Vision Team Blog

Thursday, February 16, 2006

End of the Church Age?

I have been hearing a lot lately about the end of the "Church Age". It has gotten me thinking about the word church and what it means. While most of those that are talking about this seem to have a screw or two loose, but may be alright in other areas, I believe there is a nugget of truth somewhere in there. I'm continuing to mull it as it may be worth keeping in mind as we express and define our values.

A few thoughts. One, the building is not the church. Two, shouldn't there be just the one universal church body? Third, aren't we just local congregations of the universal church members. Should we call our "churches" congregations (ie: Via Christus Community Congregation, LifeSpring Community Congregation, St. Joseph's Congregation, Willowcreek Congregation)? How would the culture respond to this change? Does this make the use of community in the name obsolete? Could the end of the church age be the reunification of the universal church and the expression of congregations?



  • I'm afraid I don't really know what you mean when you refer to the "end of the Church Age" or the distinction between "church" vs. "congregation". Could you explain what you're thinking a little more?

    By Blogger Mike Clawson, at 3:53 PM  

  • Below are some links to some books that are mentioning this. I haven't been able to pout a full grasp on the ideas as I haven't read the books. However there has been discussion of people leaving the organized churches. Also it seems to be related to the end times prophecies and fulfillment.

    As to the distinction I was trying to make, could the institutional churches be coming together and would congregations be a better and clearer picture of the "church" to those in the world around us. While many of us agree that there is only one chuech and not the building, the world around us generally hasn't seemed to understand that.

    Revolution - Worldrenowned pollster George Barna has the numbers, and they indicate a revolution is already taking place within the Churchone that will impact every believer in America. Committed, bornagain Christians are exiting the established church in massive numbers. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? And what does this mean for the future of the Church? Using years' worth of research data, and adhering to an unwavering biblical perspective, Barna predicts how this revolution will impact the organized church, how Christ's body of believers should react, and how individuals who are considering leaving (or those who have already left) can respond. For leaders working for positive change in the church and for believers struggling to find a spiritual community and worship experience that resonates, Revolution is here. Are you ready?

    The End of the Church Age...and After - Is it true that we are now in the time of Great Tribulation? Is it true that the age of the institutional church has come to an end? Is it true that God commands the true believers in Christ as their Savior to immediately depart from their churches? These are some of the very serious questions that are examined in this book.

    By Blogger WarePhreak Wyncoop, at 4:56 PM  

  • Ah, you've discovered Harold Camping I see. :) You're right when you say that that guy has a few screws loose. I wouldn't take what he has to say about the end of the church age too seriously.

    Personally my eschatology is not at all what you'd call "dispensational" so ideas based on assumptions about various "ages" or "dispensations" don't really mean much to me. I agree that institutional churches have a lot of problems, and need a lot of reform, but for me this is a largely a pragmatic and methodological concern, not an eschatological issue.

    Camping seems to be the kind of extreme fundamentalist who advocates complete isolation and separation from any Christians who don't agree completely with him (and won't agree to send all their money to his Family Radio Ministry instead of to their local churches). Of course separatism is one of the key hallmarks of Christian fundamentalism, and is the opposite of the kind of generous orthodoxy we want to practice as a church.

    As for Christians leaving the institutional church in droves as Barna suggests, my take is that it mainly has to do with the extreme individualism and consumerism of our society (people leave when church no longer "meets their needs" and don't see the importance of the "body of Christ" for what they perceive as simply their own private spiritual journey). I'd say blame also lies at the feet of many churches who either play to this individualism and consumerism by being merely "seeker sensitive" without any expectation of deeper commitment and involvement in the church community, or churches who refuse to change and adapt to changes in our culture and thus make themselves entirely irrelevant to people searching for authentic expressions of faith and real community. Of course, all of this are challenging issues that we'll have to face as we start Via Christus. I'm glad you've raised them.

    And I also agree that we need more unity among Christians and a vision that we are all part of a larger body of Christ regardless of our particular "church" or denomination. However, I don't know if that means we need to do away with the different local expressions of that body, or even the distinctness of different types of churches. If different denoms exist because we are intolerant of differences among Christians than that is certainly a bad thing. But couldn't we also view differences between various denoms as a celebration of the diversity found in the body of Christ? Perhaps the Holy Spirit allows different types of churches to exist because he knows that people have different personalities and different needs at various times. Like Laurie shared the other night, in college she really needed that charismatic church, though she did get burned out on it after a while. Thank God then that some churches are called to be charismatic even though not every church needs to be.

    By Blogger Mike Clawson, at 2:43 PM  

  • IF we follow through on some of the thought behind generous orthodoxy and inclusivity (as opposed to divisive and exclusive), what is the potential for the future?

    Radical Christianity like Acts 2, invited a radically positive response. If we just change names, I don't think it will affect the connotations of the church, because our attitudes are responsible for these views. An inward transformation doesn't necessarily need an outward label change, connotations change with as the outward expressions reflect the inward change. A church radically different than the norm, isn't defined by its label, rather by what its interaction with the world around it.

    If the emergent generous orthodoxy thought continues to gain momentum, we may see a shift to a greater view of the church universal. However, I'm a pendulum person. As that view gains credence/acceptance, I'll bet the underlying suppositions of it are lost and we see the pendulum swing back to divisiveness again.

    On the other hand, labyrinthian thought teaches that we swing forward and back, closer and farther away from God on a path bewildering in its processional duplicity and beautiful in its ordered complexity, until traveling in submission to the path, we finally and inexhortably are led to God.

    Christians for millenium have thought we are close to the final days. I'm betting these are the final days of this earth, but I'm beginning to wonder what the transition will look like to the new heaven and new earth. I'm beginning to doubt that God's going to go "poink" here's a new earth to play with since you stewarded the last one so badly.
    I'm wondering if it will be defined as the habitation of God's people stewarding this planet well.

    By Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop, at 11:01 PM  

  • You're right that Christians of every era have thought they were living in the end times, though personally I doubt very much that we are. And I doubt this because when I look at the church I still feel like we have so far yet to come, so much growing to do to become the kind of body Christ intended. And not being a dispensationalist, I don't believe that at some point God's going to give up on the church, throw up his hands, and "poink" (as you so eloquently put it). I think that the revolution Jesus started by initiating the church will be carried through to it's successful completion (c.f. Philippians 1:6 and keep in mind that the "you" is plural, i.e. he's referring to the work Christ is doing in the church.)

    So yeah, when I see such a huge distance yet to go between the vision of the Kingdom and where the church is at now with all of our divisions and distractions, I can't help but think that we're just at the beginning of our "life cycle" as the body of Christ... teenagers at best! :)

    As McLaren provocatively asks, what if the world and the church goes on for another 20,000 years? How will we view these first couple of millenia of the "church age" (to borrow that terminology)?

    What if we're really just getting started? I don't know about you, but that thought gives me hope. It suggests to me that this isn't just as good as it gets.

    By Blogger Mike Clawson, at 11:25 PM  

  • I tend to think of the denominations as more divisive than celebrations of diversity. As historically, that has been more the reason of their birthing.

    By my suggestion, I was not trying to remove the diversity. As I believe that is an important part of finding a local congregation to participate in. But rather was thinking of it more as a building block that unifies the body while allowing for diversity and states that more clearly to those outside the body.

    I was also not suggesting a name change to disguise the same internals, but believe we are truly thinking differently than has been clearly put in the past. I also was not trying to push for a name change since we just came up with our name, but was trying to set the groundwork for the next stage maybe, or for those that follow us.

    By Blogger WarePhreak Wyncoop, at 12:33 PM  

  • Thanks for clarifying your thoughts Matt. I think we're on the same page with this stuff, I just didn't quite understand what you were saying at first. I totally agree that we need to move beyond the denominational labels while not sacrificing the diversity. I wonder how we can encourage that kind of thing here in Yorkville without being threatening to other churches who will want to maintain their boundaries and labels.

    And I didn't think you were trying to say we should change the name already. I guess I just didn't understand the terminology you were using. I agree that we need to move past the concept of "church" as an institution that is divided into different types and kinds and programs, and view the church as a more universal body (the body of Christ!). We are all part of that body, no matter what our particular gathering (congregation?) looks like or how it defines itself in relation to other congregations.

    By Blogger Mike Clawson, at 8:47 PM  

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