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Is Christianity Destined To Die?


Neon Genesis
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When liberal Christians discuss reforming Christianity to prevent its demise, the discussion is often focused on issues like social justice policies and biblical doctrines but little emphasis is placed on the nature of Christianity's origins itself. I think that part of the problem with trying to preserve Christianity's relevance to society that often gets ignored in these discussions is simply that the religion was never intended to last forever to begin with. Jesus and his apostles and Paul all believed the end of the world was going to happen within their lifetimes. Jesus never had any intentions of forming a church to begin with and was merely trying to reform Judaism to prepare for the coming apocalypse and Paul thought it was better not to marry since the end of the world was going to happen any day now. Many of the teachings of Jesus and Paul make more sense within this apocalyptic framework. There's no point in worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself since the world is going to end soon anyhow and even if Paul believed slaves and masters were equal within the body of Christ, there was no point in challenging the institution of slavery if God was going to bring justice to the world soon. Given the number of atrocities committed because of Christianity combined with its many failed prophecies it's amazing the religion has lasted as long as it has already. But accepting that none of the founders of Christianity thought the religion was going to last longer than their lifetimes and it was only ever intended to be a temporary patchwork until the world ends, and given that a recent survey predicts the demise of religion in at least nine nations, is the quest to preserve Christianity's relevance a misguided one and has the religion always been destined to eventually pass away? I'm not speculating on all this to deconvert Christians or to mock the religion, but I think until we address the problems with the temporary nature of Christianity's origins, we'll never get to the root of the problems.

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Hi NeonGenesis,

 

You ask some very powerful questions.

 

But accepting that none of the founders of Christianity thought the religion was going to last longer than their lifetimes and it was only ever intended to be a temporary patchwork until the world ends, and given that a recent survey predicts the demise of religion in at least nine nations, is the quest to preserve Christianity's relevance a misguided one and has the religion always been destined to eventually pass away?

 

I do accept that most of the early Christians, or a least the ones we have record of, were apocalyptical in their expectations. But Christianity didn't die out after the first century, like energy that's neither created nor destroyed, it's continued to transform and redefine itself and embody the concerns of its cultural context, from Paul of Tarsus to Paul Tillich. :) I suppose if the first century defined the whole tradition, there wouldn't be much to go on, but Christianity has left its mark on our culture in terms of narrative, theology, art, philosophy, etc, for many centuries. Christianity has become a means to touching what is sacred and a "style" of contemplation and theologizing, its themes like incarnation have been explored with every nuance.

 

But that doesn't mean Christianity will always be around. Only historical circumstances will dictate that. But I think its object or purpose is timeless, though. As we enter into a more homogenized and globalized culture, the 'best' religious ideas/practices are the ones which remain relevant in that context. People are becoming less concerned with labels, and that's good. If that trend continues, the various religions will eventually be seen as different schools or styles of spiritual practice and philosophy, without the sectarian overtones. One can hope.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Neon,

 

I for one would take issue with your initial assumptions "that none of the founders of Christianity thought the religion was going to last longer than their lifetimes ".

 

I see a different message hidden within the words of Jesus, Paul, and John. In the book of Revelations, even the last page does not say "The End" at the end. :) Secondly, the last Chapter of the highly symbolic book of Revelations of Christ still has written in it "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. " Perhaps i and others see this New Jerusalem here now and one can enter into the gateless gates it portrays because neither New Jerusalem nor Christs coming is with ocular evidence. Even John who saw these things testified that "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see" Perhaps one must look beyond the eyes to see Christ and the things of the Spirit.

 

As far as the answer to your question... Is Christianity destined to die? Perhaps changes in doctrinal beliefs may die out but i think Paul made it clear that the church was the body of believers in Christ, not the organization. And that body of believers has continued 2000 years now and i believe will be around long after you and i are gone.

 

Juat some things to consider.

Joseph

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P.S. It was prophesied in the OT and in the NT that of his kingdom, there would be no end. .( Isaiah 9 & Luke 1) True, his kingdom is not of this world but the domain of the king (kingdom) is most definitely in this world. Jesus taught it was found in us. (Luke 17:21) Jesus taught his followers to pray, Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. That would seem foolish if he meant the earth was soon to end. Perhaps those in the church system who are taught the world will end soon ought to search for a deeper understanding of the world and the kingdom Jesus spoke of. As it is recorded Jesus said ," that which is flesh is flesh and that which is Spirit is Spirit." Never once is he recorded , to the best of my knowledge, teaching that we are to neglect the important things here as the world was ending, His advice about taking no thought or worry for tomorrow and what you shall wear or eat is still good advice today but not because the world is about to end. Perhaps the only end he spoke of was more related to Paul's teaching of " Behold you are a new creature in Christ, old things have past away and all things become new." My old world ended when Christ was revealed to me, howbeit, the physical world is still here?

 

Just some musings'

Joseph

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I get no sense that Jesus' teachings were 'tailored' for just one generation or, although some early Christians were apocalyptic in thinking, that the general focus of early Christianity was on an imminent end.

 

George

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P.S. It was prophesied in the OT and in the NT that of his kingdom, there would be no end. .( Isaiah 9 & Luke 1) True, his kingdom is not of this world but the domain of the king (kingdom) is most definitely in this world. Jesus taught it was found in us. (Luke 17:21) Jesus taught his followers to pray, Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. That would seem foolish if he meant the earth was soon to end. Perhaps those in the church system who are taught the world will end soon ought to search for a deeper understanding of the world and the kingdom Jesus spoke of. As it is recorded Jesus said ," that which is flesh is flesh and that which is Spirit is Spirit." Never once is he recorded , to the best of my knowledge, teaching that we are to neglect the important things here as the world was ending, His advice about taking no thought or worry for tomorrow and what you shall wear or eat is still good advice today but not because the world is about to end. Perhaps the only end he spoke of was more related to Paul's teaching of " Behold you are a new creature in Christ, old things have past away and all things become new." My old world ended when Christ was revealed to me, howbeit, the physical world is still here?

 

Just some musings'

Joseph

My view is that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted the Son of Man (a separate being from Jesus) would bring about the end of the world within the lifetimes of the apostles. The Son of Man would cast out all the sinners into the outer darkness and he along with the 12 apostles would rule an earthly kingdom of God and the later teachings of Jesus of the kingdom of God being another world you get to through having faith in Jesus representing later post-Easter views about Jesus. These views can be found in such passages as in Matthew 24, where Jesus predicts the world will end and that not one of his generation will pass away before those events took place. C.S. Lewis called this the most embarrassing verse in the entire bible and even flat out accused Jesus of falling prey to a delusion. And in Mark 14, Jesus tells the high priest that he will live to see the Son of Man bringing about the end of the world.
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When liberal Christians discuss reforming Christianity to prevent its demise, the discussion is often focused on issues like social justice policies and biblical doctrines but little emphasis is placed on the nature of Christianity's origins itself. I think that part of the problem with trying to preserve Christianity's relevance to society that often gets ignored in these discussions is simply that the religion was never intended to last forever to begin with. Jesus and his apostles and Paul all believed the end of the world was going to happen within their lifetimes. Jesus never had any intentions of forming a church to begin with and was merely trying to reform Judaism to prepare for the coming apocalypse and Paul thought it was better not to marry since the end of the world was going to happen any day now. Many of the teachings of Jesus and Paul make more sense within this apocalyptic framework. There's no point in worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself since the world is going to end soon anyhow and even if Paul believed slaves and masters were equal within the body of Christ, there was no point in challenging the institution of slavery if God was going to bring justice to the world soon. Given the number of atrocities committed because of Christianity combined with its many failed prophecies it's amazing the religion has lasted as long as it has already. But accepting that none of the founders of Christianity thought the religion was going to last longer than their lifetimes and it was only ever intended to be a temporary patchwork until the world ends, and given that a recent survey predicts the demise of religion in at least nine nations, is the quest to preserve Christianity's relevance a misguided one and has the religion always been destined to eventually pass away? I'm not speculating on all this to deconvert Christians or to mock the religion, but I think until we address the problems with the temporary nature of Christianity's origins, we'll never get to the root of the problems.

 

I think you rely too much on Paul in order to form the basis of your argument. That is not to suggest that the Gospel authors did not incorporate the eschaton into their respective narratives. But reading those narratives one can sense the change taking place - that there was some need to put into place something of a structure that might be called the Church.

 

There also another more pressing theological matter which you fall into with your argument and that is the dualist nature of our existence.

 

There is, inherently, within your argument a premise that says the human body, and therefore the environment, is inherently 'bad' - and that the soul is somehow held captive to the body. If you pursue this matter then Jesus could not have been 'fully human' and if he was not 'fully human' then his death means nothing. The end result is the position taken by the 'Deer Hunting for Jesus' mob who await the eschaton and 'who cares what happens to the earth in the meantime'.

 

But even if we agree with your thesis - what does that mean? The reality is that after 2000 odd years the eschaton has not arrived and it might never happen. In other words, in what way does it matter if the early followers of Jesus thought it all would be over within their lifetime?

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but I think until we address the problems with the temporary nature of Christianity's origins, we'll never get to the root of the problems.

I think Jesus is about "now", this moment. Jesus does put himself in Hebrew context with his references and stories but he paid attention to those around him at the moment. The authors of the Gospels had their own ideas about long-term short-term. They are there to read.

 

I think spiritual experience is about "now". For Jesus, his call, and his witness and for spiritual experience I don't see a problem; they are both about "now". Whether they have a future? Some people will still look for a spiritual journey. Some people will still study Jesus and follow his call and witness.

 

The institution of religion, Christianity. That's a totally different question that depends on demographics as much as than anything else, I think. See Eric Kauffman's

His is a complex argument and not every critic has a considered answer. but if you are concerned about the continuing existence of "Christianity" then Eric's data and argument can be assuring.

 

I wonder if the whole liberal Christian project of the last century wasn't to work itself out of a job, so to speak. Those in the evolutionary Christianity movement are saying that the Christian story is too limiting and we need to place the Christian story in the context of the Great Story, the epic of evolution. Sam Keen (In the Absence of God) said he had to "Search for my own mythology and my own story. I had to collect my experiences of the sacred but that is not enough. We need to find a universal story. I am not interested in the particular characteristics of particular religions. The hope [of the 20th century) that we are going to have a dialog that will bring us back together is a false hope. We have to find the story that is everybody's story."

 

 

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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My view is that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted the Son of Man (a separate being from Jesus) would bring about the end of the world within the lifetimes of the apostles. The Son of Man would cast out all the sinners into the outer darkness and he along with the 12 apostles would rule an earthly kingdom of God and the later teachings of Jesus of the kingdom of God being another world you get to through having faith in Jesus representing later post-Easter views about Jesus. These views can be found in such passages as in Matthew 24, where Jesus predicts the world will end and that not one of his generation will pass away before those events took place. C.S. Lewis called this the most embarrassing verse in the entire bible and even flat out accused Jesus of falling prey to a delusion. And in Mark 14, Jesus tells the high priest that he will live to see the Son of Man bringing about the end of the world.

Neon,

I don't know where you are getting your data? Perhaps from others? If so, I would challenge you to read it carefully for yourself......

Math 24:15When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Mathew 24 was concerning the destruction of the temple and second coming of Christ OR END TIMES foretold in the OT by Daniel. Even the song writers know that the end of the world is not literal. IE : SEE THE CARPENTERS LYRICS "THE END OF THE WORLD" The Jews never interpreted the prophecies as any other than the destruction of the temple and their world changing.. You have to take it in light of all that Jesus said along with the prophets otherwise your conclusion might be contradictory. He told them there was some that were standing there that would see it come to pass and they did. The temple was destroyed about 70AD and the abomination was set up ( a statue of Caesar in the holy place.) along with other things he said. And Christ came and set up his abode in his followers. That is the second coming and it is still taking place today except to those who are waiting for the literal. Jesus called himself the Son of Man and is used 14 times in Mark and was Jesus' favorite term for himself. (not a separate being). Anyway, you are free to believe otherwise but to do so seems to me to negate the real message of Jesus by an interpretation that says so very much of what he said is not true. Looking at it in a different light i believe can say otherwise.

 

This is my last post on the subject so i will just sit on the sidelines and listen to what you and others have to say and perhaps bite my tongue.:D

 

Joseph

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Neon,

I don't know where you are getting your data? Perhaps from others? If so, I would challenge you to read it carefully for yourself......

Math 24:15When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Mathew 24 was concerning the destruction of the temple and second coming of Christ OR END TIMES foretold in the OT by Daniel. Joseph

 

Joseph,

 

Your understanding seems to be consistent with the interpretation in Five Gospels (the Jesus Seminar text) which says this refers to Dan. 11:31 which is referring to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV.

 

According to the Early Christian Reader, "The reference is to a pagan altar set up over the altar of the Jerusalem temple by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV in the 4th decade of the 2nd century BCE."

 

There doesn't seem to be much ambiguity about this among scholars on this particular passage.

 

George

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I think you rely too much on Paul in order to form the basis of your argument. That is not to suggest that the Gospel authors did not incorporate the eschaton into their respective narratives. But reading those narratives one can sense the change taking place - that there was some need to put into place something of a structure that might be called the Church.

 

 

 

 

I don't think I'm relying too much on Paul because while I think Jesus and Paul were both apocalyptic prophets, I think they both had radically different ideas about what that entailed. Like Paul seemed to think heaven was located in some spiritual realm that you got to by flying above the skies whereas Jesus saw the Kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom that the Son of Man would be bringing down to Earth from above. Both Paul and Jesus also had different requirements for salvation. For Paul, salvation was found through believing in the resurrection of Jesus, though whether that's a literal or symbolic resurrection is still up for debate I think. Meanwhile, for Jesus, he was less concerned with beliefs and more about how you treated other people and judged who would be saved based on whether or not you gave to the poor, loved your neighbor as yourself, and fought against injustices. To put it in evangelical terms, Jesus had a works based salvation while Paul had a grace based salvation.

 

But even if we agree with your thesis - what does that mean? The reality is that after 2000 odd years the eschaton has not arrived and it might never happen. In other words, in what way does it matter if the early followers of Jesus thought it all would be over within their lifetime?
I think it means we should be less concerned with filling pews and making sure which churches have the biggest number of members and be more concerned about feeding the hungry and and giving a drink to the thirsty like Jesus warned us to due in Matthew 25 instead of making sure we get every single pew filled every Sunday. I also think it means we should be open to the possibility that Christianity might not be around forever if it was never intended to be around forever and we should be open to exploring alternative spirituality and philosophies when that time comes. Or as it says in Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What do people gain from all the toil

at which they toil under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains for ever.

The sun rises and the sun goes down,

and hurries to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south,

and goes round to the north;

round and round goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they continue to flow.

All things are wearisome;

more than one can express;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

or the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

‘See, this is new’?

It has already been,

in the ages before us.

The people of long ago are not remembered,

nor will there be any remembrance

of people yet to come

by those who come after them.

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As I pass through the the minefields of the various 'disciplines' of inquiry, I hear the "end of - new" theme over and over. It comes in various flavors:

 

"The death of the author"

 

"The end of history"

 

"Evolution ended 10,000 years ago"

 

"New Atheism"

 

"New Chrisianity"

 

Fragmenting and (Re)collecting ...

 

Myron

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This from John Cobb writing about Whitehead's thought. Something about Whitehead I understand. :D

 

If a culture has achieved some high form of beauty, it can continue to reproduce that achievement. Such reproductions have real value, but they begin to grow stale. There is a loss of zest and intensity. The culture begins to decline.

 

The alternative to such a decline is the occurrence of some new ideal of perfection as yet unrealized and not subject to immediate achievement.
If this ideal seizes the imagination, it inspires new vigor of effort. This will entail a loss of harmony, a large element of present discord. Nevertheless, it is only thereby that new beauty with new strength can be attained. This quest for beauty not yet realized and perhaps only dimly imagined is the adventure with which Whitehead is concerned.

 

 

That's the hope. I do see many different attempts at new models for church, meaning a group of people with common concerns, some of whom have spiritual experiences, around the teaching of Jesus. These projects often come and go because they can't raise a second generation of leadership.

 

Another thought: often when we talk about the decline of church/Christianity we are talking about the mainstream (liberal)churches of 40-50 years ago. They are declining. The conservative churches are increasing their membership. So we probably have to qualify which brand of Christianity is declining.

 

But no matter. I do read about the problem. My only concern is the church I attend. Not because of parochialism but because it is the only church I can do anything about. Our pastor opened the pulpit so he could play with kids in SS during a special event so I volunteered. Language is important to me so there will lots of new language in worship. Songs we don't normally sing and perhaps a "scripture" passage from The Shack.

 

Dutch

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...is the quest to preserve Christianity's relevance a misguided one and has the religion always been destined to eventually pass away?

 

I think Christianity ceased being relevant after WWII. Some would even place it earlier, say; after WWI - the so-called "War of Christians." Of course, Darwin probably hammered the most number of nails in that coffin.

 

I don't think that Christianity is passing away, it is simply morphing into something other than what it was prior to the age of enlightenment.

 

Even those who claim to practice "traditional" or "first century" Christianity are far from the mark. I'd be so bold as to suggest that it is simply impossible to embrace real, first century Christianity in a post-modern world.

 

NORM

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I think Christianity ceased being relevant after WWII. Some would even place it earlier, say; after WWI - the so-called "War of Christians." Of course, Darwin probably hammered the most number of nails in that coffin.

 

I don't think that Christianity is passing away, it is simply morphing into something other than what it was prior to the age of enlightenment.

 

Even those who claim to practice "traditional" or "first century" Christianity are far from the mark. I'd be so bold as to suggest that it is simply impossible to embrace real, first century Christianity in a post-modern world.

 

NORM

Norm,

 

I am not sure why it would be desirable to practice first-century Christianity in a modern world anymore than Mosaic Judaism or 7th-century Islam. The broad principles are one thing, specific practices are something else.

 

George

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I don't think I'm relying too much on Paul because while I think Jesus and Paul were both apocalyptic prophets, I think they both had radically different ideas about what that entailed. Like Paul seemed to think heaven was located in some spiritual realm that you got to by flying above the skies whereas Jesus saw the Kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom that the Son of Man would be bringing down to Earth from above. Both Paul and Jesus also had different requirements for salvation. For Paul, salvation was found through believing in the resurrection of Jesus, though whether that's a literal or symbolic resurrection is still up for debate I think. Meanwhile, for Jesus, he was less concerned with beliefs and more about how you treated other people and judged who would be saved based on whether or not you gave to the poor, loved your neighbor as yourself, and fought against injustices. To put it in evangelical terms, Jesus had a works based salvation while Paul had a grace based salvation.

 

I think it means we should be less concerned with filling pews and making sure which churches have the biggest number of members and be more concerned about feeding the hungry and and giving a drink to the thirsty like Jesus warned us to due in Matthew 25 instead of making sure we get every single pew filled every Sunday. I also think it means we should be open to the possibility that Christianity might not be around forever if it was never intended to be around forever and we should be open to exploring alternative spirituality and philosophies when that time comes. Or as it says in Ecclesiastes:

 

I can agree with what you say here.

 

I think exploring different ways to express spirituality is what is happening.

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Norm,

 

I am not sure why it would be desirable to practice first-century Christianity in a modern world anymore than Mosaic Judaism or 7th-century Islam. The broad principles are one thing, specific practices are something else.

 

George

 

I think people romanticize that period of time. I'm sure it was anything but idyllic.

 

I'm more fascinated that Christians in this country who understand so little of Middle Eastern worldview think that they are practicing first-century Christianity.

 

NORM

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