13 September 2011

Disturbing Trend in American Religion


A recent article that I read underscores a serious problem in American religion. The article, entitled "More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs," discusses the growing trend of Americans simultaneously claiming they believe in Jesus and accept the Bible, but do not accept the Church. Rather, they make up whatever they want as a religion. According to the article, many of those who do not attend so-called "regular church" say it is because of the clergy and the churches themselves. For example, they lament that a priest says "say this prayer," but then it does not work for them, they get burned out and discouraged, and then leave to do whatever makes them feel better. This is all a most unfortunate turn of events. They simply have it wrong. And, they are giving up too easily.

When someone tries a prayer and then says "oh, it didn't work, so the prayer and the church must be flawed," they make one very large error. That error is the one of expecting that prayers will be answered exactly as we want or expect, rather than how we need, and in our time rather than in God's time. We see ourselves too much as mere individuals rather than as part of a much greater plan that knows neither time nor space. The other problem with this attitude, though, is just that: attitude. Someone who goes into prayer with a half-hearted "I'll try this, but if it doesn't work now, I'm leaving" approach is not so likely to be successful. It is a wrong attitude. It is a selfish attitude. One must approach God with true humility of heart, and that takes time and effort to develop and continued work to maintain. And when you quit trying in favor of an alternative that simply makes you feel better or gives you an emotional high, you are doing nothing more than selfishly looking for an easy way to achieve a solution. That is the sin of pride. The trouble is that it is no solution at all. It has the veneer of a solution, but underneath is spiritually empty.

So, instead of sticking with the faith given to the Apostles and handed down to us, this article discusses how many are going it alone, making up their own version of Christianity. The trouble is that one cannot simultaneously claim to accept Jesus and the Bible while rejecting the Christian Faith and the Church. The Church was founded by Christ. Acceptance of one necessitates the acceptance of the other. Without both, one cannot call one's self a Christian. These pseudo-Christians are self-deluding themselves into thinking that they have the Christian Faith. The worse thing is that these days the trend is contagious. As the trend grows, more and more people are encouraged to go this harmful route. The Church herself need not be worried about her own survival, for she will survive, even if reduced to a handful. The Church is and should be worried about the souls of those who are going astray.

Those who are tempted to make up their own version of Christianity need to come back into the Church and try again. They need to evaluate the attitude with which they approach God. They need not to quit because things are not, in their opinion, perfect. And, the clergy need not be blamed for their imperfections and used as a justification for this disturbing trend of self-customized Christianity. The clergy, though called to service by God, are not perfect. The clergy have a special role of pastoral leadership. Yet, that does not mean that the members of the clergy do not have character flaws, just like everyone else. To refuse to listen to the clergy simply because of their flaws is another manifestation of the sin of pride, for we indeed all are sinners. Look at the men and women God has chosen to lead his Church and work great miracles. They include men of ill temper, a murderer, a womanizer, and even one man who was already dead. It has been said that if God created the darkness, then it was so that we can better see the light. So too with the leaders of the universal church. If the clergy and the Saints throughout history have had personal imperfections and character flaws, it is so that we all may better see the light of life and the truth that they preach. May all mankind see this light and return to the flock of Christ.