Selfish Religion

Last week I wrote about clergy being afraid to speak the truth, and the response I got was pretty amazing. A number of clergy in closed Facebook groups gave it a huge thumbs up, and a few even said that they had never seen this experience put into words. I am glad I was able to do this, but it got me thinking again about a topic I often speak of – the lack of spiritual maturity so many people of faith exhibit, often with pride. It has long been my belief that the reason the church has been in so much trouble for so long is that it is filled with a lot of adolescent Christians. I’ll do this briefly: most kids who go to Sunday School stop after they are Confirmed, which means their biblical/spiritual/theological (b/s/t) education is the equivalent of 7th grade. Which is fine if you are 14, but not if you are an adult. Of course, with fewer and fewer parents connecting with churches, that age has dropped to toddler. That’s for another day.

So, you are 14 in your b/s/t development, and maybe you go back to church. Maybe your future spouse makes you, or you have a deep need of some kind. Regardless of the reason, you return, and that is great – except you are still a b/s/t adolescent, and what do adolescents believe is the most important thing in the world? Yup – themselves. This is why I think simplistic mega-churches have thrived since the 1980’s – they preach a gospel of individualism, prosperity, and “your personal relationship with Jesus”. “God has chosen you because you are special” – “Jesus died specifically for you” – “He walks with you down your life path”. “He likes you, so you will prosper economically”. And so it goes.

What this has led to is a world filled with people going to church and asking, “What’s in it for me?” Not “What can I do to help others?” Not “How can we as a community make the world a better place?” A world filled with selfish, immature Christians who think about themselves first, maybe God second, and – well, that’s it. I don’t blame them – I blame all of us for allowing infantile spirituality to flourish. I blame all of us for too often taking easy paths – for peddling in Cheap Grace – for not going deeper in our teaching and preaching. I blame parents who took the path of least resistance, allowing their children to sit in front of a TV and eat donuts on Sunday morning rather than doing the tough job of saying “no, we go to church together”. That seems harsh, but there you go.

I respect these struggles – and I have nothing against adolescents – they are smart and inciteful and will challenge everything. They are exactly who we need in our churches. We all go through it, and it is a difficult phase in life. But if, as parents, we decided to let our kids make up their own minds about driving, alcohol, going to school, etc, the way we allow them to decide on their religious training, we would end up in jail. And if, as a family, you decide that church is not for you, you have free will to not attend. We all just need to be aware of the ramifications that the neglect of seeking mature spirituality has had on our world. It has enabled a me-only approach to everything, and it is destroying us. It is time to focus on maturity. That is what makes us better.

Prayer – Help us to move closer towards what You need in the world, God of choices and consequences, so that we can not just love ourselves, we can love our neighbors and You. Amen.

Today’s picture is a poster produced by the United Church of Canada.

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