How did the church get to this place in the Western World? Bereft of the miraculous, consistent only in its inconsistency, the church is missing in action, while secular agencies step in to do the work of community transformation from a non-sacred world view.
How did the church get to this place?
A Little History
The church did quite well in the conforming fifties and the resurgent sixties. The Free Church generation governing the fifties church conformed superbly. People understood schedules, dress codes and the need for everyone to look and act pretty much like everyone else. American commercialism used the urge to conform as the basis of its marketing.
"What is your cigarette?" a siren's voice would purr from your television screen. "Mine is Lucky Strike. Smooth, gentle. Lucky Strike."
A thirty second commercial on a major network was said to determine the smoking habits of a significant demographic bloc. Granted, there were Ford families and Chevrolet drivers but the urge to conform to some large group was primary. This generation came out of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Conformity was understood, acceptable and inviolate.
"What will people think?" might have been the generational slogan of the Traditionalists.
The Moderns appeared to answer, "Who cares what other people think?"
Modernity was an aberration. All generations rebel against the immediate example of their predecessors until, that is, the new generation must face its own demographic crisis. American Moderns were treated to a heaping dose of cynicism-breeding events; undeclared wars, political assassinations on the streets of America (poignant that these assassinations took place in the Southwest, South, Northeast and the West Coast) and media coverage of the events called everything into question.
In fact, American Moderns are nothing if not a generation captivated by conspiracy theories. Technological innovations still must serve the conspiracy fears of Modern Americans. Little wonder that this generation demanded business controls, quantifiable, empirical, hard science evidence offered by credentialed workmen is the generational guide of the Modern.
Still, the Modern sees a conspiracy behind every scrap of information. Forced terminations among clergy predictably reached an all-time high when the Moderns came to power. The clergy is the preeminent local politician and the most powerless. He is reachable when others are not and, so, vulnerable.
"What is the real reason for this action?' might be the generational question of the Modern.
To which the Millenial answers, "We have to start from somewhere. Accept us as equals, nurture us as babes but, beyond all other things, let's get along."
Wired to the world, the Millenial generation, largely unparented and so insecure at home, at work, at school and at church (all of these places are scenes of mass carnage to their generation), the ADD Millenials need instant access, immediate gratification and the kind of connection that leads to community, even if it is wired community with someone on the other side of the world.
So, the church stands at the converging point of three major generational groups; one requires conformity, the second controls and the last connection/community. Not one understands the tragic implications of imposing their generational metaphor on the other. None seem to have a good handle on the disappearance of resources (time, energy, money) which so dominates the church scene today.
The church got here, empty of miracles, dependent on its own application of energy, quite because the church decided to reflect its social setting. Prophetic preaching morphed into pandering to local prejudices; nobility died. Masculinity and femininity went to war in the church, so that Biblical masculinity, based on self-sacrifice and responsibility, became a kind of paternalistic bullying. Femininism fared worse; alternately churlish and saccarine sweet, Christian femininism exchanged its power (the real power of conscience) for position (usually poorly paid) to the detriment of all.
So, here is the church and a fine mess it is. The American church is a Sacred Monster, a creature not occuring in nature but something deformed, deranged, debased. Para-church organizations spring up full grown, apart from the church but competing for resources with the church, intent to complete the mission the church forgot.
If the church were to fulfill its mission, would we need all the groups that present a purified, efficient administration of the church's mission? Here we are, and sad it is.