Religion and the Zeitgeist



I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its conscience to neither kings or priests, the genuine doctrine of only one God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.

Thomas Jefferson, 1822

For a very, very long time individuals have been proposing that if churches wish to survive in future they must “modernize”, which usually comes down to agreeing with the person giving the advice.  The hilarious fact is that churches that accept such advice normally rapidly lose members and become pale shadows, at best, of what they once were.  Alexander Griswold gives, at The Federalist, examples of what has happened to churches that have modified their doctrine in regard to homosexuality:

But a number of Christian denominations have already taken significant steps towards liberalizing their stances on homosexuality and marriage, and the evidence so far seems to indicate that affirming homosexuality is hardly a cure for membership woes. On the contrary, every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.

The Episcopal Church

In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay, noncelibate man to be consecrated as a bishop of the Episcopal Church. In the wake of his consecration, entire dioceses severed ties with the Episcopal Church, eventually creating the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). But the Episcopal Church continued to liberalize its sexual teachings, lifting a moratorium on any more gay bishops in 2006 and creating a “blessing ceremony” for gay couples in 2009.

In 2002, the number of baptized U.S. members of the Episcopal Church stood at 2.32 million. By 2012, that number had fallen to 1.89 million, a decline of 18.4 percent. Meanwhile, attendance has fallen even more steeply. Average Sunday attendance in its U.S. churches was 846,000 in 2002, but had fallen 24.4 percent by 2012 to only 640,000. Other signs of congregational liveliness have fallen even further. Baptisms have fallen by 39.6 percent, and marriages have fallen by 44.9 percent.

As for the ACNA? It’s seen its membership rise by 13 percent and its Sunday attendance rise by 16 percent in the past five years. Since 2009, the ACNA has planted 488 new congregations. In 2012, the entire Episcopal Church managed to plant four new churches.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was formed in 1987, when three Lutheran denominations merged to create the largest Lutheran church in America. For most of its history, gay men and women were permitted to be pastors, so long as they remained celibate. But in a narrow vote at its 2009 Churchwide Assembly, ordination was extended to gay men and women in “committed monogamous relationships.” In addition, the Assembly passed an amendment allowing churches “to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

From ELCA’s formation in 1987 to 2009, the average decrease in membership each year was only 0.62 percent. But after the liberalization of the ELCA’s stance on sexuality, membership declined a whopping 5.95 percent in 2010 and 4.98 percent in 2011. Since 2009, more than 600 congregations abandoned the denomination, with almost two-thirds joining conservative Lutheran denominations like the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Churches in Ministry for Christ.

By the end of 2012, ELCA had lost 12.3 percent of its members in three years—nearly 600,000 people. If the present rate of defections holds steady, ELCA will cease to exist in less than two decades.

The United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ (UCC) has long had a reputation for unfettered liberalism, sometimes bordering on the radical. In 2008, for example, the pastor of the largest UCC congregations in the country was one Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The UCC’s tendency for pushing traditional boundaries has led to unquestionably positive developments (such as the first African-American pastor as early as 1785) and the unquestionably silly (such as the first hymnal that refuses to call Jesus male). Needless to say, in 2005 UCC became the first U.S. mainline Protestant denomination to support same-sex marriage, and has been an outspoken voice in the gay marriage debate ever since.

While UCC has been bleeding members for decades, its decline rapidly accelerated after the gay marriage vote. Since 2005, UCC has lost 250,000 members, a decline of 20.4 percent over seven years. While an average of 39 congregations left UCC annually from 1990 to 2004, more than 350 congregations departed in the following three years. The UCC’s own pension board called the 2000’s decline “the worst decade among 25 reporting Protestant denominations,” and admitted that “…the rate of decline is accelerating.”

2013 marked a particularly grim milestone for the denomination, as membership finally fell below one million. If the post-2005 rate in membership losses doesn’t taper out, the denomination will cease to exist in 30 years.


Go here to read the rest.  People will sacrifice a lot, including their Sunday mornings, if they believe that what they are participating in will lead them to eternal salvation through the eternal Truth that was preached by Jesus Christ.  Churches that change their teachings to whatever seems popular at the moment among the powerful and influential send a clear message that the powers that be that run the organization have agendas on which eternal salvation and doctrinal truth are far down the list.  Most people are not idiots and quickly understand this, and most decide that they could better spend their time sleeping in on Sundays or find some other church that is not a mere conveyor of fashionable beliefs and prejudices that they can get on television and the internet for free.


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  1. Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Libertas, “But many there are who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer, and adopt as their own his rebellious cry, ‘I will not serve’; and consequently substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license. Such, for instance, are the men belonging to that widely spread and powerful organization, who, usurping the name of liberty, style themselves liberals”
    How can “churches” who in the face of Romans 1:18-32 and 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 claim they serve God when they sanctify what God has expressly prohibited? Thus, those who are truly Christian, recognizing this, will leave and those who were never Christian to begin with, consistent with the cry “Non Serviam,” will not even serve their newly “liberated” churches.
    Liberalism is a vile cancer that brings death and decay to all that it touches.

  2. So many of these liberal denominations are run by 60’s style liberals. They care not for God’s law…or His gospel. They just want to be liked and to “save the world”. Not realizing that this world and everyone in it, is not progressing…but are being brought to an end, by the Living God.

    I happen to belong to a church that is officially in the ELCA. But we (because our pastor knows the score) don’t have anything to do with them anymore. We had a vote to leave, but there are just too many ignorant and liberal members of our congregation to have that vote passed. So we just continue to proclaim God’s law and His gospel. And every once in a while…someone hears it and comes to faith.

  3. Thomas Jefferson believed in “their Creator”, our Father in heaven. Thomas Jefferson believed that man is created by God. Thomas Jefferson did not see the need for a Redeemer of mankind, the Second Person of God, Jesus Christ, Who, with the Father, acknowledges the Holy Spirit, the Three Persons in one God, the Holy Trinity, because Thomas Jefferson was not evangelized more completely to understand and accept the Trinitarian God. This understanding of the Trinity would have given Thomas Jefferson a greater ability to defend and define the human person, sovereign personhood and the gift of freedom endowed into the human person by “their Creator”. Jesus Christ’s free will choice to love His Father in heaven, even unto crucifixion and death; Christ’s obedience to His Father and Scripture unto His Resurrection defines perfect freedom, love and citizenship.
    The current trouble with Allah is that Allah has no son to love and no son to love him, and therefore no Holy Spirit. Most of the other religions are adaptations of another human being’s understanding of God, Bhudda, Confucius, Ghandi and a myriad of beliefs thrown together without love or understanding, lacking all wisdom and the fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom.
    There has got to be something in religion for me outside of license and that being the Beatific Vision.

  4. Ditching the Gospel and doubling-down on the zeitgeist might be bad for
    these denominations, but it doesn’t seem to have a downside for their churches’
    leadership. In fact, once the leaders teach themselves not to care that these
    communities are self-destructing, there probably isn’t another down side
    this side of the Judgement Seat. After all, they have job security. They enjoy
    respected social position as clergy. They can smugly congratulate themselves
    that they aren’t like those rubes that actually believe all that Gospel ‘nonsense’.
    They probably believe that no one ever did a good thing for the poor until
    they came along. And let’s not forget that they often hold title on their churches’
    properties, which can be sold off as congregations evaporate.

    I think the same dynamic can be seen in many of our decadent Catholic orders
    and congregations of sisters. They seem not to care that they are presiding
    over the implosion of their congregations, so long as they can congratulate
    themselves on cleaving to their leftist ideology. Despite the fact that most of these
    orders haven’t seen novices in years, they refuse to rethink their allegiances.
    In my opinion, they are no longer Brides of Christ, but brides of the zeitgeist.
    And they Do. Not. Care.

  5. Those Protestant sects have been disappearing for decades. Eventually they will wither away into dust and be blown about by the wind. The “Reformers” reformed nothing. They hated the Catholic Pope and became Popes of their own domains. Sola Scriptura becomes sola – pop cultura.

    The Catholic Church in the West has not been immune from kowtowing to the prevailing winds. Just look at the nonsense that goes in in most Catholic parishes on Sundays. In the Tridentine Mass it was not too much work for the priest to perform the Scripture readings and if assistance was needed for Communion there was another priest available.

    Bad music, hand-holding during the Our Father, the sign of peace that should be dispensed with as they do in the EWTN televised masses, a constant stream of laity leaving the pews to read the first reading, the responsorial psalm, the second reading, the introduction to the Gospel, the mass intentions, bringing the wine, water and host to the altar from the main aisle where it has never belonged, and distributing Holy Communion – as Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “Full and active participation has been confused with mere “doing”.

    The orders that have lost most of their membership are on a death spiral. There will be new orders to replace them. Pope Francis can send out a lieutenant to virtually suppress the FFI, but Pope Francis will not be pope forever and new orders will emerge.

  6. A local UCC church has one of those digital message boards out front; this week their message is “God Bless Everyone, No Exceptions”. Well, sure. And… then what? Was there someone who prays to God to withhold blessings from someone else? What if I pray to God that every child is blessed with a mom and a dad?

    So we’ll see. If turning itself inside out to ensure that no one ever feels like they are on the outside looking in… wins the day, then UCC will win the day. This day? The Last Day? I guess there are no Last Days, there is only your last day on earth. And you are saved from worrying about whether or not you are saved.

  7. They can read the signs of the times in the pop culture so to hustle and jostle to keep up; but not read the signs that their plan is failing.

    Luke 12:56 “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

    So much division even within the Church– the scene that Old Adam describes of the division with the congregation is common to each congregation. How should we interpret the present time. God bless us and help us to divide rightly the word of truth

  8. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden was disestablished in 2000, the government, to widespread approval, nevertheless resolved to continue to pay the salaries of the clergy, to maintain church buildings and to fund the theological faculties at the universities.

    Quite simply, the government and the majority of its electors regard Christianity in Sweden as a moribund superstition that will simply wither away and they are prepared to let it do so slowly and without fuss. They are a compassionate people and they do not want to shock or distress the handful of elderly believers, who still seek the consolations of religion and who have been accustomed to receive them without cost to themselves in every parish in the kingdom. So, they are willing to maintain, at a decent salary, the ministers of a ritual that has lost all vitality, confident that Christianity over time will simply vanish away and that the present generation of ministers, or the next, will probably be the last.

    Most state churches in Europe increasingly resemble the Church of Sweden.

  9. More’s the pity for them in the very long run, Clinton. Also, I wonder
    if that is the case since all of these groups have futile plan after futile
    plan to increase membership.

    I’ve always found it interesting that those protestant denominations (as
    well as those decadent Catholic orders and congregations of sisters), which
    choose to address their implosion will always opt for a futile plan.
    Reiki, New Age, labyrinths, clown masses, drive-in services, ‘youth’ music
    no teen would voluntarily listen to, wreckovation of beautiful sanctuaries,
    stilted “inclusive” readings, images of a female “Christa” instead of a male
    Jesus, etc., etc. —- there seems to be no embarrassment these groups are
    not willing to try in their effort to be appealing and fashionable.
    The only thing these groups are absolutely unwilling to try is a return to
    tradition. That is a bridge too far, and they would rather die off than try that.

  10. “More’s the pity for them in the very long run, Clinton. Also, I wonder if that is the case [that they Do. Not. Care] since all of these groups have futile plan after futile plan to increase membership.”

    Of course, a major problem is that each plan is made in the absence of any spiritual orientation to God. It is doubtful that the Apostles and other early Christians had a ‘plan’ in the modern sense of the word. Indeed, from the viewpoint of modern project management the Apostles were likely ‘planning to fail’ by not having a plan at all.

    No, the futility of these plans are not in their details or methodology or execution. The futility is in their underlying substitution of the zeitgeist for God. Hence the point of the original article. Thanks Don.

  11. Oh I agree, TomD. As I said earlier about some of our congregations of
    sisters, they’ve swapped being Brides of Christ for being brides of the

  12. Penguins Fan,

    The subject matter is the sad disintegration of the liberal Protestant denominations not your preference for the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, nor your hypercritical remarks about the Ordinary Form. You don’t see Melkite Rite Catholics questioning the faith etc of Byzantine Rite Catholics nor of Latin Rite Catholics. Catholic means both “universal” and ‘the whole (teaching)’ The Tridentine Liturgy is a beautiful Rite not an ideological fortress.

  13. Botolph, I can’t lightly dismiss Penguins Fan’s objective observations about a standard N.O. liturgy: in fact his comments are in line with the norm of banality and proper correctness one regularly experiences in the parishes. And here in the SF Bay Area, it is banality and proper correctness on steroids.
    Even the artificially created terms “Ordinary Form” (a term invented and in use only since 2007) vs. “Extraordinary Form” (to avoid allowing the use of the Traditional Latin Mass, which is an acknowlegment ipso facto of the a-traditional Novus Ordo).
    Klaus Gamber, an eyewitness and peritus at Vat 2, reiterates in his landmark work, ” The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background”, that the Rite of the Council wasalways in fact the TLM: otherwise, after the approval of Sacro Concilium and the 1965 Missal, why would the Council Fathers have approved the printing of tens of thousands of Missale Romanum copies, only to have them instantly obsolete with the Bugnini-Consilium produced Novus Ordo in 1968-1969. Gamber says no one in their wildest dreams ever conceived of the jettisoning of the Mass of Trent. Remember, Gamber was praised as a “true prophet” of the liturgy in an era of many false prophets by none other than C. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.
    Or, you can read in Abp. Weakland’s autobiography, “A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church” (pp. 203-ff) how he describes how he collaborated with Bugnini starting in 1967, particularly in January of that year, after the Council Fathers had gone home, how he and Bugnini (with at least 6 Protestant observers) “created” the 3 experimental liturgies that were then performed for Paul VI during 3 evenings in January and February of that year at the Sistine Chapel; Weakland describes before, during, and after, his close relationship with Bugnini and one can see how they both cultivated a warm and manipulative relationship (in my view) with regard to Paul VI, convincing him that this is what “the experts” had recommended to be the New Mass of Vatican II—even though the Council Fathers had spoken on this matter during the actual council.

    Now, even, if you dont accept these observations, I urge you to read in its entirety, these as a starter: Romano Amerio’s “Iota Unum,” a keen eyewitness- history of the Council by a top shelf peritus and first rate mind; Roberto de Mattei’s Vatican II (“2nd Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story”) [Even I have read where you have already dismissed de Mattei as a reactionary, unfortunately without apparently reading his monumental opus]; Yves Congar’s “My Journal of the Council”, andlastly, if you havent already read them, “Pope John’s Council” and Pope Paul’s New Mass” by the late Michael Davies. These are just for starters: but as more and more original information comes to light from journals and 1st-hand accounts of the era, at least you will get a different view point on what happened at V2, where this liturgy came from, and why expert Joseph Gelineau said, “The Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists: it has been destroyed” (1976).

  14. Steve Phoenix,

    Steve, while we have been down this road several times before, in the interest of substantive dialogue, I will respond in kind.

    I am old enough to have witnessed and served the Tridentine Mass. What I witnessed while in the sanctuary would also be considered banal, although obviously not the same shallowness of which you speak concerning the Vatican II Mass ( we can agree I assume that two Councils brought forth two forms of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass). As an example of that banality. I would offer these three examples
    1) High Mass was rarely celebrated; no Mass in the Sunday schedule was slated as the High Mass although we had three Masses w/choirs: bboys, women, men
    2) While I was not a youthful Latinist I knew enough that the Latin was “said” fast, often slurred; the pastor used to give Holy Communion to three people while saying the prayer he was supposed to say for one
    3) the priests would come out and begin Holy Communion as soon as the Consecration was finished

    In speaking about either Mass it is important to keep iN mind what the Church calls for in the ritual-not the failures found in the celebration of either Rite

    We are speaking about Rites, the many forms in which the substance of the Mass. Has been and is celebrated. Rites are the necessary way in which the Liturgy is incarnated, but the Church. Has many families of Rites-including in the history of the Western Latin Rite. The Latin Church has never had only one form:: the Roman Rite (in fact the Latin Rite has had many expressions, some no longer extant, but all of them quite valid forms of the celebration of Mass

    The Tridentine and Pauline Litugies will continue on being celebrated, just as the Ambrosian, Anglican Usage in the Latin Rite will continue and the multiple Rites of the Eastern churches will as well. This is the Catholic Church, Faith and Liturgy we participate in and from which we are sent forth in mission. Denigrating valid rites of the Church is not something we do, recognizing the catholicity of the Church, which is built on its unity, holiness and apostolicity

  15. Very good discussion. I do agree with Penguin’s remarks as relates to this post about the precipitous slide of some denominations after what I will call “modernizing” and I see the idea that similar such “modernizing” – such as Bad music, hand-holding during the Our Father, mere “doing” may also be a warning to Catholics.

    I also understand, Botolph, that the “form” without the heart doesn’t matter.

  16. Botolph wrote, “I am old enough to have witnessed and served the Tridentine Mass. What I witnessed while in the sanctuary would also be considered banal…”

    I recall attending Low Mass in Notre Dame de Paris – the choir, from the chancel arch to the high altar is 36m and the transept adds a further 14m, so someone in the front pew was 50m (162 feet) from the priest, under a vault 33m (108 feet) high. The nave is 60m (197 feet) long, so someone at the back was about 100m from him – about the length of a football field. There was no sound system.

    That is, perhaps, an extreme case, but even in the typical parish church, the distance from altar to front pew was often a good 20m (65 feet).

    A Low Mass was completely inaudible and the Sanctus bell served a very practical purpose. When the priest turned to us, we knew, of course, that he was saying “Dominus vobiscum,” but, had he said « Salut les copains » only the server would have been any the wiser.

    The celebrant’s manner tended to be brisk, but reverent, and his gestures restrained; without a homily, mass lasted for some 20 minutes.

    Now, I happen to regard Haydn’s Nelson Mass (Missa in Angustiis) as one of the great moments of Western Music, I love Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and I know few things more lovely than Fauré’s In Paradisum. I am enough of a romantic to enjoy Verdi’s Requiem. I yield to no one in my admiration for the early composers – Josquin des Prez and Guillaume Dufay, but it is the music, rather than the form of the rite it accompanies that is important here.

  17. Botolph,

    The first thing is that I would expect Mr. McClarey to make a correction of me if I have created a distracting thread drift. It is his blog, not yours.

    Second – I did not make hypercritical comments about the Ordinary Form. I reported observations of the Ordinary Form that I have experienced in recent years in my home parish and the home parish where I grew up and where my mother continues to attend Mass. The Ordinary Form of the Mass of the Western Church has too often been a laboratory for silliness just as the former mainline Protestant churches. Pope Benedict was very much in favor of proper celebration of the Liturgy, in whatever form, in all particular Catholic Churches.

    Third – I will now compare and contrast the special Masses the Diocese of Pittsburgh celebrates for two separate Feasts of Our Lady – Our Lady of Czestochowa, which occurs on August 26, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, which occurs on December 12. Both are celebrated at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

    Four Our Lady of Czestochowa, which is more sparsely attended due to the Western Pennsylvania Polish diaspora being in its fourth generation and thus not as attracted to things Polish, the choir was in the choir loft. There were several children dressed in suits and dresses carrying flowers. The Polish Falcons carried the icon of Our Lady. The choir sang traditional Marian hymns in Polish, accompanied by the organ and other classical instruments. In short, they were heard, not seen, as a choir should be. The Mass was in the Ordinary Form.

    I understand just a few Polish words I learned from my late grandma, whose parents emigrated from partitioned Poland. They hymns were beautiful, reflecting centuries of Catholic worship and devotion to Our Lady, which is still deep seated in Polish culture. I love those hymns. Actually, that doesn’t cover it. I listen to those Polish hymns and I want to cry like a baby. At not time was it about the choir, but at all times it was about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and “to Jesus through Mary”.

    For the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was more heavily attended, there was also a procession with the image of Our Lady. The “singers”, who I hesitate to call a choir, were stationed in front of the side altar, in view of all. I know a lot more Spanish than Polish and I know most of the songs. None of them are classical Spanish hymns. The annoying things are – the singers have to be in front, acting as performers in competition with the priest, they have to use a guitar and every sung response is to the same melody whether or not the words fit. In general, there is a lower level of reverence at the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe than at the Mass of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I have frequently seen this lesser reverence in Masses for Latinos in the US. I can say this because my wife is from Colombia and my two sons are officially minorities – Hispanics.

    To sum it up, Boltoph, it ain’t the Mass, it’s the way it’s done. I have been to the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, the Maronite Quorbono, and the Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (Indian). None of them abuse the Mass like I have seen in the Ordinary Form.

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