In a post on ethicsdaily.com, pastor Guy Sayles wrote, “For many years now, I’ve had a growing conviction that the great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner was right to have claimed: ‘The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.’” This is a remarkable quote and got me thinking about its implications: “The church of the 21st century will be made up of Christian mystics or it will not survive.”
We spend a great deal of time assuring that our churches are smoothly functioning organizations. Some of this is cultural and a great deal of it is required by law, but we must admit that we are often more comfortable thinking of the church as an organization rather than as the people of God. Dealing with the nuts and bolts of church life and administration may be a burden but it is something that we can quantify and control. If we are indeed God’s people, we will find ourselves dealing with the spiritual and opening ourselves up to the work of the Spirit. This way leads down unknown paths that we might prefer not to walk.
The recovery of classical spiritual disciplines—centering prayer and lectio divina, for example—and the increased attention to the church year and liturgy by churches that used to dismiss these practices as “Papist” expresses a desire by many Christians that church be more than an organization. There is within most of us a sincere hunger to be present with God and open ourselves to the blessings of that presence.
The years ahead will not be easy for many churches. In a recent article, Diane Butler Bass addressed the end of “conventional church” mired down in politics, division, and acrimony. She suggests that what is emerging “is closer to what Jesus hoped for his followers than . . . we have now.” The change that upon us may be threatening to some, but it is really our primary hope to fulfill our calling as God's people.