You may well ask why an atheist bothers to concern himself with the future of Christianity at all - perhaps some might think I should be working my hardest to see that religious belief has no future. I however believe that is folly and my personal consideration has always been that people are entitled to their faith and for many life would be poorer without it.
In that context then, what does an atheist see as the future of Christianity in Australia, and why would I consider Christianity important in Australia's future.
Primarily I am a culturally Christian atheist - that is the culture and beliefs of Christians are not significantly different from my own and I would fit quite comfortably within most Australian churches but for the simple fact that I do not believe in the existence of God.
This has not always been the case - for nearly 30 years I did believe in God - and was very active in a Christian community - I won't go into the reason for my lack of faith here, but generally I consider that most of the core teachings of Christ are relevant and beneficial to humanity.
Australia will continue to be largely 'culturally Christian' but it will also continue to drift to less formal expressions of faith as the various church structures and strictures fail the relevency test for the common Australian.
The challenge for the church (broadest sense) is to make itself continually relevent - but without betraying the truths that are at the core of the belief of Christianity.
I think that the church needs to revisit the way that society's moral demands have changed it - and vice versa and look closely at some of the issues that have resulted from moral positions that result in outcomes that cause harm and hurt to Australians.
I'm not suggesting the church should allow what it considers 'immoral behaviour' to be acceptable - this would abandon some core beliefs, I am however suggesting that the church in Australia appears to lack compassion and has abandoned any pretense of the missionary approach which were the origin on the church and the reason it grew and thrived. That is a rather general statement and there are some excellent examples of missionary church approaches even here in Perth with the Peace Tree crew in Lockridge and the various emerging church groups in the suburbs.
Bigger in this case, is certainly not better. The greatest dangers to Christianity is Australia is from the most conservative elements of the churches who in thinking to defend their faith are isolating their faith. By building walls and guard towers and defending these with arrows of malignancy, they have managed to place themselves in a position where they believe they are under siege.
Sadly for them, it wasn't really an attacking army just a very large crowd wandering along the road outside their castle walls - they'll have all passed by soon and the castle will be left to defend the wasteland.
The second threat is from those who run corporate churches - the corporate model was not the vision of Christ - and if there is a kingdom of God then the corporate model certainly has no place within it. Historically the merchant class was always distrusted by the aristocracy.
Sadly the corporate approach works - as a business. They have a great product, cool marketing and well known brand and are full of loyal customers who bought the sales pitch and enjoy the show. They also enjoy the feeling of belonging to a large and significant group because that makes them feel significant too. The bit that makes me angry was that these people were already significant but because no one had ever told them this there are now grateful to the first group who ever did.
Pauline Hanson managed much the same thing with ultra conservative Australians in the late 1990s.
The corporate approach however does not meet my earlier criteria of the church needing to remain true to the core beliefs of Christianity - there has been too much traded in in order to make the package more attractive.
Australia has a long history (both good and bad) of the church as a central player in Australian life. This will continue - and change will continue. Australians who hold a genuine faith are actively discussing how they can serve. It's kind of refreshing to hear that word used in the proper Christian context from time to time but it is all too rare.
I'd like to see more discussion from Christians that objectively seeks opportunities to improve life for their fellow Australians rather than increase attendance at services. Do the first and I think the second will follow.
Christ taught love. Repeatedly. From our far neighbour the United States of America we see the ultimate betrayal of this teaching by the Westboro 'Baptist Church' who use only the language of hate. I fear that those churches who have isolated themselves in their fortresses risk the same sin.
Christ taught love. Repeatedly. The church must live this if it is to live at all.
This post is part of the Christianity In Australia synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day. For more on Christianity in Australia see:
- Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary
- Matt Stone at Journeys In Between
- Ben Thurley at Ben’s Blog
- Rodney Olsen at RodneyOlsen.net
- Geoff Pengilly at The Healing Project
- Andy Porteous at Not Yet Finished
- Paul Robotham at A Christian’s Blog
- Chris Summerfield at A Churchless Faith
- Christina Aitken at Sojourn
- Heather at A Deconstructed Christian
- Geoff Matheson at Amateur Theology
- Deborah Taggart at The Bright Side
- Rob Hanks at Pump House