I have blogged about this matter in the past but only very briefly in passing. After many months of self-reflection and getting resettled, I now have more time to reflect upon my journey and share with readers here (and anyone else who may be interested).
Since November of 2011, I have made a journey that has brought my family and I to a new denomination, and to another province. As some of my old readers may know, I began serving as an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. My family and I decided to leave the Lutheran church for various reasons–partly for family and ecclesiological reasons. The ELCIC denomination (Canadian equivalent to the ELCA) in which I was a part of had made big changes in the summer of 2011 in the way it treated marriage between two people of the same gender. I believe its interpretation of Scripture had gone awry and I know that this goes against the popular beliefs in society today. The atmosphere in this denomination made it very difficult for pastors to speak their mind (despite what they may say). After some time praying and reflecting upon this, as a family we decided that it was better just to leave rather than remain within the system. The theological currents within the ELCIC was too powerful, especially in its leadership level, so I was under no deception about this.
Despite these huge changes, many of my former fellow colleagues in ministry chose to remain in the same denomination (since they are mostly life-long Lutherans). I know how hard it is to leave a denomination they have known all their lives. It takes a lot of courage, perhaps too pressure to stand alone for most. [but to my Lutheran colleagues and brothers and sisters who choose to remain, I pray for them God’s richest blessings. ]
For me, it was a much easier decision to leave because I was already very familiar with the evangelical church. I had grown up a classical pentecostal assembly (PAOC) in Vancouver, and was baptized by immersion in a Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) Church in Ottawa in my early 20s, and had fellowshiped in evangelical churches most of my life. (…yes, I’ve been on a theological-ecclesiological journey.) So to return to the evangelical fold was no problem at all. Our family packed up our belongings and moved from the prairie towns to the Greater Toronto Area in eastern Canada. We finally feel more settled now. We’re recently in the middle of a transition, but overall, this move has been a spiritual pilgrimage back to our evangelical roots. In looking back I think this pilgrimage has also stretched me in ways to become a better pastor. I have recently served as a pastor in a Baptist Church (CBOQ).
Baptists had a very important role in the formation of the idea of a “wall of separation between church and state”. Thomas Jefferson made this phrase famous, and in part, it was due to the influence from the Baptists. Jefferson had written two letters. The first of the two letters was addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1802, in which he mentioned this concept of a “wall of separation between church and state”. This letter was written in response to alleviate concerns that Baptists may have had about any creation of an official State Church. Baptists were not anti-religion (as some secularists may prefer to portray). Baptist believers loved religion and their Christian faith. What they abhorred was one official state religion, for fear that the State’s politics would interfere with the church’s affairs and cause corruption.
Today, some misinterpret the phrase “wall of separation” to mean that we are to keep all religious involvement outside of the public square for fear it might be perceived as it being sanctioned or approved by the state (example). However, this was not what Jefferson had intended; what he had intended was exactly the reverse. This revolutionary concept of having a “wall of separation” between church and state was made in response to the State’s intrusion upon the church’s right to determine its own affairs. It had over-stepped its bounds, as proven in the Crowns persecution of Baptist and Quaker believers. The one and only intent for this conceptual wall was to keep the government’s hands completely off how churches and what Christians believed and live out their faith.
After stating all of this, I would also opine that the State does have place to maintain religious liberties and freedoms for its people. Today, our courts have done a disservice by deconstructing the precedent of an accommodationist approach historically established by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the framers. The separationist approach will completely distance any concepts of religion from the public square; whereas, the accommodationist approach will not prohibit or inhibit religious ideas and speech from flowing freely in the public square (e.g., public prayer, reading of scripture, etc.). Personally, I prefer the accommodationist approach over the separationist approach. Keeping religion actively flowing freely in the public square creates a healthy religious atmosphere in society, which I feel would still be a good thing for today’s seemingly over-secularized western society.
In some churches, 50% of those in attendance might not be official members of the church. In some evangelical mega-churches, and in many cases in large church, there are many attendees who are not members. What could this mean? …that some go church-hopping and never become an official member of that church? …that there’s a lot of seekers in attendance?… or that the pastors do not stress on the importance of membership.
In some other churches (e.g., mainline churches (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, etc.; and even the Southern Baptist Convention), it’s quite the opposite. The church membership roster might be twice or 3x greater than the actual attendance. What could this mean? that people have just stopped coming to church, period? Or that they switched to different churches or denominations? Or that they stopped coming to church the day after they got baptized or became a member?
In either case, church membership doesn’t seem very important to more and more people today, especially to the Millennial generation. Why isn’t it important anymore?
Grace and peace to readers of the New Epistles blog. It’s been a while since my last blog post. In this month of November, our family has been undergoing a big life-change. We have moved to new place (Brampton, Ontario located in the Greater Toronto Area). This change was stressful at first but we are getting used to it. There are different things to deal with: new environment, new home, planning on a new school for our daughter, new church, new working relationships, etc. We have been finding ways to cope with the new changes of living in a new place and getting to know new faces and names. Such life changes are never easy so I have empathy for anyone who has gone through this.
The reason for our move is that I’ve taken on a new call in a new congregation and denomination. I’ve moved from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. This means some different ways to “doing” church. At the outset, it may also seem like different ways of “thinking” church, but for me personally, it won’t be that different since my spirituality is rooted in evangelicalism. There will be some things I will definitely miss (e.g., Apostles’ Creed, church seasons, etc.).
On a sub-note, we will be recognizing the start of Advent with the lighting of the advent candles this coming Sunday (which I learned was a recent tradition that was started in this congregation about four years ago). It may even be addressed by someone one of these Sundays during our childrens’ talk (if not by myself). This Sunday, I will be preaching on Isaiah 64:1-9 and will be titled: “We are the work of God’s Hands”. I hope to challenge my congregation to think of God’s work in our lives as a vital necessity in our spiritual lives.
The theological language between the two churches may be a little different but through my years worshiping and growing in the Lutheran Church and evangelical churches, I feel that I’ve have been stretched. My wide exposure and experience have challenged me to use theological-speak without losing the crux of the theological idea. I have found that being trained in various ecclesiologies and theologies has broadened my scope of ministry methods. It has enabled me to become more versatile in ministry, leadership, and in communicating the gospel, and sometimes, find myself searching for different ways to bridge the gap of understanding.
I am sure there are many other Christians who have traveled between various denominations. There differences may seem big at first, but as one becomes accustomed to the differences, they seem to shrink as time goes by.
Anyone else out there who has, or is, going through similar life-changes?
… a series of posts onpolitics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry
It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics that is being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in church life. Take a look at the life of the established (or rather, de-establishing) mainline churches. The United Church and Anglican Church have been the fastest dying churches in Canada for years. The Lutheran Church is also headed in a similar direction today. The United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA), amongst others, are also quickly emptying out in America (see 2011 Yearbook). Today, there is a feeling of desperation—a desperation to find a last gasp of air before easing into oblivion [maybe this is an exaggeration, but it’s only to make a point].
Soren Kierkegard, a Lutheran religious philosopher, railed on the wishy-washiness of the spiritual state of cultural Christians and state-run Lutheran church in the 18th century (Attack upon Christendom). Today’s state of Christendom in the northern hemisphere is in a similar state—a state of death and dying. The numbers of young people attending historic mainline, and some mainline evangelical churches, are decreasing each year (Hat Tip: Rev. Tim Keller). The mushy middle within church life today is too comfortable. There is no need to have a clear conviction in one’s personal religious beliefs or any need to live as devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. Many pastors are no longer preaching Law and Gospel. Their faith does not really mean very much to them, and lacks any sense of urgency or intent. If you’ll allow me, I wonder what would happen if our churches were to burn down? Would it upset many Christians who are in the mushy middle? I suspect that it might not affect many in “Christendom” This explains today’s closures of our mainline congregations.
As a result, generations of children of unchurched families rarely ever darken church doors (except for the occasional wedding, funeral, confirmation, and infant baptism). Spirituality in their eyes is privatized and is not lived out in fellowship/communion with other Christian believers. Today, as a result of generations living the mushy middle life of “church-ianity”, people have either become atheists/agnostic, or living like as if they were one. This is why there is an increasing number of people who are declaring themselves as ‘non-religious’, ‘agnostic’, or ‘atheist’. The alternative, which is increasingly more popular today, is that they are rejecting the wishy-washy ways of their parent’s past life, and are seeking to live a more devoted Christian life, and are attending church more often and regularly. This explains the growth of evangelical churches.
Here’s my point. The mushy middle in church life seems to be in the process of being weeded out. People who do want a new way of living in spiritual/faith community will find it. They want to be a part of a spiritual Christian community in which they are challenged to live as devoted disciples, othewise, they may choose to have no part of the church at all. Wishy-washiness should no longer be tolerated. It’s time to say bye bye to the mushy middle attitude.
Throughout my seminary career, I’ve heard professors being openly critical of other churches, especially those that practice different methodologies in ministry. Both mainstream evangelical and confessional mainline churches are continually criticizing one another’s methodologies, and even, critiquing one another’s motives in ministry. I have had a foot in both camps for a while now so I can totally understand where the two are coming from, and also feel torn between the two.
In our mainline confessional churches (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic), we seek to maintain the confessions of the historic church in order to preserve the truths. This explains why the growth in or historic confessional churches tend to be stagnant. However, the upside is that historic positions of the Christian church are maintained and preserved.
In our evangelical churches, we are constantly trying to change in order to be missional. This explains why our growing evangelical/charismatic churches tend to re-invent ourselves all the time (e.g., new forms of worship). The upside is that there is growth in evangelical churches (especially worldwide Pentecostalism and charismatic churches).
On the missional church, Craig van Gelder describes the church as: always forming (missional), and always reforming (confessional).
He says that in this polarity lies a healthy and dynamic tension between change and continuity, and between mission and confession. This forces us to be challenged by a need to recontexualize a congregation’s ministry while maintaining the truths of the historic Christian faith.
Can there be a “Third Way”? I have come to position that in order to survive and even thrive as a Church, the ministry of the Church must begin to practice what I call the “Third Way”. In my pastoral ministry, I have been trying to implement and meld some of the accepted methodologies of mainstream evangelical and historic confessional churches because that is the only way to be dynamic and growing, while maintaining the established Christian truths. I believe that we need to be challenged by one another. Those who do not submit to learning one another’s differences will never understand the advantages of the other methodologies of ministry. I do hope that we can all, one day, come to a more common understanding of ministry.
Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church Author: John H. Armstrong Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010 ISBN: 9780310321149
First, I wish to thank the good people at Zondervan for sending me this book to review. This book is likely the challenging book I’ve read this year. It is a book on the unity of the church. This book managed to touch on many issues that I have thought about over the years but needed to reflect more deeply about. Thanks John.
John Armstrong, was a church planter adjuncts at Wheaton College Graduate School, and is founder and president of ACT 3, a ministry for equipping leaders for Christ’s mission. In ch. 2, Armstrong explains his personal journey into catholicity, beginning with his three conversions, of which I can totally relate with. He also relates the unity of the church as being vital to God’s mission. For Armstrong, to best serve Christ’s mission, Christian believers must minister out of spiritual unity and be rooted in core orthodoxy. This is profound for many evangelicals but it is true. Much of our contemporary evangelical churches have rejected tradition and anything remotely related to tradition. We tend to view anything old and archaic as a hindrance to the growth of God’s mission in the church. However, there is a growing trend in new evangelicals of a wind of change. As in Armstrong,I also used to think of Christian tradition as something as old, archaic, and useless; but today, I have come to love tradition. I believe it has a valuable part to play in the modern-day church of today. Armstrong teaches us that we need to embrace tradition if we are to move forward as a church in Christ’s mission.
Why the title?: “Your Church is Too Small? Armstrong says that our contemporary churches have settled for a small view of the church—divided and fractured—and it has spread like a pandemic across the world. His thesis is that a “small” view of the church harms the mission of Christ because it spreads the seeds of sectarianism and forces us to choose our enemies and friends based on whether or not we are in complete doctrinal agreement. We need a larger view of the church. Armstrong says: “When core orthodoxy, as represented by the Apostles’ Creed, is not of primary importance, the result will always be a small view of the church” and will be driven by personalities.
Even though I agree with this, it causes me to ask the question if denominationalism is the enemy here. Can we have denominationalism without sectarianism? I think the author gives an affirmative answer. He does believe that diversity is a good thing. Relational unity is something that many post-modern evangelicals, including myself, can support. What is relational unity? It is a unity between persons that are rooted in their relationships with one another. This kind of unity is both spiritual and visible. A visible unity is not necessarily a structurally united church, but it is one that is united in spirit without an organic union. It is not unanimity, uniformity, nor union. I like Armstrong’s statement: “This Christ-centered unity is not found in man-made structures or efforts to achieve oneness. It is the fruit of our nearness to Christ and is modeled on the unity that Christ experienced with the Father. It is a relational unity, experienced and revealed through shared mission.” (p.64). The 20th century ecumenical movement failed because it tried to force an agenda based on theological unity, and was even politically fuelled by socialist and liberationist ideologies, says Armstrong. There was also an absence of evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Relational unity does not try to unite the church based on theology but on mission.
In coming from an evangelical Reformed background, Armstrong understands that evangelicals tend to be “satisfied with informal person-to-person expressions of oneness. Because they tend to view the church as a voluntary association, they see no need to seek unity with other churches.” I think he is right. Ch. 11 talks briefly about this new ecumenism. If the future ecumenical movement is to be based on ideology, it will fail again. The CCT-USA, which includes Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Evangelicals and Orthodox churches, is the start of a new movement that can give our ecumenical discussions a fresh start. The World Evangelical Alliance, which gives evangelicals an identity for over 420 million evangelical Christians, can strengthen the missional thrust of evangelicals. But evangelicals must continue to work with other denominations to further the work of the mission of Christ.
Armstrong does not seem very sympathetic to church splits but I’m a bit more sympathetic. Due to the hardness of our hearts to accept diversity, these movements and church splits were necessary and healthy; but this is my own view and not that of the author. Sometimes, the harder we try to hold onto our own doctrine, the weaker the unity becomes. Our unwillingness to diversify is why we had a Reformation in the 16th century, and the last three great awakenings, and the charismatic movement this century. Throughout history, the Western Church has blamed the Eastern Church; Roman Catholics have blamed the Reformation; the Church of the Reformation has blamed the Mennonites; Evangelicals have blamed Pentecostals and Charismatics. Due to the unwillingness to make room for differing views, I believe that some church splits were inevitable and were even necessary to the health of the church. Today, God can still redeem the church and unite us.
Due to church growth through church-planting, evangelical and pentecostal-charismatic churches remain very much distinct in their diverse denominations. However, I believe that their distinctiveness have been a natural outcome of growth in evangelical and charismatic churches. Armstrong sees the pluriform of denominations as a negative thing because he sees no biblical basis for this way of thinking. Well, it may not be biblical but it might have been what actually happened in the first century church. Church-planting via intentional church splits may have produced some of the largest churches in the world; but the real problem, he says, is that sectarianism creates an attitude of exclusivity. I would agree with him but I think that church-splits are not the real problem. When this happens, it may also be a symptom of a deeper problem—the problem of not allowing a plurality of theological beliefs, as I mentioned earlier.
I am glad to see the author’s support for catholic diversity. He states: “I do not believe we have to give up our theological distinctions to pursue unity. In fact, any pursuit of unity that denies our uniqueness and diversity is not positive…But I believe there is a better way—the pursuit of catholic diversity, a diversity that fosters vitality.” (p. 93). Catholic diversity: I like this term and he does try to flesh this out a little more in ch.10. He describes what it is not by describing what sectarianism is.
The ecumenical movement of the 70s and 80s had died, but with Armstrong’s passionate writing in this area, I have learned that perhaps a new ecumenism is arising. The idea of church unity within young evangelicals might kick-start this. If what Armstrong suggests is true and “the influence of the fiercest forms of separatism seems to have waned in the last two decades in America” and that younger Christians are tired of it (156), then there is possibly a place for this new ecumenism. The author sounds optimistic that this is the case and he would suggest that the answer to our ambivalence regarding this possible new direction is to recover classical Christianity in all of its paleo-orthodox forms and that this recovery of classical Christianity must proceed in the context of missional-ecumenism.
This book has been challenging and I am sure it will be so for all readers. You may get angry and put it down because it can be a bit much for the average evangelical; but if you’re into ecumenism, you will love it and say “amen” to much of what Armstrong has to say. I am sure that most readers will enjoy this book and gain a bigger view of the larger church. Our church has been too small for too long.
This cartoon reflects the current condition of the Church. I hope things can change in the future.
When there’s a lack of communication because of theological-intellectual-spiritual pride or lack of humility, a huge divide becomes even deeper. We need to suck in our pride and talk to one another as equals and try to become friends with one another.
Cartoon is by my favorite cartoonist, Jon Birch, at asbo jesus.
promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.
However, there are different levels of ecumenism. On a basic level, ecumenism tries to overcome barriers to unify congregations through cooperative efforts to increase our understanding of one another’s religious/spiritual beliefs. This is where I’m at. I am all for this type of ecumenism because God calls us to enter into a true spirit of Christian unity.
On a much grand scale, ecumenism tries to unify the ecclesiastical structures of denominations in order to form one official worldwide church with the ultimate goal of achieving a single “organic union”. This type of ecumenism is not true ecumenism; rather, it is dictatorial and can even border on the tyrannical through a forced and artificial structure devoid of a true spirit of unity. My personal feelings toward this is that this oversteps the will of God (e.g., Tower of Babel in Genesis 11).
An inherent weakness or danger in this type of ecumenism is that our preferences for various and beautiful expressions of the Christian faith (e.g., biblical interpretation; worship styles; etc.) can easily be diminished, or even squashed, through a single organic union. Personally, I would much rather prefer to see a multiplicity of theologies and worship styles. This is natural to human nature because each person has different personalities, tastes, and ways of understanding religion and the world. Therefore, I think a multiplicity of Christian denominations, with a heart for true ecumenism, is the most desirable way for a “one holy catholic church”.
In the past, even shortly after the Reformation was kick-started by Luther, the Reformation period wasn’t all that rosy. Followers of Luther’s doctrinal beliefs began to persecute the Anabaptists because they had other ideas of how far the Reformation should go. This persecution in Lutheran lands lasted for many decades, if not centuries. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has made a courageous moved that required some humility. The LWF has offered an official apology of the wrongs on behalf of Lutherans around the world. Here’s the LWI Council Press Release:
GENEVA, 26 October 2009 (LWI) – The Council of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has approved a statement that prepares for a significant action of reconciliation with churches of the Anabaptist family.
With this endorsement, the statement “Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of ‘Anabaptists'” is recommended for adoption at the July 2010 LWF Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany. The statement expresses “deep regret and sorrow” for the legacy of violent persecution of Anabaptists, and especially for the ways in which Lutheran reformers supported this persecution with theological arguments. It asks forgiveness, “from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers,” for these past wrongs and also for the ways in which later Lutherans have forgotten or ignored this persecution and have continued to describe Anabaptists in misleading and damaging ways. Read on…
While reading church history, I remember feeling how Anabaptists must have felt during the time of the Reformation. It was not necessarily a time of wonderful change but also a time of hurt and pain felt by many Anabaptists. An apology is a bold move. Way to go!
Since the consecration of the openly gay Bishop gene Robinson in 2003 and the blessing of same-sex marriages in the Anglican Church in Canada (ACC), there was no turning back. The wedge was set and hammered into the heart of the Anglican Communion across the U.S. and Canada. Now it’s open season.
It is now easier for disenchanted Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism. The new constitution will allow groups of disenchanted Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church while keeping some of its Anglican traditions—even some Anglican liturgy. This openness from Rome will allow the appointment of leaders and bishops to oversee former Anglican churches. It will even allow married Anglican priests to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests, except for bishops. Sorry bishops.
In response, Cardinal George said in a USCCB press release:
“Today the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has received word of the new Provision in the form of an apostolic constitution issued by the Holy See for the reception into full communion with the Catholic Church of groups from the Anglican tradition. The USCCB stands ready to collaborate in the implementation of that Provision in our country.
“This step by the Holy See is in response to a number of requests received in Rome from groups of Anglicans seeking corporate reunion. The application of the new Provision recognizes the desire of some Anglicans (Episcopalians) to live the Catholic faith in full, visible communion with the See of Peter, while at the same time retaining some elements of their traditions of liturgy, spirituality and ecclesial life which are consistent with the Catholic faith. full article…
Is this easy pathway the best for disenchanted Anglicans? It’s an easy way to stick it to the Episcopal Church and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury but is the Roman Catholic Church the only place to turn to for protestants of the liturgical tradition? Traditional Anglicans have nowhere else left to turn to right now because the Lutheran Church (ELCA) has become as liberal as the Episcopal Church. But who wants to join a church that carries the name of an excommunicated Augustinian priest? Anglicans still have a choice. Pre-existing Lutherans don’t.
It’s nice that Rome is so open to receiving disenchanted Anglicans but I wonder why Pope Benedict is so eager? It almost seems like this is open season in the Roman Church…anything goes and everything is up for grabs. He is becoming as anxious and eager as evangelical protestants in receiving new converts. Evangelical churches, watch out. Rome is coming and competing with evangelicals in converting the converted. Pope Benedict really knows what he’s doing. He’d make evangelicals proud because he’s outdoing the evangelicals in evangelism in typical evangelical-style. It seems like the only church that isn’t doing much evangelism to Episcopalians is the Episcopal Church, which will be sliced and chopped apart. Oh, but we can’t forget about the other evangelical Anglican churches competing for disenchanted Anglicans (e.g., ACNA).
Is it going to be so easy for Anglicans to recognize the pope as their leader? The risk for the Roman Catholic Church is that it may even reopen the issue of celibacy in the priesthood. I wonder what deacons in the RCC think about this?
Cardinal George Responds to Vatican Announcement on Anglican Groups Entering Catholic Church
People say regarding churches (especially mainline churches in the United States and Canada) that all they see are a sea of white hair. This sea is no longer a sea; it’s only a smattering of white hair these days…and many are closing and shutting their doors. Church attendance is dropping and seems irreversible.
The statistics regarding the Anglican Church in Canada (ACC) does not look good these days. Canadian membership in the ACC fell:
1.3 million (in 1961) to 658,000 (in 2001)…and that’s just membership. Actual attendance measures Anglicans who attend church at least twice a month brings this figure down to only 325,000.
Figures for American membership in the Episcopal Church (TEC) are not good either. Membership fell from:
3.5 million (in 1965) to 2.2 million (in 2007), which is a 55% drop.
Rev. Gary Nicolosi says that when the census is taken in 2011, “I think the numbers are going to be under 600,000. I think people are going to be shocked.” Statistics on average worship attendance show how healthy a church is and it does not look good for either church. Full article… These figures are from Reginald Bibby’s Project Canada, The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
In the Church of England, only less than 1 million attend when membership is 28 million (obviously a skewed and bloated figure). And who knows what actual attendance really is?
Seminaries teach students how to rethink theology. But I think this is not the right direction to be going in. We must rethink how we do church, or mainline churches will deteriorate at an increasingly faster pace than even before. Extinction may occur within my generation.
The only churches that are growing are pentecostal and evangelical churches. It isn’t a secret. So why aren’t mainline churches learning from pentecostals and evangelicals? Is it theological pride, or fear losing one’s church identity, or both?
The United Church in Canada (UCC) is the fastest dying church in the nation of Canada today. Its membership has declined from 25% to 9% of this nation’s population and originally formed in the 1920s as a merger of Canada’s three churches: Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist.
This was the church my father first got involved with when he immigrated to Canada. He still remembers when a UCC congregation reached out the the immigrants through the congregation’s outreach ministry: English as a Second Language. If it wasn’t for this outreach, my father might not have ever gotten involved in church. My heart sinks as I think about the state of this once-great-church in Canada.
I don’t wish to see the UCC fade away and disappear in twenty or thirty years; but realistically, that’s what I foresee for the not-too-distant future. It seems to have engaged in social activism tied heavily with political issues leaning toward the left side of the political spectrum. Furthermore, its leaders are proud of this fact. They deride conservative evangelicals of leaning toward the right side of the political spectrum, which is also a politicization of the church, and this should also be seen as being equally disdainful. We have all retracted from the heart of the message of the gospel of Christ! Sorry for being so hard on both mainline and evangelical churches, but that’s just how I feel.
The UCC’s Twenty Articles of Faith as set out in the Basis of Union is something that I, as an evangelical, could agree with. However, its leaders have apparently forgotten about the heart of the evangelical gospel and what is important for the spiritual health and well-being of it’s parishioners. The heart of the evangelical gospel is the message of eternal salvation and the hope of the resurrection of God’s chosen people, rather than, the leftist anti-semitic social activism that the UCC has been engaged in. Social justice and social activism is only a fruit of one’s love for Christ and others, but this fruit of the gospel has now become the church’s idol. The fruit of social justice should not be the core of the church’s message and mission. The UCC has confused social activism for the core message of the gospel and views evangelism as politically-incorrect. This church has lost its former understanding of the core message of the evangelical gospel and has deceived itself into believing that it is fulfilling the mission of God. The mission of God is to: “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, NRSV).
Hopefully, God will raise up leaders within the UCC who will be focused on the heart of the mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than on worshiping the idol of politicization of the fruit of social justice. This is the spiritual sin of idolatry. As concerned Christian Canadians, we ought to pray for the United Church of Canada that it may turn back to the heart of the message of the gospel.
For years, the United Church of Canada has been in decline. What once was a popular, mainstream Protestant denomination has largely forsaken its mission of spreading God’s message, and increasingly has become just another left-wing tea-and-biscuit talk shop for supporters of gay marriage, unregulated abortion, and Palestinian rights. As a result, declared membership in the United Church has declined from about 25% of Canadians several decades ago to about 9% today.
This week’s General Council meeting in Kelowna, B.C. exemplified the trend, with four antiIsraeli motions on the agenda. Israel is one of the few places in the whole Middle East where Christians can worship in peace without worrying about some Islamist maniac blowing himself up in the pews. And so the fact that it also happens to be the one nation targeted for boycott by left-wing Christian denominations speaks to the ignorance, moral perversion and — in some cases — outright anti-Semitic bigotry that now informs their agenda.
….Is there hope for the United Church? Probably not. While backing away from its quartet of hateful resolutions, the Church’s leadership still persisted in urging member congregations to launch their own grass-roots campaigns against the Jewish state. Canadian leftists already have plenty of outlets at their disposal if they’re looking to bash Israel and hold bake sales for Gaza or what not. It’s a tired ideological product being sold in a crowded market — which is why the church is dying.
Perhaps the folks at the United Church believe that their church’s extinction is a small price to pay to effect social justice in the Middle East. But Israel’s economy is doing fine these days — despite all the manifestos and boycott calls circulated by Western bienpensants. Which is to say: The boycott movement is not just a moral embarrassment, but pathetically futile as well.
Perhaps rather than trying to tear down Israel, the folks at the dying United Church might want to focus on their own survival instead.
Just did one of those new what’s your denomination type of quiz (Hat tip: CD-Host). I didn’t know I was a Congregationalist-United Church of Christ. I also come out high on Lutheran, Reformed and Calvinistic Baptist (surprise?); but genuinely surprised about Eastern Orthodox being high at #6 and Charismatic being low at #7. I don’t take these quizzes very seriously because they’re full of theological-interpretive biases.
When I hear the bickering that goes on between mainline churches and evangelical churches, I shake my head and laugh at what both sides are saying about each other. Mainline churches accuse evangelical churches of sheep-stealing; but the fact is that this is far less a significant issue than the baptised-confirmed members in mainline churches having chosen to stop attending church on their own, even before they have decided to make the switch. If they have switched to an evangelical church, they have chosen to do so likely because they have found that their once-staggering faith had been reignited and have experienced freedom and refreshment through the work of the Holy Spirit. Traditional mainline churches need to realize this and stop the blaming.
When young people choose to stop attending church, they do so mainly because their faith has not been solidly formed, and/or they no longer see church as being a significant community to belong to, except for, perhaps, the purposes of getting married, baptized and buried (or what is known as “match, hatch, and dispatch”). The fact is, many no longer even view these rites of “match, hatch and dispatch” as significant life rituals.
Increasingly, evangelical-conservative churches are also facing the same problems as mainline churches. Many young people raised in evangelical homes have chosen to stay away after they leave home for school. Why? Perhaps it was due to ineffective discipleship? Church is no longer a significant part of their lives because they have been overtaken by the mores and values of the dominant culture. They no longer see church as a significant community to belong to, so they choose never to return to church after college or university.
It is an undisputed fact that the majority of teens, twenty to thirty-somethings do not attend church, and, many, have absolutely no idea what church and the Christian faith is about. Many have never even stepped foot inside of a church and do not personally know anyone who is a regular church attender. Thus, it is safe to assume that we are living in a post-Christian culture.
Since we are living in a post-Christian society, or what I’ve heard some call a “repaganized” society, I am increasingly convinced that the church’s call to God’s mission (Missio Dei) must be approached within a contextualized framework that acknowledges a new generation of postmoderns who have no idea what the Christian faith is really about. We can no longer assume any knowledge of Christian faith. They may be spiritual, but are not religious. The problem of the church is that many who come from the traditional evangelical and mainline churches are either slow to recognize this, or they don’t want to admit this as a real-world fact. Many are living in what I call “lala land” and are self-deceived into believing that our society is still in an era of “Christendom”. They are stuck in their current framework and cannot figure out why their churches are seeing a greater decline in membership. This is true of many traditional denominations, from Lutheran (ELCA), Anglican/Episcopalian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist, American Baptist, United Church (UCC), and others.
I wish both evangelicals and mainliners would stop fighting each other and try to begin to understand each other, and understand their common struggles, and begin to work together in God’s mission. It is funny how denominational lines and theological differences can prevent cooperation. Yes, I know there are still theological differences between mainliners and evangelicals. Sometimes, I see hope, and sometimes I don’t see any glimmer of hope of bridge-building and real ecumenism. My personal hope is to help each other to begin to understand our differences and our commonalities so that we can cooperate and do ministry together within a postmodern society without the bickering, blaming, and high-nosed snobbery that goes on.
For the near future, I’m thinking about starting a series of posts to discuss the differences and commonalities between evangelicals and mainliners for the purpose of building mutual understanding and demystification.