Yearning for a Grown-up Church

Someone was helpfully passing this article around on social media today.

I read it as a lament from someone critiquing the current Evangelical culture that is (once again) trying to remake itself.

A church trend I’d be more than happy to add in as likewise immature is the tendency to be so self-congratulatory about how socially aware we are, and the perverse delight in seeing how “transgressive” we can be. (This last particularly after almost straining my face muscles from an extended session of eye-rolling after discovering the bookstore of a certain major church in a certain northeastern city stuffed to the gills with Elaine Pagels’ books as she was coming to speak there…)

I wouldn’t say that these are so much “childish” as quite “adolescent.”

 

9 Replies to “Yearning for a Grown-up Church”

  1. I don’t think we in TEC are at all immune to the childish and/or adolescent trend. While the packaging may not be as consumer-oriented and entertainment-based, the notion that most church attenders cannot or would not want to handle the complexity and depth of the Christian tradition, and that we do better to focus on more easily-understood concepts like “being welcoming” or “helping others,” seems fairly common to me.

  2. But why should Episcopalians do anything else, really? Nobody actually teaches anything about “the complexity and depth of the Christian tradition.”

    I’ll say it for the hundredth time: our Catechism is a joke. It answers profound questions in shallow, banal (and boring!) ways; it doesn’t cite any scholarship (or even Scripture, outside of the 10 Commandments) as sources for the responses it does give. The 39 Articles are now merely “historical documents”; I’m not necessarily disagreeing with this designation, but at least they are attempts to explain what Christianity’s about in a bit more depth.

    Compare this to the Catholic Catechism. If you have a question about something, and look it up in the Catechism, you’ll find hundreds of citations and quotations – and pages upon pages of explanation and exploration of any concept you can think of. While you’re looking up the answer to your question, in other words, you can be absorbing all kinds of ideas from hundreds of sources across 2,000 years.

    Why does we think, I wonder, that these same things can be imparted during an hour-long worship service once a week? Something has to be done about this, really – because frankly there’s absolutely no reason the Episcopal Church should exist in any way other than what it does. I mean, even Evangelicals have a program; they do (or did, anyway) actually have a coherent system to offer.

    Ever since I’ve belonged to the church, I’ve had to turn to outside sources to find out almost everything I know; most people, I’d bet, simply aren’t as fascinated by this stuff as I am – so most won’t ever find out how deep and rich the tradition actually is.

    If anybody’s interested in contributing to my Catechism Project, I’m happy to take submissions anytime. I wish I could do it myself, but I don’t really have the theological background; I’m trying to learn more, but it’s going to take awhile….

  3. (As a matter of fact: if I want to find out anything in depth about any Christian idea, I invariably go to Catholic sources. The Catechism, the encyclicals, the various other periodic publications and expository papers: in all of these you can find what the church believes, and where it’s been in its history and how it’s traveled in its thought – in-depth and covering just about any topic you can imagine. Many of them are actually quite beautiful, too.

    Perhaps TEC could train and then pay some theologians to publish this kind of stuff for us?)

  4. You could also be really ‘ecumenical’, BLS, and go to Eastern Orthodox sources! There you would find a whole different set of questions, and meanings.

  5. I do sometimes find good Orthodox sources, James; it often depends upon what I happen to be searching for and what keywords I use.

    I’ve found, though, that the Orthodox sources I’ve come across, which can be great and which I do learn from, are quite dependent upon what individual writers happen to want to talk about. And, there is nothing like the cross-referencing and source citation I’ve found in Catholic writings.

    Actually sometimes the Orthodox sources make more sense in the Anglican “ecclesiological” context, because of the decentralization factor. But the content of the Catholic writings themselves make more sense for us as a Western church, generally speaking; we were part of all that once, in a way we never have been in Orthodoxy. But, there are some very good ideas to ponder over, I agree..

  6. bls, you have a Catechism Project? I love the idea. I’m going to visit and see what you’re thinking.

  7. Well, it’s just an idea so far – nothing concrete yet. I wanted to expand on the Catechism – to put some meat on those very thin bones. We don’t have a Confession – so I don’t see how anybody’s supposed to understand what the Anglican understanding of Christian faith is about, or what it’s for, unless we explain it. It’s possible, I guess, that people could absorb much of this through faithful attention to the liturgies in the BCP – but the fact is, that just isn’t happening. Almost nobody celebrates the church’s feast days (even many of the major ones); parishes that offer the Daily Office are very, very few and far between.

    So we need to be able to teach both people who are already members – and people who are fully outside the system. And I mean, isn’t communicating with the latter group supposed to be the ultimate point anyway? People aren’t going to come through the doors to participate in arcane religious rituals unless they have an actual reason to do it. The only people who’ll be attracted by these things are people we don’t have to worry about, because they’re already interested in things like this!

    The current Catholic Catechism was commissioned, as I understand it, by JPII at some point during his pontificate. To my eyes, it’s an attempt to make absolutely clear what the church thinks and believes, and how it came to those beliefs and understandings – and how these things serve human needs. It’s written in the modern idiom, too, so that anybody today can understand it. I’m afraid the Episcopal Catechism appears as if somebody just went through and invented all that stuff from scratch – and doesn’t know how to teach, either.

    We have many good things to offer – but if we can’t explain ourselves to outsiders, they’ll never be able to take advantage of those good things. I don’t think I need to remind anybody that the fastest-growing group right now is the “Nones”; it’s a commonplace by now….

  8. (I would bet, in fact, that “transgressive” acting-out is an indicator of sheer boredom. A religion that doesn’t cop to the fact that, as Rowan Williams once wrote, “human beings compulsively deceive themselves about who and what they are” is, to me, rather pointless.

    Our Catechism, BTW, describes the human situation as a problem of “misusing freedom” and “making wrong choices.” The Catholic Catechism, by contrast, examines the story of Cain’s murder of Abel and quotes from Scripture: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground!”

    An Episcopal priest once actually tried to convince me that the Christ became incarnate on earth was “because Creation is good!” I might go “transgressive,” too, if I didn’t have anything more interesting to occupy my mind….)

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