At the end of A New Christianity for a New World, John Shelby Spong looks to the future and contemplates a possible scenario for the church of tomorrow. In a previous work the former bishop declared that Christianity must change or die, and now he takes the next step in that forecast. While admitting that "many churches, if given choice, choose to die rather than change," he does not see a wholesale death of the faith, as such. He believes that "faith-communities will emerge...inside our existing structures," eventually separating and beginning new forms. Now one may rightly argue that these new "faith-communities" will bear no resemblance to Christianity as we now know it or it has been known since its inception. The point is, that despite the radical overhaul and transformation of the existing church he looks for, the existing church will change. Personally I think that the former bishop's predictions sell short the resolve of orthodox churches to survive even in a turbulent sea of revolution (as history demonstrates their past resolve through thousands of years of upheaval, persecution and change.) His vision may very well become a reality, but not in a widespread fashion. Such fringe movements remain on the edges. The "gates of hell will not prevail" against the church, despite Spong's dream of dragging it down the primrose paths of denial into that very realm.
Spong's words reminded me of another prediction from the proponents of women's ordination within the LCMS. On June 11 a fictitious sermon was posted on the The Creator's Tapestry site (borrowed from the Daystar Journal site), attributed to the "Rev. Stephanie Zimmerman." Prefaced to that 'sermon' on the latter site was the following note:
The following is a sermon by LCMS pastor, Stephanie Zimmerman. She is perhaps your great-granddaughter, or a young woman who is presently studying at one of the Concordias. She is an ordained LCMS pastor who is preaching on some future Pentecost Sunday. And this is one of many such sermons being preached that day, as the whole denomination is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women in the LCMS. Consider how we celebrate the Reformation and you will have an idea of the feel that day will have.
The text is Acts 2:1-21. The title of her sermon is "As the Spirit Gave Them Ability" with a subtitle that notes the celebration of twenty-five years of ordaining women in the LCMS. Stephanie is not the ordinand but one of many LCMS pastors who are women.
Interesting prediction. The 'sermon' unfortunately resounds with frequent snipes at current LCMS policy and leadership, so it's certainly not a positive attempt at bridge-building to those with whom they currently disagree. Obviously they are assuming that those who oppose the ordination of women will simply die off and be replaced bit-by-bit with a more 'progressive' leadership. While I have been among those who have pessimistically predicted we would arrive at a similar point some day, I would also admit that this is a risky prediction. Politics swing from one side to the other in the LCMS, and one cannot forget that the liberalizing trends of the latter half of the last century that were curtailed. While we have a ways to go, commitment to our current confession remains strong in many quarters. That said, even if the LCMS should swing over and adopt this change, it would effectively cease to be the LCMS as we know it. The ordination of women, as testified in the ELCA, brings with it additional changes which would further erode other practices and doctrines (e.g.: sexuality and marriage.) As with Spong's prediction I am inclined to think that such forecasts are at this point more 'wishful thinking' than true predictions born of serious research and study.
On a side note: One thing I fail to understand is why opposition to certain teachings and practices must always be accused of doing so out of fear. Our so-called Pr. Zimmerman declares:
In the early decades of this 21st Century, the LCMS was at a low point in its brief history. At a time of dramatic social change and turmoil worldwide, Missouri Synod leaders used the fears of people to manipulate and dominate through their own particular and official interpretation of scripture. Their primary targets at that time were women and their main objective was to keep them out of the pastoral office. But the motivating fear in their ferocity against and denial of women pastors was their fear of homosexuality.
For many of us opposition to the ordination of women is based entirely on our commitment to a faithful and accurate interpretation of Holy Scripture. If there is any fear involved it is a 'holy fear' of offending the God whose Word this change would violate. Furthermore, attributing opposition to women's ordination as coming from a "particular and official interpretation of scripture" is to ignore the painfully obvious witness of the church's history stretching back two millenia. The orthodox fathers of the faith opposed this practice and we have recognized their opposition in studying the issue ourselves. Finally, why must the discussion degenerate into having someone become a "target"? Why this paranoia? And more so, why must we further cloud the issue by dragging in issues that while related are not determinative in the argument (e.g.: homosexuality)? This little diatribe attributes unfair and inaccurate assumptions on the part of those with whom they disagree. It is unfortunate that those who decry a so-called unwillingness to have an open discussion would muddy any possibility of future discussion with these aspersions of character.