Dr. Scott Black Johnston: The Great Church Rummage Sale

This week I have been reading Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence. It is a fascinating book.

In a nutshell, Tickle claims that every 500 years, the Church cleans out its attic and has a rummage sale. By this, she means that every five centuries or so, the Church rethinks how it is organized, tosses out a bunch of idols, refocuses its energies and emerges transformed.


The first great transformation happened in the 500s. Following the sack of Rome, Europe descended into the Dark Ages. As this occurred, Christianity (which had endured a brief period of security and growth after Constantine made it the official religion of the realm) entered the monastic period - a time when the faith was preserved in the chapels and dining halls of isolated communities.

The second rummage sale came in the aftermath of "The Great Schism." In 1054, the Eastern Church (today's Greek and Russian Orthodox) and the Western Church (today's Roman Catholics) split apart. At this contentious moment for Christianity, the Church diverged along two very different paths in terms of theology, language and manner of worship.

The third great change for Christianity, says Tickle, came 500 years after "The Great Schism." In the 1500s, reformers questioned everything from the nature of God's grace, to the authority of the Pope, to the proper way to translate the Bible (Luther and Calvin favored the common tongue over Latin).

These individuals brought about another great change in the way people conceived of Church - the Protestant Reformation.

This 500-year timeline is significant, of course, because we live exactly five centuries after the last great transformation - the last massive, ecclesial rummage sale! Like the other moments described here, this is a precarious and exciting time for the Church.

Some contemporary believers are worried, sensing that their faith is losing relevance and influence in this country. Other Christians are energized, pointing to the rapid growth of the Church in South America, Asia and Africa.

In the midst of local decline and worldwide growth, many perceive that something new is emerging. What will it be?

It is an important question. It is a crucial question for us to talk about here.  The next few posts will consider different aspects of this issue.

For today, let's simply get the ball rolling:  What do you see that is new and exciting in your community of faith?  At the same time, what idols do you see being set out by the curb for a rummage sale?

[Taken with permission from "Sharp About Your Prayers," the blog of the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston. Originally posted 1/14/2011]