Is the Church Canceling Christianity?
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-16a
Wikipedia defines cancel culture as “a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles.” I began this series of Life Notes contrasting Churchianity with Christianity in early 2021 but have waited until the end to apply the term cancel culture because it may be an overly harsh term to apply to churches and church leaders that are doing the best they know how to lead people to God, consistent with how they were taught and their own understanding and interpretation of scripture. Cancel culture implies a purposeful intent to ostracize, which I do not believe is usually the case. The term does, however, seem in some sense to apply because the practices of many churches ostracize many seekers after truth from the very texts and practices that could otherwise be most helpful to them. Throughout this series I have pointed out how too many churches are thrusting Christianity and the Christ out of their religious circles by practices and teachings that focus more on following the church than on following the Christ. Clearly, the two – the church and the Christ – are not the same and probably never have been.
In the context of the definition of cancel culture, the church may be canceling Christianity from religious and spiritual legitimacy by portraying a too limited, too exclusive, and too judgmental portion of what it means to be a follower of the Christ. In that sense it is ostracizing those who sincerely seek to follow the Christ but are unable to find a Christ-centered flock to join in the church. Or, perhaps, they cannot find those who will lead them in a Christ-like manner within the confines of the church. Granted, the church is not a perfect institution, nor should we expect it to be. The church, however, should take a step back from its current practices and teachings and look hard at the impact, if any, it has on the community it serves and the needs of that community. Is it creating little Christs, as C.S. Lewis instructs? Is it leading people to recognize and find their place in the body of Christ both inside and outside of the church? Is the church guiding its members toward any sort of internal transformation? Is the church feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the immigrant, and housing the homeless? If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” then I believe the church is producing followers of something other than followers of the Christ.
As I have pointed out in earlier reflections, the church, especially the Protestant church, has become increasingly intellectualized since the age of the Enlightenment. To view anything in an intellectual way requires very little of us. We think deeply and mistake that for action and/or transformation. The majority of our church leaders are taught an intellectual version of Christianity in seminary, and intellectual presentations of the gospel are what have become the expectation for clergy these days. By intellectual Christianity I refer to the ability to quote, interpret, and apply Bible teachings without any serious personal, internal transformation of one’s heart or being, nor any sincere personal sense of responsibility to ease the suffering of the less-fortunate folks in one’s sphere of influence. Being able to quote from the Bible is not a sign of a changed heart, although it can be a step toward that end. Rather, being able to quote from the Bible is an intellectual exercise in memorization that may or may not reflect the type of changed heart Jesus clearly sought through his life and teachings. As the author of Matthew quotes of Jesus in today’s epigraph, “Beware of false prophets…You will know them by their fruits.” The same can be assumed of today’s church – we will know them by their fruits and not by their words.
For those seeking help, support, and community on their journey toward living in harmony with the world around them, creating a more equitable and inclusive environment for all peoples, and to answer the personal call to holiness the Spirit implants in each of us, the church may not be the first or safest place to look. To the extent that the church is canceling Christianity, it is doing so in an attempt at self-preservation, trying to hold to a belief system that is not always relevant, effective, or even Christian. That system of beliefs and practices helped churches thrive in ages past, but it is causing a slow death to those same churches today.
This is the 61st in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.