|My view is when people tend to
get overly sentimental about the work of the churches, it is usually a
herald of a coming spiritual disaster because it means they are getting
very careless and imprecise in their
thinking about the churches and religion generally. At such times they
often begin to talk of Mother Church. This is a sure sign of a loss of perspective on the church. They
are forgetting the side of the church that is the stepmother rather than the mother. The churches have
a good side and a dark side. To overlook the dark side is to be assessing the churches
with half a brain.
The history and mission given all Christian churches is to bring to carry the Gospel to the world and in the process sustain, nurture and spiritually re-orient the world towards good values and away from brutality and materialism. The church is to lead the world towards God and the divine values of God. It is to bring the world to God.
But does it do so? On the other hand the history of religions, any religion for that matter, if you examine the witness it gives closely and carefully has not been just to bring the world to God but to lead the world in running away from God at times. Or we might say the goals of the churches become deflected away from God. The churches mislead the believers. Or it makes no witness to attract believers. The churches at times are spiritually sick in many ways. This is why we have in history the stepmother church, the cruel church, the false church running away from God and leading people away from God.
We have seen terrible things done by churches in the past. We see religions doing terrible things now in world religious wars taking the path of violence. The church becomes insensitive to the poor whether materially poor or spiritually poor. The church is quite capable of leading its believers “down the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire” as Shakespeare put it. So the churches have burned heretics, led wars, and forced a host of ridiculous blue laws on mankind. This is the dark side of the churches in rebellion against God.
The problem seems to be this: a spiritual mission is entrusted to a mortal organization. Looking at the history of religions, we can then see the truth of the Shakespearian aphorism, “what fools we mortals be.” It is true at times in history the churches have been truly transcendent and led people towards proper spiritual goals. The churches have been loving and caring organizations. But transcendent religion, faith living on a high spiritual plane, is a hard thing to maintain permanently. The churches burns out. Religion forgets God.
At such times the churches, human organizations carrying immortal tidings, grow weary, tired or confused and misplace the true goals of the church. They become just another set of Sunday social civic clubs selfishly trying to survive and thrive. The churches stumble, so to speak, in the darkness of the secular world. They fall into becoming local social charity groups rather like the Kiwanis or the Rotary Clubs. These worthy social service organizations have a mission to serve and be neighborly, That’s fine. But they do not have a divine command from God as do the churches, not only to serve and be charitable, but to inspire people to spiritual living and maintaining an interior life with Christ.
Now if I had to explain how churches get sick, I would call to your attention how healthy people get sick, how ordinary people get sick. All of us carry bad germs in our bodies but we are usually healthy enough to suppress the bad germs. But at times the immunity system becomes weak for a variety of reasons. The bad germs fail to be suppressed. They take over the body. Sickness results. This is similar to what happens in the churches at times and in our religions at times. The Christian church, which is called the mysterious mystical body of Christ, gets sick and may become spiritually unhealthy in its witness. The churches become spiritually sick. An unhealthy spirit takes over the churches. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TIMES. We have a secular church in the Western world that is dreadfully unhealthy. The churches are mostly in a unhealthy state and without Christ. Believe it. Look around for yourself.
However, the churches today seem to do quite well today without Christ. Not having much true spiritual knowledge or experience of God does not seem to hold back many of the unhealthy, non-religious and non-spiritual churches of today. These hive-like churches often have ecclesiastical properties to support them, funds for parking lots to raise, and vast church bureaucracies full of mealy mouthed types straight out of the writings of Anthony Trollope -- all of whom buzz about busily as bees?. But can you accept a spiritually empty church? Can you accept a spiritually empty life? I can’t. I have a difficulty with it. I have a need for Christ. Do you not also?
The historic mission of the churches today now is laid by. The aim of the churches has changed from telling the Gospel of a transforming Christ of the interior life, the inner life with Christ, to merely having a social membership in a rather shallow and secular Sunday social civic club which may talk a lot about God, yes, talk, talk, talk, but it does not in the New Testament sense “have Christ inside” or share Christ.
Creeds, rituals and sacraments have largely replaced relationships with God. The churches argue and talk and teach about what they think God is like. Membership in these churches comes from picking the God you like from the descriptions they give you. Given various job descriptions for God, shallow people are then urged to choose the second hand information on God they wish to hire or employ in their lives. So they do. Ludicrous, isn’t it? Third hand information about a second hand God. Is that enough?
Now the question is: How do people who have never, never met God run a church or a religion? The answer is, as you can see, they run the churches badly. Look around you. Every Sunday all over the entire country people who do not know God gather to decide what the semi- godless in their Sunday Club About God shall do in the name of a God who they may have read a lot about, but do not know in their heart from any personal experience. These are confused people who have heard of God but do not know Him. As I often remark, with confused friends like that God doesn’t need enemies. Such are the present churches in this time of spiritual disaster when the atomic rockets could annihilate life on earth. And this lack of experience common to religions is not just in a few sections of Christianity but can be found all over the world.
The world is full of churches that are not nurturing mothers but stepmothers. What are we to do with all these stepmother churches and bizarre religions that obviously do not know God at a depth level. Stepmother churches give the people enough religion (usually creeds, sacraments and rituals) to fight over and keep them busy but not enough to live the great spiritual and universal principles of a God Of Suffering Love.
Come to Christ. Do not frustrate the love of God. Open your hearts to Him. Do not limit yourself to boring second hand membership in a stepmother church! That is not good enough for you. Create an inner life with Christ. Be enlightened as to God. Learn to know Him. Enjoy Him. Lead the benevolent life. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) You can find His Presence there.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.