Rummage Sales

June 25, 2012 — 2 Comments

Before I get into the “details” I wanted to throw out another unique way of looking at church history.  Here is the way  author Phyllis Tickle describes church history in her book entitled The Great Emergence :

The only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he (Rev Mark Dyer) goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.

Now, while the bishop may be using a bit of humor to make a point, his is nonetheless a deadly serious and exquisitely accurate point. Any usable discussion of the Great Emergence and what is happening in Christianity today must commence with yesterday and a discussion of history. Only history can expose the patterns and confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our own times and occupy them more faithfully. The first pattern that we must consider as relevant to the Great Emergence is Bishop Dyer’s rummage sale, which, as a pattern, is not only foundational to our understanding but also psychologically very reassuring for most of us.

That is, as Bishop Dyer observes, about every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events. First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.

While Phyllis Tickle calls the current age the Great Emergence from what I can glean it is also analogous with Harvey Cox’s the age of the spirit. The term emergence has been overused already and its meaning therefore is not yet solidified. We will get into that in future posts. I may also flesh out just what those five hundred year milestones are. A rummage sale seems to be a very effective way of describing the about-faces that the church has done throughout its history.

Until the next time I bid you peace….

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2 responses to Rummage Sales

  1. 

    That is an excellent image and a very hopeful one. Any large structure, be it organized religion, government, or even a multi-national corporation gets set in its ways and finds it much easier to say no to change rather than maybe or yes. I’ll be interested to see this theme as you develop it.

    As an aside, maybe this is what a lot of government structures around the world are going through at the moment, albeit in less than 500 years since the last upheaval. After a period, top-heavy and out-of-touch organizations start to tip over.

    • 

      Yeah, I found the idea of a Rummage Sale quite fascinating. Constantine, The Great Schism, The Reformation. Will this time around be as profound as those, I hope so. We have fractured ourselves so much as Christians we need something to shake us back to a reality that splintering over the minutest reasons is not what our God wants. He wants us to do two things: to love Him, and to love each other.

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