I’m not sure what you see as the big issues of church life. For me, I see many people in congregations who have been conditioned to a passive faith, in fact it has been done so well over time that there seems to be a definite rejection of the kind of radical life that the early Christians lived. Why?
From my two contrasting positions as a church minister and also as a prison chaplain, I see and hear the idea of a secular society. In fact, the Anglican Church has a separate category for Ministers who do God’s work in a non-church setting – it is regarded as secular employment! I find this strange, to me it suggests that we have a dualism in our Christian faith… a time to be fully Christian and a time to behave differently, almost incognito. I find this strange, in fact there is a growing number who actually connect the words said on a Sunday to life during the rest of the week which emphasizes God being active in all situations to varying degrees, and in all aspects of life.
Recently I found a series of articles at a blog I follow at http://nextreformation.com/ , and below is a fairly large quote from the site (please excuse the Americanisms in spelling):
In The Secular Age, Charles Taylor asks one question: What occurred between 1500–2000 — the modern age of western society — where before 1500 it was impossible not to believe in God while in 2000 it became possible? His answer: disenchantment, which led to secularism.
Look at the architecture and icons of medieval cathedrals and medieval art in museums in Europe and you’ll see enchantment. The pre-modern world “still lived with Ptolemy’s map of the world in their minds. Their universe was a three-layer structure—with an enchanted earth sandwiched between heaven and hell, the natural theater for the visits of angels and demons.”
Taylor argues that the cumulative impact of Renaissance humanism (humans are the center), the Enlightenment (the mind is the center), the scientific revolution, and yes the Reformation, made it possible to explain the mystery and majesty of the world without God. Disenchantment discards the sacred, where wonder, worship, and faith thrive. (A great summary of this process is found in a little book titled, “Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry” (Owen Barfield, 1957).
Christians today regularly refer to culture as the secular world — a dark and non-Christian place. It’s where one holds a secular job, attends a secular university, listens to secular music, and watches secular movies and TV. Even though all cultures express religion and spirituality in one form or another, the so-called secular world is often perceived as a separate realm disenchanted from the sacred. This dualism is false – there is darkness and sin in the church just as there is darkness and sin outside it. God is at work in the culture around us, and he is at work in the church continuing to convert it. When we live from a dualistic, sacred-secular perception of reality we do damage to the wholeness of life under God, where Jesus really is “Lord of all.”
I think he is closer than most people in identifying our real problems of church today, and the sad thing is, we are quite happy to continue perpetuating it! Why I ask? Well, we have had centuries of nominalism which has encouraged a culture of no commitment. Our churches have been organised and legislated for from Constantine onwards; they have made membership of churches increasingly easy, often with numbers showing success – it is this that the church growth movement contrived to excel at unfortunately, and it has often been this bad thinking of what it is to be a Christian that has shaped our church of today.
It is always easy to look back at books like Acts, and think that there is a way to duplicate (the modern word seems to be replicate) the way that the early churches organically grew, but we shouldn’t really do that I feel. The circumstances are very different, it would be an impossible task to create something that was so natural. Maybe the problem is that WE have tried to create something that God can only do. Maybe we have decided with our rational leanings, that we are now the initiator instead of God, maybe we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a splash of humility in big doses.
Maybe we need to rediscover some true discipleship and servant hood instead of what seems to be an on going desire to produce leaders who bypass serving – an apprenticeship in fact!