Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The evolving church?

There is a branch of biology called sociobiology which seeks to explain culturual behavior using an evolutionary model. It was first coined by E.O. Wilson a famous biologist (or so I hear... I've only read Concilience ).

For whatever reason, I remembered sociobiology when thinking about the idea of Christian sanctification (or the process of becoming holy). I thought:

Sanctification is kinda like spiritual evolution so if social evolution happens (like sociobiology argues) then maybe socio-spiritual evolution happens?

In simpler terms. Does the church evolve? Are there mutations that help or harm the church?

I suppose those questions rely on the definition of the church. I think there are two definitions of "church". The first definition is the spiritual reality which is God's people or Christ's bride The second definition is the institution of the church; specific local communities with pastors, elders, deacons, etc. a "particular" church, a denomination. I'm content to say that the church by the former definition doesn't really evolve. If you believe in unconditional election this is an easy one. Those that might subscribe to "conditional election" have it a bit harder, but I don't find it too hard to believe that an omniscient being would know who will "choose" to believe. The church by the later definition does and should change.

Let me offer a couple thoughts about that. First, that the "institution" of the church "evolves" shouldn't come as a surprise; it is composed of changing individuals. Second, we know that the church has changed historically (certainly different customs, but also different theologies... remeber the Reformation, among many others), and we can deduce that it will continue that trend. You can probably come up with lots of other ways that the church changes.

So... What's my point? In the churches that I've been in, there seems to be a tendency to treat the church that should change (institution) as the one that doesn't change (spiritual). This may be one of the reasons why people don't like organized religion like Daniel points out. Certainly there are fundamental beliefs that the institutions hold that won't change (there's plenty of room for Confessions and Creeds), but personally I'd be happier if we got more comfortable with change as institutions. Try to talk about "post-modern theology" or the "emerging church" in the wrong crowd and you'll have lots of uncomfortable and defensive folks. That's probably not rocket science; change is difficult. As for me, I'm comfortable stepping out in faith and trusting God to lead us into truth and away from lies as we change.

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