When I was younger I did some work in sales. One of the first things you learn when selling anything is that a good product sells itself. The second thing you learn is that even a good product can go unsold if the salesperson does not represent the product accurately.
No matter how good the product is, a bad representative will ensure the product doesn’t move from the shelf. I find this to be the same issue with Christianity. We have the best product ever and yet the Christian numbers are declining with every year. Below is my humble assessment on how Christianity is killing itself.
I am aware that the number of fundamentalists are growing worldwide and they will send me nasty-grams about this article, but it still gets #1 on the list because it is so toxic. The nasty emails I will get are the proof.
Fundamentalism started initially as a simple movement in New England to define the fundamental truths of Christianity. Some trace it’s inception to Princeton University but the widespread nature of the movement makes it hard to pin point a start. What is clear, however, is that the movement started as a reaction to modern Biblical scholarship.
Modern scholarship in the 19th century began to really take a critical stance in studying the Bible. This included form criticism, textual criticism, historical criticism, and a few other criticisms. This essentially meant that scholars began a serious study of the scriptures that went beyond faith and tradition. They studied comparative history, extra-biblical texts, cognate languages, and scrutinized textual variants in the manuscripts. It was an explosion of scientific study of the Bible, and it resulted in changes to traditional Christian beliefs.
In response to the perceived “attack” on the Bible, guys like Reuben Torrey took to writing The Fundamentals, which was an attempt to prevent Christianity from deviating from what conservatives believed was the “right” form of Christianity (at least what they thought it did in the 19th century). This fundamental-ization was continued by Princeton, ushering in the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, which attempted to thwart any serious scientific study or criticism of the scriptures.
Thus, the battle had begun. On one side was the bulk of modern scholars desiring to study the Bible with all the tools at their disposal, and subsequently adjust their faith according to where the information led them (not much different than early Christianity). On the other side were Christians who wanted Christianity to continue to be passed down as they knew it to be, without the “corruption” of any type of biblical criticism.
What came after, and still exists today (in growing numbers), is a large number of Christians who adhere to a certain set of beliefs and are willing to condemn anyone who does not believe what they believe and are even willing to turn violent over it. In fact, right wing Christian violence in the last 4 decades was so high that George W Bush started a task force for tracking and monitoring such violence. It is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
These fundamentalist groups do not believe in higher education because the educational institutions are supposedly corrupting the faith and the Bible. Instead they rely on lay-training and passing down by generation, certain core beliefs. Examples of fundamentalism appear in certain denominations more than others. Denominations that tend to have more fundamentalists than others are,
- Includes a variety too many to list
- Calvinist hard liners (much like Calvin, himself)
- Plymouth Brethren
- Some, but not many Presbyterian denominations
- United Pentecostal Church
- Assembly of God
- Word of Faith
- Seventh Day Adventists
- A large amount of fundamentalists are non-denom because they do not have to answer to a denomination and they can design their own ordination requirements. This is essentially open game for Christian’s who wan’t to have no accountability for their teachings.
One of the biggest issues with fundamentalist denominations is that they tend to demonize other denominations and also other religions. They practice a very tight control over doctrines and teaching. Questioning one’s faith and practice is highly discouraged. As a result fundamentalists see non-fundamentalists as the opposition to or possibly as an enemy of the faith. This leads to many fundamentalists constantly feeling like they are being attacked. When people feel attacked, they tend to lash out, sometimes violently.
Additionally, since they teach things that are based on uneducated beliefs and bad traditions, many fundamentalists who do end up going to higher education end up losing their faith. That is why fundamentalists say that Seminary is the same as Cemetery. It is where good Bible believing Christians go to die. This is what lead to the creation of some of the world’s fiercest critics of Christianity, such as Bart Ehrman.
Others lose their faith not because of education but because of mistreatment. This often goes hand in hand with being secluded as a youth and then not seeing the world until one becomes older. One victim of this was Aleister Crowley, the godfather of witchcraft. He came from the Plymouth Brethren.
In summation, until fundamentalists stop demonizing education, free thought, open discussion, and anyone who disagrees with them, they will continue to drive both Christians and non-Christians away from the faith.
This is perhaps the number one criticism by non-Christians towards Christianity. While Christ called everyone to follow Him and not His followers, most non-Christians tend to look towards His followers for direction. While I always maintain that this is a bad idea, it is human nature to look at a religion’s most tangible asset when deciding if you like it; the adherents. Thus, the followers of Christ MUST accurately represent the teachings of Jesus.
When a non-Christian sees a Christian who has rage, or pre-marital sex, or a bad attitude, it is not a very good example of why they should become Christian. I hear often, “if that is what being a Christian is like then I don’t want any part of it.” Few things are more devastating to Christianity than people who profess one thing and then live by another thing.
Hypocrisy also teaches the viewing public the wrong things about Christianity. People become confused about what the Bible actually teaches because they see Christians every day but they do not read the Bible. Their only understanding about what Christianity teaches is learned through watching others.
3. Culture Wars
This last issue might be more closely tied to fundamentalist denominations but I’ve seen it across the board. The Christian culture wars were born out of fear and hate. Christians cannot handle the fact that the religious landscape of America and other countries is changing. As a result, they lash out against non-Christians under the guise of “history”, “culture”, or “tradition.”
We see this manifested in the War on Christmas, War on Science, and anything that presents itself as a non-Christian value. Unfortunately, mandating things and demanding things to be more Christian in the name of tradition or history is neither American nor Christian. The only thing it does is make the culture, that Jesus wants you to save, into the enemy that needs destroyed. This will eventually lead to the opposite of what Jesus wanted. You will be at war with the world rather than helping with redeeming it.
We are called to be the leaven in lump, not the fist that hammers the dough into submission. ~Justin Holmes~
We also chase people away with relentless picketing and boycotting things that are “unchristian”. When I was a young man I witness churches boycotting Harry Potter at the theaters. What kind of message does this really send? Does anyone actually believe that the average movie-goer is going to see the picketing and decide to go to church instead? Boycotts and pickets are the least affective way of bringing change in the world. Yet, they remain go-to methods for many Christians.
We have a much better chance of winning people over by making Christian media that is just plain better. Or movies that are not cheesy and over-the-top with Christian slogans and worn out illustrations. Christians can have a voice in the world without trying to bury and beat up the voices they don’t agree with.