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).
- 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.