Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Conversation about Church and Culture

Person A: Links to Popular chicken chain under fire for anti-gay marriage donations and comments:

So wait, it is okay for companies to donate toward gay marriage causes and we never get a news article about that, or toward abortioin, or toward...etc... but when one that has a stated policy of Christian values donates toward groups that oppose gay marriage it is headline worthy? Yeah, there is no bias in media at all (said sarcastically under his breath)

I reply:
We can expect more and more of these sorts of headlines as our nation increasingly becomes disengaged from its deistic/theistic moorings. The media may be biased, but they can't be entirely blamed for the situation. The values that Evangelicals hold are indeed becoming more and more suspect, and it in many cases it is ex-Christians who are the skeptics. See this article , "The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church" in Christianity Today: "Imagine a group photo of all the students who come to your church (or live within your community of believers) in a typical year. Take a big fat marker and cross out three out of every four faces. That's the probable toll of spiritual disengagement as students navigate through their faith during the next two decades....What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith."

So the media's ignorance and prejudice is in a large part a reflection of the religious illiteracy, misinformation and bias of the general public. For example, read some of the comments to this story "Tenessee Pastor: Marriage needed for Church Baptism." Those commentators are not the media. They are our neighbors, family, coworkers. Some of them still understand the Christian faith. But many of them don't, having swallowed the lies of modernist autonomy and postmodern relativism. So what do we do? All too often just serve more pizza at Superbowl lock-ins, play more frisbee, and sing more praise songs.
Person A responds:

I agree with you Beth, but can I ask you what you suggest as some good solutions to start moving the minds and hearts toward bibilical morals and toward actaully caring and recognize when they see the values shifting.
I reply:

Of course, we will be praying for God to lead us and to soften the hearts and minds of those around us! But here are some other proposals:

Proposal #1: We may need to allow the Lord to winnow His church, the same way he winnowed Gideon's t...roops in Judges 7. Those who are merely "cultural" Christians will need to drop out, and leave only those who are truly committed. That will be a huge blow to the pride and pocketbook of many evangelical churches, but maybe it is the only way to get a good foundation.

Often this sort of winnowing occurs under persecution. We need to start preparing for it: preaching and teaching about the kind of persons God wants us to be, and recalling stories of the saints who have gone before us. So proposal #2: regain a sense of history--reclaim our historical narrative, and don't end the story just with Acts. This will require Protestants to stop the internecine wars with Catholics and other Protestants. (Matt. 12:25) In facing hostile worldviews such as naturalism, we do not have the "privilege" of wasting our energy fighting among ourselves.

Another clue from church history: proposal #3: we might wish to imitate the religious orders that arose in the middle ages--the Franciscans and the
Dominicans. The Franciscans were originally the "right brained" folks , whose ministry emphasized the creative and intuitive aspects of Christian life. The Dominicans were the "Domini Canes"--the hounds of the Lord, engaging in left brain apologetics and running schools. Perhaps it is time we admit that the Gospel might deserve more than just "inductive study" that turns into a values clarification session.

I grew up Southern Baptist. After making my decision for Christ in 1966, I asked my mom how I could learn more about our faith, because Sunday school just wasn't doing it. (When I asked my SS teacher how the Southern Baptists came to be--a question of church history--he sputtered, " Well, from John the Baptist, of course!")

It's this sort of thing that breeds skepticism, no matter what age you are. So proposal #4: we need to offer catechism classes for our kids...teaching BOTH the Bible stories and the THEOLOGY that they embody. Of course, that will mean forcing parents to place their kid's religious instruction participation in sports or other extracurricular activities. Not many parents will do it, but Jesus didn't say all the seeds would land on good ground.

Finally, proposal #5 comes in part from the Pietist heritage of the denomination to which I now belong. We need to offer catechism classes and/or conventicles for adults. Just "making a decision" for Christ isn't going to cut it if the soil isn't regularly watered and fertilized. If we can get adults to commit to Christ and to one another in these small groups, we will break down the temptations toward modernist "autonomy" and strengthen the experience of "participation," which is foundational for a premodern worldview/hermeneutic.

I have no illusions: these groups will be extremely small. Most people will get distracted by the things of this world...but those who don't will be in a position to change that world, through the work of the Spirit in their lives. What would you add or change?

1 comment:

Catawissa Gazetteer said...

Being Catholic myself, what with all our problems of late and in history, I realize that this is calling the kettle black, but here goes:

It is precisely the lack of catechesis and historical reference that is causing the problem. Further, I put a good deal of the blame for this at the feet of the two foundational principles of the Reformation; Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. For not only have these doctrines affected Protestant theology (obviously) but, at least here in America, they've bled over into the Catholic Church, too.

The Bible divorced from the Church and Tradition is but a book without context. It was written, at least the New Testament, by the Church and the canon as a whole was approved and assembled by the Church. It needs to be understood inside the context of the body that created it, both historically and theologically.

Both of these Reformation doctrines serve to divorce the believer from not only his temporal community but from his historical one as well. Belief becomes more about feelings and less about fact. All of salvation focuses on the individual, his understanding and actions, apart from the Body of Christ. Being cast alone into the storm leaves him vulnerable to the winds that blow around him, winds which are all too easy to follow.

In many ways it reminds me of the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, the individual standing against the world, his own self interest as his only ethical guidepost. I think this is why the myth of rugged individualism and self interested capitalism have taken hold with such deep roots in our Protestant country.

These same ideas of freedom to choose regarding religious belief have taken hold in the Catholic Church. There is little respect for Church teachings, contraception coming immediately to mind. And once the members of the faith decide they are free to ignore one moral precept the door swings wide to denial of them all, based not on any more authority than personal belief, in many cases twisting the words of scripture to twist the truth, using personal understanding divorced from Tradition.

And this is precisely what occurred directly after the Reformation as Luther denied truth after truth, even changing his mind repeatedly on certain issues to satisfy his needs or the needs of the political powers that backed him.

Of course, as I said, this is like calling the kettle black because we've had enough Popes, Cardinals and Bishops turn their back on the teachings of the Church to make my head swim. And we've always had the same chaotic and destructive results. This is happening today all around the world but particularly here in America.

As Christians living in these times we need to find our common ground and work together against the enemy because he's about to show himself, I fear. And all this lack of faith, education, sense of purpose and resolve plays right into his hands. We need to understand where we've been to honestly confront the real danger we face.