Privatized Religion

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Privatized Religion

Postby Dave Roberts » Sun May 05, 2019 4:13 pm

I have been thinking lately about a reality focused in my lifetime, the privatizing of religion and especially of Christianity in our US culture. As we have journeyed through the twentieth into the twenty-first century, it seems that our Christian faith has been transformed, often by Baptists, into what is regarded simply as a private concern. Earlier incarnations in this country of the Christian faith seem to have been focused much more on societal transformation like prohibition, abolition, dealing with, supporting, or fighting integration, working to further education, and investing worldwide in mission endeavors. During the last century, Christianity became more and more focused on a "personal relationship with Christ." It seems that this has come to mean having one's ticket punched for heaven, often meaning that the professed faith has little to do with anything beyond a place in eternity. Indeed, I wonder if we have transformed "eternal life" from being a present reality lived out in many way now and then continuing into eternity into "pie in the sky by and by when you die." What are the thoughts of others in the BL family?
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Rvaughn » Sun May 05, 2019 6:43 pm

Dave, I agree with you about the growth of a segment of Christianity that focuses only, or at least mainly, on a "pie in the sky by and by when you die" type of Christianity. IMO, a lot of this originates from the revivalistic style of religion rooted in the methods of those like Charles Finney, mediated through other evangelists like Billy Sunday, and door-to-door soul-winners like Jack Hyles who went about selling "eternal fire insurance." This definitely put a focus on just getting ready for eternity and little else. Interestingly, though, many of these themselves were not recluses from the world. IIRC, Finney was a vocal abolitionist, and Sunday a leading prohibitionist in his day.

On the other hand, perhaps a major difference is that we are more fragmented and don't agree on the focus of societal transformation. For example, religionists can be found of both sides of moral societal issues like abortion and homosexual marriage, actively advocating their visions for society. Interestingly, there are also those who are not Christians who would like us to slink back into the shadows and leave the societal revolution to them.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Sandy » Sun May 05, 2019 10:59 pm

Rvaughn wrote: Interestingly, there are also those who are not Christians who would like us to slink back into the shadows and leave the societal revolution to them.


And I would argue that in more recent history, they have had more success in their endeavors than most Christians who have been involved.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Haruo » Sun May 05, 2019 11:55 pm

Certainly Christian activity on behalf of the illegalization of abortion is as widespread as was that on behalf of the illegalization of alcoholic beverages a century or more ago.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby William Thornton » Mon May 06, 2019 5:19 am

Haruo wrote:Certainly Christian activity on behalf of the illegalization of abortion is as widespread as was that on behalf of the illegalization of alcoholic beverages a century or more ago.


Not in political representation, though. "Dry" congressional reps were 2/3 in 1916. Pro-life reps are not nearly as strong today. Only a few states have fetal heartbeat laws. Prohibition may have been a 'noble experiment.' There's nothing experimental about preserving life.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Dave Roberts » Mon May 06, 2019 7:17 am

We can all toss out social issues, but I wonder about another issue. In some of the churches where I have been preaching in their interim times, I wonder how much this affects both church attendance and the existence of the "nones" and "dones." It seems there is less of a corporate sense of church than we used to share in most churches. How much of the issue of church decline also relates to this privatized version of Christianity? When the only goal is "going to heaven," why bother with church?
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby JE Pettibone » Mon May 06, 2019 11:18 am

Ed: Last week I learned something new, at least to me, As a part of our RV Tour we visited the Buffalo Trace Distillery near Frankfort Ky. I was surprised to find out that they other Distilleries in KY where allowed by law to stay open to and continued production during prohibition . Think Legalized pot. By law they produced the same bourbon as before, it was was legally sold by prescription. The only restriction was a one pint per week limit, for man woman and child.
No wonder prohibition failed.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Haruo » Mon May 06, 2019 4:02 pm

A pint a week is torture.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Haruo » Mon May 06, 2019 4:02 pm

What if any strictures were there on liturgical wine production, sale, and consumption?
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby JE Pettibone » Mon May 06, 2019 4:28 pm

Haruo wrote:What if any strictures were there on liturgical wine production, sale, and consumption?


Ed: The guide did not go into a lot of detail when asked about that but did say it was another way around the stated purpose of the prohibition law.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Haruo » Mon May 06, 2019 11:14 pm

I wonder when and why the Mormons got out of the winemaking business.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue May 07, 2019 5:57 am

I was intrigued as an SBTS student preaching for little churches near distilleries to learn that the members all worked at the distillery, none of them drank, and they felt they were within the "church covenant" since they neither used nor sold it. They just distilled it. Made for interesting conversations.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Rvaughn » Tue May 07, 2019 10:53 am

Dave Roberts wrote:...They just distilled it...
The only distilled beverage native to the United States is bourbon. A Baptist preacher from Kentucky, Elijah Craig (1738–1808), is credited with the invention of bourbon whiskey. He and his brother Lewis and the “Traveling Church” came from Virginia and arrived in central Kentucky circa 1781.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Haruo » Tue May 07, 2019 12:39 pm

Dave Roberts wrote:I was intrigued as an SBTS student preaching for little churches near distilleries to learn that the members all worked at the distillery, none of them drank, and they felt they were within the "church covenant" since they neither used nor sold it. They just distilled it. Made for interesting conversations.

Did SBC or ABC churches that had such covenants (as I believe the Nichigo congregation at Japanese Baptist still has, or had until recently) seriously try to bar grocery workers and restaurant wait staff from church membetship? Were brothers and sisters in Christ actually refused the right hand of fellowship for taking such employment?
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue May 07, 2019 2:05 pm

Haruo wrote:
Dave Roberts wrote:I was intrigued as an SBTS student preaching for little churches near distilleries to learn that the members all worked at the distillery, none of them drank, and they felt they were within the "church covenant" since they neither used nor sold it. They just distilled it. Made for interesting conversations.

Did SBC or ABC churches that had such covenants (as I believe the Nichigo congregation at Japanese Baptist still has, or had until recently) seriously try to bar grocery workers and restaurant wait staff from church membetship? Were brothers and sisters in Christ actually refused the right hand of fellowship for taking such employment?

It was accepted to distill it, but you were considered in violation of the church covenant drawn from the New Hampshire Confession of 1823 if you drank or sold it. Of course, most Baptists looked the other way on those who had a little nip.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Haruo » Tue May 07, 2019 10:00 pm

1823? I didn't think teetotalism had taken root in Baptists (or other protestants) generally that early. I thought it dated more from the Washingtonians' era.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Rvaughn » Tue May 07, 2019 10:06 pm

The first New Hampshire Confession was 1833, not 1823, if I remember correctly. I think the church covenant itself dates to around 1853. Both are usually credited to the work of J. Newton Brown.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed May 08, 2019 5:58 am

Rvaughn wrote:The first New Hampshire Confession was 1833, not 1823, if I remember correctly. I think the church covenant itself dates to around 1853. Both are usually credited to the work of J. Newton Brown.


Well, I was ten years off. Mind sometimes gives me false information.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Tim Bonney » Wed May 08, 2019 11:56 am

Rvaughn wrote:On the other hand, perhaps a major difference is that we are more fragmented and don't agree on the focus of societal transformation. For example, religionists can be found of both sides of moral societal issues like abortion and homosexual marriage, actively advocating their visions for society. Interestingly, there are also those who are not Christians who would like us to slink back into the shadows and leave the societal revolution to them.


I'm not sure we ever agreed. I watched a very good Netflix documentary on prohibition. Among other things there is a good bit of anti-catholicism and anti-immigrant slant to parts of the prohibition movement as it was German Lutheran, and Irish Catholic immigrants who often used alcohol more as part of their own cultural identity and religious faith. They would not have argued for prohibition as a moral imperative while anglo-protestants often did.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Rvaughn » Wed May 08, 2019 3:26 pm

Tim Bonney wrote:I'm not sure we ever agreed.
Right. There has never been anything that approached universal agreement. Nevertheless, based on my own experience, I would say that English Protestant-types in the Southern United States were once in much closer agreement on moral issues generally than they are now.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Tim Bonney » Wed May 08, 2019 3:52 pm

Rvaughn wrote: Right. There has never been anything that approached universal agreement. Nevertheless, based on my own experience, I would say that English Protestant-types in the Southern United States were once in much closer agreement on moral issues generally than they are now.


I'm not sure. Methodism has a very strong social gospel commitment that goes back generations in our Book of Discipline. But, I was never a Methodist in the south. So I can't say that I can parse out how this is different north/south with any certainty.

One of the things dividing Methodists honestly goes back to our merger in 1939 of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Methodists got back together when Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists didn't. Now it appears that merger didn't make us unified beyond structural unity. Some of the large differences in the UMC are north/south regional differences now. Maybe American Baptists and Southern Baptists are better off that they didn't end up pulling off a post-civil war reunion?
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Rvaughn » Wed May 08, 2019 4:58 pm

I've never been a Methodist, neither was I around in 1939. It is my sense, though, that merger and later one could have changed things quite a bit. My paternal grandmother and her family (parents, siblings, aunts, cousins) were Methodists and seemed to differ from us on some theological issues but not social ones. I know many of them were not keen on the merger (but I think that may have been more about the EUB merger). My grandmother eventually joined the Baptists in her 80s. Some of the relatives and the churches they were connected with in southwest Missouri started their own conference. I don't think it was a North/South issue at that point, but differing theological and perhaps practical visions.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Tim Bonney » Wed May 08, 2019 8:12 pm

Rvaughn wrote:I've never been a Methodist, neither was I around in 1939. It is my sense, though, that merger and later one could have changed things quite a bit. My paternal grandmother and her family (parents, siblings, aunts, cousins) were Methodists and seemed to differ from us on some theological issues but not social ones. I know many of them were not keen on the merger (but I think that may have been more about the EUB merger). My grandmother eventually joined the Baptists in her 80s. Some of the relatives and the churches they were connected with in southwest Missouri started their own conference. I don't think it was a North/South issue at that point, but differing theological and perhaps practical visions.


The EUB merger didn't happen until 1968. The biggest issue with that merger is that the Methodists were so much bigger than the EUB that the EUB basically felt swallowed.

Methodists were the first denomination to have what is called a "Social Creed." And one of Wesley's sayings is that there is no personal holiness without social holiness. So Methodists have tried to avoid the privatization of Christianity. How well we have succeeded varies a lot.
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Dave Roberts » Sat May 11, 2019 6:22 am

One of the interesting things about the Kentucky bourbon distilleries is that quite a few of them were located in "dry counties" in Kentucky. Each county and municipality had to vote on whether to allow the sale of alcohol in the county. In most of the larger areas, alcohol was freely sold, but in largely rural areas, legal alcohol sales did not resume following prohibition, and a number were still "dry" when I was in Kentucky. The same was also true in NC, though its primary liquor making was in illegal moonshine.

While I am concerned about many social causes, what I really questioned in starting this thread is whether church still has the corporate levels on involvement and inter-relatedness that has been our historic norm. Are we simply purveyors of a commodity, salvation, rather than a set of relationships in which we share the "new life in Christ?"
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Re: Privatized Religion

Postby Sandy » Sat May 11, 2019 9:46 am

Dave Roberts wrote: While I am concerned about many social causes, what I really questioned in starting this thread is whether church still has the corporate levels on involvement and inter-relatedness that has been our historic norm. Are we simply purveyors of a commodity, salvation, rather than a set of relationships in which we share the "new life in Christ?"


I think that probably depends on the congregation. There are some churches that still function according to the Biblical model, that are communities of believers and which function as the church which is described in Acts. But in American Christian culture, what's been happening is a transition to what gets called "corporate church" or "consumer church". In spite of rigid insistence on adhering to a literal interpretation of the Bible and on strict following of doctrine, outlined practices and even cultural influences found in scripture, Christians in our culture equate success in ministry with success in business and measure it by what is visibly produced.

I can illustrate that personally. The church in which I grew up was a small church, about 70-75 people on average, getting up to 100 on Easter and Christmas Eve. From the earliest time I can remember, it functioned as a community. People loved each other, cared about each other and took care of each other. There was always a fellowship at someone's house after church on Sunday night. People ministered according to their spiritual gifts and took responsibility for contributing to everyone's spiritual growth. It had its quirks, and wasn't perfect. Selfishness would sometimes create unnecessary conflict. But it functioned as a church, with genuine ministry and fellowship, discipleship and evangelism. Most of the members had roots somewhere in Dixieland, so it was real big on the Cooperative Program and missions. I've been a member of two mega-churches since then, neither of which had that kind of dynamic. And I think that's at least part of the problem. Success isn't measured by whether a church is functioning according to a Biblical model, it is how many people attend and how much money it collects. So mega churches, which grow by using their resources to attract people by offering a cafeteria selection of benefits so that they'll leave their smaller churches, have become the model to imitate in order to have a successful church. It's all inward and all about what the church member "gets out of" the experience.
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