It doesn’t take much searching to find theological critiques of “cultural Christianity,” which for convenience I’ll define as a social phenomenon in which people belong to a church primarily because of cultural, national, or social identification.

If I understand the critique correctly, it goes something like this: when church membership becomes something one acquires not out of personal commitment but simply because it is the thing one does if one is a member of a given society, then the church has lost a vital element of its life (what that element exactly is depends on the critic). Often the expression of cultural Christianity takes the form of an expectation that the church is there to provide a kind of spiritual service (baptism, weddings, funerals) to anyone regardless of their commitment to church outside those life-cycle events. The situation here in Finland differs legally  from that in the United States, in that the Orthodox Church of Finland and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland are both established churches. And yet, in at least some parts of the United States there are de facto established churches. Not in the legal sense but in historical and cultural senses.

However, today I don’t want to focus on cultural Christianity per se, but rather upon its effects on clergy. What kinds of tensions emerge between vision and (for want of a better term) the “everyday”? (I’m thinking of the Finnish word arki here.) Or, perhaps more accurately put, between living with the knowledge of what one’s tradition teaches about the existential meaning of being in Christ, and the equally weighty knowledge that many if not most church members are content with far less?

 

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