View from the Pew
Pastor moves church past Christendom
For a long span of history in the Western world, it was so comfortable to be a Christian. The Church set the standards for society and was a source of political power. Even those who didn't believe or wanted to bust out of the tight girdle of moral or ethical constrictions had to go along, show up in the right pew, speak the righteous words, support the good cause. It was so secure and so smug when countries and populations thought they were all part of Christendom.
Well, Christendom is extinct, says a local pastor. It's time to "let go of the tired old forms that the religion has assumed in its long past."
"No longer are you in the world as custodian of the culture, custodian of the moral order," said the Rev. Neal MacPherson, now in his 20th year as pastor of Church of the Crossroads. "Most people don't go near the doors of a church anymore.
"We live in a secular society in many respects. Institutional religion has been on the decline. We're recognizing that we live in a religiously pluralistic world."
MacPherson's reflections on the changing face of Christianity are contained in a book just off the presses. "Church at a Crossroads: Being the Church after Christendom," will be launched at a 4 p.m. party Thursday at the church hall at 1212 University Ave. It is open to the public.
Church of the Crossroads has been a leader in grass-roots social justice, peace and civil-rights causes for decades, from being sanctuary and anti-war headquarters during the Vietnam War to its current support of fair wages and affordable housing for the working poor and opposition to discrimination against gays.
It's not surprising that MacPherson thinks that other Christian churches could renew themselves by following the Crossroads path.
"It's not measured in terms of being influential, large. You are no longer intent upon being successful, being honored by the society, by having political power.
"Your allegiance is to the gospel, a far different matter than holding allegiance to any political system or power. You are being true to your roots and acting on that in the world."
"It is a very freeing experience when you no longer have to be accountable to American values of success, prestige, honor. We are engaging the world in terms of our witness for social justice and peace."
MacPherson doesn't engage in a diatribe against the latest version of Christian church, nondenominational organizations that emphasize the individual's personal relationship with Jesus and offer a social as well as spiritual gathering, as have other authors who analyze the decline of mainline churches.
"This book is not criticizing the mega-church; it is saying that is not the only model available. There are other ways of being church that are perhaps more faithful to the gospel.
"My point is that being in the post-Christendom world, with churches put on the borders of society, there is the opportunity to be church in a new way."
The veteran pastor said many of the old established churches -- and he includes the Catholic Church as well as the mainline Protestant denominations -- are looking to adapt the "enterpreneurial Christianity" of mega-churches -- programs and use of the performing arts.
"Others simply choose to ignore the process of their disestablishment and carry on ... as if they were still occupying a place at the center of society.
"This book suggests a third option. We have to be modest about our ministry, not filled with bravado about who we are, not to say we are the answer to everybody.
"Our questions have to do with how does the gospel take root in our world today."