Every 500 years or so the Church undergoes a rummage sale.
That’s basically the thesis of Phyllis Tickle’s “The Great Emergence”. The first was the fifth century fall of Rome and Gregory the Great’s work to hold Europe together. Then came the Great Schism in 1054 splitting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Finally, and probably more familiar, the Great Reformation in 1517 with Luther’s 95 Theses.
Each of these coincided with new technology or political realities that enabled/forced the transformation. Each resulted in a new expression of the faith, a revival of the old expression, and overall growth in the kingdom.
Because it’s most recent, it may be easiest for us to see with the reformation. It coincided with the invention of the printing press, the translation of scripture in German and the rise of Atlantic exploration. It resulted in the Protestant Church. The Catholic church reformed. And the faith spread.
We’re at another 500 year mark.
And the internet seems like the kind of technology that’s going to change things.
As in each of the previous rummage sales, change doesn’t come easy. I read another story this morning about a pastor burned out and run off by a minority of hurtful church members. It cited a real banger of a quote by Russel Moore: “It takes a majority to fire, but not to exhaust.”
Indeed, what used to take pitchforks and torches now only takes a few clicks and a relatively small group can set up an alternate church Facebook account from which they can say whatever untrue or hurtful things they like.
But the internet brings a ton of positive possibilities. Almost every pastor and church I know pivoted on a dime in March of 2020 to provide meaningful messages of grace to a frightened world on their cell phones, Facebook live, YouTube. The whole world learned to use Zoom overnight.
I’ve been on Twitter for about a decade now and I’ve met a whole community of friends I never would have met otherwise. Just today I saw an interaction between a friend who’s been on the podcast was trying to prevent Christians from using the name Pharisees as a stand in for bad guys. She’s the most gracious person I know on Twitter and she was really trying to build bridges. But she was attacked for being anti-Semitic. A few hours later I saw a mutual Jewish friend who’s also been on the show come to her defense and give a great explanation of who the Pharisees really were and how we can stop using them as a trope.
She lives in Michigan. He lives in Jerusalem. And I live in Alabama. And we all talked about it in real time.
We live in the future. And I think all this new technology can help us get back to Jesus.
Online connection could help Christianity move out of our multi-million dollar empires and back into living rooms, freeing up tithes for things like feeding the hungry and caring for orphans, aliens and widows. Online communities like #WCT and #WMT connect Jesus followers across time zones and oceans. The internet could allow for a decentralization of ecclesial power like we haven’t seen since the time of the apostles. It could allow for Acts-style house churches to grow and connect via Paul-style letters sent not by foot or horseback but GroupMe and Spotify.
We’ll never stop needing physical touch and personal connections. Folks in power will always fight to keep it. Folks afraid of change will always fight to avoid it. Name your excuse. But I think we’re on the verge of something new. And to prove it, I’m about to click a button and you’re all going to read this on on that little expensive box in your pocket.
When you do, I hope you’ll dream with me.