What Threat does the Fundamentalist Climate of Today hold for the Mainline Churches?
This essay was written in 1987. Sadly, in 1999, not much has changed. In fact, it is fair to say that things in the Uniting Church in Australia have become worse. The essay is reproduced "as was." Some commentary will be included in the blue text. An after word at the end of the original essay might be worth reading to see where I was coming from. Jan
The church has a mission. It is to be a place of nurture for people in their growing in relationship with God. Whilst this is not a total description of the church, it is a highly important facet of the church.
The fundamentalist climate has this threat for a mainline church: it threatens the church with a loss of nerve in its mission and therefore, a corresponding loss of effectiveness. This loss of nerve may show up in a number of ways.
Political conservatism is one.
Increasingly repressive, authoritarian, and static church structures may be another.
Cultural isolation and unhealthy introspection is a third.
Each of these will eventually lead to loss of effectiveness in mission. All of these things are observable in Fundamentalist churches and in their publications. I do not intend to document them here. Rather, I wish to indicate why I think the mainline churches will face this loss of nerve, and a correlating temptation to move towards a Fundamentalist stance.
I wish to indicate the seriousness of this threat. It is a threat, not just a few 'out of touch with reality' voices which can be ignored. The 'Bjelke-Petersens'* of our country are a real threat, whatever else they may be.
* Joh Bjelke Petersen was Queensland Premier and a conservative Christian at the time of writing in the 80's.
The essay asks "What Threat....?"
Answer I. The threat faced by mainline denominations is a loss of nerve leading towards Fundamentalism.
Answer 2. The threat is a serious threat. Churches can easily fail to recognise the seriousness of this threat.
THE CHURCH AND FUNDAMENTALISM
How does a human being survive in the world? As a finite being facing a bewildering and, to all practical purposes infinite, range of experiences, a person forms a 'reality construct.' That is, they order incoming data to fit to a series of conceptions as to what the world is like. [Feyerabend, P. Against Method pp19,76]
The world is too complex and too big to see as it really is. So experience is interpreted into, and by, a system. This system or reality construct gives meaning to our perceptions. As Kant said, there are no percepts without concepts. The experiences we have would become meaningless if we could not fit them into an ordered structure. We would no longer know what they mean. [Alves, R. Protestantism and Repression pp27-28]
Ideally, when the incoming sense data we have is too often at variance with our reality construct; that is, it doesn't 'fit' or seem to make sense, we eventually-- perhaps in a moment of crisis, modify the construct. This is instead of having the construct modify how we perceive the data. We shift to a new paradigm which explains and orders our perceptions more harmoniously and successfully. There is a 'transformation of vision' enabling the world to be seen in a new way. [Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions]
We again have power in the world, it conforms to our conceptions and we can live in it successfully, and with less pain. In positive human growth one hopes that the construct becomes a closer approximation of what really is in the world.