The Church in an Open World

— by Andy Wade —

I remember back in the late 70s when Christian recording star Keith Green negotiated out of his contract with Sparrow Records (now a division of EMI Music) and began receiving only “love offerings” for his records and concerts… and thrived! What a risk to openly offer for free the valuable resources created through hours of practice and hard work. What an amazing thing to trust brothers and sisters in Christ to openly offer back support to Keith and his family.

Open WorldAs the world tilts on its axis by the weight of information and ideas swirling through the digital atmosphere, there’ a shift taking place in how we share information. The open-source movement has been around for years but suddenly it’s beginning to take off. Some might say that Keith Green was ahead of his time. I think he was actually just following a more biblical model that is now, for different reasons, starting to take the world by storm.

In the video below, Canadian futurist Don Tapscott explores some of the implications this ever-increasing barrage of information is having on our lives. Although not based on any biblical principal, Tapscott’s musings toward the end sound downright spiritual in nature (in a kind of spooky way).

As I watched I began wondering just what the Church, the Body of Christ, would look like if we “open-sourced” all our intellectual property. Books, music, bibles, liturgies, graphics, VBS and Sunday School materials – – all open and free. How would the church be changed? How might the world around us begin to see us differently? Would it affect our calling as “Ambassadors of Reconciliation” and proclaimers of the Good News of God? How would missions, church planting, missional neighborhood gatherings, and inter-church relationships be affected if we no longer bought and sold the creations inspired in us through the moving of the Holy Spirit?

I’ve been a bit troubled at the end of each of our projected worship songs at church by the long list of legal entities whose fingers grasp each song! It’s no longer just one company but a whole list of them! I see at least two issues here. One is that non-Christian corporations are in control of smaller, Christian divisions which they bought up because they saw profits in the Christian music industry. The other issue is one of actual ownership. Does anyone else struggle with the idea that we can copyright and market the inspiration of God which was given to us to make known the free gift of God we have in Christ Jesus?

Tapscott believes technology is already changing the current generation in ways that will ripple through every nook and cranny of society. How we think about information, intellectual property, collaboration, all are being changed. For better or worse, I believe he’s correct. So what does it mean for the church? There are aspects of our faith that are free and “open”. God’s grace and forgiveness are free. But I wonder if we’ve strayed from the reality God has called us to. Acts 2:44 reads, “All the believers were together and held everything in common.” Is this, in a sense, a call to an open-sourced gospel? An open-sourced lifestyle?

It’s interesting that toward the end of this talk Tapscott uses starlings as an analogy. An analogy about collaboration, the mind of the collective, the new open world potentially leading to a “collective intelligence or consciousness”. Those words sound kind of scary! But I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there’s another kind of “collective consciousness” we’re missing out on in the Body of Christ because we’ve modeled our use of information and our system of economics more after the world than the Kingdom of God.

As I listened to Tapscott’s lecture, I admit I was a bit nervous. But I also kept wondering if we have missed out on a broader collective Kingdom imagination that could empower the body of Christ like never before.

What do you think?