John Shelby Spong was Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Among his bestselling books are Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. He retired in early 2,000 to become a lecturer at Harvard University.
This article appeared in the Christian Century, January 3-10, 1979, p. 10. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
The form of the church is forever in process. This realization raises some historical questions. How did the church evolve into its present shape? What historic forces molded it? What new forces are at work? How adequate is the present shape for what the church conceives its task to be? What will the church of the future look like? The institutional shape of the church in history is always determined by the attitude of the world toward that which the church professes.
Most of us assume that churches have always been around, that they have always functioned more or less as they do now, and that they have always been organized in what we recognize as a traditional manner. Such, however, is not the case. A church, like every other institution, is a product of history. It is an institution in evolution, and there is nothing eternal about its present form.
If a local congregation announced today that it planned to close its church school because it did not see the Christian education of children as the legitimate task of a church, that announcement would, I suspect, produce no little criticism and consternation. Yet church schools are in fact a very late development in Christian history; in an earlier era it would have been inconceivable that the church had any responsibility for children’s religious training. Today no church is considered complete without a parish house or education building; but in the 13th century, if anyone had suggested that a church should erect a building to house the religious activities of the congregation, that person would have been regarded as out of touch with reality.
The form of the church is forever in process. This realization raises some historical questions. How did the church evolve into its present shape? What historic forces molded it? What new forces are at work? How adequate is the present shape for what the church conceives its task to be? What will the church of the future look like?
It is my contention that the primary force that molds the shape of the institution called the church is the attitude the people of a particular era hold toward the church and its beliefs. That is to say, the shape of the church is a response to a societal attitude, and the church cannot be understood historically save as an institution in dialogue with its world. Allow me to test this thesis by illustrating it with large chunks of history. Obviously, when history is taken in large segments, we can make only generalizations that will always have exceptions. Yet there is a validity in these generalizations because there is a discernible attitudinal shift from one epoch to the next.
If we can take the year 30 A.D. as the date of the historic beginning of Christian history and 313 A.D., the date of the edict of Milan, as the moment when Christianity was legitimized in the Roman Empire, then the first major chunk of history is in focus. In this era the dominant non-Christian world into which the church was born related to the Christian movement with hostility. It was a crime to be a Christian -- one that in many instances was punishable by death. The struggle between the church and the world was constantly breaking out into periods of intense persecution. Christians were fed to lions, drawn and quartered, and even turned into human torches to illumine Roman night parties.
Obviously, survival in that kind of world required organizing one’s life to deal with harsh realities. This is, of course, what the church did; the result was the birth of a church in the catacombs. In such a period there could be no nominal Christians. The price of commitment was frequently life itself. The catacomb church was in hiding. Its activities were clearly circumscribed. Worship, which included teaching and tradition-building, was primary; caring for one another in the struggle to survive was secondary. No other activity seemed appropriate.
Many things we think of as “churchly” were clearly inconceivable in that era. There were no physical church structures, no advertisements, no bazaars, no stained glass or musical instruments. The church was not tied to a place, a corner or a building. Rather it was wherever the people gathered. Its location was a carefully guarded secret. Christians of that time developed signs and codes “for the baptized only.” A painted fish on a door might identify that spot as a Christian gathering place. Making the “sign of the cross” revealed Christians to one another. They developed elaborate procedures to protect themselves from spies who might be in their midst.
In the first 300 years of Christian history this catacomb existence was an appropriate response to a hostile world which, in fact, determined the shape of the church, and that ecclesiastical shape was clearly relevant to that period of history.
But in the year 313 A.D. the attitude of the society -- or at least the official attitude of the government -- shifted, and when it did, suddenly it rendered the previous shape of the church irrelevant. The catalyst for this change took place, according to tradition, on the night before the battle of Milvian Bridge, when Constantine supposedly had a vision of a cross in the heavens with the words “In this sign conquer” emblazoned underneath. Constantine, needing at that point all the help he could get, decided to strike a bargain with this Christian God. “If I am victorious tomorrow in the battle for the empire, I will do two things,” he was reported to have said. “I will make Christianity a legal religion within the empire, and I will be baptized.”
He was victorious, and he kept half of his vow. He issued the Edict of Milan, establishing Christianity as a legal religion and ending persecution, but he declined to be baptized. Constantine felt that if he were to be baptized he could never “sin again,” and he had some more “living” he wanted to do. So he postponed his baptism until he was on his deathbed and then by historic accident managed to be baptized by one later declared a heretic, thus casting shadows of doubt over his eternal destiny.
Be that as it may, with the stroke of his pen on the Edict of Milan the whole reason for the first shape of the church disappeared. A new attitude requires a new response. Because human beings were not substantially different in that era, there were some, I suspect, who insisted that their church not change. But when the force that an institution is organized to deal with disappears, it is inevitable that the new force will call out a new response. Not to change is to become a museum. So out of the catacombs the church came, and a new shape emerged.
Obviously, it did not happen all at once. Between 313 A.D. and the height of the 13th century, for example, there were many changes. Christianity went from being a legal religion, to being the only legal religion, back into a brief period of persecution, and finally emerged as the dominant force in Western civilization. Through those phases the church lived and changed and grew, seeking always to respond appropriately to the attitude the culture expressed toward what Christians believed.
By the 13th century that attitude was clear. The world bowed low before Christianity, submitting every aspect of its life to Christian domination. Western civilization was informed by, submissive to, and shaped in accordance with its Christian content. The church was the center of life -- all life. The cruelest discipline it could impose on a wayward member was excommunication, for to be placed outside the life of the church was to be placed outside of life itself. All the cultural forms -- drama, art, music -- became vehicles through which Christianity found expression. The church assumed a new attitude of heady power -- an attitude which made possible the great cathedrals of western Europe. The cathedrals were built in the center of the population on the highest hill to dominate the countryside, just as the Christian faith dominated the culture. Everything in the community was touched by the church. There was no sense of a division between the sacred and the secular, for everything was caught up in and blessed by the church.
Prior to this period of history, the traditional words of blessing before a meal were “Blessed be thou, O Lord God, King of the Universe”; in this era the focus shifted ever so subtly and the food itself became the object of blessing -- “Bless, O Lord, this food” -- for food was considered mundane or profane, and only when touched by the holy words of a Christian could it be brought into the realm of the sacred. Somehow the biblical story of creation that saw all of life, including physical reality, as blessed by God in creation and pronounced good had been forgotten. The church alone could bless and sanctify all of life, and the church’s task was to shepherd this enormous power and use it to proclaim the gospel -- and, not coincidentally, to enhance its position of dominance.
Another aspect of this church-society relationship was seen in the emerging entertainment theater of that day. Wandering bands of minstrel players would go from village to village to perform for the populace. The content of the plays was overtly religious, and the stage was inevitably in the church itself before the high altar. No one questioned the appropriateness of this setting. No one said that only holy acts or narrowly defined liturgical acts were proper before the altar, for the church was the center of life. In the 13th century, religion had not yet become tangential. When the play was over, the men of the village would join the men of the traveling troupe; filling their mugs with beer, they would drink to the glory of God before the high altar. No one thought that sacrilegious or irreverent behavior.
In this era it would never have occurred to Christians that they needed special buildings for housing religious activities, for the church embraced and blessed the whole society. Every meeting of the women of the village was a meeting of the village’s churchwomen. There was no sense of a secular domain outside the dominance of the sacred. The Christian nurture and education of the children of the village was by no means an institutional task, but rather a parental one. A child was taught what his or her parents considered to be the essentials of the Christian faith. Children were taught the Bible, the creeds, the Ten Commandments and the liturgy by their parents, just as certainly as they were taught social customs. It was inconceivable that a family not perform this obligation faithfully. (It was only when church leaders began to recognize that such education was in fact not being done in the homes that “Sunday schools” were born -- but that occurred much later in Christian history.)
Since the organized Christian church had achieved such dominance in the society, those who directed it also had enormous power. The bishop of Rome was the acknowledged head of the church; hence his power was clearly dominant in all of Western civilization. In the high Middle Ages, the pope was by any measure the world’s most powerful figure, ecclesiastical or secular. Bishops dominated kings; on the local level, the dominant member of the village society was the head of the local church. Our word “parson” is a vestigial reminder of the fact that the priest was called “the person.” The 13th century was a status paradise for clergy.
Obviously, with the Christian faith dominating the entire culture, with society bowing low before the church as a willing and docile servant, the external form could not be a church in hiding in the catacombs. The great cathedrals and the concept of Christendom were called into being by the attitude of the world in which they lived. The institutional shape of the church in history is always determined by the attitude of the world toward that which the church professes.
But the 13th century was not the millennium. Time moved on, and when it did, new attitudes were born which inevitably forced a new response and ultimately a new shape on the institutional church. From the 14th century until sometime in the 20th century (to be arbitrary I will say the end of World War II), many forces conspired to break up the medieval synthesis and to create the modern world. Certainly those forces included the Crusades, the rise of nationalism, the broadening of opportunities for education, various political reform movements, the rise of democracy, the Reformation, the rediscovery of the classics, the rise of humanism and the birth of a new interest in the natural sciences.
That emerging world was in no mood to be dominated by an ecclesiastical enterprise called the Christian church. People had discovered vast arenas of life outside the narrow confines of the medieval world, and they were not willing either to ignore or to sacrifice these to the dominant religious enterprise. The church, feeling threatened by uncontrollable forces, responded with increasing defensiveness, but the dike had broken and no one could hold back the tide. A new attitude was abroad, and once again the structures of the church would have to respond with change. As with every such moment of history, it was not that the structures of the past were wrong but that they were no longer appropriate to the new realities.
This emerging new world was not born at once, nor was it always hostile to the Christian tradition. It was willing to grant to Christianity a place of enormous influence but not a place of domination. The church was no longer to be the center of all life, but it was still to be the center of religious life. This was at first an imperceptible change, for religious life was still a vast area. The relentless march of time would, however, shrink what was thought of as religion’s proper domain while it would greatly expand the arena known as “secular.”
A society that relegated Christianity to the religious domain inevitably forced the church to restructure itself in response. Great cathedrals were no longer appropriate shapes or models for Christian ecclesiastical institutions. This new attitude produced the kind of church most of us have grown up in. The parish church, in which the religious life of the community was centered, was the emerging pattern.
The work of the church was to encourage the spread of religion, to elicit that elemental religious response that seems to be native to human nature. Worship, religious education and social service constituted the church’s vocation, but before long, religion came to be identified with whatever went on inside the church structures. More and more the maintenance of structures came to be substituted for mission. Institutional service and institutional preservation became dominant themes.
This was an appropriate strategy in many ways, for if the church was a significant but not a dominant institution, it followed that the more people who became involved, the more influential the church would be. Religious activities required religious buildings, so parish houses or educational buildings became both necessary and typical. Mission work came to be defined as giving everyone a job inside the institution. Mission involved encouraging more and more church activities as the church sought to expand the domain of religion. Dinners, bowling leagues, bazaars, and softball teams were now recognized as legitimate forms of church work. Coffee and mimeograph ink began to take on the nature of sacraments. The successful minister was the one who could build up the institution with more members, more activities and more involvement, keeping everyone busy and minimizing conflict. His success tended to be measured by his ability as a money-raiser; the ultimate “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” was reserved for the minister who guided a congregation through a new building program.
In one church that I served, where my building “monument” was erected, the costliest room in the new structure per square foot was the kitchen. It was the envy of every restaurant in town. That the building had a gymnasium and an elaborate kitchen, surrounded by a few classrooms, said a great deal about our concept of what a church is. Churches in this era were beehives of activity, and the 13th century status position of the clergy that once made them dominant in the whole society was preserved in this increasingly narrow domain of church life. The minister was the most important figure in the church. If we press the beehive analogy, the minister was the queen bee, and the laypeople were the worker bees or drones. In fact, an active layperson was called “a good worker.”
In many ways this institutional church structure served its world well; deep emotions were developed among people -- emotions which they attached to their church life. Christmas pageants, sunrise or midnight worship services, bazaars where deep friendships were formed, special moments of joy, such as a baptism, or of sorrow, such as a funeral -- all of these seemed to guarantee an eternal place for an institution that the society acknowledged to have a legitimate sphere of influence: the religious sphere. Once again, the structures had changed to accommodate the attitude of the world.
But while Christians were actively pursuing church work and seeking to expand their influence, once again the attitude of the world began to change. Under the onslaught of the physical sciences, the life sciences, the social sciences, and the philosophical thought processes that accompanied them, the religious arena shrank to such a point that the church began to be perceived as no longer a significant influence at all, but rather as a minor institution that could safely be tolerated or ignored. Organized religion seemed to be more and more isolated from the decision-making processes of life.
Following World War II, there was a great surge of church life and church building that momentarily mesmerized church leaders who saw a new golden age emerging on the horizon. But the other factors that had long been growing in our increasingly secular society were only temporarily halted. Institutional churches were busier and busier, but the world at large paid less and less attention.
The church officially stood firm against divorce, yet between 1900 and 1970 the divorce rate in the U.S. increased by 900 per cent. Who was listening to the church? It continued to give lip service to the importance of the Ten Commandments while a morality revolution, fueled primarily by the insights of Sigmund Freud and the scientific ability to separate sexuality from procreation, swept through the Western world like wildfire. The serious issues of justice in society tore the institutional church asunder. The most overtly religious section of our nation, the Bible Belt of the south, could not see the evil of segregation in terms of its gospel. The Supreme Court, voicing the attitude of the culture, announced that separation of church and state implied freedom from the influence of religion.
In 1952 another symbol became obvious in the presidential election. There was no “religious issue in the campaign, despite the fact that the candidates were unbaptized Dwight David Eisenhower and nonchurchgoing Unitarian Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr. To have candidates who were nonreligious, at least in the traditional sense, did not appear to bother our secularized society. This supposition was confirmed in 1960 when there was a “religious issue” in the campaign. That issue, interestingly enough, did not coalesce around the fact that Richard Nixon was a Quaker -- though Quakers have historically been associated with opposition to war -- for it was generally understood that Nixon was a nominal uncommitted Quaker. The problem was that John F. Kennedy was a practicing Roman Catholic. The issue had to be defused, for it was perceived as a handicap to the Kennedy candidacy. In a campaign appearance before the Houston Ministerial Association, candidate Kennedy vowed that he would keep his religion and his public life separate. That is, his religious convictions would not interfere with his presidency. Our society was saying in these two instances, it seems to me, that it’s OK to be nonreligious, and that if religion is your thing, you must separate it from the rest of life. The domain of religion had thus shrunk to a tiny, very private internal one. It was a very short step from that point to the theological proclamation that startled many in the 1960s: “God is dead.”
The institutional church became aware only very slowly of this cultural shift from having a place of significant influence to being merely tolerated. But when the religion boom of the post -- World War II years was over, it could no longer be ignored. A new attitude had emerged in the world, and a new response was inevitable and essential. Since that post -- World War II realization, a new shape and focus of the church have been struggling to be born. The question before the church was “How do you structure yourself when you live in a world that barely notices your existence and merely tolerates your presence?” Many Christians simply ignored this reality and went on as if no change had occurred. It was a grand illusion. But those who were in touch with the world began to see a new response taking shape in the mid-’50s.
There was, first of all, a discernible shift away from church activism, and churches began manifesting a training-center model. Suddenly throughout America’s denominations, almost as if by divine fiat, a moratorium on building was declared; new congregations were discouraged, and questions about the meaningfulness of many church programs were articulated. The dimension of training for life and witness outside the church emerged as the most legitimate church activity. It was as though its leadership had recognized that the institution itself had no power, but that individual Christians who still held membership in the body could be quite influential in their decision-making roles in secular society. Phrases like “the scattered church” became popular. The church was seen as an army camp whose whole purpose was to train, prepare and equip its soldiers to assume their posts along the battlelines of the secular society.
The more deeply we began to look at the training function of the church, the more popular became things like Group Life Laboratories, Sensitivity Training and, later, Transactional Analysis. In every major tradition of American Christianity it was a time of new focus on Christian education. New church school curricula were published. Adult education materials rolled off the press. But somehow, though many Christians found life and meaning in this new thrust, the realm of religion continued to shrink, and soon even this new trend lost its excitement. Still, an emphasis was discovered here that was not to remain dormant forever. The commitment to worship God with our minds was, at least in part, the church’s way of dealing with a new attitude that had been born overtly in the ‘50s. That attitude might best be expressed with the words, “bored toleration toward organized and institutional religion.” The secular society of the ‘50s possessed an attitude of confidence that was close to arrogance. The great push toward a New Deal had been halted only by the war, but now it could be resumed under a new name, the Fair Deal. This in turn was followed by the eight years of the laissez-faire government of President Eisenhower. The optimism of the ‘50s faded into the early ‘60s, and we heard of New Frontiers and of efforts to build the Great Society. Landing on the moon and conquering space were within our grasp. In that confident era the last thing the world needed was an ancient, archaic, medieval church that seemed to many of the enlightened generation to traffic in magic and superstition. It bothered only the religious few that theologians could debate the death of God. Society as a whole was not interested.
But the church learned in the ‘50s that, whatever the shape of the church’s future, a training dimension must be part of it. A commitment to open and honest scholarship must mark the church’s corporate life. But the optimism of the ‘50s and early ‘60s did not last forever, and new forces were yet to emerge.
By the mid-’60s a funny thing had happened to that spirit of confidence and arrogance in society. Those of us who shared the idealism of John Kennedy saw the ugly head of racism begin to rip the social fiber of this country apart. Consciousness was raised by the civil rights movement that polarized the nation and loosed a violent and sometimes demonic spirit within the body politic. This demonic spirit seemed to demand a victim. Adlai Stevenson, visiting Dallas in October 1963 in his capacity as United Nations ambassador, was physically abused and spat upon by an angry Dallas mob. Two weeks later, the young president who seemed to embody idealism and hope was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in the same city.
That death became a rallying cry for the new president, Lyndon Johnson, who pushed civil rights legislation through the Congress almost as an expiation for our corporate guilt in the murder of John Kennedy. Johnson, out of his own liberal roots, spoke boldly of building the Great Society, but the streets of this land were increasingly unsafe even for the president, who more and more found himself to be a virtual prisoner in the White House. Joined to the quest for social justice at home was an increasing revulsion at our murderous behavior as a nation in the tiny and war-weary country of Vietnam. Bitterness abounded. More victims seemed to be required. When Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered, the cities of America exploded in rage, fire and wanton destruction.
Calls for law and order began to be heard in the political arena, often from the same politicians who had earlier encouraged massive resistance to the law of the land. Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the presidential race, driven from office by the temper of the times. Bobby Kennedy was the next victim to fall to a bloodthirsty national mood. We were in a war we could not get out of -- a war we had neither the stomach to win nor the willingness to lose. We declared “War on Poverty” -- a war that ended in disillusionment and defeat.
We began to hear the secular voices of the world saying vastly different things from those of the previous decade. Gone was the arrogance, the confidence in the future. A new cultural humility was heard uttering the plaintive word “Help -- anybody help.” Education and optimism would not solve the problems of racism, war, poverty, alienation. Our answers are no answers, the secular world was heard to say.
The institutional church began to sense once again a shift in the culture. Bored toleration faded. “Maybe the church has a voice that ought to be heard” was the message that many Christian leaders were hearing. Inevitably, there was a response -- a new shape to church structures, a new thrust to mission that began to emerge. Gradually abandoning the tiny and threadbare domain called religion to which it had been relegated since the 13th century, the church once more laid claim to the possibility of being a life resource. Fueled in large measure by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christians started to speak of “religionless Christianity.” Justice, politics, economics, race relations, war and peace were now seen as legitimate areas of Christian concern.
There was, of course, the cry from many that we Christians had abandoned the Bible and religion for secular concerns. In fact, what was happening was that we were rediscovering the Bible, which always had “secular” concerns, and the God of life who is revealed there and who calls his church to worship him with our strength -- the strength of our involvement in the human quest for justice. We listened to Erich Fromm, an American psychiatrist, who said that no one ever thinks his way into new ways of acting; he always acts his way into new ways of thinking. The church of the ‘60s was committed to action first, theologizing about that action second. We found it necessary, in the words of Episcopal Presiding Bishop John Hines, for the church to “take its place humbly and boldly alongside of, and in support of, the dispossessed and oppressed peoples of this country for the healing of our national life.”
It was an exhilarating decade for the church. Debate, polarization, defection, daring bold action, and mistakes marked the life of the organized church; but through it all the church once again laid claim to the entire world as its legitimate domain. It would never again be an institution limited to religion as its private and only appropriate sphere of interest.
In the midst of that era the church acted to redress the balance of power in our society, to empower the powerless. It was done in the name of Christ, though many of the poor, the alienated and the dispossessed might not have recognized the Christ the church was talking about in its corporate prayer and worship. Christian efforts in the social arena did not win converts. Indeed, they were not calculated to do so. The membership in America’s mainline churches actually declined in this period. A shift in power is never welcomed by those who have power -- at least not unless they can see with long-range vision and recognize that their own vested interest is ultimately served where power is shared and no one is left powerless. The church actually acted against its short-term vested interests.
The Episcopal Church, for example, gave a $40,000 grant to a Mexican-American group known as the Alianza to assist its members to process their legal claims against the United States government for treaty violations. One diocese immediately cut off its $80,000 contribution to the Episcopal Church. That church also aided an institution called Malcolm X University in Durham, North Carolina, at a terrific cost among many of its southern constituents who could not see the genuine pain and anguish beneath harsh black rhetoric. These constituents believed their church was supporting lawless violence; feeling betrayed, they abandoned it financially.
In this same era churches began to raise ethical and ecological concerns and to face political questions in stockholder gatherings of major American corporations. Life was our arena -- all of life -- and no part of it was to be exempt from the spotlight of the gospel which proclaimed a God “who so loved the world” that he entered it. We discovered in. the late ‘60s that we were called in imitation of our Lord to enter the world to be change agents, to act out the redemption that we believe has been accomplished in Jesus our Christ. Again, the church was responding to the attitude of the world. That world faced unsolvable problems and invited anyone who might help to do so.
But social justice, while an essential aspect of the Christian’s individual and corporate life, does not exhaust his or her other Christian commitment. There were, of course, excesses in the ‘60s on the part of many Christians who seemed to believe that social action was the only legitimate expression of the Christian life. So a correction was found as the ‘70s dawned, the angry voices of the alienated minorities diminished, the bloody Vietnam war ended, the cities grew less hysterical, and the nation discovered that its institutions were strong enough to withstand the enormous challenge of corruption in the highest office of this land, finally expelling that corruption in a violent period of national purging. And then we watched the birth of a somber but tranquil time presided over by President Gerald Ford, who will probably be remembered primarily for his decency. In the quietness of that moment a new attitude once again called out a new response. We Christians came to be aware that action must grow out of and express a deeper commitment which itself has to be nurtured, that activism whether inside or outside the church will not finally fill up the empty spaces in the human heart. This discovery seemed to coincide with a new emerging attitude of openness in the society as a whole.
Suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly as we might have imagined, all kinds of people in all kinds of ways began an honest search for a new sense of the transcendent, the mysterious, the holy. The search had many forms, some of which were distinctly outside the domain of the organized church: Zen, various kinds of meditation, the occult. But others were inside traditional religious circles -- a nostalgic return to old-time religion, the charismatic movement, neofundamentalism. Certainly a nation was speaking out of its corporate sense of need when it chose a president who carefully cultivated the image of old-time virtue coupled with a public commitment to a warmly evangelical brand of Southern Baptist religion.
But underneath all of these forms, both the nonreligious and the religious, a new human yearning for God, or for what the symbolic word “God” stands for, sought expression. Every human life seems to need and want spiritual integrity, the ability to know and worship that which is ultimately real and which creates and re-creates us in its own image as we are drawn into worship. This cultural hunger is even at this moment calling the church to new frontiers, new shapes and forms, as we once again seek to respond structurally to the attitudes of our world. We are being called to nothing less than a new capacity to worship with our hearts.
In the decades of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s we have seen a new shape and form of the church emerging relevant to the emerging attitude of the society.
We are living at the time of the birth of a new Christian consensus which someday can be studied alongside the church of the catacombs, or the age of the great cathedrals, or the time of the church as the center of religious life. That emerging church, I believe, will combine elements of these three decades -- the emphasis of the ‘50s on commitment to training and to significant Christian education; the emphasis of the ‘60s on the claim that God is involved with all of life and the willingness of Christians to be involved in the pain of the world at the price of jeopardizing their institutional vested interests; and the emphasis of the ‘70s on a renewed search for a significant sense of the holy. Each of the emphases will inform, challenge and correct the abuses and excesses of the other; a new shape for the church will be born in human history. It will be as different from the traditional church of our experience as the great cathedrals were from the church in the catacombs. But nonetheless it will be related to its historic predecessors, calling in the accents of the 20th century for Christians to worship with their minds, their strength and their hearts. And Christians will recognize that continuity when they call the new shape and form of the body of Christ living in the 21st century a church.