On Church Shopping

First Things has an article that grabbed my attention because of its title: My Church, My Strip Mall. I pulled it up on Bloglines just as I was sending this picture to Crummy Church Signs.

But it deals with the idea of church shopping, not churches in strip malls. I’m still interested in – really, more like fascinated by – the idea of shopping around for a church. As a cradle Catholic, I am just unfamiliar with the idea that you’d look high and low for a church because you want teaching you can agree with. Or a pastor you’ll like. Or babysitting services. Or whatever.

Shouldn’t you be looking for The Truth? The Church that Jesus Founded? (He did intend to found a Church. He said Peter would head it up.)

But the article is quite interesting, and it delves into an article on Christianity Today’s website about what people are looking for when they church shop (a phrase the author at CT doesn’t like), and why it’s really a good thing that there are so many brands of Christianity. (Because Jesus was silly to pray that we all be one?)

Anyway … I’ll give you a tiny snippet, then you can read the rest here.

Read Richard Mouw’s “Spiritual Consumerism’s Upside,” recently made available online at Christianity Today’s website. In it Mouw defends the idea of church shopping (or hopping or skipping or jumping) as not only inevitable given our diverse religious culture but even exciting and positive. It’s more than a concession to how things are, how Christianity—particularly its Protestant and evangelical forms—has played itself out in America. It’s a celebration of it. People don’t “inherit” denominational allegiances to the degree they once did, the argument goes. Most communities offer churches of various denominational “brands” within short distances from each other. The “seeker” church is an increasingly popular phenomenon and attracts both unbelievers and those raised in the faith but who are currently not tied to any one church (if they attend church at all). Why not embrace the opportunities the fissiparous nature of Protestantism offers?

Mouw insists that we not make judgments about people pursuing their spiritual bliss, unencumbered by theological presuppositions. In fact, he pleads guilty to a certain denominational shape-shifting himself. He also takes umbrage at the tendency to apply the “church shopper” label to those who drift from one evangelical denomination to another but not to those who leave a Protestant denomination to become Catholic. Mouw also riffs on the various religious orders within Catholicism, which, to his mind, is a variation on the denominational distinctions within Protestantism.
With all due respect to Dr. Mouw, his thesis is just daft. To begin with, the sundry Catholic orders all read the same catechism, eat the same Supper, and answer to the same Magisterium. Whatever the differences in emphases (mendicant vs. teaching orders, for example), there is concrete church governance that can issue in specific church discipline. That is very different from the serious discrepancies in theology and church order that separate Protestant denominations.