Time and again in dealing with non-Catholics they will smile and say, “You know it really doesn’t matter what denomination you are. All that really matters is how much you love Jesus!” If I don’t have the time to engage in a discussion on the matter I will usually smile back and say something like non committal like, “What a comforting thought!” or “That’s certainly what many people think!”
Riding up through the hills of uppper South Carolina you can’t help but notice the huge number of churches. Every mile or so there’s another one: Pebble Creek Baptist, Maranatha Church, Heritage Church, New Spring, Rocky Rill Baptist, Beaver Run Baptist, Calvary Baptist, Assembly of God, Church of God, Disciples of Christ, Christian Disciples…the names and numbers are bewildering and ever multiplying.
It’s the Protestant principle run riot. The irony is that while the non-Catholics say, “It doesn’t really matter what church you belong to” they seem to think it pretty important to keep breaking up with one church to go and start another one. If it doesn’t matter what church you go to why not go to the one on the nearest corner? The second problem with this commonly held view is that it only takes a short jump from “It doesn’t matter what church you go to” to “Well it doesn’t really matter if you go to church at all.”
Indeed, in a conversation with some good non Catholic folks not long ago they said, “Our teenaged daughter tells us that she doesn’t want to go to church and doesn’t need to go to church because she already has a relationship with Jesus in her heart.” They didn’t have an answer for her, and of course cannot have an answer because according to the Protestant theology they follow there is no such thing as ecclesiology and their daughter is right.
The only thing that remains, therefore, for non Catholic Christians is to make church attractive to people. If they don’t have to go to church, then they should want to go to church and the only way to make people want to go to church is to offer something they want. So we find that the non-Catholic Churches are extremely competitive. They offer a vast range of services and pastoral care and ‘outreach opportunities’. Now, there’s not problem with that necessarily excepet that what results is the commercialization of Christianity.
The temptation is there to water down the gospel, keep people happy and neve challenge them. The worship becomes more and more entertainment oriented. Sentimentality sweeps over. The people want a ‘feel good’ experience and the pastors do everything they can to provide that lest the consumers get tired of what’s on offer and shop around for something they like better.
So Christianity adapts to the culture. We live in America the big consumer culture reigns so we make religion another product. Of course this is the illness affecting American Catholicism as well. Catholics church shop as much as anyone else does. They travel for the Latin Mass or they travel for the hip hop Mass. It’s the same principle. They swap parishes because Fr Folkmass does a groovy form of liturgy which ‘really appeals to the kids’ or they emigrate to Mgr. Maniple because his solemn high pontifical Missa Magnificant is ‘what our family really needs.’
The final tragedy about church shopping is that eventually everyone involved succumbs to what is called ‘theological drift’ or ‘theological death by Chinese water torture’ or ‘how to boil a living frog Christianity.’ You know the old story that you put a frog in a pot of cold water and he swims happily, you increase the temperature slowly and he boils to death never realizing that it’s getting hot in there. Same thing with the commercialization of Christianity.
Bit by bit the gospel is watered down. Entertainment prevails. Wishy washy feel good sermons predominate. No one does anything to offend the customer, everybody is kept comfortable, and consequently the religion itself is transformed. The radical cutting edge of the faith is dulled and the faithful keep on trotting along to what has become something other than real Christianity–all the time still believing that it is the real thing. But it’s not. It’s just as fake as the rest of plastic America. What should be Christianity has become a bland blend of sentimentality, spirituality and ‘community spirit.’ Christ the Tiger has had his teeth pulled and Aslan has been tamed.
And the devil is real happy.