Reflections on Change and the Church

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St Paul’s Cathedral is one of those masterpieces of old architecture you come across in certain parts of England and the world, the sort of place you need know nothing about to be in awe of. I was one of two Christians on my school’s Philosophy trip to visit it; the two teachers were strong atheists and the rest of the students were either of the ‘Everyone knows God isn’t real’ hipster-atheist type or agnostics who had not given the idea much thought (until our God and the World module). Yet no matter our personal ideologies, everyone who entered that building went silent.

I’ve often wondered what it was that fell upon people in such places. Is it the idea that millions of others have walked where we walked, or that so much time had been devoted to religious art? Is it God? As a Christian, I don’t know. I do know that the Church is changing. I know that I, personally, have never been very fond of the Church anyway. Perhaps it is my history with African or ethnic churches, but I’ve always been inclined to seek God elsewhere. Today, many do. Apart from school students (my group and some primary school children), the vast majority of the worshippers I observed at the Cathedral’s Eucharist were at least over 50. The other Christian in our group, a girl, didn’t go up for Communion. In her own words, it was ‘embarrassing’ in front of the other students. Times are changing.

No matter your religion/irreligion, what do you think of the Church as a whole?

A few weeks ago, here in England, a same-sex marriage bill passed through the preliminary stages of Government approval. There was uproar from the Church, who felt their position would be weakened by it (I’m not entirely sure how, but that was one of their major complaints). A few days ago, yet another Catholic priest (Scotland, this time) stepped down from his position due to sexual misconduct. Around the same time, the Pope resigned from the Papacy (though obviously for different reasons).

I know some of you are religious, and I know that some of you are not. And that some of you are not sure. But we live in fast-changing times, and even if current change became minimal change would still happen. The world and its culture is constantly evolving, and like it or not the Church has continuously changed along with that evolution. Not that anyone would admit it, but it has. It’s members have changed too. Amongst other things, few people really believe the Bible word for word anymore and in the face of hypocrisies and controversies which have rattled the church, many have or have at least contemplated turning away.

Does this mean the death of God? Of course not. Perhaps it is the slow death of religion (well, decline, as I don’t believe religion will ever ‘die’) though, as people come to the realisation that faith in God or a god or gods is an entirely separate thing from religion. Because of this, religious institutions and believers are changing. Changing their attitudes and their behaviours and their lifestyles. They are not, though, really changing their faiths. Humans are naturally irrational creatures, and regardless of whether or not God exists we will always still believe in something ‘more’ out there. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s nothing; maybe it’s aliens.

11 thoughts on “Reflections on Change and the Church

  1. danielwalldammit

    I don’t look for the Catholic Church to become a force for good any time in the near future. Who they claim as a leaders seems largely irrelevant given the nature of it’s institutions and its claims on the faithful.

    1. dlaiden Post author

      I suppose they do do some good work, but the scandals, strange laws and pile of money and material items which they sit on has never sat right with me either. It’s strange, because the majority of the Catholics I’ve met are lovely people who couldn’t care less about the Pope and the Vatican. I suppose it’s the same as many other types of Christians no longer taking the Bible literally; times have really changed.

  2. NicoLite Великий

    Aliens, if anything, but I don’t see myself building a temple to worship them or making up a message that they may or may not have given me to distribute among those who can’t hear them themselves…

    About the awe and silence in places of worship, even though I don’t believe, I respect other’s beliefs and, well, the art is simply awesome. Even if it is not to the glory of god, but to man, it is quite an achievement

    1. dlaiden Post author

      Hehe, do I detect a hint of religious scepticism there? 😉 But I know what you mean. There are, though, actual cults which revere aliens in exactly the way you’re describing. 😛 It’s a very strange world we live in–but then I suppose a non-believer would think along the same lines in regard to some mainstream religious faiths.

      The art is certainly awesome. God, man, aliens; all that effort is definitely something to be appreciated regardless of religious orientation.

  3. Lily

    You bring up a lot of good points here. I think religions is not as popular today as it was hundreds of years ago is because it can still seem punishing. People don’t want to feel like they have to go to church or do certain things to be seen as “good” in God’s eyes. Fear based religion is never a good thing.
    You’re right–our world is fast changing and there are so many new factors that don’t seem to meld well with religion. The best way, in my opinion, to know what is true, is to pray. Or even taking a long walk and thinking about what you believe. I feel like most people don’t do that enough and they just choose one path or another.
    Great post! I love Cathedrals, they’re so pretty.

    1. dlaiden Post author

      Hmm, yeah I definitely think people turn away because of the whole punishment aspect. I have a friend actually, who instead of giving up his faith, decided that hell didn’t exist. He said he couldn’t reconcile his idea of an all-loving God with some sort-of eternal punishment, but instead took the unusual step of rejecting hell instead of renouncing his faith. He’s decided, and in parts I agree with him, that the church emphasises hell and damnation to keep many of its followers toeing the line. It’s a disturbing thought, but I suppose fear tactics have been used for millennia.

      And definitely; sometimes people don’t pray or think through their own ideas often enough. It’s a little sad to see them following one crowd’s opinion instead of examining their own beliefs. And haha, Cathedrals are gorgeous. I just love the architecture! 😀

      1. Lily

        That’s kind of like what my church believes. Hell isn’t one of the places we think about too much. We just think there are degrees of Heaven. It’s a refreshing feeling knowing that God loves you no matter what. It definitely makes religion sound better!
        I know nothing about architecture, but I know that Cathedrals are awesome! 😀

  4. Jonathan

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it. I’ve also been to St. Paul’s Cathedral on a school trip, and it’s a lovely place.

    In my opinion, it’s a real shame there are now so few genuine Christians in Britain. Most people who call themselves Christian don’t believe in the basic tenets of Christianity (according to an Ipsos Mori poll last year, only 49% of UK Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God) and like the idea that God loves them and that Jesus was a good man but don’t like the idea that they have to do anything about it. Jesus suffered immeasurably for us on the cross, as we remember today on Good Friday, so that we wouldn’t have to face the just consequences of our sins, yet people have such a lukewarm reaction. People don’t want to believe that hell exists (understandably), they don’t want to think that they somehow need to be saved from their sins; they just want the “good” bits of Christianity, not the bits that require them to change their lifestyles and make a committment to Jesus. I know of several people who are false converts, who were baptised as teenagers but have not changed at all since becoming “Christians.” I haven’t changed enough either, and my attitude to God is certainly lukewarm compared to his great love for me, but so many self-described Christians have not changed at all since apparently becoming Christians, because they haven’t actually accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

    There are understandable reasons to dislike the church. Of course, there have been all these scandals in the Catholic Church, and I intensely dislike Cardinal O’Brien’s dishonesty in the face of the accusations against him. People generally don’t like institutions these days and I suppose dislike of the church is an extension of that. I agree Christianity quite apart from other religions, and I don’t identify myself as religious; I trust in Jesus, not in any religion or belief system. Of course the church needs to change to keep the message of Christianity relevant to modern times. But that doesn’t mean we should compromise the message. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

    The Bible clearly states that hell is real – Jesus talked more about hell than heaven – and if we deny it, or don’t talk about, all it means is that more people will end up there. No-one likes being afraid, everyone wants a nice message that will give them an easy life and a heaven at the end of it. But the fact is that most people are on the broad road to destruction and I think the problem it’s our responsibility to save our unbelieving friends and family from itI’m not saying we should try to convert people by instilling fear in them. We should always be gentle, kind and friendly to unbelievers, but if we love them we should be honest to them, and if as Christians we are aware of their potential fate, we will realize the huge importance of bringing people to faith in Christ.

    Of course there is a wide range of differences in beliefs between genuine Christians and what we have in common is far greater than what we don’t. There are many “Christians” who preach intolerance and fanatacism who are as damaging, if not more damaging, to the Christian faith as lukewarm Christians are. But both are as hypocritical as each other and I think the main problem in Britain is lukewarm Christianity. And although it doesn’t mean the death of God, it does mean a country turning its back on God.

    Thanks again. I enjoy your blog 🙂 and your Mother’s Day post is very touching as well.

    1. dlaiden Post author

      Thanks for the comment! Let’s see if I can’t address some of the points you’ve made. 🙂 And St. Paul’s is stunning; I still plan to visit again one of these days.

      I think it’s certainly very easy to call people non-genuine Christians. But a decision to believe in Christ is a personal, internal decision. It is simply a fact that many people move away from the more overt signs of Christianity, like talk of hell and damnation and proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God, for a more personal relationship, just them and their God (because let’s face it, everybody sees God differently and personally. It doesn’t matter how much a religious institution would like all adherents to hold the same set-in-stone views). It’s a much simpler, much more basic (and in my opinion, pure) line of faith to simply have yourself and your God, with your belief manifest in your thoughts and actions.

      I don’t think people go along with what you call ‘lukewarm’ Christianity because they want an easy ride. I think they are refusing to take up the blind fear of their ancestors; they want to question. And to question isn’t a bad thing. The sad truth is that a lot of Churches only try to convert by instilling in non-believers fear of hell and sin. Perhaps questioning Christians doubt hell, or doubt a sin espoused in the Old Testament, or doubt the sayings of Paul. It doesn’t make their belief false. I’d certainly call it harder to be a good Christian in light of the idea of no hell; you’re not striving out of some fear, but from the bottom of your heart. Because let’s face it – there would not be so much talk of hell in the Bible or today if it was not meant to instil in us some fear to be good. Perhaps their traditional religious practice is false or non-existent, as in the case of your friends, but you can’t judge for yourself whether they haven’t taken on the message of Jesus and tried to live a righteous life in their own way. You’re not, after all, with them 24/7. I don’t think Christians who are not overt about their faith or don’t follow tradition compromise the message. What is the message of Christianity? For me it’s to love your God and to love your neighbour, and therein lies salvation. Neither of those things are easy at all, but if we strive to follow them I don’t see how any Christian comprises the Christian message. Morally wrong actions would go against those tenets, and so they are obviously sin. Personally, I think decades of Christians bickering amongst themselves about what is and is not ‘Christian’ is one of the main factors behind the public disillusion with the faith and Church. We should have learnt our lesson in the early Church schisms, but we haven’t.

      Britain turned it’s back on Christianity long ago, I’m afraid. Since, I’d say, the devastation of the World Wars, if not before. Our now-secular culture doesn’t do a lot to help it, but I don’t know that it’s a bad thing for Britain. People aren’t evil here or anything, we’re just a bit lost. A strong government is what we need, and a system (not necessarily religion) that instils good morals in future generations. But not that damn UKIP everyone’s talking about. An ideology born in fear will only ever lead to adherents committed to it.

  5. Jonathan

    Thanks for the reply and Happy Easter!

    I agree it can be very easy to call people non-genuine Christians and we shoudn’t be too quick to label them as such. Becoming more like Jesus and less like the rest of the world in thought, word and deed is a long process, and none of us are perfect, so we should not be judgmental and I’m sorry if my comment came across as a bit divisive. But I do think it’s clear that most people who tick the Christian box on census forms or in surveys are not Christian in any meaningful sense; as you say, Britain turned its back on Christianity long ago. I suppose purely nominal Christians aren’t even necessarily hypocrites (or at least more hypocritical than the average person); they know, as you say, that there must be “something” out there but they don’t know what, and they’re reluctant to believe in “nothing,” so they tick the Christian box because culturally that’s the religion they identify with. But I have to say, though I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins on much, I do agree with him that we shouldn’t jump on the fact that a majority of people in Britain identify as Christian and use it to justify bishops in the House of Lords and suchlike; frankly I think it’s dishonest for people in the church to keep claiming that Britain is a Christian country when it certainly isn’t Christian in the way that they or I understand Christianity.

    Yes, it’s not always easy to judge whether people are genuine believers or not. But it is an unfortunate truth that there are many false conversions; people who have come to intellectually belive in God but still show very little of the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – and still live sinful lives of lust, drunkenness, anger and rebellion without any remorse, when the Bible says that any believer in Christ is a new creation. It’s rare that anyone can be completely sure whether someone is saved or not, but I think I can safely say that the members of Westboro Baptist Church are not Christians in anything but name, and I wouldn’t mind betting that you’ve known self-described Christians who behave no differently to the average teenager.

    You’re right that, as I acknowledged in my previous comment, there are lots of legitimate disagreements and a wide range of opinions among Christians. Questioning previously held ideas is a very good thing. But it is the case that many people who begin to “believe” in Christ quickly fall away because they don’t want to commit to serving God and loving their neighbour; they want the nice bits of Christianity without the hard bits. I’d point you to the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, which is all about false conversions.

    If you believe that hell exists you aren’t necessarily serving God out of fear; the Protestant understanding is that once you’ve been saved nothing can separate you from God and it’s only if you don’t believe that you are in serious danger of hell. I agree that preaching fear is not always effective, but I do think the problem these days is that we don’t talk about hell enough, not that we talk about it too much. It is a very hard topic to deal with, and one that many people, including myself in the past, struggle with. Because of this, and because it’s not exactly a cheery topic, the natural reaction is to just ignore it, but it’s an extremely important topic. We’re dealing with people’s eternal destinies here, not just some theological doctrine, and it’s crucial that people come to conclusions about it based on reason and what the Bible actually says, not because of personal biases and judging God by our own imprefect standards of morality and justice. And although love wins people more easily than fear, if we truly love non-believers we have to warn them of their potential fate.

    The idea about the two wold wars being a primary cause of the decline of Christianity is an interesting one. Peter Hitchens (brother of the late Christopher Hitchens), a Mail on Sunday columnist with whom I’m sure you’d have a lot of disagreements, sees the church’s misguided support for the First World War, and the huge decline in moral integrity that inevitably comes with so many people fighting in wars, as the first major step in the decline of Christianity in the past century, and he’s written a very good book called The Rage Against God. A strong government? I’m not sure that strong government necessarily produces a moral people; virtue requires free choice for it to be truly virtuous; I don’t think people in the Soviet Union where the government supposedly promoted equality, or even in Britain when religion was much more controlled by the state, were particularly moral. I think it’s more the church’s job to be strong, to reach out to the lost and try to build a more moral society.


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