Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taking Christ Out of Christianity

From the 3-22-08 Toronto Globe and Mail:

That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, Jesus Christ Has Risen Today – Hallelujah, this morning will rock the walls of Toronto's West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.

But at West Hill on the faith's holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.”

Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected – an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit – but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity's central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God.

Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill's Sunday service liturgy.

I am always amazed by these kinds of churches, not because of the obvious theological issues, but because of why anyone would bother to attend. To that end, I find the pastor's statement to be highly ironic: "I just don't think we can placate those in the pews long enough to transition into a kind of new community that doesn't keep people away."

Keep people away? Why bother attending in the first place? Just stay home and drink Bloody Marys over a late brunch, or head out for a round of golf. Church without God is like an Up with People concert; all feel-good cliches that last only as long as the last note of that "Glorious hope is risen today" chorus. Then it's back to the Kingdom of Me. I honestly can't fathom why people would bother to invest a couple hours of their week in such activities. They can do the Kingdom of Me quite nicely on their own. In fact, it tends to work better that way.

Whatever it is, it's not Christianity. When you remove Christ then you are, by definition, not a Christian church. And yet West Hill United Church retains the form of a Christian church, appropriating old hymns and changing the words to self-help pep talks. Now, there are plenty of people who are not Christians, and who engage in self-help pep talks. And I'm not unsympathetic to these folks. Many of them are my friends. But they don't get up on Sunday mornings and appropriate old hymns. So I'm genuinely curious as to why somebody would give up some sleep on the weekends for such an experience. If I were in their shoes (or slippers), I'd simply opt for more time in the sack.


Ruben said...

"A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Too many American churches are filled with people who only attend when they are in their comfort zone, hearing what they want to hear. I think it's wise for church leadership to be aware of this dynamic and try to address it in a spiritual way, but sometimes pastors just give in to it, or feed it, rather than finding a God-focused way to reach these people.

I wonder what they are going to do at Christmas?


Anonymous said...

I think you're overlooking one of the most powerful components of 'Church': the sense of shared community, purpose, and belonging that attendees/believers receive. When I was a Christian -- a passionate, on-fire, co-hosted the 700 Club kind of guy -- the connection with fellow Christians was one of the most compelling aspects of the faith.

I can understand objections to pastors moving towards a more social/communal experience than a religious one, but it's not shocking that people would still find that attractive. Sadly, I think many observers in the Church will treat it as "people just not wanting to hear the truth."

Andy Whitman said...

Sure, the sense of shared community is powerful and important. But community has to be centered on something -- a common goal, a common purpose -- and I'm just not sure what the common purpose is in this case. I'd also argue that a focus on self (perhaps that's too harsh here, but a focus on "new beginnings" and "fresh starts" sounds a lot like some form of communal self-help to me) tends to militate against community. I'm not sure how a group of people is united by focusing on themselves.

jackscrow said...

Is it strange when you are having a conversation in public with educated people and the names Allah, Budda, and Jesus are mentioned and four out of five people visibly flinch at the name Jesus being spoken in a normal, conversational voice?

I take it as a sign of several sorts: guilt, fear, a sign of our politcally correct and biased secular society and the reaction of people who, when it comes down to it, would opt for no Salvation at all....

Jesus is my Savior.

Anonymous said...

well, look at it this way: It's akin to "imitation is the best sort of flattery", non?