Should Christians Leave Church? Polemics With Newsweek Article 'Christianity in Crisis'
A recent Newsweek article, "Christianity in Crisis," has stirred quite a controversy. The article, written by Andrew Sullivan, a Christian author, editor, political commentator and blogger (ardent supporter of separation of church and state) and published during the Holy Week, makes a case that "Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists," and that Christians should walk away from the church all together and follow the teachings of Jesus individually.
Being Jesus' disciple requires giving up all power (power pushes one towards violence, Sullivan argues, quoting Thomas Jefferson) and renouncing politics (Jesus was apolitical, the article argues). The church has become too politically involved and too far removed from the original teachings of Christ, who was humble and actually disliked crowds, according to Sullivan. The author does not spare Evangelical Christians and the "prosperity gospel," as well as the Catholic hierarchy, which "was exposed as enabling, and then covering up, an international conspiracy to abuse and rape countless youths and children."
"Jefferson's vision of a simpler, purer, apolitical Christianity couldn't be further from the 21st-century American reality," Sullivan concluded.
But despite bashing the current shape of all churches, the author does not offer a plausible solution, his critics retort.
The article resulted in arguably the most popular American evangelical pastor, Rick Warren, calling the piece "insulting." "Is that the best you can do??" he Tweeted at the author.
The Rev. Alan Rudnick, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, N.Y. and a blogger pointed out in his response to the article that though Sullivan encourages Christians to leave church, he does not really offer an alternative.
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"I'm not troubled by the inaccurate depiction of Jesus or that Sullivan tells us what we already know about Christianity, but that he makes a bold statement without follow through. The article accurately describes the crisis but without remedy," Rudnick writes. "The concept of 'leave the Church' is totally a misunderstanding of what Jesus was about: establishing a community of faith of saints and sinners. Sure, we need to reform the dysfunction, political rancor, and backbiting but leaving the church is no solution. You can't have Jesus with the Church… his Church."
For the most part, even critics seem to agree that the church has its problems- mostly that it has become too politicized. But quitting it all together is not a solution, they say. Not a Biblical one.
Brett McCracken, a Los Angeles-based writer, theologian and religion journalist calls the idea "unfortunate."
"Churches, as flawed as they are- we're human, so churches and institutions in Christianity are always going to be flawed. But it's important to have a community," he told The Christian Post Friday. "Jesus didn't come to establish individual Christians who have some sort of a privatized relationship with him. He came to found the church."
"I think the church is a Biblical idea and we can't just abandon it and then go on our merry way, following Jesus in a private, individual way. I think it's very important that we understand our faith and understand the Gospel in the context of a community." Without church "there's no accountability and there's no discipline," and no one can verify one's actions or asses a person's ethics, he suggested.
McCracken, an evangelical Christian, works as managing editor for Biola University's Biola Magazine and is pursuing a Master's in Theology at Talbot School of Theology. He criticizes Sullivan for "picking and choosing" passages from the Bible which he liked. One cannot take out the words of Jesus from the Gospels, he said.
"I believe that the Bible is God's word. All of it is infallible and true," McCracken added.
Erik Thoennes, Chair and Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies Department at Talbot School of Theology agrees that Christians should not take following Jesus into their own hands, quitting the church community. The church that Sulllivan describes "ends up being a subjective, individualistic, merely ethical, anti-doctrinal, anti-institutional church," he told CP.
Sullivan also errs in suggesting Christians are wrong to get involved in social issues like same-sex marriage. Sullivan suggests Jesus did not say anything on a topic like that, based on the New Testament, therefore Christians should steer clear as well.
"The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in either Jefferson's or the original New Testament. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery," claims Sullivan.
But Jesus "certainly [said things that] relate to those things," Thoennes argues. "Jesus never said anything about bestiality or pedophilia either, but I think it's safe to say we know what he'd think of those things."
"I'm sure that racism or sex trafficking are things he would want us to be involved with and speak out against," he added. "[Sullivan] is very selective about ethical issues [he thinks Christians should be involved with]."
Thoennes concluded that Sullivan under-emphasized who Jesus was – "fully God and fully man." The idea of a hipster Jesus who was overly humble might seem nicely contemporary and look well on a cover, but it does not reflect the Biblical reality.