by Bil Aulenbach

Question: Why Can’t—or Won’t—the Church Change? Answer: THEISM

I don’t think it’s any secret that the institutional church, especially in developed countries, is dying. The worst part: the leaders don’t seem to know how to revitalize it. What are your feelings?

From my vantage point, I don’t see how a church can survive if church leaders insist that a god lives up there, in heaven, and is the Great Master Puppeteer responsible for everything that happens. Church clergy and laity continue to pray to this nonexistent God, or his Son, to resolve world issues as well as to grant individual petitioners’ needs and wants.

The concept of such a deity is very old (four thousand years or more) and was based on the idea that the world was flat. Believers imagined a tiered structure starting with an Underworld (Sheol) way down below; then water (oceans, seas, lakes) and the stationary earth; then next the Firmament consisting of the sun, which they thought revolved around the earth, as well as the moon and stars. Next were the waters above, which caused all the precipitation. The final tier was Heaven where divinity dwelt.

Five hundred years ago we learned the Earth is round, but the church continues to preach the tiered concept, even though most folks know this doesn’t contain an iota of truth. Unfortunately, most of the church’s theology, hymnology, prayers, dogma, doctrine, and teachings are based on the old image of Heaven where God and his Son live. The leadership of the institutional church appears terrified to change anything for fear that someone might become upset. For me, that means that the church would rather die than change.

For me, theism—belief in a personal God who creates, preserves, and governs the world—is not only “la-la land” material but also the biggest reason for the church’s continuing demise.

But wait! Don’t throw the baby (Jesus and his message) out with the bath water (the institutional church). There is an answer, and it is very simple.

When I turned seventy, I made a vow that I would not tell, spread, or perpetuate any more of the church’s untruths. This wasn’t easy. I was raised with such mistruths and went to a church that perpetuated these fallacies all day, every day. I went to a seminary, supposedly progressive, where students were encouraged to keep on marketing such deceits. In the active ministry, again I had to go along with the party line if I wanted to be successful.

But quietly, I snuck in some changes. I stopped using the word god and substituted the word Creation, which encompasses the universe. This was a sneaky “promotion” for that theistic god.

Creation wouldn’t have had a “son” who, many claim, died for our sins. So I demoted this Jewish Jesus to a fellow human being (no longer a god), a charismatic teacher/preacher with a life-transforming message of agape (love).

I call him my “christ.” (Everyone has one of these. Show me your checkbook and I‘ll tell you who yours is.) Why? Because he has shown me how to live my life to the fullest. It has worked very well for me. I even pray every day, and my prayers are very action oriented. I was amazed to realize how much of the church’s dogma and doctrine went out the window once I promoted God and demoted Jesus. I’ll share that later.

Why can’t the institutional church promote God and demote Jesus? I’m thoroughly convinced this simple move could jump-start the dying church.

What think ye?

 

Illustration courtesy of Michael Paukner. CC by 2.0

6 Responses to Question: Why Can’t—or Won’t—the Church Change? Answer: THEISM

  • I believe the barrier is Scripture interpretation. Everything you pointed to as “myth” is articulated in the Scriptures. I myself am trying to bridge that gap. My sense of who or what God is is evolving, but I need to make sure I can have a sound Scriptural interpretation that could accomodate this evolving view.

  • I have felt this way for a number of years. So discouraged that I can’t find a church that promotes these ideas….

  • Interesting content and comments. I have trouble w most institutionalized religion too. Still, I preach an inclusive and progressive truth.
    Your thoughts on heaven (mine, simply, we create it here, in this experience, as we recognize, respect, foster acceptance of difference. With joy whe never possible)

  • After years of reading progressive Christian writers searching for the historical Jesus, it occurred to me that the traditional Christian “God”, not Jesus, was the problem. I am attending a Unitarian Universalist church, but find myself badly missing Jesus’ call, urgency, challenge to love those who seem different, even unlovable. Far from missing a personified God (as I expected), I am energized and reassuredly-embedded in what I now feel is a co-created and creating universe in which what I do matters and from which I cannot be separated… I long, however, for a physical church community of Jesus without that vengeful Father God. J’s call to practice love is desperately needed in the current political atmosphere.

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