In a previous article entitled, We didn’t like church so we went to Walmart, I mentioned that in America’s most successful big-box store shoppers can exercise their contradictory lifestyle by picking up diet pills and workout equipment just a stone’s throw from a full blown McDonald’s. Well, theWalmart of seminaries is being born in the United States at Claremont School of Theology. In an article entitled Interfaith U (September 6, 2010) Elizabeth Dias writes, “Four years ago, when the Rev. Jerry Campbell became president of California’s renowned Claremont School of Theology, low enrollment and in-the-red books were threatening to close the 125-year-old institution. But since Claremont is the only United Methodist seminary west of Denver, Campbell resolved to find a way to keep it open. Drawing on classic American entrepreneurial spirit – when faced with extinction,innovate – and a commitment to engage today’s multi-faith culture, Claremont this fall will commence a first on U.S. soil: a “theological university” that will train future pastors, imams and rabbis under one roof.” She goes on to say, “. . . they’ll be helping tomorrow’s religious leaders get a jump start on developing the wisdom and understanding needed to better guide a pluralistic society (emphasis mine).”
I won’t spend much time pointing out the brainlessness of this. Despite how theologically and philosophically ridiculous it is, we can all recall the eighth grade bully who exercised the Darwinian principles of his biology textbook by demonstrating that he was fittest to take our lunch money. Imagine how that bully might react if he was not only fit for the task, but also embraced a religious mandate to bully you in a more severe fashion. I know, I know. Claremont will no doubt train “peace-loving Muslims.” And for those apologist friends of mine who deal with Islam on a regular basis, I am well aware of the differences in belief and emphasis from sect to sect. Nevertheless, the extreme-right-winger in me cannot help but point out a recipe for disaster when I see one. However, before moving on, it might interest readers to know that at least two other seminaries (Andover Newton & Meadvill Lombard) have followed the money-making strategy. We are certainly far removed from the crusades. At least that silver lining exists. However, we have gone to the other extreme. Yet, I would rather take this opportunity to speak to the question of organized religion. Is it a good thing or not? I believe in the local church, and though it doesn’t sound politically correct, I believe in the organized church. Yet, when religion gets so organized that you can take a course on imam leadership in the same building as pastoral leadership there is a problem.
I am, at present witnessing to an atheist in my community. He is open, listening, and has admitted that at least one of the traditional arguments for God’s existence has just about convinced him. Yet, he has confessed concern regarding organized religion. We often hear the mantra, “I am a spiritual person, but I am opposed to organized religion.” Slightly better is the confession, “I am a Christian, but opposed to organized religion.” Many within the emergent church movement shouted such retorts for a short time. However, when the emergent church realized their own international conference circuits, best-selling books and mega churches it became hard to tout such a claim. Nevertheless, our culture’s emphasis on freedom and individuality has led many to embrace this way of thinking. It’s happening in your community. My friend, Pastor Nathan Wilkerson (of Parker’s Creek Baptist Churchoutside Dickson, TN) explained a dilemma he is having in his own ministry in which a family is pushing for the self-explanatory “home-church movement.” Is there any good reason to embrace this model.
If we placed the claims of the organized religion opponent (ORO for short) into a logical formula we might state it in several ways. If they are opposed to it because it engenders corruption on the part of ministers then the argument might look like this: 1) I am against corruption, 2) organized religion can lead to corruption, so 3) I am an ORO. The problem with this is that it would also rope the ORO into opposing any form of government, law enforcement, business and even the family unit.The same could be said if you replaced the word corruption with any of the other claims that are made in opposition to organized religion by the ORO. The one exception may be the claim that religion is a personal thing and shouldn’t be practiced or discussed in public. However, this claim would not be made by a Christian who has any depth of knowledge about his faith. The great commission (Matt. 28:16-20) mandates that Christianity be spread and shared openly. As Nathan Wilkerson (mentioned above) claimed, “With all its flaws, the local organized church is still the greatest force for good, evangelism and missions in the world today.” It should also be mentioned that without the organized movement of God there is no reason to believe that any present-day Christian would have ever heard the truth, or professed Christ. Thus, it is exceedingly ungrateful to speak ill of the organized effort that carried the salvific message to our doorstep.
I guess this means that I am in favor of organized Christianity, but not the organizing of Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, or any other false religion. Furthermore, I couldn’t be more opposed to the style of organized religion we see taking place atClaremont and other schools. It somewhat reminds me of the way competing fast-food restaurants have begun functioning under one roof, and even using the same employees. And as silly as the thought of diet-pills sitting on a shelf in view of a McDonald’s franchise may be, it does not approach the collision of world-views which will take place this fall in our “One Nation Under God.”