Go to Church

Easter is just a few days away, and churches will be filled to bursting with twice-a-year “Christians,” people that still feel some vague sense that they should go to church on Easter and at Christmas, even if they can’t quite articulate why, and don’t attend for most of the rest of the year.

That church attendance is in decline is no mystery.  Sure, there are plenty of nominal Christians who attend church regularly for their own reasons—the social aspects, the opportunities for professional development and career advancement, etc.—who aren’t truly Believers, but since we cannot know the content of one’s heart, church attendance is a pretty good gauge for religiosity in the United States.

I live in the rural South, so there are churches on every street corner.  There are tiny cinderblock buildings in the middle of nowhere with names like “First Church of the Holy Apostolic Prophecy” that look like tool sheds that have been converted into places of worship.  There are decadent megachurches.  There are churches that date back centuries, and churches that were planted a week ago.

Yet even here, Biblical illiteracy stuns me.  Sure, I’m one of those guys who knows that something is “in the Bible,” even if I can’t always place exactly where it is (that’s what Bing is for).  But when I write “Biblical illiteracy,” I mean that people lack a basic understanding of the simplest Bible stories.

I’ve related this anecdote elsewhere, but I’ll never forget teaching a philosophy class years ago in which we were discussing Danish Christian existentialist philosopher Søren KierkegaardKierkegaard famously argued that attempts to prove the existence of God rhetorically, logically, or otherwise were the philosophical equivalents of building the Tower of Babel—man’s Gnostic attempt to “reach” God, not to be close to Him, but to challenge God’s Supremacy.

The Tower of Babel is Vacation Bible School 101—really, it’s Sunday School 101.  The Tower of Babel would be Track 2, Side 1 of The Old Testament’s Greatest Hits, if such an album existed.

Despite that, none of my students knew the story of the Tower of Babel.  Even a young lady who was a very committed Christian did not remember the story, and I know her parents, at the very least, had taught it to her!

National Review—once a respectable journal on the cutting edge of conservative thought, now reduced to hawking magic mushrooms unironically—has a piece by Daniel Cox that essentially offers two explanations:  parents aren’t taking their kids to church, and progressives are leaving because Christianity is—surprise!—traditional.

Neither of these are particular satisfying answers.  Yeah, parents aren’t taking their kids to church—duh!  The explanation to the question “why aren’t people going to church” is the question itself—“people aren’t going to church because people before them didn’t go to church.”  It’s a tautology that is true, but it isn’t logically satisfying:  it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

The other explanation is—let’s be honest—National Review‘s fixation with the idea that religious leaders who supported President Trump drove away progressive Christians.  Cox doesn’t put it in precisely those words, but that’s certainly an implication:

More than two decades ago, a pair of sociologists noted that liberal and moderate Americans were disaffiliating from Christianity at far higher rates than conservatives. Liberals are now much less likely to belong to a place of worshipattend religious services, or believe in God than they once were.

But the growing perception among young people that Christianity is primarily about promoting a conservative worldview makes the entire enterprise less appealing to people who do not share that goal. When churches lead with politics, it not only alienates people whose political views differ, but also those who are not looking to engage in politics at all. If you exclude all young people who are liberal, moderate, or apolitical, there are not a whole lot of people left to fill the pews.

What does Cox propose Christian churches—the truly Christian ones, not the ones that just act as free struggle sessions for wealthy white liberals—do?  Ordain demiqueer otherkins?  Force pastors to apologize for slavery?  Host a drum circle with the Unitarians?

The opposite is the case:  whenever Christianity tries to make itself “relevant,” it loses people, young and old.  People go to church to hear the Truth.  They go for succor, yes, but they go—whether they realize it or not—to be challenged.  They need to hear that they are lost, broken, and mired in sin—because it is True.  They do not need to be told that they are just fine as they are, and that Christ winks at sin.

But they also need to be told that Christ washes away our sins.  That He is The Way, The Truth, and the Life.

That message doesn’t have to be delivered with thunderous, Pentecostal theatrics from the pulpit, set to a Carmen soundtrack with high-end lighting effects.  Jonathan Edwards delivered his famous fire-and-brimstone sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in a quiet, soft-spoken manner.  But the message does need to be delivered.  Indeed, Christ commands us to do so in the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-18):

15He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

The title of Cox’s piece is “Stop Blaming Young People for Leaving Religion.”  Sure, it’s not entirely their fault (remember their evil parents who didn’t take them to church?):  we’re all awash in an environment of constant noise and distraction and outrage.  Most of my students spend the bulk of their school day plugged into a world of constant amusement.

And, sure, churches are struggling after The Age of The Virus.  Who wants to put on itchy, hot clothes and sit for an hour when you can flip between the local megachurch’s sermon and the latest episode of 90 Day Fiancé while eating Utz cheeseballs on your couch?

Churches brought it on themselves:  they bought into the world’s arguments, and instead of boldly ministering to the sick and needy in their greatest hour of need, church’s followed the script and told everyone to stay home and isolate—the opposite of what the Body and Bride of Christ should have done.

To be fair, I often find attending church to be an imposition.  I was perhaps overchurched as a child, and I still maintain an aversion to attending Sunday night services.  We would often spend the bulk of Sundays trapped in never-ending services with rambling sermons and emotionally-charged altar calls that could easily extend the whole ordeal another hour.

But what I tell myself is that it is not my church’s measly request that I show up at 11 AM once a week and hang around for seventy-five minutes; rather, it is the excessiveness of the world’s demands that make me feel the crunch come Sunday.

Churches can do more.  We as Christians can do more.  But the extreme imbalance modernity has forced upon us—work constantly for the vague promise that you won’t spend your life as a wage slave if you make every decision perfectly right and don’t have any slip-ups—now creeps increasingly into our Sunday mornings and evenings, demanding that we choose between the fellowship of a church family or taking that time to rest—or to prepare for another week ahead.

Church is worth choosing, but is it any wonder that no one wants to go, when we’re trapped in cubicles all day, our lives at the whim of an overcredentialed Karen in HR?

Even that, though, is a cop-out.  Perhaps if we spent more time focused on God and lesson the Karens, we’d achieve that balance.  We’d go about our work joyfully and not resent that time spent in communal worship.

As the cool kids on the Internet say, “Get Medieval or GTFO.”

Or, more simply:  Go to church!

(The photograph at the beginning of this post is of St. James the Greater Catholic Church, located in Catholic Hill, an unincorporated community in Ritter, South Carolina; I took the picture when I attended the Yemassee Shrimp Festival in 2019.)

47 thoughts on “Go to Church

  1. Excellent piece, Tyler. 🙂

    In this country, the CofE is doing everything possibly to make churches empty. No longer do they preach the word of God. Now it’s BLM, identity politics, Covid, climate change. Essentially, anything but the word. Thankfully, there are a few churches up and down the country where the priests haven’t negated from their task so at least some of us can enjoy the Easter services as they are meant to be given rather than being lectured on Ukraine and other things.

    We need to get in touch with our local vicar so thanks for the reminder. We need to find out if we can attend or whether the stupid mask rules are still in place. They shouldn’t be but some places are still clinging onto those things as if they were life support.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m glad my post could serve as a reminder for you. Let me know if your local vicar is “cool”—as in, he doesn’t require you to muzzle yourself and have forty mystery shots before you can come worship the Sovereign God of the Universe.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I was recently slated on TCW for calling him a good man. Pretty much because he goes on a bit about climate change but for me, that doesn’t negate from the good work he does in the community. I like him even though he can be misguided.

        I’m sure – though we don’t yet know – that his policy on it will be if you want to wear a mask, do so, if not then you don’t have to. It’s been a while since we went to church and it would be very nice to return.

        Is that your local church in the picture? Modern but I like it. I don’t know if you’ve seen but some of the unusual churches in Norway, out in the sticks, are great. I quite like that not all places of worship adhere to the same style of architecture.

        Liked by 2 people

      • That picture is of a Catholic church in Ritter, South Carolina. Technically, it’s in the “Catholic Hill” community. It’s a rare black Catholic church—the descendants of Irish slaveowners’ slaves still run the parish that those Irish plantation owners started.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ponty’s comment on old Norwegian churches reminded me of this Lutheran stavkirker in Wisconsin.

        https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fd1dd4ethwnlwo2.cloudfront.net%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2020%2F10%2Fsc2.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

        Wisconsin is also the home of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, sadly the Episcopal Church is perhaps worse than the CofE, although Walsingham itself is pretty much Anglo-Catholic territory

        Solid Traditional churches, LCMS, Continuing Anglican, some Catholic, and such as well as conservative Evangelical churches are actually doing pretty well compared to the leftist ones.

        And in the good news category, The Finnish MP and Lutheran Bishop were found innocent of ‘hate speech’, including requiring the prosecution to pay their legal bills, for quoting the Bible.

        National Review, which used to be great, is now beneath contempt,

        Liked by 3 people

      • I love those old Norwegian churches. Makes me want to grow a long beard and sit with a massive flagon of ale.

        I have a friend who is Lutheran – Missouri Synod; he once claimed it was “the future of Protestant Christianity.” I have grown more fond of liturgy as I’ve grown older, and I used to joke that if I ever married a Catholic who wasn’t too hung up on the particulars, we’d attend an LCMS church.

        _National Review_ has really fallen hard. I used to read it cover-to-cover every two weeks—every single word. I look back now and realize some of the tripe they were feeding. Now, the magazine is just a mouthpiece for wishy-washy Establishment types. _National Review_ stands athwart history shouting, “Not so fast! We’ll get to forced transgender indoctrination for six-year-olds eventually, but let’s slow it down slightly!”

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOLOL “National Review_ stands athwart history shouting, “Not so fast! We’ll get to forced transgender indoctrination for six-year-olds eventually, but let’s slow it down slightly!” Sadly very true.

        The particulars are pretty particular, to the point that many LCMS people claim, with some justification (as do some Continuing Anglican, who are much the same) to be The Catholic Church, Reformed). Often enough we side with the Catholics against the Protestants, That’s true in the liberal side as well, the Episcopal and ELCA are in full communion, in fact, the Priest that supervised my conversion to the ELCA was a High Church Episcopalian, and actually, she wasn’t a bad supply pastor, even if its doctrinally wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m just waiting for NR to publish “The Conservative Case for Pedophilia.”

        Thanks for your insights into the LCMS. I remember attending my friend’s wedding, and some of his mainline Lutheran family members were upset that the Communion was “closed table.” I was like, “Hey, if you want to take it, join up.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is closed for the same reason as in the Roman rite, the protection of the sinner. Paul writes:

        1 Cor. 11:26-29, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.”

        A fair proportion of the LCMS is The Cogessional Lutheran Church, which requires personal confession much as the Catholics do, the rest believe that the general confession rightly used will suffice. But note how dire false use of The Eucharist is according to Paul, It putsd the sinner effectively in the sandals of the Romans at the crucifixion. Better no communion than false communion.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You throw a whole lot of stuff in this article like some kind of ‘clean out the refrigerator’ stew.

    Nondenominational churches are where one is apt to find preachers and congregations confused about their relationship to and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Take Joel Osteen – he inherited his father’s church and there is no accountability; what he says is to be taken as, well, gospel but he wouldn’t know the Gospel if it slapped him in the face. A lot of nondenoms use the Bible to support whatever whacked theory they support by ‘spot reading’ Scripture, which means finding a verse that says what they want to project without reading the verses that come before and after. As we know, those before and after verses can completely change the intent and message of one single verse. But as long as they spoon feed the congregation with their own sense of what’s right and wrong with no accountability of either pastor or congregation, they pack the pews for a few ‘isn’t it wonderful to be us’ minutes.

    The Episcopal Church – into which I was baptised and confirmed – went full ‘world’ years ago. Partnered gay priests, the narrative, the climate … all that crap. I left it long ago, pretty much when I heard the word apostate and looked up the meaning. For a look at the Episcopal Church, got to YT and watch the wedding of Prince Harry and whatsherface – tell me where God was in that ‘performance’. But one saving grace from the Episcopal Church is the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It was as, and is, Bible, reason, and authority as it could be and good churches use it to this day because it is God and Christ centric in the understanding of who and what we are in Christ and our relationship to and with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. My Continuing Church (created by godly men who saw the writing on the wall of the Episcopal Church way back in the late 60s and 70s and started churches that continued in the manner of the Episcopal Church before it lost its collective mind) never preach anything political or ‘news’. They preach the Gospel – the Good News for man. The priests are highly educated. I wouldn’t want to have to pass the Canonicals they must pass in order to be ordained.

    The Catholic Church has its issues but a wonderful thing happened. Several priests across the nation have spoken out about liberalism, Marxism, socialism, communism. They are plain spoken that a Catholic can not believe in and support abortion and call themselves Catholics. Catholics believe that from our conception to our natural death, we are in God’s hands and He makes those determinations. I think those priests are heroic as many of them face being whatever the ‘religious’ word is for ‘fired’. And several have been.

    Falling attendance at church: it’s our basic laziness and lack of commitment to our faith and the source of our faith. There are 168 hours in a week – and we can’t seem to manage just one hour in church giving our praise and thanks to the God Who created us and the Lord Jesus Christ Who saved us. Laundry, golf/football (depending on the season), lesson plans, car washing – anything and everything is more important than then spending one small hour with God in His house. In Gethsemane, Jesus asked His disciples, “Could you not wait one hour with me?” He could ask the same question today. We can’t find the time or inclination to wait with Him one hour? Of course not; we’re very busy people. Add to that the preaching of the Gospel that says we are in a relationship and it’s up to us to take part in that relationship and that we have duties to perform within that relationship. A man and a woman in a relationship in which neither one has time to spend with the other is a relationship that’s going to last about an hour and half. We do work in the Gospel, we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling but folks would rather work out what to watch on Netflix – there are so many choices, don’t cha know. “God loves us, Jesus saved us – I’m good to go, thanks.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow Audre. You raise some excellent points. I will just say concerning church attendence that The Forward in Faith Anglo Catholic. church where I have been attending regularly for the past seven months or so has seen a large fall off of congregants attending mass and other services in person since the disaster that was the manufactured Covid crisis and the subsequent forced closure of churches. However, online viewers are a not insignificant number. The one Hundred Club was set up to raise funds for HT and entices people into making a small monthly donation via standing order with the chance of winning one of three small cash prizes. There are now two hundred members of the club so where are they all on Sundays and other days? Regular attendees number maybe one fifth or less of the number of One Hundred Club members who presumably all have some interest in the church. Where are they all? I can tell where they are NOT on Sunday mornings.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I think have that same phenomenon here, Alys: people involved charitably with a church, but they rarely darken the door. It’s like church is another charitable organization seeking donations, so they cut the check but don’t bother to show up, like someone donating money to a soup kitchen but leaving its operation others.

        I do think The Age of The Virus gave everyone a taste of the atheist lifestyle: Sunday is a second Saturday, a day for washing one’s car, rather than refreshing one’s soul. I remember as a small child that it was borderline scandalous to see someone riding a bike, doing yard work, or cleaning their car during church hours (we’d see these activities on the way to church). Missing church was only for illness or travel; only very, very rarely did we “lay out” of church due to general exhaustion or a need for rest (or just to goof off). My brothers and I used to muse about how amazing it would be to stay home on Sundays.

        Well, I had my full of it during The Age of The Virus. I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes feel like attending church is yet another obligation I need to fulfill—something else to check off my list—but I have been trying to shake that attitude. Like Audre said, it’s just one hour a week out of 168.

        Liked by 1 person

    • You put it all beautifully and precisely, Audre—better than my rambling screed (which, in my defense, I wrote in a white heat late Monday evening after a VERY long day). I’ll responds more specifically to points when I have time, but I appreciate your wisdom and insights.

      But the REAL problem is that our churches aren’t old enough. : D

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Your country has a rich cultural and religious history, Port. I very much hope that one day we’ll be able to see and experience it.

    I think we are going to church on Sunday. Much good it’ll do me since the whiter than white RDJ thinks I’m already damned. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Let me know how it goes! Maybe you and Tina can make it a regular part of your routine. It does seem, though, that churches aren’t doing much to encourage community building within their walls. But, as Audre noted, there are many distractions; the church is not the center of life it once was.

      You are right—we have a wonderful patchwork here in the United States. It’s true “diversity”—the kind that is interesting and good, not just a mask for total conformity.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I became convinced that one reason that America remains more Christian than any European country is simply because we do NOT have a state church. I think that is the problem with the CofE (and probably passed down to the Episcopalians), and similar with the ELCA (liberal Lutheran church) which is descended from the Scandinavian Lutheran churches. The old Evangelical and Reformed, which was the American descendant of the Church of Prussia, did OK (although doctrine was a very strange mash up of Luther and Calvin) until it caught merger fever in the early 60s and joined the United Church of Christ, which is so bad that it sold Oberlin College because it was too conservative.

        There was something strange going on in the 20s and 30s, what with the Lambeth conference allowing contraception and similar things in the Lutheran synods, not to mention on the political front. Maybe another casualty of the Great War.

        Europe never recovered, and I fear America is still trying to be Europe.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I agree with your established churches assessment, Neo. I’ve long believed the same thing. We’ve all been to the DMV; do we want our church to be the same? I think, too, that state churches inevitably take on the priorities of their governments, not the other way around. As such, a globohomo ruling elite will inevitably result in a globohomo-compliant clergy. The established church, then, just becomes another corrupted institution.

        An independent and diverse Church can defy the party line. It doesn’t make it easy to do so, but it makes it possible.

        Like

      • Yep. Heck, just look at the Puritans, Separatists in England, here a state church, by the time of the Revolution they were Unitarians, and now they run the drum circles.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It occurred to me that drum circles get a bad rep due to their association with cringe-inducing progressive phonies. Something potentially fun (but still kind of lame) ruined once again thanks to lifestyle liberals.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with ‘state church’ being the problem. At least in England – a character on a series I watched mentioned he didn’t go to church or find any need to because all the priests were rich and did as they damned well pleased. I thought that was insightful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the image, Neo.

    I visited quite a few churches in Norway that looked like that. Unfortunately I lost the many pictures I took many years ago.

    I’m going to go back there at some point with Tina. She’ll really appreciate the culture and I know she’d love those old churches. When you move from Bergen inland, there’s some stunning countryside. We’ll wait until it’s financially viable though – Norway is damned expensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You did Daddy proud Tyler.
    I too have observed and am dismayed at Biblical illiteracy among some of the most churched of us often extending to those who attended private Christian schools.

    Liked by 2 people

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