Author Topic: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?  (Read 1547 times)

Randy Bosch

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America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« on: April 19, 2021, 02:02:07 PM »
Article by a Catholic layperson thinking about the precipitous drop in claimed church membership (of all flavors, and in the Gallup polling including Synagogues and Mosques) since 2000.  His title is because of the very recent poll finding that less than 50% of polled Americans now identify as belonging to a church.

https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/america-pagan-nation-now-what-eric-sammons.html

A primary conclusion is that the church(es) in America jumped off the cliff into trying to be relevant to a changing humanistic culture as a solution, rather like pouring gasoline onto a fire.

Some food for thought.


D. Engebretson

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2021, 04:20:07 PM »
Interesting article with some good analysis.  My time in public ministry has encompassed this period of more rapid decline, so as one who has lived in it and is still living in it, I have also given it a fair amount of thought.  Every pastor wants to find the answer of "what will bring them back?" or "how can we keep them from leaving?"  It's tempting to look for sociological answers, and there is certainly some truth in them. We have watched churches try to become more relevant, more 'contemporary' and less stringent and more accepting of cultural behavior, all the while the church continues to decline numerically. While I support the author's recommendation that the church be "a clear alternative to the culture, not just another option among many," I don't support that because I think that it will stall or halt the decline.  I do it because the church should be the church.  It should offer the gifts of God because that is what we have to give.  Otherwise we're just another group trying to increase membership in our 'club.'

But we should be aware, as Christians, that this decline is not at all unexpected. 

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in matter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." 1 Tim. 4:1

"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power."  2 Tim. 3:1-5

"And because of lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold..." Matt. 24:12
« Last Edit: April 19, 2021, 06:05:16 PM by D. Engebretson »
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

Dave Likeness

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2021, 04:58:00 PM »
During the 1990's Dr. Louis Brighton of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
gave a one day seminar on the Book of Revelation to the pastors of
about three LCMS circuits.  He emphasized that in the end times the devil
would unleash an attack on the Church which would severely test the
faith of Christians. He stressed that pastors would need to be steadfast
in the Word of God and minister to their God-given flock.

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2021, 05:22:06 PM »
During the 1990's Dr. Louis Brighton of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
gave a one day seminar on the Book of Revelation to the pastors of
about three LCMS circuits.  He emphasized that in the end times the devil
would unleash an attack on the Church which would severely test the
faith of Christians. He stressed that pastors would need to be steadfast
in the Word of God and minister to their God-given flock.


I think it's a bit of a stretch to compare America now (or even what might happen in the future,) with John having been imprisoned on an island and believers being executed because of their faith. Revelation is about the State (the beast) seeking to destroy believers. What's happening in America isn't coming from the government seeking to shut down congregations, but people just not showing up; people not inviting others to come; people not witnessing to others about the importance of their Christian faith and church involvement.


A Pakistani convert to Christianity noted that in the Book of Acts, when Christians were really persecuted, the church kept growing. (And there wasn't even a church headquarters sending out evangelical methods for congregations to try.)
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dave Benke

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2021, 07:21:15 PM »
Doing end of world exegesis with the insert of these specific times is Pat Robertson-esque.  Remember how he had done the math and on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the nation of Israel (just a few miles from here at the Village of Lake Success) the world was to end.  Still waiting.

To the thread topic, the two edges thus far in response to the Pagan Nation modality have been to adapt to the culture or to double down on not adapting. 

I'm taking a course from the Barna folks called Hybrid Church, along with what looks like many hundreds of other pastors/leaders.  The data they have assembled, and they are mad serious about assembling data, is:
70+% of people are OK with some and even a major aspect of the congregational life being online now and into the reasonable future.      My reaction:  Scary.
20+% of people who left during the pandemic have not come back and are not going to come back.                                                    My reaction:  Good riddance to the cheap gracers
                                                                                                                                                                                         My actual reaction:  Yipes. 
Child,youth and family ministries are already and will be dramatically affected in a bad way                                                                 My reaction - lots of work to do or the trend will                            continue down, down and down

Assessment of how to reach people virtually will be really important                                                                                               My reaction - tell me more.

Anyway, for me this is a steep learning curve.  I haven't even figured out how to access the videos for further study and sharing.            Yipes.

Here's one from me - I do not see a great return to the common cup for the Eucharist across the board.  I do see a yearning for community and in-person worship including the Sacraments, but with a lot of caution attached.

So - is the pandemic an accelerant to paganism, or an opportunity for deep and authentic community?  Or both.

Dave Benke

Norman Teigen

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2021, 07:24:59 PM »
I would propose that what is now happening in Minneapolis will have a profound effect on the American culture.  This will also have an effect on American religion.
Norman Teigen

Terry W Culler

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2021, 08:42:39 PM »
Some years ago I read a statement that the Church is and always has been an island in a sea of paganism.  That is quite true.  The idea that America was once Christian and might be made so again by herculean evangelistic efforts of believers is just plain wrong.  The Church is the remnant of those who have not bowed their knees to Baal and we should never expect anything more.  The confessions teach the biblical doctrine of election and we should have assurance that all those whom God has chosen for Himself will indeed be saved.  Our task is to preach the pure Gospel between now and the Day of the Lord knowing that those elected will respond as the Holy Spirit works faith in their hearts.  Part of what we're experiencing in these times is the loss of people who were largely uninterested in the Lord to begin with but went to church because that's what "good" people did and they wanted their neighbors to see them as "good people".  Another part of the attendance decline is the result of several hundred years worth of philosophical and educational systems that seek to downplay the reality of the Lord's involvement in the world, leading to a culture that seems ever more focused on violating everything God has revealed to us.  And then there is the Charles Finney influence that has taught many people that God helps those who help themselves.
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Our world has always been pagan and always will be until the Lord's return.  So, as the old Gospel song says, cheer up my brothers for farther along we'll know all about it, walk in the light
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Michael Slusser

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2021, 11:07:00 PM »
A longer perspective may not be out of place: “Finke and Stark conducted a statistical analysis of the official census data after 1850, and Atlas for 1776, to estimate the number of Americans who were adherents to a specific denomination. In 1776 their estimate is 17%. In the late 19th Century, 1850–1890, the rate increased from 34% to 45%. From 1890 –1952, the rate grew from 45% to 59%.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_religion_in_the_United_States

By those numbers, America is sliding back to where it was a century ago, but nowhere near as non-Christian as we were in the century before that.

Peace,
Michael
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2021, 11:18:13 PM »
A longer perspective may not be out of place: “Finke and Stark conducted a statistical analysis of the official census data after 1850, and Atlas for 1776, to estimate the number of Americans who were adherents to a specific denomination. In 1776 their estimate is 17%. In the late 19th Century, 1850–1890, the rate increased from 34% to 45%. From 1890 –1952, the rate grew from 45% to 59%.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_religion_in_the_United_States

By those numbers, America is sliding back to where it was a century ago, but nowhere near as non-Christian as we were in the century before that.

Peace,
Michael

Aye...the greatest conflict/frustration I encountered with parishioners was with those who had been formed during the post WWII "glory years" who perceived that historical anomaly as normalcy and "the way things ought to be."

They tended to blame the liturgical Renaissance of the Western Church in the wake of Vatican II as the cause of the decline and the source of all their woes. 
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Dave Benke

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2021, 08:35:35 AM »
A longer perspective may not be out of place: “Finke and Stark conducted a statistical analysis of the official census data after 1850, and Atlas for 1776, to estimate the number of Americans who were adherents to a specific denomination. In 1776 their estimate is 17%. In the late 19th Century, 1850–1890, the rate increased from 34% to 45%. From 1890 –1952, the rate grew from 45% to 59%.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_religion_in_the_United_States

By those numbers, America is sliding back to where it was a century ago, but nowhere near as non-Christian as we were in the century before that.

Peace,
Michael

In the two century USA perspective, the Great Awakenings, three or four, punctuated the times.  One of them began in our Brooklyn backyard.  Is there a Fourth/Fifth Great Awakening on the horizon?   I suppose it's always darkest before the dawn, but it sure doesn't have that feel in our mostly empty congregations at this moment in time.

Interesting perspective on Wikipedia, noted accuracy source, on the "fourth" great awakening - late 60s/70s, including our own Missouri Synod in the mix:  Mainline Protestant denominations weakened sharply in both membership and influence while the most conservative religious denominations (such as the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans) grew rapidly in numbers, spread across the United States, had grave internal theological battles and schisms, and became politically powerful.[21]  I apparently missed the LCMS rapid growth in numbers part.  Stats show the last year of growth in the LCMS to be 1963.  But at least we are/were deemed to be politically powerful.

Dave Benke

D. Engebretson

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2021, 09:06:09 AM »
Doing end of world exegesis with the insert of these specific times is Pat Robertson-esque.  Remember how he had done the math and on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the nation of Israel (just a few miles from here at the Village of Lake Success) the world was to end.  Still waiting.

To the thread topic, the two edges thus far in response to the Pagan Nation modality have been to adapt to the culture or to double down on not adapting. 

I'm taking a course from the Barna folks called Hybrid Church, along with what looks like many hundreds of other pastors/leaders.  The data they have assembled, and they are mad serious about assembling data, is:
70+% of people are OK with some and even a major aspect of the congregational life being online now and into the reasonable future.      My reaction:  Scary.
20+% of people who left during the pandemic have not come back and are not going to come back.                                                    My reaction:  Good riddance to the cheap gracers
                                                                                                                                                                                         My actual reaction:  Yipes. 
Child,youth and family ministries are already and will be dramatically affected in a bad way                                                                 My reaction - lots of work to do or the trend will                            continue down, down and down

Assessment of how to reach people virtually will be really important                                                                                               My reaction - tell me more.

Anyway, for me this is a steep learning curve.  I haven't even figured out how to access the videos for further study and sharing.            Yipes.

Here's one from me - I do not see a great return to the common cup for the Eucharist across the board.  I do see a yearning for community and in-person worship including the Sacraments, but with a lot of caution attached.

So - is the pandemic an accelerant to paganism, or an opportunity for deep and authentic community?  Or both.

Dave Benke

There is no doubt that the pandemic has had and will continue to have a profound impact on the church.  I think that our need to embrace remote technology has revealed, in some cases, the church's continued deep need for authentic real-time community.  But the need for this kind of community appears most profoundly, in my limited and very local observation, within that age group 70 and above.  This past Sunday the first two in church were a gentleman who had recently turned 100, accompanied by his 95 year old wife.  They came 25 minutes before service started.  About five minutes later a woman, who had been absent during much of the previous year due to COVID precautions, was dropped off by her husband.  She just turned 90. I find some 30-40 year olds lagging far behind their aged counterparts, even when they are obviously integrating back into other activities (FB is a wonderful way to see what people are really doing!!).  The generation of 90-somethings (and above!) is quickly passing away. The high profile death of Prince Philip and then former VP Walter Mondale announced this morning, indicate the rapid passing of the remainder of an entire generation.  The church will not be what it was when the last of them are gone.  I can already visualize voids in my own flock when they are no longer coming.  The generations behind them lack their overall dedication and commitment. 

While I am not a "Pat Robertson-esque" endtimes reactionary, I do take the scriptures seriously that remind us that the growing cold of hearts and a general falling away from the faith is part and parcel of our latter days.  And while we should endeavor to understand the dynamics of our current culture and its people in the context of our times, we also need to factor in the presence of ancient evil so prevalent in an ever-increasing secular and pagan society. "Have no fear little flock," the hymn intones.  We will never be the mass-movement of which the Church Growth advocates of a previous time envisioned.  Should we therefore be complacent?  No! Just as our Teutonic and Celtic forebearers did in the early medieval era our mission outreach will be different in upcoming years as we find ourselves as pockets of the faithful in a sea of paganism. 
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2021, 10:28:33 AM »
A longer perspective may not be out of place: “Finke and Stark conducted a statistical analysis of the official census data after 1850, and Atlas for 1776, to estimate the number of Americans who were adherents to a specific denomination. In 1776 their estimate is 17%. In the late 19th Century, 1850–1890, the rate increased from 34% to 45%. From 1890 –1952, the rate grew from 45% to 59%.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_religion_in_the_United_States

By those numbers, America is sliding back to where it was a century ago, but nowhere near as non-Christian as we were in the century before that.

Peace,
Michael

Aye, but if you are going to quote their data analysis, you should also quote their central thesis as well:

"to the degree that churches cease to make serious demands of their followers in terms of time, belief, and money, they cease to prosper."

Seems the condemnation of the church in Laodicea as "lukewarm" still has relevance. 
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Michael Slusser

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2021, 10:40:38 AM »
A longer perspective may not be out of place: “Finke and Stark conducted a statistical analysis of the official census data after 1850, and Atlas for 1776, to estimate the number of Americans who were adherents to a specific denomination. In 1776 their estimate is 17%. In the late 19th Century, 1850–1890, the rate increased from 34% to 45%. From 1890 –1952, the rate grew from 45% to 59%.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_religion_in_the_United_States

By those numbers, America is sliding back to where it was a century ago, but nowhere near as non-Christian as we were in the century before that.

Peace,
Michael

Aye, but if you are going to quote their data analysis, you should also quote their central thesis as well:

"to the degree that churches cease to make serious demands of their followers in terms of time, belief, and money, they cease to prosper."

Seems the condemnation of the church in Laodicea as "lukewarm" still has relevance.
You're right: they, and especially Stark, think that from a purely sociological point of view a multiplicity of competing churches that make ever-greater demands on their adherents will produce the maximum spread of Christianity. It is a thesis that has some plausibility.

I would note, however, that they do not take into consideration whether what any of these churches holds is true (or false). And that thesis  has been called simplistic by another religious sociologist, Robin Gill (Competing Convictions, SCM Press, 1989), whose research called into question the hypothesis that competition among churches leads to spread of Christianity.

Peace,
Michael
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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2021, 01:04:57 PM »
For some time I have been pondering the question of how much of the church attendance in the supposed golden era was driven by societal pressure when the church was more at the center of the community.  In other words, how many people went because "that's what everybody did, or because it was some national emergency like WW 2 etc. 

There are studies that show as steep a drop in organizations like Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, VFW etc.  Are they finding their sense of community elsewhere?  I don't know.

In my area of Iowa you also need to take into account the overall decline in population of our county and the shrinking size of the average farm family that now has on average 2 children as opposed to 5 or more a few years ago.
Rev. Peter Morlock- ELCA pastor serving two congregations in WIS

Dave Likeness

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Re: America is a Pagan Nation - Now What?
« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2021, 01:33:59 PM »
One of the factors that fueled the high church attendance in the 1950's..........

Our army, navy, air force and marine military personnel had returned from
WWII.   They were happy to be alive and showed their gratitude to God by
attending church on Sundays.   The 1950's was a decade of peace despite
our participation in the Korean War.