Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Church Is Dying

...it's true.

And it needs a holy fire under it's ass if it expects to survive the upcoming generation.

I have heard the suggestion, "Maybe we need to let the Church die, so it can be resurrected." I'm not willing to let 2,000 years of history, wisdom and seeking go down the toilet. I'm certainly not about to let so-called "born again" Christianity take its place, both as a gay man and an Anglo-Catholic.

(A side note. These are totally disorganized, stream-of-consciousness ideas that have been floating around for a while, and I needed to exorcise them. Bear with my lack of organization, with sincere apologies from the author!)

So, here are a few suggestions.

- Articulate the Message -

Why are people drawn to evangelical churches?

Evangelicals have dumbed down the Gospel.

"Are you Saved? Say this prayer to be Saved. Read this book."

Easy. Simple.

This mistake results in a generation of evangelicals who know nothing about their faith except how they feel about it. There is, however, a lesson to be learned.

If you ask an Anglican what he or she believes, you're liable to get a lot of stammering and a generally unimpressive response. We need to be able to clearly, quickly, accurately and poignantly articulate our faith. This is no easy task. Summarizing years of experience and introspection is nearly impossible, but it must be done.

We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, that he came to restore our broken human nature through his reconciling ministry, death and subsequent resurrection. We believe that - in spite of everything - the Church he established continues with an unbroken line of apostolic authority through the Holy Spirit. We believe that God's grace flows freely from the church and indeed all creation.

Or something like that.

Which brings me to the next point...


- Better Catechesis -

I once met a lifelong, cradle Episcopalian who asked me what a diocese is. Forehead-to-desk action ensued.

This is not uncommon. Teaching must involve the basics of the Church - history, governance, liturgy, dogmas. We cannot afford to leave our members blatantly uneducated.


- Denominational Identity -

We live in a post-denominational world. Most Americans will change denominations at some point in their life. The response has been something akin to, "Well, if folks are changing - what's the difference? Let's band together!"

No no no no no! Creating a massive mainline Protestant blob church is not the answer. Strengthening ecumenical ties is well and good, but degrading our denominational foundations is not.

Methodists must return to the theology of Charles Wesley, and teach it. Presbyterians must return to the theology of John Calvin, and teach it. Catholics must return to the wealth of information found in the catechism, and teach it. Lutherans must return to the theology of Martin Luther, and teach it.


- Assertion of Supremacy over Non-Christian Religions -

This sounds harsh. Essentially what I'm saying is, we need to be able to articulate why we believe in Jesus Christ, and not Mohammed, Vishnu, or Christopher Hitchens. What makes Christianity unique?

This must be both academic and a labor of the heart. We must encourage people to speak openly of their love for Jesus, and be receptive to hearing the faith of others with an open mind and heart. We are so uncomfortable with describing our relationship and journey with the divine.

More than ever, we need to understand why we believe in God at all. Most Christians are not converting to Hinduism or Buddhism, but rather losing interest in spirituality altogether. This is unacceptable.


- Assertion of Supremacy over Other Denominations -

We need to be able to articulate why we are Anglican and not Baptist, Roman Catholic, "born again" or even Lutheran. This is very different from saying "you're right, and I'm wrong." It's simply a matter of being able to accurately communicate your beliefs.

For example, I have tremendous respect for the Roman Catholic church, believe it to be one of the branches of the ancient Church, and accept the Bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter and first among equals. However, I respectfully argue that Papal authority is too far-reaching, that ecumenical councils after the 7th are invalid because of their noninclusive nature, and that many of the Roman Church's social teachings are in serious need of re-examination and correction.

Likewise, a traditionalist Roman Catholic should be able to explain why he or she does accept those things (or reject them, but remain in the communion of Rome), and we should come to a mutual appreciation of differences.

- Counter-Cultural -

A final word to the wise. Christianity doesn't need to implement rock-and-roll. It doesn't need to become "seeker friendly" or put on a special show for the unchurched. It needs to be welcoming, true-to-self, and it needs to be counter-cultural.

True Christianity will never fall in line with the culture of the day. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and freeing the prisoner are never going to be popular. Reaching out to the lonely, despondent and oppressed is not hip or cool. Loving your neighbor is a lifelong process. The moral thing is not the profitable thing. You're going to get crucified. But we have always looked with hope for the Resurrection.

4 comments:

Thom Curnutte said...

Dear God, Eric, this is good!

I'm in total agreement with you. The "same ol' same ol'" just won't cut it anymore. And I think this is especially true for you and I as serious, gay Christian men, attempting to live our lives with integrity and wholeness.

And you're right, also, in that Christianity- when "done right"- IS counter-cultural. We should stand out.

Davis said...

This is extremely good especially the part about catechesis. We must teach and believe the Creeds first and foremost and tell our bishops this is what we demand of them.

BillyD said...

Well said - er, written, rather. I especially appreciate the section on denominational identity. The move towards a more homogenized, bland mainstream Christianity is a mistake. Unfortunately, it's a mistake that's been going on for decades now, and will be hard to correct.

As far as catechesis is concerned, part of the problem is that Anglicans (or at least a lot of Episcopalians) are encouraged to think that whatever thought or feeling crosses our mind about religion is as valid and meaningful as the Nicene Creed or the Gospel of John. Of course we're ignorant about the specific teachings of historical Christianity - why should we bother learning what the Church teaches when we've been lead to believe that our own personal insights are just as good?

[Preview is my friend.]

eric said...

Thanks everyone.

Hello BillyD. I agree - Anglicans often take the "experience" and "reason" part of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to extremes, ignoring the "Scripture" and "Tradition." It's a precarious balancing act, that's for sure!