The Great Expansion & The Next 95 Theses

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“Every five hundred years, the Church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale”, wrote the late Phyllis Tickle in her, now nine-year-old, book The Great Emergence. But what was one of the most beloved and prophetic writers of the past generation referring to exactly?

A little over 500 years after a Jewish radical named Jesus was murdered by the Roman Empire for political rebellion, Gregory the Great (540-604) was Pope of the Catholic Church. Unlike other reformers, Gregory didn’t necessarily start a revolution, but he did clean one up.
The Roman Empire had fallen and the Dark Ages had begun. The people of Rome were largely made up of illiterate primitives who had gotten tired of raiding and decided to make a home for themselves. According to Professor Tickle, “Because Christianity was the religion of the Empire, many, many of these new raiders-turned-citizens adopted it; but they also and inevitably adapted it as well.”
The Christian canon, liturgies, prayers, teachings and writings of the basilicas, Desert Fathers and Mothers and Early Church were now in the hands of these illiterate raiders with domestic instability.
Under Gregory’s leadership, not only were these writings preserved, Europe’s monasteries were protected, as well as the clergy, monks and nuns inhabiting them who just so happened to be the forward thinkers of the day. Gregory not only provided sanctuary for the Christian faith, but nurtured education and intellectualism, thus contributing in a massive way to the preservation of civilization.

Around 500 years later, in 1054, the Great Schism occurred. This was the break between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
Many ongoing ecclesiastical differences and theological disputes such as the Eucharist, papal primacy, hell, purgatory, the Holy Spirit, original sin and Trinity had arisen.
Both the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Michael I Cerularius of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Pope Leo IX of the Catholic Church refused to comprise, which resulted in the excommunication of Cerularius and the ugly schism itself.

Almost 500 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk who had come to dispute and reject several practices and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg.
Luther’s major contentions were Catholic indulgences, forgiveness of sin being purchased with money and justification by faith alone.
What he asked for was a theological debate, what he got was excommunication.
What he asked for was a discussion, what he got was the revolutionary Protestant Reformation.

Today, October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
500 years ago today, Luther nailed his Theses to that church door in Germany.

In honor of Reformation Day, I’ve spent the last three months composing 95 new theses. This is where I, and many of you, feel like we’re migrating to. Our experiences, ideas and views of the Divine are expanding…

You may not agree with every single one of these, but do you honestly agree with every single one of Luther’s? I sure don’t, yet I would still refer to myself as a “Protestant”.

Unlike Luther, I could care less about debating these issues in a public forum. I’d rather discuss them over dinner.
Unlike the Reformation, I don’t believe the Church requires anymore division. I’d rather see us setting places at the table for everybody.

Everybody.

The Next 95 Theses:

  1. God is ineffable mystery.
  2. Jesus never asked for our certainty, but faith the size of a seed can move a mountain.
  3. The Spirit doesn’t require uniformity, but calls us to be united.
  4. These three beings are one, which means they cannot be at odds with one another.
  5. The Bible points us towards this divine relationship, which deserves our worship.
  6. However, the Bible is not a part of this divine relationship and does not deserve our worship.
  7. The Bible – written by human beings in specific cultures, places and times – is an ongoing story based upon the people of Israel’s inspirational relationship with God.
  8. Israel means “struggles with God”, which strongly indicates that a life of faith will include doubt, questioning and wrestling.
  9. As a matter of fact; doubt, questioning and wrestling are all exemplified in the Bible itself.
  10. The Bible is important and an excellent way to connect with God, but it is not the only way.
  11. If so, God would be limited and there would be no use for the Spirit.
  12. The God of the Bible is the same God of nature and science.
  13. Therefore, it is impossible for faith and science to be at war with one another.
  14. The first thing God asked of humanity included taking care of creation.
  15. All races are equally made in the image of God, loved by God and celebrated by God.
  16. All gender identities, sexual orientations and sex characteristics are equally made in the image of God, loved by God and celebrated by God.
  17. All people – no matter the degree of their mental or physical abilities – are equally made in the image of God, loved by God and celebrated by God.
  18. Being made in the image of God has nothing to do with our physicality.
  19. Being made in the image of God has everything to do with our shared vocation.
  20. As the universe continues to expand, God’s creation is still unfolding.
  21. God invites us into co-creation.
  22. God invites us to help establish the kingdom of heaven on earth today and tomorrow.
  23. Salvation isn’t a ticket out of this world.
  24. Salvation is an invitation in to what God is doing here and now.
  25. Salvation isn’t about who is “in” and who is “out”.
  26. Salvation is about awaking to the awareness that love and grace have been freely given to all of us.
  27. Therefore, we should freely give love and grace to others.
  28. All things are being made new.
  29. We were created to seek beauty through art.
  30. We were created to seek beauty through nature.
  31. We were created to seek beauty through relationships.
  32. The gospel is communal.
  33. The gospel is not individualistic.
  34. If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody.
  35. None of us are free until all of us are free.
  36. You will always find God on the side of the oppressed.
  37. Therefore, we should always be on the side of the oppressed.
  38. If God is everywhere, everything is sacred.
  39. If God is everywhere, nothing is secular.
  40. All truth belongs to God, no matter where it is found.
  41. While absolute truth may very well exist, humanity will only ever have a relative understanding of it.
  42. All beliefs should be held with open hearts.
  43. All doctrines should be held with humble hands.
  44. All theology should be held with expansive minds.
  45. We are to lead with humility, not arrogance.
  46. We are to lead with grace, not control.
  47. We are to lead with love, not fear.
  48. Authority and power are gifts that should lead to the freedom of all.
  49. The abuse of authority and power is antichrist.
  50. The love of money is the root of all evil.
  51. Self-preservation leads to death.
  52. We recognize nationalism and patriotism as idols.
  53. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
  54. The Church should most definitely be political.
  55. The Church should most definitely be non-partisan.
  56. Jesus, who was far from orthodox, was murdered due to the deadly relationship between church and state.
  57. Jesus’ life was the perfect example of living out the counter-narrative of nonviolence.
  58. If Jesus “can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” and Jesus is nonviolent, than God must be nonviolent too. (John 5:19).
  59. Jesus didn’t come to change God’s mind about us.
  60. Jesus came to change our mind’s about God.
  61. Jesus wasn’t God’s backup plan.
  62. Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning.
  63. God’s wrath was never directed at Jesus.
  64. God’s wrath was never directed towards humanity.
  65. God’s wrath is directed towards sin and death.
  66. We are not a people of original sin.
  67. We are a people of original blessing.
  68. Every person is capable of deplorable evil.
  69. Every person is capable of overwhelming goodness.
  70. The current realities of heaven are a choice today.
  71. The current realities of hell are a choice today.
  72. The human experience is not free from hardship, pain and trial.
  73. We know that when we suffer, we are like Christ, who experienced ultimate suffering as the perfect human.
  74. We know that when we are humble, we are like Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7).
  75. We know that when we love, we are like Christ, for “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).
  76. Therefore, we will be found busy loving all; loving the “other”.
  77. Because “there is not fear in love”, we will not fear the “other”.
  78. We will fear no belief system or religion.
  79. We will fear no race.
  80. We will fear no gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex characteristic.
  81. We recognize ableism as demonic.
  82. We recognize children as precious gifts whose innocence, trust and wonder should be celebrated and relearned.
  83. Like children, we will learn to be authentic again.
  84. Like children, we will learn to be honest again.
  85. Like children, we will learn to question again.
  86. Skepticism, we understand, begins with thoughtfulness.
  87. Repentance, we understand, begins with changing our minds.
  88. God does not change, but everything God comes in contact with does.
  89. Therefore, we are constantly changing, evolving and expanding into greater consciousness.
  90. We understand that not all of us will land in the same place, but we will strive for unity and love.
  91. We understand that if we are to love our neighbor as ourself, than we must first learn to love and care for ourselves.
  92. We lay our fundamentalism aside and embrace a life of contemplation and prayer.
  93. We embrace the paradoxical ways of the Spirit.
  94. Jesus may very well be the only way to God, but perhaps there are more ways to Jesus than can ever be imagined.
  95. There is no idea about God that can contain God.

Many of these were crafted thanks to conversations with and inspired by the work of Heather Avis, Diana Butler Bass, Rob Bell, Sarah Bessey, Jim Carrey, Austin Channing, Shane Claiborne, Christina Cleveland, Francis Collins, James Cone, Megan DeFranza, Pete Enns, Rachel Held Evans, Lisa Gungor, Michael Gungor, Hafiz, Aaron Hale, Leon Hayduchok, Missy Hill, Pete Holmes, Tony Jones, Jonathan Martin, Mike McHargue, Brian McLaren, Jonathan Merritt, Thomas Merton, Brandi Miller, John Pavlovitz, Pope Francis, Richard Rohr, Peter Rollins, Danielle Shroyer, Barbara Brown Taylor, Phyllis Tickle, U2, Matthew Vines, Jim Wallis, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Nish Weiseth, Christian Wiman, N.T. Wright and Brian Zahnd.

2 thoughts on “The Great Expansion & The Next 95 Theses

  1. Andrew, thanks for this thoughtful and in depth investigation into your own Reformation. A wonderful reminder of all the reforming we each need to participate in–because reformation is a continual process. Luther would be shocked and dismayed to know that people turned him into some small pope. Thanks for sharing the people who helped shape these ideas and thoughts as that is a really helpful to see! And gracious to give credit where it’s due! well done on a essay and piece that I’m sure has been brewing for years. The journey is just begun. But remember that grace requires nothing of you (Sleeping at Last, “One”). Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

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