Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why People Leave Church: A response to Steve McSwain

A couple days ago, Steve McSwain posted an article for the Huffington Post entitled, "The Decline of the Church:  Will 2012 Be More of the Same?"

The article is focused on why 34 million American's have abandoned the church.  His argument is simple:  the church is to blame.  He goes on to list five major reasons, listed below in shortened fashion:

1. Tired of being told how to live, what to believe, etc.
2. Church's trapped in dead traditions.
3. Incessant bickering within churches.
4. Church is "inventing enemies" do to self-centered, narrow-mindedness
5. Church is the most segregated place in America.

 While some of the issues contribute to church membership decline, I do not believe this is the whole answer.  In fact, I do not think McSwain does either.  Listen to his last paragraph, and

Yes, I hold out some hope for the church -- a hope that the church will move beyond its collective insanity -- where the interest is only in what separates it from others; where the obsession is, as I describe with The Enoch Factor, the madness of insisting, "We're right! You're wrong!" "We're the chosen ones; you're not!" or "We're in; you're out!" And, instead, affirm and defend all people, whoever they are, whatever spiritual path they've chosen to follow as they seek to discover themselves, connect with Transcendence, know and spread peace and happiness, and live an ethical life.

 Here, we find the true crux of McSwain's argument.  The church holds to an exclusive set of beliefs.  The church, as a whole, believes that some religions, lifestyles and opinions are not true.  The church believes, as it has for two thousand years that some issues lead us to stand against cultural and social norms.

I believe it is this belief in absolute truth that leads McSwain to be critical of the church.  First, allow me to say that I agree with McSwain to an extent.  Sometimes our convictions lead to people walking away.  Sometimes we take a stand on the wrong issues, and on the wrong side of some issues.

However, it is at the core of the Christian faith that absolute truth exists, and it is found in no other man or teaching but that of Jesus Christ.  If Jesus Christ, as found in Scripture, is both absolute truth and singular truth, we cannot blame our decline now on something that has been central to our faith for 2000 years.

Instead, I would like to suggest that the church has failed to passionately live out it's core convictions on a few major issues:

1. We have failed to passionately pursue the poor.  This is a topic that I am coming to grips with personally as I read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Kearns.  The church has aimed its attention so fully on the middle class that we have failed to remember that the New Testament repeatedly calls us to the poor.

2. We have failed to equip our members for evangelism.  If we fail to reach out to new families, the church fails.  If we expect minister to accomplish this alone, we are fooling ourselves.

3. We have failed to maintain sexual purity.  Our voice has been much louder than our practice in areas of sexuality.  We are often rightly called hypocritical on issues such as sexual purity, pornography, divorce, and homosexuality.

McSwain's argument is squarely founded in modern relativism.  A relativism that we as the church must wholly reject, even if it means we lose some.  McSwain's view stands against rationalism, enlightened thinking, and most important Scriptural truth.

Note:  I will be writing several posts about our treatment of the poor this month.  Join me as we discuss how to better live out the faith we profess.

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