Before my “literal and inerrant” friend became frustrated and stopped dialoguing with me he often asked the question why I have so much an ambivalence towards today’s churches? I repeatedly tried to tell him that it isn’t so much ambivalence as it is a disappointment. I will use this post to explain one of the major reasons for that disappointment. Before I start I need to tell you a little about George Barna. He is as Wikipedia describes him as the founder of The Barna Group, a market research firm specializing in studying the religious beliefs and behavior of Americans, and the intersection of faith and culture.
Getting back to the reason for my disappointments here are some of the words from a book I am currently reading entitled Christians and the Common Good by Charles E. Gutenson. These words explain my disappointment better than I ever could:
One of the major findings of his (George Barna) research is that for the most part it is almost impossible to tell a Christian, by his actions, from someone who is not religious. In fact he often found that non-Christians are more generous in giving to the poor, are about equally engaged in extra-marital sex, and that Christians are more likely to have had divorces than non-Christians….. the rampant materialism of our culture is no more apparent than in the parking lots of large churches on Sunday mornings. Quite simply, a major reason for the increasing irrelevance of the church in today’s culture is its inability both to envision and to demand an alternative way of being in the world. Why bother with church when it has come to understand Christian faith as little more than an addendum to an otherwise secular dream of the good life.
The Christian churches of today should be giving us an alternative to being in our own life. As Mr. Gutenson said they seem to be unable to both envision and to demand an alternative way to live. Since most Christian denominations seem incapable, or at least unwilling, to do that they deem themselves irrelevant in many people’s minds. It was totally obvious that the early Christians were living an alternative lifestyle to those around them. They were giving their wealth for the common good of the community. They were living by Jesus’ words to love one another. What happened since that time? Why has the church not emphatically pointed this out to Christians today. Are they more concerned about attendance numbers than following Jesus’ examples?
I am not knowledgeable enough about church history to know where this change started. But I know from Mr. Barna’s surveys that it is pretty much complete today. That is the major disappointment I have with today’s Christian establishments. I have spent the last five years or so looking for any denominations who run counter to the Barna statistics. In that time I have only found scant evidence of any church establishment offering, let alone encouraging an alternative life style. There are a very few out there but they are rare indeed. Many seem to be more interested in proclaiming that we are all poor miserable sinners and therefore incapable of anything good. Putting Christians in this mindset enables them to follow the secular world in both their words and actions without a guilty conscience.
So, to close this post I am not ambivalent to today’s Christian establishments as much as I am just totally disappointed in them ignoring the words of Jesus to take up our own crosses and to love each other as God loves each and every one of us. If we really care for each other we should let our light shine in our lives so that it is obvious to others that we are followers of Jesus Christ. Sadly I find that to generally not be the case.