I sense the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in the world in his church. Not unlike the first century church in Acts where Luke demonstrates the acts of the Holy Spirit to stir his church to go to the world with the gospel. We are still living in “Acts 29” days.
Because the world is changing there must of necessity be a new iteration of the church. Global mass communication, ease of travel, and interdependent economic systems coincide to make this new iteration possible, even imperative. The convergence of these world conditions, the hunger in the heart left in the wake of the modern’s approach to church with its heavy emphasis on personal fulfillment, creates the driving force for the church worldwide to experience God in a new way.
There are some, such as Christian Schwarz in Germany, who interpret church history as having 2 Reformations with yet a new one in our times. The first is recognized under the great men of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. The Pietistic movement followed to give more attention to the personal spiritual dimension intended by the first but not fully realized. There is today a 3rd Reformation, one of a reforming of church structures. We are being pulled back to a time that embraces the early church fathers and recasts the outcome of what church looks like, how it functions, especially in its form of worship. The modern form of church, even of church buildings and physical structures is undergoing change. The arts also, are being re-embraced after centuries of estrangement and exile after the first reformers unwittingly enacted what we might call a form of ecclesiastical pogroms. The unintended consequences of the actions of the earlier Reformers resulted in an anorexic church almost devoid of artistic expressions of worship. Happily today, artists and their artistic expressions as aids to worship are slowly gaining welcome in the church. There is a hunger and cry from the spirit of man for freedom of expression. Freedom to be who God created them to be and allowed to express themselves to God in the way he formed them.
This re-structuring is taking place worldwide. I’ve seen new forms of life emerging, much like a caterpillar soon to be the butterfly. It’s a painful process to give birth. It’s also painful to go thru a change of DNA. Both are evidenced in today’s worldwide church. New forms now are emerging of house churches, free and unrelated formal structures, coffee houses, club meetings, etc. Many of the countries of the world have partly forced this redevelopment by prohibiting formal church structures to exist in their country. By church structures I mean both physical structures as well as church polity and governing structures. Nefarious visa laws and various protectionistic acts of countries around the world have redefined the terms of living among them and thus caused missionaries to redefine what they do and how they do it. In much of the world ex pats are restricted from entering or staying long term in these countries. This forces missionaries in to a more appropriate role of partnering with the national church, facilitating the nationals in the discharge of their role of participation in the Great Commission.
The church has become universal in that it exists in most of the inhabited world. The need to do pioneer church planting is less an imperative than prior to the 21st century. It would be incorrect, however, to say there is no need to do pioneer church planting. But the main focus now is to help the church mature and strengthen itself. There is a need to expand the influence and the reach of the church in those countries where the church is still out of reach for many of its citizens.
What I see happening is that God is preparing his people to enter this new church. What the new form will look like is still in formation. God is simultaneously using the political issues of the day to his advantage as he prepares his people to participate. Artists are being summoned to his clarion call in ways few of them understand or even perceive. They engage in their art, often oblivious to the macro picture, that of the new reformation in which they exist, to which they are called to minister. Theirs is the opportunity to bring a strong influence to help shape the new church that emerges from this current reformation. We need people who can read the times and respond with courage. We need men like Ezra who stood against the tide of conventionality and became instrumental in the redirection of the people of faith of this time. We need artists who are willing to give of themselves without reserve, without thought of personal hardship or inconvenience. We need artists who are willing to pay the price of what it means to be like Ezra, who are willing to be used of God to change the course of church history.