Once upon a time—before the Gutenberg printing press, in 1450, the church patriarchs had it made! Week after week, an eager audience of people rushed through the church doors to hear a reading of the Bible, which couldn’t be printed to the masses. The work of the church was synonymous with instruction. “Right-Believing 101” was the course to take and pass on to others.
The premise was solid. Tell people what the Bible says, and they will believe what they are told. It worked! People believed what they were told.
That was then.
This is now.
Between then and now, an important change occurred. The printing press put the words of the Bible into everyone’s hands. Human beings developed critical thinking skills, and the human spirit began to exercise the spiritual gift of discernment. Today, Bible readers are demanding the right to exercise spiritual autonomy like never before. People want independence from authoritative, right-believing doctrine. This seems to be the common thread that binds together the spiritual, but not religious, community. These independent thinkers are not necessarily abandoning Christianity. They are separating themselves from what Christianity has become.
People want the right to determine the nature of their own relationship with God, Jesus, Spirit, and the words of the Bible—whether the church approves of their thinking, or not! They want to experience their own journey of faith, without being told how to think or what to believe. They want to develop a personal sense of healthy thinking, being, and doing.
Spiritual self-government is not a new concept.
It’s just getting a lot of attention these days, because the church is bleeding out. She can’t seem to stop the hemorrhaging. In an inverse way, the person who declares spiritual independence, from the teachings of the church, reveals that she no longer speaks with authority. If the church is wise, she will listen to her defectors, and stop trying to speak as if she has authority.
But here’s the irony: the institutional church was never given authority in the first place!
Spiritual authority was assumed by those who demanded it long ago. At the same time, personal autonomy was relinquished, by people who willingly gave it away. Institutional authority may have started as a well-controlled grab for power, but the church’s power to influence and control, continues today, because some people give the institution authority. As long as people continue to bestow authority, the church will continue to assume authority.
I see the quest for spiritual autonomy as a sign of good spiritual health and maturity.
But where does the mass migration toward spiritual independence leave the traditional institution, if people no longer voluntarily support the work of the church—financially or otherwise?
Where does spiritual autonomy leave society? Does anyone really think society would be better off without the church? Or, should we demand that the church improve her role in society?
I think the movement toward spiritual independence, is forcing the traditional institution to seek a cure, for her ongoing hemorrhaging. Spiritual autonomy is demanding that the church play a different role in people’s lives, as she moves into the future.
I believe that the church of today is suffering with a life-threatening condition. But her suffering is in preparation for a future life, as a woman who has been healed.
Does the church of today see herself as a woman who is hemorrhaging? Or, is the church in denial of her need to be healed?
Should the Church be given Authority?
I think it should be an entity with authority—not to preach, but to bring hope and healing to the world, without telling people what to believe about God, Jesus, Spirit, or the Bible in the process. This would require the church to move away from her image, as an instructive authority, and move toward an image that empowers people to meet human need in society. In other words, to become a healing entity in the world, the church first needs to seek her own healing.
Is the church willing to become an entity, whose highest priority is not preaching, or teaching right-believing regarding God, Jesus, Spirit, and Bible? Will she be able to resist the temptation to sermonize on and on—far beyond the midnight hour that people are willing to listen to her?
The desire for spiritual autonomy is here to stay.
Will the church muster up enough faith to reach out, and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, knowing that she must first be healed, before she can heal the whole of society?
Time will tell.