Friday, August 7, 2009


Read/Post Comments (2)

“Losing faith in the church” is not quite accurate; “outgrowing the church” is a better description of those who now think of themselves as the “church alumni association.” For those orienting their lives completely around church, however, “outgrowing church” is impossible to conceive. How can one “outgrow” the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), the repository of divine truth, who thinks of itself as the institutional representative of God in the world? How can one “outgrow” the Bible, God’s Holy Word? But it is happening, and on an increasing scale.

       No doubt everyone has a personal reason for abandoning the traditional church, but not the least is the church’s growing irrelevancy in modern life. Of course, devoted members of the church—present in the pew, rain or shine, every time the church doors open, would not agree. From their perspective such people have “abandoned faith” after falling prey to the “wisdom of the world”—in a sense blaming the individual for the church’s perceived irrelevancy. The charge is similar to what was said about a first-century Christian named Demas, who served with such notables as Paul, Mark, and Luke (Philemon 24). A Pauline disciple accused him of “deserting Paul” and “being in love with the present world” (2 Tim 4:10). Unfortunately, we don’t have Demas’ side of the story. The point is that every member of the church alumni association was at one time a devoted servant of a traditional reformation church, but now they continue their religious journeys in progressive Christian communities without creedal boundaries.

       The irrelevancy of the traditional church is a gradual awareness that comes by reading and thinking beyond Sunday school, sermon, and denominational propaganda. The old platitudes and clichés no longer satisfy, for the questions loom larger than the trite answers—at least that is true for members of the church alumni association.

       Here are some specific instances of the traditional church’s failure to communicate; there are others: the idea that the creation accounts in the Hebrew Bible are historical description rather than mythical narrative, or that the mighty deeds of Jesus in the gospels reflect historical event rather than being legendary or mythical accounts. In short, the church appeals to the Bible as a special kind of divine literature having a universal authority for modern life, when in fact it is a human product, addressing first-century issues—how could it be otherwise?. Its divine roots are a matter of opinion and personal belief rather than demonstrable fact. The great failure of the institutional church is not thinking “outside the box,” when addressing the divisive social crises of our time (for example, but not limited to: aids, abortion, homosexuality, hunger), and not being objectively honest in God-talk.

       Members of the church alumni association have not given up on God or religion; rather they see themselves moving on from a failed fourth-century experiment by seeking non-traditional ways to continue their spiritual journeys. They have a point.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 10:21am

Wait a minute—are we supposed to have faith in the church? I thought our faith rested in God. But that’s beside the point. Although they are not growing as they once were, I’m sure there are lots of mega-churches out there whose members would disagree mightily with this and point to their own amazing growth as proof of their argument. But to me, most of those churches seem like country clubs for people who don’t drink. Believe me, I don’t mean to be offensive when I say that. I find myself in the odd position of being drawn to extremely formal, liturgical services, beautiful church architecture, and classical, sacred music, and outside of large cities, those churches which fit that style are few and far between. Interestingly enough, most of those I have attended have a very liberal social outlook. (I like that better than “agenda.”) After attending such a service, I am uplifted and inspired, and they never seem irrelevant to me. Beauty, awe and wonder can never be irrelevant.

Maybe we expect too much from the church, which after all, is just made up of people like any other social construct.
Posted by Marcia Morriset on 8/10/2009 at 9:11am

Interesting and helpful way to structure the problem that Christians have, who haven’t been able to find a church congregation that helps, rather than hinders, growth in their spiritual lives.
Posted by Peggy Hedrick on 8/8/09 at 8:44am