HERITAGE AND LEGACY

Yesterday an article ran in the local newspaper: Number of Protestants is Falling In this article, it is claimed that for the first time in U. S. History, the population will be less than 50% Protestant.

One reason for the national decline, Smith said, is a failure to keep youths and young adults within the Protestant fold.

From the ’70s through the early ’90s, Protestant churches retained 90 percent of young people, but that dropped to 83 percent after 1993, he said.

Another reason: Once-nominal Protestants are more open to stating that they are no longer affiliated with any denomination, he said. In the survey, the number of people saying they had no religion grew from 9 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2002.

And, some people who once identified themselves as Protestant now call themselves “Christian,” which would put them in the survey’s growing “other” category. Latter-day Saints, Muslims and Eastern religions are also in the “other” category, which grew from 3 percent in 1993 to 7 percent in 2002.

Today, I was talking with two ladies (both who are old enough to be my mother) about this article and the fact that, after attending a Baptist church for nearly 10 years, I knew next to nothing about its history or doctrine. In fact, I can quote you much more about the history and doctrine of the Methodist Church (which I grew up in) and the Church of God (Anderson, IN, where I went to college).

These ladies, both lifelong Southern Baptists, informed me that when they were kids, they learned the history of their denomination, the names and structure of the denomination present day and they learned the doctrine as well. That’s not the case any more. Their opinion was, “the church as a whole has gone to the feel good, self-esteem doctrine, which you can’t really sink your teeth into.”

I chose my words carefully, but let them know I agreed with them wholeheartedly — this is why I do not attend a Baptist church anymore. After the last 3 1/2 years of turmoil my life has been twisted through, when it all came down to it, it was the liturgy and doctrines of my youth that stabilized me — they were something I could sink my teeth into.

I, in fact, had a similar conversation with my roommate about three weeks ago, and I had shared some of this with one of the clergy at the church I’m currently attending. By the way, the foundations of faith are taught there and if you want to become a member, you attend those classes. It’s not that they think you’re unintelligent, they just want you to know what you’re getting yourself into should you choose to be confirmed into that church. Before you are confirmed, you will know that church’s doctrine and it’s history is readily available to you as well. You will not ask a historical question in that church and get an answer like, “Uh…I’m sure it’s recorded in a book somewhere.”

I’m not knocking Baptists. It’s really an inter-denominational problem, this lack of knowledge about the heritage — both of their own denomination’s history and the history of the Church in general. And, believe it or not, this lack of knowledge of church and Church history is deteriorating the quality of the legacy we leave behind. Unfortunately, what we’re leaving behind is a legacy of “Uh…” and “but don’t you feel good about yourself?”

Learning about the faith of our fathers can help us in many ways. First of all, even if they’ve been dead over 200 years, knowing that they faced many of the temptations and problems that we do today can give us hope that our faith — and the Church — can endure. Second, knowing WHY your denomination sings certain songs, reads certain books, names buildings and colleges after certain people, can help shape your faith and understanding as well.

The article quotes another problem plaguing the church in general:

“Regular participation in a church is not as central as it once was, even if you are a believer,” said Jack Marcum of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

“It is much more individualized spirituality than it may have been in the past.”

Regular participation in church… do you know how many kids and families I see at soccer games (baseball, etc) on Sunday morning? There’s nothing wrong with soccer, but with parents working later into the day, and the time demands reducing the number of coaches, many families are choosing the weekend leagues as an alternative. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with soccer, it’s just that once you stop going to church to do something you really enjoy, it’s extremely difficult to get motivated to get back into the swing of things. Also, you are teaching your kids that soccer is more important than fellowship. Chew on that one for a while.

As far as individualized spirituality is concerned, well, I call it ala carte spirituality… taking what you like and what fits your lifestyle from different sources and calling it your own. Granted, there may never be a denomination or doctrine that you truly agree with every single part of it 100%, but there should be a denomination that reflects the majority of what you believe — and if you never find out what they believe… you really are leaving yourself wide open for a lot of instability in the future, because God will shake you to your foundations at least once in your life. I know this to be true, and the fall hurts. A lot.

The Bible says we should be prepared to give an answer.

1 Peter 3:15 — But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

How can you give an answer if you don’t know what you believe? It’s extremely difficult to formulate an opinion if you don’t know what the choices are. If your denomination doesn’t teach you what it believes and has believed for hundreds or thousands of years, what does that tell you? How can you know that your denomination has suddenly gone theologically whacko if you never knew what the church originally thought and set out to do? How can you teach your children what you don’t know yourself? They’ll need to know a lot more than how to feel good about themselves, and if that’s all we pass onto them, the Church as a whole is in bigger trouble than anyone will ever want to admit.

I encourage you to find out what you believe. You’ll be amazed and how that stabilizes your spiritual equilibrium, and you’ll be amazed that you will be prepared to give an answer.

One Comment Add yours

  1. annika says:

    great post Shae! i’m amazed at how few people my friend’s church draws on a sunday morning. She goes to an Episcopal Church here in Sacramento. The new type of ‘touchy-feely’ spirituality may seem like a good idea at first, but in the long run it loses people from the church, because i think people need to hear standards. it’s not about feeling good all the time.

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