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Response to Online Presentation and Archive Link: Tradition without Empathy, Contemporary without Foundation

Yesterday I presented at an online conference.  My topic was “Can Christianity Survive the Internet.”  Or, otherwise titled, ‘The Death of Christianity.”

I will at some point obtain a simple mp3 of the presentation but in the meantime if you want to listen and observe the chat conversation you may listen via the archive link.

This morning I woke up to a follow up question.  I thought I would answer it on my blog.  Here was the question:

I often see two groups of people.

One is are involved in a tradition rich church with head knowledge of rules and dogma. In reality for them, God is not often real in their lives and their rules without empathy or transparency drives people away.

The second could be explained as people involved in a newly created, often emotion driven church, with little foundation or knowledge of how firm the foundation of the bible and the church is. When real questions come up, they topple.

Both are in danger of propagating a fragile view of Christianity to people they know and more importantly, their children.

How can the churches out there tackle these problems effectively.

I think both of these perceptions are valid.  I have met Christian-turned-unbelievers from both categories in abundance.

How can the Church counteract these two extremes?  Lord if I know!  The problem for each is that they are utterly convinced in their own minds that their perspective is correct.   Worse, proponents have another harmful attitude where they would prefer utter isolation to change and adaptation.  I have met proponents in both camps- in this case, especially the traditionalist camp- who would go so far as to say that if their congregation shrinks, even to nothing, that is better then ‘compromise.’  In fact, it is not uncommon to hear them say that if their congregation atrophies, this is a sign that they are doing something right.  And the surest sign that a church is compromising with the truth:  if it is growing.  This is not hypothetical.  I can think of numerous instances.

(The meteoric rise of the Christian church in the book of Acts is apparently exempted from this reasoning)

So, I see your question touching on my first recommendation which was “Recognize there is a problem.”  Proponents in both camps recognize there is a problem, all right:  It’s with everyone else.

It should be evident what I think of these attitudes. This is one reason why I included as a recommendation that “Recognize we have no right to the status quo.”  There is nothing in the NT giving us any assurance that we are entitled to having church buildings the size of three football fields or facilities decked out with stain glass window and an expensive organ.   If all this was stripped away, we would still be obligated to evangelize to this generation.  Unfortunately, we are often creating the very people that need to be evangelized to, raising up weak Christians who promptly fall away in the face of a blistering secularist onslaught.  (See this article documenting my view that the Church is creating atheists).

If the megachurch facility or the historic liturgy has any eternal value at all, it is in their capacity to promote the Gospel of Christ, strengthen current believers, and bear clear witness to nonbelievers.   None of these elements should be done at the expense of the others.  Proponents of the perspective you mention believe they fulfill all of these categories.  I think the statistics prove otherwise, but beyond that, the witness to nonbelievers is anything but clear in most instances.

Consider the liturgy pre-Vatican 2 which was done in Latin no matter where the services were held.  No clearer example exists of holding on to something that was useless in evangelizing the nonChristian.  Its use in edifying the Christian was limited mainly to a small few.  In a word, the whole approach required nonChristians to learn about God in Christ on the traditionalist’s terms.   This is the problem in the two perspectives you mentioned writ large.  They each offer to minister to the world on their own terms whereas the NT never indicates that we would ever even have that option, let alone come to feel like we are entitlted to it.

This isn’t to say that the nonChristian gets to have it all their own way, setting the terms of the engagement all on their own, to which we must unquestioningly submit to.  That would be another extreme.

The upshot of it is that I personally have little hope that churches in these two groups are going to change their outlook.   If you find yourself in such a congregation or talking to a proponent of such a view the best you can do is try to tackle their arguments head on.   Depending on the congregation, they’re as likely as not to simply excommunicate you, but at least you’ve done your part.

In my view, things are going to have to get much worse before the evidence is so utterly self-evident that even these folks are persuaded.  One almost finds themselves pining for the days when Christians roamed the countryside, fleeing from house to house- and managing to convert thousands in the process.

One tempers that against the constant tortures and mutilations that accompanied it… so I guess in the final analysis it would be better if the Church at large today recognized the current situation and their Biblical obligation to own up to its responsibility in creating it and its responsibility to address it head on, making the necessary adjustments.

In conclusion, apart from making a stink wherever you can in hopes of forming a critical mass of individuals keen on taking the bull by the horns, there isn’t much you can do.  Even if we succeed in creating such a critical mass, the proponents of the views you mentioned won’t be joining us.  It is a simple thing in America to move down the street and build a new church building.  Regardless, we need that critical mass if we want to transform the Church.

In the meantime, you may want to try to fend off the damages within your own sphere of influence.  If the statistics are accurate, there are people in your midst in their late teens and early twenties who are on their way out of the church.  They’ll never say a word.  They won’t tell you.  They won’t give you their reasons.  If you heard their reasons, they might not even be very good reasons.  Nonetheless, off they go.  Find them, befriend them, and in time, by prayer, persuasion, and relationship, you might bring them back.

Remember the story of the starfish.

Thanks for your question!  Sorry for the cynical answer!

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