Changing the Church in a Changing World

January 22, 2018 by

Among the many changes occurring for good or ill in our society, there’s one that should be of interest to all those who follow Jesus. Increasing numbers of people in the West appear to be dissatisfied with their current lifestyles, and want something better than our culture's cult of individualism.

We are dissatisfied with politics, dissatisfied with the shallowness of life, but despite wanting more community, it seems we only get more individualism. Lacking a workable alternative, we decide to believe the lie that society is functioning, and that we are happy and free. It’s like the “hypernormalization” described in Alexei Yurchak’s book Everything was Forever, Until it was No More. Despite hardly having enough food, people in the Soviet Union preferred to believe that they lived a wonderful life of freedom rather than face the reality that they were living in a failing social order.

This dissonance in society presents a tremendous opportunity and challenge for the church. If we can provide a demonstrable alternative, those who decide to do more than just drift along with the status quo will have somewhere to go. People who are searching for fulfilment, for belonging, for equality, and for sacrifice will be able to see this alternative and throw their lot in with us. We have to tell people a better story than the one they have heard up until now.

Bruderhof children and parents laughing together

This should be hugely exciting, but let’s not pretend that it will be easy or popular. We’ll need to stop hankering after Christendom and start living our faith like the first Christians: on the margins of society.

In his fabulous book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider points out just how seriously the first Christians took discipleship. They were convinced that unless a person changed the way they lived and started to behave like a Christian, that individual couldn’t even hear the word of God, hence there was no point preaching to him or her. Seekers weren’t even invited to worship meetings until after formation and baptism – which sometimes took three years. Still, the church grew massively, not through evangelistic efforts, but rather through the enduring patience of a group of believers committed to sacrificial discipleship.

Another thought-provoking recent book is Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which calls on Christians to practice strategic retreat from society in order to sustain their faith and strengthen the church. Rarely has a book been reviewed by so many people who didn’t bother to read or understand it. The visceral reaction against it from some Christian writers makes it apparent that too many are clinging to Christendom, convinced that if we influence society enough we and our children won’t be affected by it, and that we can enjoy its pleasures alongside a life of discipleship. The Benedict Option is not a perfect book but it should at least serve as a conversation starter on how to live an alternative way of life while at the same time being a force for good in the wider world.

Our lives need to present an urgent ultimatum: either continue in a broken society, or join with others in simple and joyful dedication to Christ.

We should also look at the example of the Anabaptists in the early 1500’s. Convinced that, among other things, infant baptism was wrong, they chose to be burned at the stake rather than recant their beliefs. It would have been easy for them to “disagree well” (as much of Christendom is trying to do now, on issues of gender, sexuality, and marriage) and pretend that baptism didn’t really matter. But they stuck to their convictions, and despite persecution and societal marginalization their communities spread like wildfire. And for those who believe the false dichotomy that you can’t live in community and follow the Great Commission at the same time, they need only look at the early Hutterites and note how their life of full community of goods was the base for incredible mission work. From 1530 to 1622 they started more than one hundred church communities in Moravia and Slovakia.

For a church to demonstrate this radical new life in 2018, it will need to rediscover a true understanding and practice of discipleship: it must call sin what it is, it will have to show people where forgiveness is to be found, and it will need to start sharing possessions in accordance with the commands of Jesus. Private property should be a ridiculous notion in these new church communities.

Finally, then, we will be able to make a new commitment to radical mission. From these church communities many men and women should be sent out every year to form apostolic households, living in towns and cities to demonstrate to everyone the life Jesus wants for his people. Like the early Christians in Rome, who lived among the people, our faithful and dedicated lives need to present all who observe with an urgent ultimatum: either continue in your current state, with the opium of consumerism to dull the pain of a broken society, or join with others in simple and joyful dedication to Christ.

Time is short – what are you waiting for?


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  • How about passover /Easter , First day/Sunday , Baptise in name of Jesus Acts 2:38 ,

    doug belot
  • Hallellujah! What a great word Bernard. Thank you and greetings from Chattanooga!

    Josh L
  • Keep spreading the message

    Mathai Mathen