Rev. Greg Alms over at Incarnatus Est just posted about this NY Times article on the latest Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey. The survey is on the dramatic shifts that are taking place in the American religious scene, where upwards of 44% of people no longer are members of the church body they grew up in as a child. Thanks for drawing this to our attention, Greg!
Here’s the citation I’d like to think on a bit:
To Prof. Stephen Prothero, large numbers of Americans leaving organized religion and large numbers still embracing the fervor of evangelical Christianity point to the same desires.
“The trend is toward more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that,” said Mr. Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, who explained that evangelical churches tailor many of their activities for youth. “Those losing out are offering impersonal religion and those winning are offering a smaller scale: mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”
Cell groups, small group ministries, prayer circles, these are the bywords of church growth. They emphasize individual spiritual journeys over the objective Word, personal prayer over a prayerlife rooting in the Psalms, and the sacrament of experience over our Lord’s Sacraments.
This trend is hardly a new one. The Church goes through cycles of rationalism and pseudo-spiritualism about every few centuries or so. Fritz Baue, in his book, The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Post-Modernism, calls the time we are in now the Therian Age. He writes:
“Paganism is always tolerant,” said Herman Sasse. The spirit of the Therian Age – that beast from the earth – is a friendly beast, large and comfortable, warm and fuzzy, weolcoming and inclusive, like a great big lovable bear you’d like to hug. In its great arms are enfolded all children of disparate beliefs . . . as long as they love each other. Men and women, gay and straight, find common ground. Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Jew, liberal and conservative – all are welcome. Love encompasses all. ((Frederick Baue, The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism? Wheaton: Crossway Publishers, 2001. Pages 179-180.))
This radical individualism makes spirituality an entirely personal quest. There is no sense of community, far less any kind of received truth or objective reality. Why should people hold to denominational loyalties when their beliefs are based more on television and fiction than on any kind of tradition?
Of course, Lutherans are not immune to this. Confessional Lutheranism may be found in any number of Lutheran church bodies. I don’t think there is one church body that I would simply identify as confessional. Conservative? Yes. Liberal? Yes. But not confessional.
So does this mean that confessional Lutherans need to wash with the tide, go where things seem best at the time? As a layman, I would suggest that you have an obligation to provide for the spiritual care and well-being of your family. That may mean one church body in one place, and another in another place. I wish it were not so, but my wishing doesn’t change a thing.
As a pastor, however, it is a different story. There you have an obligation to the flock God has entrusted to your care. You have your ordination vow to uphold. You also have the reality that things almost never change at the congregational level in much less than 5-10 years, and oftentimes much longer. At the synodical level, things are even slower than that. So while it may be painful, unless a church body commits utter apostasy, I think it’s pretty tough to justify flipping from one church body to the next.
Any other thoughts out in cyber-world about that one?