NEW WORSHIP, NEW SYMBOLS WORKING TOWARDS A TRANSFORMED CHRISTIANITY

In the article “A Faith fundamentally flawed?” it was argued that Jesus was neither a supernatural being, nor divine nor the Saviour of the world. He and his disciples, and John the Baptist before them, had all been mistaken, misguided and deluded; for like many others before and since, they had thought that the world they were living in was about to end through a major intervention by their God. In their Scriptures, they found a whole collage of weird ideas, which shaped how they imagined what would happen as the world came to its end and a new kingdom was established. None of which ever happened. Beliefs in Jesus as a supernatural being, as divine, and as Saviour of the world are intimately connected to this bizarre collage of unrealised expectations. Such amazing beliefs came about by identifying Jesus with various members in the cast of this end-time drama, by giving an unwarranted significance to his death, and by claiming he was alive.

The time has come to leave Jesus to his place in history; and to move on. As Kahlil Gibran observed: “For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday.”

Christian worship has presumed that Jesus is divine. If he is no longer to be thought to be divine, then the whole pattern of such worship needs to be changed; a revolution is required. No more Eucharist or Mass (or priesthood); no more prayers, hymns, or devotions addressed to/ through Jesus; Christmas, Good Friday and Easter lose their traditional significance.

An enormous challenge lies ahead for those who do not want to give up on the Christian tradition, but who recognise the need to radically reform it. This twenty-first century may well see a great burst of creativity as new forms of worship are developed to reflect the new understanding, and as new festivals are created. Poets and dramatists, novelists and painters, potters and sculptors, musicians and song-writers, film-makers and liturgists can share in this new spiritual searching for appropriate ways to respond to the mystery in life together with the “ordinary person” (young and not so young: people “unafraid to reason and unashamed to adore” Mark Oakley, page 56, The Collage of God ). Great art, and theology too, begin in the unconscious; sometimes artists and theologians have to wait until, in Bergman’s words “the gods throw down their fire”. A new “vision” is awaited of God to emerge and enthuse, to deepen the mystery of life and love, though not to resolve it.

What such radical changes will mean for the main-line institutional churches remains to be seen. However, if Francis Fukuyama in his book “The Great Disruption” is correct, then this new Information age will see a decline in the “centralised religious orthodoxies”. There will be a new spirit of freedom; people, nurtured in the Christian tradition, will no longer constantly be looking back over their shoulders to some allegedly complete and full revelation of divine love and human perfection, because they will not find such old beliefs credible any more.

Ethical values for a global community will be discussed and prioritised. The challenge to join with others in ascending to the heights of our humanity will remain, as well as the temptation to descend to its ugly and wicked depths.

Spiritual searching for meaning in life, for identity, dignity, self-esteem and worth, for an awareness of the sacredness of the precious gift of human life entrusted to each of us, and for credible images of God will lead into a search for new symbols; and for new rituals, which resonate, to mark the significant stages of our inter-dependent life: both of sorrow and of joy, of failure and achievement, of belonging and believing.

A symbol worth exploring further is the symbol of the Ring. In human relationships it is used as a sign of commitment, of trust and love. It could also be extended to have another meaning which would speak of the relationship between human beings and the divine sacred mystery of life. The Ring could symbolise that we are invited to put our trust in this mysterious hidden God (unknowable by us in this present life) and to believe that she/he ultimately trusts us to respond to her/him and her/his belief in us.

The days of the “faith once delivered to the saints” have gone. Each generation is free to construct their own faith in response to their world. As Kahlil Gibran wrote of children: “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

Andrew Furlong

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