I recently had a phone call with friend. She called to gain some knowledge about a property located near her. We discussed the pros and cons of the potential purchase. We had met for coffee last year to discuss Christianity. She had questions and was seeking answers. We were raised in Christian families and went to church during high school. After we graduated from university, I joined a church, and she decided not to participate. Many years later, I am still churched while she is seeking answers without committing to a church community. After attempting to answer her questions, I suggested that she attend a church where she felt comfortable. It was Advent, a good season to start the journey of faith that perhaps would uplift her. Until our recent phone call, we had not spoken since our coffee.
She brought up religion again and was still searching. She had not attended a church as I advised; there were the usual reasons and fears. The questions and desires were again reiterated without a plan for how to proceed. I felt that she was moving sideways and afraid to commit. After we ended our call, I believed that my friend was where many people are today; they desire spirituality but don’t want to join the organized church.
In a Financial Times article dated April 6 2023, Welcome to the age of DIY Spirituality: As organized religion declines, we are searching for solace in the strangest places, the author, Camilla Cavendish, confesses that she doesn’t believe in the resurrection and only attended Easter services to accompany an elderly relative. But she enjoys “a dose of rhythm and ritual, to sing with strangers, and to be able to quietly reflect on things outside of myself.” She admitted that these benefits can also be found in yoga and mindfulness. She states that western organized religion is declining, which is true. The Pew Research surveys clearly show this trend and one can readily see this fact upon entering most North American and European churches on Sunday morning. But “nones,” those who claim no religion, are still searching for connection, internally or externally, like my friend.
The Apostle Paul alluded to this natural connection in Romans 1:19–20: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his external power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” Paul stated that when humans view creation, questions and feelings arise as to who or what made the world we inhabit. Scientists don’t know how creation was made; this is where religion begins and science ends. I recently saw a 60 Minutes segment on the Webb telescope and was amazed by the new deep space photos. The vastness and size of the universe brought my belief in God to a new height. Paul didn’t need a telescope to believe in God. His eyes saw enough to convince him.
A small percentage of people are pagans who worship nature or objects. They seek guidance from crystal balls, Ouija boards, or structures like Stonehenge. John Calvin (1509–1564), an early Reformation theologian, wrote in his Institutes (I:11:8): “We may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.” During the last century, millions died because the Nazis believed that the German nation was supreme. Karl Barth (1886–1968), a Swiss theologian said, “Nein,” and countered with the Barmen Declaration. In Jesus’ time, Roman Emperors were worshipped as gods, but all we have today are Roman ruins and dead emperors.
Cavendish admits that DIY spirituality has several problems. “It rarely comes close to the beauty and majesty of the language, art, music and ritual which were the work of centuries under the organized faiths. The people who built vaulted roofs and wrote chants to sing under them were master craftsmen who knew how to touch the soul.” I attended Good Friday services in a packed Victoria, BC contemporary church that played praise music that touched my soul. Times change and so does music, rituals, language, and art. Those in the early Christian Church period worshipped differently than the Protestant Reformers, yet both prayed to the same God.
She states that “few alternatives offer a ready-made community and soothing weekly routine that also encourages us to look outwards and help others. True enlightenment may mean shedding the self.” I sense that she longs to return to a community of faith but perhaps is held back by the miracles of faith: resurrections from the dead, healings, unexplained events, etc. Perhaps she listened to one too many firebrand preachers or her grandfather’s (a Church of England vicar) late life confession of “expressing doubts” made her step back from a life of faith. I also get upset after listening to a condemning sermon. If the church requires that only non-doubters can attend, attendance will shrink to only a few saints.
My wife and I have discussed numerous times the shrinking church membership and attendance. We read the statistics and the many proposed theories for this decline. It is a complex issue. However, I believe that most “nones” have not found inner peace and are seeking something far greater than themselves, their country, or the world they inhabit for a very brief time. Cavendish concludes her opinion with: “Far from leaving religion behind, we are attempting to recreate it.” I agree. The scary part is that when humans “recreate it,” they play God, like Adam and Eve, the Romans, and the Nazis. This is the greatest sin of all. The search for meaning should start with seeing creation as God’s creation and reading the Word that God has already revealed.