In her book, “Christianity after Religion,” author Diana Butler Bass briefly discusses the First Great Awakening, launched in 1730, followed by a Second and Third Great Awakening. Bass mentions the 1960’s as the beginning of a Fourth Awakening in North American religion. Following her brief discussion on these four awakenings, Bass writes:
“. . . trying to discern three-hundred, five-hundred, or fifteen-hundred-year patterns in history makes me a wee bit nervous; sometimes the biggest picture is not really the most helpful picture. It is very hard to understand how an individual, a church, or a faith community of a specific neighborhood or town fits into such a vast historical transformation.”
In response to Bass’s statement, I recently heard a pastor wonder: “How do we help our congregations look at the larger picture for a sense of why this enormous spiritual shift may be happening; and thereby look for solutions that are not measured by how many people fill the pews on Sunday morning?”
Bass wonders if the larger picture that she painted is helpful.
The pastor wonders how his tiny congregation might benefit from seeing a larger picture!
I personally think big pictures are immensely helpful—if the picture is big enough! Looking at spiritual awakenings within recent human history may actually be too small of a picture to be helpful for the particular awakening we are experiencing.
As an author, who writes today for the church of tomorrow, I’d like people to consider 6,000+ years of recorded history. Through this longer lens, I’d like to offer three mental steps that will inevitably take place during this particular spiritual shift.
STEP 1: Prepare for organizational change
For 6,000+ years, humans have been organizing hierarchies and building towers. We love our hierarchies and our towers. In fact, we respect the hierarchy of the institutional church which demands that we hold fast to our doctrines of right believing, our statements of confessions, our articles of faith, our creeds, and our interpretations of our holy books. We may not like hierarchical behavior, but we aren’t ready to part with hierarchical structures.
However, a different kind of organizational model exists—a structure that will help the church fulfill her spiritual mission to heal a wounded world. Jesus lifted up the image of a net when he told the following parable . . .
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net
that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.”
—Matthew 13: 47, 48a NIV
Yes! The kingdom of heaven is supposed to look like a net! Hierarchical thinking will die a slow death, but the church will eventually adopt a single-level net as her preferred organizational image. This is a good thing. The image of a net, which Jesus had in mind for the kingdom of heaven, will help the human spirit organize more effectively while ensuring a clearer purpose for the church’s earthly mission.
Step 2: Prepare for a change in our perception of time
For 6,000+ years, humans have been operating under a temporal spiritual government. We don’t talk much about it, but the human clock—that crafty little invention that is driving everyone crazy—is actually in charge of life here on earth. From the sound of the opening bell on Wall Street, to the sound of the closing bell, all world trade is governed by the 24-hour clock. After 6,000+ years of operating under this type of government, we can’t fathom a different type of life.
However, a different type of clock exists—one that is used for spiritual purposes. Isaiah prophesied about such a clock when he heard God’s voice say,
“Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’”
—Isaiah 46: 9-10 NIV
During this spiritual shift, people should expect to understand an alpha-omega perception of time. Our 24-hour clock is not going to go away, but a clock that has been measuring humanity’s spiritual progress all along will emerge. This is a good thing. The alpha-omega clock will help the human spirit become oriented in time. It will act as a compass to give us a healthy sense of spiritual direction as we move into the future.
STEP 3: Prepare for a change in our use of language
For 6,000+ years, humans have been developing words. We love our words. Nothing could be truer than our love of the inspired words in our holy books. People will kill, or be willing to die, in order to defend their interpretation of the words in their holy books. However, a different kind of language exists to be used for spiritual purposes. King David spoke about this language when saying,
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”
—Psalm 19: 1-4 NIV
Yes! The whole of creation speaks a language! During this spiritual shift, people should expect to experience a change in speech—from written words to silent concepts that cannot be written down. Human words are not going to go away, but a new vocabulary of concepts, derived from common images of nature will emerge. This is a good thing. The language of creation will help the human spirit communicate with a purer lip.
These three mental steps reveal the biggest possible picture that spans the past 6,000+ years. This spiritual shift will bring an end to three seasons of time. It will close a significant chapter and open the door to a fourth season of time. As one door closes and another door opens, old spiritual baggage will be left behind.
Change comes about slowly . . . but these particular changes will come to pass!
Thoughts along the way,
Carol Wimmer is the author of the acclaimed poem When I say I am a Christian, and three books entitled: The Net—An Organizational Vision for the Church of Tomorrow; The Clock—A Timekeeping Tool for the Church of Tomorrow; and The Key—A Spiritual Language for the Church of Tomorrow