The Gulf Between the People and the Churches
THAT there is such a gulf, an ever-enlarging gulf, is becoming more evident daily. It is underscored by dwindling attendance at church services, a decline in church membership and an alarming falling off of church revenue. A South African news item recently appeared under the heading “Church Looks for Her 250,000 Members.” It reported a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church as saying: “We are painfully aware of the serious proportions assumed by the drift away from the church.”
Such a drift can be observed with regard to many of Christendom’s churches. In the United States the Roman Catholic Church has reported its first decline in membership since 1900. Further, from 1968 to 1970, the United Presbyterian Church counted a net loss of 76,000 members. A big loss was also reported by the Episcopal Church. And in France thousands of churches and chapels have been abandoned or are at the point of being abandoned.
Why the ever-increasing gulf between the people and the churches? Many reasons appear in news reports. Recently the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal made a survey of the situation, and in its issue of November 15, 1970, said: “Why is area church membership declining? A lack of human warmth in the churches is the main cause for disaffection, say the dropouts. Meanwhile, a large percentage of church members seem to believe there would be no problem if only the pastors would ‘preach the truth.’” What, then, is being preached that is widening the gulf?
Political Involvement Alienates Many
Instead of preaching Bible truth, clergymen all too often are found preaching politics. In Australia, for example, a member of Parliament has said that “one reason why many churches were emptying rapidly was that their leaders used the pulpit as a platform for politics.” They were also guilty, he said, of ‘casting doubts on the authority of the Bible.’—Melbourne Age of July 28, 1970.
The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that 65 percent of the German people, when asked for their opinion of church involvement in politics, said: “The churches mix into politics too much.”
That involvement in political issues has brought about a gulf between the people and the church was noted by the editor of the South African magazine Femina. After making a survey of the situation, he reported:
“‘The Church should keep out of politics.’ This runs like a constant refrain through any discussion on the subject—with laymen. The Church sees things otherwise. That’s another reason for the gulf between the Church and the People. On my mentioning this to a clergyman recently, he said, as if surprised that this should be an issue at all, ‘But the Church has always been political.’ Perhaps that’s the trouble with the Church.”
In Britain the involvement of the clergy in opposing the tour of Britain by South African cricketers in 1970 roused one man to write to a leading antitour clergyman, the Bishop of Gloucester: “Stick to trying to fill your empty churches and don’t meddle in things which are not the church’s concern.”—The Star, Johannesburg, June 8, 1970.
In Latin America an increasing number of priests are preaching social change, even by violent means. The U.S. News & World Report of December 14, 1970, commenting on the matter, spoke of “the widespread support of socialism and acceptance of violence on the part of men and women trained to work in peace.” The magazine added that “in more than a half dozen countries, Roman Catholic clergymen have been accused of involvement in guerrilla units.” Such conduct repels many honest church members.
Are these clergymen following the pattern of Jesus Christ, whom they claim to be their Leader? When Jesus was on earth, the Jews were in a state of political ferment, and feelings ran high. There were the Pharisees, who wanted a Jewish kingdom completely independent of the Roman Empire. Some of the people were in expectation of a Messiah that they pictured as leading them to independence and freedom. (Luke 3:15) The party followers of Herod advocated rulership by the line of the Herods. Some wanted complete absorption of the Jews by Rome. What was Jesus’ position?
On one occasion, the people recognized Jesus as the promised Prophet. With their political view of matters they were about to seize him to make him king. Did Jesus view this as an opportunity to do ‘great good’ and to right injustices and institute political reforms? No. The Bible says that he ‘withdrew into a mountain all alone.’—John 6:14, 15.
As to violence, now advocated by some clergymen, Jesus, on the night of his arrest, reproved Peter when Peter attempted to defend him from being seized by a mob. He also undid the bad effects of Peter’s violence by healing the man Peter had injured. Then he stated the truth often quoted but seldom followed by clergymen: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”—Matt. 26:51, 52; Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10,11.
Jesus refused even to engage in any “reform” movement. In fact, he once declined even to take the position of a judge to settle a private dispute over an inheritance, replying to his petitioner: “Man, who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?”—Luke 12:14.
This example of the Lord Jesus Christ was doubtless in the apostle Peter’s mind years later when he exhorted fellow Christians: “For the Lord’s sake subject yourselves to every human creation: whether to a king as being superior or to governors.” And the apostle Paul pointed out that rebellion against political governments is actually rebellion against the arrangement of God.—1 Pet. 2:13, 14; Rom. 13:1, 2.
The Gulf Between Young People and the Churches
The gulf between the people and the churches is especially apparent among young persons, who in great numbers are turning away from the churches. The Scottish Daily Express of November 7 and 13, 1970, reported: “Nowhere is the generation gap more seen than in the Kirk [the Church of Scotland]—Teenage members are pitifully few.” “Most teenagers are not even sufficiently interested in the Kirk to condemn it.” And Pope Paul VI recently expressed “an oppressive sense of sad wonder” at dissent by Catholic laymen, especially young adults.—New York Times, December 23, 1970.
Young persons today are asking questions, and the churches are not giving them the answers—realistic, satisfying answers. As a Catholic churchman in Johannesburg put it: “Whereas in the past the masses clung to religion with what we must admit was mostly ‘blind faith,’ the people, especially the young people, of this twentieth century, are more and more demanding a religious faith that gives them realistic answers to their questions.”
Young people find themselves in a technological world in which the individual is treated with less and less dignity. Many find that even their college educations do not give them assurance of employment. With the “establishment” as they know it, with its economic and political systems in a state of crisis, they ask, Where is there anything solid or reliable? What is the hope ahead, if any? What purpose is there in life? Since the churches do not answer these basic questions, how can they expect to hold the youths?
A news item in the Daytona Beach, Florida, Evening News of November 16, 1970, included this admission: “‘We’ve preached pie in the sky too long,’ said Larry Stanley, president of the Baptist Student Union at Florida State University. ‘If we are able to reach students—or anyone—we must make ourselves creditable and tell the truth.’”
Disastrous Efforts to Close the Gap
Many clergymen have endeavored to bridge the growing gap by trying to “talk the language” of modern youth. Thus they have introduced rock ’n’ roll sessions in church services, provided social activities slanted to the liking of teen-agers, and have gone into the pubs and coffeehouses to meet the youths on their own ground. But in doing so, they have often looked ridiculous and failed to gain the respect of the youths. Further, by such efforts the clergy alienate themselves from those who still regularly go to church.
Moreover, genuine lovers of the Bible are being more and more disillusioned and estranged from the churches as the clergy’s move to “update” their ideas takes them farther away from the Bible, even to rejecting it as the inspired Word of God. This was recently pointed out by the Scottish Daily Express, which claimed that the Church of Scotland had lost its way and the truth and so was in danger of losing its life. This stirred up a lively controversy, and the Express later commented:
“We claimed the Church was losing members because it had lost its faith and because too many ministers were heretics. We claimed that large sections of the Kirk has forgotten the Word of God. . . . It is encouraging that this produced a storm of reaction. But sad that it called forth no valid denial.” After pointing that out, the newspaper said the church had lowered its moral standards “to accommodate an increasingly lax and permissive culture.”
Has the church really done that? Yes, indeed. As an example, Anglican clergyman Morris Russell told a Homosexual Law Reform Society meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, that the churches should bless homosexual relationships. Yet God’s law clearly states that neither “men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
The condoning, by a growing number of clergymen, of homosexuality and premarital sex relations may narrow the gulf between them and the modern believers in a “new morality.” But what about the gulf between themselves and God’s standards of truth and righteousness? This gulf is widened, much to the sorrow of sincere churchgoers who, in turn, are quitting the churches in increasing numbers in the hope of finding something better.
An Unbridgeable Gulf
Can the gulf be bridged? No, for this situation, along with the reason for it, was foretold as one of the features of “the conclusion of the system of things.” Jesus himself said: “Because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.” The leaders of the churches have themselves violated God’s law and have taught others to do so. Therefore the cooling off of love formerly held for God has taken place on the part of a large number of church members, and they have withdrawn their support from the churches. When something no longer performs the services for which it exists, it is ready to be discarded. This is the case with the churches.—Matt. 24:3, 12.
In this connection we can observe what happened to Jerusalem after its religious leaders deviated from their duty by failing to teach the truth to the people. The gulf between Jerusalem and God was widened to an incurable extent. Eventually, the city was totally destroyed, her population going into slavery and death. Is it reasonable to think that God will deal more leniently with clergymen who have gone even farther in lawlessness than Jerusalem’s leaders? Will He be “permissive” as they are and spare the churches of Christendom? The Scriptures answer, No!—Matt. 7:21-23; 2 Thess. 1:7-9.
If you are a churchgoer, do you feel concerned about what is happening in the churches? What are you doing about it? What should you do about it in order to be pleasing to God?
Your Bible, at 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 says: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’” If you really want to please God, it is plain what you must do so that the gulf that exists between the churches and God does not result in an unbridgeable gulf between you and God.—2 Tim. 3:5.