I’ve read Michael Gerson’s article, The End of Casual Christianity, several times on Facebook. I may have shared it once, without reading it, but seeing as how the picture on the page is that of Pope Francis, that is my habit. But, I have read it. And I have pondered it.
Likewise, I have read an article supposing that creedal Christianity has done nothing good in the world, but that some how this lackluster, supposedly anti-theological, movement called progressivism can. Indeed, Chuck Queen’s statements is simply a restatement of poor historical details, conspiracy theory, and unmitigated biases. He writes, “As I survey Christian history I find that creedal/doctrinal Christianity has done very little to make the world a better place. One could make a legitimate case that when all the evidence is considered creedal Christianity has done more harm than good.” He fails to realize that the creeds existed before Constantine, among other pertinent facts to a well-rounded worldview. I suspect he has the un-unique ability to decipher history from conspiracy, much like what we see when we see A-theists telling us science has always been at war with religion and that all religion is evil.
I would have no issue seeing this type of ideology — no, I cannot call it Christian — die. And it is, it seems. Why?
“Liberals have learned that it’s difficult for the church to survive,” says historian George Marsden, “if there’s nothing that makes the church distinct from culture.”
In the latest Pew survey report, we find that self-identifying Evangelicals have remained constant throughout the years. What is dramatically dying is cultural Christianity — the Christianity you are born into and remain in. This is the Christianity where you attend Church 1.5 times a month, unless something comes up, and celebrate the High Holy Days of Christmas and Easter, and most the times, with a church service. This “civic assumption” is something Allan Bevere has spoken of before, so I will not focus on it.
Rather, what we have to ask ourselves is this: In the United States and much of the Western world, is Christianity still separated from the cultural or have we become acculturated where the flag, post-modernism, and the cross are intertwined, if the latter even exists given its “trigger warning” and accusations of abuse? If there is nothing to Christianity but a choice of one path among many, much like the choice of what color to paint your house (yellow or periwinkle), then this is Casual Christianity. Good luck with that.
What I want to do in this series (and I hope others join) is to reexamine the UMC membership vows in light of the end of casual Christianity and how, if we decide to take them seriously, they may look and aid in a revival of sorts. My intent is not to present this as a one-sided discussion. There are those who will take item 1, for instance, as a call for spiritual warfare, while others see it as a metanarrative of oppression. Rather, my goal is to present how it may appear as an active vow.
They are, as follows, but can be found at paragraph 217 in your Book of Discipline:
- To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
- To accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
- To confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
- To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?
- To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?
- To faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness?
- To receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
What is the opposite of civic, casual or other Christian? Perhaps we could use the word active, but that doesn’t make much sense. Concerned? No. Formal? Hardly. Full-time? Sure, I guess.
What about intentional? Purposed.
The reason that self-identified Evangelicals remain consistent is because they believe in spreading the Good News. Note, progressives can identify as Evangelical. So can Mainliners. There are even Evangelical Catholic, although I suspect they would first identify as Catholic.
If we suppose Evangelical is based on inerrancy and conversionism, then I am not one. If, rather, Evangelical is about going out and preaching, teaching, and doing based on Christian Tradition (including Scripture), sure. What’s really difficult is to identify a Mainliner (just think about all of the discussions we had).
But, I digress.
Methodism was created within orthodox Christianity, to root out apathy, heresy, and heterodoxy among those who profess Christ. It is given to progressive changes when it is rooted in Scripture, but what cannot be found in Methodism is the disposal of Tradition. Further, it in comparison to other sects, is given to an active life for the Methodist — active in the local faith community, active as the hands of Christ, active as a reader of Scripture, and active as a mystic. Let us discover that.