By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Adam Russell Taylor has asserted that It’s TIme to Rethink American Churches, but he may be a day late and a dollar short to save the church from its demise. The church is in a precipitous decline, much like that experienced by the European church. While It’s not going away anytime soon, the church is losing its influence as America’s largest social institution.
Taylor acknowledged that “Americans’ membership in houses of worship has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in 80 years,” and cited David Campbell describing the decline of the church as an “allergic reaction to the religious right.” Taylor said he “has often wondered why so many evangelical leaders have failed to challenge the unholy marriage between the church and Republican Party, enabling destructive forces to hijack the gospel.”
Taylor correctly identified the root problem of the church as its failure to make the great commission “to go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:10) its first priority. Instead of emphasizing following the teachings of Jesus as the word of God, church doctrine has emphasized worshiping Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian form of God as the only means of salvation.
Jesus was a rabbi who called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him. He never taught that he was divine or suggested the need for a new religion. Early church leaders knew that discipleship was not popular and made salvation dependent on exclusivist Christian beliefs. As a form of cheap grace it enabled Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion.
The nadir of Christianity came when a majority of White Christians elected Donald Trump president in 2016. Trump’s egregious immorality is antithetical to the moral teachings of Jesus, but he was elected with the active support of shameless White evangelical charlatans and their followers. They sullied Christianty and polarized American partisan politics.
The standards of political legitimacy of most White Christians today resemble the self-centered and materialistic morality of Ayn Rand and the prosperity gospel, and contradict the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus. In effect, those Christians who supported Donald Trump sacrificed Jesus on the altar of Republican politics, and sounded the death knell of the church.
Most pastors would concede that their top priority is growing the church, and that making discipleship and the stewardship of democracy a church priority would cause a decline in their congregations. That makes Taylor’s rethinking the church problematic. The ugly reality is that discipleship will never be popular in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.
Robin Meyers is more pragmatic. The title of his book, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, summarizes how would-be disciples should rethink the church. But Meyers’ priority is not likely to ever become the priority of a church that’s committed to being America’s most popular and powerful social institution.
On Adam Russell Taylor’s Time to Rethink the American Church, see https://sojo.net/articles/it-s-time-rethink-american-churches.
See Robin R. Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus, HarperOne, 2009.
On other commentaries on The Future of the Church that has lost its moral compass, see
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/jesus-prophet-god-only-son-or-logos.html
(10/4/15): Faith and Religion: The Same but Different
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/08/how-religion-can-bridge-our-political.html
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/15/17): Easter and the Christian Paradox
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(4/29/17): A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.
(3/3/18): Musings of a Maveri
ck Methodist on America’s Holy War
(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism
(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment
(2/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity
(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America
(3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America
(3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism
(3/23/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Thinking Outside the Box
(5/4/19): Musings on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century
(5/18/19): Outsiders Versus Insiders in Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics
(6/15/19): Back to the Future: A 21st Century Pentecost for the Church
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of the Church and Democracy in America
(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy
(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism
(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy
(9/21/19): An Afterword on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics from 2014-2019
(10/5/19): Musings on the Moral Relevance of Jesus to Democracy
(11/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Alternative to a Failing Church
(11/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Irrelevance of Morality in Politics
(11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity
(12/7/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Triumphalism and Politics
(12/14/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Prophets, Scripture and God’s Truth
(12/21/19): Musings on Advent and a Not-so-Merry Christmas for American Democracy
(1/11/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christians as a Moral Minority
(2/1/20): Musings on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar of Partisan Politics
(6/13/20): Was Jesus the Prophet of the Gospels or the Christ of the Church?
(11/21/20): Democracy Has Survived Donald Trump, but Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(2/20/21): The Moral Corruption of Christianity and Democracy in the Trump Era
(3/20/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Radical Moral Teachings of Jesus
(3/27/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Civil Religion in a Divided America