Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ditch the religion?

From two very different places on the religious spectrum come similar ideas: maybe we should just ditch the religion part.

Over on Beliefnet’s Buddhism blog, "One City," Jerry Kolber has created a bit of a stir by suggesting American Buddhism really needs to consider its branding. Specifically, it needs to pare down all the stuff that shouts EASTERN RELIGION, which can turn off Westerners. By its own teaching, much of this is just accessories to Buddhism: the robes, bells and even Buddha statues. The essential core is meditation practice, which he believes can be promoted in a way to appeal to anyone.

With the right branding and advertising Buddhism can be the iPod of philosophies, cool first then available at Walmart three years later.

From another corner comes Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of evangelist Billy Graham. She is promoting her new book which, among other things, recounts her many frustrating experiences with churches. In interviews with both TIME and Newsweek she frankly says that religion is one of the greatest impediments to finding God.

And by "religion," I don't mean "faith." I mean rituals, creeds, traditions, and often leaders--all of our means of trying to connect with God.

Lotz somewhat confusingly still thinks Christians should belong to a church. It’s better that way, anyway, but often just not going to work out. In some ways this echoes the ambiguous message of her father. While he encouraged those who came to his revivals to join a church, his own ministry was intentionally unrelated to any denomination and he avoided sectarian doctrine in his preaching and teaching (something which fundamentalists in particular criticized him for).

Can you be religious without being part of a religion? That paradoxical state is increasingly true for many people, often without their even recognizing it. In addition to avoiding sectarian labels, people often have no interest in being part of an organization with buildings and staff to pay for, organizational structures to maintain and meetings to attend, and cranky and neurotic members to endure.

American churches especially are missing this challenge. Their evangelism and outreach efforts try to connect people with God and with Jesus. The case that isn’t being made, though, is what that has to do with belonging to a local congregation. Indeed, as Graham Lotz shows, many have found church life to actually be a detriment to their faith.

Christianity without the church? It may be the fastest growing religion around.


Jan Erickson said...

Doug, thanks for this and especially the interesting juxtiposition of the two. I'd read Lotz' comments but not the article re: Buddhism. God help us all if it turns into a Walmart thing.

But, to your question. As I've been living more on the edge of the church and beyond, I'd have to say that more and more people are expressing this very sentiment: that the church is a problem, a detriment to their faith.

We (if I can still be part of the"we") need to deal with this. If we want to still be Church and still offer saving life in Christ, we'd better get the hell out of the way and clean up our act. As it now stands, more people are outside the church BECAUSE of the church not because they don't know enough about it, or its faith. Thanks for this.

pastor mack said...

Doug, I too like the juxtaposition. Strange as it seems, many Christians are trying to do to Christianity what the buddhist blogger is trying to do with Buddhism. If something no longer quacks, looks, or smells like a duck, can it still be properly called a duck?

Yes, let us get rid of the things that scream CHRISTIAN. We can give up the cross, the sacraments, the Bible, and serve coffee while we talk about a Jesus who looks just like American Protestants in the post-Christian West. Ugh. Spirituality is all the rage because we are all frightened like scared children to submit to anything that is not of our own making.

Of coure Graham's daughter is in favor of a similar move. Evangelical Protestantism is self-destructively fragmented, bereft of the norms and practices of historic Christianity, and only keeps digging the hole deeper. John Eldredge encourages this in some of his works; it is also found, more insidiously, in Barna's book "Pagan Christianity." Everyone loves Jesus, just not an institution he called his Body. God wants a people, united, not a bunch of American individuals masquerading as Christians.

Rose in the woods said...

Just wondering Pastor Mack how you are so sure what God wants. Isn't that part of the problem? Just wondering....

andrew said...

Freedom is a challenge. You decide who you are by what you do. It’s like a question, like a fork in the road. An ongoing question you have to keep answering correctly. There’s a touch of the high wire to it. I’ve never been able to walk high wires, but I get the feeling.

dsi r4