on Saturday, 1 October 2022 at 11.07 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
C Don Jones Patheos The Dying Church?
Stephen Parsons Surviving Church The Clergy Disciplinary Measure revisited
C. Don Jones’ essay is spot-on, especially in his description of the “corporate church.”
I don’t agree. Jones writes from a very American perspective, but the European historic experience of Church and its present rejection of it are quite different from America. All over Europe, the institution of the Church, in whatever denominations are chiefly present in each country, is well on the path to dying out within a generation. That is because Europeans have lost interest or become actively hostile to the Church in ever-increasing numbers. What I think we suffer from is not excessive negativity in noticing this so much as a very complacent leadership cadre, right across the board.
That may all be true…but his description of the workings of these large-scale churches (on either side of the pond) rings true to me. Like a corporation, they are only interested in material growth–“bums in seats” as the phrase goes in the entertainment business. And, to my mind, that is really the business they are in, to give their congregants an engaging way to spend an hour or so every week, not to mention spend a few dollars (or pounds or euros) in doing so. And if the number of people they get to do that, and the amount of… Read more »
That may be your perception Pat, but if everyone who went to a large church thought the same as you, then large churches would no longer be large.
The people I know who attend megachurches (in the US) go to be entertained for an hour or so each week. They like swaying to the praise bands, raising their arms and singing catchy tunes. In some venues, you can grab a snack and coffee on your way into the meeting, and it’s good coffee… for free. And someone looks after your children for 90 minutes, also for free.
‘The people I know who attend megachurches (in the US) go to be entertained for an hour or so each week.’ I guess we’ll never now what’s going on in people’s hearts, but it seems to me as an outsider that the same could be said of people who attend cathedrals because the music is so good. The real test, I guess, is whether their attendance makes a difference in their life of discipleship during the week. If it does, then be it small church, megachurch, or cathedral, it seems to be working. It’s certainly working for my brother, who… Read more »
If people didn’t fall for the grift, grifters wouldn’t be so successful.
People. like Don Jones, who complain about a dying Church, are obviously in a situation where their particular parish/congregation is no longer effective in the sort of ministry to which Christ still calls his faithful servants as clergy and people. The Church which still teaches and operates on the dominical sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist will not die – until the moment when God decides it is time for Christ to “come again in His glory, to take with him, first, those who have died in Christ, and then those who are left alive, who will be caught up with… Read more »
Don Jones suggests electronic church will thrive. How do you baptise electronically? Is he suggesting it’s good and normal for worshippers to stay at home, never receive physical communion, never be in fellowship with other Christians in the same place? Oh wait. That’s what the Archbishop of Canterbury supports. He wrote in March 2020 that public worship and church buildings are not essential. Perhaps we should all stay at home in our jim-jams and watch replays of ABC in his rather nice kitchen.
There are plenty of places around the world where there are not enough priests to go round for Eucharist on a yearly basis even, let alone weekly. Spiritual communion is not the invention of the ABC of our time and you do not need a church font nor a priest to baptise. As a seafarer I spent most of my days with non-Christians. But I am always in communion with the worldwide communion of all Christians.
This reminds me of the Christmas song ‘Winter Wonderland’, which goes:
In the meadow we will build a snowman
And pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say are ‘Are you married?’ we’ll say ‘No man
But you can do the job when you’re in town’
That was of course a reference to the need for one ‘parson’ to cover a large area and his inability to visit any one location very frequently.
Michael, how do you think those of us who are mostly housebound get on? Especially now that large areas are left without a priest and there’s no one to bring holy communion to us? I thank God that I can worship online every Sunday, with a church which ensures its online congregation are part of the worship. And yes, I do take part in communion with them (though they obey the rules by saying it’s merely ‘symbolic’ for those of us at home). I can see my friend in the congregation, and it’s wonderful to be worshipping with people in… Read more »
Sounds really good and you are right that online services open up worship to people who would otherwise be excluded. That has to be a good thing.
Online worship is a wonderful provision for people who are housebound and unable to be brought to church. I simply can’t see any reason to object to that provision. It’s compassionate. It’s also great if the service is streamed on a platform where there’s live chat, so people who are housebound can post comments during the service, and engage that way, and feel connected in the worship. As for the concept of taking the sacraments of bread and wine at home, I accept that is a new concept (technology can raise new concepts and possibilities, and I ‘get’ that the… Read more »
I agree. Within our church fellowship there a significant number who are housebound, or have such health concerns that they are not taking the risk of attending church, even with the provision of socially distanced seating. They even enjoy the dreaded Zoom coffee afterwards. It keeps them connected and they feel that they are still part of the fellowship. We don’t live stream the communion.
It sounds great. What is Zoom coffee?!!
A zoom call while drinking coffee! Actually just a chance to natter and see people. I am amazed at how many people, particularly older and single, managed to use zoom.
It sounds good, but it’s a shame you don’t live stream the communion. Including it gives the housebound the option to take part symbolically, or not, as they wish. At what point do you stop streaming the service?
Live streaming stops just before the prayer of humble access. Home communion is available for those who request it. We are keen that all who can should meet together for worship on Sunday. Some have got out of the habit of collective worship and we wish to encourage them to return where possible. Those that cannot are visited by either clergy or a member of the visiting team (often both) to ensure that they supported.
At Chester Cathedral, the whole service is live-streamed with words displayed. The ministers are shown receiving communion but not the congregation; other parts of the building are shown while the sound continues (usually to hear the anthem). This seems a good way of maintaining communicants’ privacy while giving worshippers at home a sense of being present throughout.
With nearly 50 years serving churches in the United States, I tend to agree with Don Jones. Since seminary I’ve heard people moan about declining church attendance and predict the death of the Church. It is a long way from dead, and arguably as busy as ever as our congregations, regardless of size, provide ministry and service to their surrounding communities. However, recent research finds that for a growing number of Americans, participation in a congregation has moved from essential to optional. I interpret that to mean that for some people membership in a congregation is too much trouble and… Read more »
Is the Church dying or is it being killed? Our three great adversaries are the World, the Flesh and the Devil, and it’s not hard to see each of those at work.
Probably a bit of both. For example, after dealing with call centres and even the mandatory ‘have a good day!’ in McDonald’s, people are leary of scripted interactions and yet the Church of England still relies on scripted services, both in terms of pattern and content. I know all the ministers here will say it doesn’t apply to them, but I have heard a lot of ministers sound jaded delivering the Eucharistic prayers – certainly no sense of awe or excitement because it has become routine. Personally I don’t think it is surprising that many find some services deadly dull.… Read more »
Kate, although this can be hard to hear in a restless culture which prizes novelty, repetition of words and actions is how the liturgy gets into hearts and minds; helping us become who we are; earthing the story in our lives. This demands good, resonant liturgical language; language which deepens through repetition; language to grow into, rather than out of; language that is not so readily accessible as to be expendable. Of course ‘scripted services’ can be deadly dull, but over time and done well they can also be formational.
I think that’s a matter of fashion and that fashion has moved on. It’s certainly possible to argue that the church shouldn’t follow fashion but, if it doesn’t, it needs to accept that not doing so is likely to have a negative impact on attendance.
I’m not sure that’s a straightforward correlation. The Church – historically and to this day – has often grown and thrived in happy alliance with the world and the flesh (I’ll hold back from judgement on the third).
What that might have done to the Gospel and the Kingdom is another story.
I am wary of “world flesh and devil” arguments. To me it smacks of “the dog ate my homework”. It can become too easy to outsource the blame for one’s own weaknesses and failings onto something, or someone, else. Much better and more constructive to take responsibility, and ask what can I (individually) or we (corporately, as a church) change and do better. I am particularly wary of the “Flesh” argument. The church has a long history of celibate male religious outsourcing the blame for their own struggle with sex and lusts and desires onto those demonic women, the whores… Read more »
‘Sarx’ does not mean ‘body’ and the reference is not to what we today call ‘sins of the flesh’ but to what Francis Spufford calls our ‘Human Propensity to F____ Things Up.’ That rings VERY true for me, for one.
I guess I should have added, Simon, that I was responding to your statement that blaming ‘the flesh’ was ‘outsourcing the blame for one’s own weaknesses and failings’. My view is that if we understand ‘sarx’ properly, it refers precisely to our own sinful human nature (as opposed to ‘the world’ and ‘the devil’, which refer to external adversaries), so it is not ‘outsourcing.’
Tim, looking at this again, I think that paragraph one and two of my original post meet your concern. When properly applied, if teaching about the world, flesh and the devil relates to our own struggles with our own nature, then I am entirely happy with that. But there is a strong history in the church of outsourcing or “othering” this problem. It is this tendency I would criticise There is a wonderful story about St John Chrysostom when living as a hermit in a cave in the wilderness The daughter of the emperor lost her way during a storm… Read more »
I think acknowledging the reality of an evil force beyond ourselves in society – not necessarily a supernatural one, although personally I don’t disbelieve in that – is not the same as blaming it and outsourcing our own struggles. For instance, the way my city is designed makes it very difficult for me to live without a car. Not impossible, but very different. The way the world economy is set up makes it very difficult for me not to benefit from the way the western world continues its economic colonisation of the rest of the world. These are just two… Read more »
Thanks Tim, I acknowledge and agree with everything you say here, and it is good for me to hear voices like yours pointing out healthy and useful interpretations of the “world, flesh and devil” discourse. I do not criticise that in any way. But there is a world of difference between the healthy struggle you describe above, and where someone eases their own struggle by (consciously or unconsciously) projecting a label of demonic or sinful onto something or someone other, in such a way that is abusive or harmful to that other. “It’s not my fault, it is the devil… Read more »
And I need to hear your perspective too, Simon. Thanks for a helpful discussion.
if teaching about the world, flesh and the devil relates to our own struggles with our own nature, then I am entirely happy with that. Just to be clear, you’re assuming a priori that there are no external forces acting against the work of the Church? To take just one example, I wonder whether it’s quite so obvious as you suggest that a century or so of mass media promoting the line that people are entitled to a happiness which can be obtained entirely through the acquisition of material goods has had no effect whatsoever on the spiritual condition of… Read more »
“…a century or so of mass media promoting the line that people are entitled to a happiness which can be obtained entirely through the acquisition of material goods has had no effect whatsoever on the spiritual condition of the recipients of those messages?”
I won’t argue the point, except to say that the creators of those messages did not do so and are not doing so in a conscious effort to thwart the work of the church.
creators of those messages did not do so and are not doing so in a conscious effort to thwart the work of the church. I don’t know how you know that, but it hardly matters. Deliberate or not, the effect is the same. Similar remarks apply of course to the sexualisation of almost everything (including children) to sell things; the elevation of sex and sexuality into a pre-eminent position in peoples’ sense of identity; the access of children to pornography and the access of child predators to children thanks to the internet; and other so-called advances of modern civilisation. The… Read more »
Not entrely neutral, but I’m pretty sure their effect on the work of the church was never a concern or an aim of those producing them. The primary aim (and I even include in this the access of child predators) is to make money…which is not to say that all capitalists are immoral or even amoral. Many (probably most) would and do avoid the most mendacious things you mention. BTW, I would argue that “the elevation of sex and sexuality into a pre-eminent position in peoples’ sense of identity” is not a bad thing; it has allowed a long-marginalized segment… Read more »
I would argue that “the elevation of sex and sexuality into a pre-eminent position in peoples’ sense of identity” is not a bad thing I used the word “pre-eminent” for a reason. Whether it be the desire for money, goods or esteem; sex, food or drink; pride, power or privilege — if any of these take first place in someone’s construction of their own identity then it follows that they are not loving God with all their heart and all their would and all their mind (Matt 22:37). Whatever it is, if they are unwilling to put Christ above it,… Read more »
Interesting, thanks Tim. I shall look again at that.
I still stand by the second sentence of my last paragraph, and just detach it from the first sentence.
If anything, what we’re seeing is what is left of the church once the accretions of the World have fallen away. Does anyone believe that the CofE at the height of its Erastian pomp in the centuries following the Restoration was less worldly than it presently is? Likewise was the Devil not at work in the ownership of human beings and branding them “SOCIETY” as one para-church organisation did?
Indeed when “livings” were in the control of the local squire, and the vicar and curate were at his beck-and-call and prepared services and sermons to match his tastes, clearly the church was pretty “worldly.”
BTW, this paradigm was not limited to the CoE or even the UK, as anyone who has read or viewed “Pollyanna” would understand.
We need never succumb to timid or fearful theology. Christ’s Church is alive and well and flourishing and nothing will defeat it.
The denomination known as the Church of England is obviously a different matter.
Are you referring to the Westboro’ Baptist Church or Roman Catholics? Which part of Christ’s Church is undefeated?
No, the church mentioned in Matthew 16, the body of Christ.
I’m referring to the people of God
I think you just trudge along. Perhaps not doing things the way they always have, but there are things going on that are simply beyond our control. Why would I embrace diaconal formation if I thought there was nothing to minister to? I mean, why bother? The point is that the church is larger than a building or institution. Our work continues thanks to faithful men and women meeting other men and women where they are on their journey. If we can’t meet in a church because the cost is too great, then we return to the catacombs like the… Read more »
The problem I see with the house church model is this: Where and how does a newcomer to a community find the church? In our modern world, with the demise of local newspapers and magazines, the ability to discover where a local Christian group is meeting (if not in an obvious church building) is limited.
There is the internet. With the proliferation of on-line services, webpages are the first portal of information for seekers.
A majority of people below the age of 30 I suspect get their information from social media not from the print media.
Presumably by getting to know people, getting involved in society, sharing one’s faith in some way and by personal invitation to a service. Isn’t that basic witness and maybe where so many established churches are weak… Just waiting for “them ” to come.
It might not be what we are at home with but there’s nothing fundamentally weak about the model…
And newspapers? A Web search is what most people turn to if merely moving.
Is a “home church” likely to have a substantial web presence? Would the average person newly arrived in a community be comfortable discussing faith and religion with people he or she doesn’t yet know? (Most people are uncomfortable discussing it with friends and co-workers.)
I would find a “personal invitation” to a service in someone’s home from someone I barely know as being somewhat “pushy”.
Social media has many problems, but one very helpful aspect is when villages and towns have a community facebook (or other platform) page, where many people post each week, flagging up traffic problems, items they want to give away, vaccination news… and… events. I live in a small village where social media is one aspect of cohesion, information, news. If I wanted to advertise a bible study group, or a house church, it is the simplest thing to write a small post, ending with the words: “All are welcome, contact ***” Personally I don’t ‘do’ social media for friend networking.… Read more »
Small village should be great for developing personal friendships… Which brings natural opportunities….
However the op talked about someone looking for a church. I wasn’t advocating out of the blue conversations… As I think i made quite clear…. Sometimes though, Christians are far to fearful of sharing even a basic connection with the faith…