Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Your DIY Faith!

YOUR DIY FAITH ~ Part 1: Biblical Pathways to Sustain Your Faith During the Pandemic.

A poll last week showed that the faith of Americans has been made stronger during the pandemic than those in all other countries. Among Evangelical Protestants, 43% have said their faith has been strengthened and 35% of Catholics and 21% of mainline Protestants reported that their faith had also been strengthened. What’s remarkable is that for many, their faith has grown while their church attendance has plummeted. When in-person services closed, 26% of churchgoers were viewing online services but fewer are still doing so today. In November, 74% of those who were once committed churchgoers had not participated in a live or an online service since the start of the pandemic and one-third of all churchgoers admitted that their Sunday habits had permanently changed and they do not intend to return when their church is reopened. Here’s the conundrum. During the past year, when fewer and fewer were engaging with their church, why is it that Evangelicals and Catholics were growing or maintaining their faith while so many mainline Protestants (Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian) were and are still struggling with a diminished or disappearing faith?

In a nutshell, with the absence of church services, our faith has become a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) religion for those who have had a high level of involvement with their faith. For those whose only, or primary, faith practice was attending a church service, once the church doors were closed by Covid, both their church and faith simultaneously faded away. To fully understand, we need to take a gentle look at the differences among Evangelical Protestants (43% stronger faith during the pandemic), Catholics (35%) and mainline Protestants (21%). In Evangelical Protestantism, the emphasis is on a personal relationship with Jesus, prayer, Bible study, evangelism and the church is seen as the equipper of the saints. Most of what happens in the spiritual life (worship, prayer, Bible study) of an Evangelical takes place outside the church. In contrast, nearly all that happens with the faith of non-Evangelicals takes place only within the church walls. For example, 63% of Evangelicals read their Bible regularly while only 16% of mainline Protestants do. And that’s why we saw that when Covid closed church doors, Evangelicals simply transitioned into a DIY mode and continued to grow in their faith.

In Catholicism, it’s not the Bible reading but the repeated prayer rituals that foster a connection between Believer and God and results in spiritual growth. There are different prayer pathways to God and whether the Catholic ritual of the rosary or this pastor’s morning ritual of freshly ground coffee in a Goofy mug and his Bible, as we said last week, in our spiritual practices we need the rhythm of a regular and repeated pattern of ritual. What has also helped both Catholics and Evangelicals is that the depth of their faith is less dependent upon church attendance because they believe there is a strong personal relationship between Creator and His created. Some mainline Protestants disagree. A mainline (Lutheran) pastor I know has strongly emphasized to me that his denomination’s doctrine is that we do not have a personal relationship with Jesus – our relationship with Him is through His church – but a doctrine that places church between us and God is not in our Bible. 

Instead we have Jesus saying, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John 14:23 Jesus also said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you..I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:14-15 Jesus tells us that when we love Him and follow Him, He considers us to be His friend! I love the church and dearly miss it, but I don’t need it to spiritually thrive because Jesus invites us into a personal relationship with Him.

According to the health officials, we’re still six to nine months away from “church” as we know it and therefore, if you have not already done so, you may want to consider a renewed focus on a healthy, growing DIY Christian faith. 

While I’m an ordained “Protestant” pastor, my faith is a Christian blend of Evangelical, Charismatic, Liturgical and Orthodox – a combination that is not formally recognized by any denomination but is what the early church looked like hundreds of years before it became what we would today call “Roman Catholic” and over a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation. I’m the Bible-thumpin’ Evangelical who burns church incense in his home chapel, loves the liturgy, prays the Anglican Monastic Daily Office, prays a two thousand year old Orthodox prayer during the day, sings Charismatic praise and worship songs and uses the Catholic “Prayer of Examen.” Over the next few weeks we’ll look at some of the historic and biblically sound prayer practices from different Christian traditions that you may want to try during your prayer times. If they are helpful, you may want to continue to use these spiritual practices as you DIY, grow in your personal relationship with Jesus and spiritually flourish during this pandemic.      to be continued...

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