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Death of Church

Walter Russell Mead has written a strong article on the decline of the mainline church.  Though he is speaking to the mainline, he makes perceptive points that apply to any church.  These are important points worth hearing.  Here are some excerpts:

At the deepest level, this involves the sustainability of the church itself….  Religion will not long prosper as a luxury good; it is not primarily a way that comfortable people who are basically happy with their lives can make their lives even richer and more rewarding. A sustainable religion must convince people that it is necessary to life, health and spiritual coherence. A church cannot be one club among many or one leisure activity among many; it must present itself as a bedrock necessity. Not all of its members will take the church at this estimate, but unless a critical mass of its members and leaders feel this way, a denomination (or a congregation) will be entirely dependent on outside cultural and economic forces for its health and even in the long run its survival. A successful church is not one whose pastors and other leaders think a life in church is one calling among many; a critical mass must deeply believe that it this vocation is so critical that they would do it, if need be, for nothing – that they would do it if actively persecuted and flogged from town to town.

The great question for modernist and mainline religion is the “so what” question. If members are not sinners being saved from the flames of Hell, if Christianity is not the one path of salvation offered by a merciful God to a perishing world, if a relationship with God is not the only means to surmount the challenges of each day much less to meet the great tests of life – why go to church? Why pledge? Why have the kids go to Sunday school rather than soccer practice?

If all religions are more or less true (and, presumably, therefore, all more or less false), why pay particular attention to any one of them?  If the churches develop their ethical standards (sex before marriage, divorce, homosexuality, racial justice, political ideas) from secular society and the general American consensus, why go to church for anything except weddings, funerals and Christmas carols?

What do you learn in church that you can learn nowhere else? What kind of relationships do you form in church that you can form nowhere else?

Why is church the daily bread you must have, not a lovely garnish on an already full plate?

A sustainable religion must have answers to these questions.

Otherwise it will slowly fade away.

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