Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wondering About the Church

I've been following the discussion at the Jesus Creed about people checking out Catholicism here and am still fascinated. I’m still working through all this in the context of where the church is actually going in the grand scheme of things. I often have a callous and cavalier attitude toward all church structures and traditions and am convinced that we don’t really have a detailed biblically mandated structure to follow. I've also been doing my share of deconstruction - wondering exactly what should be part of church and what shouldn't - both biblically and historically and sociologically and Holy Spirit guided -ly. So I’m doing some wondering aloud here …

There are a couple of wonderings here – mostly out of ignorance. I wonder if the RCC and EO hierarchies are sufficiently staffed to sustain a huge influx? One hears about the paucity of “vocations” and the scarcity of new young priests. Is there sufficient interest in this generation to staff the potential growth indicated by this interest we’re talking about? Are those expressing interest actually pursuing ordination? Or as I mentioned above is it more about a spiritual search that is consumer oriented.

My second wondering: Is this combination of factors (interest in RCC/EO, lowering of denominational walls, deconstructionism, consumerism, general interest in spirituality, lack of trust and commitment to organizations and institutions, the Emerging church, etc) leading us to a spiritual landscape where there are a few stable towers of hierarchical ecclesiology (the Catholic traditions on one hand and the mega church phenomenon on the other - plus a few reformed holdouts) and then the teeming masses of small groups, house churches, new monastic orders, aging and fading mainline congregations, each consuming religion where they want. Maybe the parallel is the emergence of the super store and the disappearance of the mom and pop shops. Some people will still be fiercely loyal to their neighbourhood stores but most will shop where they get the best selection and the lowest price.

Or maybe a better explanation is that we are going back to the pre Reformation days (sociologically not theologically) whereby there are the cathedrals, where major religious events happen and also the many small folk religions and superstitious practices and beliefs (remember I am speaking metaphorically here).

Any body done some reading or writing on this?


volkmar1108 said...

I would also have some question as to whether the present RC or EO structures (priest and associated ministrants) in N. America would be adequate to handle a flood of catechumens, however, given their organizational abilities and their top-down structure, they might just be more capable than we imagine. And, factor in the reality that Catholicism is more alive in the developing world, perhaps their pool of clerical staff would come from outside the N. Amer. continent, which in reality is the new mission field.

We began noticing about 10 years ago that younger folk (late teens to 20something) seemed to be drawn to the more liturgical, smells and bells styles of ecclesiolgy...and a lot of those young people were coming out of conservative Protestant (Baptist especially) and backgrounds where their Boomer parents had been dedicated to the middle of the road "attractional" church styles.

Like you, I don't really have a good feel as to how "industrialized" the ecclesiological landscape will (or will not) get...though I have a sneaking suspicion that further atomization will continue, and that is not necessarily a bad thing imo. I do know that in the spread of Spainish RC in the SW U.S. during the 1500-1600's was the reality that the technology and stability for life that the Missions brought was a big sell to the native American population. So, loss of affluence may be a factor today. And yes, sociological and institutional stability does mean a lot in our day and age. It was hard to get Egypt out of that first generation of Exodus-ers.

Good questions.


hillschurch said...

I guess the other consideration might be that the hierarchies remain inflexible not allowing new people the freedom of expression that they are accustomed to - trying to squeeze them into the liturgical box. I think of Madonna and her pursuit of Judaism through Kaballah - searching for traditional roots but without the burden of strict observance.

But then that may be why RC and EO traditions are more attractive. Those who I know are EO especially are serious about their religion only at special events - baptisms, marriages, etc and go infrequently other times. The low demand, high touchy feely quotient may be the attraction. But then isn't that just more consumerist religion?

volkmar1108 said...

Maybe that inflexability is/has been the seedbed for some of the emmerging groups?

We know a couple in their 30's who came out of an extremely legalistic cult (is that a tautology?), found their way into an attractional "Bible fellowship" style church, then began looking and recently were baptized EO. Knowing them, I saw that they needed a system with well defined boundries...fence post well sunk and tamped. (The Int. Church of Christ didn't even meet their "needs".)

And yes, I think there is a lot of consumerism going on. Did you notice the main article in Christianity Today?