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PREDICTIONS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY'S FUTURE:

PART 4

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Opinions of:

bulletWolfhart Pannenberg, a Professor of Systematic Theology.
bulletG. de Purucker, a Theosophist.
bulletThomas Reeves, a professor of History.
bulletJohn Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark, NJ.

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Wolfhart Pannenberg:

Wolfhart Pannenberg is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich and founding director of the Institute of Ecumenical Theology. Some of the points that he raises about the future of Christianity in his 1994 Erasmus Lecture were:

bulletThe influences of Christianity and of classical antiquity have largely faded.
bulletThe "renewal of Christian unity is absolutely mandatory..."
bulletHe sees a Christendom in which a "plurality of traditions in liturgy, ministry, ecclesial organization and doctrinal expression" continues into the future.
bulletEcumenical reconciliation among Christian denominations is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the future renaissance of Christianity.
bulletThis reconciliation will help Christian dialog with other religions.
bulletFuture Christian-Jewish dialog will center on "the authentically Jewish character of the mission of Jesus.
bullet"...a sustainable social morality requires a religious basis."
bulletThe principle of the dignity and rights of women is an important Christian asset as Christianity competes with others worldwide.
bulletThere may well be a "resurgence of a culture inspired by Christian values" at the beginning of the third millennium. 
bulletMainline Protestant denominations are in "acute danger of disappearing." 1

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G. de Purucker

To the questions "Has Christianity as a world religion run its race? Is it about to die?" de Purucker wrote: 

"I believe...that there is the possibility for a renascence of primitive Christianity in the West...some [will] trace back the origins of their grand teaching, their theology, to Pagan antiquity, finding brotherhood in the fellow-thoughts of the ancient races, of Egypt especially, of Greece, yes, even of Rome. Then Christianity will be properly understood, and will be seen to be grand..." 2

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Thomas Reeves

Thomas C Reeves is a Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin - Parkside, and a Senior Fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. His 1996 book, "The Empty Church," explores why the mainline churches have become the "sidelined  churches."

bulletReeves rejects three common explanations why the mainline denominations in North America are failing:
bulletThat there has been a concentration of population in the urban areas. Many believe that cities corrupt morals and encourage religious skepticism.
bulletThat there has been a general rise in education levels, and higher learning tends to be corrosive to religious faith.
bullet"Outdated worship services...stodgy morality and overly conservative social positions" alienated the membership.
bulletReeves proposes that the real reason for the failure of the mainline denominations is their emphasis on social change.  Many of their members are not interested in liberal social causes. Meanwhile, their parishioners who are interested in changing the culture are more likely to commit their scarce spare time to local secular organizations. 
bulletHe recommends that the mainline churches reverse course, and begin to:
bulletresist the world.
bulletPromote the essentials of the Christian faith, as expressed in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.
bulletRestore their commitment to orthodox theology.

He predicts that if they do not pursue this route, they will continue to shrink in numbers and influence. 3

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John Shelby Spong:

John Shelby Spong is the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, N.J. He has written many books addressed to the general public, including "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" and "Why Christianity must change or die." Robert W. Funk of the Jesus Seminar commented on the latter book: "He aspires to bring a dying church back to life by fearlessly confronting the anomalies that have driven all too many Christians into exile."  Spong considers himself and many other Christians to be in exile because the God "that stood at the heart of our sacred tradition" can no longer be believed in."  In chapters 11 and 12 of this book, he mentions:

bulletChurch attendance is in decline worldwide.
bulletBooks used in worship, prayers, and liturgy  are starting to reject the concept that God is "an external power capable of being manipulated by the prayers of the faithful."
bulletThe loss of priestly authority and priestly respect will continue.
bulletLay people will "preside at the Eucharist during the next century, even in Catholic circles."
bulletWorship "will not be oriented toward an external God but toward the world of our human community."
bulletThe church will direct its energy towards the seeking of truth, rather than defending its previously determined, narrow, definition of truth.
bulletThe church will reject many traditional beliefs, such as the Christmas star, the angels visiting the shepherds, the wise men, the physical resuscitation of Jesus, the angels rolling away the stone from the tomb, bodies that appear and disappear, etc.
bulletRituals which recognize the transitions of life will have to be recreated. Baptism has been "so filled with the theistic language of a supernatural deity as to be repugnant to an increasing number of believers today." It will become a "ritual that calls each candidate to be all that that person was created to be.
bulletThe ritual of the mass in which bread and wine are converted into the body and blood of Jesus will be replaced by the original Christian ritual, the shared meal -- open to all who are hungry. 4

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References:

  1. Wolfhart Pannenberg, "Christianity and the west: Ambiguous past, uncertain future,"  at: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9412/pannen.html 
  2. G. de Purucker, "Studies in Occult Philosophy," at: http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/soph/sopqa10.htm#future 
  3. Thomas C. Reeves, "The empty church: Does organized religion matter anymore,"  Touchstone, (1996)  Review/order this book.
  4. J.S. Spong, "Why Christianity must change or die: A bishop speaks to believers in exile," HarperSanFrancisco™, (1998). Review/order this book.

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Copyright © 2000 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-15
Latest update: 2004-OCT-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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