Christianity Cannot Survive the Decline in Worship

Church leaders who are serious about saving the faith need to be serious about worship.

Around the year 1510, a delegation of Christians from Sudan, which had been recently overrun by Muslim conquest, went to the Christian Ethiopian court and begged the emperor to send them bishops and priests. The Christians remaining in Sudan needed clergy to lead worship, administer the sacraments, and teach the people. But the emperor refused, sending them away empty-handed.

With no Christian worship, within 100 years Christianity in Sudan became extinct and forgotten until the twentieth century.

That historical moment is a useful example for Christians today.

The mainline Protestant churches have been declining for decades. This trend has now reached the evangelical churches, too. In a desperate attempt to stay alive, churches and their leaders are coming up with new solutions, new strategies and guesses.

New church plants are tailored for terribly busy people, giving them a brief moment of worship (with the stress on brief) “on the run.”

In one way or another, the refrain I constantly hear is: “The Church of the future is the Church of service.” It takes all shapes and forms, but it always boils down to the same thing: Don’t focus on worship — “do stuff” instead! So, a denominational leader blogs that the vocation of churches is to be local community centers, food banks, day cares, or places for diaper drives. New church plants are tailored for terribly busy people, giving them a brief moment of worship (with the stress on brief) “on the run.” Regular meals together are held where the leader says “Holy things for holy people” before the participants share their thoughts, and this is praised as new worship. My own denomination is experimenting with an online community called “Extravagance,” where people participate in worship online and then post their thoughts on Facebook. “The post was a part of her worship,” we are told.

As I read these emails, stories, and articles, I cannot help but think to myself that we should stop ordaining people to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament and instead create an office of “Community Organizer (with Brief Prayers).”

But is all this really what we, the church, are called to do?

Service is important. I’m not saying it isn’t. But experience — and history — tells me church must be more than that.

Before I became a minister in a small Massachusetts town, I was a lawyer and I worked in academia. This experience allowed me to meet people who worked in the areas of social justice, peace, and human rights. All of them went into their fields with enthusiasm, passion, and conviction. But I quickly learned that working on justice issues does not guarantee happiness, peace, or fulfillment — nor will you necessarily be working with nice and pleasant people, including co-workers.

One summer I worked for a boss who quickly turned my passion for refugees and refugee law into pure misery. Had the church I was attending that summer been a “community center” with a “community organizer” calling me to more “service,” I would have probably gone crazy. Instead, what kept me sane and grounded was what has been known as traditional worship throughout the centuries — prayers, hymns, sermons and the encounter with God in Jesus Christ.

When we say, “The future of the Church is service,” we are allowing our culture, once again, to get the best of us.

I deeply believe that when we say, “The future of the Church is service,” we are allowing our culture, once again, to get the best of us. We so desperately want to be popular that we are sacrificing our distinctiveness as church. So we create worship where our prayers are innocuous, so as not to scare busy people away. Or we devise a little prayer before or after a meal and pretend it is worship. Let’s be the ACLU, Sierra Club, United Way or YouTube at prayer. You know: let’s be spiritual and a little — but only a little — religious.

If that is the Church’s future some see for us, then we are committing suicide.

John Calvin wrote, “To know God is to be changed by God; true knowledge of God leads to worship.” The future of the Church is worship.

That is the unique, distinct, set-apart thing the Church does and is called to do. We don’t do it for ourselves, but for God.

When people sometimes tell me they don’t get anything from worship, I am happy to answer, “That’s great! Because its not about you.” Our culture needs a place — we need a place in our lives — to tell us that not everything is always about us, about our personal happiness, our convenience, our frantic timetables, or shrinking commitments.

Some things are bigger than us. There needs to be a place where we are told uncomfortable truths about ourselves, our world and even about God — where we ask the questions our pop culture ignores or caricatures, and where we can look for answers. Where we pause — and reflect theologically.

Worship is a central act of proclamation of God’s grace to us — in preaching and in faithful administration of sacraments. It needs to be robust, faithful, engaging — but its focus must be the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, God’s free, abundant, deep grace and love shown for us on the cross.

Of course this begs the question — what should worship look like? That is a subject of a totally other debate, but I may add some suggestions. Being a continental European Calvinist, I am convinced of an added value to a set liturgy, wherein things are done decently and in order. A Sunday service should involve our confession of sin and words of absolution, the reading of God’s Word and its preaching (which can take different forms) and a weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Though both my Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic friends can testify to my skepticism of any excess in worship, I do believe that the faithful should experience worship as something extraordinary and uplifting. An encounter with the Holy One of Israel, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. The God for us.

Our service can only be our response in gratitude for what God has done for us.

Yes, service is vital. I agree with Nicholas Wolterstorff that service is the part of worship after the assembly disperses into their daily lives. But unless our service is grounded in worship and an understanding that what we do is in gratitude for what God has done for us first, then we will end up as the all-too-familiar “Church of revolving doors.”

The endless call for more volunteers, more mission projects, more social justice, more calls to action will sooner or later exhaust our members and us. They will come, join us for one project, and then burn out and leave us, never to return. That’s not a future — that’s self-destruction. As Richard Niebuhr once wrote, “If a church has no other plan of salvation than to offer men than one of deliverance by force, education, idealism (…) it really has no existence as a church and needs to resolve itself into a political party or school.”

My congregants do a lot of social justice and community projects through work, family, and friends. The role of the Church is not to guilt them into doing more and more. Rather, the role of the Church, through worship of God, is to ground them and refresh them in the faith and love of Jesus Christ so that, despite cranky bosses and annoying co-workers, they will continue in the service they are already doing.

The church is not made holy by the work it does — Protestants should understand that better than anyone. Rather, it is Jesus Christ and his cross that make us holy. Our service can never replace it, copy it, or perfect it. Our service can only be our response in gratitude for what God has done for us.

As the great Congregational theologian Peter T. Forsyth once wrote: “The greatest product of the Church is not brotherly love but divine worship. And we shall never worship right nor serve right till we are more engrossed with our God that even with our worship, with His reality than our piety, with his Cross that with our service.”

So let us worship God. And because of worship, let us serve God in gratitude.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Kazimierz Bem
Written by

  • tanyam

    I completely agree, and I’m all about social justice. But I can make a decision in my community, to join the longstanding, well-organized and quite secular tutoring program that will not only do good things for lots of children and connect me with my neighbors who may or may not share my faith, but who also care about service — OR, I can come to my church’s poorly lit basement where it attempts to do the same thing without nearly the same resources in order to put its name on some do-gooderism. Do I send my money to Doctors without Borders or bankroll high school youth groupers spending a week building cinder-block houses which could quite easily be done by people living in those countries (who wouldn’t mind having a job either, thank you.)
    I think if the church sees a need that is not being met and its the only organization which can meet it, then well, maybe. But clearly the rest of the world also has people who care about the poor, we don’t hold the market on that. But as you say, we do offer resources to deal with cynicism, and burnout. I hope we never forget that. .

  • David Murrow

    Great article. Reminds me of John 15: Abide in me and I will abide in you. Apart from me you can do nothing.

    • Stephen Abbott

      And with him, we must do EVERYTHING.

  • Linda Diane McMIllan

    Yeah, right on. Because Jesus said so much about how important it is to worship, and to do it properly.
    Oh… just hold on a dang minute.
    Linda McMillan

    • LeeRaleigh

      John 4:23-26
      23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

    • William Howard Wiggins

      Sarcasm is the sign of a weak argument. Try again.

      • Sam

        I don’t necessarily agree. Sometimes I find sarcasm to be the only effective tool to have an individual actually see what they are saying rather than be stuck in rhetoric. Perhaps your experience.

        This point has truly only to do with the point of order and in no way has bearing on either point.

  • Andy

    This article isn’t strong enough. You’ll need a broader view of how worship actually works in evangelical churches in order for this to become popular. You didn’t talk about how we should change worship. In evangelical churches now, we have inadequate “garage band” groups leading our worship, generally, and you’re lucky if you have a church orchestra, you’re really lucky if the group sounds any good, and you’re REALLY lucky if they actually play meaningful pieces that tie in with the sermon. There’s a lot of ground to cover in this type of article, and as an evangelical Baptist, I didn’t really read what I wanted to read from this.

    I miss the days of J.S. Bach’s music being played in church.

    • Kazimierz Bem

      Hey, I was writing from a mainline Protestant (Reformed) perspective. I dont like writing about somthing I dont know or understand. I think though the broad message is applicable there.

      • Josh Rickets Doorenbos

        Though as a Reformed Baptist, I would say it’s a much better start than you’re giving him credit for.

    • nwcolorist

      I agree. At our church we have a $250,000 pipe organ that has been gathering dust for at least ten years. It’s sad, but it just doesn’t draw people in anymore.

      • Kellie Rupard-Schorr

        I don’t think the organ is supposed to draw people in. I think the Spirit in worship is supposed to draw people in. The organ just would make it more pleasant.

        • nwcolorist

          Yes, your right. The Spirit does draw people in–those who have already experienced it’s pull. But to get new, unchurched, people there needs to be something more.

          In my case it was a girl. I had a secular upbringing. Nada church awareness. The girl I was dating invited me and I went with some concerns. But after a few visits I realized it was where I wanted to be. We broke up not too long after that, but today, 39 years later, I’m still attending there.

          It was a non-spiritual factor that got me through the door the first time.

          • Heidi Anne DeBoer

            perhaps it was the Holy Spirit using the girl to get you there. Perhaps the Holy Spirit uses whatever means it takes to get people to walk through the door.

    • Malcom Warner

      The fact that you need “special effects” to keep people interested in the message doesn’t speak well of the message……

    • Camino1

      Bach will work in some churches, and in measure. Churches need to be sensitive to their demographic. Organs and harpsichords are Medieval inventions like steeples, hard wooden pews and stained glass.

  • Matt

    Kazimierz Bem. I think you missed the lesson from the Sudanese church. The Sudanese church were not enabled to lead themselves. The belief worship had to be led by a professional, and lack of ownership would have been significant factors. (based purely on the story as you wrote it)

    • Kazimierz Bem

      Matt, sometimes an even can have more than one lesson we can learn from it.

  • nwcolorist

    This is an excellent article with some great quotes. But in all this there’s good news. As Christians we don’t need to worry. God is making provision for the future. In Latin America, Africa, and China, Church growth is exploding. One hundred years ago, 90% of all Christians lived in Europe and North America. Today only 40% live in those countries.

    The Great Commission from Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations” is being carried out.

    • RCPreader

      Active church membership has been declining in Latin America, not growing.

      • nwcolorist

        Don’t know why the moderator deleted my reply to RCPreader. I was only supplying sources to in reference to his comment.

        • Sam

          OnFaith isn’t big on links in replies.

  • William Howard Wiggins

    This article is a good start, but it doesn’t address one serious issue. Protestants today don’t even know WHO or WHAT they worship. The United Methodist Hymnal praises a very vague and impersonal “God of Many Names” and asks the musical question, “How Can You Name a Love?” There is even a canticle to a goddess called Wisdom. At a recent baptism, I heard clergy spouting a lot of vague theology like “God is love,” and “God is like a warm feeling.” Yikes! Only when the water was placed on the baby’s head did the clergy reluctantly use the traditional Trinitarian formula: “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” In short, churches are failing because they don’t even know who or what they worship.

    • LeeRaleigh

      Indeed. Part of why I’m no longer a UM. Additionally, if a church’s online statement of faith is weak and vague, it’s a red flag.

    • Stephen Abbott

      Conversely, many non-mainline churches preach a personal “gettin’ saved” Hell insurance along with a, “to hell with serving your neighbor” attitude, growing out of the anti-Christian belief that God hates our good works and actively loving/serving our neighbors, rather than exactly the opposite being REQUIRED of us. Time for both to go back and read those Red Letters.

    • Jamie Shiell

      Should they know WHO or WHAT they worship? If God is unimaginable… higher than the heavens, able to know a word before you speak it… If God is God…. Then how do you know the words to describe this person, feeling, place, action? What you are implying and we in the church have been giving, is, ONLY language…. God is only this, or only that, or only what you understand… the reality is that we are just to insecure to accept that we cannot fully understand God and that leaves us uncomfortable….

      • William Howard Wiggins

        No. The name for your god (whatever god speaks to you) carries a story or a myth. The myth dictates the form of the worship service. Also, the myth gives you a framework to interpret the world and to live your life. When you have NO NAME for your god, you have NO STORY (or myth). When you have NO MYTH, your life is pointless and meaningless. MYTH is the only purpose of religion.

      • William Howard Wiggins

        No. The name for your god (whatever god speaks to you) carries a story or a myth. The myth dictates the form of the worship service. Also, the myth gives you a framework to interpret the world and to live your life. When you have NO NAME for your god, you have NO STORY (or myth). When you have NO MYTH, your life is pointless and meaningless. MYTH is the only purpose of religion.

        • Sam

          Make me think of 1 Kings 19:11-12

        • Solomon Jewel

          Ouch. Whereas I agree that the Christian message is a myth, it is not true for myself, and many others, to believe myths in order to live a full, joyful and meaningful life. Myths are great fo children and adult entertainment, but only obscure the beautiful reality of our existence, not a myth about it. . the realness of our world, not a myth about it.

          • William Howard Wiggins

            Perhaps you should read The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell interviewed by Bill Moyers. If a myth obscures the reality of existence, then perhaps you should try a different myth. Most people believe in some kind of myth, even if it’s a secular myth like the “rags to riches” myth.

    • Thomas Arth

      Um, vague theology like “God is love”? How about “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4.8).

      • Josh Rickets Doorenbos

        But the context of the passage gets left aside. When we leave it as “God is love” without letting Scripture explain what “love” is or how “God is love” and what that looks(/ed) like, then the phrase stays so vague as to be meaningless. John didn’t just write “God is love” and then move on to some other passage, he gave the perfect example of what God being love looks like: Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins.

      • William Howard Wiggins

        The primary Christian story is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians can not settle for a vague definition of Love. Clearly the author of I John did not worship vague warm fuzzies.

  • mike flynn

    Clearly, the forces that would destroy Chrstianity have us forgetting the FIRST great commandment spoken by Jesus. Love God with all your heart, soul, stregnth. Only then does he proclaim the second – Love thy neighbor as thyself. Loving neighbor in no way fulfills the command to love God; but proceeds from the first command. And so, for now, secular humanism continues its goal of burying the Church. Ignorantly leaving a vacuum to be filled by islam.

  • Honey Badger

    I agree with all of this. Also, congrats on a very well written piece. I’ve never heard of the author before today, but I’m going to find more of his writing and pass it along.

  • MisterDavid

    Thank you for a simple-and-excellent article. I am from a different tradition to yourself (low church charismatic Anglican), but I absolutely recognise the same symptoms. With all the ‘doing’ that we do, it is so easy to miss out on the Great Commandment, and we are consequently very poor at simply being worshippers.

    Last week I was reading Justin Martyr’s description of 2nd century congregational worship, and it is clear that those early believers were in no hurry to rush off and do something else (however worthy). They read and discussed the scriptures together for HOURS, and that before taking Eucharist. And, very possibly as a result, they laid down their lives for each other and changed the world.

    • Kazimierz Bem

      Hey MisterDavid, One of my favorite worship experiences was when I was in the UK and went to morning prayer from the 1662 BCP – no incense, no charismatics – just the beauty of language glorifying God in the broad church way. I still use if for my private devotions.

      • Its to early to say

        Are you a Brit? Do you still believe in the Nazarene? Christians in the UK still exist? I do not think so.

        • Solomon Jewel

          The UK is a Christian nation, from the Queen on down.

        • Eva Porter

          Why would you question that? Kind of a wide paint brush you’re using.

        • MisterDavid

          You’re right, I’m the only one left.

          I am Justin Welby and Matt Redman and Bear Grylls and the Alpha Course and JK Rowling and Canon Andrew White and 24-7Prayer and Judi Dench and John Polkinghorne and NT Wright and Tony Blair and Alister McGrath and the Queen.

    • William Howard Wiggins

      Good illustration about 2nd century Christians. Also, I like the pirate look.

  • Judith Gotwald

    Worship is important. Even vital. But it must come from the people. When people say they “don’t get anything out of it,” they are telling us they don’t relate, they couldn’t participate, they didn’t understand, they didn’t feel worshipful. Worship may not be about them, but it must come from them. Otherwise it isn’t worship. It’s attendance. We need to hear them, not dismiss them.

    When many make the effort to attend worship, they are there as the woman trying to get close to Jesus if only to touch his robes. They should get something out of it—a feeling of connection at least, that God noticed them, perhaps.

    The people the church needs to reach today often lack Christian tradition and years of faith education and careful fostering. They have often been mistreated by those who claimed closeness to God. Worship for them is like watching a foreign language film without subtitles. What to do? There are surely hundreds of approaches. Maybe we need even more!

    It may start by adding subtitles—teaching within the worship setting.

    • John Prothero

      Or perhaps sermons on “why we do this”, or a guide in the pew to the meaning of what we do in a liturgical service. I’ve often suggested the former to our pastor.

  • Walt Smith

    If you want real, ancient, traditional worship, visit a local Orthodox church (preferably one that has services in English). If it’s done well, you will come away saying “now THAT’S worship!” …. Then you should stay for coffee and talk about the need for service; because most of our churches are woefully lacking in this . We can learn from each other.

    • Whit Johnstone

      I am a liturgical sort, so much so that I moved from the UMC to the Episcopal Church. But when I visited an Eastern Orthodox parish I’m afraid that my main impression was “so that’s why we needed the Protestant Reformation!” Any worship which is not in a language understood by the people, and clearly visible and audible to the people, is not true worship.

      • Walt Smith

        that’s why I said; find a church with services in English !

        • Whit Johnstone

          The church I visited said everything in Greek then repeated it in English. The primary effect was to make the already inordinate length of the service worse.

  • Aliquantillus

    Every great religion is much focused on public worship, but modern Protestantism and post Vatican II Catholicism have very much destroyed the sense of the sacred with their ritual and liturgical amateurism, the end of which is the current total collapse of the Church. Only movements like the SSPX and the Society of St. Peter, which persistently focus on the liturgy, are flourishing today. As to Protestantism, it has almost lost all real liturgical spirit, or fallen into the modernist error of confusing liturgy with art. Liturgy is about such things as facing east when praying, about following the rubrics, not the personal whims of the minister or even the wishes of the congregation. Only traditional Catholics and traditional Jews have such real liturgies today. Liturgy is about a consistent line of behaviour in all things which happen in the Church or Synagogue, for instance about not deviating from the calendrical structure and giving the proper weight and emphasis to each particular occasion. Above all things it is about a theocentric spirit, which is to be cultivated by such things as the minister facing the Altar or the Holy Ark instead of the congregation, by acts of bowing and kneeling and really making the building a sanctuary. Modern so-called spontaneity is deeply at odds with all this. This ‘spontaneity’ is secular and fed by the idea that we should follow our passions and emotions. This leads to arbitrary acts and a way of behaving which is very much the contrary of the aristocratic spirit by which the liturgy is formed. Liturgy is not without emotion, but its emotion is evoked and cultivated by reverence for G’d and all things sacred. It is based on making distinctions: between the sacred and the secular, and between degrees of sacredness, in a hierarchical order. It is essential for Christianity to maintain in its liturgy and worship this sense of hierarchical order, because this is the way we are related to G’d. The basic framework of Scripture is about the hierarchical order between G’d and creation, between the angelic world and the material creation, between the celestial bodies in the firmament and the things here in this earthy world, between men and women, parents and children, between kings, priests and other ministers and their subjects, &c, &c. This should be mirrored in the Christian liturgy, as indeed it was from times immemorial mirrorred in Jewish liturgy. Any intelligent person will know what liturgy is about by visiting just once a traditional, Tridentine Mass or an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue service.

    • Mr_Amagi

      “Any intelligent person will know what liturgy is about by visiting just once a traditional, Tridentine Mass or an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue service.”

      Look eastward also. The Orthodox Church has faithfully preserved the essence of Early Church worship, and from what you have written you would surely come to appreciate the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostum.

  • Russ Neal

    The church stands or falls on its testimony of who Jesus is. When we know who he is we cannot but worship.

  • Mr_Amagi

    You forgot to discuss the unhappy effects of the sixth Protestant sola, “sola pertinencia,” “always relevance,” that has brought rock bands to our altars, replaced worship with coffee klatches and generally contributed to the further disintegration of the Protestant denominations. All 30,000 of them.

  • Stephen Abbott

    While a lot of trends in Christendom are just silly, many today (as in this article) are actively degrading the call to serve others, but Christ made that call the CENTER of faith in God, alongside the worship and praise of our Creator. ” Liberal” mainline churches that abandon worship and “conservative” evangelical churches that abandon service are not fully serving God or following Jesus. It would be better to listen more to Jesus Christ and less to John Calvin and other pied-pipers of “do-nothing” theology.

  • Rebekah

    This is an interesting article, but I’m really bothered by the title that implies that the survival of Christianity is at stake. We know from the One who knows the ending that Christianity not only CAN but WILL survive, despite the current decline of worshipers. The Bible promises that ultimately there will be worshipers of every tribe and tongue! I appreciate that catchy titles increase the number of readers, but it’s sloppy journalism to do so at the expense of theological accuracy.

  • Its to early to say

    I don’t mean to disagree with the author, because he is half right. But he is also half wrong. Christianity in Europe and in many places in the West may be declining, but in Asia and Africa, Christianity is booming. From the Philippines to Africa to India to Russia, Christianity is on the rise. The Church of England is almost dead and many Protestant-based religions in Northern Europe are for all practical purposes gone, but there are still remnants of stong Christian areas. Russia was atheist and now they are slowly but surely coming back to Orthodoxy. Maybe godless Europe will one day come back. The West is in decline in many ways, not just religious. Institutions in Europe and the West from banking to capitalism have proven untrustworthy. People in the West no longer believe in government and politician’s solutions and people in the West also no longer believe in the old ways. This is good I suppose, but it will hurt in the long run. However, the non-Western world is where the future of the planet is!

  • johnedwardharris

    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.(” Acts 2:42) Sorry, but I do not read anything here about ministry, mission, outreach, or “being the missional church”.

  • Eric Adamcik

    As a fellow Reformed Mainline Protestant, I’m a little confused about this article’s language. What does the author mean by service? And by worship? My hometown church, for example, has words at the end of our (still largely traditional) service: “Now the service begins.” I think that’s an example of how worship is a service to ourselves, and how flexible those theories are, at least in my eyes.

    That said, I would be really interested in hearing from the author about how he defines “service,” because it’s not always about community organizing or soup kitchens.

  • Frank Enstine

    The most relevant work is prayer.

    • Kazimierz Bem

      Worship is corporate prayer

      • BrotherRog

        Worship is also serving people in need – prayerfully.

        • bakabomb

          Now here’s someone who can definitely relate to Brother Lawrence.

  • alanwilkerson

    The continuation of worship and the ‘C’hurch as opposed to the ‘church’ is the sovereign act of Christ the Head of the Body. What happens to a worship community, denomination, individual theological movement, etc. within any nation or region may be influenced by the actions or inaction of the human participants but it is God and God alone who continues to bless and uphold His Church>

    As far as the introductory story of the Sudan, I will recount how a long-time missionary to Ethiopia declared the church had taken ownership of it’s own organization when it no longer translated English hymns into it’s own language but wrote their own music. If the church (organization etc) falls on hard times in the U.S. as it has in nations like France, etc. the great news is that Africa and South America, India, and Korea are standing ready to send missionaries to the U.S. and preach the gospel.


  • David Tiffany

    My problem isn’t that I’m tired of worship, but I’m tired of singing songs in church that don’t glorify God, that aren’t doctrinally sound, and even songs that don’t make any sense. These aren’t worship songs. Worship songs sing about God, His power, His goodness and grace.
    Perhaps there are people out there who understand exactly what you’re talking about: all of this leads to dead churches. Perhaps that’s what they want to accomplish.

  • joe bloe

    I’m pretty sure calvinism is among those denoms with a decline in membership

  • GeniusPhx

    there are plenty of studies to back this up, that religion is losing ground. people are learning that we are ok without it if we have healthy relationships around us. it helps to have a higher education, it helps us see the bigger picture.

    38% of americans have never seen the inside of a church, even the christians. as long as religion denies science and want to demean the role of women and women’s health, the decline will keep pace. Every time a christian says something outrageous or stupid in public that makes christians seem out of touch, another christian bites the dust.

    • cmom

      So we are to give up what actually makes us Christians to please the world?

      • Johanna

        Yes, when you are wrong! And denying science and demeaning women is wrong! I don’t care what you say the Bible says, God gave us our intelligence and a knowledge of good and evil. A lot of what so-called Christians believe is ignorance and evil.

        • Dan Horsley

          Wow, spew that hate, sister. Very Christian of you. You think “demeaning women” is wrong, but in every post you demean Christians.

        • cmom

          Except Catholics don’t deny science or demean women so you are wrong on both counts 🙂

      • Patti Weaver

        NO! The Spirit of the Lord is what draws people and He will continue to draw His people to Himself. We are not to change and copy the culture with their current acceptance of sin. God is not in that!!! We need the ‘leaders’ of the church to repent and the church will follow. That is the REAL Church. We are to worship God is spirit and truth. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is us that MUST change.

  • JohnVHedtke

    The one True Christian I know I’ve met really showed me what the meaning of “not having your light under a bushel” meant. He was a deep and continuing inspiration to me and, I think, to most of the people around him. Being witnessed to by him 27 years ago was an incredible honor and I still think of him fondly.

    What IMO is driving people away from churches is that they’re tired of the gross hypocrisies, the people who are beating them over the head and saying “This, THIS is the only way to believe!” I have no use for people who insist on telling me that their path is right and my choices, my interpretation, my vision is wrong and will take me to Hell. I’ve always felt that if God cares for me to do something, to believe something, to act in God’s name, then God has the wherewithal to tell me directly. I don’t need a Pauline middleman to hand me their vision and suggest that it’s supposed to be mine, too.

    Something that most Christians seem to miss is that witnessing can be done by being a good example. If you want to impress someone with what the love of Jesus has done in your life, then be a good example. The best witnessing is done in silence by being a good example, radiating one’s light, and waiting to be asked “How come you’re usually so centered and you just keep moving forward?” It should never be done by knocking on doors–that’s just brownie points in Heaven and does nothing for anyone. The Bible says that Jesus talked to the man on the cross who asked, but didn’t bother the other one, who did not. Christians today will have the most success–and the happiest lives, I believe–if they follow this example.

  • Scott A. Shuford

    Love this. Our churches and our people need MORE experience with prayer and the direct worship of God, not more stuff to do or service items to complete. We’re sacrificing the experience of God in our services for just doing stuff in the name of God, and we’re over teaching people filling their minds while under worshiping the Lord our God preventing us from turning our hearts to Him.

  • georgex9

    Maybe just have more of these social and helping activities and get away from holding on to telling stories about what has proven to be not true. In particular, admit that the 6 days creation story which was just an attempt to help children know and respect God. The writers of the Genesis were not scientists and didn’t have the evidence which has been discovered since those days.

  • RichardSRussell

    That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.

  • Carlos Fiol

    The beginning of the end for churches, temples, and mosques. People are starting to see that the belief in the supernatural is just not relevant today. What is needed is more education to facilitate people’s understanding of the natural universe. Service to the community is always needed too. Churches could become places of community involvement without the religion, which is a divisive tool in society. Service and caring for each other is a grand way to develop more humanism among all. Helping people in the present is more important that trying to help “souls” go to a supernatural realm that doesn’t exist.

    • bakabomb

      “The beginning of the end for … mosques.”

      This conclusion doesn’t hold up. While not all Muslims pray five times a day — a figure that puts Bem’s Sunday-morning worship hour to shame — most worship every morning, noon and night. And the number of adherents of Islam is growing. You’re speaking from a Western perspective, just like the Rev. Bem above; an equally reductionist perspective at that. Your contention that “the belief in the supernatural is just not relevant today” just isn’t supported by the ground facts worldwide, and Islam is a first-rate example.

      I certainly don’t dispute your emphasis on service, but it need not necessarily come in a separate package, distinct from a “belief in the supernatural”.

      • Carlos Fiol

        While my tone is a little tongue-n-cheek, I’m commenting on the declining religiosity around the world. People are becoming increasingly more secular. Religions come and go in cycles. No one believes in the god of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians or Sumerians. What makes you think that people will believe in the Abrahamic god indefinitely? Yes, in the West the numbers of the religious are rapidly decreasing. I can tell you in the East, where I live, there is very little Western religion here. I’m ok with the Eastern religions as they are mostly peaceful philosophies and they don’t care about converting non-believers, which is great. They’re very nice people. Islam is getting a horrible public image because of the fundamentalists committing horrible atrocities in the name of their supernatural beliefs. I personally don’t care what anyone believes or worships until it hurts other people or infringes on me. I like buying beer on Sunday. I eat pork. I can have pre-marital sex. Etc… I don’t want nor need someone telling me that their alleged deity will condemn me because their holybook espouses some bronzed aged, tribal, barbaric philosophy. The enlightenment was really the beginning of the end. The Internet is the multiplier that has increased secularism, education, intelligence exponentially. God simply aren’t needed. They are theological claims and wants. They certainly are not historical or empirical. Feel free to worship as you will. I’ll continue not worshiping, but having respect for my fellow man, just not my fellow man’s ideas and institutions.

        • bakabomb

          “No one believes in the god of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians or
          Sumerians. What makes you think that people will believe in the
          Abrahamic god indefinitely?”

          By last count, there were upwards of 2.5 million Zoroastrians still practicing in 2015. So again you paint with too broad a brush when you state that nobody worships the ancient gods any more.

    • Sam

      I don’t think that religion and the natural universe are contradictory. Most of the early scientific discoveries of the universe were found by men of faith and to this day large swaths of scientist have faith.

      Also the idea of “…supernatural realm[s] that [don’t] exist…” is a little hard to swallow as definitive especially as leading atheist scientist discuss parallel universes and string theory. How little we really know, I think, should be the take away.

      • Carlos Fiol

        Religion and the natural inverse can co-exist because it has. It doesn’t mean that the religious are correct. That being said, religious men have been very instrumental in science; I’ve never doubted it nor denied it. I have immense respect for people like Newton, Francis Collins, and even Darwin, as he was a pious man, inspired by his faith when he set out on his journey. But, to say that the god of a religion is real, and the religion is “true” and this deity created all that is in existence…I take that as hubris and quite narcissistic, thinking this deity created the universe for us or for us to know and worship him. Would seem very petty and anthropomorphic at best. You’re right about parallel universes and string theories and all of what scientists keep postulating and learning to try and understand our universe better. See, here’s the difference between science and religion: Science changes its views when it comes upon new data which leads to further questions. Skepticism and doubt and questions drive science. Religion does the opposite. It does not change, because it can not by definition it holds to a specific dogma formulated countries ago when very little to no actual science was understood. Which do you want in charge of world? A system that tries to expand our knowledge and horizons with empirical evidence of our grandiose universe or a system that puts all of its eggs on the belief of a supernatural realm and deities where this is no evidence whatsoever for?

        • Sam

          I agree that it would be the height of hubris and narcissism to think that all that is is for us. The Quran agrees with that, 40:57. And I agree that the anthropomorphism of God is also to fundamentally overstate that same importance. We hardly understand ourselves let alone others of our own species yet everywhere we look we attempt to force the other, whether it is humans or animals or plants, into a mold that appears like us. This is part of my issue with vegetarians when they insist that plants don’t feel pain. They are anthopormorphising what pain is and doing a general disservice to life and what the variation in life is by doing so. This extends to everything our imagination touches from stars to atoms and bacteria.

          I may be in a minority here but I don’t think we were made to worship God per say. I think the option to do so is available to us for us to follow-up on if we so choose. It is about your choice and your living a life and I think that revelation was a tool for God to speak to us. He choose to do so for our benefit not for His. It is a mercy upon mankind, 21:107, but not one that we need accept or be condemned for, 3:30, (I know this flies in the face of contemporary Christianity, that and the anthropomorphism issue definitely played into my non-Christian status).

          I understand that many religious individuals hold that certain tenants to be unquestionable (such as the 7 days of creation or that everything evolved except man) but I don’t find this indicative of what religion is, just as socialism and communism should not be explained using the Soviets and PRC or drugs explained by example of the cartels. In Islam it is actually pushed to seek and learn (Sunan Ibn e Majah, Book of Sunnah, Hadith no 224 and Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74).

          To understand the roots that lead scientist to believe that space was filled with aether or that leeches removed illness is excellent to understand how we developed to where we are, but to hold that as the unquestioned truth is to ignore their contemporary surroundings ignores the obvious development of the world around them. We are here and that was then. I have always had an issue with the way that some individuals, regardless of faith, hold the past to be some paradise that we have inexorably trudged away from. Such thinking limits our ability to know and understand the world around to live in peace amongst ourselves. So I don’t find that religion necessitates an abandonment of skepticism or a withdrawal from empirical studies of the world around us.

          So to answer your question I want the search for truth and reality to be in charge, whether that takes us to or away from “god” or any other concepts that we hold to be true. I want us to continue to tear down the walls between us and knowledge, whether that wall is ignorance or the illusion of knowledge. Continually we should embrace doubt, uncertainty, and skepticism. And when our empirical knowledge calls into the assumptions of the past we should not bury our heads in the sand and act as though it doesn’t exist but rather strive to investigate our own beliefs and the ground, or lack there of, for them. Faith does not necessitate its abandonment in the face of science nor does it necessitate the abandonment of science.

          Neither should be in charge. Both should be tools for us to explore our realities.

          • Carlos Fiol

            Sam, you make good points, especially your last paragraph. When you say, “Both should be tools for us to explore our realities.” What I hear is, Both science and philosophy…” You seem to be open minded, more so than most fundamentalists that claim to absolutely know the god is real and exists and it’s their particular version of their particular religion and their particular denomination. I think philosophy is great and I agree with much of what you are saying. But, I also think there is something to be said for empiricism.

            You said, “I think that revelation was a tool for God to speak to us. He choose to do so for our benefit not for His.” How can you prove revelation is true? How can you distinguish between a christian’s revelation and a muslim’s? This is partly why I am completely areligious. all religions make claims of the supernatural and I’ve yet to see any proof of it whatsoever, hence why it’s called “faith” and not “proof.”

            I don’t want to start with the premise that there is a god(s) and supernaturalism exists, we just can’t fully grasp it with are limited human understanding… No. We’ve come a long way explain much of our world and universe compared to to what first century men, and long before that, knew. We don’t need fables and myths to try to understand our world or give us some kind of “moral law.” In fact, the laws in the hose holy books are atrocious. The acts commanded by god are the opposite of morality with a few humanist commands thrown in, but those don’t need to come from a god for us to know how to treat each other.

            We all have parallel values. If we can let go of all religions and not think that one supernatural system of belief is better than the other, our world would be so much better. We could actually focus on the bigger issues like feeding and clothing all people, like putting an end to all wars, like spreading science and education to all and improving the living conditions for all. Religions impedes progress.

          • Sam

            Thank you for your feed back.

            A few years ago I would have made a similar impassioned plea against the madness of faith. Empirically speaking we know so much more than we did even just a lifetime ago and thus there is little reason to believe that the old superstitions would have anything except some sociological or psychological data to share. Surely they would have no bearing on reality especially now that we know so much. And if they do we can surely find out ourselves in the coming decades and centuries and millennia through our scientific exploration of reality. While one day we may develop ourselves to post-human levels similar to Q (that’s a Star Trek reference if you not familiar with that mythos) there will (probably) always be beyond our reach. (I don’t know if you are familiar with Wait But Why but they have a great article called “A Religion for the Nonreligious” where they discuss this.)

            Along those lines I understand I don’t know anything. The more I learn the more I realize that my knowledge is so finite, so infinitesimally small that not only do I not know a fraction of what there is to ever be know but I don’t even know a fraction of what my own species knows. There are SME’s in fields from anthropology to astronomy to biochemistry to sociology that have knowledge that no one else has. The process that began before fire was “discovered” has only continued and increased as our species has only allowed its members greater and greater specialization. I could spend my whole life in study and never know a fraction of it. This is just a long way of saying that I think it would be conceited of us to think that we know what is really going on around here. That being said I think that, as you said, “there is something to be said for empiricism.”

            We all live our days consciously and unconsciously living via empirical knowledge. We don’t jump off buildings or walk in front of cars or drink battery acid because of our knowledge, personal and taught, about the implications of these things. And that’s why I think that if God had never said anything we would be just as wise about such things as we are now. But I can’t prove revelation took place (I suspect that even when (I would like to believe) we develop time travel and go back and observe Prophets receiving revelation we will be able to develop working theories to explain the biological and psychological impacts that fit our models of knowledge thus removing the “supernatural” (I don’t buy that things exist “outside of nature,” rather everything happens here so it makes sense here) element). My belief in revelation is a matter of faith not one of empiricism. And I agree, that is what separates faith and empirical proof. (Just for the record I think all revelations and prophets are Muslim. This universalism is one of the reasons I was attracted to Islam.)

            I agree with your decision to not start with a belief in a God or gods or whatnot. I completely agree that it can color and limit ones understanding of reality just as an ideology can, religious or secular (see Lysenkoism). To draw the conclusions before the exploration only bars an individuals path to understanding and discovery. One should explore all the possibilities to the best of their ability and not let blind devotion to any idea, religious or non, to stand in the way of that exploration. I find doubt to be an essential part of faith and knowledge and those who have no doubt, either regarding God or humanities sciences and potentials, terrify me.

            I am unsure if you are familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell but I think he does a very good job of explaining how myths and fables are necessary tools for human self and mutual understanding. Whether those narratives are solely contemporary and secular or steeped in the fuzzy past provide the fertile ground that all of us, our geist, spring from.

            Regarding the laws provided in texts held to be sacred I agree that there is much that is atrocious, especially read out of context. Regarding specifics, I find the Old Testament laws (the genocide and slaughter) to likely be fabrications by man to reinforce the authoritarian foundations and kyriarchy found in the vast majority of human civilizations of the past, I find portions of the New Testament to be the same, and regarding the Quran the quotes have been so decontextualized (2:191 – 193) that there original meaning is lost. (If you are interested in knowing the context and meaning of the text I highly recommend The Message of the Quran by Muhammad Asad (free as a pdf on the interwebs) and Journey to the End of Islam by Michael Muhammad Knight.) I have always found, as I stated previously, that context is an invaluable resource for understanding what is really going on and what is really being said. (Comically, gravity could be “disproved” by an astronaut because an astronaut could drop something and it won’t fall and without context gravity would be “disproven”. Lol.) I hope that I have made it clear that these texts should not be taken without inquiry and not evaluated with a doubting eye. But if you want insight into the Divine and Its advice for us that is where the Quran comes in and why I understand it and other revelations to be a mercy unto us. Not to liberate us from thought but to provide a ground for us to have these conversations if we so choose. And I agree that humanity should not be ruled by something beyond reproach but rather by charters founded on mutual agreement, such as the Treaty of Medina.

            I agree that blind allegiance, whether to a religion or science or a political ideology, devastates our commonality. I agree that spreading education across our world would benefit the vast majority of us (short the authoritarians and psychopaths). And if you see that all religion does is impeded such progress I can appreciate where you are coming from, but as I have made clear (?) I disagree with the narrowness and rigidity of your scope. The problem is not of religion but of fanaticism and hubris.

            So, yes, my Faith is a matter of Faith. Just that. I took a leap of Faith and it was clearly with no evidence, either for against (except anecdotal), and it hasn’t turned me into a raving “jihadi” or a non-evolutionary creationist or any other stereotypes I can think of. It is just a matter of Faith and it is not what I expected. I like it and I find it… exhilarating.

            And a quick technical sidebar:
            I think that science is a branch of philosophy not an independent pillar of inquiry, hence why PhD’s (philosophiae doctor) are awarded to individuals who reach such a degree of knowledge. Of course I may be referring to an antiquated definition of philosophy.

            I am happy to discuss in greater detail any of the things that I have brought up above but it should be remembered that there are many more SME’s who know more than I, just I stated above.

            Thank you for your time. 🙂

          • Carlos Fiol

            You’re welcome and Hail Q!

            Yes, I am familiar with him and the great work of Gene Roddenberry, who also was an atheist.

            Yes, we do know a lot more as a race than say, for example, the writers of the three Abrahamic holy books.
            For instance, we understand germ theory now, where as the authors clearly did not. I find it uninspiring that god would reveal revelations yet not say more useful information for humans to live their lives on earth better. See Leviticus 14 – probably one of the many smoking guns that the bible is demonstrably not inspired by the creator of the universe.

            I am not familiar with Wait But Why but I’ll try to look it up when I have time.

            You know more than you think you do, and what’s better is that you have billions of data disposable to
            you instantly through the interwebz. The Holybook authors did not and used what knowledge and imagination they had to try and explain their universe and what they were told by their forefathers.

            You don’t need to be a SME in all the fields or even a few fields. You need to be a critical thinker and
            read information skeptically. If I told you I could fly like superman, you’d probably be skeptical because you have a basic understanding of physics. Ancient did not; not like we do today. They also did not know that Magic wasn’t real nor ghosts, nor monsters, nor dragon or unicorns or leviathans, yet they believed in those things.

            With empiricism, we do not have to take things on faith. We can try to understand what we do not yet
            understand and keep working to figure the rest out as we progress. We’ve done a hell of a job using the scientific method thus far and we continue to improve. Measure the last 100 years with the 100 years before that. Now, imagine where we will be as a society in the next 100 years. Exponentially ahead by leaps and

            We don’t jump off buildings or walk in front of cars or drink battery acid because of our experiences and environmental feedback. That’s evolution and education. Our forefathers that survived the harsh wilderness were the ones that didn’t run into the jungle when they heard a rustle in the bushes for it might be a tiger.
            The survivors were the skeptical ones and they taught that technique to their off spring and so forth, just like the people that made human sacrifices for a good harvest taught their kids the same. Which one was more useful?

            “My belief in revelation is a matter of faith not one of empiricism.” When you get sick do you go to an
            imam or a doctor? Where’s your faith then? When if your imam said he had a revelation and god blessed him with the ability to heal. Would you stop going to the hospital? Sounds implausible? Why are there so many faith healers around? Granted some are shysters scamming the faithful, but where would they ever get such an idea?

            “Just for the record I think all revelations and prophets are Muslim. This universalism is one of the reasons I was attracted to Islam.” – I don’t even know what to make of this one other than your decision to by Islam and why you believe what you do is probably caused by your environment. What religion are your parents? Where you raised Muslim?

            Just so we are historically clear, there is no Islam without Christianity and there is no Christianity without Judaism. In the two preceding religions before Islam, there were plenty of “revelations” in their holy books. Are you suggesting that those that received such alleged revelations were actually Islamic? I had a Muslim student that told me that even Adam and Eve were Muslim. I tried to keep a straight face after he told me.

            I don’t have much more to add here. I was raised my whole life to just belief and have faith as my parents taught me and almost everyone I ever met in my life growing up had some kind of faith. I still questioned it. The supernatural part bugged me. I never saw or witnessed any supernatural entities. There is no such evidence that I have come across personally nor is there anything proven in the scientific community to suggest it. To state that there is another way of receiving information about reality through some sort of transmission from an entity that is beyond our comprehension and scope and natural laws just fails. That very claim is made by differing religions with completely different results. They basically all cancel each other out.

            What I believe to be true is that people simply want to believe in something, especially, because they are afraid of dying. Mortality is a bitch and humans are quite spiritual and romantic.

            I am familiar with Joseph Campbell and his monomyth and a Hero’s Journey and the Hero with a thousand
            faces. He doesn’t state the myths are real. There’s a global and historical commonality in these stories because humans do spread similar ideas and have similar desires. The earliest religion was looking up at the stars and the sun and thinking it was a greater being in the sky. Who wouldn’t worship the sun? Without, we’d be dead. It brings light and warms, nourishes plant life and thus us, it illuminates our way and path. It’s very god-like.

            Regarding the tribal and archaic views in the holy books, I don’t care much for them. There are a few good moral teachings here and there and those have been around before the books where written and we don’t need to believe in supernaturalism to be good to each other people.

            It’s very late where I am so I am cutting out. Be good. Live Long and Prosper.

          • Sam

            Thank you for your time. You have certainly made your positions on a number of topics clear. Once again I find myself knowing that I would be in agreement with much of what you said if this was five years ago. Your comments though lead me to understand that you do have a lot of preconception if not on the topic than of me. I don’t feel that I am as dense as the audience you seem to be writing to but perhaps I am. 🙂

            First I am curious as to why you chose to throw in that Gene Roddenberry was atheist? What are you attempting to imply? Perhaps it should be noted that Newton was Christian? What implications does this have on physics? Perhaps none on both accounts.

            The Muslim point of view, more than less, on the holy texts is that revelation was provided by God (I get that you don’t buy that from the word go but let’s just use this as an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions) to Prophets and then after that the texts were written down. These texts were in the hands of the communities and were then manipulated by them for various reasons. I could see Leviticus 14 being one such example. From a Muslim perspective this was the impetus for the final revelation to be revealed to Muhammad. The Recitation (the translation of “Quran”) was revealed to clear up inaccuracies and misunderstandings that had crept into previous revelations. This means that all Prophets (from Adam to Moses to Zarathustra to Jesus) were Prophets of God. Every community preceding Muhammad was sent a Prophet (10:47, 16:36) but not all of them are mentioned there (40:78). (Hence why I think Lao Tzu was one.) Thus anyone who follows God and the paths laid down to the Prophets via Revelation are individuals that submit to God, thus Muslims. (When you are done laughing you can continue. 🙂 ) Regarding creep into the Quran, or the latest Quran would be more accurate, I would direct you to Michael Muhammad Knight’s Journey to the End of Islam. He does an excellent job of exploring the implications of man getting the opportunity to compile the Quran.

            This would also explain why if an imam claimed to have received revelation it would be a red flag.

            Built into your statement about Leviticus 14 is the question of why revelation was not more concerned about explaining germs and quantum physics to stone age man. Essentially why would an all-powerful being bother to discuss how to live your life rather than how to build atom bombs. I think living a peaceful and just life filled with love is more important than living a life focused on, well, not that. Of course I don’t know God’s motivation, so I guess I will ask God when I die. 🙂

            I didn’t disagree that we know more, as a species, than we did a thousand years ago and will know even more 100 years from now (if we don’t all die first). Our growing knowledge has allowed us to rid ourselves of all kinds of superstitions such as dragons (did you see that discovery in China?). My point was our knowledge of our own ignorance is now greater than it ever was before and in a hundred years hence it shall be even greater.

            I concur that being a critical thinker and to read information skeptically is of course necessary but surely you don’t believe that in your life you can accumulate all human knowledge to the level of proficiency that a SME in each field has acquired, as they have devoted all their time to that one subject. They have become a SME because of the combination of education and personal experience. And that education they received was the result of personal experience of those who proceeded them over generations prior. Thus my battery acid comment that I did not phrase as unpoetically as I should have.

            And these amazing cognitive functions are the result of evolution. Or so the SME’s tell me. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to devote to becoming a geneticist to study genes and a computer scientists to build the machines that run the tests and a physicists to confirm that the machines are actually portraying data as accurately as they should be and a optometrist to confirm and understand the subtleties with how our eyes process light and a neurologist to ensure that my brain is processing how I think it should and a dietitian to confirm that my body is working optimally and a farmer to… I guess I will have to take it on a little bit of research and a moderate amount of faith that all those people know what they are doing.

            Unfortunately, this idea of collective intelligence does fail us from time to time as do our brains in general. And this in no way limited to religion (see 9/11 Truthers or Birthers or Anti-Vaxxers or the Anti-GMO crowd, these positions have nothing to do with religious position and everything to do with lack of critical thought). But like your doctor comment implies “in for an ounce in for a pound”. (“You believe in God! Then that must mean you believe the universe was created in seven days! HA! Fool! Go to your witch doctor!”) It seems to me that it is vitally important to the anti-religious that all people of Faith believe poetic licences is fact (probably why all English speakers think the sun rises as opposed to the earth rotating around the sun, stupid English speakers!). Taken with the above regarding the seeming point of revelation, I, just like most people, would go to a doctor and it has no religious conflict.

            I didn’t say Joseph Campbell said it was real. I was replying to your statement that we don’t need myths. If all you got from his reading was that there are myths all over the world I think you missed the lions share of what he was saying. Campbell spoke about the myth as an integral part of our self understanding. I recommend going back and rereading, or reading of the first time, The Power of Myth. It is insightful into human nature and understanding.

            Now as I stated previously, I am not into this for an afterlife. Death is, and as a ceasing is cool with me. It is actually interesting having to wrestle with the idea of it not playing out like that. Which actually leads me into my background. I wasn’t raised Muslim or Christian or with faith at all or any other religious position, and neither of my parents are Muslim. I’m also an American who has grown up in the burbs of DC to add further context. From my response to this question elsewhere:

            I am [Muslim], by way of reversion (based on the idea that everyone is born in submission to God) a few years ago.

            At a young age my curiosity was encouraged and I gravitated toward history, philosophy, and the social studies that fell within and between them. At 15, or so, Islam made the most sense to me as far as a comprehensive belief system was concerned especially in light of the rich documentation available and the speed with which the Quran was written down, so I decided I’d be a Muslim if I was to choose a faith. I decided at that point though that faith seemed foolish as so many competing and contradictory beliefs claimed to be The One Truth so I sought answers elsewhere. Over the following decade and a half I went from agnostic to atheistic to antitheistic all with a peppering of Zen and Buddhism in the mix and a rich diet of scifi. When I turned thirty I decided it wasn’t working for me so after a year of soul searching I decided to follow through with the determination made 15 years hence.

            It’s not what I expected. All the logical arguments that I made and read before still hold water but accepting faith for what it is rather than what I thought it would be has been life altering and not at the same time. I love it.

            As my family says, I’m still Sam. I’m just Sam with faith. I’ve been told I seem calmer and more at peace. I know I have successfully let go of a lot stuff. How much of that is faith or age or something else I don’t know.

  • Development 2017 (Mike S.)

    My opinion has always been that service is something that happens organically as an outpouring of our faith. It makes good sense for churches to provide opportunities for the expression of our faith, as well as for spiritual growth. However, It is important that we not confuse expression with purpose. The purpose of the local church (not to be confused with the church as a whole) from the very beginning has been to gather, teach the gospel, participate in communion and group prayer (Acts 2.42).

    While these are each elements that we include in worship, I would also say that worship is not the purpose of the local church. A Christian community of faith can survive without most of the formal rituals that have come to be associated with worship in most of our churches. Moving forward, we must continue to find ways to accomplish gathering, teaching, communion, and group prayer that are relevant to our surroundings… that may not look anything at all like the church with which most of us are familiar.

    Finally, it might be a good discussion to discern whether an organization whose mission is focused on service is actually a church at all.

  • bakabomb

    “a set liturgy, wherein things are done decently and in order”

    One person (the writer’s) definition of worship. And, frankly, it’s a very narrow one with very specific requirements. He, a proclaimed “continental European Calvinist” (though his flock is in Massachusetts), insists on a “weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper”. I, raised smells-n-bells Episcopalian, can relate. But my current — very Calvinist — church only offers Communion once a month. And with grape juice, not wine. I fear our worship is insufficient and in vain!

    Then there’s this: “When people sometimes tell me they don’t get anything from worship, I am happy to answer, ‘That’s great! Because its not about you.’ Our culture needs a place… ” Oh, that’ll bring the ever-growing numbers of SBNRs streaming back into worship services nationwide. They’ll intuitively grasp that worship isn’t intended to offer anything to the individual — that on the contrary its intent is to validate America’s “Christian culture” en masse — and they should be performing their duty to society every Sunday morning with the rest of the flock; no other time is meet and right..

    I’d argue that one who’s never worshiped by saying a spontaneous prayer at the seashore on a glorious summer day, or walking down a trail in woods wrapped in glorious autumn hues, or cuddled up to a cup of hot cocoa with snowflakes dancing outside the window has missed some significant worship experiences and hasn’t grasped the breadth of what worship implies.

    And when it comes to worshipping through service itself, it’s clear that the Rev. Bem has gone far too long without cracking the cover of that little gem, Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” — if, indeed, he ever has. Brother Lawrence found God’s presence particularly in the scrubbing of dinner’s pots and pans and mopping the scullery floor. Bem’s God is too small.

    • Josh Rickets Doorenbos

      “Continental European Calvinist” is a stream of Calvinism that affirms the 3 Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt). It’s to distinguish from the English/Scottish streams of Calvinism like Reformed Baptists (like myself) who affirm the 1689 London Baptist Confession and Benjamin Keach’s Baptist Catechism, Presbyterians who affirm the Westminster Standards (Confession, Shorter, and Larger Catechism), Congregationalists (Savoy Declaration, I don’t think many of these are around anymore), and Reformed Anglicans (39 Articles, like the rest, but emphasizing the Calvinistic elements in them and in Anglican history). It’s situating his theology historically.

  • Craig

    Having been out of religion for a while I think I have an answer for you as to why what’s occurring is happening. The hyper-communication world we live in now (facebook, twitter, tvnews, SMS) has basically filled the void that fellowship used to. At least to me and my friends – I grew up going to church every service almost. Now I am like most in my generation. I’d rather not. I just don’t get anything out of it or feel any different after going sometimes. I do think if there was more ceremony and more worship it would help me. I just distaste the community calendar of events talking every time. The last interaction with God I had that I truly felt was when my daughter was baptized. And I want her to grow up as I did. But now church seems like it’s something other than what it says it is (if that makes sense)

  • Gary Savage

    In a day and age where people can’t be bothered to visit family or write letters but opt for Skype and Facebook, maybe an email or text, and in the same breath Christianity is being demonized in the press as worse than Muslim Extremism it isn’t even a matter anymore of what music we play or what words we speak. People are simply not going to wake up early on one of their only days off in order to sing some nice songs and listen to a sermon. Certainly not when they see no difference in Christians that from that of the world. Our divorce rates are similar if not higher, we watch the same movies, read the same books, and support the same lifestyles as those out in the world. I think Jesus said it best when he said what good is salt if it has lost its saltiness. Its of no value and should be cast out in the street to be trampled on by man. If we (the church) don’t stand out as light in a dark world then no singing, messages, or gathering is going to stem the tide of departure from the Christian faith in our communities. Hebrews makes it clear that we need to continue meeting together and even more as we see the day approaching (the return of Christ). But we can’t simply condense our message to meet the needs of a harried stressed out world. We need to preach boldly and then live what we preach. We do need to serve others with love. Jesus said those who would be first must be the servant of all. And we need to be humble and forgiving. Not condemning others but allowing the spirit to convict them as a result of our righteous lives. Until we (the Church) change how we live, who we love (God, His Word and the lost), and how we love then the decline will only increase.

  • Josh Rickets Doorenbos

    I muttered, “Amen” so many times at this article. The church needs to keep first things first. Other things are important–so important!–but always keep first things first.

  • Gabriel

    Isn’t the act of service the most supreme form of worship? In the poor, lost, and left-out, do we not find Christ?

  • David Dodge

    Multiple studies over the past two decades have shown a marked decline in religious belief and practice. There are three reasons for this: 1) There is so much incredible knowledge available now showing that evolutionary biology and astrophysical data of the Big Bang etc. are settle issues now. Belief in a 6000 year old earth is nonsensical and is rejected by the intelligent 2) Christianity, God, Jesus just don’t meet people’s needs anymore and have become irrelevant in our daily lives 3) The desperate and histrionic response of the religious right as seen recently in this proposed RNC trip to Israel as well as the hysterical warnings of the end times are really turning people off and having the opposite effect.. Furthermore, multiple surveys of the millennial generation shows they are highly intelligent, secular, pro-choice, materialistic, pro-science, pro-knowledge. These are not faith-friendly times, because people are choosing reality over superstition. There is no “war on Christianity”. What we are seeing is purely the result of expanding knowledge and the free choice of the people. The question for the future is not whether God exists but whether it really matters if Christianity sinks or swims.

  • White Blossom

    Worship varies from person to person. It all depends on the depth of your relationship with HIM. To me, based on my relationship with HIM, I don’t think it is possible to truly worship HIM in the average “church”. I worship HIM on my bed. I sing to HIM . . . songs that I make up. I sing in the spirit and HE gives me new songs. The Words says, HE desires those who worship HIM in spirit and in truth. I think a great deal of believers sing songs and worship HIM from their soul. I guess that is better than not even making an effort. But when we draw near to HIM in a serious/determined way, He draws near to us in a serious and determined way. When we are wishy washy in worship, we get a wishy washy response. Over time, 50 plus years, I have learned to enter in to passionate worship in spirit and in truth, and when I do, HE shows up. HE is eager to reveal HIMSELF to us, to be tangibly felt by us, but we have to make the first move. The flesh doesn’t like to do that. Hence the lack of true worship in most Christian gatherings. We much prefer to hang out in our heads and not get too emotional or excessive in worship. It’s just too humbling to really enter into HIS presence, so we focus on principles rather than Presence and it is lifeless and people get tired of it and go home, or go looking for something that they think might be the real deal. We are instructed to Love HIM with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We haven’t even scratched the surface of that reality, as a body. I’m working on increasing in worshiping in spirit and in truth, and it just gets better and better. Yes, I’m one of those . . . I believe that when we gather together we should have psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. That we should intimately know those we worship with. I’m definitely not the average, I know.

    I pray we all “attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son
    of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to
    the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13

    Blessings to all.

  • Paula Lawhead

    Mr. Bem, Would you provide me with the reference for the Niebuhr quote? Thank you.

    As Richard Niebuhr once wrote, “If a church has no other plan of salvation than to offer men than one of deliverance by force, education, idealism (…) it really has no existence as a church and needs to resolve itself into a political party or school.”

  • Big Text

    Let’s be honest. Church is a highly competitive environment where congregants strive for status in hopes of being declared “good” or at least “good enough.” It is a line on a resume’. It is the place where you go to be certified as “normal” by appearing to believe the most unbelievable things. It is one more boss telling you you’re not doing it right, just as this article declares that churches aren’t “doing it right.” You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s a complete mind warp for young people who think there are people who actually “believe” this far-fetched creed that features animals two-by-two boarding a boat made of gopher wood, of a talking snake, men walking on water and a variety of other clinically insane delusions. Church is a bait-and-switch operation, luring people in the door with promises of “love,” then turning the harsh eye of criticism and eternal damnation on their perfectly normal impulses. It’s just one more place to fail and pay for the privilege. Most of us have had more than enough opportunity to do that in life.