Christianity, as an organized religion, is beginning to crumble, and it’s not because of secular attack. It is being brought down from within by a far more insidious problem. But this problem is a blessing in disguise, one that will result in Christianity’s glorious rebirth.
Brian D. McLaren’s book, “The Great Spiritual Migration,” expertly sheds light on this issue—the Christian Church has drifted away from the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ. It has become a mere system of cherry-picked beliefs rather than a way of life.
The story of the life of Christ is the essence of Christianity. Jesus, in the Christian tradition, is God made flesh—there can be no greater example of how a Christian should live than that of its own deity.
Jesus, unlike religion, saw sin as the enemy, not people—to humans, He gave grace. He never turned disagreements into an “us versus them” battle, never disparaged, never dominated or insulted or enslaved or killed. He never separated Himself from the world—in fact, He used the natural world to teach others about the nature of God in the form of parables.
Christ also never taught through fear and punishment, but through love, and through mercy. Fear, as a motivation, is control. Love is willing service—and this is what God wants from His creations. In Christ, God showed not simply His infinite power, but His infinite love as He healed the sick and befriended the oppressed.
But His narrative of love has been stifled by a sagging framework of legalism, colonialism, violence, and exclusion, a framework that has been built up over hundreds of years, slowly taking the religion far away from its foundations.
Look at how the secular world sees the Church. McLaren writes that the religion Christ founded comes across now as “antipoor, antienvironment, antigay, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant, and antiscience. That’s not the Jesus we met in the Gospels! That’s not the Jesus that won our hearts!”
And indeed, it isn’t. The stories of those hurt by the Church are endless, and pile up ever-higher. Not just in our contemporary culture, but for centuries past—the criticisms levied against Christianity only seem recent because those who have been hurt are only just now gaining their voices and being heard. Again, this isn’t in keeping with the Jesus who loved and cared equally for the poor and the rich, the sinner and the righteous.
For many Christians, McLaren writes, “this tension has been building for decades,” a tension which is just now beginning to bloom into an all-out exodus from the Church. According to most current studies, church attendance and religiosity are dropping sharply. The Church is faltering, its brand ruined.
And the only thing that can save it? A spiritual migration. And it’s happening right now.
Despite its misuse, Christianity has incalculable potential to transform the world through love. McLaren writes that, to undergo this migration, Christians should be willing to move from organized religion to “organizing religion,—that is, religion organizing for the common good”.
Jesus wasn’t fond of those who merely wrapped themselves in the shiny packaging of Christianity. In fact, His exact words were “One that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
And now, as the Church’s troubles rise to a crescendo, it is time to, once again, take up the mantle of Christ and revolutionize a misguided religion.
Buckminster Fuller once said that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
This is the way. Rather than engaging in battle with the old guard, Christianity must be born anew, arising from its own ashes. McLaren writes that Jesus gave humankind a new vision of who God was—a king who was a servant, who was non-dominating, non-violent, all-powerful, and all-loving. A healer of worlds. This is not a weak God, as some might say. This is a pure God.
When this God—the God seen in Christ—is followed, His followers will naturally be transformed, and when His followers are transformed, Christianity, itself, will be transformed.
And this is what we are on the cusp of. Religion is breaking down in the face of mounting evidence that it doesn’t work as it is right now. This may seem frightening, but in reality, it’s exciting—this is exactly what Christianity is meant to do—it should always be moving us forward, as McLaren writes. The very dissatisfaction with Christianity will be what makes it more Christian, and its followers, more like Christ, himself.
McLaren writes that “maybe what really matters, maybe what always mattered isn’t the beliefs we’re told to proclaim, but the stories from which the beliefs have been abstracted and derived through various processes of interpretation.” This statement holds incredible wisdom. What the author is saying is that the story of Christ outweighs the complex systems of beliefs organized Christianity has built upon that story.
This is the essence of the great spiritual migration that Christianity—and other world religions, as well—are now on. Believers are rejecting the idea of a violent God, identifying less with organized religion, and moving closer to a life defined not by doctrine, but by love, organizing themselves to heal the environment, create peace, and overcome human rights abuses. This is more Christian than any spoken creed or denominational assertion.
This is the heart of God.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”