Friday, November 18, 2011

The Crystal Cathedral could now become an actual Cathedral

Turns out the Crystal Cathedral, which has been dying a slow, agonizing financial death, is selling out to the Catholic Diocese of Orange County.  Yep, it's true.  Hard to believe, almost.  Rev. Schuller was the epitome of 'Jesus meets super-duper big and successful religion' that dominated much of the last half of 20th century Protestantism.  The movement had roots going back to the evangelism and missions movements in the 19th century.  It received its biggest boost from its most famous and beloved adherent, Billy Graham. 

By the 70s and 80s, when 'Church Growth' studies began to be taught in seminaries, it was clear that a growing number of Protestant leaders, and subsequently Protestant believers, were equating Large with Successful ministries.

By the time I was in ministry in the 1990s, it was clear that the most important thing a pastor could do was 'grow his church'.  And that didn't mean spiritually.  It meant more baptisms, more memberships, bigger congregations.  This attitude came out of the closet with Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church (the precursor to his more famous and successful The Purpose Driven Life).  In this book, concerns over doctrine, theology, and worship styles take a back seat to marketing strategies, sales techniques, and business practices for building that ideal mega-church.  With such a prominent pastor giving the green light, it was now possible for church leaders and ministers to admit what had been percolating under the surface for some time. 

That is, we wanted to get rid of all these pesky doctrinal divisions and differences that splintered Protestantism into hundreds, if not thousands, of competing sects.  The idea wasn't too come up with one single agreed upon ecumenical dogma.  No.  We simply began letting folks know it wasn't that big a deal.  Just as Mark Lowry, of Bill Gaither fame, would assure his denominationally mixed audiences that 'someone is going to be wrong', now we simply let folks know it didn't matter, it was more like opinions really. 

Baptism saves?  Baptism is merely symbolic?  Doesn't matter.  God preordains those to be saved or damned?  God allows free will for everyone to accept or reject His Grace?  Doesn't matter.  Pop music or classical hymnody?  Doesn't matter.  What matters is getting enough fannies in those pews to make it necessary to build bigger buildings and bigger gymnasiums family life centers.  I once quipped, with a not-too-subtle Freudian reference, that too many Protestants today judge a pastor by the size of his gymnasium.

But I was a kazoo in an orchestra of tubas.  Most wanted, and would work for, that Crystal Cathedral sized ministry, late 20th century style.  And in many ways, it all went back to a church started in a drive in theatre.  Now, it's done.  When Dr. Schuller fired his own son because his son wanted to, you know, preach more from the Bible, you figured it had jumped the shark.  Schuller's own fluffy, cotton candy 'just be excellent to one another, and believe in yourselves' gospel (years before Smilin' Joel Osteen), was never going to survive a population of seekers who, uninformed though they might be, still had the idea that God's first priority wasn't helping us live a wealthy, American lifestyle above all things; a population growing increasingly cynical of the idea that materialism and narcissism were the answers to the Divine question. And now, the tree has born its final fruits.

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