What are your guesses for the future—how do you think the church will change over the next 25-50 years?
One of the most important questions we could ask is, why should we care? The answer, of course, is our children and grandchildren—the next generation of people! We have a stewardship in this generation to do what we can to make sure the next generation of believers can thrive.
It may sound obvious, but things haven’t always been the way they are now. And, things will be different soon. The technical word for this is paradigms. You and I need to understand the idea of paradigms. If we don’t, we won’t appreciate the need to return to the way of Christ and His Apostles.
Hard to Understand
It isn’t always easy to understand Paul. In 2 Peter 3:14-16, Peter acknowledged this. Look how Peter recognized Paul’s important role in the church:
“14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Notice that he considered Paul’s writings “wisdom” and “scripture.” That’s a very important endorsement. But, his admission that Paul’s wisdom is hard to understand is key. It’s true for all of us—we must work hard to understand Paul’s letters so we won’t be “unstable” in the faith.
What is a paradigm?
The Random House Dictionary defines a paradigm as, “A framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a group.”
Theologian Thomas Kuhn provides a similar definition: “An entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community.”
Paradigms are powerful! They’re comfortable, but they also “box” us in! We become unable to solve problems until we learn to “think outside the box!” When we say that, what do we mean—what exactly is the “box”? Our “assumptions…ways of thinking…methodology…beliefs…values…techniques”! In other words: The “box” is a paradigm!
Catholic Historian Hans Kung’s Paradigms of Theology provides us with a simple picture of some of the most significant changes—called paradigm shifts—in the history of Christianity. [Please note: We are not promoting Kung’s Catholic theology, just utilizing his correct observations about church history.] Take a look at this chart, and then we’ll elaborate below.
Primitive Christian Paradigm
This first paradigm was dominant in the first three centuries of the church. It is what is described in the New Testament—the mission strategy that emerged from the church in Antioch, at the heart of the Book of Acts. It was simple, but spiritually rich and structurally strong, so it expanded rapidly throughout the entire Roman Empire. But notice what happened next.
The second major paradigm saw some very significant changes from the Primitive Paradigm—the first cathedrals, icons and plenty of pomp. Christianity eventually looked entirely different than the simple, pure New Testament Church. Go visit a Greek Orthodox Church or Russian Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox Church—you can see what the church looked like way back then. This model of church has survived, though it doesn’t dominate today.
Medieval Roman Catholic Paradigm
After that came the Medieval Church, which saw the rise of Roman Catholic Authoritarianism—basilicas, the mass and popes. To be sure, the Roman church existed long before this, but it was during this period that it became the dominant expression of the church. This model of church still exists today as well—and in some ways still dominates. One out of every four people you meet in our culture has some type of formal or family tie to the Roman Catholic Church.
Reformation Protestant Paradigm
Then came the Reformation. Many within the Roman Catholic Church—mostly priests—began calling for the reform of various abuses. These reforms were strongly rejected by those in power, so the reformers broke off from the Mother Church, resulting in multiple expressions: Lutheranism, Calvinism, Zwinglianism, Puritanism, the Anabaptists, etc. Most of these expressions still exist in one form or another.
Modern Enlightenment Paradigm
In the past few hundred years, Modern Enlightenment became the dominant paradigm, according to Kung. The modernist mind was quite black and white: “We could have complete knowledge!” they said. “Through science, study and hard work we could discover the answers to all our questions.” The result was a further movement away from pure, Biblical Christianity.
Contemporary Ecumenical Paradigm
Kung labeled our time the Contemporary Ecumenical Paradigm. We are seeing a postmodern mind almost completely deconstruct Christianity. In total contrast to the Modern Enlightenment, many today are saying we can’t know anything for sure. We can’t trust the reliability of the Bible and we certainly can’t say other Christian expressions and even other faiths are wrong.
Historically, it takes about 40-50 years for these shifts to happen—then the new paradigm becomes clear. Many historians and theologians agree this “Contemporary Ecumenical Paradigm” began around 1970, so it is believed that around 2020 a new paradigm will begin to dominate. The only question is: What will it be?
Threat or Opportunity?
Many see all this not as a threat, but as an opportunity! Since a shift is taking place, and so many are trying to define what Christianity is and should be, we have the opportunity to support a Biblical direction.
The point is that we have an open door to reintroduce the “Primitive Christian Paradigm”—also known as The Way of Christ and His Apostles!
Many are going back, but not far enough. For example, many in the Emergent movement are going back to the Hellenistic paradigm. Many Protestants have returned to Roman Catholic Authoritarianism and many young people are absorbed with the Reformation paradigm. These expressions may be comfortable or safe or have the air of being more spiritual, but they are not the original! No doubt, they contain pieces of the original, but these are not The Way of Christ and His Apostles!
Please note: There are many good and sincere Christians, doing many good things, and we do not question their salvation or sincerity. But, we—along with many others—are promoting a return to the “primitive” Christianity of the first few centuries of the church. This is what we mean by The Way of Christ and His Apostles.