Carl Jung, in his book, The Undiscovered Self (1958) has this arresting phrase—“where the Church is notoriously weak, as in Protestantism.” In the United States Army, where I have been a chaplain for the past two years, one understands how weak modern Protestantism really is.

It has been discouraging to note the small attendance at weekly worship services, not only my own services but those conducted by other Protestant chaplains also. To condemn the Army for the religious indifference so many soldiers develop is wrong. The Army gives its approval and support, both moral and financial, to the religious program, and displays its concern to provide for the religious needs of all personnel. The scarcity of worshipers at chapel services and personal conversations convince me that the religious loyalty of most Protestant men is shallow.

The Roman Catholic situation offers a striking contrast. Though Catholic personnel in the Army is lower percentagewise than Protestant, Catholic services are crowded. A Catholic chaplain has merely to announce a service and the men will gather, whereas the average Protestant chaplain’s best promotional work has minimal results. At my post, Fort Bliss, Texas, attendance at Catholic services normally runs twice that of Protestant services. Even an equal attendance would still speak of Protestant weakness, since only one fourth of the men are Catholic.

Protestants with whom I have discussed this problem all have some convenient rationalization: Generally the line is that “Catholics come only because they have to.” But Catholics “have to” only because they are committed to their faith, and most Protestants stay away because they are not deeply committed.

Some exceptions exist. A Protestant chaplain with a “dynamic” personality, or one whose commanding officer “pushes the program,” may have a better response.

This further illustrates the problem: Unless they are entertained, coaxed, or pressured, our men do not regularly attend worship. To the point of nausea, chaplains hear the old refrain, “I used to go to church all the time back home, but since I’ve been in the Army.…”

Something about Protestant church life makes it susceptible to this easy decline. Three things in particular seem to lie back of this situation.

Importance Of Public Worship

First, Protestants have never convinced their young men that regular public worship is important. We have done well to point out that salvation does not come from attending church. But we have failed to show the true importance of the worship service.

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The average Protestant soldier figures that if he skips church, he has not really missed anything. Church is all right for those who like it, but not especially important. Roy M. Pearson writing about this element says, “In their minds the church is an ethical culture society, a good thing for children, not harmful for women, and even tolerable by men as long as it does not become overly inquisitive about their businesses, politics, or souls” (“Preaching and the Understanding of the Congregation,” Pastoral Psychology, March 1959, p. 39). Tolerable, but not important. One constantly hears somebody chattering about staying home on Sundays because there are hypocrites in the church. Certainly there are hypocrites in the church. But the biggest hypocrite of all is one who claims to be a Christian and does not go to church. In their flights of oratory on topics of the times, preachers should occasionally descend to earth long enough to tell their people that a Christian ought to go to church. We must insist that public acknowledgment of God in worship is a Christian duty.

The alternative is obvious. Men who long ignore public worship tend to lose their sense of personal devotion and to drift permanently away from Christian influences. It is impossible to build up the faith and ethical concern of those who separate themselves from the Christian fellowship.

The Social And The Spiritual

Second, the average Protestant regards his church life as a social affair rather than as an opportunity for confronting God. The emphasis is on the horizontal relationship rather than the vertical. The worship service is a time for seeing friends, an outing with the family. Public worship does indeed have a horizontal aspect, but we have made that all-determinative. We should keep the social values, but we must stop making these the foundation, and give precedence to the vertical.

This weakness is sometimes recognized but seldom attacked. Then when a young fellow comes into the Army, the bad attitudes of a lifetime bear their natural fruit. Perhaps his new friends do not attend church. His family is not around, so he would have to go alone. Church attendance in the past has been so much a social affair that he little senses the value that comes from going to the house of God simply to lift one’s heart in repentance, faith, praise, and prayer. The young man does not have enough inner discipline for Christian faithfulness in the Army. His church attendance in the past has been simply a response to external pressure; he continues to move only according to pressures, but now the pressures are different.

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It need not be inferred that this applies to every person in the service. Many are as devout and faithful as anyone in any civilian church, and take advantage of their opportunities for worship while in the Army.

Loyalty To Christ

Third, Protestants generally give primary loyalty to a particular local church, not to Christ. This is true apart from particular doctrines of the Church found in the various denominations. This is apparent in civilian life whenever a person, supposedly a Christian, must be won all over again when he moves to a new community. He may have been faithful in the church from which he came, but in the new place he feels no obligation to continue in church life. Especially is this true of young, single men going to school or taking jobs away from home. So ministers spend their time trying to convince newcomers that they should be Christians in Mudville like they were in Podunk.

This situation worsens in the Army. The young fellow attended church back home. But that by no means ensures his attendance in uniform. Back home he enjoyed a certain program of activities—perhaps the Sunday School class, or the Sunday evening activities, or the choir work, or other parts of the program. At the Army chapel he may find few or none of these things. There sometimes is “nothing but” a worship service—prayer, hymns, Scripture reading, and preaching. Since his loyalty was to the program of activities of a particular church in a particular community, and not pre-eminently to Christ, the services of his post or of any civilian church in the area “just do not seem like church”, they are not like the church back home.

Also, some men base their religious loyalty on their liking for individuals. They liked the minister back home, who may even have been a personal and family friend. But the military situation generally is too fluid to develop the same kind of personal relationships with a chaplain. So they take a vacation from religious responsibilities. Religious loyalty is impotent when it is based primarily on human personalities.

We must start over in our religious education program. We must teach our people from childhood that our loyalty is to Christ and that it must not be governed by place, or church program, or human leadership. It should be a fundamental tenet that on the Lord’s Day Christians honor him by gathering, wherever they may be, with other disciples of the same Lord for worship.

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The Christian faith cannot exist without individual response to the call of God. But neither can it long endure without group expression in regular public worship. The problem is particularly acute for Protestantism. It must be faced and corrected if the Protestant denominations are to retain a significant place in the structure of American life.


Preacher In The Red


I was called to my previous pastorate as a student just a few months before graduation. My predecessor was a man more than 70 and had served in the ministry for some 23 years. Only a few weeks after my acceptance of the church, this godly pastor passed away and was buried in the nearby cemetery.

Because the town was small, the other pastor in the vicinity was asked to take part in the service, read the Scripture, and pray. That day the man who was to preach the sermon handed me the Bible, I placed my bookmark in the passage, and in turn gave it to the other pastor. But alas, either the preacher who placed the Bible in my hands gave me the wrong Scripture or I marked it wrong, but the poor man who read the passage before a packed church read not the comforting words of 2 Corinthians 5, but the words of 1 Corinthians 5 which ended, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”

I shall always be thankful that the reader was a man of prayer, for when he sat down the audience was so caught up with the prayer that the Scripture was, except to a few, unremembered.—The Rev. G. ROSS LAIDLAW, Somerton, Arizona.

For each report by a minister of the Gospel of an embarrassing moment in his life, CHRISTIANITY TODAY will pay $5 (upon publication). To be acceptable, anecdotes must narrate factually a personal experience, and must be previously unpublished. Contributions should not exceed 250 words, should be typed double-spaced, and bear the writer’s name and address. Upon acceptance, such contributions become the property of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Address letters to: Preacher in the Red, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 1014 Washington Building, Washington 5, D. C.

Chaplain Tracy Early has served as U. S. Army chaplain since 1957. He holds the B.A. degree from Baylor University and the B.D. degree from Southeastern Baptist Seminary.

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