As Tradition is Replaced by Modernism – Everything from Church to Marriage Changes With It
According to many polls, surveys, and posts: religion in America is declining while the religious become more resolute in their beliefs. I find this interesting in a number of ways, especially as it pertains to church culture and marriage. In fact, I wonder if some aspects are intricately connected.
A Christianity Today article explains that the last seven years has seen many people abandon the “Christian” label while devout Christians remain devout:
“The newest data confirms…America is becoming more secular, but the faithful are remaining devout. There is more than one thing going on, but a big part is that “nominal” Christians, the data shows us, are abandoning the “Christian” label more in the last seven years than they have before. As every single reliable researcher believes: the church isn’t dying. In other words, there’s not a collapse of practicing Christianity, and that’s the headline of almost every story, though some people still won’t believe it.”
As the seeker sensitive movement bears its long-awaited fruit we can now see what percentage of self-identified Christians were nominal, at best, in their devotion and affiliation with the Christian faith. The rate at which people walk away from the church and the Christian faith is connected in some way with the growing secularization of our culture. And this is connected with the polls and surveys that conclude “Christians support marriage redefinition and homosexuality.”
What we’ve created in our country is a group of people that believe they are Christians but are helping our culture become more secular by supporting unbiblical (or anti-biblical) causes and positions. The following quote illustrates how this group (and their parents) have led us to this point in our society:
“The [Supreme Court Obergfell] ruling was the result of cultural trends that emerged in the context of heterosexual, not homosexual, relationships. During the 1960s and 1970s, America saw a concentrated cultural revolution: the triumph of radical individualism, particularly in sexual ethics. Since then, we have seen the outworking of this shift in attitudes, behavior, and laws: on divorce, abortion, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, gender roles, and now, decisively, same-sex marriage. Marriage was not redefined only by the Supreme Court; it was also redefined by decades of social practice. Marriage, over time, has come to be viewed as a contract of individuals based on love rather than an institution recognized by the state to serve social purposes. When gay couples sought to join a contract of individuals based on love, they were pushing on an open door. Arguments for marriage based on tradition or natural law started to sound ancient and unintelligible.”
As tradition was replaced by new ways of thinking, innovation, and modernism, our ideas of everything from church to marriage changed with it. The idea of going to a church where centuries old traditions are practiced became vile; something we repudiated as out of date or even harmful. But with this movement came the idea that if the outdated church believed marriage was only between one man and one woman, maybe they were wrong on that too. So a shift among self-identified Christians began taking place. The result was a generation that no longer wanted the traditions of their grandparents’ church. They wanted a church where each week was a different “experience” rather than the same, tired traditions. So that’s what they got.
But, little did anyone know that with this new movement in church culture came a new movement in social culture. The tradition of courting/dating was replaced with the hookup culture; and extended into a generation that now uses technology to be “friends” and find dates for casual sex. Traditional engagement was replaced with cohabitation as a form of experiment to see if two people are compatible. Marriage for life was replaced with no-fault divorce and an easy out mentality. Even the definition of marriage slowly but surely has been replaced to mean, quite literally, anything a person wants.
It’s a cycle that is becoming easier to see. As church teaching became fluffier, more focus-on-yourself-because-you’re-a-good-person-centric; the church turned out less disciples and more attenders. The attenders are now abandoning their “Christian” label in favor of something more inclusive; and adopting theological positions that reflect this desire. As a result the church is shrinking as true believers are left wondering where so many people went. So yes, I agree that Christianity is not dying, we aren’t about to see the end of the church; we are only seeing a reflection of decades of shallow teaching in a sin-soaked culture.
It seems that, as nominal Christians abandoned their labels they also abandoned the traditions of Christianity that served to undergird our life in a secular society. By doing so people became more secular and, by default so did society. I’m not suggesting that church traditions are somehow holy. In fact I’ve been on the front lines of killing unbiblical traditions that keep people from coming to church. But it would be willfully ignorant to deny that traditions play a role in our churches. They, at times, bind generations together. Abandoning traditions makes it easy to abandon anything that is tied to them: life-long monogamous heterosexual marriage, the defense of life, religious freedom, abstinence before marriage, etc.
What I’ve learned over the past few years is that some of what many Christians, including myself, have longed for is the traditions of our faith. We want to be called to holiness and reverence in our personal lives and in our corporate gatherings each week. We want to read sacred texts, sing sacred songs, and observe sacred holidays and traditions as a part of the church. We want to be connected to both our past and our future as believers through taking part in things that have transcended time. Ignoring the texts, songs, and traditions of our ancestors have severed the ties that bind us as Christians and set many adrift wondering what the point is.
Don’t get me wrong, I know without a doubt that sacred texts, songs, and traditions don’t save us, they don’t redeem us from our sin and restore us in right relationship to God. But they do serve a purpose. They teach. They rebuke. They support us in our walk of faith. Why would we ignore them or pretend they don’t exist?
In the culture wars it is self-identified “Christians” that are tipping the scales in favor of policies and positions that oppose Scripture and its teaching. This could very well be the logical outcome of decades of shallow church that forgot our ancestors and the ties that bind us together. Perhaps if we work on remembering those sacred traditions – such as marriage – we can once again reconnect with our faith and the meaning behind what we teach.