December 13, 2017

Top-Down Authority? or Bottom-Up Faith? or Both?

I hope soon to read and review Diana Butler Bass’s new book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (actually I’m waiting for Kindle ebook prices to come down). I’ve heard some interviews with her and have read a few articles, and she has some good insights about the changing landscape we are seeing in the 21st century with regard to the practice of Christian faith.

As an example, I point you to a commentary she wrote for Religion News Service called, “When religion and spirituality collide”.

Citing the example of Rowan Williams’s resignation from his position as Archbishop of Canterbury and a subsequent rejection by the Anglican Church of a worldwide unity plan he backed, Bass suggests we are witnessing a significant shift in what has actually come to divide us in many contemporary religious conflicts:

“The Anglican fight over gay clergy is usually framed as a left and right conflict, part of the larger saga of political division. But this narrative obscures a more significant tension in Western societies: the increasing gap between spirituality and religion, and the failure of traditional religious institutions to learn from the divide.”

Bass sees a burgeoning democratization in the Church that has been coming for awhile but is now accelerating and bringing real change within long-standing institutions.

All institutions are being torn apart by tension between two groups: those who want to reassert familiar and tested leadership patterns — including top-down control, uniformity and bureaucracy; and those who want to welcome untested but promising patterns of the emerging era — grass-roots empowerment, diversity and relational networks. It is not a divide between conservatives and liberals; rather, it is a divide between institution and spirit.

This is a key component of the “Christianity after religion” Bass observes, and it mirrors similar trends in spheres like business, politics, and education. In contrast to hierarchical structures of authority where spiritual power flows from the top down, people are now more and more asserting that, “spirituality is a grass-roots adventure of seeking God, a journey of insight and inspiration involving authenticity and purpose that might or might not happen in a church, synagogue or mosque. Spirituality is an expression of bottom-up faith and does not always fit into accepted patterns of theology or practice.”

This is an obvious threat to those invested in the institutions. Some become fixated on defending traditional structures and practices. Other newer forms of authoritarianism arise and attempt to assert control lest chaos reign. Power plays and schisms become more prevalent as boundary markers are set up, defended, and enforced. Power structures won’t go down easily or quietly.

Bass seems to be a cheerleader as well as observer of these transitions and new directions.

In our times, spiritual renewal is taking place among friends, in conversation, with trust and through mutual learning. A new thing is happening on the streets, in coffeehouses, in local faith communities, and in movements of justice and social change. Far from demands of institutional religion, Rowan Williams will find a new kind of faith is being born.

She also calls upon leaders of traditional institutions to recognize what is happening and adapt. “Only leaders who can bridge this gap and transform their institutions will succeed in this emerging cultural economy.” I’m not sure what that means or what it might look like for churches in the years and decades to come.

What do you think?

Comments

  1. “Spirituality”.

    What does that even mean?

    “A new kind of faith”.

    I don’t like it. It smacks of ‘the self’. For me (anyway) the self has always been the problem. When we start to go down the road where those who don’t really care about the church, start to define the church…then we are in trouble.

    That’s what I think.

    • My reaction as well, even (especially?) after reading the referenced article. Ms. Bass seems to be basing her thesis on several erroneous premises. First, she seems to think that this is the first time in two thousand years that humans have been unhappy with the Church and wanted to re-arrange it to better suit their own purposes and beliefs, and that the 21st century human is fundamentally different or more evolved that our forebearers were.

      Twaddle. Humans have been making over God and Christ to suit themselves since about five minutes after Pentacost, and legions of off-shoots of “ME” centered faiths have come and gone.

      Secondly, she seems to think that the purpose of church is to make people “happy” and be “relevant” to the changing times, when this is 180 degrees off of what Christ told us. Church is to worship and serve God, not to be entertained and patted on the head no matter how self absorbed and off the Christ-centered path we are.

      Third, and an observation, not a data point, is the sheer number of people who are finding or returning to liturgical and orthodox faiths; Catholics (in several forms) mainstream Lutheran churches, and others that I am too uneducated to list. Christ made it pretty clear that the gates of hell (and human hubris) would never destroy His Church. This entire piece is something I would expect from a very sincere and seeking teenager or young adult who lacks perspective about history, human nature, and God’s infinate plan. The Lord has been dealing with misguided youth for millenia. A sudden need to “expand” to call a sinful path an “inclusive and welcoming” is NOT going to change God’s words, actions, or commandments.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …and that the 21st century human is fundamentally different or more evolved that our forebearers were.

        Now that sounds Trekkie: “We’ve Evolved Beyond All That…”

        Church is to worship and serve God, not to be entertained and patted on the head no matter how self absorbed and off the Christ-centered path we are.

        Somebody tell that to my writing partner’s congregation. And use a Clue-hammer when you do.

        Third, and an observation, not a data point, is the sheer number of people who are finding or returning to liturgical and orthodox faiths; Catholics (in several forms) mainstream Lutheran churches, and others that I am too uneducated to list.

        That is because Liturgy and Liturgical Churches provide Structure. And a solid historical track record. And Institutional Memory that prevents you from having to reinvent the wheel with every generation. And accountability (not Accountability Partnership TM) for any Reverend Apostle Joe Soap and his New Revelation/Restoration/reinvention of the wheel.

      • The Previous Dan says:

        +1

      • Jack Heron says:

        Weirdly enough, Pattie, I quite agree with you here even though we have completely different ideas. Especially your last sentence! It frustrates me enormously that many with whom I agree in various modern debates frame their arguments in terms of ‘expanding’ or ‘being modern’. Those might be arguments for changing the rules of a club, but not those of a church. Ultimately, the only defensible reason for changing the character of the church is that we think it will make it more Christlike, more in keeping with God’s love.

        It does not matter a jot whether supporting gay marriage or the ordination of women is modern, or attractive to the young, or puts us on the right side of tomorrow’s historians. What matters is that it is right. (feel free to replace that last word according to personal taste)

      • > First, she seems to think that this is the first time in two thousand years that humans
        > have been unhappy with the Church and wanted to re-arrange it to better suit their
        > own purposes and beliefs, and that the 21st century human is fundamentally different
        > or more evolved that our forebearers were.

        +1

        But the 21st century human has much cooler toys. They allow him/her to be both petty an grandiose on a scale previously unimaginable. The toys also facilitate a very well developed sense of importance and a *sensation* of community/connectedness; like artificial sweetener. Everyone is talking, and everyone is believing someone out there is listening.

        Meanwhile the liturgical and old-school sects are doing pretty well and by some accounts retaining more of their youth than the shiny new hip anti-church churches.

    • I agree with N.T. Wright when he labeled “spirituality” as a rather unhelpful substitute for what is actually known as “prayer.” It is nothing other than an appeal to the Spiritual But Not Religious (TM) crowd. Round 384 of “snipe hunt for the religious boogeyman!”

  2. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I’m kind of on the same page as Steve. I understand the need for spirituality, but I also think you have to have SOME kind of structure. We might debate about whether or not there’s a “right” ecclesiastical order, but the fact that God really did intend for us to meet together under some kind of leadership is abundantly clear from the New Testament. The idea of a pastor or a shepherd is part of divine revelation. Not to mention the fact that the New Testament also makes it clear that there are doctrines which must be preached and errors which must be corrected, and it’s difficult to do that if you don’t have any kind of authority or structure. All in all, it’s very difficult for me to look at the faith as Jesus and the Apostles practiced and preached it without coming to the conclusion that “institutional” religion is very much necessary for a healthy Christian life. Of course, institutions are often abusive – they’re prone to corruption, authoritarianism, exclusivity, and so on. But we cannot, for that reason, abandon institutions entirely. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”.

    On a side note, I think that’s why the great reformers like Luther and Wesley tried everything they could to make their current institutions better before they split away from them. Schism is occasionally necessary, but only as a last resort. There’s a quote from the Luther movie that I always loved; Luther’s spiritual father says to him at one point: “For all her faults, she is still the Church”. I think that should be our usual attitude, unless extraordinary circumstances demand otherwise.

  3. Does this remind anyone else about the video from a few months ago about being spiritual but rejecting “relgion”? The writing is better but the premise seems the same, although mercifully NOT set to rap this time!

    • Don’t miss the big picture here. Ms. Bass is observing something that is happening, not promoting something new. All you have to do is go to another blog, like, for example, Rachel Held Evans’s, and you see this in action. She is getting triple the number of comments than we get here on IM from younger people who have either left church or who are in church situations that function much differently than the traditional institutions. Bass is saying pretty much the same thing as Phyllis Tickle, who wrote The Great Emergence, which we reviewed here. Religious times, they are a’changin’.

      • humanslug says:

        Indeed they are. One might say the soup is being stirred — as it has at previous junctures in Christian history. We just have to hang on and hold faith that the essential ingredients will still be there and that we might even become better tasting soup when it’s all said and done.
        My advice to Christian institutions would be to back down from policies (either official or unwritten) motivated by fear — and to openly acknowledge that the Kingdom of God is bigger than our institutions and denominations, and that His Kingdom will still be trucking when many of our treasured traditions have been tucked in the back of history’s closet.
        I know the temptation in times like these is to batten down the hatches and man the walls against all threats, both real and perceived — but, truth be told, the church has taken that route far too many times in the past, and it almost always takes us on a downward track, rather than “higher up and deeper in.”
        I think this is a time for the Body of Christ to shed fear and discover a new kind of courage that is tempered with love and moldable hearts and minds.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          We just have to hang on and hold faith that the essential ingredients will still be there and that we might even become better tasting soup when it’s all said and done.

          My denomination survived Vatican II and its aftershocks (just now settling down after 50 years), so can yours.

          I know the temptation in times like these is to batten down the hatches and man the walls against all threats, both real and perceived — but, truth be told, the church has taken that route far too many times in the past, and it almost always takes us on a downward track, rather than “higher up and deeper in.”

          That is also Extreme Islam’s reaction to Future Shock. Expressed in the Purity of the Wahabi, Khomeniists, and Talibani. Look where it got them, to the point the only way they can survive unchanged is to destroy anything different than them and go back to a Perpetual Year One. That is not the mark of a robust belief system.

      • Aidan Clevinger says:

        Perhaps I just have a different perspective on things, but it seems to me that every time this has happened in the church’s history we had a time of change, an alteration of a few paradigms, and then (for the most part) we went right back to the way things were. For instance; once things settled down, the Reformation really didn’t upheave all that much. They taught a new (or rather, old) doctrine, they changed the liturgy, and they didn’t submit to the Pope anymore, but the average person probably wasn’t affected all THAT much. They still went to confession, they still listened to their pastor preach every Sunday, they still interacted with a lot of the same people, and they still gathered around the Lord’s Supper. Same thing goes for Wesley, or for the Puritans, or even for the Orthodox/Catholic split in the early Middle Ages. I think these things make a much bigger difference for us who are theologically inclined than it does for the majority of people sitting in the pews, just attempting to follow Christ as best they can. “There is nothing new under the sun”.

      • Yes, but both Tickle and Evans embrace the Anglican tradition openly (Tickle from within, Evans through the BCP). They don’t seem to be advocating an abandonment of the institution or the replacing of it with something else. You might say they are actually pushing for semper reformanda!

        • You are right Miguel and I think people are mischaracterizing Bass throughout this discussion (or I didn’t represent her accurately). She loves the traditions of the church and in fact embraced them when she came out of revivalistic evangelicalism itself. Her book Christianity for the Rest of Us celebrates what is happening in traditional mainline churches across the land. But she also sees things stirring in the grassroots, especially among younger people that calls for understanding and adaptation.

        • Danielle says:

          It is interesting to note that Bass is a rather unhappy observer of Anglicanism’s current woes and contradictions. I think she’s said something to the effect that there’s a big third wing between the noisier conservative and liberal parties.

          As for her observations on spirituality vs. religion, I have not yet read her book, but I imagine she’s not advocating that “spirituality” unseat “religion”, but rather observing some major trends in the religious landscape that are sometimes mistaken for strictly theological debates. I *imagine* she might point out that a living religion and its Tradition are in fact partly the products of the “spirituality” of ordinary people.

      • > Ms. Bass is observing something that is happening,

        Something she believes is happening. And might be, on some scale.

        > All you have to do is go to another blog, like, for example, Rachel
        > Held Evans’s, and you see this in action. She is getting triple the
        > number of comments than we get here on IM from younger people

        I have the misfortune of being an I.T. professional. This above, what you mention, is a *TERRIBLE* way to measure anything at all.

        Young people comment more (either because they have more free time or are more familiar with the technology, whatever… they do). It doesn’t mean they will *DO* anything else. Really, it doesn’t. The disconnect between the Internet persona and the flesh-n-blood persona is frequently vast. Commenting on the Internet is cheap; even cheaper than talk (at least to talk you had to show up). Internet data is *always* *extremely* suspect [ see “self-selected demographic” ].

        > who have either left church or who are in church situations that function
        > much differently than the traditional institution

        Maybe.

  4. I think it would be easy to dismiss this if one is living in a Christian bubble, or even in one of the liturgical churches that, at present, seem to be receiving an influx of seeking or disaffected Evangelicals. (I was one of those Evangelicals, and made my way into the EOC, only to leave it after 3 years; the grass was ultimately not greener, nor was the Lord or the church any more present therein than where I’d been; that’s only to say that the tales of Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail don’t always end with them going to Rome or Constantinople or Canterbury, or staying there after they visit for a long or short while.) The Internet and the events of the last few decades have reshaped human relationships and expectations in ways I don’t think we’ve seen the like of before. The information explosion makes it impossible for churches that heretofore claimed (or still claim) to be “the Church” to wave or hold forth their infallibilities and canons as if their proclaiming that they have faithfully preserved what was believed and practiced everywhere and always and by all (give or take a few) makes it so. The usual institutional methods of reacting or responding to situations such as this – i.e., asserting and exercising more and more authoritarian control – won’t work. People have seen the man behind the curtain. If the dollars don’t flow, the structure must go. And it will.

    Bob Dylan à la Chaplain Mike was right: The church times they are a-changin’. ? ???? ??? ???????? ?? ?? ?????? ????? ???? ??????????.

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone
    If your time to you is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
    For the loser now will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Come senators, congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
    It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changin’

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is rapidly fadin’
    And the first one now will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’

    • The ???? was supposed to be the text of Revelation 3:22 in Greek – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” It appears that this site doesn’t like unicode anymore.

  5. I quite imagine that this will be a selection in Oprah’s Book of the Month club soon. Sounds nice, but a lack of orthodoxy, structure, and episcopal oversight can be dangerous things. Would the writer be a pantheist, CM? What’s her background? I’m curious.

    As far as Rowan Williams and his desire for unity…He was fighting a losing battle. He ignored GAFCON in favor of the minority of theologically liberal folks, and the Anglican Church divided. If he had favored GAFCON, then the more liberal branches would have been the ones splitting off. It will be interesting to see how the new AoC deals with the division. I pray there is a positive outcome.

    Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are important. We must believe correctly and practice our faith with consistency. If we don’t, then we might as well throw in the towel, and all be our own Gods. Frankly, there’s a part of me that believes that’s why we have over 33,000 Christian denominations today…we’re more concerned with being God than with knowing God.

    • So are you saying that the only or proper or best way to know God is to be a member of the Roman Catholic or Eastern and/or Oriental Orthodox Church(es)?

      • EricW,

        I can’t speak for Lee, I like his comments, and I don’t have the space to lay out why I believe it to be so, but I do think that the best way to know God is in a system that has episcopal oversight. I think it was established early in the church and is wholesome, comforting, and vitally important. Not the only way, but the best and the surest.

        Peace,
        Austin

        • If by episcopal oversight you’re including the Episcopalians and the Methodists and some Lutheran and Reformed churches, that’s now 7 “denominations,” most of which won’t or can’t share communion with each other, and certainly won’t or can’t share communion with all the others.

          I’m not sure Christ is any more or any less divided now than He was when Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Outer forms don’t mean much to Jesus, going by some of the things He said.

          • EricW,

            I don’t deny the absurdity of these groups not communing with each other. It is absurd. But for the record as an Anglican, and more specifically an Anglican Priest, I’m happy to welcome any to the Lord’s Table who have been baptized.

            And I’m not saying church order is the most important thing, for as you point out what good is order if your actions are not reflective of Christ. But I think to say that Jesus doesn’t care about forms, taking the whole of scripture as equal with each other, is to go too far. I think you will find a lot of places where form and order are addressed and valued very highly.

            Peace,
            Austin

      • Eric…

        There is a difference between Orthodox and orthodox (lower case “o”).

        My own personal experience teaches me that autonomy for the sake of being “independent” can be a dangerous thing. Leadership needs accountability, and this often isn’t obtained adequately through deacons or elder boards.

        As far as the denominations you listed…I can receive communion in any of these you mentioned, except for Orthodox and Catholic bodies. I respect their traditions, although I agree with Austin (and Anglican tradition) that communion can and should be served to baptized believers. Why do we need orthodoxy and orthopraxy? To prevent foolishness like this…

        http://newscastmedia.com/blog/2010/07/24/priest-enrages-parishioners-by-serving-communion-to-dog/

        and this…

        http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/marchweb-only/112-53.0.html

        If we can serve communion to dogs, and ordain Buddhists and Muslims as Christian priests, then let’s throw out all the rules. Again, when we make our own rules according to the whims of culture, we are touting ourselves as Gods…and I do not believe the true God is pleased with this.

        • Amen.

          God doesn’t need chruch, but we humans sure do. As a species, we are prone to wandering off on our own, making up our own rules, and thinking that the rest of humankind is misled or wrong.

          • The same thing happens with institutional church hierarchies, only the members/leaders do it as a group instead of as individuals – i.e., make up their own rules and think/act like the rest of humankind, including the rest of Christendom, is misled or wrong.

          • Eric, I agree that where there are people, there will always be problems. Having layer upon layer of accountability should, at least in theory, help assure that problems are addressed adequately and appropriately.

          • Having layer upon layer of accountability should, at least in theory, help assure that problems are addressed adequately and appropriately.

            Or covered up and hushed up and lawyered up adequately and inappropriately. 😀

            Sex/child-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church (and the SBC Churches – http://stopbaptistpredators.org/index.htm), anyone? 😮

        • SBC churches consider themselves autonomous, and “under the authority of the Bible” only.

          Someone else today has made the remark that there are times that entire institutions make inappropriate decisions…but ultimately, what was in the darkness did come into the light. Without at least leadership that was committed to doing the right thing, would that have ever happened in the Catholic Church?

          I would like to see statistics that weighed proportionally the percentage of priests who have molested children against other groups that traditionally serve children…such as school teachers, sports coaches, volunteers at children’s programs…or family members of the children, as far as that goes. I think we would find that this is a dirty secret in many parts of society…not just the church…and that the church itself has done more to combat that issue, as well as to serve those whose lives have been impacted by this terror than other cultural counterparts.

    • I quite imagine that this will be a selection in Oprah’s Book of the Month club soon. Sounds nice, but a lack of orthodoxy, structure, and episcopal oversight can be dangerous things.

      THIS: particularly the “oversight” part; I’ve noticed that while not sitting still under abusive leadership is a good-to-great thing, not sitting still under ANY oversight is….. not so much. I’m also not convinced that the author is not promoting anything , only observing. Interesting post, though.

    • Bass a mainline Christian in the Episcopal church. She is an insightful observer of church culture. I’m looking forward to reading her book.

  6. Butler Bass is only reporting that the search for ultimate reality outside the boundaries of traditional Christianity is well underway. I recall Michael Spencer observing that evangelicalism has become the sworn enemy of biblical Christianity. Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin. Evangelical Christianity is experiencing a new wave of iconoclasm – this time directed against itself, dashing the idols they have safely tucked away in their mighty fortresses. I like Phyllis Tickle’s quote from Anglican Bishop Mark Dyer, who observed that “about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale”. It’s not as if this day was unforeseeable. Prophecies about conditions which might prompt the Holy Spirit to blow the winds of reviving grace elsewhere through a post-evangelical America were being expressed already fifty years ago. In that respect Butler Bass is merely reporting that the search for ultimate reality outside the boundaries of traditional Christianity is well underway. is contemporizing earlier work of historian William McLoughlin, Harvey Cox, and Warren Young who wrote as early as 1958, “If, because of irreverence and externalism, Evangelicalism should be written off as an exhausted and empty thing, there may yet come a day when we shall find ourselves in the midst of a revival which some of us will not recognize as such, because it did not come out of our mold, and does not use our shibboleths.” Long the whipping boys of evangelicals, mainline churches like Butler Bass’s TEC are now experiencing the evangelical inner migration and receiving their churches’ fallout. Her challenge to them is to embrace these fresh winds of change towards Jesus-shaped community.

    • David Cornwell says:

      ” there may yet come a day when we shall find ourselves in the midst of a revival which some of us will not recognize as such, because it did not come out of our mold, and does not use our shibboleths.”

      I totally agree with this. Dr. Kenneth Kinghorn, who taught my church history course in seminary said much the same thing back in the late 1970’s. The Holy Spirit sometimes brings revival in ways that blow through the molds and shake the foundations.

  7. I think people reacting in the comments by saying “but we need structure!” are missing the point. People my age (I’m 36) and younger for the most part hear that and hear you saying, “we must protect the structure over the people!” It could be written off as a fad or whatever, but I think if you look at the numbers, something bigger is happening. I just don’t think a lot of people are that interested in preserving a certain tradition if it means they have to sell their soul to do so.

    Granted, a lot of liturgical traditions don’t really demand a lot out their adherents at the resent, but for people who grew up in evangelical churches the fact that they’re liturgical at all is still seen as a negative thing. Honestly, I have tried to fit into a more liturgical tradition, and it just seems like something is missing most of the time. Perhaps it’s just my pentecostal history rebelling, but I can’t get past the notion that I’m just going through the motions. I can appreciate the beauty and history, and I love the fact that it’s grounded in scripture; but deep down it doesn’t feel right. It’s hard to explain, really.

    • Phil M.

      I’m in your generation (34) and while I can’t or won’t try to speak to your mind, I will tell you that there is so much rebellion towards established order even in those professing Christ in our Western Culture b/c we have become a generally rebellious culture. We have been moving towards a sole focus on me, I, what is best for me, not just sinc the 60’s but probaly for the better part of 300-400 years.

      We value self and our interest and fullfillment more than the greater common good. We see the realiazation of our self as the utlimate goal. We rebel at submission to any authority. We often say “ah but I’ll submit to the scriptures” but in reality what we mean is we submit to the scriptures as interpreted by “ourselves” to suit “ourselves.”

      Again, I’m not saying that is you. But that is a lot of my friends and co-generationalist.

      Peace,
      Austin

      • I think there’s some of that. Individualism is definitely a product of the Enlightenment, and even the Reformation to a large degree. But what I see isn’t necessarily people who are just all about themselves. There’s some of that, of course. I just think a lot of people see institutions as doing anything to protect themselves but not very much to look out for their members, and they don’t want anything to do with it. Oddly enough, you actually see the phenomenon of putting the survival of the institution as the highest ideal in independent churches as well.

        • Phil M.

          I agree with that. And I think it is an indictment of established orders that they have been more concernced about their own existence than those they serve.

          Good point.

          Austin

      • So what are we to do when we ARE trying to interpret the Scriptures with integrity, and we see before us a choice between following the Holy Spirit’s leading, and following the established order’s interpretation?

        I guess we get called “selfish.”

        • +1

        • Thing is, it can be tough to know if we are hearing the Holy Spirit or Lucifer.

          From personal experience, the latter can mimic the former very well…

          • Final Anonymous says:

            That would be true for priests and bishops as easily as us spiritual wanderers though.

        • Verity3
          What you speak of is a real problem.

          There are still many churches around that were built by baby boomers. We boomers have exactly the same sentiment as you. What we often have failed to take into account is that our very interpretation of scripture is heavily influenced by where and when we live. Does it ever strike you as ironic that boomer churches resemble boomer culture? We tone down on bible, tone up on pop psychology and rock music as a form of worship. We hate hierarchies and leadership structures. We love experience. Church has become very ‘me’ centered. Wherever Christianity has flourished the church has tended to take on a local flavour and a tendency to be colored by the culture around it.
          And yes, a whole generation can get it wrong.

          I don’t know how old you are, but all humans will suffer from the same malady.

          I have concluded that I need some kind of plumb line, or correction factor. I think we have that in 2000 years of Christian history. I come back to the idea that there is a great cloud of witnesses that stretches back in history, I am part of that community. What do they say?
          A person struggled with this some years ago (Vincent of Lerins) and came up with this as a litmus test for beliefs or doctrine: “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all’

      • If you want to read a great treatment of this topic by Skye Jethani, read his “Divine Commodity”. Great stuff , and he writes as a 30-something (34 ??). I think you are dead on, Austin, as to large parts of society not wanting , or asking for ANY authority, as if that were so “two generations ago….. i mean….SERIOUSLY ??”

        I find it interesting that Bass frames one contrast as top down authority over against “the spirit”. It’s as if you cant’ have one AND the other, but that’s only an impression given, not an outright opinion stated, I admit.

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      I don’t know, Phil – I’m 17 and I still a lack of structure as a bad thing. I get the whole individualism thing, and I get the need for change and adaptation, really I do. But as I said in an earlier comment, it’d be very, very difficult to read the New Testament and argue that certain leadership positions (i.e. the role of pastor) aren’t divinely ordained and aren’t necessary in most cases for a good, healthy spiritual life. And as regards “selling your soul” to remain in an institution: it certainly does happen to some, and in those cases schism might be necessary, but I think we should try every other option first. The church in Corinth had a rough time of things morally, interpersonally, and spirituality, and Paul still counseled them to stay together and tough it out. And even when we do break off, it is far, far better to do so with a group of other people who can be counted on for support and edification than to do so alone, and even that kind of movement can (and should) develop some kind of leadership structure at some point.

      • Well, I never said I’m against all structure. Even house churches will have some sort of leadership structure in place – even on the simplest level you have to someone who tells everyone else when and where to meet.

        What I’m saying is that many people are beyond the place where they believe someone should be respected simply because they are in a leadership position or have a title. Those simply don’t mean a lot to many people. The Apostle Paul is a good example. He was called, of course, but he also proved his call by demonstrating that he was willing to undergo all sorts of hardships for the sake of those he was called to reach. That type of servant leadership does exist still, but it seems it’s getting harder and harder to find. It really seems to me that the further removed from the local level you get, the more rare it is.

      • Aiden: you mean you are 17 in DOG YRS, right ??? Double amen to your post, esp. the admonition to not go it alone (even if the group we are with does not have a well known stamp of approval).

    • Final Anonymous says:

      Phil, I wrote almost these same words a few weeks ago (although, sad to say, I’m definitely not younger than 36). Nice to hear I’m not the only one.

  8. Matt Purdum says:
  9. I don’t see “religion” and “spirituality” as opponents. A healthy church _needs_ a sense of authority from outside itself: the priest is a servant to the Word, and accountable to the congregation and to a bishop. The congregation as a whole should strive to be faithful to Scripture and to the core Christian message passed down to us through the ages by the universal Church. Liturgy and traditional hymns and prayers ensure that the voices of Christians a thousand years ago are still heard. Relationships with other churches and other denominations allow us to learn from each other and to help each other at times when our own understanding of God is inadequate. And of course, coming to church, Bible studies, etc. ensures that we as individuals are reading Scripture in community and living lives that are accountable to that community.

    We need that whole framework of mutual submission to higher autorities, to leaders, to those we lead, to each other, to Scripture, to tradition, to the Church, and ultimately to Jesus. But of course, we also need individual faith and private spiritual practices. The church can provide a trellis for the branches of the vine to grow on, but the branches still needs to be growing and producing fruit. And at its best, all the trappings of “organized religion” actually work to _encourage_ individual growth by providing a space and a structure for us to grow in a healthy direction.

    What we need is not to discard authority, but to develop authority structures of mutual submission and mutual empowerment.

    • Very well said.

      And I’m going to venture that this picture you’ve painted of the church, mutual submission, and the growth of the individual has not really changed that much in 2000 yrs, even if the particular stresses placed on the “trellis” have changed culturally. I would also say that authourity will always be somewhat “top down” , even when mutual submission has its rightful place. I’m not seeing any way around that.

    • +1.
      It seems to me that most religious groups/networks/denominations err on one side of the coin: Either the leaders can be held in check by nobody, or they have been deprived of the ability to functionally lead in any tangible manner. Mutual submission, empowerment, accountability! If a church can get those ideas ingrained into their organizational structure, I truly believe that good things will run wild.

  10. David Cornwell says:

    I’ll admit that the term “spirituality” makes me nervous when I hear it. However in the context that it is being used one must take notice. There is a tension between “top-up” and “bottom-down” and we might as well recognize it. The best position clergy can take, and the authorities who might be at the top, is to listen, observe, and talk with those who feel the church is out of joint. Those at the top are in a position to offer guidance. I’m not sure they will ever be able to exercise authority quite like they did in the past. Laity in the top-down churches often feel they are not being listened to, that no one hears them. Those at the top keep making decisions based on their positional status, the old dug-in ways of doing things, that seem out of step to the younger.

    Maybe those who are are attempting to defend traditional orthodoxy need to try something different. There is change in the air. Language somehow needs to change so that the old faith can be understood on new terms. And we’d better listen to what younger generations are saying about those who are different and do not quite look like or fit the mold that we want to fit them into. The old trenches that defend in the same positions will be overrun.

    Diana Butler Bass in the piece to which this is linked says:
    “The Anglican crisis is not about Rowan Williams or even religion. It is about the drive for meaningful connection and community and a better, more just, and more peaceful world as institutions of church, state and economy seem increasingly unresponsive to these desires. It is about the gap between a new spirit and institutions that have lost their way. Only leaders who can bridge this gap and transform their institutions will succeed in this emerging cultural economy.”

    Younger people make me nervous, but not afraid. Their insights are valid. If we fail to take notice, then I’m afraid the old institutions will fade into the musty pages of church history and I’m not sure what will take the place. We need to at least listen, and to show respect when we do. People are tired of the old staleness, the incesteous state of corporate-political-financial discourse. No one respects Congress these days. The same thing will happen to the church.

    As to “top-down” or “bottom-up,” probably some blend of the old and the new is needed. Younger generations are worth listening to. Many can be guided into a real Christian community of faith, but only if they feel respected, value the language with which they are speaking, and maybe even learn from them how to treat those who are different. Maybe even a close observation of Jesus will help us with that.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I’m from that granola bowl called California. “Spirituality” without the structure of religion means all those Pop Occultism/New Age/Shirley Mac Laine stuff trickling down from The Beautiful People and Chattering Class to us proles via the media. Fluffbunny Wiccan Lite.

    And the 10,000+ One True Churches of Protestantism are where a “Bottom-Up Faith” of Personal Salvation can get you. The essence of Gnosticism — The Secret (Occult) Knowledge (Gnosis) which We and Only We Have, all others are Apostate.

    • Just a reminder–Mike Spencer used the phrase Jesus-shaped spirituality and contrasted it with Mere Churchianity. In his book he also suggested that people may need to leave established church institutions for awhile to find Jesus.

      • I’m willing to guess 9 of 10 people this applies to were hurt by specific individuals who treated them harshly, and not necessarily by institutional structures, though the structures can be very complicit in accommodating leaders devoid of compassion. People who “find Jesus” typically find a way back into the institution eventually. In the meantime, there’s the wilderness. But when people try to institutionalize the wilderness, we’ve essentially arrived at Restorationism 2.0. Or “Fluffbunny Wiccan Lite.” 😛

      • It seems, though that Michael’s advice about leaving a church to find Jesus, applies to those who are in churches that are in someway inhibiting that search. Not every church should be put into that category. (I know that neither you, nor he is advocating that. I read his book). But there is a difference between a cure, and regular life. My mom is getting chemo right now b/c she has breast cancer. She doesn’t do that as a normal activity.

        The “normal” walk with Jesus in this life is not to be done solo. God designed it to be done in community, with accountability. Leaving, is not a permanently healthy state to remain in. In fact, Michael advocated that a person who leaves should fellowship with a group working with the homeless, or some other group that is doing that kind of ministry.

    • HUG, I am with you on this, even if I am not from the People’s Republic of California! 🙂 For old farts such as myself, I am hearing echoes of the 60’s…

      BTW, when one is wandering around lost, it helps to have a map and a compass. Which path you chose is up to you, but it beats stepping off a cliff or trapped in a flood zone because it “felt right”.

    • cermak_rd says:

      And I live in IL, an area that has been historically very, very Catholic. And now it isn’t so much. At one time, the parish you lived in was an identifying marker. It isn’t now. At one time, when the Cardinal spoke, he was listened to respectfully, now he provokes a yawn, so he’s been reduced to having to throw an occasional temper tantrum just to get folks to listen to him. This happened because 1 by 1 folks looked around and decided, this isn’t working for me. Because after all, if a faith doesn’t work for people, they’ll find something that does, otherwise, folks would still be worshipping Zeus and Odin. In my area, the Mexican and Guatemalan population is increasingly being served more by small iglesias than the traditional Catholic church. I would guess because that works for them.

      And yes it is individualistic, but everything is. Church services are the way they are because someone likes it that way (even if it is the dead).

      The big sea change I see is that church attendance has become conditional. Which as someone who has observed people hurt by an authoritarian church, I applaud. When the pewsitters are there conditionally, when they will get up and walk when they are displeased, then conditions become less favorable for authoritarianism.

      All in all, I’d rather have the diversity of religous expressio
      n you mention than have a small handful of authority heavy churches.

      • All in all, I’d rather have the diversity of religous expression you mention than have a small handful of authority heavy churches.

        In a way, it kind of reminds me of when neighborhoods have protests to keep Wal-Mart out, or when people complain about people ordering books off of Amazon instead of supporting their “mom and pop” bookstores. Well, none of these things happen in a vacuum. Obviously, if the needs of everyone were being met at mom and pop stores, none of these other stores would have gotten as big as they are. We can complain about things being the way they are, but usually things are better with some change taking place than with none.

  12. Cedric Klein says:

    Without some respect for Jesus-centered institutions & structures, the best intentioned Christian can start off
    embracing spirituality & spontineity & joy & charismata and end up into Shamanism & Witchcraft- some times quite literally.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Like I said, Fluffbunny Wicca Lite.

      And when I look at some of the Extreme Charismatics/Pentecostals (i.e. the Tokin-the-Ghost Lunatic Fringe), I find it hard to tell the difference between them and Voudun. (Legba Opens de Gate and de Loa mount der Horses and ride.)

      Or the Extreme Spiritual Warfare types — too much like Witchfinders-General, sniffing for Spectral Evidence.

      And “Imprecatory Prayer” shading into putting Death Curses (Cancer, Brain Tumor, etc) and other Hexes upon Our Enemies. That’s well beyond folk magic — that’s crossing the line from Pow-wow to Hexerai, hard.

  13. Tokah Fang says:

    I’m curious, how does a bottom up, relational, non institutional religious culture pass on the particulars of the faith, not just to their grandchildren, but also their great grandchildren? If a lot of people are going to move that way, it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

    • cermak_rd says:

      For religion to be real, I think it has to be chosen by each family member. Not passed down like eye color.

      • Final Anonymous says:

        +1

      • Tokah Fang says:

        I completely agree, actually! I didn’t mean what has to happen to force our kids to follow our religion. I wasn’t thinking of family at all. I worded that poorly. I was thinking of the church’s children as being those trained there, wherever they came from, and the grandchildren would be whoever THOSE people trained in the faith.

    • humanslug says:

      As someone who has been involved in house and simple churches for a while now, how we will pass on something substantial or lasting to future generations is something that has weighed on my mind.
      One thing I think we can pass on is a dedication to self education in the scriptures and other Christian writings and history, coupled with a dedication toward discipling others while being discipled yourself (preferably on a one-on-one basis).
      Another is instilling a sense of “being” the church, rather than just “going” to church services — and that as a believer, we are free to interact, fellowship, pray, and worship with any other believer, group of believers, or institutional organization of believers on planet earth. We are also free to initiate or organize gatherings of believers at any place or time or work together with any fellow believer, group of believers, or Christian institution in any good, God-honoring work, program, or outreach.
      Most of all, we can teach people that they are free and able to follow Christ wherever He leads them and to serve God and others in whatever setting, church body, or social context in which they find themselves.
      While we’re probably not going to pass on any lasting institutions or impressive real estate to future generations, I do believe we can produce some balanced, even-and-open-minded, Christ-seeking individuals who can disciple others and serve in just about any context without a lot of baggage or proscribed limitations. And maybe we can seed some fresh ideas and perspectives into the larger Christian culture.
      At least I hope so.

  14. So I take it Ms. Bass is a fan of good ol’ fashioned Southern Baptist congregationalism with its lively quarterly businesses meetings, eh? But of course, we all know that isn’t the case…

    Anyway, I’m not seeing the kind of informal, colloquial “spiritual” revival that she thinks is currently taking place in coffee houses and on the “streets.” Rather, I see a large number of Westerners who feel somewhat uncomfortable by the fact that they’re presently alienated from their own religious tradition but aren’t willing to meet that tradition in any the various and sundry ways that it presents itself to them. In my opinion, most of these people are just selfish, they’re looking for what their Christian heritage can do for them instead of thinking about how they can spiritually grow while sacrificially contributing to a community of faith.

    • I think the issue is more with young people, NW. The 60’s brought us Vatican II and my generation had its “Jesus Movement” in the early 70’s and there’s an argument to be made that the church has never been the same since, for good and/or for ill. Both were energized by younger generations. Today, every church tradition is struggling with the mass exodus of youth from the institution. I think the question goes both ways: (1) how can the church properly adapt to new realities on the ground, and (2) how can we be faithful to the traditions and winsomely challenge people to participate?

      • CM,

        I agree and wish I had the answers to those very good questions that you posed. For what it’s worth, my perspective is that of an under 30 academic (and “millennial”) who would place most of the blame on the selfishness and laziness of my own generation.

      • Faithful and winsome IS the challenge of the day, I believe. To many “faithful” are sticks in the mud, and too many “winsome” play loose with orthodoxy. They seem like opposite extremes, but it may be that the one big challenge of ministry today is to find the balance of the two. Grace and truth.

    • Well, I think there needs to be a give and take when it comes to being part of a community. I don’t think many people are interested in becoming part of a church that doesn’t give a crap if they come or not. It gets old going into a church on Sundays or whenever and realizing that no one there would care one way or another if you got up and left. Perhaps people who have been part of the same congregation for several years don’t notice it, but try moving to a new area and see how it works out. My wife and I have filled out vistor cards, given contact info to people, etc., and most of the time we don’t even get a welcome email back. That’s what I’m talking about when I mean people put the institution first. Churches talk a lot about outreach and serving, but let’s be honest, most of them aren’t really interested in it if it means disrupting the thing they’ve got going.

      Am I too cynical? Perhaps… It’s just hard to not be cynical when you see the same sorts of things being played out over and over. And honestly if independent churches are doing a better job at making new people feel welcome in their midst, than God bless ’em. I’ve got no time for just going to a place for the sake of going.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I have moved around quite a bit over the course of my life, so I have experience with church hunting: mostly Lutheran, but not exclusively so. I have (or rather had, since I don’t expect to move again) a routine. Show up to church. If the service is utterly appalling, slip out the back door as quickly and quietly as possible. If the service is promising, then chat up the pastor, sign the guest book, and generally stand around making myself available for introductions. The proper response for small-to-medium sized churches is for parishioners to meet and greet someone like that and invite them to coffee hour. In larger churches, where everybody doesn’t know everybody else, the pastor may have to take more of this on, or at least point people at the visitor. I have visited churches where nobody seemed much interested in the visitor. I haven’t gone back to those. Too far the other way is nearly as off-putting: like going on a first date with someone a bit desperate. But there is a happy middle ground, and many churches manage it quite well.

        That being said, this is a courtship process. I want everyone to find a church, but it need not be the same church as I attend. There should ideally be a good fit. If a potential new member is seen as a disruption, this might be because the church is cliquish. It might be because the church has narrow ideas of what social or economic or ethnic classes it wants. But it might also be because the potential new member is a poor fit. Michael Spencer had his essay where he said that the mainlines could recruit disillusioned Evangelicals if only it weren’t for being soft of gays. That is a really good example of a potentially terrible fit.

  15. Who wudda ever thunk I would find myself standing in a small group of people holding a candle while the Pharisees raged and there next to me was Chaplain Mike? It isn’t that those who hold on to forms that have lost their Life and insist others do the same are wrong, they are just increasingly irrelevant.

    I take it that when Jesus said we FIRST were to seek the Kingdom of God, he didn’t mean we should look for it in buildings. I could be wrong, I haven’t run that past my local authority figure.

    • …and that’s kind of a non-sequitur: The institution is not saying that the Kingdom of God is within some building, no matter how much anti-institutionalism would have you believe its their message. If anything, it isn’t necessarily forms that are driving young people away as it is indifferent attitudes. Young people seem to actually be rediscovering the value of ancient forms, and the relevancy halo is beginning to tarnish, becoming somewhat of a fossilized institution itself. I wouldn’t blame the religious boogeyman for driving people away form church. If anything, its the presumptuous blaming of the religious boogeyman that has become transparently phony. “I thank you, Father, that you have not made me like those religious Pharisees over there…” I’ve yet to meet a non-religious person.

  16. The Previous Dan says:

    It’s the GNU Open Source Church. You don’t like it? Download the source code, rewrite it to suite your perceived need, recompile it and off you go!

    • Apropos of nothing else, I’ve likened the world of Linux and Forks to a small town with 6 Baptist churches: You know there’s a story there.

      We are in a time of heavy personalization. I’m not that surprised that we treat the church in the same way.

      • But even Linux benefitted from a standardization, i.e. Red Hat Linux. I think the church benefits in the certain way. Accountability structures are important. Even as an Evangelical I value them. I have just seen too much abuse of power in independent churches.

        By the way, Red Hat Linux got its start in Ancaster, Ontario, just up the hill from me, a small town with only three Baptist churches.

        • Man we’re nerds.

          Seriously, I get what you’re saying. RHEL, Ubuntu, and others have done a good job of standardization. Likewise, there’s a reason the early churches assembled in their Ecumenical Councils and we recite the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed centuries later.

          (Ubuntu’s Unity is still a mess, tho.)

          • The Previous Dan says:

            The phase humanity is in now is one where the Open Source philosophy has pervaded social, religious, political, and moral standards. Actually, it is more the Internet than it is Open Source. These dissatisfied young adults are a generation that takes the decentralized, participatory, and dynamic nature of the Internet to heart since they grew up on it. There is a lot of good that can come from that. But there is also a huge danger that lessons of the past will be forgotten and not incorporated into the new standards that arise.

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      Love it.

  17. Pastor Don says:

    At an inter-denominational function for pastors I attended, the speaker that night made a joke. He said we are pleased that 72 denominations are represented here–er, check that. I have just been told a couple of brothers got in an argument in the hallway prior to our meeting tonight and now there are 73 denominations represented here. Everyone chuckled. Chuckle we will, but the point of the joke is not lost on any of us. And I think that’s why our heavenly Father has left plenty of room for individual growth and expression and also realized that all needs to be nurtured and guided with leadership and community.

    Jesus and his sending of the twelve people and Paul and his writing about elders indicates to me that God expects some kind of order to his Church and its churches. The individualism of our day is not in sync with the collective encouragement, support, and dare I speak it…correction, the Holy Spirit writes about in Scripture. Yes, there has been gross misapplication, but it is found in leadership and in movements as well as individual practices and expressions. Yes, there are abuses from leadership but even secular rulers serve God’s will (Romans 13). Yes, we are to cherish private times of prayer and scripture meditation, but Peter also needed Paul’s correction.

    Rather than go on and on about what we think, our conversation is better served by keeping ourselves focused first on what God says. There will still be vibrant ideas expressed but at least with a better chance of Jesus’ brothers and sisters continuing down the road he has chosen rather than leave so many wandering on paths not leading to the cross.

    The Holy Spirit is clearly awakening his people to unhealthy practices within some groups and some leaders. But his word tells us our Heavenly Father expects helpful order and good leadership in place for his people, while making room for the Holy Spirit to speak to each of them as needed for not only their growth but in the end, the good and the growth of his Kingdom.

  18. I am looking forward to reading her book too.
    I’m one of those people who has attended church regularly and everyday says, “There must be more to it than this. Is this what Jesus really intended?”
    Humans have a bad habit of institutionalizing even the most sacred of things.

  19. Certainly, living with a spirit led, bottom up approach is the most untidy and unwieldy but it is vital to the life of the church. As others have said, that doesn’t dismiss all authority but the top down structure that goes unquestioned is highly prone to quenching all vitality. The fundamental question is ‘How is Christ speaking to His bride’? If the spirit is still speaking to the church then we have no choice but to listen. Otherwise we find ourselves fighting against God.

  20. This is all a false dichotomy, IMO. And a backdoor way for railroading orthodoxy. There is absolutely nothing (that I can think of, anyways) that the progressive side of this cannot do within a hierarchical or episcopal structure. They have always allowed free thinking and questioning and the exploring of faith. None of the sacramental churches demand you believe every jot and tittle of their doctrine in order to belong. Disagreement has always been tolerated from within, just not from the ordained clergy. This sounds like a way for social progressives to insert their agenda into a church who has remained somewhat consistent on certain hot-button issues for centuries. The institution won’t change its position to accomodate your preference? Easy! Who needs bishops? Let’s start our own version of the same thing and give it the same name.

    “…grass-roots adventure of seeking God, a journey of insight and inspiration involving authenticity and purpose that might or might not happen in a church, synagogue or mosque. Spirituality is an expression of bottom-up faith and does not always fit into accepted patterns of theology or practice.”

    You mean to say this hasn’t been happening for 2000 years? This is something new? Give me a break. You can do all this and still be a part of an institution that ensures continuity of the faith. Once they “break free” of the establishment, give ’em 15 years until the create one of their own. The wheel does not need to be reinvented, and the “newer wheels” all are proving grossly inferior. Calvary Chapel, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29… how’s that for a few “networks?”

    • Can you reject the ever-virginity of the Theotokos and still be Orthodox? Can you refuse to say those prayers and parts of the Liturgy that refer to the “Ever-Virgin Mary”? I don’t mean can you physically not vocalize the words. Can you consciously reject this teaching and tell that to your priest and still partake of the Eucharist as a symbol and pledge of your unity with Christ’s Church?

      Can you reject the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and still be Orthodox? Can you refuse to say those parts of the Liturgy that confess them as being His Real Body and Blood? I don’t mean can you physically not vocalize the words. Can you consciously reject this teaching and tell that to your priest and still partake of the Eucharist as a symbol and pledge of your unity with Christ’s Church?

      • Very good questions. And I’m sure we can all understand that the answer is no, at least not if you are Eastern Orthodox. But as far as little “o” orthodoxy goes, people rejecting such teaching can find a suitable home in reformed churches. But even within Roman Catholicism there’s a far left fringe pushing gay rights and female ordination. The priest does not deny them communion over it, I believe. But when it comes to Eucharistic theology, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest if people align with a church whose teaching they agree with here. But this is hardly the jots and tittles that I’m referring to, these are core teachings. Plus, I meant to refer to little “o” orthodoxy, meaning institutions that include Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, etc… You certainly have to believe in Jesus to be considered Christian at all, but we have room for diversity and questioning under our big tent.

        • cermak_rd says:

          Which Jesus? I’ve met people who are Christians who don’t believe in a historical Jesus, but in a mythical Jesus. Spong among other theologians certainly has some doubts about whether there was a single Jesus historical character (I’ve read Spong suggest Jesus as composite character). Still others believe there was a Jesus historical figure but he was not the son of a god.

          The Quakers near me don’t seem to mandate a belief in Christ as son of their god yet most would consider the Quakers Christian.

          • …like I said, hardly the theological jots and tittles. These are obviously core issues. You are free to question them, but we have to have something in common that binds us together. For the orthodox, Christ as the son of God who died for the sin of the world is that common thing. The basics as summarized in the creeds. “Believe whatever the heck you feel like” is actually another tradition, one that is quite dogmatic. The exclusivity of Christ is not nearly as dogmatically narrow as universalism. Traditional Quaker teaching does hold to Christian orthodoxy, but every group has those who don’t consider said teaching to be very important. Any non-denominational church could say the same thing, and maintain the claim to be Christian. But it has to be possible to be not Christian, and at some point, some groups do cross the line. Otherwise, there is no line and everybody is Christian whether they know it or not.
            And Spong sounds more like a conspiracy theorist than a theologian. He’s going against the general consensus of even secular historians.

  21. Richard Hershberger says:

    I am a bit mystified by the equating of top-down church organization with tradition, and bottom-up organization characterized as “untested”. The corporate identity of my congregation consists of the members. (If you want to be technical, the confirmed members.) We meet twice a year to do things like vote on the budget, major expenditures, and anything involving real property. The congregation also elects a council, electing one third of the council membership each year to a three-year term, with no one serving more than two consecutive terms. The council conducts routine business. The relationship between the council and the pastor and oversight on spiritual matters can be complicated, but when most everyone sees eye to eye, as is usually the case, things run smoothly. There is a hierarchy of synod and national church, but as a practical matter they rarely effect us. We can go for years at a time giving them very little thought. There have been periods in the congregation’s history when it didn’t acknowledge even this level of hierarchy.

    This seems pretty bottom-up to me. How new is it? We have only been doing this a quarter of a millennium. In the broad scheme of things that is a short time. On the other hand, there are few North American churches much older than this.

    I see that Bass is some version of Anglican. This might be influencing her perspective here, leading her to over-generalize parts of her argument.

  22. Dan Crawford says:

    Read Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion, just published, for a considerably more thoughtful analysis of what we are dealing with today. Bass is just humming the cosmis drone of the New-Agers.

    • That’s another book on my reading list, Dan. But I’m not sure you’re being fair to Bass.

      • Yes – please take the time to read her book – I heard her speak recently at an all-day symposium. She went over in much greater detail some of the studies and surveys that were done in order to write the book. Her conclusions are hardly ‘new-age’ …. she is simply trying to identify what might be happening in the Church in our day – and what we might consider doing about it, so as to further the proclamation of the Gospel.

    • That book looks interesting to me, although from the description on Amazon it makes me wonder if the author isn’t pining for sometime of Golden Age past from the America of yesteryear that never really existed. I get worried when people frame arguments based on the premise of, “America’s future depends on blah, blah, blah…”.

  23. You know, the more I read here, the more it sounds like the church is facing the growing pains of a truly global society (of sorts) where the knowledge base and philosophies of the population are no longer isolated by borders or ignorance.
    This sounds Star Trekkian, but perhaps this is a kind of Borg-esque assimilation.
    The arguments over this almost sound like those heard back in the 50’s when the “evil” of Rock and Roll was beginning to invade the popular culture.
    If it doesn’t match up with what we have been programmed to believe is the norm, it must be of “the devil”…
    The well of human history is very, very deep.
    How many times has this happened before?
    Remember, history belongs to the victors.

  24. “The Anglican fight over gay clergy is usually framed as a left and right conflict, part of the larger saga of political division. But this narrative obscures a more significant tension in Western societies: the increasing gap between spirituality and religion, and the failure of traditional religious institutions to learn from the divide.”

    I wonder what wing of the Anglican church she comes from. Sounds like a great way to tone down what really happened. The divide is really liberal theology vs more orthodox theology. The Low Church Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics hold to a high view of scripture. The liberals believe we can make it up as we go along.

    Another way to put this is that the liberal wing tends to view all issues to be 2nd order, and anything can go on the table for negotiation. Of course the opposite is the fundamentalist where all issues are 1st order and there is no negotiation!

    Most of world Anglicanism sits between these 2 extremes.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Funny, I tended to view it as the liberal wing of the Episcopalians believed that the votes at General Council and for Bishops actually mattered.

      • That may be. But I would also say the the liberals tend to think that the essentials of the faith can be voted on and decided by whatever the prevailing winds are in the culture.

        It comes down to differnt views of the nature of man. I think liberalism is more influenced by Rousseau and his thoughts that we are all innocent and need to throw off constraints. This breeds a hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt about anything from the past. The attitude says ‘we know better, we are enlightened’

        • The gay issue neatly parallels the issues of women priests and revisions to the prayerbook. On one hand you have powerful new social trends; on the other, an old guard that resists all change. If they could agree to leave one another alone, then they might still cohabitate in peace (except for divided congregations), but too many of them are offended by the reality that somewhere, there is a diocese that has (choose one:) an openly gay bishop / prejudice against gays, that is besmirching the good name of Anglicanism. On the other hand, nobody seems to be up in arms about the existence of charismatic Anglicans or Anglo-Catholics, which would seem to point to an even more fundamental divide.

  25. Interesting about what I think of as the main lines. But at the same time an opposite movement is taking place.

    Over the last 20 years or so many of the “let’s vote on every issue by the entire congregation” churches have been moving to a strict command structure. They don’t call it that. It goes by servant leadership, elder led, etc… But in all boils down to the elders run the church while elders are elected by the congregation the current elders have to vet all nominees and pick who the final slate will be for an up or down vote. Sort of how Iran’s political system works.

    In some cases the pastors form a majority of the elder board and thus the elections don’t matter.

    There are lots of variations but in the end it is described as a way to keep the church on a true path. And as a way to streamline decision making when there’s an urgency. (FOR WHAT you might ask.)

    I don’t buy it. But it is getting to be hard to find true congregation led churches in many places these days.

    I’ve been in both. I’ll take the messiness and potential problems of the congregation led church over the problems of the closed systems any day.

    And we need to toss this post from MS into the mix:
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-pope-needs-a-business-meeting

  26. I think thugs like Driscoll are more the product of unstructured “spirituality” rather than structured “religion”. Throughout history, anarchy typically resulted in a junta, autocracy, or dictatorship assuming control to restore order. People get tired or lost in narcissistic spirituality, so they find safety under the thumb of a strong leader’s own narcissism. It seems that the spirituality of the sixties ended in cults like the moonies.

    There’s a fine balance between individual spirituality (courage to be) and organized religion (courage to be a part). As I have commented before, Thomas Merton observed how many who sought a spiritual path through the monastic movement of the early twentieth century were ultimately disappointed by the heavy-handed authoritarianism found in American monasteries. I can’t think of a monastery established during that period around here that is still open. But too little structure leaves the door open for self-appointed leaders to rise up and abuse the flock. Both extremes seem to lead to the same result.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Throughout history, anarchy typically resulted in a junta, autocracy, or dictatorship assuming control to restore order. People get tired or lost in narcissistic spirituality, so they find safety under the thumb of a strong leader’s own narcissism. It seems that the spirituality of the sixties ended in cults like the moonies.

      And the French Revolution ended with Napoleon’s one-man rule, “cleaning up the debris with a mop in one hand and a sword in the other.”

  27. Anglicanism has always tried to balance reason and conscience with tradition and authority; however, intelligent, well-meaning people can, with justification, follow these in various directions, as we are seeing now. The conservative and liberal factions each feel that the spirit is siding with them, and are fighting over the political control of (one another’s) institutions, although each mobilizes its supporters through independent networks as well. Each side give lip-service to supporting the Anglican Communion, but no one really loves it, or their fellow members on the opposite side of the struggle. Meanwhile, the church is rapidly transforming into a mixture of little old ladies, wild-eyed African zealots, and gay rights activists, held together by a nebulous tradition about which there exists little consensus.

    Williams’ approach to all this has been to push for some sort of middle-road, compromise position. While this too is a very Anglican value, it lacks any effective constituency and makes Williams look like a Quisling or a Chamberlain (to each side). Now he retires, unloved, leaving the Queen to select his replacement (a process which makes the church seem even more of an anachronism).

    I would like to see something extremely radical happen to shake things up–really, anything would do, no matter which faction ultimately benefits. Perhaps King Charles (after his coronation) will be good enough to convert to some other religion–Greek Orthodoxy or Tibetan Buddhism or even Sufism for that extra touch of religio-political horror. Then Parliament will have to revisit the question of disestablishment. Anything to keep the church from sliding entirely into irrelevance.

    • Jack Heron says:

      The Queen doesn’t actually select the new archbishop. There’s a council of bishops that debates the matter and then presents two names to the Prime Minister (one as their recommendation, one as a spare in case – for whatever reason – the first cannot take the role). The PM rubber-stamps this and tells the Queen, she enthrones the new archbishop. Constitutionally it’s her choice, in actual fact it isn’t.

  28. Radagast says:

    Late to this discussion as I am battling the flu… this reads of individualism, what’s good for me and plays down community. It also reads of relativeism though I, because of my bias may be reading too much into it. As some readers have mentioned already, it looks like I am seeing faith and religion through the eyes of the idealistic younger generation, and that may be where she is pulling her trending. But as I have also said before, if the Church changed on every cultural whim the church would have ceased to be relevant a long time ago.

    We have lost the ability to look past ourselves and see only our own needs. As we as a society have also moved on from having to worry as much collectively about basic needs and basic needs have become entitlements, so do we turn from the communal things and look inward, until those wants become the most important thing. I am hungry has been replaced with I am lonely. Communal faith has been replaced with how are you going to satisfy my spiritual need and keep me interested – or the quest to find everything wrong with the man-made institution and striking out on ones own because we believe we have the better path ( a form of narcissism).

    I guess we could all become unitarian Univeralists (a group I hung with for a while in a book club – highly intelligent group of professors) but yet I found even with that group and all their diverse views of spirituality, a look of seeking, as if something was missing they could not put their finger on.

    OK – late night ramblings after being sick – wonder how this will read?

  29. @Chap Mike: Rachel Held Evans post on Better Conversations Between Churched and Unchurched Christians seems to be a paragraph in the conversation that you/we are trying to have. I skimmed it, and will read it slower later today. You might want to take a look.

    Keep pushing the envelope, Mav.
    GregR

  30. Time had an article about communities of people who were leaving traditional churches and searching for spirituality outside the church. What’s ironic is that the service that was described actually sounded very traditional, it was just held in an “unconventional” place and was populated with people who didn’t describe themselves as “Christians”.

    We think that we are SO different from everyone else, but in reality we are not.

    A group will say “We are so OUT THERE. We are meeting for church in a BAR on Saturday NIGHT. Awesome!” But when you take a closer look they do a lot of the same things that other churches are doing, reading the Bible, fellowshipping, discipleship, helping the needy etc. etc.

    How much of this phenomenon is a desire to be different and “rebellious” against the establishment?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But when you take a closer look they do a lot of the same things that other churches are doing, reading the Bible, fellowshipping, discipleship, helping the needy etc. etc.

      I’ve heard it said on Christian radio many-many years ago, that “only in Christianese is ‘fellowship’ a verb.” The context was a humor book titled (from memory) GUBA: Growing Up Born-Again touching on Christianese attitudes, secret language, and general weirdness.

  31. It may be worth considering the influence of Ayn Rand’s current popularity among Christians, concerning the negative climate toward anything remotely considered “collective” (of which Rand included the church in her attacks, e.g. the church as the “Kindergarten of Communism”). In all fairness, there is a point to some of Rand’s writings and criticisms of the church. My daughter read “Anthem” as a homework assignment this year and really liked it. She commented on how the characters in the book were forbidden from speaking in the first person. Frankly, I see this far too often in church. In a recent worship service, the leader prayed fervently that we would disappear and all that remained would be Jesus. Dare I ask how we have “personal relationship” with Jesus if we disappear? The church as a heteronomous entity which crushes individuality for the sake of conformity, uniformity, and “The Glory of God” is an abomination. A human is social and individual. We conform and serve the common good, but we have our own minds, hearts, thoughts, ideas, and desires. One is not sacrificed for the other.

    • It is quite confusing. In the same worship service where we were exhorted to disappear, the worship songs were the typical “I, Me, My” praise songs.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It’s even more confusing how a rabid Anti-Theist like Rand (with her Objectivist philosophical cult of Utter Selfishness) became the Fourth Person of the Trinity.

  32. ‘All institutions are being torn apart by tension between two groups: those who want to reassert familiar and tested leadership patterns — including top-down control, uniformity and bureaucracy; and those who want to welcome untested but promising patterns of the emerging era — grass-roots empowerment, diversity and relational networks. It is not a divide between conservatives and liberals; rather, it is a divide between institution and spirit.’

    Having been a part of the very liberal Anglican Church in Canada this paragraph strangely resembles typical discussion of this group.

    Translated into plain English it would look like this:
    Theological conservatives (read Anglo-Catholic and low church Evangelicals) want to reaffirm the past and tradition, others of us are more progressive and look to the future. Local congregations should have the power to change everything, and we stand for diversity (read gay rights, feminism, pro-choice, suspicion of the bible or anything of historic Christianity) This is not a liberal conservative divide, its fossilized institutionalism (them the conservatives) vs the spirit of God.

    I have found a general rule when I go to a new Anglican church. If the rector starts to obfuscate in the message and you find yourself puzzled and asking ‘what is really being said’ they probably are a progressive. We Anglicans usually are not as ‘in your face’ as Evangelicals at large. And the reason for this is that we have valued unity at all costs so have learned the art of being mealy-mouthed (British for: Unwilling to state facts or opinions simply and directly.)

  33. > All institutions are being torn apart by tension between two groups:
    > those who want to reassert familiar and tested leadership patterns
    > …and those who want to welcome untested but promising patterns
    > of the emerging era

    Not. This view is silly in the extreme, and reflects a basic failure to come to terms with human nature.

    There are those who want to sustain the existing systems [which at least work to some degree] for some selfish and some legitimate motives. And there are those who wish to topple or discard these systems so they can take the authority for themselves and impose their own [potentially better, but very likely inferior] ‘vision’.