Dwindling Church Attendance
Marion Sinclair-Simpson (c)
Recently a Canadian Roman Catholic Arch-Bishop pronounced that in the past forty years world wide church attendance has fallen by half. 50% of the former attendees no longer bother to show up at church and I wondered why? What could cause such a falling away of former believers? I thought an excellent place to begin my investigation would be in the church itself.
I wondered if perhaps the church has made itself irrelevant to many former believers because it does not speak to the people on their own level. Jesus used conversational tones with people. I am sure if He chose to He could have used the most laborious and difficult words on the planet, after all He is the WORD of God but He did not. He spoke as an equal to those He was teaching. He spoke from His heart, He spoke truth, He explained in simple to understand stories and parables, everything that any of us would ever need to know. He came to simplify. He came with truth. A child in Sunday school can understand the simple truths of our faith.
If the church wants to become more relevant it will have to move away from the dictatorial controlling patriarchal entity it has modeled over the centuries and instead choose to model itself on the ministry of Christ. The earthly ministry of Christ was a mobile ministry very much on the ground with the people, working for the common good. It included worshipping teaching, healing, sharing, blessing, forgiving and praying. I believe Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity models this very well. It is easy to blame the society we live in for the falling away of faith, but it takes real courage for the church itself to look at what it has done wrong over the centuries and to courageously implement change.
The ministry of Jesus included many women who were respected teachers and elders in the early church, their history is not recorded. Jesus came to show us that all were equal in God’s eyes, men and women, slaves or free people, Romans or Jewish people, rich or poor, sinners and saints. Church leaders were not given any more respect than the woman caught in adultery, who was dragged before Him to be judged. Jesus of course showed her great mercy.
Even though Jesus ministry exampled equality of the genders in teaching, leading and supporting the message, the church of today is still led only by men. Women are excluded from the priesthood, and thus from ascending to any positions of real authority in the church. This is not the church that Jesus modeled through His ministry. But it is exactly like the church that He came and spoke against during His ministry. So the new church is very much like the old church where women are not accorded equality. Not even remotely modeled after the the ministry of Christ.
The huge decline in church attendance cannot be all because we are not properly educated in the history and traditions of the church. (A view I have heard expressed by the same prominent Arch-Bishop.) If people find the church today irrelevant, perhaps the church has made itself irrelevant to the ordinary person in the pew.
Jesus was a simple man with simple stories. Vatican documents are not simple; they tend to be convoluted and heavy with doctrine. It takes a Canon Lawyer many years of study to even attempt to understand them and explain them to the rest of us. At which point we shake our heads and walk away in frustration. It is as though the church has created two paths to God, one of intellectual superiority, this path is for those who become clergy or church scholars and this path, then blocks the path of the follower who believes with his/her whole heart soul and mind in the simplicity of the Gospel teachings.
Through the parables of Christ we can see that Jesus always sided with the ordinary simple people of faith and spoke His most harshest pronouncements and expressed the most anger towards the church leaders of His day. He accused them of being blind (spiritually), and putting such enormous weights (laws, regulations,) on the backs of the ordinary people that the people could not bear the weight of these man made regulations, the legalism they made of God’s law. The consequence of this was that people could not live up to these man made rules, not even the church leaders themselves, ordinary people became discouraged and were falling away from their faith. So Jesus came to teach the reality of God’s love, it was never about following all the rules, it was never about pacifying an angry God, it was not about bowing down before church leaders. It was all about love, forgiveness, starting over. A new beginning. The Good News!
The council known as Vatican II gave the ordinary people of God a voice. People have since then developed personal relationships with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Spirit is speaking through the people. The pendulum cannot swing back to the days prior to Vatican II and neither should it. But sadly the church has not fully implemented Vatican ll and this has caused many people to feel betrayed. Almost as though the church is more intent on holding onto power and what is familiar to it, than obeying the teachings and leadings of the Holy Spirit.
The church places equal weight on scripture and tradition, but tradition is simply the history of the church and by its’ own admission church history is littered with wrongdoing and sinful behaviours, it seems obvious to everyone but church hierarchy for this very reason that equal weight should not be given to tradition.
Alternately the church could base its’ teachings, doctrines and actions solely on the inspired Word of God as exampled through the Prophets and the life and teachings of Jesus. Though if the church insists on having duality, it could place equal weight on the scriptures and also on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as exampled by the changes in the lives of those who live transformed lives after being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. (See the examples of the Apostles transformed lives in the aptly named Book of Acts in the New Testament)
Hopefully one day the church will fully integrate the changes recommended by Vatican ll and many who have left the church and fallen into apostasy will be able to regain their hope and trust in the church and may even return to become practicing members. Let us hope and pray so.
Jesus told us to come to Him as little children to be fed by our Father in Heaven, fed by the Word of God, taught by the Holy Spirit of God and so be able to go forward in our lives sharing what we know with others, in simplicity, truth and love. His message is for all of humanity. All.
Marion Sinclair-Simpson (C)
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