What might church in the 21st century look like? There are as many answers to that question as there are groups who are willing to gather and try to hammer it out. And the answers given today may change tomorrow because change, though resisted by many, will be at the core of the journey. Never will any of us have a corner on truth. There will always be more light up ahead. Given that, these are my continued suggestions, for now at least.
I believe the time is right to begin to lessen the imprint of denominations on our lives. Except perhaps for certain bookkeeping necessities, denominations are old school. Let them go. Pay much less attention to them. They serve, in a major way, to expand hierarchy and provide roles for those thirsty for political clout. If you don’t believe it, ask yourself when you last saw a denominational executive consistently serve food in a soup kitchen, visit a nursing home regularly other than for their own family, put themselves on the front lines for some issue other than abortion or gay marriage, or really call for shared sacrifice. They are too busy (read that as important and powerful). Instead, participate in the larger universal church by finding a body of common interest where one can fellowship, learn, and serve together instead of passing resolutions, finding ways to judge, and excluding those unlike yourself. This will probably mean that you will cross denominational lines and become much more ecumenical.
Develop relationships with other faith expressions. Light might be more forthcoming if every Christian congregation would invite, listen to, and learn from someone from the synagogue, the mosque, or a far eastern temple. Give up the notion of converting them. Learn to be with them.
Allow ourselves, in every experience, to be about what we do and not what we believe. Doctrine, by its very nature, divides. Discipleship unites.
Let women be strategic in every leadership/participatory role. Hint to my Roman Catholic and fundamentalist friends: Give it up! It’s going to happen. Help hasten the day when there is true equality in our work/service/worship.
Practice inclusion. In spite of our best efforts to leave some folk out and to do so with the construction of the best proof-text defense we can develop, in the spirit of Jesus, it just won’t wash. The notable thing about Jesus that seems to be beyond debate is that he became, in his ministry, open to any and all. That is probably one of several reasons why he became such an irritant as to eventually get himself executed. He gave of himself to those considered unclean and unacceptable.
I will conclude thoughts on the contemporary church with a consideration of guilt and grace.