The following is an excerpt from Covenant, Community, and the Spirit, by Robert Sherman.
A number of influential voices have said that the American Church now finds itself in a post-Christian age. This may be an overstatement for some parts of the country, but certainly for other parts and segments of the nation it seems quite accurate. While the United States has never had a legally established church, it has long had a “cultural establishment.” Those days appear to be fading.
A corollary issue confronting the Church is the reality that for many faithful Christians, it is also a postdenominational age. On a practical level, the ecumenical movement seeking to overcome denominational differences has truly succeeded among the laity!
New-member Sundays are often made up of individuals who have attended churches of various denominations over the years. Denominational loyalty remains most prevalent among the clergy and those working in denominational offices at a regional and national level.
It seems clear that we are in a period of transition: we know where we’ve come from but are not yet clear where we are going.
That said, I believe that Christianity can survive a postdenominational age, but it cannot survive a postecclesial age. As theologian Robert Jenson has quipped, “To be sure, we are permitted to believe that the gates of hell will not finally prevail against the universal church, but there is no such guarantee for the Presbyterians or the Baptists.”
Denominations may prove to have been an appropriate response in a particular time and place—a providential expedient, if you will—but they are not necessarily essential. The Church, however, in some corporate or institutional form, is essential.
I am concerned primarily with recovering and renewing biblical and theological themes, categories, and structures to help faithful Christians recognize and reclaim this essence, so that they may more clearly know and embrace God’s gracious call to join his holy assembly (ekklēsia), the Church.
©2015 by Robert Sherman. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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