The church has no future for it offers no future to others. The Church has a marvelous future for it offers a marvelous future to others.
That is to say, the organic Church, non-processed and so springing whole from the earth still has a future because it has something to offer. The bumptious church, institutional, monolithic, rigid, backward looking but myopic, has forgotten what it had to offer once.
More simply put, the Church can offer leadership to a world seemingly set on being unsettled. Leadership is a clarion call from faith to trust, so the Church is a natural conduit of leadership.
Leadership, the clarion call from faith to trust, requires will and strength of character. The leader must be able to call other beings to sacrifice momentary gratification for the sake of the greater goal. He/she must be able to issue the clarion call without regard for the current crisis, whatever that might be, for there will always be a crisis of some kind brewing.
In Britain in the 1930's and 1940's, the government of Neville Chamberlain sincerely believed it had found a way to placate the popular dictators of their day; Hitler, Mussolini and their satellites, for these ere the brewers of the temporal crisis. The free people would appease the tyrants by giving them whatever they wanted until they did not want anything more, or until their demands came too close to home. Accordingly, the free peoples of Western Europe sacrificed the freedom and national integrity of small democratic nations throughout Eastern Europe, until, finally, public opinion would have no more disgrace, not even for peace, and the old government was sacked.
The immediate goal was peace, peace at any price, peace malformed as the absence of armed conflict, and purchased by the circumvention of honor. The legacy of the Appeasers was the Holocaust, the Second World War, the Cold War and the Viet Nam Conflict, from which no American can claim we have fully recovered as a nation.
The problem of the Appeasers? Yes, leadership. Britain was besmirched by the insinuation that its manhood was held cheap until the Appeasers overstepped and the nation turned to Churchill. This misreads history. In fact, the moment made the man, for Churchill's call to sacrifice and honor had fallen on the deafest of ears for a decade, until the need to subordinate oneself for the Greater Goal became so visible the blindest man could not deny it. Leadership met the need for self-sacrifice, embodied as the noble stand. The problem was the leadership, not the followship.
The problem of our day? Leadership, yes. The Stimulus Debate currently set in the US Congress presupposes things must be as they have been, though the evidence of our eyes tells us the previous standard is unsustainable. We cannot actually have a war, a global economy and a steady economic growth. Sacrifices are called for but no one is calling for them. If a crisis becomes a catastrophe, again, it will be because of a lack of leadership able to make the clear call from faith to trust.
The difficulty of the church in the Western culture is, of course, leadership. The sorry spectacle of the "Battle for the Bible" over the last thirty years has finally dissipated any political or moral capital the church might have used in proposition of the Church.
The church wars of the last thirty years in Western culture are about credit, as in who gets the credit and who can spend the value the credit brings. The decision making apparatus is skewed when a spotlight must shine on, and continue to shine on, and continue to shine on, one man or party. Let alone the fallen leaders, who suddenly develop a more liberal conscience when their own reputation wrecks up on Reality Reef: the decision makers are not these fakers, anyway.
Who is making decisions for the church that might make the church (once) to be the Church (again)? Apparently, no one. The discussion in the church is equal parts frivol and farce; the music, the architecture, the format of worship and the decadent debate over just whose sin is the worst sin. One comes to fear the inner workers of the church have actually come to believe that speaking for God means no more than repeating some words from the English translation of the Bible, historically strained for acceptability.
Fearfully, we might seek leadership, by the pursuit of that one who would wield power for the sake of power itself. That is, we might find one or ones who would seek knowledge and apply it for the Greater Goal, those who do not fear power or its use, men and women who are poor haters and care little for credit but are, instead, persons who see the final picture and know how to get us from easel to display with the end result the masterpiece rather than a mere caricature.
In the denominational apparatus where I served for nearly five years, the mistaken conversation served as a microcosm of the listless, leaderless church. The talk was always of how to hold power, not how to use it and the best way any of our little men could think of to hold power was to gain credit for this or that brilliant initiative. Of course, none of the initiatives were brilliant or even lustrous but credit was value and value was money and money was position and position was power and power was to be held, not used for the sake of the Greater Goal.
The church will need a leader, a real leader, a sacrificial leader who can call others to sacrifice, not brutally, though there will always be brutality in leadership and in obedience. Sacrifice costs and the cost is unrecoverable in this life time. Our leader must make this truth clear. You will give and give and your giving must be your gain or it is not giving so much as self-investment for aggrandizement.
The church, the sacred monster, the unnatural creature not occurring in nature, is a taker, not a giver, and that is what bothers you, oh, man, about your growing congregation and you, oh, brother, about your dying local body of believers.