In the premodern era of the West, and even the East (relative to Christianity); the “church” set the ethos for societies’ function and stability. Given the disintegration of this centralized locus through various strata and winds of change (Modernity), this no longer is the case (from a strictly descriptive vantage point). The church no longer represents this epicenter of position; given the individualization and autonomization of the ‘self’, the church too has suffered a loss of place. The church has become a compartment of societies’ “individual” options; and the center of stability has become “our own choices,” within the web of variable options that serve our wants and needs. Miroslav Volf says on this point:
As such a subsystem of society, the church itself is subject to the vortex of progressive differentiation. Accordingly, various Christian traditions and churches emerged in the differentiation following the Protestant Reformation. Even if from a theological perspective one cannot simply affirm sociological developments but must carefully evaluate them, it is clear that churches in modern societies represent sociologically the different religious institutions that have become specialized in satisfying the religious needs of various social and cultural groups, a situation applying both to the larger, more comprehensive ecclesial communities and to individual local churches within these communities. It is no accident that sociological studies employ market terminology in describing the social position and function of the church. Just as a consumer is able to choose between the offerings of various merchants, so also can one choose between the religous offerings of the various churches (even when churches justifiably neither understand themselves nor want to be understood merely as “merchants”). In a culture resembling a warehouse, where a person can take whatever he or she wants, religion too must become a “commodity,” “a social possibility one can use or not use.” (Miroslav Volf, “After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity,” 14)
Ouch! Can you think of any examples of what Volf describes . . .