The State of the Church in Our Contemporary World
In this brief essay, I will seek to share my view of the state of the church in our contemporary world. I will look at some of the most important developments in the church today as well as mention some of the main challenges the church faces in our world today.
One of the most significant developments in the church today is Christianity has a new face. It is poor, urban, persecuted, black/brown, instead of wealthy, white and intellectual. While the academic West is becoming more “liberal”, the growing “South” [Africa, Latin America and Asia] has a more traditional (conservative) and charismatic mindset. These majority voices reflect a faith that is “far more enthusiast, much more centrally concerned with the immediate works of the supernatural, through prophecy, visions, ecstatic utterances and healing” says Philip Jenkins in The Next Christendom. The “free church” is on the rise as well. While 50 percent of the church is Catholic, 25 percent Pentecostal/Charismatic and 25 percent Eastern-Orthodox and Protestant, the “free church” movement is even effecting the highly hierarchical Catholic church, through base (grassroots) churches. While the contemporary church is growing in diversity – developing feminist, liberationist, African, and postmodern ecclesiologies – she is simultaneously seeking to grow in unity – through the formation of the World Council of Churches [Amsterdam in 1948]. Vatican II [1961-65] has also helped pave the way toward a greater unity of the one, holy, catholic (universal), apostolic church.
As these developments are taking place, there are significant challenges that the church is facing. One of the fundamental challenges is what makes the church the church? The Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants have varied opinions on this. Other challenges include: Are we to understand salvation individualistically or communally? What does it mean to be fully human, sexually, politically, sociologically and morally? How do we balance the institutional and more static nature of the church (Christology) with the dynamic and evolving nature of the church (Pneumatology)? How does a missional ontological understanding of the church affect our approach to a growing pluralistic world? And as the church lives missionally in the West, how does she allow the gospel to be heard in her postmodern, post-Christendom culture, while at the same time call people to repentance?