The Future of American Christendom

June is the month for church assemblies and general conventions. Last week the Episcopalians and Presbyterians met and made headlines. Several weeks before it was the Southern Baptists who were in the news.

The Episcopalians (ECUSA) chose a new presiding bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, who follows the controversial Frank Griswold, who led ECUSA to the shoals of ecclesiastical destruction over the last three years. Jefferts Schori does not appear to be the type of person who will take the action now needed to save this church from being severed from the worldwide Anglican community. Time will tell but ECUSA’s failure to follow the Windsor Report has serious ramifications. My friends tell me there is little hope now for meaningful reconciliation. Te Holy Spirit will likely do something new and fresh. Let all who love Christ and his church watch and pray.

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) passed a “peace” resolution that threatens to breakup that fellowship. In effect, this resolution does not bring peace but makes the church into a collection of individual presbyteries without real connection to a national church body, or so it seems to many who fear the worst. One can hope and pray that this seemingly imminent breakup will not be the cause of multiple schisms.

And then there are the Southern Baptists, who passed their now well-known resolution about alcohol. What was much more important, however, was their election of an unheralded candidate to be president of the SBC. That pastor, Frank Page, won the election over two much better known ministers who were highly touted candidates from within the conservative camp of the convention. It appears the blogosphere may have had a major part in this unexpected turn. I do know that many conservative pastors I spoke with before the convention feel the conservative revolution has now gone too far politically and that a more moderate, though still very conservative voice, is needed now more than ever. Personally I welcome the SBC putting the breaks on the move to the right. In my opinion, the changes that took place over the past twenty years were needed. But power still corrupts, even among conservatives. A check on power is almost always a good thing so I have great hopes about the future of the SBC, though a whole new generation might be needed to get the balance right again.

When all is said and done I wonder how important many of these battles really are at the end of the day. The church of Jesus Christ will remain and Christians will continue to expand the kingdom under the power of the Holy Spirit. Millions of lives will be changed by the gospel. I believe in the holy catholic church but I am not sure how all these various denominations are really the way the Holy Spirit will demonstrate that reality in the coming generations. The next Christendom, as Philip Jenkins calls it, appears to be something very different from what we have known for five hundred years, or maybe for more than fifteen hundred years. It would be wise for everyone concerned for the church to be fully aware of these amazing changes and to prepare for the coming reformation/revolution that seems more certain with every passing year. While all of this goes on I keep praying for the church to become one in the grace and love of Christ her Lord. If we love Jesus we must love his church, even when it is in trouble and misses the mark so severely. The tensions and paradoxes in this love are great. The faith required to love as we must is truly profound.

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