Today and Tomorrow

I'm Done With Religion

I just watched a YouTube video in which a moderator from Dallas Theological Seminary interviewed the author of The Great Dechurching.  The data show that about 30 million Christians have left the church in the last two  decades or so. They have not left the faith. This is not about believing. It is about some dissatisfaction with church. But what is the dissatisfaction with?

I don't think the authors really figured out the problem. But I can tell you. After a lifetime as a church member and about fifteen years as a pastor, I can tell you: It is religion. It is religion that is spectator religion or spiritual entertainment or habit and tradition rather than koinonia.  (That's the Greek word used in the New Testament for partnership.) The shift from partnership to spectator religion and spiritual entertainment began for American Christians quite a few years before the late 90s where the author begins with his statistics. It began when churches grew too big for people to know one another and care for one another. It began when a church became staff driven and program driven rather than organic. It began when churches became educational institutions with pastor-teachers-lecturers who were the draw. It began with the first of the mega churches. 

I became a Christian in my early teens and was a part of a small country church where everyone knew everyone else. We worshiped together. We serve one another with the gifts God had given us. We learned together. We prayed together. We grew in Christ together. 

We were not perfect. We did not have a good appreciation of our participation in the larger Christian community and were not much involved in evangelism beyond normal salt and light witness in our community. We were not much involved in caring for others outside the church.  But we were serious about partnership and caring for one another. 

But we were also not about attracting people with worship entertainment that followed the trends of the culture. We were not into church growth programs and programing. People who visited church saw us as we were and not an artificial image we projected. 

That pretty much described the early church.  And it worked.

That is, of course, not all.  There is the fortress mentality of the church that is all about hiding out and protecting ourselves from the world. It is safe behind the walls. It keeps the world out .... and me in. But it also prevents me from being out there living the life of Jesus among the crowds ....  who need him. 

There are cultural trends that also are impacting the church. One is the shift toward political involvement, especially the far-right Christian movement. Changing our culture by the methods of the world will never serve God's purpose for the church. And it will not change the world. 

The other is more theological. Our 1800s Fundamentalism has honestly placed Christianity at odds with the modern world. We drew battlelines and built high walls around doctrines that seemed to Christians in the 1800s to be so biblical that reevaluation seemed like compromise and was unimaginable. We became as set in the past as the habits Catholic nuns wear or the buggies of the Amish. And all unnecessarily. No critical truth is protected by old fashion practices. Nor is any critical truth protected by the doctrines like inerrancy (which is actually only theoretical since we do not have the original texts) or by the insistence on a literal interpretation of passages, as if they were truth written up in a scientific journal, which ignores the fact that they were not actually understood as literal by Christians through much of our history. They realized, wisely I might add, that these passages were more dynamic and more literary than any scientific journal; they communicated truth far beyond a literal description.  And then there is the insistence in some churches on the King James version of the Bible as the only trustworthy translation. It sounds so religious when read at church, but at home it is like reading a foreign language. 

Some find the high walls of dogma comforting. But those things shifted the church away from the core truths of salvation by the grace of God in Christ Jesus and life in him to fussing about peripheral issues. And it focused us on defensive doctrines rather than the dynamic of the Holy Spirit who is the life of the church. 

We became leery of letting the Lord be the Lord in his church. We became comfortable with religious traditions and practices that kept us within the lines rather than letting the Lord live in the church. Religion became the thing, and prayer and sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit became less important. (How long has it been since you prayed together in a group small enough to actually allow everyone to participate? How long since you prayed and listened and prayed and listened?) 

The result was that the church lost its life. And whether people who have left can put it into words or not, that is the reason for their disenchantment. They leave the church because the church left them. 

This song captures the need of our hearts. 

It is not excitement or information  we long for but for him.