I have written about how I believe that many Western Christians are functioning at some level of syncretism. Instead of understanding the Gospel and critiquing culture from this understanding we have left our culture unexamined (even the places where it is incompatible with the Gospel) and try to hold both in hand, at times assuming the whole mess is actually the Gospel. To illustrate this point futher I want to take a deeper look at how many approach Church attendance.
Many Western Christians have uncritcially adopted Western values, even mistaking them for biblical ones, and our attitudes towards the local Church attendance reflect this. Deeply marked by the individualism and consumerism in our culture we often go where we “get fed.” We do not gravitate towards where we are called or where we might be of service, but where we get ours. I am not saying people should go to a church where they have no connection or are totally uncomfortable or disagree with the theology but when people switch congregations like they do outfits, something is wrong. We treat the Body of Christ as something that should service our needs, not something to be a part of and in relationship to that will equip us for the work of services. (Eph 4:11)
This perpetual search for the newest and best Christian products from a Sunday service and local congregation, which is especially clear when people are looking for a new church, often leads to transient church membership. People leave to another Church at the first experiences of discomfort, displeasure or discipline. This in turn leads to abysmally low levels of discipleship. We are in relationship to no one, submit to no authority and can quit easily if and when we are made in the slightest bit comfortable, say by church discipline. This is probably why the iChurch is filled with people like me. We self-report as Christians on questionairres and live ridiculously non-Christian and hypocritical lives – and no one from the Church stops us.
Speakfaitfhully Public Service Announcement: Let me spell out very explicitly what this looks like in real congregations to put some teeth to my point.
Big Valley Grace Church – http://www.bigvalleygrace.org
Shelter Cove – www.cometosheltercove.com
Redeemer – www.theredeemerchurch.com
Calvary Chapel – http://www.ccmodesto.com
Calvary Temple – http://www.ctwc.com
First Baptist – http://www.fbcmodesto.com
As someone who is a young adult who grew up in the church culture in Modesto, CA, and has worked extensively with young adults and in and for churches and ministries in Modesto I feel I should make you all aware of something…
You are totally and completely interchangeable with one another to the young adults in Modesto.
Our attendance at your church, which probably started by a segments of a clique from a high school youth group checking out your “new thing”, is now totally dependent on your ability to continually entertain us. Our continued attendance is performance based and superficial. If you currently have a high attendance of young adults, you better keep it up and never drop the ball. Also be aware that we are probably involved in, serving at, or considering one or more of the other major churches in the area. Instead of investing in our local congregation, we take the best of what’s avaialbe…a little worship at this church, a little teaching at this church, and a little community at another church. If you are experiencing or have experienced an exodus from your young adult ministries, you most likely made some change that somehow did not sit with our preferences or the preferences of one of our friends. But do not worry. Give it about 3-5 years and we will be on to the next congregation(s) and/or young adult ministry, the next fad place to attend, where the preaching is relevant, you have paid enough attention to Christian cultural trends, the girls dress nice, and the guys are hot, which could very well be your congregation once again.
With that last statement I will no doubt offend many in Modesto, both young adults and pastors who are denial about their assumptions regarding church, or see the issues as far more complicated than that. While I know not every decision to switch churches is selfish and this is a simplification of very serious issues that have arisen within the churches in Modesto, I will stand by my belief that the transient young adult church attendance is driven more by consumerism and individualism, values inherent to Western culture, than they are by any other factor.
“This is probably why the iChurch is filled with people like me. We self-report as Christians on questionairres and live ridiculously non-Christian and hypocritical lives – and no one from the Church stops us.”
I’m interested to know what your idea of stopping this would look like.
To trace my argument backwards…I think the hypocritical nature of many Christians is a direct result of a lack of discipleship and/or submission to church authority. This lack of discipleship and the reason we blow off church authority often has its roots in our highly transient church membership. Many Christians are not committed to any one local congregation because we believe local congregations exist to meet our needs/entertain us/keep us comfortable. These beliefs ultimately come from syncretism with Western culture – we uncritically adhere to Western values and suffer for it.
From a theoretical/”big picture” perspective I think the Church in the West needs to seriously seek to understand the Gospel and Western culture and see where they are compatible and incompatible and make reforms where necessary. Simply doing “business as usual” has led to “Christian” becoming an incredibly empty term that means nothing and we need to stop doing so. To this end I think Christians in our past and our brothers from other cultures can truly help us. A bunch of Westerners seriously examining the Gospel and Western culture might still be blind to what has been normal and accepted as “Christian” for centuries. Christians from South America, Africa, and especially the persecuted Church in China would be invaluable if we are willing to let them and be humble enough to admit Western Christianity, as it has been expressed for centuries, is not a 100% faultless orthodox Christian faith.
From a practical perspective I would encourage Christians to think about their involvement in the church at the local level. When did they switch congregations. Why? What does this say about their committment to the local Church? What does say about what they value? Sometimes this won’t be as extreme, evil, or bad as I make it out to be. Like I don’t think it is bad if a person switches churches because they moved to a new city. However, I fear many Christians, if they are honest, will find that their selective involvement in churches might suggest that their loyalties lie to comfort, the cultic personality of a popular pastor, an unwillingness to submit to authority, a pride, etc..
To be fair hypocrisy and low levels of discipleship can exist even when committment to a local congregation can be high, there might be a time and a place where leaving a local congregation is the most faithful Christian thing you can do (I am thinking of Wellspring which left the Anglican union over issues of orthodoxy), and there are bad leaders in the church who wield authority abusively. However, I think if people stayed in one local congregation, got to know their place in it, and stayed even during the hard times the Body would probably function a lot better.
It is sort of difficult, isn’t it, but perhaps we are too steeped in Western culture. It just seems that there should be some other type of response to this problem than one that is purely individualistic.
If hypocrisy and low levels of discipleship are a problem…the answer is examine yourself to see if this is a problem for you?
Secondly, who would be doing this type of discipling…someone who hasn’t bought into this whole social club/church-run-as-an-organization complex? And how would we find them?
First, I do not think the problem has a purely individualistic solution. I was suggesting what an individual could do right after suggesting the overarching course I think would be beneficial for the Christian church in the West. I think change is only truly possible as a community. One Christian reflecting in a congregation of 100 where everyone else is totally fine with the way things are will be ostracized quickly and most likely be pushed out. I was avoiding bringing in the contribution of pastors, prophets, leaders, etc. because I fear sometimes we put everything on their shoulders instead of taking responsibility for ourselves at times. But in truth pastors can teach on this, prophets can call out this tension, leaders can show us a new way, but we can all approach this with humility and with fresh eyes. I don’t even think self-reflection can be done properly alone. I am constantly under, around, and subject to a wide variety of peers, pastors and mentors who I invite to speak into my life to see what I cannot see.
Second, I think Christians who could disciple us are not as hard to find as one would think or my extreme language might suggest. The most obvious and direct answer is Christians from other cultures who live near you. Knowing where you live I know there are several African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic congregations and Christian communities around you. While immigrant communities are impacted by Western values as they assimilate, I think rubbing shoulders with Christians from any other cultures can helpfully highlight the differences in how each community approaches the Gospel and help highlight what decisions one, and ones congregation, are making from unexamined cultural values. Likewise you can help them see where their values might be misinformed or need rebuke from the Gospel, but one should be very sure you know this is coming from the Gospel and not just a cultural difference.