The Sept. 23 commentary “What churches get wrong, and how to repopulate” was extraordinary in its misunderstanding of the purpose of churches. The author, Ron Way, builds the case that churches should become social/political advocacy institutions, and then more people will attend. While that may be important, it totally misses the primary purpose of church. The biblically stated purpose and mission is to help people build a stronger personal relationship with God. It’s called faith.
Research shows that Bible-teaching, faith-building churches are thriving. There are plenty of social/political advocacy organizations for people to become a part of, but there is only one organization that deals with one’s faith — one’s heart and soul — and that is the church. The churches that stick to that mission grow. Those that don’t, don’t.
Charles Wanous, Bloomington
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I wonder if Way meant to discuss “conservative and evangelical churches” rather than “mainline” churches, which he says, “too often take the Bible wildly out of context, spread misinformation … and insist the Bible was divinely inspired.” My experience as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a mainline denomination, and collegiality with people of other mainline churches, show they are very much in sync with the essential gospel found in the Beatitudes, and are grasping with Christian morality of social issues and policies.
In fact, it is more likely the conservative and evangelical churches that contend that Jesus opposed gay marriage, and that the Jews crucified Jesus, each not views held by the mainline churches. I trust this is taken to heart, as Way’s essay probably does not mean to distort beliefs of mainline churches.
Dixie Brachlow, St. Paul
The writer is a retired clergy member.
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Way asserts: “Bible stories were never meant as literal history.”
This is false. Bible stories were treated as literal history until the mid-19th century. They were considered to be so reliable that scientific greats like Isaac Newton and Lord Kelvin attempted to calculate the age of the Earth from biblical genealogies.
It was only when improvements in archaeology, paleontology and astronomy made the age of the world (and the universe surrounding it) apparent that religious leaders retreated to this notion of biblical stories as not literally true, but rather being parables, illustrating morality. Not coincidentally, church attendance began declining in the mid-19th century, and hasn’t recovered since.
Rohit Patnaik, Plymouth
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There is much to agree with in Way’s commentary. Agreed that the church’s mission suffers from “TV’s money grubbers” and peddlers of “the prosperity gospel.” Agreed that the mainline churches need to relate the Bible’s message to today’s social issues. The remedy offered, however, calls for more than “the essential gospel found in the Beatitudes.” The same Jesus who taught love of God and neighbor, befriended the poor, healed the sick, drove out demons, challenged the temple authorities and announced the rule of God in defiance of Roman power is the Jesus who was put to death for his teachings and actions. And God raised him from the dead. It is the full and robust Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ that is the source of the church’s moral authority. Concern for social problems needs to be linked to a Gospel that has divine power to bring healing and hope to persons and to the social and political scene.
One further thought, seldom heard in discussions of what ails the churches, is that too many church members themselves do not truly believe in the church or take it seriously. They seem to regard it as a voluntary group of like-minded individuals. In reality, the church was founded by Christ himself; it is the body of Christ and is confessed in the major creeds. It was here before any of us came along and will still be here when we are gone. So, to offer a wild, radical proposal, today’s churches would experience an enormous resurgence of vitality if more of their members would actually physically move their bodily selves to church week after week to worship God, sing the hymns, pray, partake of the holy meal and go in peace to serve the world. Say “amen,” somebody.
Joseph M. Shaw, Northfield
The writer is a retired professor of religion at St. Olaf College.
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As a pastor and theologian, I read with interest the comments made by critics of the Bible (Readers Write, Sept. 23) in response to “One man’s journey to reconcile creationism and evolution” (Opinion Exchange, Sept. 16). One letter writer related the stories of the Bible as “rubbish, pure and simple.” Meanwhile, Ron Way, in his Sept. 23 commentary, referred to the “ ‘troubling texts,” stating parenthetically that “parts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy promote felonies,” and asked: “What caring God would endorse such nonsense?” But the emphasis of his article had to do with the decline of the church.
Therefore, I decided to make a rebuttal regarding these two issues. First of all, the Bible has never been disproved historically, archaeologically and prophetically. The accounts given in the Old Testament merely reveal the depravity and sinfulness of all humanity in need of a savior. If you miss that message, you missed the whole emphasis of the Old Testament. From the earliest expression of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 22:20, the unifying focus is on Jesus Christ. In addition, the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. For people to say that the God of the Old Testament is cruel and harsh and the God of the New Testament is loving simply does not hold truthfully in the unity of the Bible.
Second, the evangelical churches together that preach faithfully salvation in Jesus Christ alone (John 14:6), through repentance and being “born again” (John 3:3, 7), are growing in contrast to the decline of liberal churches. Many of these pastors faithfully apply God’s word to daily life and social issues, as God intends it to be. Even in other countries, this message of redemption in Jesus Christ is spreading and the number of conversions is growing immensely.
The problem with the articles, and others like them, is that unregenerate people (unbelievers) try to use their human wisdom to explain spiritual things, even God’s word. Yet, it does not work (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)!
The Rev. Merrill D. Olson, Isanti
The writer is a semiretired pastor.
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As I read the week-by-week discussion of what’s wrong with religion nowadays, I’m struck by the elephant in the room that writers ignore or cannot see. Reason and faith, science and religion form and are formed by language and thought patterns. Yes, Bible stories are fictional, but even he-gods recognized as mythical implant messages into minds.
Consider myths that flip the power dynamic. Archaeologists, mythologists, anthropologists and historians — most of them male — inform us that in pre-patriarchal cultures God was a woman.
Before Hera became the jealous wife of Zeus, she was the Queen of Heaven, occupying the central position in pictorial representations. She sat on the throne with Zeus at her side. God was known as “Queen of Heaven,” “Her Holiness,” and “Earth Mother.” “From India to the Mediterranean … she reigned supreme,” wrote E.O. James, a man.
What difference does it make when God is a woman? In early societies, women owned the houses, produced the food and provided shelter and security. Greek historian Herodotus wrote that in Egypt, “women go in the marketplace, transact affairs and occupy themselves with business, while the husbands stay home and weave.”
Now consider our culture in which “He” dominates church-talk. Against the backdrop of #MeToo and Trump time (a president bragging about sexual aggression toward women), Christians need to look at the consequences of always praying to him and never praying to her.
The biggest change needed in church reform is to eliminate sexist God-talk.
Jeanette Blonigen Clancy, Avon, Minn.