In many places in the west there is evidence of decline in church attendance and affiliation with the church hugely divided into what often appears as rival institutions that have arisen in previous times because of doctrinal and political conflicts. The churches of Europe and Middle East are already divided when various missionaries went to the Americas and Pacific islands. and took their rival missions and doctrines with them. We can also cannot close our eyes to what that rivalry has done to the church and how people are also enslaved.
Teilhard de Chardin rather optimistically saw the Church as an extension of Christ and “Christogenesis” in the world, transforming the world and as new Phylum of human life, a new ordering and type of humanity. But as we see this has been and so often is not the case. We are still in our rival institutional churches and many elements still unable to be in accord with love across our boundaries. Still very bad is that churches may still align themselves with secular party politics and nationalisms.
If the Church is to be a presence of Christ, a new way of being human, much needs to be done to overcome the separating and conflicting tendencies of past history and be the means of unification and character transformation, so give surrounding society a better way of being human and being image of God (who is Trinity = communal love). Too much of the Church is still the old tribal and sinful humanity not yet matured.
I agree that rival attitudes between churches are not good. I believe there is a possibility to change this kind of attitudes towards a better direction. That demands that we change our attitudes. If we change, that may change the attitudes of others around us.
Some words about our future if nothing changes:
In the secular west, my understanding is that there is an ongoing polarization of interpretations and opinions both within Christianity and within many societies. Among Christians, the ‘liberal’ side stresses ‘love’ as the key for decisions - we should show our love towards others by accepting all as they are. The ‘conservative’ line stresses more faith and scriptures as the guideline churches and individuals should follow.
The majority will follow the tracks of the ‘liberal’ side because those ideas fit well to the prevailing attitudes in the surrounding societies.
When the society and churches become more polarized, fences between different denominations and churches start to erode. ‘Liberals’ may accept each other because we should accept all as they are. The other side, ‘conservatives’, may feel closer ties to conservatives in the other denominations than to liberals within their own denomination. Especially if the conservatives have to face some form of persecution (even a mild form), that tends to draw similarly thinking believers together across denominational borders. Coming closer does not necessarily mean that people abandon the key doctrines they have supported or their denominations but they are more willing to think and show that we are all followers of Jesus, brothers and sisters, no matter in which church we are.
Persecutions seem to increase globally. Some form of persecution is at the same time good and bad. Bad in the sense that persecuting others is evil and suffering caused by it is really bad. Good in the sense that it forces people to choose who they will follow. Do you want to follow Jesus even if you have to pay a hard price for being a believer?
Believers who are persecuted tend to set aside minor issues and focus on the core issues. That is why they also tend to show love towards others in a more pure form. That is a strong witness to the outsiders and may lead to increasing numbers of believers in the middle of persecutions.
This is just one scenario that may happen. Much depends on what God does. If we get a major awakening in a region, that may change the direction of the current trend in that area.
Obviously ecumenicalism is the hope for the future. Dogmatism and elitism have long been the dividing factors. The moment we start classifying ideas as liberal or any counterpart we are driving wedges between beliefs. Faith must be personal and it is unreasonable to expect all to agree, even to one or two specific doctrines. Tolerance is not liberalism. Truth is not as specific as many would have it. Something can be true without it encompassing all else.
The future of the church is to accept that each denomination provides a path that some can align themselves to without making it a competition. As I understand it the Pope’s definition of ecumenism is to make all faith part of the Catholic umbrella, but as that would involve all submitting to his authority it will never be.
I am not a Roman-catholic or an eastern orthodox but consider myself to be catholic in the sense that the word was used during the time of the early church fathers. At that time, the word ‘catholic’ was used in an inclusive sense, including all local churches that accepted apostolic teachings (by all the apostles) and also the commonly accepted scriptures, the Hebrew Bible and the apostolic writings. The word ‘catholic’ in the early creeds follows this definition of the word.
Nowadays, ‘catholic’ is used in an exclusive sense. You have to belong to a local church that accepts the commands of the leader (bishop of Rome), otherwise you are not ‘catholic’. This change in the use of the word is sad.
I hope we are moving closer to the situation that prevailed during the early church, when the word ‘catholic’ was used in an inclusive sense. It does not matter if we use another word (‘Christian’, ‘believers’, or something similar), as long as the idea remains.
Unfortunately, divisions are not a new invention. Paul had to rebuke Corinthians because of the divisions in their church, and it is told that Constantine, after making Christianity legal, was surprised about how quarreling people the Christians were. The fights between Christians about dogmas left sometimes bodies behind, and these fights were between Christians that had experienced persecutions. Not quite what Jesus spoke about love among his followers.
Catholic, with a capital C. The creed talks about the catholic and Apostolic church in the more generalised sense. “One church, one faith, one Lord” as the hymn writer puts it. And that is what true ecumenism is.
However, One Faith can encompass a myriad of individual variations.
No, catholic with a lower case “c” means “universal.” (We speak of the “catholic” epistles, and “one holy catholic apostolic church” in the Nicene Creed (much reviled on this site).
On the other hand, “Catholic” with a capital “c” is shorthand for “Roman Catholic.”
Indeed. I do think the Christian church has tarnished their image by aligning themselves with political movements and leaders that are antithetical to Christian teachings.
I do think the church has lost its moral high ground in modern society, but Christianity is more than just morals. Church affiliation differs greatly across Europe, and it’s hard to tell what future the church has in the US. There is a downward trend right now, but who’s to say what happens in the future. One thing I am proud of is that there is still very strong support for religious freedoms in the US.
By quoting Teilhard de Chardin, you got my attention. I think what he envisioned is already happening. It is just much bigger than what we have historically considered “the church.” The very definition of it needs to be revisited. There is a church as an institution that exists to promote and preserve Christian tradition. Then there is the work the Spirit is doing on earth which includes but is not limited to the institution. When you look outside the confines of the churchianity, there is a lot of vitality emerging especially among the “nones”. They are re-defining what means following Christ and has little or nothing to do with church attendance. Following the lead of Teilhard “Mass of the world” they are finding new forms of spirituality embedded in the dirt of nature.
But I don’t think all the denominations will ever harmonize. The doctrines are just too different. Even if someone widely accepts other denominations as being close enough to that they think salvation is, and accepts them as Christians, there will still be a desire to “correct” them.
I think additionally people in general are trying to stiff arm organized religion and avoid being committed to a local congregation. There is a lot of lone wolf minded Christians rarely read the Bible even though they talk about it often and who goes months or even years without going to a service, let alone going consistently for even a month. So they are just barely in the Christian life in person, but spends a lot of time online in forums, discords and groups. They develop strong opinions and tribal mentality as well and use it to further justify not finding a good enough church.
Yes, I have discussed with some of these, online in forums where they have been very active. Most tell that they belong to the ‘universal church of Christ’ and that all denominations and local churches are simply wrong because they cause divisions in the body of Christ. “God does not live in buildings made by men so those having church buildings are not serving God”-type comments are usual. The biblical (theological) understanding they have is very shallow but citing Bible or common sense does not seem to affect their opinions.
A completely different but related matter is that being active online takes time. That time could be used to something else, for example praying and reading Bible. No problems if you can include both in your day but neglecting more important matters because of online activity is not productive.
In my two books To Know with Certainty and The Battle We Must Not lose the topic of the American Christian church decreasing in size and influence was front and center. The data I collected from reliable research sources pointed to a American Christian Church that by 2039 will be in a minority position to a group that would include the non committants cited in an earlier post. My analysis is that the decrease in the institutional church and the spirit led church is due to one reason-lack of belief and that includes lack of belief among “Born Agains” and people sitting in the pews. People don’t embrace and engage in things they do not believe in. Doubts have not been resolved because parents and the church do not address the doubt issue in their children. An alarming statistic cited in The Battle book is that 60% of Christian students entering suxth grade will not graduate high school with an active Christian faith.That translates into adults. I was attarcted to Bio Logos because it addresses the issue of science and faith and shows that science is not anti-God as so much of the church believes but provides explanations as to how God created. It is a shame these sixth graders will not receive this type of education either at church or in the home to alleviate their doubts in this area. One of the reasons teens cite for leaving the church is that the church was anti-science or the views of the church did not mesh with science. Shame on the church for allowing that to happen. Thanks to you all for engaging in these issues.
Thank you for your contributions. Just read your bio on Amazon, and ordered one of your books. Interesting career!
I think you are right on regarding the church and science conflict and its effect on young people’s belief, although it is just one factor (though major) or many. I think people need to see the church as relevant to life if they are going to engage, and the more detached the church is from the realities of life, the more people will move away. The attraction for its entertainment value with slick and exciting worship sets and charismatic preaching may get them in the door, but will not nurture and help them become part of the body of Christ.
Youth today are more interested in justice issues, creation care, and how the church impacts life here and now than how we will be swept up into a new creation and leave this all behind. I think N.T. Wright’s expression of how we are now part of and living in the new creation would carry weight with the youth of today…
What happens in US is partly a similar trend that happens elsewhere and partly ‘US specialities’. I do not know if a similar kind of extreme division among believers including a strong difference in the attitudes against science have happened elsewhere. At least here in northern Europe, the minor waves we have are reflection of what happens in the US, through the material that especially the ‘right-wing’ conservatives are pouring from US to other countries.
We have discussed here the potential reasons for why the US seems to be such a special case.
One possible reason is the political system that tends to divide the nation to two parties. That is very different than the situation in countries that have many political parties.
Another possible reason we have discussed is that much of US heritage comes from Calvinist understanding of Christianity. The attitudes stemming from a Calvinist interpretation of Christianity seems to be associated with a different kind of attitude to social questions and society than what can be seen in countries with Lutheran heritage. It may affect the situation or not, I do not know.
There has probably also always been an adequate supply of fuel for that fire. It doesn’t take too many self-identified intellectuals who may indeed look disdainfully down their noses at the “plain man”; which then gives that stereotype all the fuel it needs (even if 90%+ of intellectuals everywhere were mostly pretty decent and humble folks themselves). Our stereotypes can even manage to thrive on starvation diets when needed.
Cannot speak for Europe but the loss of Christianity there seems to have been some time ago. Do not know thge reason but we seem to be following suit. You may be right about the Calvinist influence but the church needs to show that the basic doctrines of theolgy are not threatend if the evidences for creation and the origin of man are taught to our youth and congregant. As I said in my other piece, from science we learn so much more about our creator and gain confidence.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
[Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)]
Evidence for the faith builds confidence and assurance about the hope we have in our faith. That hope is eternal life with Jesus.
Evidence has been provided by God showing a connection between who provides the evidence and who meets the hope. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”[Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)]
Evidence for the faith builds confidence and assurance about the hope we have in our faith. That hope is eternal life with Jesus.
The evidence has been provided by God showing a connection between who provides the evidence and who meets the hope.
I definitely think that is a major part of it. Each generation accepts more science. So when a system clings to a tradition that tries to prove anti scientific realities it just will drive them away. But I think that’s just part of it as others have mentioned. I think another major one is a false since of righteousness. The same
Groups that ignore the truths of evolution are also the same ones that typically stop verses like “ appearance of evil “ for someone who dyes their hair unnatural colors, or listens to something other than country and gospel, or get tattoos and so on. They even like to find demons in things like Pokémon, yoga and I’ve seen veganism attacked as being satanic lol. This also drives people away.
But just as much as those things is the issue of carrying out the great commission. The bulk of people’s salvation can often be described as this.
They were raised by a family that hardly went to church. They went sometimes. One of those times, they heard a hellfire preaching about those left behind from the rapture. Filled with fear and guilt, they are comforted by the pastors sudden change to soft spoken, loving voice saying everyone close your eyes and all you have to do is raise your hair and follow after me in this prayer “ and so with the piano quietly filling the background they mouth the words along with a handful of others. Then, they just leave, come back a few times, then moss a few and come back, and once the emotional roller coaster levels out they go back to never going again really. They don’t read the Bible. They don’t go to church. They sometimes pray.
So many right now are afraid to approach a stranger and start up a conversation with them and at some point just simply bring up being a Christian and ask if they would like to go to a Bible study or church. Worse, it’s even often demonized by other Christians as a bad evangelical approach. More and more spend most of their time online. They don’t go outside. They don’t go to clubs and local events and so on. Kids nowadays play games online with friends that go to their school for years and may have just talked in person about once.
I think more Christians need to be comfortable , or at least willing, to not being ashamed of their faith and sharing it with complete strangers. I still meet Christians who have been Christians for decades and they will be honest and open up that they’ve never approached a stranger and asked them if there was anything they could pray with them about. There has been several times where I’ve seen someone that is mad, throwing stuff, or talking angrily to themselves, or crying, and just approach them, ask them , “ what do they need help with “ and about 1/3rd of the time they will just vent. Sometimes it’s a physical need. Like embarrassment over not having money to buy groceries, so depending on how much it is I’ll help. Lots of times I’ll get their number and see if they want to come over for dinner. I’ll tell them me and others meet up fairly often at our houses and have a dinner and movie night together. It’s not hard to just reach out but so many don’t.