Archive for November, 2014

The US Church – The Good, The Bad, and the Divided: 1 November

November 1, 2014

The Church is America is stronger than it has ever been. At the time of the American Revolution and early in the 19th Century only about 15% of the population were church-going. 19th Century Canadians were much more church-going, peaking at nearly 90% of the population. In the 20th Century Canadians turned away from church dramatically, as did Europeans. Canadian church-going is now well under 20%. Through the 20th Century more Americans turned to the church. American church-going is now about 40% of the population. A huge number compared to the UK.

The US Church is a free-market Church. Churches, like everything else, have to compete in the marketplace. This raises the standard of communication and organisation. To attract members church leaders need to communicate clearly and engagingly. To retain members churches need to make people feel part of something good. We in the UK learn much from the US and have more to learn.

The large US Church contains all sorts and much that is excellent. Recently I came across Greg Boyd, Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota and founder of ReKnew, an organisation and website for developing a post-Christendom Christianity, Jesus-centred, non-violent, open-minded. Here’s part of their Manifesto:

It’s our conviction that the fearful, dogmatic rigidity that characterizes so much of contemporary Evangelicalism reflects an idolatrous relationship with beliefs, which in turn causes many to become hostile and unloving when debating doctrinal issues. We are convinced God is more concerned with the love with which we debate than the content of what we debate. (See more at: http://reknew.org/2012/07/a-reknew-manifesto/#sthash.JDj7K9a8.dpuf)

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I want to shout. Greg speaks and writes intelligently, engagingly, forthrightly. He and his church are definitely among the good.

Rachel Held Evans is a very popular US Christian blogger and book writer. She too communicates great truth intelligently and winsomely. Sometimes she harps on humourlessly about her main topics, but most weeks she has something well worth reading. She’s a good ‘un.

Other Yank good ‘uns more well known in the UK include Tony Campolo, Bill Johnson, Jim Wallis, Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, Mark Virkler, Bill Hybels and, (of course if you’re a regular reader) Edward Fudge. I have learnt and continue to learn great things from these good inspiring people. Please add to the list through the comments.

There is another side to the US Church. Greg Boyd set up ReKnew partly to counteract the strident Conservatives. Greg refers particularly to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle. Mark has been a champion of muscular Protestantism – focusing on the call to repent above all else. He has been refreshingly gutsy, with a likeable cheekiness. He has attacked anyone who questions hell as eternal torment. He has argued that care for creation is irrelevant because the planet is going to be trashed when Jesus returns. He has insisted that women submit to their husbands. Mark came to the UK and was interviewed by Justin Brierley on Premier Radio and Christianity magazine. Mark was bombastic and aggressive to Justin, and then aggrieved when Justin broadcast the interview.

Mark Driscoll has run into mounting criticism, especially of his leadership style. On October 15 Mark resigned from Mars Hill Church, confessing ‘to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.’ http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/mark-driscoll-resigns-from-mars-hill.html Yesterday Mars Hill Church announced it is disbanding. The 13 churches in its network will either run independently or will close. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html May this be a warning to those who promote hard attitudes and hard doctrine.

Gay marriage is causing a deep crisis in the US Church. Rachel Held Evans is all for it. Mark Driscoll is all against it. Many more people are lined up on either side. (I can’t see anything Greg Boyd has written about gay marriage, which would be interesting.) The conflict seems to be fierce. The conservatives are targeted and tarred as ‘hating’ gay people. The liberals are targeted and tarred as pseudo Christians. My guess is that there are a large number of Americans, as there are Brits, who are unsure about gay marriage, not happy with either extreme. The middle ground needs to gain confidence, and speak up. I hope http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com can help.

I hope the US Church in general will continue to thrive, and will find a way of uniting, in spirit, around Jesus.

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