Without necessarily endorsing her politics, the title of Diana West’s book, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization, is worth pondering. As a baby boomer (just about), one is ashamed of the perpetual adolescence of our generation and the lack of one’s personal development in the matter of intellectual, moral and spiritual growth. Our leading figures today seem to be wanting in gravitas, wisdom, and emotional restraint, and, deficient in good sense, we seem to dote over, pamper, and concede to the current generation of children. They have become the arbiters of our tastes, use of time, our cultural pursuits, and religious practices. We, the escapists and pleasure-seekers of the 60’s, have shrugged off reality and responsibility, and are now reaping the rewards. Our parents used to live on a shoe string and gallantly get by. We strum on a guitar string, create scarcely melodic music, and act crazy. Politics (where are the real statesmen of our era) and culture reflect the moral and aesthetic decline. We are inordinately focused on self, too much self expression, and self gratification. The sanctuary of privacy, modesty, and discretion has been invaded by our “tell-all” self advertising and the “all too open media”. We are concentrated on the cult of the celebrity and many of our icons are abysmal examples of the way to live, and not worth bothering about so far as their contrived images are concerned (their souls are invaluable). While many perish for a lack of the vision of God we are inundated with information about the idols of television. The “mighty” dollar is the standard of success. Appearances are all important. We are appallingly shallow. Mutual respect has waned. And our cheapened, dumbed - down way of life is experienced “in the flat”, in a monochrome world devoid of any true sense of occasion or the aspirations that raise us to nobility. We have become too common and too familiar. Pop culture and trivia are in the ascendant everywhere and the Church of God has bought into the trend and beckons to the world on its preferred level by seeking its approval in worldly terms through the satisfaction of carnal appetites and the demand to soothe and comfort, rather than search and convict.
Our heritage, hard won by saints (eminent and ordinary), scholars, and martyrs is rapidly eroding. We equate seriousness and sobriety with morbidity and dullness, and strenuously avoid them with every possible distraction. Our gadgetry, so ingenious and in many ways beneficial, distracts us from the deep things of life – temporal and eternal. Many have noted our preoccupation to amuse and entertain ourselves rather than train our minds and develop spiritually. Our world is floating to destruction on clouds of illusion. The Old Testament addressed the times of childishness in Israel through the messages of the prophets but the audiences did not applaud. “Give us no more visions of what is right. Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30: 10b-11). The glory of God, his weight and worth, are scarcely appreciated in our time. He is merely the vending machine to supply the satisfaction of our wants and whims, the facilitator of our earthly ambitions and acquisitions. We demand that he should make us feel good, sedate our consciences, and tickle our fancies. The false prophets and the purveyors of religious jingles are there in abundance to satiate our cravings and consequently rake in the profits. The resemblance to the era of Jeremiah warrants a “jeremiad”.
There is an incapacity to appreciate the great themes of Holy Scripture that affect us so momentously and for ever. Someone has likened the church to a famous fast food outlet (Franchising McChurch: Feeding Our Obsession With Easy Christianity – Thomas White & John M. Yeats). It could also be likened to a Christian toy store. Worship time is playtime and the children and youth dictate our behaviour. It is proper to tend to the mental and spiritual capacities of the young in appropriate ways at special times, but it doesn’t hurt for them also to attend gatherings of the whole congregation in periods of worship and teaching, and learn self control, consideration of others, and that there is something above and beyond them that they should aspire to know and understand. The over-catering to children and youth in their fickleness flatters their self-importance and stunts their growth in knowledge, awareness, wonder, humility, and the necessary regard for senior age groups. The fear of the experience of boredom for children in the attendance of adult gatherings arouses apprehension in parents, and forgetfulness of the fact that little sinners (Article Nine, BCP) know how to play the game of suiting themselves facilitates their wilfulness. With proper discipline and the sympathetic cultivation of interest young ones can attune themselves to adult sessions of worship and instruction and actually begin to absorb an appreciation of grown up matters that prepares them for discernment in the faith and reverence towards God.
As the human mind is by nature at total enmity with God there are a thousand ingenious and plausible ways that we can find to avoid confronting him. The world lives by producing them, and the church has its share in manufacturing them. We circumvent the plain truth to win friends, adherents, members, and the approval of society. But what is the result in terms of the eternal destiny of souls? Our minds need to be turned to grander things. The catastrophe of the Fall. The plague of sin so deeply ingrained within us as to be indelible; a condition that is incurable; a heaven sent Saviour who rescues us and an atonement that restores us to divine acceptance and fellowship; the gift of the Holy Spirit who inspires us to holiness; final division of mankind that welcomes some to heaven and assigns others who forget God to abandonment. Anglicanism has been bequeathed with a wealth of doctrinal exposition and understanding that anchors us firmly in the full recognition of human helplessness and the sovereign efficacy of divine grace. We have a lineage that traces back to the evangelical awakening of the 18th century, the Reformation, Augustine, Paul, and all the Scriptures. It has been largely forsaken and needs to be retrieved. We have a form of worship that derives from the word of God and honours God. Our forbears have cultivated devotional observances that nourish the soul and bring God vividly near to us.
Along with the other great Biblical traditions in Christendom we seek to lift souls from earth to heaven and assist them on their pilgrimage with the gospel and ongoing guidance of Christ. We cannot trivialize the predicament of man and dilute or distort the message of salvation. We cannot pipe to the world’s tunes. Paul tells us that the role of the church is to perfect the saints as individuals and bring the company of God’s people to completeness. It is our apostolic commission to bring believers to maturity: “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child”. It was a stage of ignorance and inadequacy. “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13: 11). May the church not continue in this sorry age of “the death of the grown –up”. May we grow apace in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The pains are worth it.