It seems pretty apparent that the Christian religion is crumbling, and I’m glad that it is finally happening. I’ll offer reasons for this conclusion, and then I’ll offer my thoughts on why it is a good thing. Several societal phenomena led me to this conclusion, but the big three are the cultural shift toward moral relativism, the number of people that are leaving churches, and the increasingly frantic tactics of churches to recruit and retain members. The results of the collapse of the Christian religion will be enormously beneficial, and we should do all we can to hasten its demise.
To me, the clearest indicator of the impending collapse of the Christian religion is that the “church” (in the most generic sense of the word) has lost its impact on American culture. Now it’s true, that American churches have frequently taken extreme views of morality—either holding a very legalistic view of morality or holding a very permissive view of behavior traditionally considered immoral. Legalism is a term that religious people use to criticize someone else’s style of religiosity and basically means that you have to behave a certain way in order to be accepted by God. Each camp has delighted in berating the other over its views. While it is impossible to live a life of perfect balance, American churches in general seem to have eschewed the pursuit of balance in favor of tenaciously holding a reactionary position against those on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Are there churches that take a more middle-of-the-road stance—one that attempts to follow the example of Jesus without castigating others that are not as spiritually mature? Perhaps. But my experience is that those that consider themselves to be balanced, are balanced in name only. They decry legalism, but their organizational structure is legalistic at its core. They welcome sinners (after all, we’re all sinners!), but eventually, the religious structure forces a certain creed and a certain behavioral standard on all that wish to be a part of the club.
I will admit that the Christian community has generally been an influence for good in society (setting aside obvious exceptions to this statement for discussion another time). The past seventy years, however, have seen an increasingly dramatic shift in social mores away from the traditional Christian worldview. If America ever was a “Christian nation,” it certainly is not any longer. To clarify my point, the views of the majority of Americans on God, Jesus, and morality no longer align with orthodox or near-orthodox Christian views.
Another indicator that the Christian religion is imploding is the number of people that are leaving churches. Numerous studies indicate that church attendance is diminishing rapidly. Check out a few here, here, and here. I’m not aware of any study (or anecdotal evidence for that matter) that shows a net growth in the Christian religion in America. My impression is that this decline is following a parabolic trajectory—steepening as time progresses. Meaning that I believe the Christian religion is headed for the rocks in a hurry.
The third major indicator of the decline of the Christian religion is the breathtaking increase in the marketing effort that is being expended to recruit new members and retain current members. Time was, a simple guilt trip would suffice; and truth be told, the guilt trips are still there. Shame on you for not attending church services. Shame on you for not contributing to the organization financially. Shame on you for not participating in the programs. You’re liable to fall out of favor with God, and you might not have ever been truly saved in the first place. But these tactics are no longer enough to sustain the organization. So churches, traditionally corporate in their structure, are becoming more corporate in function. The marketing offensives are becoming increasingly frenetic as the signs and billboards, mass mailings, website lures, and email campaigns are launched into communities in an attempt to revive dying churches. Ironically, the one notable exception to the declining church membership trend, a handful of mega-churches which generally seem to form around a charismatic individual and take on a life of their own, are adopting these tactics as well, sprouting several “campuses” which offer numerous programs and a menu of worship service options but are severely lacking in true community. There are even organizations whose sole purpose is to develop marketing campaigns and materials for churches. The business of religion is breeding more religious business. All in the name of sharing the good news of Jesus with the world, of course. This corporate-style marketing strategy is the last resort for most churches that have become so bound up in empty religious practices that they must stoop to using gimmicks and desperate sales tactics to maintain the organization. They offer nothing that is spiritually substantial and naturally attractive to the unchurched people in the community and therefore, must offer glitzy but hollow substitutes to attract anyone gullible or desperate enough to buy into the shtick.
The last option for survivability is for the Christian religion to align with the government as Christian religious organizations have done repeatedly throughout the last 2,000 years. The American government today is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. Currently, the only way for the Christian church to become closely aligned with the government is to abandon orthodox doctrine and pick up the social justice mantra. Many local churches and denominations are drifting this way. Eventually, the rest may be forced to choose to either join the ranks of the government-approved sycophants or close their doors. I suspect that the majority of churches will eventually capitulate to this pressure and join lock-step in support of the progressive socialist groundswell that a significant portion of the complacent American public seems to be favoring.
It is fair to ask why I would be happy about the demise of the Christian religion. After all, if people want to sit through a religious service or two, what harm is done? At least they’re being encouraged to be decent, productive citizens, right? Wrong. Christians, in their quest for power and control, have turned a relationship into a religion which has more than anything else become a barrier between man and God. In my opinion, the Christian religion is the primary reason that people reject Jesus. On occasions when a glimpse of God can be seen through the veil of religion, the image that is presented is so distorted that it is rightly rejected by those seeking the true God.
But what about the food banks, the missionaries, the women’s ministries, the kids’ clubs, the addiction support groups? My answer is two-fold. First, I’m happy to say that not all functions of the body have been completely atrophied by religion, although they seem to be well on their way. Second and conversely, charitable actions should be an innate part of the life of a follower of Christ rather than a program that is run by a corporate board of trustees. Relationship comes first. Life must be established before fruit can grow. If we continue to depend on the slow, intravenous saline drip of religion for sustenance, then the pathetic charitable programs will be revealed for the ultimately self-serving vehicles that they are when we hear the words, “I never knew you.”
The emptiness of the Christian religion is becoming increasingly evident. The best thing that followers of Christ can do is to jettison the dead carcass of corporate religion and begin living life as God intended—in shared relationships with Him and with each other. Because it is a useful vehicle for power and control, institutional Christianity will linger in some form for many years to come. I would encourage those who are truly seeking God to escape that sinking ship and find the true freedom and adventure that comes from the pursuit of a relationship with the Creator, unhindered by the shackles of religion.