BLOG: 9/5/17. Ecclesiastical Rip Van Winkles

Hello subscribers! After taking leave from posting these Blogs over these past couple of months in order to finish writing a book, and with that task essentially accomplished, I am looking forward to getting back into this communication with you. For your information, I am co-authoring this book with a cherished and very gifted colleague. The two of us have been aware that there has been much confusion on the purpose and form of the church for a long time, but the issue has surfaced with a vengeance as a much younger generation is emerging that has, not only little awareness of the church, but is essentially not interested in institutional religion. To that end, we have been writing on the theme of: re-conceiving the church for tomorrow’s children. If all goes well, it should be published toward the end of the year.

Unless you are an inhabitant of the Hudson Valley, or an aficionado of American literature, you might not have an appreciation for Washington Irving’s writings. Irving is one of this country’s very prominent and colorful writers from the Revolutionary War period. He had a lot of humor, and took great sport in poking fun at the foibles of the Dutch inhabitants so prominent in the Hudson valley. One of his most prominent stories is that of a Dutchman who, through a series of events, slept through the American Revolution. He dozed off under British government and only woke up after the revolution with the new American government.

The church has nearly always had a difficulty coping with changing cultures. It has tried to transport the forms and traditions of one fruitful time and place into some other totally different time and place. For its first four centuries of existence, the dynamic apostolic church moved in power and was inventing and re-inventing its forms and communication to the huge variety of cultures into which it moved. But somewhere along into the 5th century it was lured into religious institutionalism, and ecclesiastic hierarchical-ism, and so became much more rigid and impervious to change for the most part. Yet you get, along the way, those figures such as Martin Luther, who put his life on the line by publicly challenging the dominant Church of Rome by saying, in essence: this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Now, here we are, in a whole new cultural setting that is inescapably post-Christian, dominated by something akin to a secular and self-satisfied humanism, and ignorant of, and indifferent to the Christendom culture of the past millennium and a half. The emerging generation is formed by the internet culture, by social media, by artificial intelligence, and a plethora of totally new phenomena. This is the generation that emerges after 1995, and is obviously so captive to their iPhones that it has been dubbed: the iPhone generation. It cultural context has little knowledge or interest is so much that was essential to previous generations.

And the church? Alas! the church too often prone to sleep through the ecclesiastical revolution as surely as did Rip Van Winkle political revolution in the mid-18th century. That being so, I’ll be working on that in future blogs.


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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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