Religious Supermarkets
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31. Religious Supermarkets

Personal and Particular

A BaptismIn today's culture, every man and woman in the street has his or her religious viewpoint which can be quite different from past generations. Previously, the norm in society was a weekly commitment to one Christian denomination and belief in their standards. Dr. Reginald Bibby describes in "Fragmented Gods" this modern view as, "religion a la carte." or the desire to incorporate the beliefs or practices one likes into one's life and ignore the rest. Another term for this phenomenon is "cash and carry Christianity." Most people want to pick and choose from a religious menu depending again upon their personal views. They expect a congregation to provide a wedding, funeral or baptism without any real commitment of time or resources on their part to the church. Some people even shop around from church to church to get the best deal in terms of minimum involvement and lowest cost. They often begin with their denomination then look elsewhere. Beliefs or traditions are often secondary to a good photo opportunity at a wedding! Of prime importance to their choice is that the building picked out for a wedding will look nice on the wedding photographs!

Various Viewpoints

ConsumerismWalking into a church like a religious supermarket, these people expect to lift their rites of passage needs off the shelf. This kind of consumerism produces great problems for the typical congregation. The church traditionally views itself like a social club where members stay and mingle, but society sees it as a corner store to pop into whenever one needs a ceremonial occasion Christian or otherwise! The clergy become very frustrated when promises made to receive sacramental or pastoral help are broken by people who don't want the social club aspect of the church after all! A series of Christian vine branches that bear much fruit when attached to the Jesus trunk is an allegory of what the church should be like. One of the keys to a healthy church is ensuring that each member has a strong attachment to Christ himself. The individual, the church and its dependent household bodies are linked to Jesus and draw their life from him like Christian vine branches in a growing vine. The New Testament emphasizes in a variety of ways this bond between Christ who is the stem or trunk and the members of his Body who are the branches. In another analogy, the household is the bride and Christ is the bridegroom. Again, in a third analogy, the church is the building and Jesus is the foundation.

The Christ Stem

FaceMy late wife and I together with our little daughter were on holiday some years ago in Folkestone on the South coast of Britain. As we walked along the sea wall one evening, we came across a vine growing inside a greenhouse. We looked down from the footpath at the greenhouse roof below. A dense mat of vine branches and leaves covered the glass inside. We searched diligently and eventually spotted the vine stem in a corner of the greenhouse bringing nourishment from the ground. It was for us a vivid reminder of the special relationship between Christ and his church, the connection between Jesus and his disciples. In the Household Body of Christ, Jesus provides nourishment for Christians who are like vine branches. Jesus said to his disciples in John 15.5-8, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit." Christians, like vine branches, are nurtured by Jesus' trunk to bear fruit. A bough failing to produce fruit is pruned off to stimulate new growth. It is also trimmed of dead growth to prevent contamination and disease spreading to other parts of the plant. As Christians, we are the branches that are intended to produce fruit. We are warned that if we do not do so we too will be pruned off.

Different Church Bodies

Mega ChurchDifferent church bodies function in the overall mystical body of Christ. Some of these are known as the house church movement. Some of today's largest churches, the so-called "Mega-Churches," are in South Korea and the United States in places like Texas and Florida. Strangely, they are so successful because they have returned to the Early Church's household principles. Hundreds of thousands of members in some cases rely entirely on small groups meeting in homes. Some of these churches are so large that they rarely gather together in one place. This is not essential if the Body of Christ still assembles in household units of different sized bodies. Sometimes a quarter of the church meets in the church building once a month! Many of the church members had never met one another! Over the last two thousand years, the church has lost touch with its household roots and evolved as synagogue type building-based congregations. This approach may have served at other times but not in our current society. The so-called house church movement in Britain was one attempt to remedy some of the inbuilt deficiencies in the institutional church. As offshoots of a local congregation, they started well and meetings in homes grew quickly. Many however became introspective or outgrew their premises and so moved back to a church type of building. What goes around comes around! House churches when they outgrow their premises also cannot be divided easily. What effect would it have on your church, if you had no church building?

Small Sized Churches

holly flowerSmall-sized churches are often led by matriarchs and patriarchs. These keep them going and save the institution from oblivion within them. Most of us view the average church as a bus. All the passengers sat in rows facing forward and a driver steers at the front. Someone even comes and takes your money! This current church model is collapsing in the face of a new culture. Though church growth specialists can help us to run what we have better, perhaps we should revert instead to the initial household model for small-sized churches. It would keep Christianity from oblivion, if not our institution. We will realize new growth and vitality in our faith communities. Churches can be categorized according to their size. "Small" congregations are up to fifty worshippers each Sunday, "extended household churches" also called "family churches" generally comprise one large or several small households plus other associated members together. The primary household leaders of "small-sized churches" are matriarchs and patriarchs. The clergy person is a chaplain in this situation. Many a cleric has been defeated in trying to wrestle control of this kind of church from its natural leaders! The matriarchs and patriarchs often direct policy discreetly themselves in small size churches.

Household Church Leaders

Household Church LeadersLarge and small churches with household church leaders function together sometimes with different service times. "Medium-sized" or "Multiple Household" churches generally have between fifty and two hundred congregational members attending worship each Sunday. At least ten families together comprise this worship unit much like in the ancient synagogue system. The clergy person is considered very much like the coordinator of the household heads, who are normally church leaders in various categories of the church's life. Large churches of over two hundred members comprised a greater number of households operating side by side. The clergy person was more remote in this model but exercised considerable power. Program household church leaders were important and the elders apart from exercising control tended to be apart from the ordinary worshipper in the pew. Ministry was vested with the program leaders, the senior minister being an overall administrator and director of programs. Individual households in a medium or large church may not have been known to one another because they worshipped at different service times. Household church leaders relied on a group of lay leaders who assisted in pastoring each household. Success in developing households lay in the clergy's ability to look beyond the formal institutional grouping. In discovering the real household units, he or she could then encourage and support household leaders and development. New households developed as God's opportunity presented itself.

Institutional Christian Church

Eastern Mysticism SymbolThe institutional Christian church may or may not contain the Body of Christ. An Eastern mystic commented on our Western Society, "they have the know-how, but do they have the know why?" Modern men and women in their hyperactivity have forgotten why they have their being. Our institutional Christian church continues to perform the same religious things like services, committees, renting space and raising funds because they always had, but do they know why? A strong believer in Christian meditation, Padre Pio who was also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968 AD.) He stated, "Through the study of books one seeks God, by meditation one finds him". No one respects or listens to the institutional church anymore. It is under attack and generally ridiculed in the media and often rightly for the "weird antics" it often takes part in. Television portrays clergy as bumbling eggheads or Bible-thumping extremists out of touch with society's needs. Many pastors adopt this kind of caricature themselves, going around in fancy robes and carrying big books. Churches generally react to society's criticism by diluting their standards to accommodate others. Instead of pacifying its critics this only stimulated further attacks and erosion.

Mainline Churches

Children PlayingSome Mainline churches and their beliefs are often at odds with basic Biblical morals in the Twenty-First Century. The mainstream Protestant churches are a group of Protestant denominations in the United States that contrast in history and practice with evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Protestant denominations. In the United States, they are called the "Seven Sisters of American Protestantism" - the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ - as well as the Quakers, Reformed Church in America, African Methodist Episcopal church and other churches. The mainline churches find themselves brushed aside, stripped of their morals, weak and deserted by many of the younger generations. Dr. Reginald Bibby a Canadian sociologist explains, "The majority of young people in Canada are sending a sobering message to those who value organized religion. The tough reality facing the country's religious organizations is that religion is being strongly marginalized by the vast majority of Canadian youth."

Real Body of Christ

Household of FaithThe situation regarding the mainline church is not hopeless. The solution may not be to abandon the institution but to look again within it for the real body of Christ hidden beneath. This may have been embarrassing initially as we have denied the existence of the mystical body for centuries. Turning aside from other concerns, let us devote our energies to the building up of household religion. As in the early days, households of faith were the future hope for the wider mainline churches. The challenge to be effective and relevant was being faced not just at the corporate level but on the wider horizons of denominations and the global community of faith we called Christ's worldwide body. A great danger for the present church was that it seemed intent on upsetting other denominations by ridiculing their beliefs and moving further and further from Biblical standards in favor of political correctness. Political correctness was never a substitute for Biblical correctness!

"Religious Supermarkets"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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