I was recently reading a blog post by Dr. Randy White on “Why I am Leaving the Church Growth Movement” and I found it utterly fascinating. I don’t entirely agree with Dr. White’s conclusions in his article, but I do see the inherent problems he points out and the style he’s become disgusted by. I know plenty of people who are sincere in their belief to Jesus Christ and they believe that what matters most is evangelizing people into a church community so they can evangelize more people into the same church community, where they can make a decision for Jesus Christ, thus making the world a happier, more decent place to live. The coffee and donuts start to slowly become the draw rather than the Gospel. I have a hard time believing Jesus would be happy with his followers reducing the gospel to sweet snacks and soul spa. I also think it’s a wider problem in which the “church growth movement” is just a symptom.
It’s something that I struggle with even now as I long to go a more traditional route in my worship, where I believe there is more sacrifice, truth and beauty, but even in the “high church” people can get hung up on aesthetics way too much as well. The beauty I see in Eastern Orthodox churches is more than just beauty as I see it. It’s beauty that’s supposed to edify and point back to Christ, brought forth from an ancient Christian understanding. If the aesthetics don’t point back to Christ, then the community tends to start to fall for the lie that their church sits better than other churches in the area. Even Orthodox parishes have a tendency to do this against one another, taking pride in their liturgical style or their magnificent iconostasis over even other Orthodox churches. I am not Orthodox yet, but I know that this can be a problem for any church in the world. It’s not a problem with the church’s (dreaded “D” word) “doctrine”, but with the people.
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick talks about a similar trend in his article “Doctrine Matters“. In the article, Fr. Andrew refers to pietism as a plague which stagnates spiritual growth. Pietism is putting one’s sincere feelings about God and one’s moral behavior above the actual belief system which governs the believer’s behavior.
I think Fr. Andrew and I would disagree on some of his own conclusions in the article regarding where the fault of this wide-spread nominalism comes from, but we would agree that Christians today have lost sight of how their beliefs/doctrine affect their Christian worldview. We have began to believe that the end is all that matters and the means can be anything that tickles our fancy, but for centuries, the means and the end were the same.
When Christians forget the anchor of truth in holy scripture and holy tradition, which bind them to Christ, they ultimately forget what makes Christianity the unique expression of God’s love. Our God is not one among many. He’s not some “invisible force”. He’s not just the life-force of all things or any other pantheistic, mystical terminology you could come up with. He is the make and sustainer of the Universe. The Absolute of existence. The early Christians believed so strongly in their doctrine that they put it down in the creeds. These became altars, like the patriarchs of the Old Testament built, marking the faithfulness of God and our faithfulness to Him.
This quote from the C.S. Lewis work Miracles absolutely sums it up for me:
An ‘impersonal God’-well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads-better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap-best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, King, husband-that is quite another matter.
In conclusion, every Christian should evaluate their beliefs and ask themselves “why”. Why here? Why Him? If the answer is “because it makes me feel better”, then the world has plenty of other options for placating our emotional needs. If Christianity is just one flavor among many, then people have all the more reason to walk out the church’s doors and never come back.
But if Christianity is truth, then the real truth of Christ will be more compelling than a Tony Robbins seminar. The connection of finite man to infinite God shouldn’t be able to be reduced to mere platitudes and sentiments, nor should it be taken for granted.