Tuesday, May 23, 2006

There has been a phenomenon observed in the Nazarene Churches my friends and family have been associated with, and it has been accelerating over the past five years. That phenomenon is the shifting of the ideology of the church and its preaching and doctrine.

For my church, it started about 8 years ago when the pastor of our growing church of 500 decided to change the music. We went from using the hymnals and singing worshipful Gaither type chorus songs to a music program based on drums and what we refer to as 7-11 verses (7 words repeated 11 times) standing 15-20 minutes or longer. We thought at the time it started it had a purpose of getting in more people from an unchurched background and we were willing to give it a try if it saved more souls. Along with the music change, the doctrine and the message got "watered down" significantly, also with the idea that new people off the street couldn't tolerate hearing about heaven and hell and wouldn't stay to get saved. We watched many of our friends that questioned the soundness of the shift as they went in to talk to the pastors (3 different ones, all following the same approach as the one before) only to be told that this is the new way it will be and if they don't like it, they can find a new church. I had a significant period of discussion with my pastor about the changes, in excess of 6 hours, and he stated he felt one new person coming in was worth having all the presently attending people leaving if it meant one new soul. While I think that is an interesting view, I don't happen to believe the church is just for an event of saving a soul. I believe the church as I have known it was instrumental in helping us raise our children as Christians, supporting us through our personal Christian growth, and supporting families of the dying when it came time for them to go to their final reward, and I think that is as much a part of the role of the church as leading new converts to victory.

Unfortunately, 8 years later, and with the church now running an attendance of about 150, my family has left and is seeking a church that is more like our beliefs. Don't get me wrong, we didn't leave the Nazarene Church, which we have been a part of for more than 50 years, the church left us.

I have tried to take a rational approach to how this happened. All over the country we are getting comments from our friends that they are having the same shift in their church ideology and its music, and most of them say they are having the same results, fewer people and a significant loss of giving, with the new people passing through but few people remaining to support the church or its programs.

This past Saturday, May 20, 2006, I saw an article in the Washington Post, page A14, which I think sheds light on the search for rationality. The article reveals that there is a shift in many of the religious views of voters, making up a new classification. The new group is Liberal-Modernist. The shift pits the conservative-traditional (that is me and my friends), against the new emerging liberal-modernist (the new preachers with their new selection of music). As the article shows, the new emerging liberal Christian is more affiliated with the Democratic party and is rejecting the trend of the conservative Christian which has supported the Republican party. The study shows that 38% of the U.S. adults religious views are Grass-roots religious right (conservative) and 27% grass-roots religious left (liberals) with the 35% other. I also found another article by Marc Kaufman, titled "Brain and Machinery of Prejudice" in the same paper. This article states that science shows that when someone associates with or thinks of people similar to themselves a particular region of the brain becomes active. When associating with people with different political or social views than they have, a different part of the brain lights up suggesting a different set of social-cognitive processes.

Now from my scientific perspective, it helps me understand why my church experience has become less enjoyable. our pastors have become more lilberal and through their changes to the church have created a different environment for the congregation. We no longer have our friends and family that we enjoy being with and with whom we have common beliefs. We now have people that we disagree with socially and politically as our new associates. Now if these were people becoming new converts, it would be a short term period until they came to believe as the congregation believes, but that isn't the case. IT is a total change of the congregation, with those not tolerating the new environment leaving, and those remaining becoming stronger in their percentages of liberal political and social views.

For our church in the suburbs of Washington DC, with land and facilities valued at $15-$20M where most of the attendees were educated professionals, and mostly republicans, this shift was the equivalent of taking the church from a group of conservatives-traditionals and giving it to a group of liberals-modernist. Clearly there was no great growth in attendance, nor was there an increase in programs to help the community. Quite the contrary, the evening services and small groups have been discontinued for the summer months, with no Sunday evening services since the new approach was implemented. The only visible and known benefit of the change is that the pastors are more comfortable doing it their way, as they have declared to us from the beginning, this is the way it is going to be, either accept it or leave it.

What is not clear is whether this is an orchestrated change from the General Church or is it a rogue group of lower level leaders that have decided the Nazarene Church should be more liberal minded in its theology than it has been. What is clear is that the change in my church is the loss of 350 solid Christians to other denominations, and with an attitude from the church clergy that says "good riddance" showing no willingness to provide an alternative service for those of us desperately seeking to hang onto their friends and family from their long term relationships through their church.

I would like to get information from across the country to determine how widespread this is.

Troy V. Caver, DSc.

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