Wednesday, July 11, 2012

St Luke's - In a Postmodern & Post-Christian World

The church is by nature a number of things...

Those who have responded to the call to follow Jesus (to pledge their allegiance and worship to the Lordship of the Creator God revelled in Father, Son and Spirit).

Those that are “alive” in Christ and the gathering of those that are alive in Christ.
Those that gather united in baptism and communion.
Those that live out of and in witness to the big story of the Gospel.
An integrated renewed humanity in community (an eclectic bunch of people sourced from here, there and everywhere but who have all found life in Jesus Christ).

You could say that the church is; a community that gathers and scatters as followers of Jesus in order to encourage, equip and help each other in the active living out of God’s will and in order to bear witness in both word and deed to the truth and love of God.

Why St Luke’s then? Why plant a church?

The short answer is in response to God’s calling, leading and prompting. At an intuitive level I felt God was leading us (Lisa and I, and then what became a church planting team) to plant a church.

Now we all know that churches can work out their ‘churching’ in a variety of ways.

So what about St Luke’s...?

All along we wanted to do this in a way that would resonate somehow with the postmodern and post-Christian context that we live in; with those that know Christ in this context and with those that don’t.

St Luke’s isn’t a postmodern church. I’m not sure that is possible as, at the end of the day, a Christian worldview and a postmodern worldview are not really compatible. We have set out however to speak into a postmodern context.

Let me explain that a bit, and yes I’m cutting out as much guff as possible, and yes, the story is a little more nuanced than what follows...

First we had the enlightenment:

A cultural movement of intellectualism in the 1700’s that sought to mobilize the power of reason, in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted science and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition. It is the foundation to what is known as modernism, our modern way of living; scientific, technical, rational, logical, educated, reasoned etc. It carries with it the idea that we’ll fix the world as humanity advances intellectually and one by one thinks and fixes and invents solutions to the world‘s problems and humankind's deepest fears and desires.

Now we have postmodernism:

As time as carried on we’ve discovered that science isn’t going to fix everything. Despite the great advances in philosophy, medicine, humanitarian work, education, capitalism – the world is a pretty broken place. Science couldn’t fix or prove everything. Postmodern thinkers began to declare truth as relative,[1] to become suspicious of literary texts and our ability to truthfully interpret the text,[2] and to doubt any sort of metanarrative[3] by which sense could be made of life.

Imagine a flyer in your mail box from Shell Oil explaining their new environmentally friendly and sustainable oil - who wrote this? Why? Can they be trusted? What’s their agenda?  Who can you trust? Who are the experts? This is just their version of the story, it’s not necessarily the only version or the truest version, in fact it’s most likely not!

There is suspicion of truth, suspicion of the text, suspicion of the expert (who’s paying them), a suspicion of institutions, a suspicion that any particular story is a true story let alone the true story. All is relative.

We live in a postmodern context.

At the same time we live in what is very much a post-Christian society.

First we had Christendom:

Christendom is the religious culture that has dominated Western society since the 4th Century. Prior to this the Western world was pre-Christian. Greek gods, Roman gods, and Caesar were considered as lord. It was criminal to be a Christian at times. Christians were thrown to lions in the arena or killed by gladiators. In the 4th Centruy the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the official imperial religion. Christian faith moved from being a marginalized, persecuted, subversive movement to being the official religion. Church gatherings moved from underground catacombs to large temples that were specifically built. The Emperor worshiped in temple in all his finery and so gowns and robes and the like were acquired for the priests to wear and conduct services in, they needed to look the part for the Emperor. The Church and state became one. In many countries the King or Queen was the head of the church as well as the State. Members of society were assumed to be Christian by birth rather than by choice. Over the last 1000 years or so however, there has been a separation of Church and State.

Largely though, until the last generation or so, the church was still held in high regard in society. Countries still considered themselves to be a Christian nation. Everyone went to Sunday school. Priests or Pastors were held in high regard. Church and teachings of the church still held tremendous sway.

Now we have post-Christendom:

Many historians though are now calling the world we live in a post-Christendom society. In many places prayer in schools has been banned, it is being requested that Christmas be renamed as a solstice gift-giving festival, that nativity scenes be removed from shopping malls. You may have seen on the news a few years ago the debate around the monument of the Ten Commandments in the Montgomery State judicial building being taken down. After having been in place for two years it was ruled to be in violation of the U.S. Constitutions principle of a separation between religion and government.

The church, priests, reverends, pastors, prayer, the Christian faith no longer enjoys the same privileged status it once held in western society.

Thus we find ourselves living in a postmodern and post-Christian context.

To be continued...

[1] Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994), 102.

 [2] Mark Poster, “Foucault, Michel,” in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 277-280.

 [3] Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.

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