Last month, this column spoke of the institutional church’s captivity to the mindset of Western culture. We called it a kind of “hypnotism” whereby many of the assumptions of Christian faith were blunted or obscured by the powerful counterpoint of Western ideas. This is not to say that there weren’t many points of mutual agreement and benefit in this exchange. There were, however, many aspects of this mutuality that may be seen as negative, as in the way churches played an animating role in colonization.
Today, a spiritual resilience in the churches, from Pentecostals to the Pope, is leading many to rethink major elements of the institutional ethos and practice of the past few centuries. We might call this a kind of “waking up,” a rediscovery of truth and new life in ancient paths. As we wake up, I would like to make a few suggestions for a conversation of renewal. Though far from perfect and much less than exhaustive, here are the elements that I believe should be a part of our theological agenda. If we move toward them, these would preclude the kind of practice that led to the churches’ part in colonialism:
From just war to active non-violence.
As a church of worldly power, we compromised with power and formed alliances that directly contradict the active non-violence of Jesus. More than just practising pacifism, we are asked to walk the extra mile of resistance to confront evil with the power and truth of the one true God. This will often place us on the other side of the cozy relationships we have had with worldly power.
From the culture of money to non-possession.
The early church practised non-possession, its members sometimes sharing with each other in common, but more often, practising an ethic of non-possession. We are trustees of God’s wealth and we are called to live this long abandoned ethic-sharing with each other, generous to those in need and grateful for God’s abundance.
From the dominion of creation to the eucharistic life.
Western attitudes to the environment are often, at a practical level and in effect, a denial of doctrine of creation. The gospel asks us to embrace a eucharistic acceptance of the gift of creation; we use only what we need, respecting and acknowledging the interdependence that is the vestige of the Triune God’s creating presence in our universe.
From flirtation with wealth to life among the poor and marginalized.
Jesus said in Matthew 25 that we would meet him in the poor, the imprisoned and the abandoned. Our institutional life, even the placement and direction of our ministries, should follow this priority. This would, at minimum, impact where we place our congregations and how we house them.
From institutional membership to communion.
Churches in Christendom were a vital organization, but later they became institutions of the larger culture. Can we become-in practical impact as well as in our theological theory-members, one of another? This desire, so urgent in our young people, would simultaneously make us less like members of an organization and more like family, living together in communities of moral imagination-rethinking our lives in light of the gospel.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.