If Christianity is true why are churches so disappointing?

If you ask this question, you will be told this gem of wisdom, a cross between a joke and a proverb:

If you find the perfect church don’t go there, because it’ll stop being perfect.

GROAN.

This is sort of true, but rather annoying to hear, and certainly doesn’t carry the full weight of the question.

I know a lot of people who are very disappointed by church. It is an epidemic amongst evangelicals, and almost a requirement for anabaptist types.  Often some of the fault lies with the complainers, but not all of it. 

It is an apologetics question and a pastoral question.

  1. If Christianity was not true, what sort of churches would you expect to see? Would they differ from your experience of churches? If the churches you have seen were merely a bunch of people trying in their own power to do what they do, would they look any different?
    Not sure. Unfortunately several of the situations I have seen would be much the same. But this is speculation.
  2. To what extent has Christianity generally taken a wrong turn and lost touch with the source of its truth? To what extent has (for an anabaptist) a constantinian compromise, a lack of emphasis on the radical teachings and call of Jesus, an embrace of consumer values (etc – or substitute your analysis of what is wrong with Christianity) made the church disappointing? The shift away from participation, community and love between brothers and sisters?
    This is exactly how I used to answer the problem. But that was when I had the Answer, and was modelling something different. That was when I thought that if people attempted a form of Anabaptism in their loungerooms, their dissatisfaction with church would end. As it happened, my church disbanded and left people disappointed. Now I have questions and am not so sure of the Answer.
    If this analysis of a largely fallen church with pockets of renewal and revival the signs of faithfulness amongst the rubble, how can the church find its way back? Is it a narrow way that only a few will find?
    Working for the ‘system’ has also given me a different outlook. I see students, pastors and leaders asking questions, and most of them earnestly seeking after God. It is not easy to generalise too much when you have to include specific people and churches.
  3. To what extent are people’s expectations of church too high? The church at Corinth was full of torrid problems and divisions and undoubtedly disappointments.
  4. The desire for community and connection in a culture which works against these things make the church’s task much harder. Busyness is a terrible disease in Perth: people too busy for community, for connection.  Some people’s comments have made me think Perth also lacks a culture of hospitality. It is surely not confined to Perth, but it is severe in Perth. Some American friends say it is only in Australia that you could attend a church service and leave without anyone speaking to you.
    And this is so much a part of the problem I see! Congregations of strangers. So few members of churches making an effort to welcome new people in churches.
  5. To what extent does church disappoint? Maybe it’s only people I know it disappoints. There are a lot of people who seem relatively content. The malcontents could learn something from them. And they could learn something from us.
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8 thoughts on “If Christianity is true why are churches so disappointing?

  1. This is an issue I’ve often thought about. I’ve observed that the average congregation isn’t often more moral than the average rurby club. That doesn’t seem to be enough. The mathematics would seem to be Church + Holy Spirit = Exemplary corporateness. The reality is less convicing.

    My own church (http://radref.blogspot.com/search/label/Wood%20Green%20Mennonite%20Church) is deeply imperfect but I think offer me a way around this dilemma. I’m reminded that Conrad Grebel (in his letter to Thomas Muntzer) defined church in terms of the Rule of Christ – in other words a dialogue about the reality of sin and dialogue focused around admonition, forgiveness and reconciliation.

    Of course there is always the mystical-spiritualist route – abandon corporateness in favour of individual union with God

  2. Thanks Phil. You’re right that the mystical-spiritualist route in one way takes way the question… but I guess we’d agree that the price is too high!
    shalom, Nathan.

  3. Hey Nathan,

    Thanks for the post. Something I continue to wrestle with. I remember my christian history lecturer defending Constantine, and it was hard not to disagree with the main point that christianity was splintering and needed some kind of cohesian. The question for a world wide movement is not do we organise but how do we organise. I often look at groups like amnesty and AA and wonder if church couldn’t be more like that. They seem to have a simplicity of purpose which allows a fair bit of diversity.

  4. Disappointment is a powerful factor in any community. As its worst it means we struggle to form any kind of meaningful community. It’s as if we sit there in an acid bath of cynicism. In a sense cynicism is disappointment without the off switch.

    Anabaptist expect a lot of community. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t many of us. The higher the hurdles, the fewer the runners?

  5. Hi Nathan,
    Perhaps one reason churches are so disappointing is that our imaginations have been shaped too much by modern imperialism, in ways perhaps that we are not fully aware of. We need desparately to get back to the radical Jesus of Nazareth in our churches, but this is easier said than done.

    Mark Van Steenwyk suggests that we need to repent of Christianity. See his article at http://www.jesusradicals.com/repenting-of-christianity/. Although Mark’s topic isn’t the same as yours, I think it has relevance.

    In no way do I pretend to know the answers to your question, but perhaps actually following the lowly suffering servant in our life together as the people of God and reflecting this in our daily activities in the world could be better sustained in church communities with a this worldly contemplative spirituality which is centred on the message and praxis of the radical Jesus. Mysticism does not necessarily mean that we have to abandon community.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  6. Churches are disappointing because Christian doctrine has taken the natural inborne urge to sense the divine within and twisted it like a pretzel to conform to the spiritual understandings of those who lived 2,000 – 6,000 years ago.

    Christians wouldn’t think twice about taking a medical doctor’s advice, or relying upon modern chemestry to understand the interaction of chemicals, but when it comes to spiriuality, they insist on turning off their minds, and relying on a paranoid, myopic, rigid, antiquated understanding of God.

    It starts with how they view scriptures. Many groups within christianity see the scripture as being “infallable,” meaning that it cannot be wrong or superceded. Then, they dance around their own insistance of infallability when it comes to difficult issues. For example, according to the law of Abraham (Old Testament) if christian families have teenagers that are disrespectful, they should take those kids outside the city walls and stone them. In other words, they should murder disrespectful kids. Well, that doesn’t work in our modern view of human experience, so they say convieniently ignore uncomfortable passages.

    The root problem with all of this is how they view the scriptures. The scriptures are simply the religious writings of religious people written from their persepctives at the times they were written. Were they”God inspired”? Absolutely, for their time. But, the inspiration contines to come for our day as well.

    If you want a satisfying church experience, traditional christianity will not and cannot deliver.

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