Tuesday 17 September 2013

Christianity for the non-churched


Probably, for many or most people in The West, in a secular society in which there is little support and much discouragement for Christians - some Christians will find themselves more-or-less outside of all possible churches which are real Christian churches and worth being members of: whether or not they attend a particular church, or support a particular church; at the bottom line they will find themselves to be de facto non-churched Christains.

I think this arises when a Christian does not (in his heart) believe any of the specific denominational teachings with respect to the necessities for salvation - when he does not believe in the necessity of membership of a specific church denomination in order to be a Christian and to be saved.

In other words, this non-churched Christian does not believe he has to be baptised (e.g. baptism administered by a particular kind of person, in a particular way, in the context of a particular institution - or perhaps like the Salvation Army Christians, he does not believe baptism to be necessary at all), or partake of the sacraments (ditto), or indeed any other particular thing done in an institutional context - he does not believe he must have a particular theology...

This, then, is a negative set of beliefs which conclude that nothing specific that is available only from a specific church institution is necessary for salvation: the necessities cannot be provided insitutionally and nothing institutional is strictly necessary.

But instead that whatever is necessary for salvation is some-thing/s between himself and God - that he is, in fact, already saved, and has 'only' to accept this gift from Christ, all of which he has done by becoming a Christian (outwith any particular church).

It seems - from their actual behaviour, from their actual practice - that many Christians in The West are of this type: and I do not mean 'liberal' Christians, but traditional and orthodox and catholic and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians of all types... at a pinch, when things get difficult, the behaviour seems to indicate that a specific church is not absolutely necessary - not worth dying for.

This is an interesting state of affairs, because it means that - by a strict and wholly honest interpretation - such a Christian is excluded from all denominations which are worth converting-to.

If he is already in a denomination (as a cradle Christian), then he is probably okay, since the requirements to stay in a denomination are much less strict than the rules for converts (which situation in some senses is illogical and wrong, but in other senses is understandable and probably necessary).

This is very troubling to me, since I believe that everybody should become a Christian, but not everybody who becomes a Christian will be able to join a church (certainly not in the fullest sense of membership - but perhaps not at all: perhaps there will be no denomination at all which this Christian could honestly say he believed and which he could honestly satisfy as to his eligibility).

(To rephrase Groucho, a non-churched Christian might say: "I would not want to join any church that would have me as a member; and any church which I judge to be worth joining would certainly not allow me to join it - assuming I were completely honest about my beliefs and commitments.")

In practice, then, and in the many particular circumstances of many specific people - they may become Christians, real Christians - be born again - but then they will get stuck, will not be able fully to join any worthwhile church, will be (at the bottom line) on their own...



Mrs.White said...

We are not members of any Evangelical church. We are, however, Bible-believing born-again Christians. We would be considered fundamentalists and "hardline." We attend church services occasionally but see such immodesty, worldliness and seeker-sensitive approaches adopted i.e giving the people want they want (to hear and do,) as opposed to what they need (to hear and do,) that disillusionment is our constant companion. We are therefore content to spend our Sundays (the Lord's Day) mostly at home, listening to sermons on DVD or sermon audio and enjoying a day of rest.

Arakawa said...

This describes my trajectory with almost 100% accuracy; since I started completely outside the Church in every sense of the word, was 'converted' by a combination of literature and odd experiences, but am now on the outside and still completely uncertain where the Church is.

This is doubly painful since I am drawn to Russian Orthodoxy (and have the ability to attend services in Russian), where, however,

(a) the current state in the West and historical alphabet soup of ROCOR/MP/OCA/ROCA/new-calendar/old-calendar parishes and their mutual conflicts is extremely intimidating for an outsider to navigate.

e.g. just as one example of material I have to give serious consideration to, the following blog beats me over the head with Seraphim Rose and reading it at face value tells me that it's better to not bother at all than to join a 'world orthodoxy' parish (?)


And I simply don't have the discernment to tell if this is zealotry or genuine good advice.

(b) the overall attitude to 'odd experiences' is one of unbridled pessimism -- anything involving the imagination in particular is held in deep suspicion by the sources I've read. This would not be a problem if my experiences were demonic or frightening in nature (consisting solely of things to be renounced/exorcised), but they consist e.g. of a character in a story I was attempting to concoct suddenly 'speaking out of the fourth wall' stating an intent to convert me to Christianity, and then hanging around for an extended period of time trying to encourage and to teach me to overcome particular sins. This kind of thing, absent overwhelming evidence to the contrary, would be dismissed as an elaborate (self- or demonically- induced) delusion, although in my case -- had I not taken it seriously, I would not have believed in the religion!

That leaves me with exact questions such as -- if I am baptised Orthodox, which of these experiences are to be renounced in the corresponding exorcism / recantation? This is not a question that can honestly be left unanswered, or even where I can jump immediately to the pessimistic conclusion.

So my issue -- I now realize very clearly -- is not so much finding a specific denomination or parish, as finding a specific, flesh-and-blood spiritual advisor, one who I can trust enough to share details of what are potentially very embarrassing delusions, and who would have the patience to work through my beliefs -- most probably over a matter of years rather than months.

In deference to Bruce, I'll note that this kind of thing is, if I understand correctly, a non-issue in Mormonism (which explicitly allows personal revelations), but I'm not at all drawn to Mormonism, either as a creed or a social network, nor as a matter of where my spiritual (or imaginary) mentor is pointing me: basically, to Orthodoxy or at best to Roman Catholicism.

Chris C. said...

I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area and found a bible believing church. A wonderful, honest pastor that preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has grown from 6 to >250 members in two years. There were 301 people there this last Sunday and they heard an old school Christian sermon. Average age of current membership is 28.

Small groups meet during the week. 10-20 people per house-group. People are honest and supportive. But most importantly and this is my main point: We help each other see our spiritual blind-spots and hold each other to account. This is what you need Bruce. Strong brothers who can help you see your blind-spots.

If one can find a gospel centered, bible believing congregation in the most liberal of liberal areas then anyone can. And if you can't, start your own. The book of Acts is your guide and encouragement.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Mrs White - Thanks for this.

@A - Some problems don't have an answer. I agree that a spiritual adviser of the kind you describe would be invaluable. In the mean time...

@CC - I think things are not so bad for extravert, agreeable, conscientious, sociable people - but for the high Psychoticism chronic disruptive maverick non-joiners...

Anonymous said...

Dilys in USA here:

During a 69-year lifetime I have trekked through trying to find a place among Baptists / Methodists / Episcopalians / (most disastrously) Eastern Orthodox. A pariah, pretty much, significantly due to the low-conforming&creative personality factors you write about. Also an allergy to veiled clerical careerism and the smug rule of the ineffectual and sentimental.

The only consolation for me now -- based on a deep essential faith in One I call The Sourcefield -- is a kind of mystic-oriented return to the Bible lore accumulated along the way. And a relationship to the best of New Thought (e.g.Thomas Troward) rather like yours to Mormons.

Arakawa said...

"Some problems don't have an answer. I agree that a spiritual adviser of the kind you describe would be invaluable. In the mean time..."

In the mean time, I take my advice from a character I made up for a story (testing it extremely carefully!), and hope that this insane-sounding arrangement turns out for the best.

Adam G. said...

Is it really true that "mere" Christians can't join denominations without ceasing to be mere Christians? I don't think so.

As I see it, the irreducible characteristic of a mere Christian is not believing that adherence to any specific Christian sect or particularistic Christian theology is necessary to salvation.

Although Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, and to a lesser extent Catholics corporately tend to claim that they are the uniquely correct expression of Christianity, none of them require converts to affirm this.

-Adam G.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - "Is it really true that "mere" Christians can't join denominations without ceasing to be mere Christians? I don't think so."

But that wasn't what I was saying. Check again.

My point is quite simple - that it is possible to be a real Christian but not to be able honestly to join any denomination worth joining - there really are quite of lot of promises, commitments, undertakings required.

For example, the CJCLDS would (quite reasonably!) require that a convert intend to be an 'active' Mormon - live according to the Word of Wisdom, pay tithes, attend sacrament meetings, accept callings when at all possible and so on - people are not expected to be Baptised with the intention/ belief that they will become an *inactive* Mormon (although if a cradle Mormon they would not be excommunicated for being inactive).

That is all I mean. The LDS church is right to demand what it does; but therefore some people who believe in the truth of Mormon doctrines cannot become members of the LDS church.

Tucker said...

My point is quite simple - that it is possible to be a real Christian but not to be able honestly to join any denomination worth joining - there really are quite of lot of promises, commitments, undertakings required.

I've thought about this a lot, as I get older and consider the idea of someday becoming an elder or other church leader. I feel like I would have a lot to offer, but the problem is exactly as you say: I worry that I can't honestly affirm every point of doctrine that would be required for any particular denomination.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this approach isn't backwards. Rather than attempting to discern the truth personally and then join the corresponding church, wouldn't it be more appropriate to determine which church had the best claim to legitimacy and validity and then submit to its teachings?

We are told that the truth is scandalous. In other words, the process of conversion requires that we accept teachings that we will want very much to reject. As part of the process of sanctification and remaking, a convert will come to accept at least some teachings that he rejected in secular life, but may still be required to affirm others that he cannot accept -- not because they are incorrect but because he is not yet entirely reconstituted.


Bruce Charlton said...

@bbtp - That was certainly my strategy. Probably it works most of the time, for most people, in most circumstances (Man is not an island)...

Also, it takes two to play that game.

If you are new to this blog you may not realize that what I actually do is attend and support a conservative evangelical Anglican church (I was baptised into the Church of England as an infant, and confirmed some months after I became a Christian). But for obvious reasons I cannot regard myself as 'in' the Church of England, and things just keep getting worse and worse on a monthly basis...

Anonymous said...

@Dr. Charlton,

That's certainly reasonable. My comments were, on reread, applicable to other commenters, not to you, since you were describing a phenomenon rather than issuing a prescription.


Tucker said...

My comments were, on reread, applicable to other commenters

Your comment was good, and it's an approach I've thought of as well.

Arakawa said...

Recent experiences confirm: on the one hand, it is indeed very probable nowadays to be in a place (at least, spiritually) where only an *apparent* (or partial) and not actual Christianity can be found, and thus end up forced to remain unchurched indefinitely; but on the other hand, God will never deprive even the non-churched who ask for it of -- real, flesh-and-blood -- sources of spiritual advice pertaining to personal matters.

There is something of a caveat. Trying to seek guidance from a jurisdiction of the True Church (wherever you can find it) is obviously a good idea, but *insisting* on accepting it *only* from where you intellectually concluded the Church must be located, can be an insidious route by which Pride can start to creep in, equivalent to a demand that God should reveal His will in such and such a manner and through such and such a person of your choosing, instead of however He will.

If you are 'non-churched', your initial sources for spiritual advice and confession in real life are somewhat more likely to resemble the case of Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' (hopefully keyed to different sins from those of Raskolnikov). Raskolnikov, in fact, was obviously in such a state where guidance and spiritual grace could come to him from a direction he did *not* expect, since this was the only way he could be made to relinquish his nihilistic Pride and humble himself.

It is implied that Raskolnikov comes to the Church... after many years. But in the meantime he is not completely deprived of spiritual aid.