Recently, a new documentary entitled, "When God Left the Building," produced by Thom Schultz, director and president of Group Publishing, was released in August and garnered much attention.
The film examines the decline of the American church and the overall deteriorating spiritual condition of the United States and asks us whether the Church will continue to exist in the future.
The synopsis of this film reads: Though the vast majority (77%) of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they have largely stopped attending church. LESS THAN 20% of the population now makes it to church in a typical week. Some 4,000 churches are closing every year. It’s a major and unprecedented social upheaval. For this, Schultz said, “the American church as we know it is dying. What was once the heart and soul of the community is going away.”
The film follows a church that has seen its attendance plunge from 900 to 40. In addition to external cultural factors that affect all churches, this church is disintegrating from the inside from a variety of human storms: a pastor who doesn’t know who or what God is, fights over petty things, and faction of angry ex-members who devise a plan to take over the church. Schultz noticed that the decline of the American Church is because people do not experience God at Church.
The film, "When God Left the Building," throws challenging questions at us: What is the Church? Is there still hope for the dying Church?
The destruction of St. John Lutheran Church in Pilger, Nebraska, by a tornado, which occurred in June, led many church-goers to believe that they could no longer worship any longer. However, Congregation members did not let the lack of a church building stop them from gathering for Sunday services; the congregation holds services on the tornado-damaged site.
The church’s foundation isn’t a concrete floor with cracked and peeling tiles or a muddy carpet; it is Christ. So long as the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed and the Sacrament is administered, the church stands.
The Augsburg Confession, one of the most important Confessions for Lutheran Church, states in regard to the Church: “Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered”(AC Article VII: Of the Church). There is where our hope lies.
In other words, Christian Church consists not in the building’s colorful and unique shape, but in the doctrine of the Gospel, and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ.
Saint Paul testifies: “appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.(Eph. 1:22,23). In other words, only Christ becomes the head of the Church and the church becomes His body.
Therefore, where God's Word is pure and the Sacraments are administered, the Church and Christians are there as well. However grand the church might be, there is no Church where the Gospel is not taught correctly and the Sacraments are not administered properly. In these situations there is no Christ. That Church is dying; God has left the Church.
Today, Korean churches, like American churches, are in a very critical situation in terms of the deteriorating spiritual condition. Christianity in Korea is not a beacon of love and generosity but rather the subject of dislike and hate. 500 years ago when Martin Luther began the Reformation, his intent was to reform the Catholic Church. However in Korea today, this situation is inversed; the majority of protestant churches in Korea are in need of reform and are looking to the Catholic Church and Pope Francis for guidance on how to reform the lost Korean Protestant church. However at the same time there is concern amongst Korean Protestant leaders that due to Francis’s kind and humble demeanor that many will leave the Protestant church and convert to Catholicism.
We ask ourselves: Is God in our Church?
Church should be reformed again. The notion of what Church is has to be changed. Church is where the pure doctrine of the Gospel, and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ are present. The Holy Spirit is also there where God's Word is pure and the Sacraments are rightly administered to renew and purify the Congregation of saints. This is the Church and the house God lives in.
Reverend and Doctor Jin O, Jeong is an assistant pastor for Korean congregation at Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, IL. He graduated from Luther University and received a Ph.D from Yousei University. He was also a Research Fellow at Hebrew University and Visiting Scholar at Yale Divinity School. Tel: 618-920-9311 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org