Recently in a discipleship weekend seminar taught at my church I taught a series of material that I collaborated on with another friend of mine, where the topic of discussion was spirituality that is taught in the bible and championed by the reformation. A question was brought up in the class concerning the contemporary state of the church in the west, and whether there was any hope for it or not. It reminded me of a blog post I came across last year that raised an interesting argument concerning the notion of popular movements of “ballot referendum” without and “ballot referendum” within.
Concerning the ballot referendum concerning the interaction of the church and the culture, the authors say this:
Mainstream church bodies have tacitly bought the argument that politics and therapy are more important than Christian faith, and have allowed their theologies to become handmaidens of ideology or psychology. They give sacred legitimation to secular knowledge and action and thereby become “relevant.” Several of the neo-Augustinians have made the surprising charge that the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr is best understood as a religious legitimation of liberal democracy. These mainstream bodies, though they think they are involved in “transformation,” are more likely being acculturated more deeply into the modern settlement. According to Hütter, such attempts ironically “deepen the Church’s irrelevance and undermine its public political nature by submitting and reconditioning the Church according to the saeculum’s understanding of itself as the ultimate and normative public.”
The blog goes on to point out, however, that there is another trend afoot; this one far more insidious, because it gets at the heart of Christ’s words concerning sheep, and their desires to a) not know what is best for them, and b) thus do whatever they want. Churches are full of people who insist that the church meet their perceived needs. And in many instances, the church leaders are willing to try to cater to their wishes, desires, and whims, often to the detriment of the health of the individual, and the health of the church.
Other churches—represented by the church-growth movement—tacitly accept the notion that the religious needs and wants registered in the open market should be the guiding signals for religious practice. They become “relevant” in another way. But, as with the mainstream, they are no longer drinking from their own wells. In the church-growth world, according to Hütter, “religion itself increasingly becomes another commodity regulated by market forces.”
The force of the market in the church is a real thing. It is what drives worship style to attract an audience, drives buildings programs and amenities to assuage a crowd; but it can do more serious damage than that. It can lead to preaching that forsakes a faithful witness. It can be a persistent temptation to avoid hard subjects that the bible addresses head on, because of the potential impact that might be felt on attendance and giving.
The mindset of a ballot referendum runs deep in our country. It runs deep in our hearts. We need to pray for our church leaders, and hope that would be rooted out of our churches.