Below is a rather, um, caustic piece that I wrote in early 2004 in response to the "un-church" rage (what? you missed that rage? you're so uncool!). The "un-church" movement was/is essentially a riff on the old-but-ever-new silly spouting about Jesus being wonderful and relevant, while religion, Church, and wearing ties are oppressive, dull, and anti-"spiritual". Some of this is a bit dated and I would change a few things if I re-wrote it. Still, perhaps of moderate interest.
The Un-Church Phenomenon: Some Observations and a Lexicon | Carl E. Olson
When my final Protestant pastor (a good man and dear friend) saw that I was becoming deadly serious about entering the Catholic Church, he made one last, desperate pitch. "Why don't you found your own church?" he asked. "Wouldn't that be better?"
Um, no. I certainly didn't think so. Still don't. But it is very appealing to many, many people. The result? Some 35,000 or so Christian denominations in the world, a large number of them in North America.
A January 2004 article, "The Un-churches," [no longer online] in the Denver Post, provides a revealing excursion into the world of small groups that are springing up in the Denver area and, more importantly, into the thinking and beliefs of the twenty and thirty year olds who are founding them.
The names of these "churches" offer some clues as to the general approach: The Journey, Pathways, The Next Level, Connected Life Church, The Crossing, New Life Church, Pierced Chapel, and (I'm not making this up) Scum of the Earth Church.
My thought, upon reading this article, is that those who don't know the past are doomed to repeat it. There is much that is good about the intentions of these groups and there is much that is near-sighted and theologically-skewed. Not surprisingly, there is a strong emphasis on the individual, rejection of structure, love for "freedom," and "expression." That's not too original, as anyone who's older than, say, twenty-eight can tell you. On the other hand, there is some talk of connecting with the past and of knowing history. But it seems that this "connecting" takes on rather shallow and pretentious forms: lots of candles, Celtic crosses, and some neo-Gregorian chanting. As though wrapping yourself in the flag of the past makes you wise to the reality of the past.
Just this last week I had a lengthy conversation with Mike, a 22-year old who attends a "Christian Center" (which is Assemblies of God) and who has been "saved for two years and five months" (he mentioned this fact at least four times). We spoke of many things, but the comment that stood out the most was one that I've heard so many times, albeit in slightly different forms: "I'm all about loving Jesus. I'm not into theology or religion." As in: Jesus is good, dogma is bad. Jesus is great, Church is stuffy. Jesus rocks, ritual blows.