17 November 2007

Bringing men to church

This story appeared in the press the other day: More women than men are being ordained to Anglican priesthood. And then there's this from The Point blog: Getting men through the church doors. There has long been a problem in getting men to attend church along with their wives, who tend to be more devout. Persuading unmarried men is even more of a challenge. But it seems that increasing numbers of North American men are showing up at Orthodox churches these days. Why? Here's one man's view:

Orthodoxy is serious. It is difficult. It is demanding. It is about mercy, but it's also about overcoming oneself. I am challenged in a deep way, not to "feel good about myself" but to become holy. It is rigorous, and in that rigor I find liberation. And you know, so does my wife.

And another's:

Christ in Orthodoxy is a militant, butt-kicking Jesus who takes Hell captive. Orthodox Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. (Males can relate to butt-kicking and fire-casting.) In Holy Baptism we pray for the newly-enlisted warriors of Christ, male and female, that they may "be kept ever warriors invincible."

Any number of observers have commented on the so-called feminization of the western church. However, the problem is not that churches are pushing feminine as opposed to masculine virtues; it is that they have caved in to the larger culture in refashioning the church into a marketable commodity in a consumer society. This is true of churches in a variety of traditions. "Take up your cross and follow me" is not exactly an easily saleable slogan for those valuing a comfortable life.

If churches are in the business only of making parishioners feel good about themselves — of simply affirming them in their current predilections rather than calling them to a life of holiness — they are failing in their central task. The life in Christ is a demanding one, calling for obedience to God's word in all walks of life. Over the centuries many believers have gone to their deaths for the sake of Christ. Women, no less than men, understand that being indiscriminately "nice" or boundlessly "inclusive", far from being the message of the gospel, is a cheap counterfeit that, over the long term, will end up alienating more people than it attracts.

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