasing awareness that we simply must concentrate on mission in our post-Christian world.
- Women will be increasingly valued, upheld, and commissioned as they were in the New Testament--as great servant-leaders, missionaries, and "prophetesses." Women will share their stories of God at work, tell of their missionary journeys, and lead others to Christ. They will not be seen as or feel like second class citizens.
- These churches will be the first to serve the marginalized and come to their aid for healing. Like the good Samaritan, these churches will minister to homosexuals, prostitutes, and other marginalized groups first, showing their love. Then out of an extension of their love, they will share the gospel and its call upon our lives.
- The freeing, life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to love God and others will be front and center in preaching, teaching, and daily life. This is what the church of Christ will be known for, as Jesus said that we would be. We no longer will be known primarily for what we don't do, for our worship controversies, or anything else that is of secondary importance. This will be a post-issue driven church, that does things in line with love, the gospel, and Christ's mission.
How do you think that churches and individuals should respond to this 4th Great Awakening? What should be kept or emphasized, and what should be jettisoned or de-emphasized?