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Where do you go to church?

May 30, 2007

leaving-arriving.gifWe have decided to read two books on ecclesiology at our Friends of Orthodoxy meetings. We will be reading Without Spot or Wrinkle: Reflecting Theologically on the Nature of the Church (Koop and Schertz, editors) from an Anabaptist perspective. We will be reading Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the First Three Centuries (Zizioulas) from an Orthodox perspective.

Here is a quote from John Roth who writes a chapter in Without Spot or Wrinkle:

As religious sociologists have been pointing out for at least a decade, one of the most striking characteristics of modern American religious life is the steady decline of denominational loyalty, especially among mainline Protestant groups. Increasingly, religiously-oriented people in the United States and Canada are embracing a kind of generic Christianity cut free from historical traditions, doctrinal claims, or clearly-defined ethical norms. And they are doing this not out of a passionate affirmation of Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17, but as an extension of the logic of market capitalism in which Christians are free to shop for the church or congregation that best suits their individual taste or needs.

What is the remedy for generic Christianity? How can we be the church while catering to individualism, cut free from historical traditions?

On another note, I am not really sold on Word Press. While it does have a more sophisticated look, it doesn’t seem to me to be as user-friendly.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Leon permalink
    June 1, 2007 12:57 am


    Roth seems to me to speak the truth in his description of where we seem to be in matters of faith.

    It was not that long ago when people had more of an understanding about what they believed. The idea of generic Christianity would have been foreign. I wonder when that began to change? Was it with the introduction of rampant individualism?

    I am not sure what is currently presented as Christian faith (as Roth has termed it, generic Christianity) can be turned around. I find people are more interested in a kind of easy-flowing Christian like piety that is not connected to historic faith. People view the word “theology” as if it were a bad thing. I have actually had someone tell me, “You’re just so theological” as a slam. There is little understanding of how fidelity to the apostolic faith one find in the pages of scripture has anything to do with the lives we lead. I find that sad.

    So we meander on with a vague faith that does seem disconnected from historic faith and teaching. I have little hope that anything we do can really turn this movement around. It scares me and makes me long to be connected organically to a faith that reaches back across the ages.

    Lord have mercy.

  2. Dawn permalink
    June 4, 2007 2:18 pm

    I appreciate your comments about theology and why people don’t seem to care about the historic connection to their faith and teaching. First of all, I have to smile at your “slam” of being too theological. You know you are theological, but I wouldn’t add the “too” :-) I appreciate people who like to think about what we believe and why.
    I think that a lot of people don’t care or ever think about why they do what they do, let alone why they believe what they believe. People attend to their daily living, their families, their jobs, school and their homes. I think this is something inherent in being human. Even in the day of Plato and Socrates, not everyone sat around thinking about the world and how and why things are they way they are! I am one of those, perhaps annoying people, who has never lost the 4-5 year old habit of asking “why?” Why do things work that way, why do people do things that way, why do we believe what we do . . . etc. When I ask those questions, both here and in Cambodia, I often get the same answer, “I don’t know, that’s just the way we have always done it!” It was worse in Cambodia because critical thinking was not encouraged at all. But the reality is that most of Americana lives that way too.
    In a very limited sense, that is how we stay connected to our historic roots – we pass on practice, but the stories of “why” and “from where” are lost or jumbled in the passing of generations and combinations of family cultures. And because of that, our “history” is not what you are after, for it is very recent history. I believe that the human brain is programmed for life in the here and now. It takes a lot of energy and exercise to consider the implications of what happened thousands of years ago on our current life or faith patterns. We can’t even learn from recent history i.e. Vietnam War, civil rights movement, etc. We need help to interpret meaning or lessons learned and then even more help to remember what really happened and what we should have learned from it. That’s why we have educational institutions and churches and libraries and museums. That’s why we have teachers and pastors and philosophers and theologians. It takes a system of some sort to help humans capture/interpret and relive/apply the lessons from that ancient or even recent part of our lives, for we cannot do it on our own in the day to day.
    Do you really think humans were different when, as you say, “It was not that long ago when people had more of an understanding about what they believed. The idea of generic Christianity would have been foreign. I wonder when that began to change? Was it with the introduction of rampant individualism?” I’m not exactly sure, but could it be that not everyone is connected to the same institutions of learning and the same ancient history anymore? We are in a post-Christendom society. The Church is no longer the strong disseminator of what we learn and believe. The majority of America does not go to the Church to learn the lessons of the past, to stay connected to tradition. Perhaps individualism plays its part, but ultimately it is the institutions that maintain our history. Either the institutions have weakened in passing on the faith and/or people have come to value the institution less. Either way, I don’t think the majority of people have changed much in the sense that they still go on day to day, caring mostly about their work, their families and the here and now. The ancient past has little influence on how they live now.

  3. June 5, 2007 1:42 pm


    For a long time I’ve been aware of what I’ve called “Generic Protestantism” in South Africa. I didn’t realise it was found in America as well.

    In part I think it is the consumerist mentality, but I think there’s more to it than that, at least in Africa.

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