Christianity has been in a state of decay (what others might call change) over the past few centuries. Cultural and political forces proposed the changes and Christianity has obliged. Most of these changes have been an attempt to make an old faith accessible to a new world. What there is not is a consensus on whether or not the changes have been good. Some voices cry for a return to tradition while others happily push for constant innovation.
Christianity now manifests itself in four distinct ways and each has its own particular way of claiming truth.
This is primarily the Catholic Church, but also includes the Orthodox and other churches who base their practices on a long-held historical identity. One of the defining aspects of the traditional church is its connection to ancestors. Not only does this church trace its place in the twenty-first century world to men who lived in the first century world, indeed to Christ Himself, it also practices prayers to Saints, men and women who have physically died, but are believed to be spiritually and eternally alive today. A Catholic on earth today can be in contact with a Saint who entered heaven a thousand years ago. This ancestral connection is the foundation of cherished traditions, such as the sacraments and holy orders. It also is the basis of the Church being called superstitious and pagan. In accordance to tradition, the Catholic Church claims (or used to claim depending on who you ask) that it possesses supreme authority is based on perfect, divinely revealed truth.
With the Reformation, Christians severed themselves from their ancestors and ancestral authority and based their beliefs solely on sacred texts as their authority, the Protestant version of the Holy Bible. The net effect of this is twofold. One, Christianity has moved from practice to theory. Two, conflicting theories emerge, fragmenting a common Christendom, and allowing truth to be divided against itself. Individuals can lay claim to a secondary, individual authority based the Bible’s authority. One authority can lay claim to an idea while another authority can lay claim to a counter idea and both claim authority from the same Bible. Divisions are now common as new groups separate themselves under their own authority in order to practice what each claim is the truth against what each claim is a lie.
One of the fruits of these ongoing controversies is a surplus of intellectual and religious thought preserved in commentaries and sermons and other writings. Truth is preserved by an authority somewhere in row after row of library shelves, even if a final definitive conclusion on a countless number of debates eludes the whole of Christian believers. If you ask the libraries if a Christian can lose his salvation, you will find an agnostic answer.
Once Christians moved from sacramental to evangelical practices they then moved from a collective understanding of knowledge and truth to an individual experience. It is not the authority of ancestors or of libraries that determines the truth for Christians to believe, but the experience of the Christian himself. Each believer lives by the guiding principle that he is guided by an unseen force known as the Holy Spirit.
Truth is relative to the individual and each individual can claim a unique revelation from God to himself to be shared if needed. Expressions of faith in worship have gone from sacraments and intellect to emotional experiences. Non-denominational churches with pop music that liberate themselves from all authority function so the believer can have a needed intense emotional experience in community as confirmation of what he has come to believe through intense emotional experience in solitude. Jesus is real not as historical or objective truth, but as an internal emotional stirring confirmed by contemporary experience and validated by agreement with other believers. Since truth is subjective to the belief of the individual, there are no grounds to determine if such experiences are or are not of God.
Individual Christianity has no connection to the past since a man’s death removes him from this world and disqualifies him from consideration. The current generation of preachers and pastors will be forgotten as soon as they grow old and die to be replaced by the young and the new. Living in the moment for the moment is faith. It is Jesus without religion.
The final change in Christianity is one where skepticism is the overriding principle and the term “Christian” refers to living a life of polite compassion. Truth is derived purely by scientific and natural means, without divine assistance, and even then there are only facts and opinion. An individual may experience something spiritual, but skepticism protects both the individual and others from the danger of religious conviction. It is spiritual, but not religious.
In the twenty-first century, Christians practice their faith in countless different ways, with elements from these four categories being picked and chosen to suit a cause or tastes. Some churches are attempting to recapture lost history while others are attempting to lose excess history in order to recapture lost importance.
The lifeblood of Christianity has always been its claim to the truth, from the existence of God to the divinity of Christ to the Church’s existence being divinely grounded and sustained. Little by little this life is being leached out of the Church and some of the bloodletting is by those who claim devout loyalty. If the Church has no claim to divine truth, she has no claim to the right to exist.
The Church of Jesus Christ has become anemic, even to the point of being declared dead by her own.