To add to the thought written earlier about the popularity of Christianity, I incidentally came across an article in The Philadelphia Trumpet (a free-subscription Protestant magazine) entitled "Christ and a Cappuccino". It starts off by saying that about 30% of Americans are regular churchgoers. But then it delves into the argument that churches in America are marketing to the public. Various examples follow. For instance, the idea of the traditional Sunday morning worship has been questioned. A church in Mass. wanted to find out when people have nothing else to do and eventually found this time to be Saturday at 5 p.m. Thus, their service time was changed. A church near Dallas has arranged their service to end at the correct time in order to participate in the 'real' Sunday spiritual experience: the Dallas Cowboys football game, which is broadcasted on a big screen outside the church as part of the congregational fellowship.
Other ministers have taken this idea from the unconventional to the bizarre. In Arkansas, a church has it's own version of the popular "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" gameshow with two 'worshippers' receiving $1,000 in cash prizes. They also bring tigers and elephants for their church Christmas pageant. A church member there is quoted, "when you have variety in a church, it adds to the experience. I'm looking for a church that offers various elements . . . It's not so much about the denomination, but what I am getting out of the service . . . I certainly don't want to be bored when I am sitting in a pew".
Some churches give out gift certificates to local restaurants for newcomers, and get this, one minister cruises the streets in poor areas of Bryan, Texas, in a blue bus with sign advertising "We will pay you $10 to come to church on our bus."
I know of mega-churches in our area that comes complete with special effects and rock music, doctrine-less "sermons" delivered by charismatic speakers. You can enjoy all this while sipping on an iced latte from the church coffee bar and food court.
I actually had the chance to go to one of these mega-churches recently. It's located just walking distance from my home-church. They had a Christmas program extravaganza. Outside, eight stables were set up to represent the birth of Christ based upon cultural influences. I could see how the birth of Christ would look like had it been in China, Mexico, Russia, Texas, India, etc. And of course, it included live donkeys, horses, and chickens. They also had a free skating ring set up. Inside were various stores selling items of all kinds. It was quite a memorable event with countless number of people attending, but I did have my reservations.
The article continues by quoting a pastor in Washington, "We are not organized religion, we're disorganized religion. There are some things specifically in the Bible that are major: Jesus is the Son of God. He died on the cross so we may have forgiveness of our sins. But all the other things . . .we say are the minor things we can all disagree on".
One major point I got from the article deals with the question of who's impacted the most by this movement: Christian teens. Though over 1/3 of American teenagers say they are Christian, studies by secular and religious organizations have found that an individual's faith has little to do with the behavior of that person. Let me quote, "Most Christians' conduct is indistinguishable from that of the adherents of other faiths in most areas, including divorce and adultery". In another words, if you look at the actions of these Christians, it's really not that different from anyone else! It gives much more meaning to the phrase "By their fruits you shall know them".
The message in these churches are toothless, consisting of a God in heaven who wants you to be "good" and "accept Jesus"; a message without purpose, real potential, or change.
"It's no wonder that the world is converting American Christianity rather than the other way around"!
The article ends with a great message for us, who belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church. "Jesus Christ didn't just leave it up to us to sift through almost 34,000 Christian denominations and pick whatever felt best. There is such a thing as pure religion". Wow! Again, I must remind you that this is coming from a Protestant based magazine. Yes, there is such a thing as pure religion, and we belong to one.
I'm not completing dismantling and banishing the methods of various churches around us, but my purpose is to remind ourselves that when others are 'popularizing' Christianity, it should be the time for us to further strengthen our faith and pride in our church. We must remember that our children are seeing all these things. They are tempted to go to other churches that are, according to them, not boring or traditional. I see too many of our parents that have no pride in their church. They just come and go. It's just a routine for them, too. Yes, I admit our church does need to make some minor changes, but as this article showed us, with time, many will come to realize the value and worth of our "One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church".
May God Strengthen Our Church,
St. Ignatius Syrian Orthodox Church, Dallas
Member ID # 0892