Summary: Believe week 7 looks at The Church
Believe 6 - The Church
October 26, 2014
I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the writer Anne Rice? She has written over 30 books; and is most famous for her series of books called “The Vampire Chronicles.” In 1998, Rice shocked readers and the publishing world when she announced she would never write another vampire book again.
Why? Because she committed her life to Christ. She said, "My life is committed to Christ the Lord. My books will be a reflection of that commitment." Her fans begged her to keep writing about vampires, witches, and ghosts. But Rice said, "Is Christ our Lord not the ultimate supernatural hero, the ultimate outsider, the ultimate immortal of them all?" Instead she wrote 2 novels about Jesus, based on the Gospel of Luke. She considers them two of her best novels, which received high praise.
In 2010 she made another surprising announcement on her Facebook page ~ She wrote "Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
Anne Rice's story represents what more and more people are reporting. They’re drawn to Christ, they want to follow him as Lord … but the church? Institutional Christianity? Like a vampire, it sucks the life out of them.
Dozens of books have been published to figure out this trend over the last 10-20 years, and there is no simple single answer. Christian authors Thom and Joani Schultz wrote two books entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to go to Church Anymore” and “Why Nobody Wants to be Around Christians Anymore.”
Gandhi said of the church, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Ouch!! That hurts, but is he correct?
There is not a single, simple answer. And to complicate the matter, it isn't just young adults who are dropping out of church. It's older folks too. People like Anne Rice, people who have spent decades in the church.
So, how do churches avoid becoming vampire churches . . . and dying a slow death?
To start, when we say church . . . what do we mean? I think we use the word church in 4 different ways ~
First, we use it when referring to a building. "Did you see the new church?"
Second, we use it when referring to a Christian worship event. "Are you going to church on Sunday?"
Third, we use the word church when talking about an institution with officers, employees, programs. "I made a donation to the church." That means I gave money to a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Finally, church can mean a community of women, men, and children who belong to Christ. "You all are part of my church." You are part of the local group of Christians.
When the New Testament speaks about the church, which of these definitions does it refer to? It uses the 4th definition. Here's the problem. While we know church is not a building, and it's not an event. Things get very muddled between definitions 3 and 4. When you say "church" do you mean the organization, leaders, budgets, and programs? Or do you mean your community of Christian brothers and sisters?
It's important to recognize this ambiguity because it plays a big part in understanding why people are leaving the church. When you look at Anne Rice's comments carefully, or comments others make — we discover most of the time they're not rejecting Christ — they’re rejecting being part of a church institution.
In the 1970's, a Gallop Poll found – 68% of Americans had strong or high confidence in the institutional church. Today, it's down to 44%, and lower among younger Americans — the next generation. Commitment to an institutional church isn't important to Americans anymore, but that doesn't mean people aren't committed to Christian community.
It isn't just the institutional church that Americans are losing confidence in. Younger Americans aren't just rejecting the institutional church, but institutions of all kinds.
Things have changed. We're living in the post-Watergate, post-Enron, post-Lehman Brothers, post-NSA world. For younger people big doesn't mean legit, big means corrupt. In 2012, The Atlantic had an article focusing on Muncie, then national, called: How Americans Lost Trust in Our Greatest Institutions. "It's not just Washington. Across the country, our faith in city hall, newspapers, and churches is fading."
So, what are we to do? Well, when all else fails, let’s turn to the Word of God and learn from the scriptures. Paul gives us great help in Ephesians 4. Again, there is so much to break apart, let’s start with verse 1 of Ephesians 4. Paul wrote ~