Published: May 2009
Spring, Easter and Pentecost are synonymous with birth, re-birth, resurrection, re-formation and change. So it's a good time to talk about the great emergence that is underway all around us. For some time now we have read, in this paper, articles about fresh expressions of church, emergent church and so on. All these articles address one thing: Changing Church for a Changing World. This is not the first cycle of change nor will it be the last. In her book 'The Great Emergence', Episcopalian Phyllis Tickle traces the changes or upheavals that seem to occur with some frequency every five hundred years or so since the birth of Christ. Most of this change revolves around truth and authority—what is true and who is the arbiter of this truth? Ms Tickle contends that with every cycle old, disproved and perhaps dysfunctional concepts are replaced by new understandings of what truth is—old becoming new in different ways than were previously considered. And, with each cycle of upheaval and transition, the Gospel message is spread further and wider.
One of the early upheavals was recorded in all four Gospels; when Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and chased out the merchants and overturned the tables of the money-changers. His point was not to destroy the temple, but to purify it from what it had become. To challenge what the Temple had become over time and return it back to the purpose for which it had been intended, a place of worship and prayer. In other words, he was defying the status quo to bring about change.
Five hundred years ago Protestantism was not yet known, but the seeds had been planted, were being cultivated and in time took root. In 1492 Columbus proved that the world was not flat and in 1514 Copernicus suggested that the sun was the centre of the universe, not the earth as had been previously believed. These significant upheavals in established thought had serious repercussions for the church since much of their theology, at the time, embraced the ideas that the earth was flat and that the earth was the centre of the solar system. If what the established church had endorsed as truth had been, or was being, proved to be untrue what else that they were saying was open to question? The problem was, and in many cases remains to this day, that authoritative religious leaders make pronouncements that may be based on interpretation of existing knowledge and/or assumptions that may have nothing to do with scripture. When scripture is not available to the common man then they only know what they are told through the filters of church leaders.
In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg created his printing press, which permitted the mass distribution of books and improved public literacy. The Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455, was the first Bible ever printed and the first book ever printed in Europe.
It was in this environment and with the translation of scripture into local languages that scholars such as Martin Luther advocated 'sola scriptura, scriptura sola'. For the first time since early Christianity a direct link between the people and God was available without the filters of Popes, Bishops, magisterium or any other intermediary confessor. Changing church for a changing world.
It is nearly five hundred years since the 'Great' Reformation and we are nearing the end of another cycle of change. During the last five hundred years we have heard from Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Faraday, Jung and many others who have contributed to the reshaping of thought in the same way that Columbus and Copernicus did. Although most of the change in the 1500s was doctrinaire there should be no doubt that the rapid dissemination of information made possible by the Gutenberg press was a catalyst to speed up the process....
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