What is the biggest challenge facing the religion today?
by Kendra Hotz
unity of the Christian church is one of the most significant challenges
that Christians face today. The Nicene Creed, one of the Church’s
oldest confessions of faith, affirms that the church is “one,
holy, catholic, and apostolic.” The church, in other words,
is the holy institution called to unity by God in all times (apostolic)
and all places (catholic). Yet the church has also always encompassed
vast diversity in belief and practice. Ideally,
faithful diversity lends vitality to the church as Christians in
different contexts learn from one another through respectful dialogue.
A church with global scope and deep historical roots will inevitably
find that its faith comes to expression in a wide variety of ways.
diversity within Christianity has often led to strife, and Christians
have been as likely to cast aspersions on those who practice their
faith differently as they have been to celebrate and learn from
them. Deep differences in belief and practice led to the schism
between East and West as well as the fracturing of the Roman Catholic
Church during the Protestant Reformation, and in both cases Christians
found little patience for developing resources to affirm unity in
the midst of diversity.
twentieth century, however, brought renewed interest in Christian
unity. The ecumenical movement, which began to grow during the late
nineteenth century, blossomed in the twentieth and found institutional
expression in the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948. In
its second Vatican council, the Roman Catholic Church expressed
a deep commitment to Christian reconciliation. A number of Protestant
denominations have sought to restore full communion among themselves.
Most Eastern Orthodox communions participate in the World Council
of Churches as it seeks ways for Christians to share ministries,
worship, and evangelism.
global poverty represents a second significant challenge to the
Christian faith. As industrialized nations grow increasingly wealthy
and developing nations struggle with poverty, illiteracy, and disease,
faithfulness calls Christians to respond with compassion and even
self-sacrifice. Jesus cared for and identified with outcasts in
his healing and teaching ministries. Christians are called, in imitation
of Christ, to seek the welfare of “the least of these.”
fact that so many Christians live in wealthy, industrialized nations,
whose wealth historically was built on the oppression of others,
represents a crisis of faith and faithfulness if those Christians
fail to exert strong, coordinated pressure on their governments
to redress injustices globally. Christians are also called to organize
ministries of the church to reach out to those in need. Preaching
the gospel is only complete when it is accompanied by efforts to
bring economic justice, education, and health care to those mired
in poverty, illiteracy, and disease.
health care technologies represent a third significant challenge
to Christian churches. Medical advances especially at the beginning
and end of life pose serious moral questions, which Christian ethics
struggles to respond to. New treatments are increasingly able to
extend life and to continue life beyond what seems to be the time
for a natural death. Artificial respirators and feeding tubes can
maintain life even in those with virtually no brain function. These
technologies leave Christians asking how to know when preserving
life is a good to be pursued and when it represents a failure to
trust in God.
therapies such as organ transplants also raise questions about the
justice of access to health care and the distribution of health
care resources. Advances in infertility treatments also raise significant
challenges for Christian moral theology. As medical researchers
discover new ways to assist the infertile with artificial means
of conception and new ways to manipulate human DNA, questions are
raised about what limits Christian faith might impose on our desire
to modify our genetic makeup and to select for and against the characteristics
parents wish for their children to have.
©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.