The prevailing wisdom for a church to prosper is to get with the times, jettison all those prudish, old-fashioned rules and just watch the people fill the pews. Well, the Episcopal Church has tried just that, and it doesn't work:
Since the late 1960s, the Episcopal Church has served as a laboratory for the proposition that Christianity must liberalize — jettison its more demanding traditional teachings and get in step with the times — to survive. The Episcopalians have done it all: allowed women clergy, dropped sanctions against divorce, made belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ optional. Now their bishops, who met last week in Minneapolis, have confirmed a bishop who will share the bishop's house with a male partner and have tacitly approved leaving decisions on blessing same-sex unions to local priests. During these 30-odd years of early adoption of whatever mores the avant-garde of secular society has embraced, there has been only one snag: The Episcopal Church has declined precipitously in both membership and influence. The treatment has been successful, but the patient, if not quite dead yet, looks to be dying.
Meanwhile, we look to churches in Africa as an example of an opposite trend:
The Christian churches of Africa are growing in part because their clergy and laity appear to take Christianity seriously. They believe Jesus rose from the dead. They regard the Scriptures as divinely inspired authority rather than the culture-bound ruminations of dead Mediterraneans.
Imagine that, taking the Scripture seriously!
Phillip Jenkins recalls the African response to Scripture doubt:
"I had someone there say to me, 'If you don't believe in the Bible, why did you bring it to us?' "
Gerry Sandusky, a fine evangelist who preached for us this past spring and is currently in Africa evangelizing, spoke of a woman in Africa who demanded to know why it had taken so long for him to bring the gospel to their village.
This pretty much sums it up:
"There are all kinds of empty churches that tried to attract people to attend for nonreligious reasons," says Rodney Stark, University of Washington sociologist of religion. "People go to a church for religion, and if it's not religion that's being offered, they go to other places."
Amen, and amen.