Thursday, September 30, 2010

Here's Why Christians Flunked the Test

I took the quiz that’s been circulating around the internet. You probably heard of it. It’s the one provided be the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which asks basic religious questions. I scored 14-15 correctly (I missed a question on religion in American classrooms).
The news is not good. Apparently, according to the final report, most protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the father of the Reformation. And many Catholics didn’t know that their church believes that the communion wafer has been changed to the true body of Christ. They believe communion is merely a memorial meal. Zwingli would raise his fist in triumph.
Atheists and Agnostics, as well as Jews and Mormons scored the best. Which doesn’t surprise me. Atheists tend to be better educated than average church folks. And makes me wonder if the Christians who answered correctly got their religious knowledge from school or church.

And it makes sense for Jew and Mormons to do well in this test. Minority religions are often more intentional about teaching the faith to their children. Those of us from historic, usually European State Church traditions have been resting on our collective laurels, leaving the knowledge of the faith to the pros - people like me. Those with collars around their necks and “Rev” in front of their names.
When churches become established in the form of state churches, faith loses it’s edge, it’s fire and passion. Jesus becomes a house pet, a religious functionary who blesses all our ambitions. And the church serves as a religious affirmation of the culture’s enterprises. Be they noble or self-serving.
Church history and religious belief then play second trombone to the culture’s aspirations. The church then makes good citizens rather than disciples of Jesus who ask difficult questions. We teach basic rudiments of faith which then morph into easy religious cliches. The fire of faith is snuffed in favour of a cozy relationship with established power. 
But as churches decline and lose cultural power, our influence as a prophetic minority will emerge. Fewer people will participate in churches, but those who do participate will be more committed to the counter-cultural message of the gospel. Churches will be smaller but stronger, and have more impact and influence as we live our faith more passionately, bearing witness to God’s Kingdom rather than the culture’s.
So, show us the test again in 20 years and see how we answer. (Click here to take the test)


Chris Duckworth said...

Very good. You might be a little optimistic about the faithfulness of a smaller, less culturally/politically powerful church - we'll still be sinners, after all, in that new/emerging world. Nonetheless, what you say about the corrosive influence of being "established" is spot on.

Kevin Powell said...

Chris, my optimism comes from dis-established churches like those in China and former East Germany who flourished despite intense persecution. Douglas John Hall points out in one of his books that the Christians in East Germany helped dispel the violence that could have erupted after the Wall fell, because they weren't part of the establishment. By being dis-established they had greater influence.

I don't think we'll have a "perfect" church, but a more faithful one. Sinners in need of grace, bearing witness to a different reality than the one the culture gives us.