Friday, 5 January 2018

The covert decline of even apparently-growing Christian churches

In general, my impression is that Christian churches are declining in the West - declining in numbers and in quality.

Obviously this applies to the 'mainstream', liberalised denominations such as Anglicans, Methodists and Roman Catholics; which are not just declining but collapsing. However, this decline has even begun to affect new Christian churches that have until fairly recently been growing in The West, such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Seventh Day Adventism is apparently growing in the UK, but almost entirely among recently arrived immigrants.

A few churches apparently thrive - mostly those of a conservative evangelical type and Pentecostals. But I think this apparent growth is deceptive, because:

1. Growth is substantially of recent immigrants (especially, Chinese mostly-converts and Africans who are already Christian), and

2. Growth is substantially of already-Christians (e.g. mainstream Anglicans, Methodists and Catholics) who have transferred into more traditionalist from the apostate and anti-Christian toxic atmosphere of the liberalised denominations; mostly in response to the permeating, corrupting and collapse-inducing effect of leftist 'social justice' politics - especially the sexual revolution.

(For example, every single Christian denomination that has institutionally instituted female priests or pastors has rapidly and irreversibly begun to collapse.)

In sum, a critical and honest analysis of UK data would - I believe - reveal across-the-board decline in all Christian churches without exception.

In the US there is a small exception, which is the growth by natural increase - high fertility and retention - of 'enclosed' groups like Amish and Hutterites.

So, the picture in The West, among Western populations, is abandonment of Christian churches; with no counter examples except among those churches who substantially reject modernity and cut themselves off from The World.

What are the implications? Well, one is that none of the types of Christian conservatism or traditionalism are viable. They are certainly less rapidly-suicidal than the liberalised churches; but they are not truly thriving among the western populations.

Nobody - not one single church - can any longer regard themselves as a successful 'model' for Christianity in the 21 century in The West and for Westerners.

 This is important, because most of the less-obviously-failing churches are trying to restore an earlier type of Christianity: the Roman Catholics hope to re-set their church and its liturgy to how it was before Vatican II, Anglicans hope that Bible-based evangelicalism will hold the line on morality and grow their churches; 'confessional' Protestants hark back to the earlier eras of Calvinism, Lutheranism, Methodism...

In general these serious Christians are doubling-down on traditionalism in response to liberalism and apostasy - however, the best that can be said for this as a strategy is that it is less of a failure than liberalisation... It is not actually succeeding. 

What to do instead? Well, when no known, no tried-and-tested, option has any track-record of succeeding - then I presume what we ought to do is... whatever we ought to do.

And I mean whatever we, individually, ought to do - because the institutional church is demonstrably failing: all-round and everywhere.

Either we need new kinds of institutions, or new kinds of individual Christianity.

It may be that this is the major task for Western peoples here-and-now - learning how to become and how to remain real Christians; as the churches - and I mean All the churches - collapse around us.


Chiu ChunLing said...

The decline is of the proportion of the population that has basic survival fitness. It is people who understand that life is too hard to be worth living merely for pleasure that turn to religion, and this understanding is rare among those who lack survival fitness because the experiences that confer it would kill them.

Of course, sparing successive generations such hardships is the entire point of civilization, we measure the success of a civilization by how many people whom nature would eliminate are instead enabled to survive by civilization, and rightly so.

But every civilization must eventually become a victim of its own success in this, the easy life produces weak people, who allow their civil institutions to slide into decadence, until civilization fails and the population is subjected to the selective pressures that emerge in the absence of functioning civilization.

This is not to minimize the significance of what is occurring. No previous historical civilization has reached the heights or global reach of our modern one. The coming collapse has no valid historical analogue. It is only known to God. May He be merciful to those who wait on Him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I regard those aspects as almost completely irrelevant. What I assume is going on is that the world changes according to a divine destiny, interacting with demonic and human choices. Our destiny, since romanticism, was to move to Final Participation but we have so far chosen not to do this (no church has) - and this is the result.

Passive obedience is not enough for real Christians - but we cannot be forced to recognise this fact; however, we can be engineered into situations where the fact is plainer.

Things didn't need to be as bad as they are, nor do we need to be as bereft of support and encouragement - but this is apparently the only way that God can get us to attend to the need to take direct personal responsibility for our own Life.

The loss of the churches will create an exposed and existential confrontation for real Christians, without which they will merely continue to evade the implicatons of their own, divine, agency.

John Fitzgerald said...

I only have knowledge of Catholicism, and I would say that you are right in your assessment that the Traditionalist Orders which are beginning to blossom across the country gain most if not all of their support from existing Catholics disillusioned with creeping liberalism in the Church. That said, when the collapse which Chiu ChunLing envisages occurs, they'll be very well placed to grow still further because the Latin Mass in its stillness, silence and one-pointed focus creates a space for an encounter with the Real which post-Vatican II Catholicism largely doesn't. People will be stung back into religion because the collapse will strip all illusions away. Nothing but the Real will suffice.

But on the whole I think your assessment is accurate. I've always found it interesting by the way that the community of St. Anne's on the Hill in 'That Hideous Strength' don't seem to belong to any recognisable denomination. A glimpse into the future perhaps?

Bruce Charlton said...

Another way of interereting this post is that we have a choice between a church-linked-to-a-*pre/anti-modern*-lifestyle - as approximated by the Amish or ultraorthodox Jews - which grows by natural increase and retention...

Or something altogether new and different.

What seems to be impossible is to grow a Western Christian church among Westerners by any sustainable means.

Go back, and a long-way back - or go forwards.

One big question is whether it is actually possible to recreate a premodern society. Since such societies actually existed then it may be thought possible to recreate them; but this has never really been done (since all apparently-premodern groups are not really so; as well as being parasitic economically - however that isn't decisive because almsot everything is).

At present church 'growth is merely Western population replacement; which does not solve or progress The West. In fact, insofar as the West, or Albion specifcially, has a destiny, then to grow churches from recent arrivals from different cultures is likely to be counter-productive - since their problems and issues are likely to be different.

This can, in fact, be seen - becuase the apparently-growing Western churches are doing so from third world and Chinese converts and transfers; as a result these churches are 'doubling down' on the kind of simple faith suitable for such persons - but a kind of faith which does not and will not be effective at converting and retaining Westerners.

In particular the core Western problem of alienation (The Consciousness Soul) remains unaddressed.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Until very recently, you thought the Mormons were an exception to this trend. Has anything particular happened to change that assessment?

Also, a large majority of indigenous Europeans are "already Christian" in some sense, so it stands to reason that most converts will be either already-Christians or recent immigrants. I guess what you mean is that no progress is being made with the 26% of Britons who claim to have "no religion."

In my own missionary experience (which, admittedly, took place in Utah and was thus atypical), almost all of my converts had been nominal Christians who were not particularly active or devout, but many of them went on to become very active and devout Mormons. I'd say that counts as real growth of Christianity. (Gordon B. Hinckley, the Mormon president at that time, also said he hoped the Baptists would be successful in converting lukewarm Mormons into rock-solid Baptists. That, too, would count as real growth.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@William JT - "Until very recently, you thought the Mormons were an exception to this trend. Has anything particular happened to change that assessment?"

The last ten years has happened - I had surveyed the literature up to about 2008. The material published up to, say, fifteen or twenty years ago showed continuing growth. But that has 'plateaued' - which means in practice decline.

I would not at all want to criticise the kinds of things you describe, because they please me and I do in fact try to encourage them - but looked at critically, it represents the recruitment of a small/ ?shrinking proportion of a rapidly-declining pool.

In general, I believe there is an unacknowledged problem with growing Western churches wit hconverts from non-Western populations - because the churches will (surely?) inevitably move away from addressing distinctive Western problems and concerns - and will very probably dispay a tendency to simplify and 'defend'.

In modern conditions, for church members to avoid secular/ sexual corruption and 'endure to the end' is harder and harder; but to respond with a church that digs-in and simplifies around a defensive posture (as I think I see) is to fail to provide the kind of spiritual development that Modern People most need - and are divinely destined, I believe, to choose.

I don't have a blueprint for success, for 'fixing' Christian churches - for those showing any sort of growth, I can't think of anything better than to continue to do what they have been doing.

It is more that I believe that church failure is even more widespread than I used to believe; and we need to keep thinking and searching.

Daniel said...

This is a question that has been bothering me now for some years and particularly since I discovered this blog. If there is a future for Christianity in Albion I imagine that it will be as a kind of colonisation. The street I live on is largely inhabited by Gujarati Muslims—who arrived in the ‘70s and converted one of the houses on the street into a mosque. More immigrants arrived and moved to the street because of that feature—while the previous inhabitants fled. I see more hope in this outcome than in trying to resuscitate the ‘frowsty barns’ whose spiritual power has long since vanished—though vestiges thereof remain on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday.

I often entertain fantasies of infiltrating a liberalated denomination and, with the pretence of setting up a prayer group, install a true and effecting Eucharist—one in which it is possible to feel mortal flesh laid waste with redemptive fire. Though in reality I don’t know any way to break in—the whole thing is stitched up with female reverend-doctors and the like. And passing by my local establishment this morning—Trinity Church—I noticed that it indeed had ‘moved’ as of 2018—another victim of institutionalised political correctness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - Colonisation in any of its variants does not solve the problem, but simply destroys it and replaces it with another problem/s. By analogy, it would not solve the problems of adolescence to return to childhood, because they would need to be encountered again. But in fact we cannot actually return to childhood - not it the most vital respects. History and biology are irreversible, un-undoeable.

What will happen instead?

Well, for a start, we do need completely to disentangle 'politics' and public discourse, on the one hand; from spiritual reality and direct knowing, on the other hand. And focus on the latter.

This confusion is a thing almost everyone (certainly including myself) is prone to.

John rockwell said...

Christianity always rises from the dead:

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - The whole point is not to confuse Christianity with The Church/ Any particular denomination.

Seijio Arakawa said...

@Bruce Charlton

Do you think the 'plateauing' of Mormonism could have to do with its particular social form and the culture around it?

Much in the same way that effective Orthodoxy ala Seraphim Rose more or less presumes an agrarian community in the mold of Holy Russia*, a lot of the particular social practices of Mormonism seem to have been adapted first towards frontier-American life (the settling of Utah), and later towards suburban-American life (building a successful and cohesive family in the modern American economy). Its success overseas then depends on the extent to which life in Europe, Asia, &c can be fit into an American model. But if suburban-American life is doomed in the medium-to-long-term, then so is the current Mormon script for living a good life....

[* Example: Rose speaks of daily church attendance being an essential norm for spiritual advancement in Holy Russia, a practice which assumes that people live, work, and worship in the same location, and is essentially incompatible with commuting long distances or adhering to a standard secular workday. By that standard, any Orthodox practice in the modern day is therefore 'barely adequate' at best.]

I recall that you mentioned the metaphysics of Mormonism as containing incredibly satisfying answers to your most pressing questions, but the social structure and its stringent demands did not fit well with your circumstances, which left you in the state of being a 'theoretical Mormon'... I think there are potentially very many people who (if they thought about it carefully) would find themselves in the same dilemma!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seijio - I don't think that is the specific reason, because there are no successful alternatives that can be pointed at. I don't think there is a model for general and genuine Christian church growth in The West.

(Although I remain very grateful for the presence of the CJCLDS; their example and teaching - and that they retain their vigour and optimism.)

But I currently think that there is a kind of inevitability about the situation, overall; inevitable given that so many people have made so many wrong and unrepented choices - that so many people have doubled-down on sin.

And in a broad sense I assume that God is making the best, the most, of the situation - in order to give us the specific experiences that each of us personally could most benefit from. I would have to say, although it feels like tempting fate, that I certainly discern this in my own life so far.

So although the general situation is very bad indeed (ie. The West the most deeply and *strategically* sinful era in human history, so far as I know) - and as is inevitable and right I can't answer for others or everybody (neither can they answer for me)... I have to admit that I have what is necessary, and I have all the guidance I need... the rest is up to me.

Nathaniel said...

@Bruce - You do not sound different from Traditional Catholics in your pessimism. Based on our belief in the Marian visions at Fatima and Akita, a very dark time for the universal Church. The very dark times predicted are of global suffering for all churches, though the Vatican especially failing in its role as leader may be seen as a root cause.

The visions messages lead to the conclusion that individual faithful Catholics will be especially isolated in these time, as far as the Church is concerned, even persecuted by those in our Church, but we must focus on our own faithfulness and that "those who place their confidence in Me will be saved."

It, unfortunately, doesn't leave much hope for evangelization or saving the West in general, though we must always pray for these things.