According to recent polls cited by the USA Today, Christians are a mixed up lot. Read the article, More U.S. Christians mix in ‘Eastern,’ New Age beliefs.
Some of their observations:
•26% of those who attend religious services say they do so at more than one place occasionally, and an additional 9% roam regularly from their home church for services.
•28% of people who attend church at least weekly say they visit multiple churches outside their own tradition.
•59% of less frequent church attendees say they attend worship at multiple places.
Pew says two in three adults believe in or cite an experience with at least one supernatural phenomenon, including:
•26% find “spiritual energy” in physical things.
•25% believe in astrology.
•24% say people will be reborn in this world again and again.
•23% say yoga is a “spiritual practice.”
It is an interesting phenomenon that I encounter often as a pastor. This article was no surprise to me, in fact, I was surprised that the numbers weren’t higher. Here are some of my observations:
Thinking is not in vogue in the church. Reading is not a common practice, and if it is, it does not include books that challenge the intellect and build a strong intellectual or doctrinal foundation. It is the rare Christian who reads philosophy, has mastered logic or engages in apologetics. Many Christians do not evaluate their belief system against the Scriptures nor do they engage in Systematics. Can I add that many pastors are in the same category. As a result, the beliefs of believers are muddled. They are regularly exposed to shoddy and contradictory preaching, rarely systematic, rarely doctrinal. The result is Christians remain mixed up, and even worse feel that it is acceptable.
Scientific Climate and corresponding High touch climate
We live in a scientifically influenced society where people are desperate for corresponding scientific “proof” for their faith. So we have institutions dedicated to Creation research/Intelligent Design. We ignore science when it challenges our belief system, we appeal to it when it “supports” it. We seek its solace as it brings “certainty” to our faith. Yet on the other hand we ignore it when it comes to evaluating weirdness, like speaking to the dead.
In our scientific age, we crave a corresponding non-scientific, esoteric experience that is beyond explanation. We base our conclusions on major and eternal issues on emotion and visceral reactions. It is an odd combination: Christians seek scientific affirmation of faith, then seek irrational affirmation of faith in their practice and in their “non-scientific” areas of doctrine.
Post-modernism is a view that elevates the subjective and diminishes the objective (very simplistic definition of a very complex idea). Post-modernism has infected the thinking of the average person in our culture. It reveals itself in statements like, “It is true for you but not for me”. The philosophical underpinnings of Post-modernism feed the propensity toward the mixed up ideas displayed by Christians. It really isn’t necessary for people to have organized and consistent ideas, rather it is important for the subject to feel good about their ideas.
The subjective approach looks for doctrine and church to bring emotional satisfaction, not intellectual consistency. This may not be true of the sophisticated post-modern who may go to great lengths to think and justify their philosophical position, but it is the effect upon the average church goer.
So even though communicating with the dead is outside the boundaries of Christian doctrine and science, the average Christian dispenses with those boundaries because they find comfort and solace in what speaking to their dead relatives brings.
Consumer mentality brought to spirituality
People treat church like they do shopping or picking a restaurant. Denominational loyalty is diminishing and church’s marketing toward felt needs has produced a shopping environment when it comes to church. I recall seeing an advertisement in the newspaper from a church offering a television as a prize give away item in an attempt to lure visitors. Worship services are like concerts and sermons like motivational messages, geared toward the relevant and the cultural context. Graphics, titles and content all garnered from the media (TV and movies).
Hence people feel free to jump from congregation to congregation, hearing the same regurgitated sermons that are aimed at their felt needs. Story, media and illustrations fill the sermons, content takes a back seat, doctrine is rarely spoken of at length. They have very rarely had any long term systematic teaching.
The most telling quote in the USA Today article is “In short, we believe our own experiences are authentic, and no “authority” can say otherwise.”
“Our own experiences rule the roost.” This philosophy applied to the church is antithetical to the function of the church in the life of the believer. Maybe the most challenged idea in our postmodern culture is the idea of authority. The appeal of many of the evangelical/non-denominational movement is the diminishing of a clear cut authority. The more traditional expressions of church, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant (Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian) found their people on a mass exodus to the free movement. Now that the shine has worn off, many are moving back to some of those churches, but desiring the experience without the authority.
The equation of anyone’s opinion with the position of the church or the position of the pastor/elders is not a biblical one. In fact the reversal is now the case, the individual is evaluating church and doctrine and elevating themselves above the church. This is now seen as the norm.