still not complete, just some thoughts:
So given all the problems mentioned below, what is the way forward? The collapse of authority and the anarchic situation the church finds herself in is lamentable, and would almost drive me to Rome or Byzantium. Then you have Mary, purgatory, praying to saints, etc. I cannot leap that hurdle, at least not yet. But I do think issues of apostolic succession and authority along with a recovery of historical, creedal Christianity should be central to the project of American churches. This is a utopian ideal, but is one worth stating. Here is what I believe is required:
1) humility. Of course this cannot be imposed and may be the hardest thing to obtain. Can you imagine denominational leaders, local pastors and laity all laying down their agendas? Can you imagine them honestly questioning the origin of their denomination and the authority of their ministry? If there is to be hope for inter-church cooperation (which I will propose later) then massive humility will be required. I believe pastors, priests, elders, deacons, and bishops must examine their foundations, the history of the church at large, and the universal church in their own communities. Honestly grappling with any issue from theology to one’s own character demands humility, and the ability to be corrected. It is fundamental to a charitable approach to reforming the church once again.
2) Becoming territorial. I think churches need to become parishes again – to take responsibility for the physical area that they are located in. Long term I believe they should get together at the city level and form a strategy for ministering to their city. Needs should be divided and assigned to the various local bodies. All churches could pool their resources to minister to the poor, widows, orphans, etc. This would maximize the power of the church as a rival to the state, something that does not happen now in part due to our fragmentation. If churches would minister to the streets and subdivisions in their territorial area it might foster a move towards a unified city-wide church that meets in different locations, rather than every city needing its own Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, and other churches.
3) eat together. Walking into a church other than the one you attend is often like visiting another country. You don’t know anyone and these people sing differently, dress differently, think differently, etc. I often feel so strange in another church, when in fact we are brothers and sisters. But in fact you can find two churches on the same block who know virtually nothing about each other. Going to any church should be a great experience; it should be a chance to see how other parts of the one family are doing. So how do we begin to bridge these divides?
I suggest meals together. In my mind this is the best way to bring cohesion and develop true compassion for one another inside any single local body. If people don’t eat together, I find that they are like ships passing in the night. So if there could be barbecues, picnics, or whatever type of meal with members of other local bodies *on a regular basis* I believe barriers would start to fall. We would see the things in each other that we don’t like, but we would also see the common strands of our faith on display.
4) pray together. Some of the best experiences I have had as a Christian were when I was going to a charismatic church here in Idaho and we would go to huge gatherings for prayer of all local Christians who wanted to come. The location would rotate from event to event to the building of a different church. To see pastors from wildly different backgrounds together praying was very moving. To sing together was also moving. Then we would break up into circles with whomever we were sitting by and pray as a group. This was a terrific blessing.