Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Ecclesiastical Buggy-Whips – From the Daily Office – April 20, 2012

Jesus said ….

I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

(From the Daily Office Readings, April 20, 2012 – John 16:1-4a)

Buggy with WhipThe early members of the church were prepared, I think, to be separated from the synagogue, to be cast out from Judaism, and to take the major step of becoming adherents of a new and distinct religion. The church members of the first few centuries were, I think, prepared to be persecuted, killed, martyred. Through their witness and the strength of their faith, the church overcame that separation and that persecution to become the most powerful institution in Western Europe; it was prepared to do that. That was, of course, a mixed blessing and there is a lot of historical debate about and some warranted condemnation of the church’s record as the established religion of empires and kingdoms. However, for 2,000 or so years the church, faced with and prepared for either persecution or power, flourished. ~ What the church was not and still is not prepared for is to be relegated to the sidelines, to be treated with indifference, to be seen as irrelevant to the lives of the people it is charged to reach (I’m thinking “Great Commission” here – Matthew 28:16–20). In other words, the church is not prepared for the contemporary, so-called post-modern world which it, in many ways, has helped to create. A recent book, The Millenials (B&H Books, 2011), claims that 70% of those born between 1980 and 2000 consider the church irrelevant to their lives. Meanwhile, Diana Butler Bass and others are writing about the increase in the numbers of those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” It’s not the church’s message that is irrelevant; it’s the way the church has been packaging and presenting that message. ~ So what do I mean by that? In terms of this little squib from John’s Gospel, what I am saying is that the church has forgotten what Jesus told us. We remember what he said about bread and wine; we remembered in those early centuries what he said about persecution; but we have forgotten what he said about irrelevance. And now you’re asking, “What did he say about that?” I’m thinking this morning of the time he sent the disciples out in pairs saying to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3) They were to enter each situation without preconception, without preparation based on prior notions of what was needed, what might be “relevant”. They were to face each new situation as it presented itself on its own terms . . . and deal with it. The church has forgotten that. Instead, we’ve loaded ourselves up with all sorts of baggage, with theologies, with liturgies, with buildings, with structures, with music, with . . . the list goes on and on and on . . . ~ When I was getting my MBA one of the case studies concerned a buggy-whip manufacturer in the early 20th Century. Facing the possible competition from the newfangled motor-car manufacturers, the buggy-whip maker spent much time and effort improving his product and his manufacturing efficiency … and promptly went out of business when the automobile made horse-drawn conveyances, and thus buggy-whips, irrelevant. If the buggy-whip manufacturer had rethought things, he might have concluded that he was not in the buggy-whip business but rather in the business of making devices for transportation. Doing so, he might have changed his product line and his marketing strategies, and been able to survive the challenge of the new economy and make the transition into a new era. ~ The newspaper industry has faced a similar situation in the past two decades. The daily newspapers have had to ask themselves whether they are in the “print media” business or the “news” business. Those who answered that question appropriately have moved into the internet and other electronic media; those who didn’t, are out of business. ~ What “business” is the church in? Are we in the “religion” business? Yes, but what is the broader context of that business? Is it not the wider world of the “spirituality” business? I think those who say they are “spiritual but not religious” are saying something akin to the transportation consumers of the early 20th Century who basically said “We are moving, but not in horse-drawn buggies.” ~ It’s time for the church to remember what business we’re in and what Jesus told us: “Take nothing into your new situation, no buildings, no music, no systematic theologies, no liturgies, no ‘we’ve always done it this way before’.”


  1. hildegarde

    An interesting concept–certainly one worth pondering!

  2. Free Bible Sermons

    This is a big part of why I’ve always believed that it is important to Christianity more about the personal relationship with Christ and less focused on the tradition and religion. Well put.

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