So, Tell Me Again Why 'They're Leaving The Church?'

51G5SQYQ8YL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_In their book “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?,” James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness state the following:

“It is undeniable that the church is no longer conceived by the vast majority as the cultural space where certain critical things happen, even as its institutional shape communicates traditional notions. Indeed postmodernity has drastically undermined a view of culture in which religious faith in general and Christian belief in particular provided the unifying bonds for a coherent worldview. Today, given the pervasiveness of pluralism and the accompanying ethnic and social diversity, this is no longer credible for many people. In fact, so single voice or entity can claim to speak for everyone today. As a result, many traditional structures are under attack, including the institutional church.”

 

They go on to say that:

… “it is not hard to see why so many in today’s world do not relate to the church as it is currently organized. It appears to be large and bureaucratic in the face of a widespread desire for close and intimate relationships. The often abstract moral codes it offers do not touch the postmoderns’ spiritual quest for personal fulfillment. In short, the church is seen to harbor hypocrites rather than genuine strugglers for meaning. A primary characteristic of today’s postmodern generation is its suspicion of large, impersonal structures and its longing for community. We see this as a wonderful opportunity for the church and for the missionary life that should characterize this church.”

The sentence that strikes me in the above section is this:

“It is undeniable that the church is no longer conceived by the vast majority as the cultural space where certain critical things happen, even as its institutional shape communicates traditional notions.”  It’s very similar to George Hunsberger’s concern that we’ve reduced the church to ” a place where things happen.”[1]  If the church is defining itself as that, and those outside of the church are debunking that definition, then perhaps it’s time for the church to redefine what it actually is.

I think the above quotes lend much towards understanding why certain groups are “leaving the church,” but also address some key questions which need to be asked:

1.  Is this view of the church universal and embraced by all post-moderns, or are there, like there have always been, pockets of differing thoughts throughout the world and its diverse cultural contexts?

2.  Is it true that “no single voice or entity can claim to speak for everyone?” Isn’t that the core premise of Christ and Christianity?

3.  Does the structure or organization of the church help or hinder the transmission of its message?

4.  Is the church suppose to be a place for those who are “struggling for meaning?”

5.  If the post-modern mind “longs for community,” then how is that any different different than the pre-modern or modern thinkers and how does it change mission which has always been birthed in community?

[1] Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 337

 

0 thoughts on “So, Tell Me Again Why 'They're Leaving The Church?'

  1. Ross Rohde says:

    Is it true that “no single voice or entity can claim to speak for everyone?” Isn’t that the core premise of Christ and Christianity?

    Is it the core premise of Christianity? Yes, Jesus is Lord, not just for me but forthe universe. However, he never forced anyone to believe or acknowledge him. Rather he looked for seekers, like the woman at the well. In fact, while he preached to the crowd, he often spoke in obscure parables that he only explained to his close followers. This is not the behavior of someone who is seeking general recognition.

    Our problem, in my opinion, is that we Christians are so accustomed to being the default religion of the West that we don’t know how to function when we don’t have the “field advantage.” Now the postmodern shift has come along and knocked Christendom off of its 1,500 year old pedestal. Many, even in the West don’t necessarily acknowledge Jesus as being any more important that some other religious figure. Worse yet, they have seen Christians acting very badly, particularly with their addiction to power through cozying up to political power. Postmoderns don’t tend to relate to “grand narratives” that explain everything, i.e. our Christian worldview and the gospel. So what do we do? Do we throw up our hands in despair?

    No. We look at what the Early Church did. They had no respect at all, yet they thrived. They had to not only compete with Cybele and Athena, Zeus and Isis, they had to compete with Mithras, neo-platonism and the Gnostics. How did they do in? They lived quite, holy lives, served the least of these, eschewed political power, were filled with the Holy Spirit and ministered to those around them. They showed Jesus before they talked about Him. We try to convince people with our ideas. They lived a life that had the aroma of Christ.

    The Early Church lived in a social context very much like current postmodernism and they thrived. Things we think of as an advantage (social acceptability, political power, money, etc.) they not only did without, but avoided because they wisely could see the damage these things did to their soul. They were more interested in abiding in Christ and therefore bearing fruit than they were with having the right technique.

    So, in general, what have we done about the postmodern shift, that takes us back to a situation very similar to our historical roots? We complain about postmodernism, because they don’t give us enough respect and don’t see things the way we do. Perhaps that’s not the right response.

    Have I over romanticized the Early Church? Yeah, it was much more gritty, raw and dirty than I’ve described. But the general tendencies are still there. In all their imperfection, they still didn’t need power and social acceptance to thrive. Maybe we should thank Jesus for the social shift to postomodernism that has taken place in our lifetimes. It might be good for our souls.

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