“For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”
-Paul, Acts 17:23, NRSVue
“Nobody wants to go to church anymore.” I’ve heard this often. It’s not just Fairplain, and not even just Presbyterian churches. Even the Southern Baptists, who seemed to be dodging the decline for a while, are losing members.
This fear isn’t new, though. As long as there has been a church, faithful Christians worried that the next generation didn’t take the faith seriously. The author of Hebrews complained that their readers were “sluggish in hearing” and not as mature in Christ as they ought to be.
In 530, St. Benedict remarked that since the holy fathers recited all 150 Psalms every single day, the monks in his order would be very lazy indeed if they failed to accomplish that feat every week.
The enlightenment threatened (but failed) to destroy the Christian faith, but in the end, modernist thought worked its way into even the most fundamentalist sects of the Christian faith. Nearly 100 years ago, Tennessee passed a law to prevent public school teachers from teaching evolution because a legislator had “read in the papers that boys and girls were coming home from school and telling their fathers and mothers that the Bible was all nonsense.”
Despite all the hand-wringing about the death of the church, I am encouraged because even as people abandon traditional Christian faith, they remain deeply interested in spirituality. The resort Kristen and I went to for our anniversary trip had a spirituality-themed “moon walk,” a labyrinth (a spiritual space available in many churches) and various other well-visited ritual elements.
I wrote then, “People are hungry for an encounter with the Divine, with something more, but there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in Christianity in particular.” People are looking for meaning and community, and the church and the Christian faith have those in abundance. I believe we can offer them to a world looking for more if we can show them a reasonable ancient faith that is willing to listen, learn, grow, and follow Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors, with no asterisks or caveats.
Rev. David Schell