|The case against the church|
|Yes, it really is bad out there; and the world needs the real church.|
|To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition. - Woody Allen|
I'm not aware of much of an explicit debate, at least in my little corner of Christianity, about their being a crisis. There certainly is a lot of malaise: no growth, programs slowly running down, a sense of going through the motions. But there is a problem.
First, the problem is not with the people in the church, it is at the level of the institution, or the culture. It is the way the group of people act while within the church. There are lots of nice people in Christian churches. I certainly have liked just about every church official I've ever had occasion to meet.
And the church's leaders mean well, work hard, and do not get wealthy. As Thielicke said, the problem is not one of hypocrisy, but of despair. We're all becoming a little afraid that there is nothing there.
But all of this is so often used as a way of turning aside issues about what the church is actually doing. Working hard is not a substitute for working smart or working on the right things.
Often too, the church just rejects its critics, sees them as psychologically dysfunctional, not as prophetic.
None of this would matter much if the church had any mechanism of reform, or any mechanism that seemed to be in working order.
It is useful to separate the harm churches do into lost opportunities and active errors. In the first category I put dull worship, flaky Bible studies, sermons that try too hard and bad architecture. In the second I put covering up sexual misconduct, persecution of gays, women and smart people.
That last is not simply a joke: the church has quite a tradition of pushing away its best and brightest rather than figuring out a way for them to be useful.
| Ninety-nine percent
of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever
to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner
or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bullshit,
which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds.
-- Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, (Bantam, 1992), p. 69
That we live, in the West, in an atmosphere of spiritual
depravation and impoverishment is abundantly clear. For whatever reasons,
conventional western religion does not provide adequate nourishment for
the souls of men and women. So, as the wastes of the decayed inner city
districts tell their gloomy story of desolation and despair, there is
a wasteland of the spirit which speaks a similar language. We seem to
have entered what Koestler has termed 'the spiritual ice age', an age
in which 'the established churches can no longer provide more than Eskimo
huts where their shivering flocks huddle.'
For some years before Luther, there was in the Church almost no religion left. - Roberto Bellarmine, quoted in Brian Moynahan, The Faith, p. 349.
If we look back into history for the character of the
present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their
turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive
Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced
it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed
persecution in the Roman Catholic Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans.
They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves
both here (England) and in New England.
E. Stanley Jones said that we inoculate the world with a mild form of Christianity so that it will be immune to the real thing. -- Quoted by Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens, p. 90
Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to study the laws of heat. – John Morley
A survey in suburban Chicago asked people "What are the reasons why you don't attend church?" Their five general reasons:
1. Churches were always asking for money (yet nothing perceived as personally significant seemed to be happening with the money).
2. Church services were boring and lifeless.
3. Church services were predictable.
4. Sermons are irrelevant to daily life in the "real world."
5. The pastor made people feel guilty and ignorant, so they leave church feeling worse than when they entered the doors.
(From a Harvard Business School case study, "Willow Creek Community Church," 1991.
|Last updated 1/20/07; first posted 8/5/03; © 2007, 2006 John P. Nordin|