I have mentioned in another post about the periodic cultural shifts that have occurred in the Church throughout history. It seems that about every 500 years or so, we have to refigure who we are and how we understand our faith because of fundamental cultural shifts that are happening. I was pondering this as I was rereading (listening is more accurate) the book Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. His goal in the book is to find a way that we can allow the multiplicity of doctrines to not divide us, but unite us.
That being said, he was pointing out that in the medieval church authority resided in the church. If someone asked why you believed something, you said that you believed it because the church or priest told you. He went on to describe how in the modern time, the authority shifted to the Bible. However, we are now entering time when the focus of the authority for belief will shift again, and I believe I can see a bit of the direction it is taking.
I believe that the focus will shift towards the community of believers. In other words, when someone asks why you believe something, you will not say because the church says so, or even because the Bible says so, but because the community (body of Christ) has consensus. This feeling comes from several places.
One of the more recent developments in church History is the movements called the "waves of the Holy Spirit" From these moments several thriving denominations (though they may not want that label applied to them) have arisen. One of the key differences between these movements and current mainline denominations is their comfort with the revelation of the Spirit over and above (though generally not in contradiction to) the Scriptures. In addition to this is a growing cultural trust in the "Wisdom of the crowd" (think Wikipedia and Digg) which basically says that if enough people agree on something, it is probably right. Combining these in the realm of faith, you get a system of authority that is based on a melding of divine revelation and wisdom of the crowd.
I am not saying that I agree with this idea or even that I believe it is inevitable, but is feels generally correct in where it points. Like it or not, there will be a shift in the basis of authority within Christianity over the next fifty years or so. It would behoove all Christians to pay attention and help guide this to a place that is healthy, sustainable, and relatively orthodox. If not, no complaining when it doesn't go the way you want it to later!
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