May 17, 2019

All religions go through a 4-stage evolution. They begin with an energetic, charismatic, and loosely structured foundation phase, in which faith communities develop where people live in the spirit of the founder. In the history of Christianity, we see this first stage in the early Christian communities, characterized by creativity.

The second stage arrives when the original disciples begin to die-off and people become concerned about passing-on their faith heritage to the next generation. In stage two, beliefs are written down, sacred scriptures (like Paul’s letters and the Four Gospels) take a set form, and specific rituals, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are more uniformly established. This is the institutionalization phase. It is necessary and really unavoidable.

Often many years later, stage three arrives. A religious hardening of the arteries and barrel-vision gradually set in. Doctrinal statements, rituals, and church structures that once sustained people become narrow restraints and barriers to growth and life. The church which once pointed to God now begins to point more to itself. People start being evaluated more in terms of doctrinal fidelity and obedience to ecclesiastical authority. People understand faith in Christianity as largely a matter of believing things to be true or false (faith as intellectual assent) instead of giving people concrete practices (faith as life in the Spirit) so they can live as Jesus lived. Being an institutional man is important. And knowing that the men are in charge is important for institutional women.

Stage four is REFORMATION. That’s where we are today. And today’s reformation involves all Christian traditions.

In the current reformation, we need to move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion.

Richard Rohr describes very well what happened to Christianity in stage three: “We morphed into “Churchianity” more than any genuine, transformative Christianity….Today, many Christians do not even know what we mean by the ‘Gospel life’ because it became a belief and belonging system more than a full lifestyle….

“In Europe, this took the form of highly academic theology, and in America the form of narrow ahistorical fundamentalism. Both of these are largely in the head—and the left brain at that—showing little interest in issues such as human suffering, healing, poverty, environmentalism, social justice, inclusivity, care for the outsider, or political oppression. In recent centuries, the Christian churches were on the wrong sides of most human reformations and revolutions, until after these reformations succeeded. As a result, Christianity has often become ineffective or even in-credible to much of the world. Our history now works against us.”

The agenda now is reform. I really don’t write to change anybody’s beliefs. I hope to change the way people understand those beliefs. Christian Faith Is more about how to believe than what to believe.

Winter is over and Spring is in the air.


9 thoughts on “Focus on Faith

  1. Thank you so much, Jack, for your insightful refections about the need for reform within the Catholic Church and, as you say, within all Christian traditions. Your writings reflect and articulate so well the feelings and thoughts I have had for a number of years now. At first, though, it was difficult to even acknowledge those feelings and thoughts, having had a very traditional and rigid Catholic upbringing. It is indeed time for reform and change!
    Keep up the good work, Jack.

  2. Jack – You are one of those “voices” that keeps me going – in my personal spiritual life, in my parish life with D G Comstock as my pastor, and in Diocesan work. Thank you. Did you ever get enough funds for the new computer?

    Take care,

    Gene Kleinhans

  3. Jack, this commentary really touched me. To know that the Catholic church is undergoing a normal transition makes the struggle to reform much less revolutionary and much more evolutionary. We can still believe that Christianity is the foundation of “truth” but still realize that the social structure is subject to human frailty. I am keeping this essay and sharing with anyone I know who feels that those within the church who “question” are heretics and that those who “do not question” are the true believers. Historical context is a huge help in understanding what, how, and why we believe and practice. (Do we get college credit if we read all of your epistles?! 🙂

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