What if the next Reformation requires a mass exodus?

In case you missed it, Trigg Bundgaard (the blogger over at Epochalypsis) posted a powerful video this Tuesday to inform his readers and the rest of the world of his deconversion. Among his varied reasons for walking away are his disdain for Pauline Christianity (which, like Trigg, I also contend is radically different from what Jesus preached), and his frustration with mainstream Christianity’s addiction to self-serving forms of worship.

Trigg seems to be seeking an expression of Jesus-followerism that isn’t afraid of standing in opposition to popular theology. He seems to be saying, “Give me Jesus and an expression of following him that will transcend the mess we’ve made over the past 2,000 years.” I watched his video and identified with everything he said… Even the deconversion part.

Like Trigg, one day it became alarmingly apparent to me that I needed to rethink my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. For years, I had attempted to “follow Jesus” by going to church and Bible study… but I had also closed myself off from “the world” in an effort to stay “pure”– a behavior very much unlike that of Jesus. I had become a great apologist and a faithful church program attendee, but I had no knowledge of the historical person named Jesus. I had entered the Christian cocoon– a theological echo chamber that affirmed my Bible interpretations and my worldview– and I never wanted to emerge because I had obtained “personal salvation”. Keeping my “personal salvation” was all that mattered to me at the time.

Videos like Trigg’s inspire me  to wonder about the future of the Christianity I left behind… the Christianity that can’t envision what it would become without buildings or programs… the Christianity that clings to its interpretation of the Bible because it’s afraid to change… the one that seems to choose a victim in every generation… the one that is intolerant of other religions… the Christianity that is afraid of science and opposed to intellectual pursuit. I think about the Christianity I once knew– and all of the friends who have left it– and I wonder to myself: What if our leaving is exactly what Christianity needs?

Over the past few years, Emergent authors have written powerful things about the New Reformation– however, I continue to wonder if Christianity is truly prepared for what a “reformation” could mean for its institutions.

We need to seriously consider the possibility that the future of Christianity may not have a thing to do with church buildings or seminaries or even personal salvation. The “newly-reformed” Christianity may not have a thing to do with complicated explanations for how God created the god-man by stuffing godself into a Jesus-sized container. When the dust settles, Christianity may end up with a population of Jesus-following, god-intoxicated mystics who want to bring peace and equality to the world without converting a solitary soul, and without any appetite for orthodoxy.

People are leaving Christianity so that they can follow Jesus. We may not realize it, but our religion may be changing one deconversion… one Youtube video… one personal revelation… one courageous exit at a time. The new “reformation”– the change we’re all longing for– may be most concentrated among those who have already left quietly (or in Trigg’s case, not-so-quietly).

Change could very well come through the slow exodus of Jesus followers who leave mainstream Christianity to search for a different way. This is only scary for those who can’t envision a non-organized, institution-free Christianity. I am not afraid. Bring on the  next Reformation.

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13 responses to “What if the next Reformation requires a mass exodus?

  1. “What if our leaving is exactly what Christianity needs?”

    AMEN! Sometimes in our leaving, we embolden others to do the same or to at least rethink some things.

  2. EXACTLY my experience as well! I am saying that I am following Jesus out of the traditional Christian Church for many of the reasons you site above, but also because I am seeking Him in the places where he is to be found, among those who are the “least of these my brothers and sisters.” That “least” has many manifestations: most marginalized-least welcomed, hardness of heart so that the suffering of others does not penetrate to compassion, addiction to power over others for fear of not belonging anywhere, or even those in religious leadership while empty of spirit and unconditional love. If only we could all realize that everyone is a sibling, everyone deserves compassion and every person hides common fears of isolation and vulnerability behind masks of either self sufficiency, in some cases, or in others, co-dependency. Disassociations, dislocations, and disenfranchisement drive our siblings out of our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our towns and as we are less because they are not with us, they are set adrift at sea without any anchor of belonging. The Christian Churches attempts to provide a safe harbor in which to moor our sea worthy vessels of abandonment and isolation, yet has failed to recognize that the Christ is embodied in a human heart not housed in a building, or organized into non-chaotic, mythical reality. Life is harsh sometimes, and the Spirit blows where She will, but are we standing with and along side or are we standing against and in opposition? Are we collaborating or are we competing? Yes, there is a time and place for all ends of the spectrum and every place in between…but I contend, that we get there better with each other together than each straggling in on our own, barely breathing, scraped and bleeding from battles fought alone. I long to join other like minded followers of Jesus, out of the church, into the streets and board-rooms where we disciples are called to serve. There is more than enough need and there are way too many who walk by and turn a blind eye. Jesus sees and invites us followers to see too.

  3. As one who’s still in the mainline church, it’s easy to see why the next Reformation may see an exodus from our churches. Rampant dogmatism, homophobia, sexism, and other woes is fueling this new Reformation. I truly think the ecclesiastical institution knows what’s going on and is scared stiff. That’s probably why you see Christian fundamentalists here in the US trying to grab hold of secular power-they know the end is coming.

    The future is going to be quite interesting! Peace!

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  5. Thanks Crystal,

    This exodus you speak of is evident all over the place. I myself went through it almost fully alone, and fairly gradually, about 17 years ago. I have a special interest in watching and perhaps participating, at least via writing but perhaps otherwise more personally/socially, how the “Progressive Christians” often situated in a handfull of “mainline” denominations handle this situation.

    A significant former evangelical who has recently written a fascinating, challenging article on the relation of progressives to the exiting or transforming evangelicals/fundamentalists is Frank Schaeffer. I highly recommend reading this article at this location:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/missing-the-mainline-prot_b_1344757.html

    Thanks again,
    Howard

  6. Couldn’t agree more. Yet I would challenge the singularity of such comments as “one personal revelation” and “one courageous exit” at a time. Though true in some situations…the communal heart of those who follow Jesus have these longings. The words for the community to articulate this longing have yet to be found. I write this as a mainline church minister who loves the people of God/Jesus, but finds the church an increasingly disconnected and disheartening place to be.

    These conversations are so needed. Thank you.

  7. Hi guys.
    Have you read anything by Peter Rollins.
    Eg. ‘How (Not) To Speak of God’, and
    ‘Insurrection’. He is providing a lead in the development of ‘post-modern’ Christianity.

  8. A terrific and inspiring post, as usual. That’s why I always looks forward to your posts, and why your blog is one of my favourites. I know I generally only comment when I don’t fully agree with something you’ve said, and it might seem like I only come here to argue and play devil’s advocate. Alas, that’s just how my mind works. Just wanted to clearly say to you how enjoyable, though-provoking and inspiring your blog is to me.

    That said, *sheepishly looks at shoes*, I do have an issue to raise.

    I wonder if this new exodus you refer to will genuinely be like a new Reformation (meaning that it will dramatically alter the landscape of greater Christianity forever), or if it’s merely the next set of schisms in a Christian history that has had literally thousands of them already.

    Many of the transformations you’re describing – a de-emphasis of orthodoxy and exclusive Trinitarian theology, an emphasis on pacifism, universal brotherhood/sisterhood and de-centralisation of authority – have already been undertaken by various groups – many of them long ago. Some examples arethe Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Polish Brethren, or the Jesus Freaks. All of them probably saw themselves to some degree as leaving behind a staid religion in search of a more radical and authentic Christian spirituality. All of these movements left their mark, but none of them led to any kind of radical reformation of greater Christianity. Who’s to say that this new shift among emergents and others will be anything more than just another such minor offshoot?

  9. To live out the fullness of what Christ taught one must receive the sacraments that he established. What do people here think about that?

    • I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that a statement like that needs to be elaborated and backed up before it has any weight to it. Otherwise, it’s just too vague and could mean almost anything to anyone.

      Firstly, one needs to know what is meant by “living the fullness of what Christ taught”. It could mean, for example, “being very Christlike in one’s actions”. Or it could mean “sticking to Christ’s teachings very closely”. Or, since Christ summed up the entire law with “love your neighbour and love God”, it could mean “living a life where love defines everything you do”. The three overlap but are very different. All are very difficult to actually achieve, for different reasons.

      Christ taught a LOT of things. Does living out the fullness of his teachings mean, for example, plucking out your eyes so you don’t sin, or hating your mother? Does it mean forsaking material possessions and becoming homeless, as he did? Does it mean stealing your boss’s money and giving it out to all his clients, like the guy Jesus praised in that infamous parable? If you answer “no” to any of those questions, then you’d want to have a good reason, since they were all things that Christ taught.

      If you answered “yes” to all of them, then you’re describing a lifestyle that eludes 99.9% of Christians, so any discussion about sacraments is redundant anyway, since no one comes close to “living Christ’s teachings to their fullness” with or without sacrements.

      Secondly, it needs to be made explicit what is meant by “sacraments”. I don’t remember Jesus ever mentioning any “sacraments” in the gospels, so the question of what is and isn’t a genuine Christ-ordained sacrament is somewhat subjective, and has arguably more to do with church history than Christ.

      If we’re talking about consuming the body and blood of Christ, then that is super easy to do outside of organised religion. You can do it with close friends over a dinner table…just the way Jesus did it.

      Jesus also commanded us to wash each other’s feet. Again, that’s very easy to do outside of organised religion. Not that much anyone bothers to do it anymore, whether in organised Christianity or casual Christianity. Baptism is also easy to do outside of organised religion – though it’s arguably not really a “sacrament established by Christ”, since John the Baptist was doing it before Jesus started his ministry.

      So, the statement “To live out the fullness of what Christ taught one must receive the sacraments that he established” is a very cloudy one, and is based on some very vague premises. It could mean a lot of things…many of them contradictory, most of them doubtful. It’s a very vague and very bold statement to throw out there without backing it up in any way. If you’re trying to convince people of its truth, you’re not likely to win many people over, because something so nebulous is too easy to dismiss.

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