This guest post was written by Buzz Dixon.
Canaries die first in coal mines, cockroaches last.
Humans are neither, but can glean lessons from them.
Canaries, more sensitive to toxins, accompanied coal miners to warn them of poisonous gas.
When the canaries stop singing and keel over, get out fast!
Cockroaches, meanwhile, keep skittering around.
Much has been written, and much will continue to be written, on the ever widening implosion of Christian churches in the West.
The canaries in the churches have given their warning, and those savvy enough to pay attention to such things are evacuating the premises.
I have good friends, dear friends, who worry about such things and wonder what they can do to lure people back in.
For the love of all that’s sweet and holy — no.
Get those people out! Get them to safety!
The very structure of organized religion is the toxin!
Now, if you think this is a call to abandon Christianity, think again.
The structure of our various churches and denominations now work against the fruitful practice of Christ’s teachings.
If we want to be more Christ-like, we need to get further away from the lower-c churches and back to the real Church, i.e., the true body of Christian believers.
The Church with no earthly hierarchy, no taboos, no pre-judgment.
We strive to treat others the way we wish to be treated.
We strive to act with compassion and empathy and mercy because that is how we would want others to act towards us.
We can’t do that sitting passively in a pew while choirs sing at us or pastors harangue / educate / inspire us.
We have to drag our fat posteriors outside and actually interact with others in the real world around us.
Paramedics don’t do their job by sitting on their butts, reading and re-reading and re-re-reading their first aid manuals, waiting for people who heal themselves enough to drag themselves into the ER.
They go out there.
Traditional church structure (which contrary to our church traditions is not something Christ supported) is a result of the cultures and technologies of the time.
For many generations, the local church was the only place where any religious instruction was available. It was the only place where the local body of believers could meet and pool resources to perform charitable acts.
That started changing with Gutenberg, of course. It’s only accelerated with the arrival of the Internet.
Once people began connecting with others on the Internet, they began drifting away from local churches — but not for the reasons most people presume (i.e., porn and other diversions).
They drifted away because organized religion was not addressing questions and issues and problems they were facing.
When they asked, they were often stonewalled with jargon or their concerns dismissed as unworthy of consideration.
But on the Internet … there were others (by the hundreds! Thousands! Millions!) who shared these concerns and who, if organized religion couldn’t provide satisfactory answers, would find those answers on their own.
And if organized religion directed its charitable efforts in a manner a parishioner didn’t like, well, the Internet provided access to groups that did.
The canaries, those sensitive singers, started detaching first.
They asked themselves why they followed the teachings of Christ.
Was it so they could go to heaven?
Was it so their local churches or denominations would garner bragging rights by increasing membership?
Or did they hunger and thirst after righteousness?
Following cultural taboos does not make us righteous.
It ain’t what goes in us or on us that’s important, but what comes out.
I hold there has not been a significant decrease in real Christians in our culture.
Rather, the most canary-like real Christians, those most sensitive to poison air, have left toxic environments.
They’ve stopped going to church…
…but they’re still practicing Christians.
(In fact, perhaps now more than ever.)
Now, if one wishes to argue that a lot of non-Christians — unreal Christians, as it were — recognize there’s no longer any cultural penalty for ditching church, I’ll concede that point…
…but I’ll say those church members were like 75% of the seeds in the parable of the sower: they either never really sprouted or if they did their roots were so shallow they couldn’t stand on their own.
That organized religion is responding to their departure by trying to figure out how to keep them in is proof of the basic problem: a focus on the prosperity (and now survival) of the organization at the expense of strengthening the practitioners of the faith.
And, no, mission trips are not practicing the faith.
That’s vacation evangelism: run off to some quaint third world hell hole and dispense a few band aids and sing a few hymns then hurry home to tell everybody how wonderful it was and how spiritual we feel for having done so.
Want to know where our real mission field is?
Open the front door.
There you are.
Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is not only one of the greatest short stories ever written, it’s also an apt parable for what drives real Christians from their local churches: whatever it is they’re looking for, this ain’t it, and they can’t stay and support such an institution any longer.
The canaries need to be free and singing, spreading joy. They are to make the world a better place by their mere existence; they are literally the salt of the earth, which gives human life and culture its flavor.
There are some who don’t look to the canaries, however.
They’re focused on the cockroaches.
And the cockroaches will survive no matter how toxic the environment.
The cockroach wranglers laugh in glee as the mainstream denominations slowly implode.
Like a smug passenger aboard a doomed airliner who smirks at the person seated across the aisle and says, “We still have our wing!” the cockroach wranglers fail to realize they’re just as doomed.
In fact, their focus is one the very poisons that the canaries flee.
Their god is Mammon — power and money.
Their success is measured in numbers — never mind that their concept of “success” is diametrically opposed to Christ’s teachings.
Those numbers are dollars, campuses, courses, book sales, crusades, revivals, and saved souls.
Never saved for, always saved from.
And that’s a big hunk of the toxin permeating their denominations.
They depend on fear and ignorance to keep their numbers up.
Ignorance of what Christ actually taught.
Fear of eternal damnation for doing anything wrong.
Rules and regulations and sins and taboos and shame and guilt.
No love, no joy, no compassion, no mercy.
Be like us,
do as we say,
or go to hell.
A serpent feeding on its own tail:
Not knowing the teachings of Christ, they fear hell;
fearing hell, they are easily manipulated;
easily manipulated, they devour false teachings.
I don’t know the shape the Church will take in the years / decades / centuries / millennia to come.
But the time of organized religion may be at an end.
Certainly an end of the bondage it too often imposes.
“If ye continue in my word,
then are ye my disciples indeed;
and ye shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free.”
[Credit where credit is due: the doomed airliner analogy is quoted from Joe Martin.]
About Buzz Dixon
He outraged parents, ticked off networks, and delighted young fans with thought-provoking classic episodes of G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Batman. Writer/editor/publisher Buzz Dixon, who created the Christian manga category in publishing when he launched the bestselling Serenity graphic novel series, continues to create new stories and concepts for Young Adult readers as well as blogging on writing, comics, and Christianity at BuzzDixon.com.