Friday, March 23, 2012

The big picture

You have got to hand it to the Roman Catholics in the USA. Despite all the well publicised faults of this church, it remains the largest church in the USA by a whopping four to one margin over the second largest church. It takes about 15 Protestant churches to make up an equivalent number to the Romans. The following figures come from the National Council of Churches.

"Top 25 U.S. churches reported in the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches:

The Catholic Church 68,202,492, ranked 1 [ranked 1 in 2011], down 0.44 percent.

Southern Baptist Convention 16,136,044, ranked 2 [ranked 2 in 2011], down 0.15 percent.

The United Methodist Church 7,679,850, ranked 3 [ranked 3 in 2011], down 1.22 percent.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 6,157,238, ranked 4 [ranked 4 in 2011], up 1.62 percent.

The Church of God in Christ 5,499,875, ranked 5 [ranked 5 in 2011], no update reported.

National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. 5,197,512, ranked 6 [ranked 6 in 2011], up 3.95 percent.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4,274,855, ranked 7 [ranked 7 in 2011], down 5.90 percent.

National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 3,500,000, ranked 8 [ranked 8 in 2011], no update reported.

Assemblies of God 3,030,944, ranked 9 [ranked 9 in 2011], up 3.99 percent.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2,675,873, ranked 10 [ranked 10 in 2011], down 3.42 percent.

African Methodist Episcopal Church 2,500,000, ranked 11 [ranked 11 in 2011], no update reported.

National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 2,500,000, ranked 11 [ranked 11 in 2011], no update reported.

The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2,278,586, ranked 13 [ranked 13 in 2011], down 1.45 percent.

The Episcopal Church 1,951,907, ranked 14 [ranked 14 in 2011], down 2.71 percent.

Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1,800,000, ranked 15 [ranked 17 in 2011], up 20 percent.

Churches of Christ 1,639,495, ranked 16 [ranked 15 in 2011], no update reported.

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1,500,000 , ranked 17 [ranked 16 in 2011], no update reported.

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 1,400,000, ranked 18 [ranked 18 in 2011], no update reported.

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. 1,308,054, ranked 19 [ranked 19 in 2011], down 0.19 percent.

Jehovah’s Witnesses 1,184,249, ranked 20 [ranked 20 in 2011], up 1.85 percent.

Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 1,074,047, ranked 21 [ranked 22 in 2011], down 0.21 percent.

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 1,071,616, ranked 22 [ranked 23 in 2011], no update reported.

Seventh-day Adventist Church 1,060,386, ranked 23 [ranked 24 in 2011], up 1.61 percent.

United Church of Christ 1,058,423, ranked 24 [ranked 21 in 2011], down 2.02 percent.

Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000, ranked 25 [ranked 25 in 2011], no update reported.

Total membership in top 25 churches: 145,691,446, down 1.15 percent."
Of course the Baptist stats would be much more impressive if they weren't divided - about 26 million all up. Ah, unity!

That is our Protestant achilles heel. It is also an Anglican achilles heel. Unified Roman Catholics 68 - Divided Protestants best competitor 16. Game over!

Seriously, it is interesting here on ADU to raise questions about the lack of unity in the Communion and to receive answers such as 'unity is not about institutional unity' or 'unity is not more valuable than truth' or 'unity shouldn't trump justice.' These are Protestant responses. I cannot imagine a Catholic theologian saying, 'If we have to divide the church we will do so in order to secure social justice.' Rather, the point of catholic theology is to work out the application of the gospel through a church in mission which does not divide, not even in its institutional framework.

To an extent we Anglicans 'get' some of this because we have, at least, given the Covenant serious consideration. Even in TEC there is an interesting development in the run up to the GC whereby one proposed motion re the Covenant (essentially to reject it in toto) is being rivalled by another motion which tries to accept as much of the Covenant as possible (head to Preludium to follow this). Could we Anglicans go a bit further on unity, actually could we go a lot further?

Speaking yesterday with a colleague I was gratified to find that he supported the Covenant precisely because he values church unity and sees the Covenant as building unity among Anglicans. Reflecting on that, and also another conversation earlier in the week with a colleague who stressed the role of the Covenant in building our church into the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' of God, I offer the following thoughts.

Our Anglican crisis which presents as a crisis in our relationships ('division', 'schism', 'impaired Communion') is a crisis of truth. On  certain matters we do not agree what the truth is, or in other words, what God's will for the church is. Unity is never disconnected from truth and the repair of disunity must involve the finding of truth, an achieving of concurrence on God's will for the church. The 'one' church of God is always the 'holy, catholic and apostolic' church of God, and each of the three qualifiers, holy, catholic and apostolic relate to the matter of truth (what is the right way to live, what do Christians believe together, what did the apostles teach): unity and truth, truth and unity, the church cannot escape the pairing.

The Covenant both affirms what we believe as Anglicans and provides a means for discernment of truth, especially in relation to claims of innovation. Many claims of innovation provoke no question of universal concern about what God's will for the church is. Some claims do. The Covenant offers a way to agree together on an innovation of significance.

[I have changed this paragraph slightly] Is the negativity across significant parts of the Communion betraying a lack of confidence in knowing the truth? If so, this lack of confidence is contiguous with developments in human life through which the spirit of post-modernism, pluralism, and individualism blows. In today's world, as this spirit blows, the surest truth we have is the truth we see with our own eyes, or with the eyes of our tribe or 'tribe' (i.e. a smallish group to which we belong). The possibility of truth for everyone is too big a challenge (it would appear), so people back away from it. Are we Anglicans backing away from the Covenant because we have this wind swirling through us too? I recognise that there are a variety of reasons for opposing the Covenant and some opposers would not in any way agree with this analysis!

In the process Anglicans may be becoming very confused. On the matter of homosexuality, for instance, we want truth to be both contextual (our national church has the right to decide its response to this matter) and universal (no one anywhere on the planet should be subject to bigotry). If there is no God and no divine will for the church, we may live with such confusion. But to be the church is to make a claim that God exists and has a will for the church: in the end either the confusion dies or the church dies.

The tragedy of the Covenant, if it should be lost from us, is that it will have been lost because of a loss of vision for the truth of God as truth for everyone. Out of that loss of vision flows a host of concerns about the Covenant. Some of these concerns are about hypothetical effects and many such concerns are about those effects effecting me, or my tribe or 'tribe'. But the great matter of the Covenant is whether we wish to be Anglican churches in an Anglican Communion which is being drawn ever deeper into the fullness of one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, that is, the church for everyone.

But that betokens agreement on the truth and we appear to be disinterested in securing that agreement no matter how painful and how long that might take. Easier to settle for continuing to having the right to pursue the truth as I and my group understand it.

To ++Rowan's credit, he has tried these ten years to work for a Communion in which together we might continue to engage in the search for God's truth for everyone. I hope history is kind to him and makes its judgement against those who colluded in working for a lesser Communion, one engaged in upholding the right for each church to do what it thinks best in the light of the truth it has seen for itself.


Rosemary Behan said...

You are making a lot of very strong judgements about a lot of people here Peter. Sometimes I have wished to see you do so, strange to see it in this form.

Peter Carrell said...

So long as it is understand, Rosemary, that I include myself 'under judgement': I am often somewhat short-sighted and small-minded myself.

Rosemary Behan said...

I think we can all get stuck in the smaller picture. As to this post, my first reaction is that you are seeing only what we have in this world. What’s more you give a picture of denominations that I don’t think about at all. As I said in an earlier post, God’s church is made up with people from all denominations. He doesn’t think in denominations .. only about His people. Jesus didn’t die for denominations, they are a failure of mankind that God in His kindness has used to teach us about various theological truths. We get very hot under the collar about them, but I never get the feeling that He does. However, I’m quite sure He does call us to various parts of His church, there to achieve what He has called us to, but unity isn’t it. Again, as I said before, in His eyes, we ARE unified, we don’t have to fight for it, we just have to search for the truth, and even in that, our understanding will be what He gives us as the Holy Spirit. However, do try not to be judgemental about those who don’t see things quite as you do. In this post you sound extremely judgemental, critical and superior, and that I’m quite sure, does nothing to help the cause of unity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
"extremely judgemental, critical and superior" ... I shall keep rereading the post as I don't quite see that yet!

However you could be right. In my defence I would say that I am trying to defend the virtue of the Covenant (over which many Anglicans have been extremely judgemental and critical) and also a defence of ++Rowan (of whom, I am noticing, reading around the internet, some extremely judgement and critical things being said). However I won't go so far as to say people are feeling 'superior' about the Covenant or about ++Rowan!

I am sure God doesn't think in denominations; but I am in a denomination and have a role as an officer within that to work for its good health. But as you know, there are different visions of what will help its good health.

Father Ron Smith said...

"' Rather, the point of catholic theology is to work out the application of the gospel through a church in mission which does not divide, not even in its institutional framework."

And here, Peter, you have precisely the Roman Catholic understanding of catholic unity - under magisterial governance, by the Pope!

I find it rather intriguing that someone who values the protestant ethos - which rejected uniformity under the dominance of Rome, should on this blog lust for the very ethos of Unity at all costs that is the Roman paradigm.

This is why I am not a Roman Catholic, but I do value the catholic unity implicit in a proper understanding of All the Baptized being 'en Christo'. I find that unity mostly at the community around the altar, at the common Celebration of Christ in the Eucharist. "Where two or three...."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I don't "lust for the very ethos of Unity at all costs that is the Roman paradigm", but I do long for the unity in Christ which you value, which the NT teaches, and which (I suggest) is helped by an agreed framework of mutual accountability (as envisaged in the Covenant).

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

Numbers are not unimportant, but I’m not as convinced by your statistics. Writing on some form that you belong to a denomination doesn’t say a lot. CARA has Mass attendance amongst USA Roman Catholics at 22%. Suddenly we might be talking 15 million, not 68 million. In NZ part of our problem is that Anglicans continue to think of ourselves as having a million members here – a bit more honesty might actually help our mission IMO.

I think we increasingly live in a post-denominational context. People, more and more, have little interest in what denomination a church is – many churches cannot even be categorised in that last-millennium manner. Less and less people are committed to staying within one denomination for life or of marrying within their own denomination.

As to the advertising in this post in favour of the “Anglican Covenant” – I will not reflect on the fact that nothing within that document is actually discussed in any detail, there is just the advertising-speak that it would help unity and not signing is against unity. IMO the opposite is true – it has artificially created yet another (unnecessary) division within the already fragmented/fragile Anglican community – now dividing individuals and communities into “pro”, “anti”, and “apathetic” groups in relation to this human document. The time, energy, videos, meetings, flights, debates, synods, etc. would have been better spent IMO on addressing the actual issues and getting on with some mission and ministry.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Even in a post-denominational world it is notable that post-denominational Christians are not welcome at Catholic Mass unless they are Catholics (work to do on unity there), that (supposing we were both vicars) you and I may rejoice to see other churches growing but become somewhat despondent if people are leaving our parish churches and our jobs are under threat which (in my experience) normally leads to a visit to the bishop to see if she has a job for us elsewhere (and not to the local Presbyterian moderator etc): in sum, denominations do not matter like they used to, but they still do.

I am trying to mount an argument for the Covenant when others ae mounting arguments against the Covenant. That they choose to find the Covenant divisive, indeed even make the Covenant divisive is a pity: there is nothing divisive in the Covenant in itself.

We do live in a divided church and Communion and it is an entirely fair and appropriate question to ask if the Covenant will help overcome those divisions or not. My argument is not that the Covenant in itself will overcome those divisions; my argument is that the Covenant presents us with an opportunity to consider whether we wish to remain in our divided state or not; and offers a mechanism (via its contents) for future divisions to be addressed and overcome.

I am taking it for granted that those opposed to the Covenant are not particularly serious about addressing our present or future divisions because what I am not seeing are any constructive alternative proposals.

It is indeed, as you propose, possible to 'get on with some mission and ministry' and not worry about these things. I suggest that without some attention to what holds us together, this will mean further fragmentation.

To be frank, I think our fragmentation affects our mission, so, in the end, I think I cannot divorce work on unity from work on mission and ministry!

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

To ++Rowan's credit, he has tried these ten years to work for a Communion in which together we might continue to engage in the search for God's truth for everyone.

This idea of the search for God's truth requires some qualification.

1. There already exist settled truths. Acceptance of those settled truths becomes the entry condition for participation. Some things are beyond examination. Not everything is open to question.

2. Man is not capable of reasoning his way to divine truth. It must be revealed to him. No appeal to reason or experience qualifies as a valid argument to establish truth. We do not begin with ourselves and reason outward to truth. We receive truth and reason on that basis. Why is this important? It limits the scope of the authority that may be employed. Our experiences, objective or subjective, do not constitute an authority.

Without these limiting criteria, the discussion is futile. The parties involved will not join in a common search for truth. They will engage in a conflict of competing and mutually-exclusive authorities. It will produce a long tiresome and ultimately fruitless discussion that can only be settled by a raw exercise of power. Which is pretty much why the Anglican Communion is in the state its in.


liturgy said...

You appear to be turning my comment into an either/or black/white binary option – whereas I was using words like “increasingly”, “more and more”, “Less and less”.

It is this binary approach that, interestingly, undergirds the “Anglican Covenant” and is one of its most damaging aspects. We already have our God-given strong centre – it is the hardening of the soft edges that reinforces/causes our disunity and, yes, certainly detracts from mission.


Peter Carrell said...

Point taken, Bosco! I shall try to grey down the black and white :)

Father Ron Smith said...

I have heard it whispered on the grapevine that the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral is not a bad place to start from, when assessing what might be a basic 'Instrument of Unity' for loyal Anglicans. It did hold together until someone cried 'foul' and decided to opt out of Communion.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think that The Radiant Transcendental Being Who IS alive all beings and things has given Christians some kind of exclusive "covenenant". Especially to those who pretend to claim some kind of "traditional" authenticity.

Remembering that ALL of those who ever got to define what is "authentic" or "traditional" did so because they ALWAYS had the levers of worldly power in their time and place, with NO exceptions.

Even more so when there are now well over 30,000 different and differing Christian denominations, sects and sub-sects all competing for market share in the market place of whats-in-it-for-me religious consumerism!

This essay (and website) provides a unique assessment of the "big picture" re what right-wing Christianity, as a would be totalitarian power and control seeking entity in the USA is really all about.

Anonymous said...

"Do you really think that The Radiant Transcendental Being Who IS alive all beings and things has given Christians some kind of exclusive "covenenant"."

Difficult question to answer given the way you have it worded. My first question is, who is this "radiant transcendental being" your talking about?

But to give the short answer to your question it is, yes. God has spoken exclusively in the history of Israel and the Person of Jesus Christ.

"Remembering that ALL of those who ever got to define what is "authentic" or "traditional" did so because they ALWAYS had the levers of worldly power in their time and place, with NO exceptions."

I can think of a huge number of exceptions to that claim. Christianity, in its first three hundred years or so, defined what was authentic and traditional at a time when they had no worldy power and were persecuted by the State.

Today in the West, including the U.S., conservative Christians do not hold any real worldy power and are often the targets of secular legal persecution.

Conservative Christians in many other places around the world often the targets of serious and deadly persecution.

"Even more so when there are now well over 30,000 different and differing Christian denominations"

This is something of an overstatement. While there are serious differences, there is also a core orthodoxy that is agreed to by most Christian churches, what C.S. Lewis called mere Christianity.

"This essay (and website) provides a unique assessment of the "big picture" re what right-wing Christianity, as a would be totalitarian power and control seeking entity in the USA"

Hysteria mongering by the Left about what "right wing" Christians are up to rarely have any basis in reality.

Every political movement, religious or secular, seeks power and influence.