In this issue of “Thy Kingdom Come” the theme is about how our nations in North America have changed over the years. The change has happened very quickly and has affected the church as much as society as a whole. The church of today is not the church of sixty years ago. When I speak about the church, I mean organized Christian religion, the congregations that meet weekly, supposedly to worship Jesus Christ. This is different than the Body of Christ, which only makes up a part of these congregations. I would guess that about a third of the people that attend church in North America are Christians, people that have the Holy Spirit in them.
Back in the 1950s and 60s the liturgical churches were very strong and very well attended. In those days, the United Church, a combination of mostly Presbyterian and Methodist believers, was the biggest Protestant denomination in Canada. People were still recovering and rebuilding after the Second World War and were having large families. Canada was mostly Anglo-Saxon and French and these two ethnicities were divided into regions. There were also Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans in the northern prairies, but Canada was nearly all white, except for the native population. Church was very important to people in those days and well attended. I was brought up in the Anglican Church and the service for young people on Sunday mornings filled the whole church with young people, ages eight to thirteen; this was the age of the baby boomers. In those days the boys and the girls were separated in their Sunday school classes and the girl’s classes were taught by women and the boy’s classes by men. One exception was my mother, who taught the youngest class of boys. My mother always liked teaching boys and related well to them. Looking back, I can see that the deterioration of the influence of the church was starting. People were more interested in accumulating wealth than seeking God. Church had become a tradition for most people and most of the boys I knew had no interest in continuing with the church after Sunday school. Sunday school finished when they were about fourteen years old and most of them left the church. I chose to continue with the church and became an altar boy, assisting the priest in his duties during communion. I attended most services, even the ones I was not serving in, and if an altar boy did not show up one Sunday, the priest would signal to me to fill in for him. I got to know the Anglican service very well, and memorized most of the hymns. Later I became a Sunday school teacher and taught nine year old boys.
I noticed during those years (the early 70s), that people were not too interested in the Bible. For Sunday school for adults, most people chose to join the group that discussed modern Christian issues rather than the class on Bible study. There were doubts about the return of Christ and the deity of Christ. Those doubts were in the United Church as well. I remember one United Church minister who was on television every week saying, “I don’t believe that was God walking around there in Judea”, referring to Jesus Christ. Of course, with those sorts of attitudes, it is no wonder that church attendance started to decline and the churches became concerned. They tried different things, such as introducing modern music to bring in the young people. None of their initiatives seemed to work and many people in the liturgical churches either stopped going to church or moved over to the evangelical churches such as the Pentecostal Church.
In the late 70s and 80s there was the charismatic movement in the liturgical churches. In the city I lived in, (Edmonton), there were charismatic Anglican, United, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Lutheran churches. Every liturgical denomination had one or more charismatic church. These churches were Pentecostal in regards to the gifts of the Spirit, but held to the traditional liturgies of their denominations. I joined the charismatic Anglican church and saw some amazing things. For one thing, the church congregation swelled to ten times its original size in ten years and many people became Christians in that church. In each case that I was aware of, these charismatic congregations did not receive support from their denominations and most of their members eventually left the denomination and joined various evangelical churches. I am no different and presently attend a Baptist church.
In the late 80s a friend of mine said, “The spirit of rock and roll is taking over the churches”. My first thought was that this was not the Spirit that was supposed to rule the church. It may have been an exaggeration, but there seemed to be a movement in the 90s to get rid of the old hymns. I lamented this movement because the old hymns are saturated with scripture. In the 90s the Pentecostal type churches increased in number and attendance in Canada. They also influenced people through television. Some elderly people chose not to attend church and to watch their favourite Pentecostal preacher on television. During this time the liturgical churches continued to decrease in popularity and influence.
In the twenty-first century the focus has been on the internet and electronic networking and churches have followed suit, taking advantage of that modern technology. Despite these technological tools, which can be both blessings and curses, church attendance has been steadily decreasing in North America. Churches are trying various techniques to get the next generation interested in coming to church, such as having all modern music without any old hymns, wearing jeans and sneakers to church rather than suits, and using videos to capture people’s attention rather than having Bible study. These techniques don’t seem to be working and society is gradually deteriorating into godless oblivion. Churches are being marginalized and ignored in our society and it reminds me of the scripture that says, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the foot of men.” Matthew 5:13.
The church was meant to be the heart of the nation. Today the nation is dying spiritually and the church seems to be unable to stop it. This means that the church will have to suffer the consequences of the crisis that is coming upon the nation. The answer always lies with God and only God can save us. He has saved us in the past and He will save us in the future. Great things are on the horizon for the Israel people. We must keep our faith in Him and believe that He will work it out.