Many, including myself, have deemed it the death of the Church. And, while it is true that the Church is on a voyage that will leave behind what it once was, the idea of a “dying” church is incomplete. Incomplete in the reality that one of the most defining stories in Christianity is all about death not being an ending, but, rather, being a new beginning.
Not surprisingly, in the midst of this metamorphosis, the Church is resisting the change. It’s as if the Church is denying one of its own central beliefs: the understanding that with God all things are possible, particularly life through death.
The Church fears this “death.” It has become so wrapped up in its own importance, power, and influence that it seems to believe its own survival trumps the will of God.
So it has tried to contain God. Over the years the Church has ladened God with dogma, false expectations, and an overly-simplistic theology of Providence. It has attempted to box God in by making God unreachable, not fully knowable, and understood best by old, white men who sit in lofty towers of hierarchically dictated power. The Church has tried to bind God’s hands with the self-serving piousness, self-importance and self-declared importance of far too many of its followers.
We’re witnessing a sort of death throes as the Church ironically tries to save itself from the plans God has for it.
Slowly, over time, in far too many churches this institutional fear of death has created an unhealthy spiritual environment and an unrealistic, unacceptable understanding of God. So, many believers have been walking away, seeking God in healthier places where they can feel more connected to God.
Sadly, as I’ve written before, people seeking God outside of the Church are frequently piously judged by those in the church who say things like, “Any fool can find God in a sunset. It’s hard work to find God in the messiness of the Church community.”
Maybe that’s why this “new thing” is happening. Maybe we shouldn’t be demeaning and bullying people back into churches that are that messy, where people frequently get hurt, and where we’ve created a somewhat inaccessible and tightly-defined understanding of God. Maybe if churches would listen to those walking away and finding God outside of the Church, the Church could begin to grow into the metamorphosis in store for it.
I have found an excellent place to start.
Diana Butler Bass’s new book, Grounded, is an amazingly refreshing theological reflection on the “earthiness” of God. Through combinations of touching personal stories, deep theological insight and historical context, Bass gently removes the dogmatic grip of the Church from God and reminds us of a God who is here with us rather than a God that is ineffable. The far too vertical Institutionalized understanding of the God in heavens is put in juxtaposition the Creator who is revealed to us through Creation.
The picture Bass paints of God is nearly as beautiful as Creation itself.
I’ve come to think of this book as the first crack in the chrysalis in which the Church has wrapped itself to protect itself and the God it wants. But, the metamorphosis is inevitable. The only questions remaining are what role will the people and what role will the Church play in it? Will we continue to build up our walls of protection, trying to keep things the way they were, or will we embrace this “new thing” God is doing?
After reading Bass’ book, I am more convinced than ever that we need to embrace God’s “new thing.” We need to trust that God does indeed have plans for us, plans for peace, hope and a future.
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