Ecclesiastical Opportunity

For decades, I have noted that the evangelical churches today are in theological error as much or more than the Roman Catholic church that they started out protesting almost five hundred years ago.  They have come full circle replacing the pope and clerical hierarchy with a doctrine of biblical inerrancy and the authority of the local pastor to interpret.  In many ways, the evangelicals and the Roman Catholic churches are polar opposites, and neither may be capable of leading Christianity beyond the devastating abuses we read in the news every day.   As many people are, I am deeply saddened by the daily disclosures of troubles within the Roman Catholic clergy.  The Catholic Church has weathered many serious scandals as well as moral and doctrinal abuses through the centuries.  The difference is that today’s society offers so many more possibilities for things to do on Sunday morning coupled with an intense work-week and household schedule.  When the Church loses its moral standing with the public, church membership may never recover.  If the Roman Catholic Church declines greatly, what will replace it?   Will a decline of the Roman Catholic Church drag down all other churches with it?  Fair or not, all churches and all clergy may be tarred by the public with the same brush.  In my informal and very unscientific observation of rural Baptist/non-denom Oklahoma, I have found that when I wear a clergy collar in public, most people assume that I am Roman Catholic.  Most of the time, the erroneous association has negative implications.   Yes, we are witnessing an unprecedented decline in public trust of institutions of all kinds: government, media, business, banking, schools, scientists, teachers and coaches too.  We stand at a crossroads wondering whether a given institution can be or should be revived, or whether it should be reinvented and replaced.    If the Church suffers a fatal blow from this train wreck, what would a reinvented replacement look like a century from now?  If the guiding principle of a reinvented church is simply “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” what might the outer institution look like?  Would we continue with traditional church buildings and architecture or will future churches take over failing shopping mall properties?  Would the structure be used only on Sundays or will it be multi-purpose serving as a clinic or a school the rest of the week?  Would a future church rely upon ordained (and expensively trained) clergy, or would the future church be structured along a flat, non-hierarchical structure more like a non-profit board operates today?    Would a future church be more efficient in its use of funds received or will it struggle with expensive infrastructure to support?  Will there be any top down accountability in the future church or will such top down pressure become oppressive?   There is scholarly work indicating that the incidence of abuse by clergy is about the same as the general population.  This is not an excuse for the behavior nor for institutional cover-up.  We clearly need better controls, safeguards and accountability in all churches.  I just pray that the Roman Catholic and all flavors of Christianity can address these serious problems and become stronger as a result.  It is the old yin and yang of crisis and opportunity.