“Nothing fails like success.”

The Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, Germany)

In evolution, Dr. Inge’s aphorism is probably always right: ‘Nothing fails like success.’  A creature which has become perfectly adapted to its environment, an animal whose whole capacity and vital force is concentrated and expended in succeeding here and now, has nothing left over with which to respond to any radical change.  Age by age it becomes more perfectly economical in the way its entire resources meet exactly its current and customary opportunities.  In the end it can do all that is necessary to survive without any conscious striving or unadapted movement.  It can therefore beat all competitors in the special field; but equally, on the other hand, should that field change, it must become extinct.”      –Gerald Heard, The Source of Civilization

One of the great things about the internet is the how one can stumble upon passage like this.  I read the line “nothing fails like success” in the Foreward to another book I was reading.  I googled the line and found excerpts from Arnold Toynbee & David Somervell’s abridgement of A Study of History.

Since the water in which I’m currently swimming involves churches and denominational systems, the words above seem particularly ominous.  It’s obvious that organized religion has seen much success in the modern era.  I’ll also grant that some forms of these systems are actually experiencing some numerical growth.  However, I believe we are well past the time to adapt to our changing environment.  “The Church” will continue in some form or another…I wonder which forms “must become extinct”?


3 thoughts on ““Nothing fails like success.”

  1. I can name a few areas I think are in great need of extinction – circa 1920’s programs like RA’s, GA’s and deacon ministries.

    1. I think there are certain core aspects of modernist Christianity that need to revisited–spirituality, community, leadership, collegiality, cooperation. In the 19th and 20th centuries, most of these were based on a mechanistic, triumphalist model that is at odds with the 21st century mindset. In other words, certain basic systems need to adapt for the church of have any influence in society.

      1. There are plenty of examples Ircel. It’s interesting to observe the responses of those churches that have failed to or are very slow to adapt toward those communities or movements that are adapting. I think some of the more exciting expressions of church are those that haven’t so much adapted as they have sprung up inside this new context. These can be very disconcerting to those forms that once “ruled the jungle” so to speak.

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