Sunday, 15 July 2007

WSJ on Religion in Europe

The Wall Street Journal has an article titled In Europe, God Is (Not) Dead by Andrew Higgins. Christian groups are growing, faith is more public. Is supply-side economics the explanation?

The Church of Sweden and its finances are described in detail.

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It is not simply a matter of monopolies or competition, it is to do with class, the state and inherited authority. Monopoly Churches ceased to be monopolies a long time ago, and arguably when they were monopolies they dovetailed with the state, forms of authority down from national to local, and therefore could get in roughly half of people.

The difference with the United States was its lack of "class as status" association with the Churches, and also the need to build community either through localities or ethnic groups or religious persuasions.

It is said that American Churches secularised within, compared with European: this is not quite so but the social features of churches are more prominent in the United States: and no doubt it is why, for example, liberal Unitarianism in the UK is as tiny as a sect and failing, whereas the UUA in the US (far more liberal, more pluralistic) can show steady growth over a long period helped as it is by the more habitual churchgoing behaviour of about 40% of Americans. The UUA also has a geater sense of its place in the market place of religions, and so do many denominations. I suggest the difficulty with the Episcopalians at the moment is that it is facing in different directions without a sense of its overall self.

Still, churchgoing in the US is in decline. The difference is that in most of Europe the working class was never churched, and eventually the middle class followed as all the welfare and leisure functions faded away so that now churchgoing is almost random; in the US those functions continued, including a rather important one of providing religious education. Another reason why the UUA has steady growth is its provision of non-dogmatic religious education.

As for the charismatics, they are just redistributions, plus easy in and easy out folks for modern media religion. People do leave these churches, otherwise they'd be getting filled up with the more elderly, and nowhere is full of the more elderly.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 1:05am BST

Pluralist
"and nowhere is full of the more elderly"

Can you substantiate this? Most churches I have attended and visited seem to have an average age of about 60.
There certainly seem to be far fewer children coming through than middle aged or old people, unless the church is in a catchment area of a sought after church school.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 8:30am BST

Pluralist,

The much repeated 40 percent figure is quite inflated. It comes from asking people in polls how often they attend services. Checking other sources - actual attendance figures reported by churches themselves, counting people on Sundays in areas deemed demographically representatives, and Dept of Labor time diaries - suggest something a little under 25 percent.

Posted by: John Bassett on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 1:47pm BST

I'm trying to be most generous all around. I am sure the 40% is inflated; it is like saying 10% for the UK. On the charismatic front, or say media church front, these churches have been around for some time now and I'm suggesting that they offer a kind of spirituality from which people, as they grow up and on, leave.

Churches outside this charismatic margin have a population well over the 60s. What we showed, in our little study (Longhill, Hull) was not that people grow older and then join, but that this is the end of a population who came through the churches, or had contact with them for some time in early life. The crucial point now is the lack of contact. So when you look at the age range now and numbers regarding contact, ther is a big shake-out still to come.

If you take the village where I am. The Methodist Church closed last year and there are no more regular Anglican services. That's 900 people. Before this there were some 6 to 10 people regularly in each church. So 2% and now nearer zero. That's evangelical. Where I go there are about 100 people in the building in the morning, though it varies. It can swell up for special occasions. But let's be generous and say 200 through the week. There are then four other religious bodies, and though some are having trouble let's say 100 each extra. This very generous figure is set against a growing population that was 9431 back in 1991. It is over 10000 now for the town alone. So it is about 5% in a not hostile area, as say Hull is.

The church school business is one example of a return to Victorian type religious attendance, where the motive for going is practical.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 2:52pm BST

As a follow up to Saturday's front page story, here is a commentary on the "new new atheists" that appears in Monday's edition of the Journal.

http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010341

Posted by: Chris on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 3:06pm BST

Chris:

Thanks for the link.

Pluralist:

You seem to be obsessed with proving that there actually isn't any good news in the primary article and that Christianity is on its death bed. I have to wonder why? You seem to have a lot in common with the "new" athiests of the linked article, but perhaps I already knew that.

In general:

I am happy to see Christianity resurgent in any degree in Europe, though the "low" and "ultra-low" forms that seem to be at the heart of a modest resurgence are not my favorites. Still, I have to remind myself, bringing people to Christ is the main thing. From there, the Spirit may well guide them towards other forms of worship.

The "economic" or competitive model espoused in the article is also interesting. Only minimally true IMHO, but not totally false either.

Steven

Posted by: Steven on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 4:28pm BST

I am not in favour of Christianity at any price.

The many forms which suppress the human spirit, inhibit human flourishing, oppress women and hate the body and sexulity are not worth it. Nor are forms which encourage immorality.-- Franco's Spain, the Dutch Reformed South Africa of yesteryear. Bush's America where they never give the poor a second thought, not withstanding the Beatitudes and the story of Dives and Lazarus.(etc).

I do not believe that Jesus came to bring yet another religion.

Ethical is as ethical does.The Letter of James seems pretty clear. The Churches continue, largely to ignore his message, (if the Gospels are anything to go by). His message of non-violence is largely ignored. That the Torah is love of God and neighbour, that the spirit isn't limited to 'Jerusalem' or priests ---- and his critique of the religious establishment of his day --- and ours ...

Posted by: L Roberts on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 10:19pm BST

L Roberts,

I agree on the surface w/ everything you said, but it comes off as social commentary. Christ did not have interesting things to say about his society and by extension ours.

Christ spoke about the deep truths of humans - how shattered our nature is by the fall, the we all need healing and we all desire righteousness. He also spoke to the reality of God - He has always loved His creation, He is the only one who can heal us and He wants to help us reclaim our image of Him.

Posted by: Chris on Monday, 16 July 2007 at 11:29pm BST

If the new atheists are full of certainty, then I have less in common with them. Actually I think there is an industry in marketing them, that they are performing a dance, and it is all writing, writing and writing, including this journalism. As far as I am concerned, Richard Dawkins is a biologist. He has views on God because he dislikes creationism as a perversion with political power. When occasionally he answers more meaning based questions he does not turn out to be the one track person he is made out to be. Christopher Hitchens is a prose writer: so what, he is just more bearable than his brother.

No I am not a new atheist, nor am I quite the non-realist I used to be, but if people make statements then I like to see them examined, including mine. Down at the vicarage tonight a group discussed, and this included some views of Bonhoeffer and this God of the gaps business. I am a vehement opponent of God of the gaps, an I see it everywhere - in alternative sciences and histories, and assumptions. I asked the question whether the New Testament is not, from our perspective, one big shelter space of the God of the gaps. It is a reasonable question. It got a good answer but I am not sure entirely sufficient. Bonhoeffer is a person who never quite explained himself because he was killed. If I a new atheist I wouldn't be bothered with what Bonhoeffer said. The course text proposed Bonhoeffer as a solution to a secular-religious divide via a set of statements, and Bonhoeffer does not fill that divide at all.

I am interested in religious growth, but not at any price: not dogma for all, not doctrines for the sake of them, not authoritarian, not some African import as seems to be deciding for others, nor big over-assertive marketing churches with a narrow mentality, nor someone making jokes and saying we cannot live with differences.

It is commonly believed that religious revival has to follow some narrow, gassy, big crowd formula, and plenty tell us the numbers game has God there. I think religious revival exists in the small group asking questions.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 12:45am BST

I posted this on my blog too and I must say I was more or less unconvinced. Other than getting bibles back into Swedish hotel rooms, I'm not seeing that much of a resurgence. I agree with Steven that the supply side analogy is minimally true--my suspicion is that churches are not so much competing with each other as the growing ones are adopting more of a market-based services model, with some success. I remember an April 2005 Businessweek piece that talked about how mega-churches were offering dry cleaning and carwashes on Sunday mornings, sort of a one-stop Sunday service.

Posted by: Fortiterinre on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 2:08am BST

LRoberts
your comment is so full of factual errors that I could not even begin to list them. Could I suggest you read a bit more widely? Then you will find that people seldom go for a brand of Christianity that suppresses the spirit (why on earth would they), that Christians have always believed that the body was created by God and that his creation is good, that sex was ordained by God from the beginning and blessed by him, and that the religious in Bush's America give significantly more to the poor than the non-Christians and that overall the Americans give far more than the Europeans .....
I could go on, but you will get the idea from this that your view of the world does not stack up with the facts.

Posted by: Margaret on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 5:38am BST

L Roberts

I totally agree with your sentiments. People might want to go into a wrangling match about who did or did not honor Jesus' intentions in which denomination in which nation in which century. There is a truth that the underlying message of some of Jesus' core visions and dreams and their consistency with the Torah have been ignored or mutilated over the centuries, as well as in this generation

When Chris writes "Christ did not have interesting things to say about his society and by extension ours." I so totally don't agree with that.

Subscribe to Out In Scripture, the societal implications they are exploring are mind blowing.

Look at Jesus distaste for the priests who colluded with the Roman empire and look at what has happened when any priestly caste (of any faith) colludes with tyranny. Read the bible and see the God's repugnance.

Jesus' parables are as relevant today as in Jesus' time. Those who dismiss souls such as LR out of hand need to take a another look. No soul is more blind than the soul who does not want to see, another point that Jesus also made e.g. Luke 6:49-42. Look at Jesus' parables of the loving father, accepting help from a filthy samaritan, encouraging the riff raff whist rebuking the elitists e.g. Luke 14.

Jeremiah 6:14-18 is consistent e.g. "Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush." Jeremiah 5:25-31 which includes "The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way."

Those who reject these teachings are as blind as the Phariseses described in John 9. They seek to preserve the status quo, with no regard as to whether it is pleasing to God. Worse, they claim to do it in God's name, thus inferring that God condones their negligence, hypocrisy and tyranny.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 10:57am BST

Margaret,
"people seldom go for a brand of Christianity that suppresses the spirit"
Really? Surprising you say this, since such aren't all that hard to find.

"religious in Bush's America give significantly more to the poor"

Throw some money at the poor, that's OK, but don't criticize economic policies that make darn well sure they stay poor, don't criticize the bombing of innocent people, the erosion of the very freedoms they claim to respect, and on and on. Sorry, Margaret, but Bush and the Republicans are extremely poor exemplars of Christianity, I don't care how many half hoarse fundamentalists he has breakfast with every week.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 12:04pm BST

Margaret:

Good post.

Steven

Posted by: Steven on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 1:46pm BST

People do go with forms of Christianity that match their view of authority, either diffuse or hierarchical, and from the diffuse end the hierarchical seems to embody values they would rather release to history and leave them there.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 2:35pm BST

"People do go with forms of Christianity that match their view of authority"

A priest friend of mine says that if we truly believed what we claim to believe, we'd go crawling on our hands and kness to the rail for communion. I respond thatif we truly believed what we say we believe, we'd go dancing down the aisle to communion. This dispute in many ways is an argument between the Dancers and the Crawlers.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 3:54pm BST

But, Cheryl, that's just more social commentary without addressing the real issues behind these actions. Ask yourself "why do we do these things?" The simple answer is sin and our fallen nature.

My comment to L Roberts wasn't that social issues don't matter, but that they are only antecedent to Christ's primary work on the cross. In His ministry, Jesus addressed urgent needs when required (healing, comfort, protection from stoning) but ALWAYS brought it back to the issue of sin, faith and forgiveness. Remember the poor will always be with us.

Jesus's charges against the Pharisees weren't about power plays between humans, it was about abuse of God's word as given in the Law and the denial of God's authority in their lives. His teachings on money weren't about Gini coefficients, but about how the whole Earth belongs to God and we are just stewards.

If we think Jesus was just about being nice and dismiss the salvation stuff, what's the point? Natural law arguments quickly fail in the real world and suffering for suffering's sack isn't attractive. How can we talk of ethics and morality when we deny that we can know truth? Minimize salvation, I'll take Kant and probably have a pretty comfortable - if shallow and meaningless - life.

But its BECAUSE of Jesus's work on the cross that I care about poverty, social justice and the like. Every good thing in my life comes from God and I deserve none of it. I want to seek God and become more Christlike and that means letting go of power, pride, possessions and seeing the image of God in others. Only then can I get past my own selfishness. FIRST, love your God with all your heart, mind and soul. Only then are you able to love your neighbor as yourself.

Sin make me focus on my stomach, my checking account, my prestige. But Jesus frees me from sin and frees me to love and serve. The social gospel doesn't get this and that's why it has failed.

We actually get to the same place but by very different routes.

Posted by: Chris on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 4:04pm BST

This reminds me of Erich Fromm's book Escape From Freedom. People tend to go looking for an authority structure when life gets dramatic, complicated or scary. And with Akinola and the conservatives on the scene everything MUST be dramatic, complicated and scary. That's NOT new testament Christianity, it's bondage to principalities and powers.

Posted by: Curtis on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 5:02pm BST

Saying (or chanting) "Lord, lord " won't cut the mustard as Jesus himself is reported to have said. What does cut the mustard he avowed is " doing the will of my father." We are told.

When the US and UK governments wage illegal and unethical wars where and when they please, no amount of "Lord-Lord" can expunge the deaths of civilians in their own homes, including elderly and infirm folks, and those whom Jesus is said to have called, "these little uns" whom his father especially treasures.

Thank Cheryl and Ford for your posts which I found telling and compelling; pluralist of course -- ever informative and incisive (etc).

Margaret my experience and that reported by others is that many Churches do repress the human spirit and body --- especially the brains and genitals. Ireland under Rome was a nightmare from which that great country has only begun to emerge recently, for example. The Spain Franco trampled with the collusion of Rome, was antithetical to human freedoms---let alone flourishings! South Africa under the Dutch Reformed was rightly notorious.

I know the theory of incarnation and body Margaret, but it's the practice on the ground (or wherever) that really counts. The Churches have opposed the emancipation of workers (serfs) and of women. Also the rights of children, people of colour, lgbt folks and animals.

The current treatment of women and lgbt people in most parts of the Anglican Communion beggars belief.

So I am not so much ignorant of what you are pleased to call 'the facts', Margaret, but I do not happen to share your view of things. There is a technical term for it.

It is called having a difference of opinion.

Posted by: L Roberts (aka ignoramus) on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 5:42pm BST

I do not think Jesus is reported to have said a word about being 'Christ-like'.

Posted by: L Roberts on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 8:16pm BST

"Sin make me focus on my stomach, my checking account, my prestige. But Jesus frees me from sin and frees me to love and serve. The social gospel doesn't get this and that's why it has failed."

I tend to agree, Chris, bit I would add that legalistic Evangelicalism also fails because it goes too far the other way. It minimizes the justice side, even dismisses it, in favour of an interpretation that claims it's all about getting into Heaven when you die. That's why that message fails for me. See, for instance, Abp Akinola's famous "human suffering doesn't matter." This is why schism is such a tragedy, it first shows our need to be right is bigger than our love for each other, and it destroys the balance. As long as there are some who stress the social Gospel while others stress the salvation aspects, so to speak, we have the whole picture, but either one is incomplete without the other.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 8:34pm BST

Ford:

I'm a dancer and a crawler. Confession and contrition as well as rejoicing and exultation are intrinsic in Christianity. One cannot reject the cross in favor of the empty tomb, neither has meaning without the other. Consequently, any version of Christianity that doesn't embrace both is, at least IMHO, deformed.

Chris:

Bravo!!

Curtis:

I don't think your argument moves in any logical sequence from point A to point B, much less to point C. Perhaps you could flesh it out a bit.

Steven

Posted by: Steven on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 9:07pm BST

There are some who do not accept that they have internal paradigms that filter how they perceive the world, or that they participate in collective group think. So in this thread we've seen people deny that Jesus' teachings refer to societal conventions and assumptions, then or now.

Others appreciate that Jesus' purpose was to model what was required to heal ourselves, each other and thus the world. The cross was Creation's affirmation of his teachings, and it is inextricably tied into his teachings. If Jesus' teachings are opportunistically shunted to one side as no longer relevant, then such followers have voided the right to claim to be Jesus' followers. Jesus modelled compassionate fellowship with both friends and strangers, the seen and the unseen.

For the thugs, Ford's imagery of rejoicing and dancing are biblically sound. e.g Isaiah 35 which includes they "…will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy." or Malachi 4 which includes "...you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall." or Luke 15, where the prodigal son is greeted with music and dancing (much to the affront of the "pure" brother who had never transgressed and saw more of "his" inheritance being squandered).

Take a step back and reread the bible. Instead of reading it with tribe names that are then used to justify intergenerational grudges, take another perspective. Think of the tribe names as God's quick description of what happens to a community that pursues a reckless form of group think, or conversely embraces a worthy trait.

Suddenly you stop seeing enemies and friends in the texts, and start to see humanity's psychology and character being described. God exhorting that we should try to emulate, cautioning against negative manifestations, and encouraging faith and humility to help us refrain from extremes.

Many of humanity's worst mistakes have come from failing to recognise that a core assumption in our world views is erroneous or we have become over-reliant on one form of resolving problems. For example, you can't milk milk a dead cow. If you want more milk you either need to prevent the cow from dying, or ensure that her children will be able to survive long enough to produce milk and further viable generations.

We need to responsibility for how our theology affects our families, our communities, our nations or our neighbours; and their future.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 10:51pm BST

L Roberts, I have to admit your point is a bit too subtle for me to see, much less understand.

Posted by: Chris on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 10:52pm BST

Ford,

I'm not going to defend ++Akinola point-by-point as I don't position myself as an advocate for him. In fact, I have a serious issue w/ the statement in "The Road to Lambeth" that claims homosexuality separates people from salvation, but that's for another time.

I agree that evangelicals can slip into legalism. But, Ford, its not an either/or between just legalism and just social issues. In reality it's neither of those options.

I think when we are given faith and experience grace we understand the dross of this world doesn't matter. But once we do experience grace we begin to seek after God's heart and His heart is broken over the condition many people live in. That heartache in a faithful servant will inspire action. Holy Trinity Brompton - certainly an evangelical parish - did a sermon series last year on social issues that was extremely challenging; you can get the podcast on iTunes.

Posted by: Chris on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 11:12pm BST

"I'm a dancer and a crawler. Confession and contrition as well as rejoicing and exultation are intrinsic in Christianity. One cannot reject the cross in favor of the empty tomb, neither has meaning without the other. Consequently, any version of Christianity that doesn't embrace both is, at least IMHO, deformed."

Steven, I agree COMPLETELY.

(Stop the presses! Hell freezes over! Pigs, flying! ;-p)

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 11:16pm BST

Goran, you around for a CofS comment?

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 11:18pm BST

Ford said,
"I respond that if we truly believed what we say we believe, we'd go dancing down the aisle to communion."

Both are true! The Lutherans call it "Law-and-Gospel." The Law crushes us and shows us our sin while the Gospel tells of grace and forgiveness. The liturgy has both as well - Confession & Humble Access along side the Great Thanksgiving and Peace.

Posted by: Chris on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 11:32pm BST

Cheryl said,
"Others appreciate that Jesus' purpose was to model what was required to heal ourselves, each other and thus the world."

We can't do any of that healing on our own.

"Many of humanity's worst mistakes have come from failing to recognise that a core assumption in our world views is erroneous or we have become over-reliant on one form of resolving problems."

Exactly. When we try on our own, we get it wrong. Communism gave us Stalin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh. Incredible economic development in the West gave us strained natural resources and likely unsustainable standards of living for the rest of the planet. Vaccines upset the societies of LDCs by decreasing mortality rates but failing to address birth rates. All these started off sounding wonderful, but human wisdom failed and they created new - or even worse - problems.

In no way am I saying we should let people suffer. But if all we do is feed and cloth people with out taking them the Gospel... they still die.

Posted by: Chris on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 at 11:43pm BST

>>>the religious in Bush's America give significantly more to the poor than the non-Christians

Margaret, that study, as widely quoted as it is, is questionable because it counts church tithes as donations to charity. In other words, money donated to install a new sauna in a megachurch's recreation complex is, for purposes of that study, a donation to charity.

In my town, there is a church whose "parsonage" is a $4,300,000 house on the beach, complete with five-car garage and olympic pool. (Prospective members have to turn over a financial statement to the pastor, who decides how much they must tithe.) As your study sees it, the money that maintains this corrupt preacher's waterfront pleasure palace is a donation to the poor.

Posted by: JPM on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 12:20am BST

"Richard Dawkins is a biologist. He has views on God because he dislikes creationism as a perversion with political power."

Pluralist, I've heard him say that the Creationism / Evolution argument is a minor battle compared with the war against the God Hypothesis, as he puts it. His 'heresy' seems no more controversial than denying the doctrines of the Trinity, Virgin Birth or Assumption. Just another North Oxford theological dispute - a fireside chat with Alister McGrath. Except he's taken it to the USA in polemical book-form rather than keep it to the cosy confines of the Dreaming Spires.

The Dawkins / Dennett / Harris / Hitchens quartet has overreached. They may be attempting a 'purification' - as Richard Harries puts it - of extremist belief. But secular humanists are just as prone to schism and utopian fantasies. And there's still the question of what rites to conduct at birth, marriage and death. Religion has the upper hand on this, as it does with enabling a satisfactory spiritual life.

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 1:13am BST

Thanks L Roberts; Cheryl Clough you continue to make the best of all these texts into a sense of humans doing the actions you say the Bible shows God wanting through good and difficulty as illustrated in the Bible. A key issue is tribalism and overcoming it for something that brings differences together whilst accepting difference. This includes peoples' cultures, faiths, sexualities, identities.

What I see going on overall is people asking if they can finally be honest now about their differences and identities, but the authorities are saying no because the institution cannot stay together if they are. These say instead, 'Can we all please agree to go back to as it was?' Bishop Wright says 'It was never like this' with the idea of forcing the cork back in to the bottle.

The removal of duplicity in one area leads to the removal in another and another, whilst the evangelicals continue to push their reading of a kind of balance sheet Chrstianity where everyone is in deficit until the magic button is taken from the other column and, bingo, a balance of eternity is given to everyone who is singing from their one hymn sheet. It's a big myth: the Jews in their own scriptures don't read a fall to start with, which rather affects the balance sheet, and it's more all more about coping and struggling with situations towards reconciliation. My reply to the joking bishop is to say, 'Well it is like this, and if it wasn't it should have been. Furthermore, now that it is, what can you do about it?'

After the panic comes the cold feet (the Radner thread here), but actually if you think about the supply-side model of this thread, it is one about differences (not that it itself is any solution to the matter of numbers). If institutions break up then you can say we are like this and you are like that and, in all honesty, can we talk?

Yes, better if together, and becoming honest, but if it was never like this, and can't be, then better to talk across the tribes in their new institutions.

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 1:29am BST

I have previously read this claim that "Christians" give more to the poor than "non-Christians," Americans more than Europeans, etc. (Christians / non-Christians in quotes because what is meant varies from case to case.)

I have never seen anything to support this claim - merely the claim all on its own.

But whenever I consider the relations of rich and poor, I am reminded of a certain Bishop of Tanganyika who said that one could not worship Jesus in the Tabernacle who sweated him in the slums.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 6:17am BST

Erika says "Most churches I have attended and visited seem to have an average age of about 60. "

Yes, too many stagnating in the CofE like that....while others down the road (even in England) have hundreds of young people, students and children.....but the vicars with the dwindling groups of pensioners never take responsibility for their failed ideas ...... they even blame the CofE churches which do attract lots of young people and families, never making the connection that it is their barren teaching ("believe what you like as long as you are a nice person") which leaves their churches dying (and draining resources from everyone else).

Posted by: NP on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:42am BST

Hugh on rites de passage

I find people are increasingly putting together their own ceremonies for birth, partnership and death

At a funeral we would rather hear of the life and qualities of the deceased, and celebrate her or his life, and shared love and friendship (etc), than have a load of meaningless theology and ritual sparayed across us.

Posted by: L Roberts on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:54am BST

"I think when we are given faith and experience grace we understand the dross of this world doesn't matter."

This parallels a series of comments made by one subscriber on 21 December that God does not care about justice in this world. There is a paradigm that God is going to burn up this world and its occupants, replacing it with a new world full of only the pure souls that have Jesus' support. That is the imagery of Jesus as slayer, not as healer and saviour. Jesus was annointed to redeem this world and its occupants, all of them, no matter how "sinful" they might be.

Praise be to God, whilst some a gloating from their complacency and arrogance, others are contemplating what happens when "successful" paradigms lead to myopic perception e.g.
http://www.torah.org/learning/tehillim/ch12.html
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1769
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6900665.stm

Do not think that either Gaia or the Shechina are prepared to passively allow whores to steal their husbands (and their reputations) and take their locust offspring to destroy another biosphere.

Many current debates divert attention away from the most important point.Some souls are busy arguing about what Jesus is, his uniqueness, his divinity and how much of God he comprises. To be blunt, Jesus is simply beyond their comprehension.

The feasible argument should not be agreeing what Jesus is, but rather asking what Jesus wants us to be.

Jesus manifested as human wanted us to embrace the best that was possible as human. He did not reject us as unsavable sinners, Jesus exorted us to accept our inadequacies and make the best possible in our circumstances, and to remember to give thanks for whatever blessings God chooses to bestow on us. We then do works, not to save ourselves, but out of gratitude that we have already been saved, by deeds done outside and beyond our own abilities or authority.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 10:59am BST

Cheryl,

Saying, "the dross of the world doesn't matter," is not the same as saying, "the world is dross."

Posted by: Chris on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 2:45pm BST

The article is just one more example of anti Modern Yankee Prejudice into Politics – anti-Islamism and all. Strong on names dropping – week on Context.

I think we better ask ourselves w h o this journalist is, and w h o pointed him to the Rev. Professor (into nuffers) Hamberg of “Christian in my own way” fame, and more-Americanized-than-they-know Messrs Piensoho and Swärd (not of a growing Evangelical movement, as this article claims, but of a singular The Evangelical Free Church – very singular in these parts, I assure you; Evangelical is not a word most people would understand or be able to identify on a map).

It’s all NP’s game.

The 70.000 members figure given must refer to Mr Swärd’s EFC, since the largest “Free Church”, the Pentecostals (not a church, but congregational) number around 100.000. The truth about the “growth” of these small congregations seems to be today what it was 50 years ago – the members circulate; the total is ever the same.

The so called “bibles” in question are Gideonite Proverbs + NT. I don’t understand why this rather odd sect should be given a most preferred treatment against all others (and against all other religions…).

As to the marketing nonsense, don’t forget I’ve been to Business School ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:46pm BST

As to L Roberts’ “forms which suppress the human spirit, inhibit human flourishing, oppress women and hate the body and sexuality” the very commercial American Rhema Gnosticist Livets Ord is one of the most notorious.

As to “just a social gospel”… Christ does have a few “interesting” things about society and power plays and greed and the rest… And yes, the Gospel has been constantly ignored and a new Neo Platonist anti Cosmic Ethics masquerading as religion (often anti Jewish & c.) insinuated in its place.

Remember that I can follow this generation by generation down to and beyond the year of Grace 826, in which a most pious donation to Saint Boniface (monastery of Fulda) of some farms in a forest, included villains “Wolfmunt, Zitger, Berolf, Rodmunt, Bernger, Musgo, Sito, Thragabold, Vuottizo, Landburg, Thiurhilt, Sconea and Waldger” and “all of their belongings”, that is their wives and children.

Don’t call this Christianity. And don’t pretend the “salvation stuff” doesn’t primarily work as a smoke screen to hide the Gospel and the word of God written and fool us that we are good instead of bad.

And remember, that pístis xristoû in Romans means adamantly not OUR Faith IN Christ, but Christ’s faith-ful-ness towards us.

You know, like all the talk of who is incessantly ruining all the Covenants and Who never breaks Communion, but always keeps the Covenant, however ruined… Sure you’ve heard of Her ;=)

Well, maybe not.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:47pm BST

“… that Christians have always believed that the body was created by God and that his creation is good, that sex was ordained by God from the beginning and blessed by him…”

This is a BIG lie, Margaret.

Chris wrote: “The Lutherans call it "Law-and-Gospel."

O, no we don’t. The L-AND-G is from Phillipp Melanchthon, sometimes called “the Father of all Heresies” ;=)

Lutherans distinguish between Law (ever the 10 Commandments) and Gospel. The 1580 Books of Concord/Discord say that Law must not be preached, only the Gospel.

Calvinists claim that what Lutherans call “laws of men” (“civil, ritual and moral” laws, as per the divorce of HVIII, to you lot) are Commandments, a n d – worse – that they are Gospel. Never.

Nor do we believe in a “free” will ;=)

“But if all we do is feed and cloth people with out taking them the Gospel... they still die.”

Some say we all do, eventually. Even Gustaf V changed from I f I die, to When I die…

“I have never seen anything to support this claim – merely the claim all on its own.”

I think we all should be able to recognise this as a pattern by now ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:48pm BST

Some notes on the “primary” article…

“Hedvig Eleonara Church” is Hedvig EleonOra, a famous conservative (no women) stronghold in the fashionable late 19th century part of town. The dome is 19th century, the big octagonal church itself mid 17th century, designed by a French Huguenot who became Court Architect to Queen Christina (who converted and moved to Rome in 1654).

Hedvig Eleonora (née Holstein) was the Lutheran Queen of Queen Christina’s 1st cousin and eventual successor (elected in 1650) staunch Calvinist Charles X Gustaf (ex Count of the Palatinate-Cleeburg), much into Apocalyptic Foreign Policies (=War).

It is because of his Polish Wars that putting religious clothing on foreign policy has not been do-able in Europe after 1660. I think some could learn from this.

It was their son Charles XI who in the 1680s fulfilled the Absolutistic wet dreams of his forbears, abolishing Constitution, Senate, Parliament and Church (the Church of Sweden held political as well as ecclesiastical powers as the 2nd Estate of Parliament).

Nor did the Calvinist Kings did hesitate to name churches after themselves and their family – and if you think this is at all strange, you neeed to behold the portrait pantokrator of CXG with the Globe ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:48pm BST

There is no “state levy”, the Inland Revenue assists in collecting the Church Fee from the Church of Sweden, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockholm and whoever wants to pay for this (commercial) service.

Burials is a separate legislation (1994) administered by the Church. It is strictly non confessional. There are Jewish, Muslim, Sikh & c. areas in all larger (city) burial grounds. This is a stark innovation; we never had anything like Highgate cemetery in Hampstead, London.

It was not the Church of Sweden but his Bishop (Gothenburg) who pulled Mr Ekman’s (Livets Ord) collar (the Rhema thing came through his Methodist father in law).

Dagen (That Day, nowadays Nya Dagen, That New Day ;=) is the leading Pentecostal, and thus the leading Free Church paper. In 1964 the Congregationalist Pentecostal movement also founded a political party, which nowadays in European fashion calls it self the Christian Democrats (4%).

The “drop” in membership (“membership” is a very novel and strange idea in a country where “Church” is primarily a geographical category: ”the North Sea and the Baltic are the limits of the Church of Sweden”, as the Calvinist founder of the Mission Societies once said despairingly – it is absolutely to the point, all else is sect) in the couple of years following 2000 is due to Free church people no longer paying 2 memberships, which they all used to do under the State church (after all, it was theirs ;=)

“In detail” but not correct.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 9:49pm BST

GLBTs are considered dross by some. They might not matter to you, but they do to me and they do to God.

Psalm 84:3 "Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O LORD" parallels Jesus words at Matthew 6, which includes "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

Is not any human (whether of sound mind and body or not) worth more than the birds of the air? If God provides for the birds, God can provide for all humanity.

Hearts have become hardened and they choose to judge who should be excluded and then attempt to incite others to adopt their cruel theology so they can claim its beauty. That is simply the blind leading the blind. Take the plank out of your eyes, then look beyond the filthy exterior to see the holy spark within. See Zechariah 3, the God who has chosen Jerusalem calls on you to see these souls as burning sticks rescued from the fire. Attempt to extinguish their holy spark and your own will be quenched in kind. Nurture and nourish their holy spark and find your own being refined and healed.

If you do not have the capacity to survive the refiner's fire, then get out of the way of the ones who can. There are lost sheep to be rescued and we are sweeping dross off the highways.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 at 11:38pm BST

And remember, that pístis xristoû in Romans means adamantly not OUR Faith IN Christ, but Christ’s faith-ful-ness towards us.

Thanks foir this Goran. I like it ! Do you tell me which verse n chapter. Thanksa lot.

Posted by: L Roberts on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 9:23am BST

Cheryl, who in THIS conversation is calling people dross? I'm not doing that. I never brought up sexuality because we weren't talking about it. Yes, some people can't get past others' sexuality and I'd argue using a string of letters to describe a fairly diverse set of people is one expression of how some on BOTH sides make sexuality an idol.

I'm merely saying that if we reject Christ's teaching about our relationship with God, then His teachings about inter-human relationships should be rejected as well. It's only after I understand he vertical righteousness that I'm even aware of the horizontal righteousness. When we reduce Christ to just saying "interesting" things about society we actually reduce His teaching to nothing more than what thousands of others have said and millions of other s have ignored.

If that makes me a bad person - guilty as charged! That's why I need Christ, His work on the cross and His resurrection. And its only after that I can get past my own selfishness to care about others.

Thank you for the reference to Zechariah 3; the passage is very powerful. But even there the message is clearly about sin, righteousness that can only come from God (v4) and obedience (v7). Its only AFTER Christ removes the sin of the land in v9 that we see neighbors sitting together in v10. Any chance Joshua was pulled from the fires of hell?

Posted by: Chris on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 3:07pm BST

It is rarely ideas that account for levels of attendance in a church: more like location and the overlap between spirituality and entertainment.

As for people over 60 in a congregation, or even greater, I think we should be aware how little there is for people in todays media saturated "youth" culture for older people, and if older people find company and others to talk to in churches then these churches are doing a good job. Many older people have heard it all before, and do not want some over enthused vicar ramming some narrow message down their throats, so I suggest we realise the value of churches for some of those in our communities being passed by - and consider instead that in this the churches might just be doing what they ought to be doing.

Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 3:18pm BST

Goran,

I heard about the Law-and-Gospel concept from a Missouri Synod (very evangelical) theology prof. but I wasn't aware of the original source of the idea and some of Melanchthon's ideas (clearly M.'s thinking had some issues).

The prof made a very clear distinction between Law and Gospel, similar to my understanding of Paul. The prof's assertion was that Law shows us God's standard, illustrates our sin and we are condemned by the Law. If we only have Law we'd crawl down the aisle to the communion rail every Sunday. The Gospel on the other hand, shows us God's love, Christ's work on the cross, His resurrection and the free gift of justification by grace through faith. The Gospel gives us reason to dance.

Sorry for the confusion and please let me know if that's still not square with your understanding.

Posted by: Chris on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 3:19pm BST

"When we reduce Christ to just saying "interesting" things about society we actually reduce His teaching to nothing more than what thousands of others have said and millions of other s have ignored."

As a recently quoted efriend says, "a pot of message". I'm with you on this Chris, to do justice is the work of the Gospel, but the Gospel is about other things as well.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 7:13pm BST

Chris

In this forum there is an understanding that it is not simply a conversation between two people. It is a public discussion and as an idea is contemplated, there is an awareness that readers might consider who is affected or how to apply scriptures in a certain context.

One of the things I have loved in the last few months is watching souls reaffirming God's inclusive nature, and what is family. There are those who say that we are to copy the divine family of mother and father, and that any other version is unbiblical.

Such readings would denounce even Jesus. For example in Matthew 12:46-50 "While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”"

Thus Jesus chose those who affirmed his interpretations and mission over those who demanded filial bonds.

Similarly, Jesus did not rely on obedience and purity e.g. his accepting annointment from a sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. In fact, Jesus goes further and actually rebukes the obedient Pharisee "You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

Similarly, I never read in scriptures of Jesus body guards who screened the crowds to eliminate the unworthy. If people came to Jesus, Jesus accepted them unconditionally. He handed them over to God for judgment, with an affirmation that they had acknowledged him.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 10:53pm BST

Would Joshua be rescued from the fires of hell? Yes, of course, as was Jesus at his death. As we did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:16-30) A king threw them into a blazing furnace because they refused to worship his idol and stated "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand".

The fourth soul who came out was the same presence from the fire around Mt Sinai.

What we have seen in recent years is actually an assassination attempt. Certain souls were hoping that if Christianity became perverted enough, that God's wrath would send the fire to destroy Jesus. What they forgot is that God would not do that lightly, and that God would research to find out exactly what was going on. God has found that the problem is not Jesus, but corrupt priests.

The fear of God is knowing that the soul who could destroy Jesus has granted him forgiveness (thus even Jesus lives by the grace of God) and we are now pulling out of the fire the victims of corruption. Matthew 10:28 "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Jesus and the Shechina are evenly matched, God is the turbo charge factor that with righteous anger gives one or the other the upper hand in any debate. What you should be really scared of is when the two of them realise their enemies have been slandering both of them and trying to set them off against each other when they are actually soul mates. If you think either one of them is scary, ponder what happens if you have both of them cooperating to redeem victims and to judge predators.

God's dominions cover both heaven and hell and everything in between.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 10:57pm BST

"Jesus and the Shechina are evenly matched"

Right...

Posted by: Chris on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 11:42pm BST

Cheryl,

Go back to Zach. 3. God removes sin THEN asks for obedience and sitting w/ one neighbor in the same way Jesus forgave the adulterous woman then told her to sin no more.

Posted by: Chris on Thursday, 19 July 2007 at 11:48pm BST

Cheryl,

Your ideas about Shechina and Gaia are troubling.

Jesus was the instrument of creation (John 1:3) If Jesus is part of the Trinity and the instrument through which God created the universe, then Shechina can not be equally matched with Jesus. Something begotten is not the same as something created.

Further, God has given humans stewardship over the Earth. Even after the fall, God provides the earth for food and animal skins for clothing. Stewardship does not give us license for abuse of nature, but there is a clear ordering where nature is subservient to man, even if man can not control all aspects of nature.

Where does God set Shechina above man? Where does God set Shechina equal to Jesus?

Posted by: Chris on Friday, 20 July 2007 at 12:02am BST

We are all equal before God, we are all God's servants.

There are those who do not want the Shechina manifested in their reality, and she does not impose herself on people.

If Jesus ever comes looking for her, just let him know that she hung around for while in the early 2000s, but you told her that she was not wanted and that was in accordance with Jesus' will. Since Jesus didn't show up to state otherwise, she had to presume that the priests had the right to send her to hell in Jesus' name, so she went there.

You have been offered help. If you don't want it. That's fine. Just don't blame me that I didn't help when you kept telling me to butt out and go away. God knows that you only want Eve as a scapegoat, and that all of her other attributes and gifts are deemed irrelevant by your priestly castes.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Friday, 20 July 2007 at 11:55pm BST

Cheryl says "just let him know that she hung around for while in the early 2000s, but you told her that she was not wanted"

Are you talking about yourself? Not sure if you are unwell or very confused, Cheryl - suffice it to say that John 14:6 is an offer open to ALL so nobody is turned away but people can (like the rich young ruler) walk away if they will not repent

Posted by: NP on Wednesday, 25 July 2007 at 7:29am BST

"John 14:6 is an offer open to ALL so nobody is turned away but people can (like the rich young ruler) walk away if they will not repent"

Not sure what you mean by this NP. And why "rich young ruler"? When did he turn into a ruler?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 25 July 2007 at 2:10pm BST

Good evening!

This may be "yesterdays news" but if anyone is interested, St. Swithun's Society recently celebrated its 33rd anniversary. Details about the organization are available at the following address:

Norman McMullen, KStG, President,
Saint Swithun's Society,
427 Lynett Crescent,
RICHMOND HILL, Ontario,
Canada, L4C 2V6

nmcmullen@rogers.com

Posted by: Norman McMullen on Friday, 27 July 2007 at 2:22am BST
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