More on the Church Issue

It seems the mariner has stepped on a yellow jacket nest with his examination of the church and its lack of commitment to the principles espoused in the Gospels. He does not intend to quote the Sermon on the Mount and the many parables. He will not extrapolate the overarching principle of faith derived from the crucifixion. The mariner welcomes everyone to revisit their Christian faith by reading the Gospels for themselves. In this post, he focuses on individual church congregations. Connectional institutions will be addressed at another time. In preparation for connectional institutions, watch the movies “The Shoes of the Fisherman” starring Anthony Quinn (1968) and “Saving Grace” starring Tom Conti (1986).

Irrefutable points:

  • Jesus requires his followers to be humble. The second Great Commandment requires Christians to treat others as they would want others to treat them. There are no exceptions to this commandment.
  • Jesus requires that we must sell all we have and follow him. This is where religion, in general, conflicts with sociological arguments about culture. Two thousand years later, we are closer to being the Romans than the abused population in which Jesus lived. What priorities in lifestyle must each of us sacrifice to follow Jesus?
  • Jesus never intended the distraction caused by organized pursuit of worldly manifestations such as church buildings. Alternatively, Jesus wanted his followers to emulate the good Samaritan, caring for others at every opportunity – a personal responsibility, not an institutional one.

These three points are not debatable. They are virtual iterations of the word of Jesus.

Given these Christian requirements, one must consider the value of modern cultural distractions. In an earlier post in the Religion category (All Things Evolve – Even Christianity), the mariner makes the case that a Christian indeed is confronted by different conditions and asks how Christianity can be presented to the current culture. Cultural presentation and integration of Christianity must change to be effective. However, these changes cannot deviate from the three points cited earlier. Taken from the earlier post:

“We must live the word of Jesus. Words like forgiveness, kindness, goodness, acceptance, constitute a way of life. A Christian, no matter the historical account, is someone who is devoted to the happiness and wellbeing of others – no matter their style of life or their ethnicity. This is the message that must not fade in the midst of these troublesome days.”

The mariner has been in many denominational, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox churches. With only one or two exceptions, the church is made of the finest materials appropriate to the economic neighborhood and built with as many square feet as affordable. These edifices are groomed as if they were the Golden Calf. These edifices have first priority in the consumption of contributions – that is, first after the professional staff is paid. Somewhere, way down in the budget, a few dollars are committed to the wellbeing of others.

How can this inverted priority be ignored? The Christian must ask, “What is the purpose of this building?” Most will answer, “It is a Holy place where God and Jesus are worshipped.” To what end, the mariner may ask. Another response is, “It is necessary to educate and attract the community to the Christian faith.” Yet so many churches are shrinking – except the TV evangelists, who appeal to a very broad audience of evangelical believers and couch Christians.

Interestingly, many individuals who are not affiliated with a church can be found working as volunteers in services for the poor or Habitat for Humanity or building schools in impoverished areas of the world or traveling to disaster areas to aid the local community. How does the church attract these purveyors of goodness? More importantly, how does the church emulate these purveyors of goodness?

Research into psychological and sociological reasons suggests that there are benefits to being part of a congregation:

  • Companionship – The mariner has witnessed the power of  the church when providing a positive and comforting environment for many  who otherwise would have no opportunity to share life with others.
  • Comfort – The promise of eternal salvation satisfies  the need to be accepted through faith that life does not end; that one’s  life has value no matter its station or circumstance. This is a legitimate  goal among all people.
  • Status – Belonging to a group such as a congregation bestows a  personal sense of importance, even as a non-participatory member.
  • Limited responsibility is the tendency for members to feel less responsible for their actions when surrounded by others who are behaving in a similar manner. Any church nominating committee can attest to the resistance of individuals to step into additional responsibility.

Limited responsibility also relates to activist behavior. A member finds it rewarding to perform within the church membership but stepping out into the community at a one-to-one level is not a desired experience.

The mariner acknowledges these benefits. However, if the major purpose, the major workload, the major investment is not to carry out the word of Jesus, which requires personal sacrifice of time, assets, and lifestyle for the benefit of those in need, then the church membership is not carrying its load as a representative of the Christian faith or in the manner that Jesus intended.

If the personal act of goodness to others is the reason each member comes together to magnify that goodness, then a church is a valid extension of the spirit of Jesus. Church members must see the light and become the light. To quote Peter Böhler, an ordained Moravian, “…preach faith until you have it and then because you have it, you will preach faith.” To paraphrase, do good until you want to do good and then because you want to do good, you will do good. Faith is doing good. Nothing more.

Ancient Mariner

5 thoughts on “More on the Church Issue

  1. I agree with you about following the teachings of Jesus. For me the key word is “Love.” Follow the Golden Rule. That being said, how hard it is to love some people! I find it difficult to the point of impossible to love a suicide bomber who kills innocent people or a poacher who slaughters wild animals for the products of their bodies. I do try, occasionally, but I’ve not yet been completely successful.

    Now, about churches. Remember the first Great Commandment quoted in Matthew: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”. I feel that we owe the Deity who pressed the button and set off the Big Bang a bit of respect. A mighty Gothic cathedral, for me, is a way to worship God. I like the pomp and pagentry that accompanies some church rituals. Some church music literally makes the hair on my neck stand up and brings tears to my eyes. I simply feel closer to God in such an environment. But this is just me. Why can’t we have both? Do good AND celebrate the Creator of the Universe.

    • The mariner, too, has had experiences of wonderment and awe – even inspiration. He continues to have these experiences. Jesus wants his followers to find belief through caring about others, caring until a transcendent understanding of God’s dynamics occurs. John Wesley was a workaholic and gave more than 80% of his income to institutions and individuals. Wesley wrestled with faith and belief for years before making a breakthrough – then realizing how simple belief was. For him, it was a surrendering of self – to God, to people, to circumstance. He was no longer responsible for himself; the spirit he carried disregarded normal human need – as the sparrow is cared for by God.

      As you profess, loving enemies is a tall task. One must be able to love God’s world as He created it, which, to our dismay, contains violence, selfishness, and the personal issues of pride and vanity and greed. These aberrations of goodness may be of our own making. For example, overpopulation by humans kills many more creatures, including whole species, than poachers can ever achieve. If there were abundant resources for every need of every individual, there would be less violence. That is not the case and exacerbates our ability to care about fellow humans.

      There are more tractable ways to care than pursuing one-on-one solutions. I recommend YES! magazine. There may be some issues you may feel important enough to care about and find wonderment at the same time.

  2. I’ve been following your posts regarding religion, churches, etc. with interest. As you may know, but your readers do not, I have recently become active in a community church through my relationship with my new wife. I had not been to “church” since my teen years and had no intention of doing so. I had found it full of hypocrisy at the very least. After attending several services at our local institution, I decided to continue because this congregation seemed to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. While I do not know the “Mission/Institution” ratio for their spending, they have very successfully been able to reach out to the needy and underprivileged on a local level weekly, national and international levels several times a year.

    That said, I have also started a Bible study for the first time in my life. I had thought that perhaps some light bulb would flash on and I would “get it” regarding others blind faith and obedience to the “Good Book”. Instead, the study has merely reinforced my original views regarding institutional religion. Organized religion gets in the way of good works because people are involved. When people are involved, agendas are put forward and the original purpose gets forgotten.

    • The practice of one’s personal theology and associated beliefs have never been questioned by the mariner. He has insisted that Christians not only believe in God and the sanctity of Jesus but further to take responsibility for the working half implied by Matthew 25:35-40.
      As you implied, ritual has not been important most of your life but you have found meaning in it. The mariner does not judge whether or not one finds faith through ritual, only that one fails to place the need of others above institutional self-importance and further that practicing the faith does not end at the pew. Knowing you over many years, I know you understand this aspect of faith.

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