CultureWatch

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When Churches Commit Suicide

May 12, 2011

I suppose I could coin a phrase here: “churchicide”. This new term refers to when a church or denomination intentionally seeks to take its own life. Or perhaps we could refer to this as “churchanasia”. But whatever term we use, the result is sadly the same.

All around the Western world we have examples of churches either slowly or swiftly committing hari kari. Some are doing it quite willingly and intentionally, while others may not even be aware of the fact that they are on the road to extinction.

But for various reasons, many churches are going the way of the dodo. There would be plenty of examples of this. Those not specifically wanting to commit ecclesiastical suicide but still seemingly in their death throes can be found in various places.

As an example of this, a British newspaper featured a rather gloomy article on the state of the Church of England recently. With the rather provocative title, “Will the last person to leave the Church of England please turn out the lights,” it spoke of the Church as “an institution in decline, with fewer worshippers than ever and dissent in its ranks”.

The article said, in part: “The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.

“Despite a series of initiatives such as Back to Church Sunday and some improvement in the numbers of young people participating in church activities, attendance figures amongst Anglicans have dropped by some 10 per cent over the last decade. Only 1.1m people, some 2 per cent of the population, attend church on a weekly basis, and only 1.7m, or 3 per cent, once a month. This in spite of the fact that around half the population still profess themselves Anglicans.

“The decline in paid clergy has been even more rapid. On the Church’s own statistics, the beginning of the new millennium has already seen a fall in over 20 per cent to barely 8,000. On present trends clergy would disappear altogether within half a century. Yet the number of parishes remains set at 13,000 and the total of Anglican churches is little altered at around 16,000. The result is there for all to see: a vicious circle of declining congregations, higher pension and maintenance costs and fewer helpers all sustained on a diminishing revenue base.”

The article discusses things such as the battle over women priests and same-sex marriage, and asks whether it might be time for the CofE to sever ties with the state. The author says, “I can’t help feeling – more than ever – that the Church of England will not survive my children’s lifetime and quite possibly not even my own.” And he thinks that “the real problem of the Church of England is the factor which no-one seems ready to discuss in public – its role as the established church of the country.”

Now I am not an expert on the CofE, and those closer to the scene will better be able to pinpoint what are the real problems, and more importantly, what are the real solutions. But here I want to look at another church, or denomination, which is also dying. But unlike the CofE, this one is deliberately committing suicide.

I refer to the Presbyterian Church in America. It has been going down the tubes for years now, but things have just come to a head, as announced in today’s newspapers. Here is how one report offers the obituary:

“After 33 years of debate, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to change its constitution and allow openly gay people in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons. This is a reversal from only two years ago, when a majority of the church’s regions, known as presbyteries, voted against ordaining openly gay candidates.

“By the time the vote was taken in Minneapolis the result was expected, but Presbyterian church officials said that even a few months ago they would not have predicted that the church was ready to change its policy. ‘All of us are surprised,’ said the Reverend Gradye Parsons, the church’s Stated Clerk, its highest elected official.”

There you have it folks: how to commit ecclesiastical suicide in one fell swoop. The PCUSA can now officially be pronounced dead. It has given up the ghost (in more ways than one) and has decided that in an effort to be trendy, relevant and acceptable, it will sell its soul for the world’s approbation.

Of course Scripture makes it perfectly clear that whenever a believer, church or denomination does this, it receives the disapprobation of God. To seek to please the world means we have turned our backs on God. Consider just a few passages which speak to this.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

In taking this deliberate and wilful step of defiance against God and disobedience to his Word, the PCUSA has declared that it no longer considers itself to be Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. Of course caving in on the homosexual agenda is simply the latest in a long list of acts of rebellion by this denomination.

So it is not the sole cause of its death, but simply the latest and final contributing factor to the extinction of a once Christian denomination. But of course critics will chirp about how the church needs to be with the times, relevant, and flexible.

Sorry, but all this church has done is sign its own death warrant. When compromise this big and this bad takes place, this church will not be winning the world to its cause. At best it will simply be dragging in more unregenerate rebels and moral anarchists. It will certainly not be making Christian converts and disciples.

A few quotes from some saints of old best sum up my feelings here:

“The church’s mightiest influence is felt when she is different from the world in which she lives. Her power lies in her being different, rises with the degree in which she differs and sinks as the difference diminishes.” A.W. Tozer

“When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“When the church and the world can jog comfortably along together, you can be sure something is wrong. The world has not compromised – its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was. If Christians were equally as faithful to the Lord, separated from the world, and living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did. It is the church that has compromised, not the world.” Catherine Booth

“You are the salt not the sugar candy; something the world will spit out not swallow.” Charles Spurgeon

A more recent voice put it this way: “Worldliness is what any particular culture does to make sin look normal and righteousness look strange” (David Wells). The PCUSA is as worldly as they come. It has made sin acceptable, and made holiness unacceptable. It has not only committed spiritual suicide, but it has now become an officially apostate body.

We simply await the next newspaper headline about this group: “PCUSA declares Jesus is not God but just another helpful guru”.

www.independent.co.uk/opinion/faith/will-the-last-person-to-leave-the-church-of-england-please-turn-out-the-lights-2269185.html
www.theage.com.au/world/church-allows-gay-clergy-20110511-1eit2.html

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28 Responses to When Churches Commit Suicide

  • When I was younger I used to love cycling around the Dorset countryside, visiting our ancient parish churches. The atmosphere of permanence and peace emanating from the walls and pews, in which generations of local communities had worshipped God and listened to his word, were palpable.

    Invariably there would be wooden boards hanging on the walls with the names of the vicars, often going back to the 13th or even 12 century. Looking at the list, maybe starting in 1243, with someone, maybe called Geoffrey de Wareham, or William Kethe (writer of hymn,”All people that on Earth do dwell) or Thomas, or John and on and on one would arrive at the 20th century. Suddenly, since less than a decade, Susans, Shirleys and Annes – wannabee vicars – have appeared.

    I travel around the the countryside now and church after church is locked, If one wants to gain entry, one has to phone invariably a female vicar, rector or church warden, living miles away and now left in charge of maybe half a dozen of such beautiful, old buildings.

    This is not suicide but murder.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill, you need to make some distinctions. There is the:
    PCA–Presbyterian Church in America
    PCUSA–Presbyterian Church in the USA.

    The former is a highly evangelical denomination that came out of the roots of the latter…which is really not a church at all. As Calvin said–the marks of the church are the right and proper preaching of the Word, the right and proper administration of the sacraments, and the right & proper exercise of discipline…none of which happens with any consistency in the latter denomination.

    Scott Kroeger

  • Thanks Scott

    When I said “the Presbyterian Church in America” I meant it in a generic sense, but yes that can be confusing. I of course then spoke of the PCUSA specifically. But thanks for the clarification.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    It’s alarming, isn’t it? Just a quick question: do you know if the figure of 2% for weekly church attendance in the UK is just for the Church of England, or for all Christian denominations?

    Scott Buchanan

  • Thanks Scott

    I would say just the CofE, based on what he said, but not fully certain.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Many will appreciate the satire of the Church of England’s accommodation of liberalism in the episode ‘The Bishop’s Gambit’ (1986) from the classic British comedy series Yes, Prime Minister (linked from the bottom of Anglican Church’s neo-Chamberlainite appeasement of secularism in three parts).
    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  • To Bill (responding to your 2011/05/12 23:00 post), the figure of 1.1 million tallies as roughly 2% of England’s total population. I am not surprised that CofE is declining/dying, given how Rowan Williams refuses to acknowledge Biblical inerrancy–which was the most significant factor in what kept the church founded by “Crazy Hank” (Henry VIII) alive until Williams took over role of Canterbury Archbishop.

    And a detail you didn’t mention–the Catholic Church (though it isn’t exactly growing in UK) now exceeds CofE by the strange measure of Sunday-weekly attendance (“coincidentally” since 1995, there have been considerable conversions of more-conservative Anglicans to Catholicism–but not enough to balance the leaving of the more-liberal Catholics).

    Srinivasan Varadarajan

  • Of course the same could be said of the Anglican church in Australia. Except it’s not true. You know what they say about statistics.

    If one considers the demographics of some of these declining churches we would expect those figures. The majority of worshippers are in the declining later years. Infirmity and death are emptying the pews.

    This demographic trend hides the really important and surprising movement. Growing attendance by young people. The worldly liberal Anglican church is across Australia declining. The vibrant conservative Anglican church in Sydney is growing, and nearly offsetting that decline across the state. WOW!

    I would want to wonder if the same is happening with the PCAS/PCUSA split.

    Yes, Bill, it is exactly about whether you look to God for the future or whether you look to the world. One way leads to life, the other to death. It’s that simple.

    But it’s not as doom and gloom as the reporters would have you believe (vested interest??) The next decade or two will see the decline trend play out and then we shall see what is left from the refining process.

    That may well be a great time to be a believer

    God Bless,
    Michael Hutton

  • Thank You David Skinner

    Thank you for taking us for that chilling walk through your life and what your eyes have seen.

    Daniel Kempton

  • Good article. I read recently that Roman Catholics in Germany are leaving their Church in droves. Don’t know how reliable the source was but the subject might be worth following up. But Christianity in the West is not the only belief system with a numbers problem. I know of Secular Humanist, Freethinker and Rationalist groups who seem to have low and aging membership problems. In fact if you try to find out what their numbers are their officials become defensive and uncooperative. Obviously business is not booming, otherwise they would be bragging. The last time I attended a Humanist meeting was twenty years ago (not as a member, more like an anthropologist in the field) the tribe was depressed, inert, and most members had a foot in the grave.
    John Snowden

  • Excellent observation Bill. The church has been on the downhill since it started compromising on the teachings of God’s word. Its on a popularity trip now. As for the decline of the C of E didn’t all those good men and women who believed in the word predict that the liberalization of the church some years ago was to be its downfall? Any wonder there are more pillars than worshipers in many of the Churches in England.
    Patrick Brahams

  • No wonder Francis Schaeffer wrote ‘The Great Evangelical Disaster’!
    Peter Barnes

  • While in England in Oct 2008, I twice visited Hillsong Church held in Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road and once Kensington Temple at Notting Hilll Gate, both charismatic. I was so encouraged that both Churches were fully packed on the Sundays. KT was so packed that many worshipers had to sit on the stairs! I hope and pray that Charismatic Churches with the full Gospel can be planted throughout UK, then the decline of Church of England is of no significance!

    Richard Chieng, Perth

  • It is said that we live in a secular, democratic age and that the post war generations, especially since the sixties have taken it as a self evident truth that our lives are autonomous: the rights of the individual are absolute and sacred. Like “Home Alone” kids, we believe that we have become liberated from the inhibitions, constraints boundaries of our cultural past – and particularly of our Christian prejudices. Our lives are our own; we are free, in fact, to believe in nothing. The present generation therefore have no time for ideas, let alone thinking and our educational systems, dominated as they are with anarchists, have taken care of that.

    But unless we wish to go insane, like those who undergo spending too long a time in a sensory deprivation chamber, we are forced to view the world through another grid or mesh in order to interpret and make some sense of life and from which to take our bearings. We do not – cannot – live forever in a philosophical vacuum. Even the world of the insane has a logic.

    The reality is that the man digging a ditch or the girl working at the checkout counter have merely submitted to another set of presuppositions, regarding truth, existence and morals, which are as much – if not more – a faith system as those Christianity. It is a view of the world that nothing is knowable apart from that which the senses perceive. Since it has no fixed absolute point from which to observe the movement of history, and since according to evolution there is no intelligence, will or personality behind matter and creation, it is in turn incommunicable.

    The present generation have absorbed subliminally the philosophy of Hegel, Rousseau, Hume, Nietzsche and Marx. This is not and has not been formally taught but breathed in through the atmosphere. It is the zeitgeist. As Francis Schaeffer said in 1968, in “The God who is There”:

    “The mass of people may not enter an art museum, may never read a serious book. If you were to explain the drift of modern thought to them, they might not be able to understand it; but this does not mean they are not influenced by the things they see and hear – including the cinema,” He could have added what they hear from the pulpits of the Church of England, with its trendy gay and feminist vicars.

    Francis Schaeffer also reflected on the fact that most people, considering the musings of philosophers, like Hegel, the German philosopher (1770-1831) would judge them so abstruse that they would have little practical impact on society. He went on to say: “this could not be further from the truth. Because whether Hegel himself or those listening to what he had to say understood it to be the case, ‘when he propounded his ideas he changed the world’.”

    David Skinner, UK

  • Let’s not forget the rampant anti-intellectualism in the church today. Most Christians are just as gullible and ignorant of our classic western, Judeo-Christian heritage as anyone outside church walls.

    Found this wonderful quote from STR’s blog from Henry Scougal’s “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”, on the deep connection between knowing the certainty of Christian truths and having a thriving Christian life ;

    “I shall mention but two other means for begetting that holy and divine temper of spirit which is the subject of the present discourse. And the first is, a deep and serious consideration of the truths of our religion, and that, both as to the certainty and importance of them. The assent which is ordinarily given to divine truth is very faint and languid, very weak and ineffectual, flowing only from a blind inclination to follow that religion which is in fashion, or a lazy indifferency and unconcernedness whether things be so or not. Men are unwilling to quarrel with the religion of their country, and since all their neighbours are Christians, they are content to be so too: but they are seldom at the pains to consider the evidences of those truths, or to ponder the importance and tendency of them; and thence it is that they have so little influence on their affections and practice.”

    www.str.org/site/PageServer?pagename=blog_iframe

    Damien Spillane

  • Churches commit suicide in a manner similar to the way drug addicts eventually do themselves in. Postmodern secularism has become the crack cocaine of religious liberalism.
    Ron Henzel

  • Hi! Bill, you have received great comments – once again, keep going.
    Stan Fishley

  • Spot on Bill. Just this week I was lunching with friends – eight of us have been meeting monthly for almost 50 years and we always attempt to solve the problems of the world over lunch and a glass or two of vino. I warn them that we can’t solve all the problems – not before lunch anyway. The issue of what is happening in the Catholic Church with the removal of a particular Bishop was the main topic of conversation – we are all “Micks” but our discussions are not limited to religion – dare I say we tackle politics and yes, even sex during our “Ladies” luncheons.

    Many of our number believe that women and married men should be ordained to the Priesthood because we don’t have enough celibate Priests. This of course is hoohey. If women and married men were the answer to the paucity of Priests why then are the Protestant churches (where there is no barrier to married men and women Priests) not being knocked down in the rush to fill the void. If women and married men were the answer these churches would be flourishing but Bill you are right they are not. God luv ya.

    Patti Smith

  • Bill – an interesting and relevant use of “hari-kari” which is the common expression for the Japanese Samurai suicide.

    It was particularly used when embarrassment and shame was the only alternative (as in acknowledging your own failure) and was highly ritualistic (both CofE and PCUSA have very formal procedures for what they have done), and performed before spectators (the watching world, to use Francis Schaeffer’s term).

    And a small supporting point – the PCUSA is not an established denomination, so the CofE’s proposed solution of cutting loose from that privileged poisition obviously won’t work.

    John Angelico

  • Richard,
    I don’t quite agree that a packed church indicates spiritual health. Oprah’s ‘church’ and Rob Bell’s ‘church’ draw the crowd too. Like Oprah’s and R Bell’s churches, many charismatics too are fed with wrong or extra biblical teachings. Many charismatic churches draw the crowd mainly because they preach a marketable gospel that appeals to the masses. A seeker sensitive image with positive, motivational sermons that ministers to felt needs, and a ‘worship’ that is essentially music driven, is very appealing indeed. Charismatic’s definition of ‘full gospel’ is skewed to ‘apostolic gifts’ and signs and wonders and blessings which often lead to the burning of strange fires lighted by many false teachers and prophets. I would rather call that ‘half gospel’. The other half is neglected ie the gospel that emphasises the Word, carrying the cross, repentance, obedience and discipleship. They are replaced by the more appealing positive gospel of blessings, of positive confession and ‘name and claim it’, health/wealth gospel. But to be fair, there are charismatic churches that give serious emphasis on the word (as against false & extra biblical teachings), the cross, repentance and discipleship but they are few. But that would be the full gospel. Half a gospel is not a full gospel but a false gospel.

    Barry Koh

  • Bill,

    This is a related issue. I hear that the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney is doing church planting outside of the Sydney diocese. I could understand this as most of Anglicanism here in Qld is theologically dead and emptying churches.

    These new “Anglican” churches in Qld. cannot be called Anglican, I understand, as the Qld. Anglicans will not allow it.

    I heard from a friend whose son-in-law is church planting for the evangelical Anglicans here in Qld.

    Do you have any information on this?

    Spencer Gear

  • When Churches turn their back on the Word of God, when they leave out Holy Ghost and start to rely on the thoughts, feelings, plans and programs of man rather than God, then we get compromised, wishy washy churches like you’ve highlighted Bill!
    If only the leaders of the Church of England and other dying Churches would humble themselves, repent and start reading their Bibles, start making disciples and being doers of the Word not hearers only – God could revive them!!!
    Right now, those Churches should be standing up for Jesus; Standing up for TRUTH, not being slaves to the devil!!!
    Barb Hoc

  • There are signs of hope amidst the falling away from belief and practice of Christian Faith though.
    In Australia, the Church has been given a boost by the very active Filipino community; in Britain by the Polish.
    The Church and parishes are being given new life by the Filipinos and Polish – people of strong faith in God.
    Michael Webb

  • Thanks for your great articles Bill, no matter what denomination, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, God never changes and whatever originates in man is never acceptable. No matter how much biblical sounding icing is plastered on it.
    A crossless Christianity is a false Christianity that must eventually fail.
    I think Tozer summed it all up perfectly in his classic “The old cross and the new”
    Myself I think we are seeing the death and going down of the deformed worn out thing we call Christianity.
    However God always has his remnant people and promised He will build his church and I look forward to the resurrection of his people into a genuine manifestation of the body of Christ whatever it happens to end up being called and wherever it is located.
    I think in the coming days there will have to be a lot of letting go as God has his way. As Tozer said in a small booklet, all division is not bad.
    Rob Withall

  • Thank you Damien for the link to the above link. It is packed with good ammunition.
    And thanks again Bill for this site. It is both a training centre for spiritual battle and a spiritual ammunition’s dump.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Or, as I put it a while ago, now it is the Church Compliant, in the world, and very much of the world www.affirmingthefaith.com/churchcomp.htm

    John Thomas, UK

  • Rob, you took the words right out of my mouth when you mentioned the remnant. There are always lessons to learn from what is happening, but the greatest is that God is on the thrown and not going to abdicate. But 2 Peter and Jude are very helpful books in these times.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  • Dear Bill,
    Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Amen).
    Sunday Tunde

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