Last week Alana Massey wrote a fascinating piece for The Washington Post titled “How To Take Christ out of Christianity.” The gist of the article is this. Churches need to make room for unbelievers who do not want to follow Christ but who want to remain connected to the community and moral vision of Christianity. That is precisely what she wishes for herself, an unbelieving Episcopalian. She writes:
And though I am without a god, I am not alone.
The group of nonbelievers dubbed “Nones” in the media — because they don’t mark a religious affiliation on demographic surveys — grew from 15 percent of the U.S. population to 20 percent between 2007 and 2012; almost a third of them are under 30. These are the people who identify with ambivalent, ambiguous statements like “I’m spiritual, but not religious”; “I’m kind of agnostic”; “Now I’m an atheist, but I grew up Catholic”; or “I believe in something, but I don’t know if it’s God.” There are those of us, too, who still feel a profound connection to the Christianity we grew up with but who can no longer — or never could — connect those feelings to theistic belief. Some miss the ritual of singing in unison or wishing peace to their neighbors in a pew. Others miss feeling grounded in a community where they can celebrate life’s milestones and heartbreaks. Some find secular life lacking in sufficient ethical frameworks and systems of accountability to reinforce them. For many, it is a combination of all three.
All those severed connections, though, mean a new opportunity to create spaces for the “culturally Christian” nonbeliever and to examine how churches lost them in the first place.
Two quick thoughts about this:
1. Faithful churches would do well to welcome unbelievers to hear the word preached. It is our mission to make real and vital connections to seekers. But churches would lose all integrity if they did what this author is suggesting. “Creating spaces” in the membership for those who are “culturally Christian” is making a place for those who have a form of godliness but who deny its power (1 Tim. 3:5). Light cannot fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). And it is a recipe for spiritual ruin when a church’s membership makes no distinction between disciples and the world, and yet that is exactly what this article calls for. In short, this article is a non-starter for faithful churches.
2. There is an obvious longing in this article that shouldn’t be missed. In fact, this author’s wistfulness might even evoke our compassion and hopefulness. She recognizes that she has lost something profound in the loss of her Christian faith. What she doesn’t yet recognize is that the moral order of Christianity is not an end in itself but bears witness to the One who is. In short, the hole that this writer is trying to fill won’t be filled by simply adopting the symbols and traditions of a faith that she doesn’t believe in. It can only be filled by the God who made her and who loves her. The spiritual bankruptcy of secularism has left her high and dry, and she wants more. And maybe that is not such a bad thing.