Church Shopping

Roland S. Martin recently wrote an article (which is really excerpted and modified from his book Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith) about, among other things, why he left the Catholic church. The main reason he lists is lack of spiritual growth (in his words, his spirit "was no longer being fed"). His friend, theologian Dr. Cornel West (who looks like a black Karl Marx), said this:
Brother Martin, it's a rather common problem. You see, when I'm in a contemplative mood, I will attend a Catholic Church. There's something about the quietness of it that allows me to think and reflect on my issues. When I need to have my butt whipped, I will attend my old-fashioned black Baptist Church because of the strong delivery of the Word. Now, my wife is Ethiopian, and I don't know what they are saying, chanting and beating on the drums, but the rhythmic sounds they make is such a strong presence in me that it has a spiritual effect.
Now, I am in now way seeking to devalue the importance of religious experience; as I have written before, I see it as something beautiful. But I see two grave problems with Mr. Martin's and Dr. West's thinking.

(I am assuming, because I have been given no reason to believe otherwise, that Mr. Martin did not leave the Catholic Church for theological or doctrinal reasons.)

The first problem is spiritual. Our worship and spiritual growth should not depend solely on the music selections of our churches; although spiritual growth and worship are no doubt enhanced and buttressed by such sensory considerations (For me, It would be much easier to worship here than here), what truly drives them is our active love for God and others. Church should not be designed as a once-a-week spiritual high, but as a unique opportunity to worship collectively and encourage one another. This we can (or should be able to) do under any circumstances.

That being said, we should seek a church that can bolster us spiritually. If Mr. Martin had just changed parishes, I would not really be concerned. But in fact, he did more than that; he left the Catholic church itself. In doing so, he renounced certain theological and doctrinal positions which are not shared by Catholics and Protestants.

I hope that he considered the implications of this and studied accordingly. However, the impression the article gives is that he based his theological and doctrinal conversion on the ambiance of his church. This, in effect, subordinates theology and doctrine to "religious experience," a reversal of historical trends that marks the cultural cheapening of contemporary Christianity. (You know you like that alliteration.)

Does a priest's charisma or a choir's talent affect whether or not the pope is, in fact, the head of the visible church? Of course not! Yet Mr. Martin's actions tacitly imply this relationship. His article, in my mind, subjugates doctrinal truth to experiential meaning.

The problem is that every church and religious tradition in the world justifies itself by the religious experience of its proponents. In my mind, this mentality is dangerously close to relativism and pluralism (although, in fairness, I doubt Roland Martin would see it this way). But if religious experience can justify a transition from Catholicism to Protestantism, can it not also justify a transition from Catholicism to Islam (for example)? We know that what we feel at a certain church does not affect whether or not Jesus rose from the dead (a statement whose truth or falsehood is central to Catholicism and Islam).

This is not an isolated incident; more than ever, Americans are thinking of religious beliefs as choices made based on "what works." Religion is conceding far too much ground to scientism (as opposed to science) and culture; I see this as a concession in disguise.