Europeans did their own thinking about where God was, and asked, Did the church matter through two World Wars or, perhaps more fatefully, in the relatively good times marked by consumerism, materialism, hedonism ?
Robert Merton (a radical sociologist) used to say that the evil in institutions is greater than the sum of the evil of the individuals within them. Reinhold Niebuhr (theologian and pastor) put it slightly differently: society as a whole is always collectively worse than the individuals who make it up.
One of the problems in the way Christians relate to the world is the tension between the 'world's' standards and those of the Church/Bible. The Scriptures use the concept of 'world' in two senses: (1) the whole created reality and the world of humanity created by God (Psalm 90:2, John 3:16, Acts 17:24), and (2) the 'systems of the world' which are in rebellion against God (James 4:4, 1 John 5:19).
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Sunday, July 8, 2007
James Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson wrote that on one occasion Johnson ‘went to church’ and afterwards said he was ‘not unduly depressed’.
The 2006 census tells us that since 2001 most Australian churches fell behind population growth (5.8%). Baptists grew 2.4% (but Buddhists grew 17%, Muslims 21% and Hindus 55%). A similar trend is being witnessed in other Western countries.
Professor Gary Bouma, a sociologist of religion, in his 2006 book Australian Soul, says that
Australians are not less religious than they were in the 1900’s: but many have
stopped ‘going to church’.
We have our theories. Here are mine - in 30 short articles.
First: except for churches growing through migration (like the Oriental Orthodox, up 13%), only ‘stricter’ groups (Mormons, JWs) and those which ‘choreograph’ their services are growing (eg. Hillsong: Pentecostals are up 13%). But wait: what do sects and Pentecostals have in common? Both groups generally expect a higher level of ‘commitment’ than older churches. There’s one clue.
Another: Pentecostal services are more attuned to youthful music/TV than the greying churches. Australians watch 20 hours of TV each week. When they ‘come to church’ there’s quite a contrast (in about 5 or 6 respects: what are they? See my take on this here).
As we learned in the previous article, The NT doesn’t talk much about ‘attending church’. Jesus did it regularly (Luke 4:16); the early Christians wanted to be together to share their lives (Acts 2:1) but after a while their zeal cooled, and the writer in Hebrews 10:25 exhorted people not to neglect meeting regularly.
People who have a lot in common (friends, family) will want to be together. They have rituals (greetings, celebrations of special events etc.) and also spontaneous stuff – jokes, laughter, recreation, sharing stories, problems etc. So there’s another clue: how can ‘church’ become truly ‘family’?
Watch this blog for more...