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The Deacon's Bench

There aren’t many things these days that leave me utterly speechless.

But this item did:

That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, “Jesus Christ Has Risen Today – Hallelujah,” this morning will rock the walls of Toronto’s West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.

But at West Hill on the faith’s holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.”

Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected – an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit – but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity’s central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God.

Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill’s Sunday service liturgy.

There is no authoritative Big-Godism, as Rev. Gretta Vosper, West Hill’s minister for the past 10 years, puts it. No petitionary prayers (“Dear God, step into the world and do good things about global warming and the poor”). No miracles-performing magic Jesus given birth by a virgin and coming back to life. No references to salvation, Christianity’s teaching of the final victory over death through belief in Jesus’s death as an atonement for sin and the omnipotent love of God. For that matter, no omnipotent God, or god.

Ms. Vosper has written a book, published this week – With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe – in which she argues that the Christian church, in the form in which it exists today, has outlived its viability and either it sheds its no-longer credible myths, doctrines and dogmas, or it’s toast.

She is considered one of the bright, if unconventional, minds within the United Church, Canada’s largest Protestant Christian denomination. She holds a master of divinity degree from Queen’s University and was ordained in 1992. She founded and chairs the Toronto-based Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity.

Other Christian clergy and theologians have talked about the need to dramatically reform the doctrines of a faith that, with the exception of its vibrancy in the United States, has lost huge numbers of adherents throughout the Western world it once dominated as Christendom. In Canada, where 75 per cent of the population self-identifies as Christian, only about 16 per cent attend weekly services.

Addressing those statistics, what Ms. Vosper proposes is not so much reform as a scorched-earth approach.

A number of leading theologians in Britain – where the decline in adherents is more dramatic than in Canada – are on the same path, people like Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh and primate of the Scottish Episcopal (Anglican) Church, who has likened the Christian church to a self-service cafeteria stacked with messy trays of leftover food urgently in need of being thrown out.

There’s more at the link, if you’re curious.

Me, I’m still speechless.

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