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Our Role as a Church

November 8, 2016

What is our role as a church in our society, in our community? Studies by the Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute tell us that people, especially young people, think that church is irrelevant. To them it no longer has a role in society. In the census bureau form, under Religious Affiliation, the category “None” is the largest. In North America and Europe.  There has been a steady decline of Christianity in almost every sector.

Greta Vosper, a United Church of Canada minister, reminds us that “Really good social welfare organizations take their lead from the corporate world and actually sell the need for their services, not the service itself. . . Christianity has been successful throughout history in the same way that corporations are successful: it has sold the need for what it has to offer. It has sold the story that we’re inherently sinful people in need of salvation. Evangelicals can get that salvation through belief – distributed and reinforced by the church. Roman Catholics can get it through the sacraments – exclusively through the church. It has worked for millennia.” The “Nones” of the census and many others no longer accept these answers as needs.

The developing Christian theology of the past two hundred years does not accept that we are inherently sinful (the Adam and Eve story as literal) but that we have evolved with inherent animal instincts of survival that explain our fear of strangers and our impulses for self protection that lead to so much bigotry and hurt and evil and even war! But we have also evolved with mental capabilities to control those animal instincts, if we choose to use them. We also have capabilities for compassion, empathy, and love, and an understanding of human values and justice. But we need all the help we can get to live each day with love. And the Church’s answer is that the resurrected Jesus is within each of us (John 14:20), transforming us to be more fully human.

So society still needs the Church. Its role is still to provide salvation, but salvation from ourselves, from our inborn instincts to strike out in anger or hate, to release us from our inborn self-centeredness and selfishness, to open ourselves to giving ourselves away, to transform each of us to a fuller humanity, to a wholeness that relates us intimately to each other and to the Earth, all as an integral part of God’s universe! What a grand story we have to tell!

And as a Church, we must now reach out to others, including the “Nones” of the census, by finding new ways to “sell” the need for the church. New ways of demonstrating, displaying, educating, explaining and articulating our stories, our values and our relevancy. New ways of reading the Bible for today’s world. We need to find new forms of worship, new hymns, new ways to pray – ways which speak to our world today. The future of the Church depends on it.

Loren Bullock
November 5, 2016

Note: Greta Vosper, a United Church of Canada minister and author, pastor of West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Ontario, is also an atheist which sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s another story currently working its way out in Canada. We live in interesting times.

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