This is a good historical date on which to ask this question: What should be the membership requirements to join a community of faith?
Well, it was on this date in 1750 that the famous colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards (depicted here) was dismissed from his pulpit at the Congregational Church in Northhampton, Mass. He had served there 23 years, but had gotten himself on the wrong side (according to those who dismissed him) of an argument over requirements for admission to full membership in the church. Edwards wanted more restrictions than his opponents did. He lost.
Edwards had succeeded his maternal grandfather as pastor of the church, and his grandfather's policy was to encourage all baptized parishioners to receive Holy Communion. Edwards, however, wanted to give the sacrament only to people who, he felt, met a high standard of proving they really were Christians.
You can look up more the details of this controversy if it interests you, and if you want perhaps the best biography of Edwards, it's Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George M. Marsden.
But I want to use the occasion of this anniversary to ask about your views of membership. Should one have profound knowledge of most aspects of the religion before being allowed into membership? What evidence should one be required to give that one holds to what the church, synagogue, mosque or temple teaches? Should one be required to complete classes before being allowed into membership? Should there be a higher standard of knowledge and commitment to doctrine for officers of the congregation than just for members? (I think so.)
My view: Just as writing that is produced without effort is usually read without pleasure, so congregational membership without some reasonable requirements having to do with knowledge and commitment to doctrine often does not lead to spiritual growth. What one first must bring to this search is a hunger. Without that nothing happens. But at some point, I think, one must decide whether to make a commitment that is deeper than, say, joining a wine-of-the-month club.
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HOW MEDIA AND CULTURE SHAPE RELIGION
As regular readers of this blog know, from time to time I offer book columns to let people know of newly published books having to do with religion and ethics. For my most recent such entry, click here. But I can't possibly go through all the books about religion pouring out from publishers. So here's a review of a book I have not yet read but that looks intriguing. It's called Jews, God and Videotape: Religion and Media in America and is about how the media and modern American culture have helped to create a version of Judaism that the author -- and many others -- find troubling. My guess is similar books could be written as critiques of almost any religion Americans follow.
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