The mariner has often commented that the comic strips are the most important part of the newspaper; he reads them first. Often, whether the reader is aware or not, an underlying reflection is triggered in the brain – evading every protective or judgmental barrier – to provoke contemplation.
Mariner has written many articles and posts that often put him at odds with his local congregation and friends. Often, it is the mariner’s use of the term “pew Christians.” It is a term implying that the Lord’s work is needed away from the pew. The term also signifies that the Church doctrine has displaced personal commitment to the works of Jesus with the priorities of managing a building, budget and charitable giving.
The mariner accepts the cultural forces that focus on the physical and personal experience provided by ecclesiastical practices; we all need rejuvenation and the role of the church as a focus on moral and spiritual behavior. But…Jesus never had a church, to oversimplify.
The mariner was provoked to write this post by a comic strip:
Very few pew Christians are comfortable focusing their faith and works out in the community – especially engaging personally with those in need. Many parishioners belong to their church first to have fellowship and second to feel that they are responsible citizens supporting a higher calling. The idea that the parishioners are called by Jesus to be among the needy, the morally lost, and the forgotten, is not a requisite. Charitable giving from a distance is acceptable but no ‘feelings,’ please – just gifts.
One need not be a biblical scholar; the two great commandments cover the subject. God does not find the parishioner – the parishioner must find God and love that relationship ‘with all one’s heart, mind, and strength.’ Further, the parishioner cannot practice elitism, vanity, prejudice or pride. It has always been difficult to be a Christian.
In this era of significant change to culture, politics, economics, and religion, the local church is under great pressure to modify its practices. There is a barrier to changing the ecclesiastical paradigm; the pew-based worship of the Trinity is the way it has always been. Whole generations have grown up and passed on who were committed to the local church and its role in the sacraments. The fellowship and gratification of belonging still is an important role for the church and will always be so. But it is time to change the manner in which church-goers execute their commitment to the Trinity.
W. Edwards Deming, a renowned economist and an influential writer about change in business and any organization undergoing change, said that a paradigm shift (changing the model of practice) cannot be created within the old paradigm. It requires a new energy, a different approach, and different priorities – to which the old paradigm is incapable of morphing. History has proven Deming correct. This does not bode well for pew-based churches.
The American culture – politics and all – is moving toward a populist ethic. This transition is brought about by the disruption of oligarchic practices which interfere with the ‘American Dream,’ a concept based on the fairness that everyone’s vote is equal, that anyone can be President, and that the profits of the nation are distributed fairly. This means that every institution and organization must move toward populist ethics. For the Christian Church, this means that prejudice, pride, exclusivity, and social obligation, are under pressure to provide a Christian role based on the public, not the pew.
The mariner has had personal experience wrestling with the shifting culture versus ecclesiastical practices that go back hundreds of years. Deming is right: there is no vision for future community-based priorities. Whatever changes are possible, those changes must accommodate the pew model. Somewhere in the community, new parishioners will forge a new role for congregations. In the meantime, pew-based churches face hard times during the transition. The public wants ‘feelings,’ not ritual.