In 2016 Patheos produced this summary of the reasons for this in USA:
Social expectation and pressures have lightened. People used to live their lives according to social convention. Those who strayed from accepted norms were ostracized and shamed. Churches used this power to “guilt” people into a variety of behaviors, including weekly church attendance. Obviously this doesn’t work any more.
Church is no longer the best show in town. For centuries, Sunday morning was an entertainment desert. Shops were closed. Sports commenced at noon. There was no cable TV or video games. Church was literally the only thing happening on Sunday morning – so people went. Sunday now presents lots of attractive options and everyone – including Christians – is taking advantage.
Increased mobility. People travel as never before, so more and more churchgoers find themselves out of town on Sunday. Relatively few see the need to visit a nearby church.
Weekend work. Blue laws used to keep businesses shuttered on Sunday. Now many people work on the Sabbath, which makes attendance difficult or impossible.
People need a day of rest. For stressed-out couples Sunday may be the only pajama morning of the week. Can we blame families for wanting a little downtime with each other? After all, aren’t we supposed to take a sabbath?
The rise of do-it-yourself Christianity. The Internet and various media offerings allow believers to tailor a spiritual life to their own liking. They get Christianity without the challenge of having to interact with other Christians.
The expectation of choice. Modern Americans are used to getting exactly what they want. Amazon.com offers more than 200 million items. Petco sells more than 100 varieties of dog food. Christians shop for pastors they connect with. Megachurch attenders often have favorite teaching pastors – and will skip a Sunday if “the other guy” is preaching.
The most faithful saints are burning out. I know a number of very committed Christians who no longer attend – or do so sporadically – because their churches worked them so hard in the past.
Video streaming. In the past five years many churches have begun live-streaming their weekly worship services. It’s a heck of a lot easer to watch church on your iPad than it is to drag everyone to a building. And here’s the best part: no singing!
Churches increasingly model individuality in weekly worship and teaching. We’ve trained people to pursue Christ on their own – so that’s what they’re doing.
These crazy flames that lick and lap at all that ranges round us, the trappings of our wealth, experience and existence. At birth we can’t anticipate our existential ending, the length of life not ours to count or measure. But then we face eternity, or nothingness, depending on belief. Like night’s thief, flames hotter than hell’s painting are not some distant image, but sharpened fronds dissembling each dwelling. And if we leave reality says, ‘there is no return’. Can faith uphold us through this conflagration? Survival walks naked of all that we have known, valued or possessed. That is the option open to us. Our Hobson has no choice. So if we die we will know what rests beyond this life. Remaining so much is loss or lost. Whichever path we walk pray this, pray only this, that now and on beyond this moment the love a letter writer once described will hold, enfold and keep us still through all that is to come. And no insurance…just the faith…
After hearing and watching this year’s Christmas message from the Queen, Tim O’Dwyer has asked that question. What do you think?
“Of course, at the heart of the Christmas story lies the birth
of a child: a seemingly small and insignificant step overlooked by many in
in time, through his teaching and by his example, Jesus Christ would show the
world how small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held
differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.
of us already try to follow in his footsteps. The path, of course, is not
always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small
steps can make a world of difference.
“As Christmas dawned, church congregations around the world
joined in singing It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. Like many timeless carols,
it speaks not just of the coming of Jesus Christ into a divided world, many
years ago, but also of the relevance, even today, of the angel’s message of
peace and goodwill.
“It’s a timely reminder of what positive things can be achieved when people set aside past differences and come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. And, as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”
[About Kevin: As a free-thinking progressive-christian messianic god-seeker. Kévin Aryé Hatikvah Smith, aged 98, deaf, in a wheel-chair in Sydney, Supreme Cross of Honour in 2005 (from Benedict XVI) for 50 years of ecumenism (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in France and Australia. His mother, Esther Myers, was culturally Jewish although non-observant and became Catholic before wedding my Catholic father in 1921. She was a splendid model of Hebrew neighbourly-love and wrote poetry about the blessed virgin Mary and Jesus. He made friends with a messianic rabbi and he invited him to be a reader in his synagogue, which he loved doing. With his wife they were foundation members of the NSW Council of Christians & Jews.
Kevin’s Jewish Cockney ancestor Emmanuel Solomon arrived in Sydney in 1818 and in about 1835 he became a patriarch founder of Adelaide. As a leading Jew he became a close friend of Saint Mary MacKillop and helped her during her excommunication… more than once supplying free accommodation on his properties to the nuns expelled from their convents by a bishop.]1. THE 9 BEATITUDES …
— There are nine beatitudes in Matthew’s Eight Beatitudes! Here is what I understand.
-1. It’s OK to be destitute (ptochoi).
-2. It’s Ok to mourn.
-3. It’s OK to be humble and gentle.
-4. You must hunger for goodness and integrity.
-5. Be merciful and generous.
-6. Be unpretentious and sincere.
-7. Champion peace.
-8. Suffer fools gladly and thugs too. –
9. It’s OK to be reviled or persecuted.
and The Intercession of Yeshuah
Learning not from church christology but from bible christology I note that a main message concerning Yeshuah is that he is shown as subject, submissive, in a servant role to Yahweh-Elohim/Adonai … “Not my will but thine be done.” -Thus NT scripture reveals that divinity has levels, at least 2, since the divine Yeshuah’s is not equal to that of Adonai. — This is rammed home in 1 Cor 15: “After the last judgement, at the final act of salvation history, Yeshuah hands over humanity and the Church to Adonai and then … Wait for it! … he submits. 1 Cor. 24+ “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death for he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. …” — … THE SON WILL BE MADE SUBJECT … so that GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL — The eternal job of Jesus Christ from then on will be to intercede, a servant role.
Can anyone tell who or what Yeshuah will be interceding for?
IT’S HARD TO KNOW HOW TO OBJECT. MEMO to Management (of my nursing hostel): A lady nurse is wearing a festive ‘top’ bearing the greeting “Merry Stitchmas”. I think that it is an unfunny ugly go at demonising the commercial take-over of the annual birthday celebration of a revolutionary Jewish prophet, Rabbi Yeshuah (Jesus-Christ) of Nazareth (05 BCE-30 CE). The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt judged him “… the most completely valid and completely convincing experience of goodness (that our world has ever known) as the inspiring principle of all action”. Kevin Smith room 55
Rev Dr Walter Stratford. [see details about his book at: Why are you here Elijah, now available as a kindle publication]
Following the discussion about the meaning of Christmas at the PCNQ gathering at New Farm last Wednesday, Wally has been inspired to write this….
The gospel account
of Jesus of Nazareth was written as an assertion that Jesus was the Son of God.
The claim comes from the experiences of followers of the way and was
expanded into a declaration on which the church was built. The gospel according
to Luke provides the story that claims Jesus’ birth as an eternal truth.
The angel said to
her, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will
overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be Holy; he will be called
Son of God’ (Lk1:35).
At the appropriate
time Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. ‘While they were there the time came
for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her first-born son…’ (Lk.2:6-7).
These few verses
from Luke’s account continue to be a focal point for the church’s declaration
that Jesus is the Son of God, the birth narrative recognized as definitive of his
divine relationship. This literal understanding of Jesus’ birth was linked by
early theologians to a claim that the scriptures of the Jews contained words of
promise that found their outcome in Jesus. His sacrificial death and the claims
of his resurrection sealed the promises of redemption and became the rock on
which, it may be said, the church stands or falls.
It is generally
agreed that Luke was a Gentile God worshipper before converting to
Christianity. The consensus is that he was writing to fellow Gentiles, some of
whom may have also been God worshippers.
The Gentiles of
that middle eastern area contained among their numbers the strong influence of many
Greeks and Romans. Within this mix were many religious stories which included
visitations of the gods with human women. Children born of such liaisons were
referred to as sons of the gods. Some of these went on to become gods. Hercules
is one so named. Alexander a warrior of considerable renown was named as a god.
Augustus, Roman emperor, on his demise was proclaimed a god.
So, the first
point is that the story of Jesus’ birth is located readily in this Gentile
environment. It has more to do with myth than with demonstrable truth.
It is also
important as a second point to realize that Luke’s viewpoint was
‘written’ around 80 years after Jesus’s birth. It is written from within a
group of followers of the way – apparently Gentile in their origins. It
seems unlikely that after 80 years the detailed description of the happenings
surrounding Jesus’ birth could still be contained in memory.
Thirdly, to present the gospel theme as literally true does
not take account of the mythology of the time, nor the many years of argument
and discussion prior to the eventual determination of the essentials of the
faith to which all were called to accede.
background on which the church was grafted, gave rise to many practices that are
questionable in this 21st century. In our time where many bemoan a
steady demise of the Christmas story as more and more it is overlaid by the
world, I think what is needed is a different story.
The story that I
like to tell has its beginnings in Genesis. You will know the story. It begins
with the wind or spirit of God blowing over the water. A lot happens until we
reach the intimate moment of people’s beginnings. The action of this moment requires
of each of us, an element of imagination. “Then the Lord God formed mansic
from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and the mansic became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Imagination will
hear God say with the breath: “The life of God for the life of humankind” In my
reading of these first two chapters, I am prepared to say that breath and
Spirit go together. We may claim therefore that as we breathe, so also the
Spirit is present. This presence is life giving.
Our different story does not begin with a baby Jesus – it begins at the
beginning of everything. It says that always and constantly the Spirit is
present in every life. All of this is part of the different story. This
presence does not need the continual presence of a baby. The Spirit is robust,
paradoxical, mysterious. It rides the wind that we breathe, and consistently
enables life. The baby born again every year may thus become symbolic of new
life constantly growing and developing and becoming adult.
I think that this story is essential, even in Christmas celebrations
that have become a once a year event – to which all are invited, and large
numbers attend. The glitter expands year by year in dazzling arrays of gifts to
satisfy every desire. It seems at times that life has been put aside in favour
of the satisfaction of immediacy. There is however, much in Christmas that is
good, there is much that is important in its celebration. The glamour is
seductive, but also deceptive.
Beneath the glamour is a mostly forgotten world of a young man who demonstrated
in his life and death the vitality and possibility of life with the Spirit of
God. He is seen in our day among those who fight fires, as a companion to the
frail, as one who vindicates the less fortunate, as one condemning violence. This
young man, Jesus is quoted as saying something akin to: “The reign of God is
within you” (Lk 17:21).
Listening to the people, we discover that Christmas is a time for family
and sharing, for gathering and companionship, a time for holidaying and enjoyment.
Christmas has the power to distract us from disturbing influences. Perhaps here
is some merit however, in remembering that the time of Jesus birth was a disturbing
time of considerable violence. Disturbing times are still with us.
Nevertheless, there is a thread of strength in the Christmas message, in which, if we have ears to hear, we will discover its potential as a catalyst for change in ordinary everyday life, a time for imagining possibility. Christmas spilling over into the New Year every year, may become every year a reminder of the connections humankind has with a mysterious, ambiguous and paradoxical Spirit.
Michael Morwood puts some rubber down on the bitumen exploring how the religious beliefs of many people in countries like ours are changing today. In his new book, “Prayers for Progressive Christians: a New Template”, which we introduce to you today he explores some of the ways in which our prayers and liturgies might have to change.
Go to: Catholica to view the great discussion that is ensuing amongst progressive Catholics.
Statement from the Rev Peter Catt, President of A Progressive Christian Voice Australia.
“There is no need for a Religious Freedom Bill. There are many people throughout the world who are persecuted for their faith. To align oneself with them in the current Australian climate is self-indulgent.
Freedom of religion has to do with the freedom to hold to a particular belief system, freedom to assemble for worship unhindered, and freedom to undertake religious observance and practice. It does not and should not include insulating church institutions or members from being challenged or criticised for poor behaviour.
There is a real danger that a Religious Freedom Bill will become a Freedom to be Sectarian Bill. Religion when it functions properly is about love and inclusion. No Religious Freedom Bill should ever sanction hate speech. Neither should such a Bill allow people who provide goods and services to withhold them from say, LGBTIQ+ people. To allow this would be a retrograde step, taking us back half-a-century to the days when goods and services were withheld from people based on perceived race.
I get attacked more often for my views and practices by fellow religious travellers than I do by people from outside the faith community. Will the Bill stop that from happening? Not that I think that it should. But the Bill is predicated on the idea that it is them (secular forces) and us (religious people). The reality is more complex. How will the Bill deal with religious people attacking one another?
Finally, the Government should reflect on its behaviour during the last Parliament when the greatest threat to religious freedom was the Government’s attempt to curtail religious charities from speaking out on policy matters that affected the poor and vulnerable.”
About Kevin: As a free-thinking progressive-christian messianic god-seeker. Kévin Aryé Hatikvah Smith, aged 98, deaf in a wheel-chair in Sydney / Supreme Cross of Honour in 2005 (from Benedict XVI) for 50 years of ecumenism (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in France and Australia. My mother, Esther Myers, was culturally Jewish although non-observant and became Catholic before wedding my Catholic father in 1921. She was a splendid model of Hebrew neighbourly-love and wrote poetry about the blessed virgin Mary and Jesus. I made friends with a messianic rabbi and he invited me to be a reader in his synagogue, which I loved doing. With my wife we were foundation members of the NSW Council of Christians & Jews. Happy Hanukkah to you and yours from Kevin in Sydney NSW. My Jewish Cockney ancestor Emmanuel Solomon arrived in Sydney in 1818 and in about 1835 he became a patriarch founder of Adelaide. As a leading Jew he became a close friend of Saint Mary MacKillop and helped her during her excommunication… more than once supplying free accommodation on his properties to the nuns expelled from thier convents by a bishop.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? … studying the Rabbi Yeshuah story … Terentius (195-159 BCE): “As a human person, I consider that nothing human is unworthy of my concern”. (Homo sum. A me nihil humanum alienum puto.) -As a human person, I, Kevin/Gauvain, have cast my limited observation powers on the material world that has nurtured me and also beyond at the physical universe that gave me birth.
-I have had it pointed out to me that the universe is
part of a greater realm, the cosmos, where there is Creator-God, heaven,
angels, purgatory , hell, demons, etc.
— Concluding a session of my limited observations and
drawing on life-long learning I conclude in this essay, or I arrive at the
(i) that I am a citizen of a planet where all human
observations, conclusions and opinions are tentative and challengeable;
(ii) that nobody has totally died and then come back to
everyday life again, no resurrection;
(iii) that virgin-mary type pregnancies do not occur
[Yeshuah had no male DNA.];
(iv) that all miracles are scientifically suspect;
(v) that the existence of divinity / divine-nature is
(vi) that a great literary work, the Bible, is a wholly
human construct and therefore has very questionable verisimilitude on account
of its many discrepancies, contradictions and mistakes;
(vii) that you must not trust Christianity because of the christology that it created which was presented to followers as unchangeable ‘deposit of faith’ dogma;
(viii) that faith is often the enemy of evidential fact;
(ix) that history shows for me no evidence of what I
taught as a catechist for 20 years, “God the Father is a loving, caring
(x) that it has been most difficult for me to advance
this thesis since it has taken me 7 or 8 decades of devoted application trying
to find out WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
(xi) that these observations are for me joyful and liberating.
— As one born saved, I spiritually embrace Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth as my mentor; he is Israel’s greatest prophet,, an original thinker, an inspiring preacher, gifted healer & exorcist, convincing teacher of wisdom and integrity, Jewish mystic, model of kingdom-oriented life-style and promulgator of the ancient Hebrew ethics of neighbourly love with esteem for Adonai-Elohim as our loving Father. I walk daily hand-in-hand with this most admirable spiritual companion and silently converse with him and I greet his mother too.  Kevin Aryeh Hatikvah Smith in Sydney 
Rev. Dr John Squires was formerly Principal of Perth Theological Hall. He is currently undertaking an Intentional Interim Ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Churchand is Canberra Region Presbytery Minister (Wellbeing).
John’s blog An Informed Faith is linked to this site in Links – Categories – Leading Practitioners
There has been a lot of media interest in the recent declaration by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, concerning the way that some dioceses, a number of ministers, and many, many people of faith are grappling with our changed understandings of gender and sexuality, and how that relates to Christian faith.
It is a complex matter, with many nuances, that deserve careful consideration, and compassionate reflection.
The words of the Sydney Diocese leader, however, cast the situation in a clear black-and-white manner, with the stinger of a sharp command to those with whom he (and many in his Diocese) disagree: “please leave”.
The full set of words from this part of his speech is instructive: “My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our Church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of Scripture. Please leave us.”
So sayeth the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, the Rev. Dr Glenn Davies.
But there are a number of problems with what Dr Davies said.
The Archbishop distanced himself from “people who] wish to change the doctrine of our Church”. The first problem is, that doctrine is always changing. It was changing in the early decades of the church. It changed significantly in the various Reformations of the 16th century, under the leadership of Jan Huss, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Knox, and then the response of the Council of Trent in the Roman Catholic Church.
It changed in 1540, when Henry VIII of England sanctioned the complete destruction of shrines to saints, and further in 1542, when Henry dissolved monasteries across the country—actions which changed doctrines and led to the formation of the very church in which Glenn Davies was ordained and then consecrated!
It changed when, during the Enlightenment, theologians and scholars applied principles of rational thinking to scriptural texts and faith concerns. It continues to change in the postmodern world, as new discoveries and insights lead Christian leaders to bring new questions to faith issues, and to formulate beliefs in ways that connect with and make sense within the changing world.
In my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, we recognise this when we recall the paragraph in our Basis of Union that affirms “the continuing witness and service”, not only of evangelists, prophets, and martyrs, but also of scholars; and which notes that as we engage with “literary, historical and scientific enquiry … [of] recent centuries”, we are able to develop “an informed faith” of relevance to the current times.
Doctrine is dynamic; it is always in a state of flux. Theology is transient; it is always developing. Church teaching is constantly evolving; it is never static.
Second, the Archbishop referred to “the plain teaching of Scripture”. The second problem, then is that scripture does not actually have a plain teaching. There are words, written in the Bible, which need to be interpreted, if they are to be understood and applied to contemporary life. There is no plain and simple teaching in these words; they are words which always need interpretation.
This interpretation starts with the choice of text. We do not have an “original version”; we have copies of copies, some complete, many fragmented. There are always options to consider–and we all rely on experts in this matter. Then comes the matter of language. Biblical texts were written in languages other than English. We English-speakers are reliant on the careful work of translators and scholars, seeking to render the phrases of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, into contemporary English. There are already multiple interpretive decisions that have been made for us, in our English Bibles.
Then, interpretation needs to take into account the differences in culture that exist, between the patriarchal, honour-shame cultures of antiquity, and the current state of play within (in our case) contemporary Australian society. We can’t just assume that something from an ancient culture “makes sense” in our contemporary culture, let alone that it can be “directly applied” into our context. There are interpretive decisions to be made.
The process of interpretation also needs to bear in mind how the usage of particular words and ideas has changed over time. Awful, for instance, once had a very positive sense, “full full of awe or admiration”, whilst nice had an earlier sense of “silly, foolish”. Guy (from the historical British figure Guy Fawkes) had an earlier sense of a frightening figure, not the generalised reference to men that it has today, whilst meat in earlier centuries was a catch-all term referring to food in general. (And, most pertinent to the particular issue at hand, “gay” once had a very different point of reference in English!)
These kinds of shifts in usage are also found in terms that appear in the Bible, especially in translations from some centuries ago. We need to factor that in to our interpretation.
And then, reading and interpretation of the Bible involves application, discerning how and in what ways a biblical passage is relevant for us today. That means knowing what our situation is as well as what we hear in the biblical text, and connecting the two. It is not simple or straightforward.
That’s an unfair and unhelpfully polemical characterisation of what is a complex and nuanced matter—reading biblical passages about sexuality in contemporary society. The biblical texts about sexual relationships involving people of the same gender are not simple and self-evident prohibitions on such behaviour, and should not be read as such.
Third, the Archbishop—quite strikingly—has urged certain people to leave the Anglican Church. I believe that advocating that people leave one church to start another church is not a helpful activity. Anglicans, like other mainstream denominations, have a commitment to unity in the church. So, the third problem is a lack of commitment to the unity of the church.
That’s quite an amazing position for a leader in a denomination which affirms that it is, indeed, an integral part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church—and which is universally recognised by other denominations as an integral part of that Church.
Each Sunday, in Anglican churches around Australia (and beyond), faithful people affirm, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” That’s a line in the Nicene Creed. And those Anglicans are joined by many Roman Catholics, members of the many Orthodox churches, and quite a number of folk in the various Protestant churches, to say these words together on regular (even weekly) occasions. Across the denominations, there is a commitment to unity.
Not in the Sydney Anglican Diocese, however. The Archbishop’s invitation to those who see things differently from him to leave the church and form their own branch is fracturing the unity of the church even more by this narrow, sectarian dogmatism.
Archbishop Welby is promoting through the Anglican Communion a resource entitled Living Reconciliation, which “offers a vision of Church marked by honesty, truthfulness and love … [and] applies the teaching of the Gospel at precisely the point where we need it most today” (see http://living-reconciliation.org/thebook/).
Is the Archbishop of Sydney aware of just how contrary his words are, to the principles of reconciliation and the commitment to an honest, loving church that is being championed by the Archbishop of Canterbury?
Finally, the Archbishop of Sydney is quoted as imploring those with whom he disagrees: do not ruin the Anglican Church. The fourth problem I see is that exploring and developing ideas is not a process of ruination.
Rather, the exploration of ideas and the development of thought is a constructive process that offers a gift to the church at large: the gift of an ever-evolving, ever-refining articulation of beliefs in ways that resonate with life in the contemporary age. Questions, provocations, redefinitions, and developments in thinking and believing are wonderful gifts!
I wouldn’t characterise the process as one of causing ruin. Rather, I would celebrate it and affirm the importance of this process. The problem, it seems to me, is that if you really believe that you have The Truth, then you are impelled to convince others of that Truth. But if you believe you are called to Love others, then you will listen and learn.
Sadly, the Archbishop has demonstrated this stark difference: when we prioritise Truth, we inform, lecture, admonish, even berate; whereas when we prioritise Love, we enter into relationships, affirm, explore, nourish, question, rethink, and develop in community with each other. Quite a different ethos. Quite a different result.
Please Leave? No—Please Stay! To the people addressed by Dr Davies, I say: Please stay in the Christian church and help us to be faithful to the Gospel. Please stay in the Christian church and help us to change in ways that are positive and life-giving. Please stay and gift your distinctive contribution to the life of the church in your locality and beyond.
And to the Archbishop, if he really is committed to the process of leaving, I say: you please leave. Please leave behind homophobic fear and discriminatory rhetoric. Please leave behind your insistence on conformity to your particular dogmatic assertions. Please leave behind your criticisms of those who happen to be born different from you. That’s what I would like you to leave.