Sunday, October 2, 2011

I believe that I want to believe. . .

Someone handed me a copy of a USA Today article on the customization of religion to fit the personal needs of the believer.  It begins by suggesting that the 310 million Americans have, in effect, 310 million religions.  Of course, they are listening to the guru of religion in America:  George Barna.  Barna reports upon the results of polls and surveys over the past ten years and some of them are alarming. 
  • The numbers of unchurched have risen from 24% to 37% of the US population.
  • Only 7% of those surveyed fit the measure of the National Association of Evangelicals' statement of faith.
  • Denominational loyal is declining both inside as well as outside the churches.
  • Every religious tradition is being adapted to fit the individual desires, beliefs, and morality of the individual - no traditions are exempt from this individualism of faith and confession.
He blames the Pastors.  Jesus is the answer, they say.  Embrace him. Say this little Sinners Prayer and keep coming back.  [But] it doesn't work.  People end up bored, burned out and empty.  They look at [the] church and wonder, "Jesus died for this?"

What has happened is that people have ended up believing in God, believing the Bible is basically a good book, and then believing whatever they want.  In the end, they tend to mix up religious traditions and even different religions -- sort of like tinkering with a recipe for chili and fixing the ingredients and the spices to fit your own personal taste. 

The end result of this individualism is outright hostility and suspicion of organized religious groups.  It is not so much a rejection of religion but the remaking of religion and the direction is generally more toward morality than it is making sense of or explaining the world.  In the end, people tend to believe that if you do the right thing, it will work.

Much as I hate to admit it, Barna has probably placed the blame squarely where it belongs.  Pastors have come under the allure of numbers and so the distinctives of the faith and catechesis have given way to popularizing religion -- the result of which is largely a moderate morality with a sound track.  If Joel Osteen can pack um in with upbeat but non-specific god talk that keeps the person at the center of everything, why can't Lutherans and Methodists and all the rest copy his methodology and even his message?  And that is exactly what we are doing.  But are we really bring people to Jesus?  Changed lives and packed pews are hardly the barometers of success Jesus spoke about or the early church envisioned.  In fact they just might be impediments to the true measure of the faith and the Church -- faithfulness (not to be confused with sincerity).

We need more than an explanation of the world.  We need more than a coach to urge us on to greatness or contentment or prosperity or happiness.  We need more than an hour of happy time each week to distract us from our real troubles.  We need the God who has overcome death and grave, who has broken the back of sin with forgiveness, and who has restored us to our Creator and to the life that was given to us in the beginning, lost to us in sin, and manifest in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We need the Church, the real Church, that will speak this Gospel and none other, that will address us with the call to repentance, that will not tempt us with an explanation but deliver to us the God who was and is and is to come, that will not trade in the Incarnation for entertainment... 

And one more thing... we need to confess and abandon the twin deities of numbers and popularity which have become more than our great temptation but our undoing.  We have to one degree or another lived within the idolatry of earthly success instead of the call of faithfulness.  Where we are faithful, God will do His work and, if the churches survive, it will be because God has blessed the Gospel they have proclaimed and not because of the models, paradigms or programs they have adopted.  The Church will prevail as God has promised even though it may not bear the same institutional names or earthly headquarters that define our churches today.  Barna is convinced we need to do something to prevent disaster.  Only God can do that.  What we need to do is in stark contrast with the typical recipes for renewal offered to us by those who watch the Church and the faith.  We need to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified and administer the Sacraments faithfully.  That may not seem like much in the face of so many solutions to our problems offered by the experts but it is the one and only thing that will work... and endure... to the day when Christ comes to call us all to account...


OldSouth said...

Amen, from a back pew.

Thank you.

Fallhiker said...

I wish I could counter your points concerning the ICMS (Individualan Church My Synod) but, sadly I have to agree that is what is happening. With a number of churchs (people) unbelieving in the Bible as a whole, or even in part it saddens me to think the most credible source of spirituality ever is passed off as a good story. The rise of the individual is the only curse passed on by the greatest generation, they sacrificed their present for their children's future and most likely doomed them to the failure afforded those who are untried by fire. Steel is forged by fire, otherwise it is just iron. Man untried by adversity is just a boy. If we continue to protect our young and make excuses for them they will be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Adam was given everything he needed and yet he squandered it away for the one thing he was denied. We are all like Adam in this way. sooner or later the Lord will test us all, and the better prepared we are for it the more likely we will pass through, not unscathed, but better for it, with steel like faith, not like the faith of crumbled feet of clay.

Anonymous said...

The last words of Christ before his
Ascension, "Go and make disciples"
and the church has ignored them.

To make disciples involves a dynamic
ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Pastors must be actively teaching
the Word and building people up in
their Christian faith. Adult Bible
classes are more than showing videos.
they must be in-depth study of God's
Word.A weekly Eucharist is essential.

Anonymous said...

In our current American culture there
is an erosion of belief in the one
true and triune God and traditional

As a result generic spirituality has
grown and can be seen in the popular
non-denominational parish which
lacks a confessional and creedal
foundation. Faith in Christ has been
replaced by "self-help" and self-
centered emphasis.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Perhaps the first step is for Pastors of all persuasions to no longer pay any attention to the surveys and musings of one Mr. George Barna. If Pastors have fallen to the allure of numbers and pandering to the lowest demominator it is in part because Barna has pointed them in that direction.

Anonymous said...

I believe you can use a funeral to define what is the focal point in any church. Is the focus on Christ or the person who has died? Is the eulogy part of the worship service or at the lunch after the service, where it belongs? This is a major indicator, in my opinion. Whether we are dead or alive, Christ should always be front and centre of all divine worship.