Tuesday 7 July 2015

A Heavenly Family Church - a daydream about Western Christian revival

I see little prospect of any of the large mainstream Christian denominations stimulating a modern Western revival. (And the small denominations are too small, too weak.)

Partly because they mostly do not want to - a Christian revival is not their priority - at least not the priority of their leadership - (their priority is Left Wing politics, obviously).  But beyond this there is the problem that the West has already developed immunity against the old churches - the West has resistance - it has antibodies directed against them - the mass of the population are pre-immunized against the old styles of Christianity.

1. The Catholic revival in England began with the Oxford Movement and the Anglo Catholics, and waxed powerful through the late nineteenth century until it dwindled in the early twentieth - but the Roman Catholic Church had a strong revival through the first half of the Twentieth Century.

The Catholic church life was based around the Mass - frequent Mass. But the Catholic revival has long-since ebbed, and there are too few and dwindling numbers of priests, even if people did want daily Mass.

A Christian revival is not going to be led by Catholics.

2. The most recent Evangelical revival began in England about 1960, and was successful for a few decades - taking up some of the slack left by the decline of mainstream (Broad Church Anglican, and Nonconformist) and Catholic Christianity.

The Evangelical revival was based around the personality of Jesus and the study of scripture - backed up by a 'youth friendly' sociable, cheerful kind of church meeting ('Happy Clappy as its detractors called it).

However, this revival is clearly past - and most Evangelicals have lapsed into the mainstream, and taken the radical side (and accepted decline) in the culture wars. Evangelical churches still grow, but there are ever fewer of them, and the general Christian decline is too rapid for them to make up for it.

A Christian revival is not going to be led by Evangelicals.

3. Eastern Orthodoxy is.... Eastern. This is based on participation in the extensive Liturgy at weekends - and to be full and secure requires an Orthodox monarch organizing the whole of society around the church.

Orthodoxy has never got going in the West (except that the Orthodox style pre-schism church church was strong in the West and North of the British Isles), there have been no new Orthodox countries for several centuries, and there is no sign that it will lead a revival.

There has been a very significant revival of Orthodoxy since 1989 in places like Russia and Romania; but that is ... the East.

A Christian revival is not going to be led by Orthodoxy.


The following is, I presume, not going to happen - but I will allow myself to daydream a possible Christian revival in the West.

1. People begin to become Christian (Mere Christian) as individuals - by all sorts of means and from all sorts of directions.

So there is a mass of Christian individuals - the next step is for them to form strong churches.

2. The primary function of the new churches is to provide a serious spiritual environment.

This means that each church must provide some mixture of :

1. Ritual
2. Words
3. Music
4. Arts...

so as to connect with the divine.

In other words, the main reason people attend church is to come into contact with the divine.

This means that this new kind of church is not going to be happy-clappy, not political, not modern and cheerful, not informal and relaxed, not businesslike or bureaucratic, not distracting and hyper-stimulating.

3. The main secondary function of the church is to create and sustain loving and stable families.

Thus the new church is a place for meeting and marrying, and an environment to guide and support family life.


So there you have it! - My idea for the kind of church that is capable of forming the backbone of a Western political revival - which gratifies several of Man's innate needs - and which is sufficiently novel that the forces of secular Leftism have not already pre-defeated it.

Plus it is the kind of church I myself would like best!

No need to point out it won't happen - but a man is allowed his dreams, isn't he?



David said...

Bruce - I have often wondered why you don't set up a series of lectures for the general public/interested people - A bit like the 'Christianity explored' evening you recommended to me personally a few years ago. My feeling is that the latent understanding and yearning for the divine in modern disillusioned intellectuals is something you are uniquely equipped to address by virtue of your career training and life experiences. At the very least you could, I imagine, successfully challenge the foundational assumptions of evolutionary biology thinking or confused conclusions drawn from an unthinking fidelity to a "scientific' paradigm. My hunch is that people back off v quickly from Christianity from the more fantastic or supernatural elements but that if they were 'pre-immunised' for a reconsideration of the magic and re-enchantment of life (perhaps stemming from discussions of anthropology, animism, findings from seemingly disparate fields in which you have experience) and to question metaphysical assumptions underpinning the modern world, this could open the door to series of lectures extending on this foundation to present the case for Christianity?

If you decide to go ahead with something of this sort, count me for my full support, however I could be of use :-)

Just a thought.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I would be happy to lecture to some group if I was asked (and if it wasn't too far away); but I never am asked. Certainly, I have no intention of putting myself forward, announcing some lectures, and trying to drum-up support. That would just be *so* embarrassing: I am no Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martyn Lloyd Jones or Neal A Maxwell! As you know from your experience, I am an above average lecturer for undergraduates (no false modesty here!) but that is not the same as lecturing to a general audience who are not studying a course, and on spiritual topics.

John Fitzgerald said...

I second David's suggestion. Christianity through the prism of literature could be another angle. I found yesterday's piece on the illusory nature of nihilism and alienation - mere fabrications of modernity - of tremendous value by the way. Essential reading for many (myself very much included) I would say.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JF - Thank you.

I think that somebody - with better health and more energy than myself - could do tremendous good by touring round lecturing for a few years - as did Rudolf Steiner, who built an international spiritual movement almost purely by means of giving vast numbers of lectures (and - presumably - by being extremely good at it. Emerson had most of his influence as a lecturer (not as a writer) - and there are other examples: the medium is extremely potent when a master is at work. With the situation of the modern mass media - the lecture is a way of communicating directly.

Aside somewhat, it was very interesting to see the influence of Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Yarvin) at Unqualified Reservations (http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.co.uk/) I was one of his earlier readers back in 2007 and used to correspond with him behind the scenes - he is not (not yet) a Christian (neither was I until 2008), and used to have an unfortunate penchant for obscenities - however I certainly learned quite a lot from him - and of course he spawned, purely by blogging, a new (albeit doomed!) political movement usually called Neoreaction.

If you look back on his writings, you can see his blog posts were truly vast (sometimes tens of thousands of words), full of arcane quotations and references, utterly uncompromising and without any concessions to comprehensibility or attention span - and yet, his impact was probably as big as any single blogger other than Steve Sailer (Leftist bloggers don't have any impact at all, as individuals, since they are merely part of a large an interchangeable pool of near identical cheerleaders).

However, MM's influence was as a blogger on a blog phenomenon - which is almost useless in the real world. If anyone emerges as a leader or catalyst of Christian revival, it would - I think - be by a much more direct, person-to-person mode of communication - more like the revivalist preachers such a George Fox or the Methodists such as John Wesley or George Whitefield.

We Christian writers are always trying to emulate the impact of CS Lewis, who saw himself in a lineage from GK Chesterton - but there hasn't been another Lewis in half a century so it may be that that is not going to be possible - to be honest I don't think 'the public' are any longer capable of learning from the written word in the way they used to when Lewis was in his heyday - so even CS Lewis would not be another CS Lewis if he was reincarnated today.

Don said...

The Catholic church has been down before but it was promised that it would endure. We Catholics must pray for our leaders that they return to the way of Christ and Tradition.

It's not over until the final victory. It will not always be a leftist, politics and celebrity chasing luxury loving elite at the top. One day it will change.

JP said...

Does Mormonism approximate the ideal? I assume it provides a serious spiritual environment and allows people to connect with the divine.

Is it happy-clappy / political / modern and cheerful / informal and relaxed / businesslike / distracting and hyper-stimulating?

There is no doubt that it allows people to create and sustain loving and stable families, is a place for meeting and marrying, and is an environment to guide and support family life.

Nathaniel said...

JP - Mormonism is a close approximation. I think where it may be primarily lacking, depending on personal inclinations, is ritual within the Sunday gatherings. The service is much more like a large, formal family meeting than a traditional Catholic or Orthodox mass. I think though this does provide a connection to the divine for many members (emotional, spirit-moved speeches, testimonies, etc.)

There is a lot to like about the Mormon service if you have a large family with kids, though on a purely personal basis I'd prefer a complete traditional latin mass (though I find the heavily modernized Catholic services largely abhorrent, and far below the Mormon service in a sense of sanctity).

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - The kind of church service I most appreciate, which most deeply affects me - could not really include young children. Sad but true.