As I write this, I am sitting in my office which is now also my bedroom, my closet, and a storage space for various musical instruments, all my throw rugs, and two extra mattresses. We are renovating our upstairs bathroom, so my household is in upheaval. Furniture is pushed into corners, huddled in tight clusters. The living room has sheets of drywall leaning against the wall. The floors are covered in brown paper. There is a plastic curtain surrounding the construction site. Bare wires, naked plumbing pipes, exposed insulation, skeletal wood framing, and rough sub-floors are all part of the decor. Along with a scattering of power tools. There is also noise, plenty of noise, all day long. And workmen regularly interrupt me to inquire about the main water valve, the breaker panel, access to the garage, size of fittings, moving something to another location, or getting a glass of water. They also like to parade past my desk to carry in construction materials or deposit waste on the back balcony.
Renovation is disruptive and chaotic. There are usually a few surprises to contend with as well, like water leaks or faulty wiring. There are often additional costs and delays. But renovation is exhilarating! It exchanges old for new, broken for functional, torn and tacky for beautiful and bright. However, the unsettling, rather lengthy process is not for the faint of heart.
In The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle writes about major transitions in the historic church, suggesting that every 500 hundred years or so, the church cleans house. In her words, the church has a "giant rummage sale," disposing of some old things in order to make room for new things. She notes the following pattern: the Christ event (1st century), the Dark Ages and the development of monastic communities (4th and 5th centuries), the Great Schism which saw the divide of Eastern and Western traditions (11th century), and the Reformation which birthed another Christian tradition (16th century). Each time, there were huge changes in both understanding and practice for the church of Christ.
Well, we are 500 years past the Reformation and one can feel the shifting going on in different parts of the church. For some, this is scary because much that is familiar is at risk. Changes in how we model following Jesus or how we function as a church can feel like we are discarding orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But are we really? Or are we just in the midst of the church's next giant rummage sale? Is the church undergoing another necessary and timely renewal in order to correct systemic defects and abuses and to counteract decay and unhealthy rigidity? I think this might be the case.
Tickle suggests that the next emergence of the church will be "global, recognizing none of the old, former barriers of nationality, race, social class, or economic status."  She also describes it as a "relational, non-hierarchical, a-democratized form of Christianity."  Instead of democracy, she predicts that the church will begin to function through some form of crowd-sourcing which "employs total egalitarianism, a respect for worth of the hoi polloi that even pure democracy never had, and a complete indifference to capitalism as a virtue or to individualism as a godly circumstance."  This shift will include a significant de-Hellenization of Christianity, meaning a turning back to Semitic and Eastern ways of thinking and being. What might this look like? Tickle states: "If in pursuing this line of exegesis, the Great Emergence really does what most of its observers think it will, it will rewrite Christian theology - and thereby North American culture - into something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years."  In other words, though significant elements may change, the church should easily be recognizable as the church.
At the end of our renovation, the bathroom will still be a bathroom. Though it will have been enlarged, every fixture replaced and pretty much every surface repainted or re-tiled in a different colour, there will be no doubt about what it is: a bathroom (and a beautiful one at that). It will also function much better than before because leaky, old things will have been discarded and new things will have been incorporated. But that day is still in the future.
Today, I sit in the disarray and uncertainty and noise. Raw construction materials that seem to bear no resemblance to a functioning bathroom are coming through the door, letting in the cold winter air. I find it hard to work in these chaotic conditions. I am distracted by the noise, the mess, the disrupted daily rhythms, and the intrusion of strangers. I recognize that there is a cost to renovation: physically, emotionally, and financially. I remind myself to be patient, to resist trying to control or force the process, and to trust that the contractor knows what he is doing. My bathroom looks pretty bad at the moment, like it might never fully recover from the damage that was done to it in the deconstruction phase, but I have great hope. I know that this will not always be the state of things.
It takes courage to undergo renovation, especially when we are talking about our beloved church communities, not just bathrooms. It is painful to let go of familiar ways, broken and imperfect though they may be, and embark on a journey of prolonged re-thinking and perhaps repenting. We need to learn to see with wiser eyes. Change and transformation are an integral part of creation, and the church, the living body of Christ, is no different. The biblical texts bear witness to how beliefs and religious rituals and communal practices change over time, even when the God being worshiped is the same God from beginning to end.
We are in for some changes in the church. Some significant shifts are on the horizon and some are already here. Do not fear. Do not panic. Jesus said, "I will build my church." Let us trust Jesus with this renovation.
1. Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 153.
3. Ibid., 152.
4. Ibid., 162.
Image from mjolk.ca