What’s going on with Christianity? More specifically, what is going on with the major traditional sects of Christianity and why is it that they are visibly dying? Why is it that this religion of two millennia, the major sects which count billions as their members, the religion which seemed to survive everything, seems to be faltering?
Is it because of the scandals? Is it because people have suddenly become less religious as technology and science advance? Some of those points ring true, but I do not think that they fully answer why the religion and the major sects especially are seeing stagnation and even decline.
A major reason why the religion and the major sects are dying is because (and I say this as an avowed atheist) the religion is no longer a lifestyle. That may sound odd or even very simplistic, but I think it holds more than a grain of truth when really looked at.
Truly, what is the difference between a modern Christian’s lifestyle and that of a secular person? They both don’t work on Sunday, both believe that murder is wrong, society has taught us that sex outside of marriage is bad but both do it, both eat meat on Friday, both follow the golden rule. Where is the difference here? What am I giving up? What am I changing? What am I achieving? Coupled with scandal it becomes more apparent why people leave the faith.
It can’t even be argued that the people who leave the faith are, for the most part, irreligious. Religions such as the Baha’i faith and Islam have made a name for themselves as it relates to picking up disenchanted former Christians. Both are a lifestyle as well as a religion. Both require fasting , periods of penance, and deep self-reflection. Both have dietary restrictions. One has limits relating to finance and one also insists that its practitioners make a pilgrimage.
Why would a former Christian who hasn’t done a religious thing in years pick up and join those religions? Is he unaware of the scandals and rumours trailing those religions? Is he not disenchanted with religion? Isn’t that why he left the church?
Not always. One reason I believe why people stood by the Catholic church during the Holy Inquisitions was that back then religion was a lifestyle as much as faith. It meant ascetic living, not eating meat on a Friday and even regular fasting. It demanded introspection and meditation as part of the lifestyle and that is, I think, what we mean by prayer and that brought them closer to the faith.
This, I think, would explain why the major sects are dying (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc) while the new more rabid, zealous and reactionary sects are growing in leaps and bounds. Sects such as the SDA and the cultish UCKG are seeing booming growth (one much older and more established than the other) and it shouldn’t be lost on people that these sects more than anything are lifestyles.
This really shouldn’t be viewed as a shocking revelation, one sees these tendencies in politics all the time. One grows weary and disenchanted with the established party which has long since stopped walking the walk and the people gravitate towards a new upstart party which walks the walk, talks the talk and is full of zeal.
The solution to the problem of the established church losing members is a difficult one in practice. The churches — Catholic, Anglican, etc — need to break down their bureaucratic institutions, go back to the people, engage in their lives and follow what is in the book. On paper it looks easy but doing this would essentially destroy the power of the heads of these institutions as it would make them nothing more than say, just the bishop of Rome and not the spiritual and temporal head of some 1 billion Catholics.
This breaking of the power would mean congregants electing their pastors, would have to allow for frank and open discussion about religious dogma and the Bible and would, in the end, mean the church as an institution becoming pauperized as finances from tithes, etc would be used as the good book states, ie charity and almsgiving.
The major churches will not countenance that and anyone within them who seeks to change it will be hounded out (as we have seen with Bishop Welby and Pope Francis).
The major churches are doomed, and they are damning themselves to irrelevance and eventual nonexistence with their refusal to change. Their refusal to either retain good aspects of the old church and drop the rest or modernise, debate and reform are leaving them beholden to ancient dogmas which have long since passed their sell-by date.
They will continue to be supplanted by the radical evangelicals who, while outwardly preaching and practising the things congregants yearn for, are actually the opposite and eventually harm the congregants. The Bible talks about the Pharisees who uphold the word but not the spirit. That can be seen as the old church, and it speaks about wolves in sheep skin, that can be seen as the radical evangelical church. As a non-believer, it is interesting to see how those prophecies have come to pass.