Over the centuries, Christianity (well, all religions, really, but today I'm going to focus on Christianity) has undergone lots of changes, though its core message from and about Jesus Christ has been remarkably consistent.
Starting out as a dissident sect of Judaism, it eventually became a separate religion, though always in debt to its Jewish roots, without which it would be something radically different, if, in fact, it were anything at all. It began in house churches and found itself persecuted in various ways and places. In the Fourth Century it found itself declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, which, for better or worse, made it both political and spiritual in its influence.
It has cracked apart in various ways over the centuries, including the Great Schism that wound up with the Orthodox churches on one side and the Roman Catholic Church on the other in 1054. Almost 500 years later Martin Luther inadvertently began the Protestant Reformation, something the church universal is commemorating this year, exactly 500 years after Luther nailed his complaints about abuses in Catholicism to a cathedral door in Germany.
In the last 100-plus years we've seen the rise of Pentecostalism as well as the Social Gospel. We've seen a growing ecumenical movement and an effort (without great success) to recreate something like Christian unity. Since the 1960s, we've watched the decline of the Mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. and the rise of mega-churches that often have preached a message focused on individual salvation versus a broader concern for the common good.
And on and on. (I've left out a lot, including the Emergent Church Movement of the last 20-some years.)
Now the authors of a new book, The Rise of Network Christianity, argue that we are seeing an important new development in the faith. As the title of the book (which I have not yet read) indicates, Brad Christerson and Richard Flory call it Independent Network Charismatic, or INC Christianity.
Here's what the authors say about INC Christianity, in this piece:
Charismatic Christians emphasize supernatural miracles and divine interventions, but INC Christianity is different from other charismatics – and other Christian denominations in general – in the following ways:
- It is not focused primarily on building congregations but rather on spreading beliefs and practices through media, conferences and ministry schools.
- It is not so much about proselytizing to unbelievers as it is about transforming society through placing Christian believers in powerful positions in all sectors of society.
- It is organized as a network of independent leaders rather than as formally organized denominations.
And later this:
When compared to the oversight and accountability of formal congregations and denominations, these structures allow for more experimentation. This includes “extreme” experiences of the supernatural, unorthodox beliefs and practices, and financing as well as marketing techniques that leverage the power of the internet.
One INC leader the authors interviewed summed up the approach of the movement this way:
“The goal of this new movement is transforming social units like cities, ethnic groups, nations rather than individuals…if Christians permeate each mountain and rise to the top of all seven mountains…society would have biblical morality, people would live in harmony, there would be peace and not war, there would be no poverty.”
That sounds a lot like what's been called the Dominionist approach to the faith, which has a lot in common with theocracy, which is the last thing the U.S. needs. I have difficulty believing that the majority of Americans ever would stand for that sort of faith takeover of government. On the other hand, I had (and still have) difficulty believing that a majority of Americans ever would elect Donald Trump president. Oh, wait. A majority didn't.
I was intrigued that the authors of the new book include the International House of Prayer, based just south of Kansas City, in this INC movement. It certainly has developed a reputation over the years for its unorthodox beliefs and practices, including what some have discerned as its antisemitism.
At any rate, it's worth keeping an eye on this movement to see whether it brings anything useful to the faith. What I know of it so far doesn't much endear me to it, but we'll see.
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REFUGEES BRING THREE CONGREGATIONS TOGETHER
Three churches in Canada, which had not been on very friendly terms, have come together to provide welcome and help for Syrian refugees, this story reports. Sometimes a congregation's real theology is much more evident in action than it is in written statements of faith or long diatribes about doctrine. Good for these churches.