In the midst of a class I was teaching in the church I was sharing my thoughts about the state of the church in America as a consumerist, narcissistic, imitator of culture. From across the table the question came, how did we get here? It made me think there are many reasons we are here, and it would take a lot of time to outline what has driven us to this point. So, I thought I would take some time to share my thoughts. Over the next few blog entries I will be writing about that topic.
To frame the discussion I need to delve into the world of sociology, and the works of Ernst Troeltsch. Mr. Troeltsch wrote about how an idea transforms into an institution. Please note this is a huge oversimplification of the work. Essentially an idea surfaces and others gather around the idea. The idea then gains momentum, becoming a movement. the movement grows and begins to develop normalizing factors, or norms which inform the understandings of the movement. As the development continues the norms create a more concrete structure and form known as an institution. At this point the institution can easily lose sight of the original idea and movement, and exist for the sake of the institution. This is know as institutionalization.
The church in America is riddled with institutionalization. At some point in history the idea an movement gave way to keeping the institution alive. This had implications for what drove the church, what has been taught by the church and how the church interacted with the world around it. There are key points in history which this is noticed. When the Roman Empire named Christianity the official state religion. When Martin Luther partnered with the Princes of Germany. The church of England being the state church. There are others, but those are some of the big moments. The struggle is nothing new.
It is amazing to me how there is a connection of tying religion with government and how the focus can be diffused. In the next entry I will explore how what drives the church changed, and the implications of that change.