The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXXV: The Epilogue of John

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 26 August 2010 0 Comments
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Evelyn Evans, via the Internet, writes:

I am an Anglican, but having accepted the concept of a non-theistic God, I feel uncomfortable attending church with all its outdated forms of worship. To leave the church, however, is to lose my "church family" and the human contact, as well as my part in the church's ministries, all essential to the expression of God's love. What shall I do?


Dear Evelyn,

I share your concern. I have in the course of my career attended churches with grand musicians and able choirs that use, without any obvious sense of being disconnected, a formal if slightly medieval liturgy. Frequently, its ordained leadership is all male and its leaders give no sense of being aware of the theological revolution raging in the Christian world, inaugurated early in the 19th century by such people as Hegel and Alfred North Whitehead. The liturgy followed on many Sundays reflects little more than a world that no longer exists. That liturgy still talks of God as "a being" who is external, presumably who lives above the sky, who desires to be flattered with our words of praise and who stands ready to judge.

These churches also seem unaware of the revolution in critical biblical studies that broke upon the Christian world almost 200 years ago. For example, their lay readers will frequently talk about the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians or to Timothy, neither of which Paul wrote. In sermons many clergy make the unconscious assumption that the gospels are history, that the wise men really followed the star and that Jesus really said all of the things attributed to him in the gospel. Adult education is almost non-existent in so many churches and where it is present it is mostly ineffective because the necessary time is never allotted, since liturgy (which is always the clergy favorite) not education is the priority. The only time real change can come to such churches is when there is a change in clergy leadership. Even then, real educational engagement is resisted since church has become for most people anything but a place to be challenged and to grow.
Clergy tend to be kind, loving and caring people, but many of them have been trained to assume that Christianity is still at the center of the world. It is not, however, the 13th century, though one would never guess that from the medieval sounds that confront many worshippers each week.
I will never abandon this institution, as dismal and boring as some of its manifestations are, because I believe change can only come from within and I must be part of the church to be able to participate in its transformation. That is, however, a vocation that hardly inspires in today's generation.
It would be a step forward if churches could just sing a hymn once in a while that was written later than the 19th century.

– John Shelby Spong





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