This past summer I started watching more of those home renovations shows. You know the ones I’m talking about- the shows that feature a good looking couple who buy an outdated property for a cheap price, fix it up in a few weeks and then sell it for a significant profit. As I thought about what drew me to shows like this, I came to realize that I like seeing outdated things become repurposed. While the foundation and structure of the house rarely changed, the way it was presented was so that it was more useable and accessible to the next owners. I guess one could argue that these types of shows are really about reformation.
It was about the same time I started watching the renovation shows that I ran across an article in Christianity Today which reported a bleak number for the Southern Baptist Convention. Attendance at Sunday services is down 7 percent compared to the previous year. But this isn’t just the trend with Southern Baptists; Lutherans and other denominations have been wrestling with declining attendance and membership for the past few decades. This makes me wonder if there is a need for a better way for the Church to operate and share the Gospel? Maybe instead of hoping people will come TO church each week, the church could find a better way to GO to the people in everyday life?
Perhaps this means a new reformation is needed. Did you know that throughout the last two millennia we have experienced a major theological reformation, or dramatic shift, about every 500 years. Check this out:
1st Century- Jesus changes history and reforms classical Judaism to the new covenantal Christianity
313 AD- Roman Emperor Constantine declares Christianity to be the official religion, allowing it to be practiced openly.
1054 AD- The Great Schism occurs separating Christianity into two main sects, which we now know as the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church bodies.
1517 AD- The Reformation begins when Luther nails his 95 theses, or issues, with the Roman Catholic church.
2020 AD- ???
So what does this look like? What conditions are necessary for a new reformation? For one, technological innovation has always been a catalyst of previous reformations. Like repurposed houses, these innovations help make life more functional and modern. Here are some examples from history:
Transcontinental roads built by the Romans helped the spread of the gospel in the time of the apostles.
A switch from fragile papyrus to vellum, or parchment paper, helped Biblical manuscripts last longer and become more accessible to Christians in the following centuries after Jesus.
The printing press, invented around 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg, helped Martin Luther and others, get important books and theological documents into the hands of the people.
Advances in transportation (airplanes and automobiles) and communication (radio, television, and telephones) in the last 150 years with have enabled Christianity to expand to more places around the globe.
But, perhaps the greatest technological innovation has been given to us in our lifetime: the internet. We now have instant access to all sorts of information that would have previous taken years of study and expertise to uncover. I wonder if we have fully utilized the potential of this technology for sharing the Gospel and perhaps using it as a platform for arguing and tearing each other down hasn’t contributed to its connective power.
I think those in high education, and especially those of us at Concordia Texas, are wrestling with the degree which technological advances will affect education. We have plans to close down our centers in San Antonio, Houston and DFW in order to better use our resources in development of online education. Google Docs, Blackboard and MyInfo have streamlined many of the processes that help higher education flow more smoothly. Concordia even offers a Master of Education that can be done completely online. But what will the future of education look like? My guess is that the main structure of teaching and learning won’t necessarily change, but like a renovated house, how that is done may change significantly.
I’m not sure the Church’s next reformation, as well as Concordia Texas’ next innovation in higher education, are yet to be fully realized. But there are two things these both have in common; first, each is about keeping Jesus and His message of redemption, grace, and saving love at the forefront, and secondly, each are about relating to the people around us as we strive to do life together and make the world a better place for all. Like the renovation show, these foundations won’t change, but my hope is that whatever the next reformation looks like, more people come to know and experience the amazing love of Jesus Christ.