Fr. Richard Rene, pastor, fellow CP author and AFR podcaster, has this weblog post up, God Without Church?:
It’s a common reality: people who believe in God without feeling the need to attend church regularly. They even have a name—“Nones”—because of their typical response to surveys asking about their religious affiliation. And those of us who consider Church attendance to be central to our faith might want ask ourselves why they are one of the most rapidly-growing demographics in North America.
What leads a person to believe in God, while refusing to identify themselves as members of a particular “faith community”?
These days, the answer would seem self-evident. Consider the genocides, the acts of terrorism, racism, and oppression by those who proudly claim to represent Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. Witness the petty infighting, sectarianism, power-mongering, and divisiveness within religious communities. Add to this the various abuses inflicted by religious authorities on their weakest members, and it’s not difficult to understand why someone might want to have nothing to do with a church at all.
In brief, it points out that a churchless Christianity (or community-less spirituality, if you want to remove it from Christ) is really just a haven for those who prefer to keep God in their heads, as an abstraction that doesn’t call one to account. It’s essentially a pastoral look inside the basic dynamic of “spiritual but not religious.”
It seems to me a cleverly disguised End Times ruse by Satan to divide the Body of Christ. “Christianity is a relationship with Christ, not a religion.” Well, it’s most certainly about a personal relationship with Christ, but that does NOT mean that we should shun the fellowship of fellow believers.
The Holy Spirit (through the writer of Hebrews) says it best:
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:23-25 KJV
It could also be that some people have been treated so badly by people in the Church and inept, uncaring, and sometimes abusive pastors that they’ve given up on the whole idea of being involved in Church. If you beat someone down enough, they eventually get sick of being beaten and either hit back, or flee from the source of abuse. Its to those people we need to go and offer compassion and comfort, instead of waiting for them to come to us. After all, i’m sure in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the poor guy in the ditch would have gotten up on his own and gone to the Inn if he’d been able to walk or move, but he was too wounded to do so, and needed help. Standing over wounded people and telling them to get up and move when they’re not able is not compassionate at best, and abusive at worst.
Do you think those people are the intended audience of Fr. Richard’s post? It seems to me that his intended audience is the “spiritual, but not religious” crowd who simply have no use for community. I don’t think his piece is remotely equivalent to “standing over wounded people and telling them to get up and move when they’re not able.”
In any event, defining the “we/us” here is kind of a problem. How am I, for instance, to know exactly where to find such people as you describe, unless someone brings them to me or me to them? And can you imagine me trawling the local pub for such folks? “Excuse me, everyone—yes, you can see from my clothing that I am a clergyman. Is any one of you suffering from church abuse and in need of assistance?” The wounded man seen by the Samaritan was obviously wounded, but someone who has rejected church life because of abuse is not usually quite so obvious. (And let’s remember that the Good Samaritan wasn’t on a wounded-man-hunt. He happened upon him.)
I agree of course that people who have been abused should be cared for, but they’re invisible to the Church as a community unless we know about them, though they may not be invisible to those who know them. This is a practical side of ministry that often gets papered over by those who insist we have to go out and find people to minister to. (Don’t get me wrong, by the way: I try to be as active and visible in my town as I can, and I also constantly preach that we have to reach out to people and not wait for them to come to us. But we have to know them first and have some means of connection already established.)
But such people may also simply not want anything to do with the community, and we cannot really go against their will, either. Perhaps reading something like Fr. Richard’s post may help them to see that their problem wasn’t community in itself, but the particular community they were in. (And, let’s be honest—the problem could be themselves, as well. There are plenty of functional communities that are rejected by dysfunctioning people.)
It seems to me that Fr. Richard’s post essentially shows what a healthy community is supposed to look like, that community is a necessary part of church life. I’ve certainly known folks who’ve been abused in a church community and then concluded that what they needed was to change to a different community, either because where they were had inherently distorted theology (and therefore, praxis) or because the locals simply weren’t living up to what they were preaching at a level that became abusive.
Anyway, my guess from your tone is that you have someone in particular in mind, so don’t take my words (or Fr. Richard’s, for that matter) as necessarily applying to them in particular. I’m speaking generally, and I am certain he was, as well.
I completely agree with you and Fr Rene. Many people are looking for an out to participating in community/Church for many reasons, reasons that are often self centered, over-individualistic, and sometimes downright narcissistic. And you were right, I did have someone in mind when I wrote what I did, several ppl in fact. I keep coming across people that fall into the category of “the wounded and Church freaks me out” type and rather than casting aspersion I was attempting to explore this issue, bc I keep coming across these people who are so freaked out about being crushed that they avoid Church altogether, and it breaks my heart seeing people in such pain, suffering all alone. Its exceedingly frustrating too, bc I have no idea what to say to them, and perhaps the frustration as a result of my ineptitude came across in a way I didn’t intend. I’m very sorry for that. But how do we reach those wounded people along with trying to convince the “spiritual but not religious” crowd that they’re going about connecting with God entirely the wrong way?
My experience has been that the key thing is to love them authentically while also being clear (though not obnoxious) that one is a Christian.
In terms of the message that has to be preached, written, etc., I think we do best by preaching the very core, foundational themes of the Christian faith—that God became a man to seek and save the lost, to heal them, to unite with them. The book I’m working on right now is actually explicitly aimed at introducing Orthodoxy to the un-churched, ex-churched, de-churched, etc.
@John Canterbury says ….”Many people are looking for an out to participating in community/Church for many reasons, reasons that are often self centered, over-individualistic, and sometimes downright narcissistic.” . . . .
– as one of those people who you don’t know and yet presume to judge by your generalization I feel the need to let you know that such comments do not help and do hurt.
If his comment doesn’t describe you, then why are you offended by it?
Anyway, the truth really is that there some people who remove themselves from community for “easons that are often self centered, over-individualistic, and sometimes downright narcissistic.” I’ve known such people. If you’re not one of them, the comment shouldn’t bother you. If you are one of them, well, it seems to me that such attitudes are worthy of repentance, not offense.
Not sure where I said i was offended, and just because it does not impact on me is no reason for me to ignore the comment. I agree there may be some people who opt out for those reasons outlined . . . but many? What constitutes many, and I think that the statement is judgmental and I still don’t think it of benefit to label people in this manner. But hey thats just my opinion and it is worth no more than John’s and I value his comments as I value your response. 🙂
ps lots of things that don’t affect me directly bother me, and I have tried to be faithful to the fact that I don’t think that absolves me speaking up if I think something is wrong – maybe you do but that is up to you
Well, without getting too far afield here, my point was not that it doesn’t affect you, but rather that it presumably doesn’t apply to you. That is, there really are people who shun the church community for bad reasons. Why should it bother you to point that out, assuming that you agree that those reasons are bad? No one’s saying that everyone has those kinds of reasons (though perhaps that is how you took it), only that some people do, and I would venture to say that many indeed do, though of course many is a general and ambiguous term. I don’t see how defining it precisely in this context matters much, though. What is important is that there are plenty of people who are staying out of church for the wrong reasons.
Agreed (probably one of those but maybe for other reasons and none of them valid) and really looking forward to reading more of this blog.
At this point I could never imagine going it alone. I tried that years ago and only found despair and frustation. Granted, I get frustrated at times but at least this time I’m frustrated in community and I have a community to help (thank God for confession!)
I think some people don’t attend church because they think that if they are “good people” morally, ethically, etc. that they are OK in the eyes of God, and if they have slipped up God is forgiving and everything is good.The truth is, we sin,we must participate in the sacrament of confession to be forgiven, and to change. Christ didn’t come to merely tell us how to be good people, he lived as one of us died, descended into hell, and was resurrected to save our souls. He conquered death. Yes, death and hell, not comfortable topics for many. To bad, taking care of your soul is not easy and we are all going to die. But we don’t have to!
Key word here sacrament, to partake in the things we hold sacred. The Holy things that make us whole and heal us. That can not be done alone, or outside the Church.
If we’re sick we go to a specialist for medical treatment. Why go it alone when it comes to your Soul. The Orthodox Church has been here for a long time. I trust my Priest, an man who has been chosen by Christ, who through apostolic succession has been anointed by Christ, and is without a doubt way smarter than me, to guide me. Why do you think we are called sheep! There will always be goats!
I was brought up to go to Sunday school, Youth Fellowship, Church etc. I have read the bible many times. I am now in my 60’s but now realise there is no relationship with the church and God. God is within every person and is available at all times without the need of a church. I am sure churches benefit some members of society but to find God only within a church is an illusion.
The church was formed by man as are most religions are, in order to gain power over others, and has nothing to do with God. I always put none when asked for my religion as I would be ashamed to admit to any religion.
If you’ve read the Bible many times and (I presume) believe what it says, you’ve no doubt found the many places in the New Testament where Christ not only says that He Himself would build “His” Church (not man’s church), where He calls it His Body, His Bride, etc. Further, the Apostles whom He chose said a good many more things about it, including that it is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Churchless Christianity is not Christ’s way. The Church is nothing less than Christ’s working within humanity. He founded the Church, and it has continued for over 2000 years unbroken and unaltered in its faith—that Church is the Orthodox Church. The rest are indeed “formed by man,” by people who broke away from the Church because they started teaching things contrary to the one faith given by Christ to the Apostles.
In regard to your distaste for “religion,” Fr. John Romanides would agree with you. I highly recommend his “The Cure for the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion” at the Romanity.org site. I think you’ll like it.
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