November 24, 2017

Ask Chaplain Mike: “A Tenuous Seat in the Mainline”

By Chaplain Mike

Last week, we started a new series called, “Ask Chaplain Mike.” Readers submitted questions via email and I will continue to answer them, devoting a post or two each week to your inquiries. When I start running low on questions, I will let you know, and we will solicit more. I have enough to keep going for a few weeks here.

Today, we deal with a friend who has a question about navigating the post-evangelical wilderness.

Today’s Question

Hi Chaplain Mike,

From reading your posts, I suspect you may be dealing with these issues, too. For those of us who are post-evangelical and have left that world and found a very tenuous seat in the mainline churches, how do we:

1.  Reconcile being there when the organization is moving so far left, especially with the ordination of homosexuals;

2.  Deal with the ever-present guilt that we “should” be in a church that condemns sin and not just drift along with the crowd through the broad gate? (Erasing 30 years of the “us” vs. “them” evangelical mentality.)

Friend,

Thank you for your good and thoughtful question. It is one I continue to struggle with as well. I hope I can say something that will encourage you here.

Let me start by saying that all spirituality is local. What is of first importance for you and for your walk with Christ is your local congregation/parish, not the denomination or broader issues.

As of today, my wife and I belong to an ELCA Lutheran church. I am not delighted with all of the decisions that have been made on the denominational level. However, our little church has provided a community in which we can worship and serve and where these issues do not have much impact. It is not a perfect place, but neither were any of the evangelical churches where we belonged in past years. What I have said to those who ask about our choice is, “I want to affiliate with a church that worships God every week through Word and Table, confesses its faith through the historic creeds, practices a worship liturgy that has stood the test of time, hears Scripture read from the OT, NT, and Gospels, prays the Lord’s Prayer, and emphasizes the grace of Christ that welcomes sinners.” And this we have in our church.

One of the practices that I find so unappealing about the politically-charged atmosphere that has corrupted evangelical churches and bound them to the culture war agenda is that people get so worked up about concerns that have relatively little impact on their daily lives and the lives of their neighbors. We argue, complain, spout our opinions, and take our stands with regard to “big” issues and national political matters, but fail to build relationships with our neighbors, visit the sick and elderly, get involved in community activities outside the church, and see our daily vocations as ways through which God shows his care for the world. The “big issues” are not unimportant, but too often we let media and the pundits (including religious pundits) set the agenda for us and we don’t give adequate attention to the local, the personal, the daily.

Now, with regard to our decision about a church, we did not just choose any “mainline” congregation. We have our theological commitments and chose a Lutheran church because of our respect for Luther and the theological heritage of the Reformation. We love its commitment to a Christ-centered life, to the Word of God, and to a Church Year spirituality. We also appreciate the advantages of a liturgical service. No matter what the preacher may say, we hear the Word throughout the entire service and know that we will confess our need of God’s mercy, hear the word of forgiveness, praise God the Creator and Redeemer, confess our faith through the Creed, and participate in Christ’s finished work through communion. These liturgical elements, despised as “rote” and “meaningless ritual” to those whose priority is to “feel God’s presence,” have become more and more meaningful to me. Even when I don’t feel a rush of emotion, I immerse myself in the objective reality of God’s grace, love, and truth each week, and find that I am being formed by it.

I guess what I am saying is that there are so many positive elements in being part of the historic church and finding a connection to God’s family through the centuries, especially in the context of worship, that the contemporary issues which cause culture warriors and moralists such angst have taken on a new perspective for me. God’s church has weathered these storms before. The gates of hell have not prevailed against her. The same Creed that was confessed centuries ago still stands. The same Word of grace and forgiveness is proclaimed. The same Table nourishes God’s people today. The same pattern of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is lived out through the annual cycle of the liturgical year. And in and through it all, the same Spirit of God forms his people into a Jesus-shaped life and community.

I think this answers the second part of your question as well. Christians are not set apart from the world by our superior morality or our moral pronouncements. Christians are different because of only one thing—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And this “difference” does not lead us to separate from the world and to build our own culture from which we learn to see the world through “us vs. them” glasses. The Gospel through which we are forgiven sends us into the world to live daily lives of love for our neighbors.

The odd thing is that so many “evangelical” (the word means “of the gospel”) churches do not really build their life and practice around the Gospel! They may have a more precise doctrinal statement and they may talk more about “making a decision for Christ.” But many are not centered around Jesus and what he has done for them. Instead, they are built upon “Christian views,” “Christian morality,” “Christian programs,” and a commitment to a “Christian culture” that has sprung up over the past few decades to cater to the retail preferences of evangelical consumers.

So, which is the “broad gate,” and which the “narrow”? Who is “drifting along with the crowd” and who is being truly “counter-cultural”?

If I had not been so immature and short-sighted, I would have learned this years and years ago. My biggest hero in life is my late grandmother, a vibrant, praying Christian woman who intentionally stayed in her mainline church (much more “liberal” than I could stomach back then). She lived a simple life, loved her neighbors, participated in Bible studies, visited the sick and elderly, and quietly, humbly served others. She died in the dining hall of the facility where she lived in the final season of her life. Her friends had asked her to say grace before the meal, and while she was praying, God took her.

Friend, I don’t know about you, but in my mind, this kind of testimony carries much more weight than that of someone who dogmatically insists upon having a church that is mostly about being “right,” that keeps its people constantly busy doing “Christian things,” and focuses on taking positions on matters that have little to do with actually following Jesus.

As my favorite comment from this month put it, I don’t go to church to get fixed, to hear the latest and greatest, or to become a super Christian. It’s not about being part of the “best church in town,” or being on God’s “cutting edge.” It’s about Jesus, the Gospel, worshiping God within the communion of saints, and being formed into a person who loves his neighbors and fulfills his vocation in the world.

Here’s hoping you can find and participate in a church like that.

I hope this gives some perspective that will help you.

Chaplain Mike

Comments

  1. Excellent post!

    I can surely relate. While our denomination has drifted steadily leftward, our little congregation will not be budged from the center…which is Christ Jesus and His forgiveness for real sinners.(we still have a strong doctrine of sin in our congregation)

    These types of ‘centered on Christ’ congregations are getting harder and harder to find. But they are still out there if you are willing to look a little bit. Oh, and by the way, we won’t be tempted to go to the ‘right’, either. Not in the forseeable future, anyway.

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

  2. Thank you for this. My husband is a Church of England Vicar. He often reminds people, “Show me the perfect church but we had better not go there as we would spoil it!”
    I’m with your granny – I bet she was in there praying for her pastor and for God’s blessing on her imperfect church!

  3. Mike McDonald says:

    Uh-huh. Until the issues you choose to ignore from a distance become local. For instance, how denominational rules and/or church order are modified by those far off that become mandatory and binding upon all the local congregations. Or, the ever increasing amounts of money local congregations are required to provide to fund those at a distance. Look at the disintegration of the Episcopal Church over the past 40 years. Yes, there are those who left back in the late 70s (the St Louis movement & Chamberlain consecrations) over the ordination of women. Many stayed in, however, for reasons stated above. More have left in the intervening years because their line in the sand eventually was crossed as they could no longer support the denominational leadership because the leadership became too intrusive or the local priest was cribbing sermons from The Nation rather than Scripture. So what happens when your guy/gal in the pulpit eventually moves on? You didn’t say it explicitly that your local pastor essentially represented your internal system but you did implicitly. Which, I believe, gets around to the real point: It’s still the old Evangelicalism in that it’s all about the person up front and you’ll ignore everything else.

    • Well said Mike,

      You can’t always trust the “it will not touch us” idea when it comes to the national/provincial/headquarters of your church. Your money is going there to suppor things that may be completely contrary to God’s revealed will. Also, if you are in a body that puts a lot into the idea of Apostolic Succession and sees Bishops as what they were intened to be and not just administrators then you are tied to the province or national chuch in a way say a baptist or even a UMC is not.

      • “the idea of Apostolic Succession and sees Bishops as what they were intened to be”

        And what is that “intention”?

        • Well Rick without getting into a back and forth about if it is what should be, in those tradtitions that value Ap Suc Bishops are charged with protecting and passing down the faith once delivered, they are a sign of unity as confirmation and ordination is their “area” so if the Bishops are corrupted the whole things starts to fall apart.

    • A couple of things. First, the Lutheran church is not bishop-run like the Episcopal church. Therefore the local congregations have much more autonomy and nothing is “forced” upon them. Should distant issues start to predominate in the local setting, that would certainly cause us to have to consider what to do.

      Secondly, I love my pastor and we agree on many things, but we also have profoundly different perspectives on many matters. Our church is not pastor-dominated, and that is one of the points I was trying to make about why I appreciate the liturgy.

      It’s really quite different than the “old Evangelicalism.”

      • Cunnudda says:

        I belong to a congregation which left the ELCA. The problem is, as mentioned above by a commenter, your money ends up supporting at the national level activities and positions which may be inimical to your own principles. Mark Hanson gets part of your donation.

        • I understand that. Congregations have some leeway to designate their money if that bothers them. This is not of major concern to me.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            ELCA congregations have more than merely “some” leeway in designating their money. They can give the Synod as little or as much as they wish. The Synod can provide guidelines for how much it thinks any individual congregation should give, but it can’t force the issue. It can only cluck disapprovingly. A congregation can take that suggested number, cut a check to Lutheran World Relief in that amount, and cc the Synod the cover letter.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “…the Lutheran church is not bishop-run like the Episcopal church…”

        The Episcopal church isn’t bishop-run like the Episcopal church either. On paper the Episcopal church looks like the mirror of the Roman church. This is largely fictional.

        Back in colonial days the Church of England largely ignored America. Americans were forced to fend for themselves, setting up vestries (the Episcopal word for board of directors) to raise funds for buildings and clergy salaries. This has never changed. Financial control lies on the individual parish level. Compare this with the Catholics. There sometimes are local committees raising funds for special projects and the like, but this is strictly on the periphery. The real money is controlled by the diocese.

        This makes a vast practical difference. A Catholic priest goes where he is told by the bishop, and the parish takes who the bishop sends them. When an Episcopal parish has an opening, they go through a search process not all that different what the non-denominational church down the block has. They have a more limited candidate pool, but this still leaves ample flexibility to search for a match they like.

        The upshot is that any financially self-reliant parish has considerable independent freedom. There are lines which cannot be crossed without a reaction, but these involve matters such as actual schism. Any parish which feels it important that their priest be a straight male Republican can have one.

        A recurring claim in the gay clergy debate–and the female clergy debate before that–is that the individual parish will have a gay–or female–clergyperson forced upon them. No, they won’t. To be perfectly blunt, anyone making this argument is either a liar or a stooge.

        • disagree,

          it depends on how the canons and constitutions of your Diocese are written, in many situations when a parish is actually a mission (depending on the ASA number requirments and such) the parish (actually a mission) will have a priest-in-charge and that person is often sent by the Bishop b/c the Bishop in many of those situations has more control

          and your argument still doesn’t address the sacramental identity found and held in the Bishop regardless of their administrative power in the local parishes

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            See the “financially self-reliant parish” in my previous comment. If the parish relies on outside funding, as is typical of missions, then yes, the outside provider holds the reins. The vast majority of Episcopal parishes are not in this situation, and once the mission parish establishes its financial wherewithal it won’t be either.

            As for the sacramental identity in the bishop, this is irrelevant so far as local affairs are concerned. Yes, your priest had to have been ordained by a bishop. Yes, this in some abstract way ties you to the larger church in a way that the local Baptist church is not. So what? If the bishops decided that they were only going to ordain lesbians, this would be a problem. In actual practice there are any number of straight male Republican Episcopal priests available for call. This comes down to being deeply distressed that somewhere there is a church doing stuff you don’t like, with a sign outside its door similar to the sign outside your door.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            Even financially independent parishes aren’t totally autonomous. Even if the Vestry controls the money, those congregations aren’t administratively “congregationalist.” My grandmother, an Episcopal deacon, spent 8 years de-licensed essentially due to political and social disagreements with her former bishop. Ultimately, both priests and deacons are agents of their bishop, regardless of who funds the parish and who controls the hiring process.

            Not being in TEC during the splits, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I know lots of clergy who left. None of them left primarily because of the homosexuality thing. I almost never hear them even bring up the subject, to be honest. There were much deeper theological issues at hand (some one which led to the homosexuality thing being a symptom). I also don’t really ever hear Republican/Democrat things coming up from those former TEC clergy. It’s not anywhere near as simple as a disagreement over “culture war” issues. Shoot, this has been brewing for decades. It’s was bound to eventually come to a head.

        • Richard, you said that financial control lies on the individual parish level. But isn’t that for general operating expenses? As I understand it, much of the difficulty in the Episcopal/Anglican divorce is ownership of the real estate. While the Anglicans may claim that TEC has left them spiritually, and that they wish to retain their buildings and property after a split, it’s TEC that has legal ownership. So the new Anglican church must find another home. Is this not the case, or perhaps not in all parts of the US?

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            Heh… that’s an interesting bugaboo. On the one hand you have policy in TEC that the national church owns all property of the member churches. On the other hand, you have a lot of churches that pre-date such a policy and states where that policy seems to be contrary to state property laws. It’s ugly, ugly, ugly. On all sides.

            I’m very proud of they way my parish did things in this regards. Prior to the split, the TEC parish had purchased some land to eventually build upon. When the split happened, approximately 80% of the parish was going to leave, including the clergy. The TEC congregation retained the building and original property, while the departing group purchased the new land at full market value. That seriously helped the original parish because they couldn’t afford to keep up payments on the new land with so many folks leaving. And that seriously helped the folks leaving who would eventually need a place on which to build a new parish. All-in-all there wasn’t the rancor that happened in a lot of other places.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Yes, the diocese holds title to the real property. (Isaac points out that many parishes predate the Episcopal Church as an organized body. This is beside the point. What matters is secular title: whose name is on the deed filed in the county courthouse.) This is where my previous comment about schism applies.

            It is hard for those of us from a congregationalist tradition to appreciate the Anglican horror with regards to schism. Congregationalist churches regard the local congregation as the fundamental unit of the church, and higher church bodies as associations of congregations. For a congregation to switch associations or to decide to go it alone is a big deal, but it is tolerable.

            The Anglican and Roman traditions regard the diocese as the fundamental unit of the church, led by a bishop in the apostolic tradition passed down through the centuries going back to Peter. The parish has no independent existence apart from the diocese. To speak of a parish electing to leave the diocese is meaningless. Individuals can leave the church. Groups of individuals can leave en masse. This exodus might include the priest formerly leading the parish. But the parish remains, even if sadly reduced. And the real property remains with it. So from the Episcopal perspective when we talk of a parish electing to leave the diocese and wanting to take its building with it, this is seen as a group of individuals choosing to leave the church and trying to steal the church’s property on their way out.

            But returning to my earlier point, schism is the line which the Episcopal church draws in the sand. Cross it and you might find sheriff’s deputies changing the locks. But short of that, a financially independent parish has wide latitude.

          • Josh in FW says:

            Not long ago I read an article in Texas Monthly titled, “Bishop Takes Castle” about Bishop Iker leaving the Episcopal Church and taking the Fort Worth Diocese with him. There is currently a legal battle in Texas that is based on whether the Diocese of the National organization is the owner of the real property. This article was my introduction to the internal strife within the Episcopal Church.

  4. bigbear72 says:

    Chaplain Mike,

    I lurk here quite a bit and feel compelled to comment for once. I left the UMC 4 years ago because of its drift to the left and the adoption of CW in my home congregation. I joined the LCMS. There are options for you. Doctrine is important as my first LCMS pastor would say. When a denomination goes against scripture, it is time to reform it or leave. Look at Luther.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      One thing that many American Evangelicals, especially those from a non-denominational background, may not realize is that there tend to be theologically and socially conservative versions of each of the theologically and socially liberal mainlines. For Presbyterians you’ve got PCA, for Lutherans you’ve got LCMS, for Anglicans you’ve got AMiA or ACNA. I don’t really know off hand what there is for Methodists, but I’m sure there’s one out there. Shoot, even the Baptists have different groups that span the spectrum. It’s not that those groups are without their pathologies, but there are alternatives to the “liberal mainlines” while still bing within those older Protestant traditions.

      • Well said Isaac,

        It looks like the UMC may be rescused by their African numbers growing and the American part will not be able to destroy the UMC.

      • bigbear72 says:

        Isaac,

        The thing is since I have become Lutheran I would not go back to the UMC or a conservative Methodist denom. The liturgy and theology is much better in the Lutheran church. First day I walked into the door I was handed a catechism in 44 years as a member of the UMC I never saw a Book of Discipline.

      • Closest thing for Methodists would be Wesleyan or Nazarene, but they’re both (generally) low church evangelical denominations, so not necessarily a possibility for many Methodists. (And I want to defend the majority of UMC as not going off liberal – at least not in my own experience – I’m one who went from the Wesleyan/Nazarenes to the UMC because I wanted Liturgy – which you just don’t generally get in those two – though I know of at least one Nazarene church up north that has a liturgical service)

    • I could never be a member of an LCMS church because of profound theological and pastoral disagreements.

      • bigbear72 says:

        What about NALC and LCMC? Also, TAALC seems to be middle of the road. I’m guessing WELS and ELS are out. 🙂

        • First of all, no local congregations of those kinds around here. Second, we really are pretty happy where we are now. The denominational affiliation is rarely even mentioned.

          • bigbear72 says:

            When I left the UMC, I went church “shopping” one day. First church I stopped at the door was locked, it was an ELCA church. The second church I stopped at was a LCMS church and the door was opened. I really believe that the Holy Spirit led me there. I will pray that he leads you in the right direction.

        • UMC, ELCA, NALC, LCMS, TAALC, WELS, ELS… with all these acronyms , it’s like I’m reading a military blog.
          Onward, Christian soldiers!

      • Chap,

        I didn’t fully appreciate the animosity between LCMS and ELCA until we lost a very fine couple in our parish when our affiliatin with our new Anglican Diocese became official. They wer ELCA transplants. There is not one even close around here. There is an LCMS in town, nice folks.

        Our Diocese is on that has decided to not procede with WO to the priesthood. They told me they might as well be at the LCMS church:)

        I tried to explain that there were still worlds of differnce but they left anyway. They have sense settled into a UMC church. I wish them well.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          History lesson: Lutheran churches in America originally were all independent. Later they formed regional associations to cooperate on stuff like seminaries and hymnals. These regional associates gradually formed wider associations, often loosely along ethnic lines. (You think Swedes and Norwegians are the same ethnicity? You don’t know Swedes and Norwegians!) The “MIssouri” in LCMS and the “Wisconsin” in WELS are the vestige of the regional associations. By forty or so years ago there were three major bodies: the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), American Lutheran Church (ALC), and the LCMS (with the WELS a distant fourth).

          At that time the big three were not actually all that different from one another. They were cooperating in writing a new hymnal, and the prospect of an eventual merger was not unrealistic. Then the conservative wing of the LCMS took control and undertook a purge of the liberal elements. (Anyone interested in this can google on “seminex”.) They pulled out of the joint hymnal project (later producing one nearly the same, but with an all-important differently colored cover) and generally pulled back from dealings with other Lutherans. This has gradually morphed into an unwinsome sense of xenophobia, to the extent that a district president was suspended for participating in an inter-faith prayer service for the victims of 9/11. In the meantime, the LCA and the ALC and the purged formerly LCMS members merged to form the ELCA.

          I come from the ELCA side, but I have been a member of an LCMS church, as well as a joint ELCA/LCMS operation sharing a building and a pastor. (This is a barely-tolerated remnant of the earlier day.) In my experience, the ELCA includes a far wider range of opinion than the LCMS allows. I have belonged to an ELCA congregation more conservative–both theologically and socially–than most LCMS churches. I have never heard of any comparably liberal LCMS congregation. My experience is also that the animosity is mostly on the LCMS side. This comes from being a church defined in large part by what it is not. The LCMS is not the ELCA, and finds it very important to keep this constantly in mind. It probably doesn’t help that the ELCA is significantly larger than the LCMS. It is easy to find any number of people on the internet condemning the ELCA as not truly Lutheran/Christian/whatever. It would be odd to see a similar charge going the other direction.

          • cool, thanks for the summary

          • “My experience is also that the animosity is mostly on the LCMS side. This comes from being a church defined in large part by what it is not. The LCMS is not the ELCA, and finds it very important to keep this constantly in mind.”

            Yeah, the LCMS church I attended did just that. In fact, when I was exposed to the “wider world” of evangelicalism, I discovered that the level of vitriol against ELCA, at least in my parish, was comparible in scale to the animosity YEC’ers had against Darwinists, or revivalists against Catholics.

          • Thank you, Richard.

          • Jonathan says:

            Richard, you said: “This comes from being a church defined in large part by what it is not.” Well put. And the WELS broke from the LCMS over obscure matters and now officially forbids its members from engaging even in ‘prayer fellowship’ with the LCMS. I think mainstream denominations might be more agreeable in part because their first reaction to controversy isn’t to break off relationships and then refuse to speak.

        • In response to the whole “LCMS vs. ELCA” sub-discussion:

          The LCMS and the ELCA have a very interesting relationship, like estranged brothers or bitter, former lovers; almost a love-hate relationship (in all the good and bad of that terminology). On one hand, the LCMS and ELCA are always accusing each other of something on the official level- the LCMS saying the ELCA has become to “liberal”, and the ELCA saying the LCMS won’t “listen to the Spirit”. But on the other hand, they keep working together, and bending over backwards to kiss the others foot to justify it. And that is on the “official” level.

          On the day-to-day local level, things are… pretty much like that too. We all accuse each other of something, and we have feuds. People leave to go to the ELCA, and vise verca. And yet, we’re all still friends (kind of), and we can’t always quite tell what the problem is, even if we know what the problem is. At some point, we all chalk it up to the LCMS being a bunch of Germans, the ELCA being a bunch of Norwegians and Swedes, those “other” Lutherans as unidentifiable (possibly Dutch), and we call it a day.

          I say this as having grown up LCMS, and therefore from deep personal experience. Now, please excuse me. I must go write a 500 stanza hymn in German saying why I’m not ELCA, why I envy Episcopalian liturgical fashion sense, and that Oktoberfest might just be a sacramental even though we do not recognize those things dont’cha know! 😉

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        Chap, I hope it’s clear that I wasn’t suggesting that you should join LCMS because they’re more “conservative.” Far be it from me to give unsolicited advice on someone’s denominational affiliation! In fact, I think it’d be nice to see a lot less church shopping. I just wanted to point out, especially to readers who might not be familiar with the variety of Protestant denominations, that the choice doesn’t boil down to big-box non-denom Evangelicalism vs. “Liberal” mainlines.

      • Chaplain Mike –

        To be upfront, I’m an LCMS minister. I was just wondering what you see as the profound theological and pastoral problems?

        Not a gotcha question, more one of those – “if the perception of us is this, we’ve got a serious problem”. (Which we often do, but from what I see its the mirror of the ELCA. The local congregations are usually very sound. The national body causes problems by a too narrow definition of what it means to be Lutheran.)

  5. Like many on this site, I come from the SBC world and am currently in the ELCA. I believe a mistake has been made using the issue of homosexuality as a measuring stick for heresy. Here is what I do NOT hear at a ELCA church

    – The pastor is my best friend who wants to help me be a better husband
    – Jesus wants me to live an abundant and prosperous life
    – Jesus is my best friend and wants to introduce me to a salesman who will teach me how to manage money
    – Jesus is my girlfriend who wants to give me a hug (I heard this on a CCM station the other day)

    What I do hear
    – Periodic recitation of Apostle and Nicene creed
    – Weekly Eucharist
    – Church calendar, including a proper use of the Christmas advent season as looking forward to the 2nd advent

    If I want to make a list of what I disagree with, having 2-3 churches in San Francisco choose a pastor that I would disagree with is low on my list. The issues above are much more important.

    For years I made the same mistake of being obsessive compulsive on side issues. When I read and memorized the Apostle’s creed and decided to focus the rest of my life on the core issue, my view of the other issues changed dramatically.

    • Ken,

      I’m sure the Chap doesn’t want this to descend to a converstion or thread on homosexuality and I understand that heresy is a strong word, but when a church wants to call good evil and evil good that is heresy.

      • oops meant Allen, sorry Ken, it’s early here:)

      • I don’t disagree, but my point is that if a pastor in the denomination preaches on “Jesus wants me to live an abundant and prosperous life” I consider that “call good evil and evil good”. At what point do I not go to any denomination?

        Luther and the other reformers had a point that even if a pastor was not properly teaching on grace, there was still a blessing to be had by administering the sacraments.

      • That is one difference about the ELCA’s decision as over against some of the other denominations. Though they opened the door for practices of which I disapprove, there is still a strong local ethos that allows individual congregations to make their own decisions in matters like this.

    • William C says:

      Allen,

      Your bullet points echoed the reasons I returned to the Episcopal Church after 30+ years in the EWild (SBC, non-denom, et al). Plus i grew weary of scapegoating homosexuals.

      • William C says:

        To be honest, I didn’t grow weary – I was ashamed.

      • Is it possible to go to a church and not hear gays demonized? And I would stretch that to people who believe in evolution, have had an abortion, or vote Democratic like myself? I don’t know if a church is indeed possible….

        • William C says:

          Yes. It’s easier than you think.

        • Josh in FW says:

          My current Church home is considered to by very conservative by most Christians. It is in a Dispensational, Evangelical, Bible Church in North Texas. Let the stereotyping begin. In seven years I have not heard gays (or those struggling with SSA) demonized once by anyone who was a pastor, elder, deacon, or member. I have on the other hand been a part of many serious discussions with fellow members about how we continue to love the person identifying themselves as homosexual without compromising our interpretation of scripture which is that any sexual relations outside the marriage relationship of one man and one woman is sinful. This is a very difficult issue, made more difficult by the political agendas of both sides.

          • Josh, thanks for your comments. There are many evangelical churches out there trying to balance truth and love, filled with good people. I’ve been in such churches. I’ll admit we sometimes paint with a broad brush here at IM and that can confuse people into thinking we don’t recognize that there are many faithful local expressions of Christ all along the theological spectrum.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Is it possible to go to a church and not hear gays demonized? And I would stretch that to people who believe in evolution, have had an abortion, or vote Democratic like myself? I don’t know if a church is indeed possible….

          Eagle, your church experience was in a little Fundagelical box, with no sense of history between the mythologized Holy History of Bible Days and when Pastor Billy-Bob restored the One True Church a couple years ago. And no concept of anything outside the Event Horizon except Satan, Heretics, Apostates, and of course Teh Fags.

          There has been and now is a lot more variety in Christian traditions than the one that took your head apart. Since you were taught their definitions of the words the others use, you’re in the predicament of someone from a Democratic People’s Democratic Republic that is Completely Democratic (AKA North Korea) who’s trying to understand the word “Democracy”. Learning the Common tongue when all you’ve known is Newspeak.

          (Rule of thumb from the TV Tropes page “Peoples Republic of Tyranny”: The more words for Democracy in the official name of a country, the nastier a dictatorship the country is.)

          • “you’re in the predicament of someone from a Democratic People’s Democratic Republic that is Completely Democratic (AKA North Korea) who’s trying to understand the word “Democracy”

            Possibly my favorite analogy I’ve ever read. Perfect.

  6. dumb ox says:

    It’s difficult not to judge ones religious experience based on emotions. Contemporary worship repeats the same chorus over and over until the partiipants are whipped into an altered state of consciousness that they mistake for God’s presence. The beauty and grandure of a liturgical service can lead to other forms of emotionalism or sedimentality.

    So, where is God? God is in the dark night of the soul, where all consolations seem far away. It doesn’t mean austere worship is better, or that staying in an oppressive situation is healthy. It just means that we need to rethink what being in God’s presence means. Ironically, the answer may be found through a right interpretation of Schleiermacher, who is blamed for reducing religion to mere emotionalism, but who really taught a sense of intuition. It’s hard to explain, and even many great theologians have had a hard time explaining it. But this is where I find myself now: knowing God is present in the most unlikely, frustrating, and darkly emotional place. God is there, not “because”, but “in spite of”.

    • dumb ox says:

      sentimentalism not sedimentality. Good grief.

    • Amen!

    • Adrienne says:

      I agree dumb ox ~ it was when I went through a “dark night” that my “praise the Lord, God is good all the time, all the time God is good” Evangelicalism failed me. I was shocked. Yes we sang the “little ditties” and once in awhile a hymn. But when my world collapsed around me I was lost. It wasn’t until I read of others who experienced the same and in their dark night they turned to the Catholic mystics etc. I just read an online article written by a very well known evangelical who has lived out his faith very consistenly. When his family was hit by several major health issues one on top of another and he began to be exhausted he found that his 30 some years of “evangelicalism” hadn’t prepared him for this.

      In my evangelical church we were always experimenting with service styles, musical styles, clothing styles etc. When my personal life was in turmoil so was my church. I have found the rest and consistency I was craving in a liturgical church. I am connected to something eternal, to Christ’s church, to the communion of the saints. And I find myself looking forward to the consistency and repetition and as Chaplain Mike said I am being formed by it. It has been very scary and very humbling. I was one of the “us” and “them” for a long time. Thank the Lord He allows us to change direction on our journey. Now I know that God was in my dark night all along and I am no longer fearful of not being a “sunny Christian” all the time or of not being the one “in control.”

      • Adrienne,

        I understand exactly, every time my personal life was in turmoil, my church was transitioning leaders and/or music styles. Old group left, new group came in. If nothing is there during my down times, why go to church? At least in my current church I get the sacraments and at least a bit of hope that the pastor will visit me in a hospital.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says:

          Allen,

          That last sentence in your response above – “At least in my current church I get the sacraments and at least a bit of hope the the pastor will visit me in a hospital.” What I’m about to say I say realizing that, in some (if not many), megas it would be nearly if not impossible for a pastor to visit the hospitals regularly just because of the shear number of people in a large church that need a visit and it’s not that that is so much the issue with me what does bother me are the ones the flat out refuse as if it’s above them to do so – arrogance beyond words and I dealt with such a pastor and staff at a large east side mega I used to attend here in Knoxville. We could really go down a road on this but will stop here with it as that needs a separate post altogether to addres it but this “I’m above it” arrogance that some of these mega guys and their staffs have is just beyond any words to describe. Believe me I more than understand where you’re coming from on this.

      • PaulBack says:

        does this mean mainline/liturgical churches offer better tools in coping with “dark nights” than “evangelicalism? hhmmm

      • Adrienne…where was that story? I’d love to read it.

      • The Guy from Knoxville says:

        Adrienne,

        It seems that lately I’ve not had much good to say about evangelical churches and their practices and their handling of people in crisis or other situations and unfortunately I don’t have much good to say on this either. I found out over my years in evangelicalism that this is one of their worst areas of ministry. Back in 2004 when my mother was very sick and during the time of her passing it was nearly impossible to get a pastor to come by from the church they were attending – matter of fact the pastor never did show until the funeral service and one of the associates that knew my mother and dad was the saving grace in that situation. My dad was (still is) a faithful choir member – always loved music and loved to sing in the choir – couldn’t even get the music guy to come by other than when the mother of an “interest” was in the same hospital as my mother at the time he just basically dropped in one day because he was already there to see the “interest’s” mother and even when he did “drop by” it was clear he didn’t want to be there and I don’t even think we saw him again even for the funeral. He was one of these guys into “the look” meaning you had to be the nice trim, good looking, wear the latest trendy brand name clothing, have the latest trendy hair cut while laying waste to what was already a very good music program at the church type of guy – the music program is unrecognizable now which he and others applaud while castigating those other “little churches” with their boring dated and out of place/out of step hymns and choirs that are untrained which he equates with not “doing your best for the Lord.” Well, you get the idea – Adrienne I know where you’re coming from – been there and got the tee-shirts on this one.

        Now, all that said is not to say that a pastor, especially in a large mega such as was the case of the church above where my parents were attending, should be expected to visit every sick person hospital/home etc – that’s an impossible task given how many in a large church that can be sick at any one time – pastor does have a life and family outside the church too and associate pastors and deacons are invaluable for helping with the visits. However, when a crisis such as a death (impending death) comes along I would think that a pastoral visit(s) is in order during those times but I have found that many mega pastors, as I mentioned in another response here, have this idea that they are above this and are very arrogant and flatly refuse to have anything to do with this area of ministry be it visiting the sick, elderly or death situations past maybe doing the funeral. Again, I do support pastors in the sense that they need their time for themselves and their families yet in the pastorate there are certain things that need a pastors attention from time to time and so many refuse these days to consider them much less do them.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says:

          Chaplin Mike,

          I saw where the post I did above is in moderation – realized that it is probably because of the length…… seems I’m not good at being consise and to the point for which I apoligize and I will try to be less lenghty on future resposes to posts.

        • Calebite says:

          Is there not an inconsistency in bashing an evangelical mega-churches for being too ‘pastor focused’, and then turning around and bashing the pastor for not visiting in the hospital? I certainly do believe that the church should be visiting the sick and the elderly, and providing a presence in the midst of crisis and grief, but when did this become the role of just the pastor. It seems that you all are doing the same thing you complain about, just disagreeing on the main role/focus of the pastor. I’ve seen people complain that ‘no one from the church visited them in the hospital’, when what they mean is that neither of the pastors on staff visited them, even though 4-5 other people or families dropped by.

          But, I’m probably a bit defensive, since that type of ministry is not my strength. But, it does get old to know that although I’ve helped overhaul the crisis/compassion ministry focus of a local body, develop a deeper sense of community, teach on service and compassion, get people involved in ministry, and tie the local body into the larger community we are part of; there are those who will fault me for not visiting Joe Smith who was in the hospital last week for about 35 hours.

          • Calebite, I’m ok with what you say here. What I think is that churches should make their language more clear so people know what to expect. From your description, you are not a pastor, you are an overseer, an administrator, an organizer, not a “pastor.” You don’t take care of sheep, you organize systems and people to take care of sheep. That’s fine, and in larger churches, utterly necessary. But it is not “pastoral” ministry.

            I recently spent the day with a woman who is a part-time chaplain for our organization. She told me about a large church in which she served, a “mega-church” for the town she lives in. She oversaw the pastoral care ministry of the church. She told me the senior pastor said that anyone on staff who had “pastor” in their title MUST be involved in the visitation and on-call schedule. This church had a pastoral care program that rivaled that of a city hospital chaplaincy office. And their senior minister’s point was: if you are a pastor, you cannot and will not avoid this responsibility to be personally involved with visiting and caring for hurting people.

            I could not agree more.

          • The Guy from Knoxville says:

            Calebite,

            I can’t write worth a hoot in terms of being consise and to the point so I end up with an essay or book in trying to communicate my thoughts/feelings on matters – a decided weekness without a doubt. Not saying that the body of the church shouldn’t be involved – indeed they should and my wife and I have in the past in the churches we were in at those times. My issue comes down to the arrogant over-the-top pastors in some of these megas that just flat out refuse to be involved with this aspect of ministry and they state it to folks as if it’s above them to do so and that’s my issue – not all pastors of megas, med or small churches are this way but my experiences in the evangelical mega have not been real good in this respect and I tend to come down hard – these things are not easy to deal with and I’m at a point of starting to come out of all this mess but alot of the expericnes I’ve had still haunt me from time to time. Would that all churches were like the one CM described in the last paragraph of his response on this.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Contemporary worship repeats the same chorus over and over until the partiipants are whipped into an altered state of consciousness that they mistake for God’s presence.

      Besides being “7-11 Worship” (seven words repeated eleven times), how does that differ from the Mantras “from Eastern Mysticism (TM)” that these radio preachers were always warning us against in the Seventies?

  7. I am finding it interesting that this is starting to turn into less about what needs to be done in mainlines, but more about problems in other churches.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says:

      Rick,

      You’re probably right to some degree – I tend to hammer the evangelical side of things because I’ve been there and experienced it and dislike much of what is happening these days. It was not always this way. As for the mainlines and the more liturgical churches by all means I prefer that versus what exists in evangelicalism however, as CM and others said, you have to be careful there as well because of some of the overtly liberal positions that some take but ultimately I think we all compromise something to some degree in any church that we choose to attend. The type of church body that CM described in the post is very much what I would to see more of these days.

  8. Adrienne says:

    To Friend and Chaplain Mike ~ thank you is all I can say. To friend for asking “‘my question” and to Chaplain Mike for answering so eloquently. I too have been wrestling with this issue. I am currently in a Lutheran Church for many of the same reasons that you expressed. The verse in 1 John 2:19 keeps bouncing around in my mind: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” Yet I just cannot go backwards. “These liturgical elements, despised as “rote” and “meaningless ritual” to those whose priority is to “feel God’s presence,” have become more and more meaningful to me. Even when I don’t feel a rush of emotion, I immerse myself in the objective reality of God’s grace, love, and truth each week, and find that I am being formed by it.” You say it so well Chaplain Mike. I too am being formed by my almost year now in a liturgical church. Thank you so much for articulating what is in my own heart and soul. Again I have to say thank you for shepherding me through my journey. God bless you.

    • Adrienne, it was my question to Chaplain Mike. He has answered thoughtfully and well. I’m sure I will be rereading this for some time.

      It is gratifying to hear others say they they, too, struggle with these issues. I wish you peace and joy on your journey and would love to hear how you work through everything.

  9. lurker pete says:

    Chaplain Mike- can you say what are the profound pastoral and theological disagreements which mean you can never be a member of an LCMS church? “Never” is mighty strong. How does that fit with your “spirituality is local” emphasis?

    • As a layperson now, I have a strong conviction against closed communion primarily. If I were to consider ministry, which for me is always a consideration in churches with which I affiliate, then I could not sign on the line for young earth creationism or against women’s ordination. I don’t think that recognizing theological differences contradicts the idea of local spirituality.

      • Cunnudda says:

        Actually, those issues seem on a par with the ones you have chosen to ignore. I don’t see the difference, especially vis-a-vis ordination of women vs. noncelibate homosexuals.

        • The difference is that, were I to go into ministry in the LCMS, I would have to sign a doctrinal statement affirming male-only ordination. That issue alone would not prevent me from being a layperson in an LCMS congregation. Closed communion is the deal-breaker there.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Really? I hadn’t heard about that statement. I wonder when that was instituted.

            As for closed communion, is that a church-wide requirement? I am trying to remember from when I was a member of an LCMS church. I’m sure I would have introduced myself to the pastor before going up for communion, since I knew that at least some LCMS churches practiced closed communion. But it certainly wasn’t any serious obstacle. Perhaps the discussion of my background satisfied the pastor. I joined by way of a letter of transfer from my previous, ELCA, congregation. And when I moved across country I joined the local ELCA congregation by way of a letter of transfer from the LCMS congregation. This was in the mid-1990s. I wonder if there isn’t an element of bootleg inter-church cooperation here.

          • Reply to Richard Hershberger @ 1:44 PM-

            Yep. If you are ordained an LCMS minister, you pledge to male-only pastorate. Also, it is required that you believe in YEC; if you do not (and you express it), you will likely not be ordained.

            Also, closed communion is the official policy of the LCMS. When a congregation joins the LCMS, they vow to hold to certain positions and practices- one of these is closed communion. So, officially speaking, I am only allowed to commune at an LCMS parish, with churches in communion with the LCMS, and only other churches that recognize the Real Presence in extreme cases (i.e. dying). However pastoral discretion is allowed, so that each pastor may judge if a certain situation should be allowed. So technically speaking, parishes that practice open communion are breaking our rules. However, church discipline has disintegrated to the point where it is difficult to enforce anything. Alas, I digress.

          • I asked a question earlier that you had answered lower in the comments. Thanks.

            Just one quibble. The doctrinal statement is actually that you accept the full Book of Concord as a true exposition of scripture. (To be really nit-picky it’s the 1580 german/latin edition of the Book of Concord.)

            All of the other things: YEC, closed communion, male only ordination are synodical interpretations of what that book says. None of them are printed directly. They weren’t issues in 1580. Closed communion is the open sore. It would usually be printed close(d). One group wants the (d) and says our practice is members who have been completely catechized only and are united in doctrine on all points. The other says no (d), but you should confess the creed, recognize the presence in the sacrament and have been baptized, and so please speak to the pastor first if he doesn’t know you. Group A refuses to commune with the libertines from group B. Group B calls group A a bunch of pharisees. And then we vote to see if anyone has enough votes to punish the other group. (Sarcasm alert.)

            Male ordination isn’t going to change unless Rome changed or unless the younger generation (which in the LCMS is anyone under 50) takes it up after the current group passes on. YEC is a shibboleth left over from the seminex/purge days. Expressing YEC is signaling you were on the winning side in “the battle for the bible”.

            • Thanks, Mark. Yes, I know I probably overstated the case. However, the reality still remains, why would a person like me want to seek ordination (if I were ever to do that) in a denomination where these things are openly expressed as the “position” of the group? I don’t think that would be respectful of them or helpful to me.

          • Yep, I understand that. Thanks for the thoughts.

  10. Christians are not set apart from the world by our superior morality or our moral pronouncements. Christians are different because of only one thing—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And this “difference” does not lead us to separate from the world and to build our own culture from which we learn to see the world through “us vs. them” glasses. The Gospel through which we are forgiven sends us into the world to live daily lives of love for our neighbors.

    Dear LORD, let this message grow feet, arms, and wings. May it fly faster and farther than anything on Red Bull. May the gospel, not some b*stard form of pragmatism win the day.

    GregR

  11. Clay Knick says:

    It’s the folks like your grandmother that very often keeps this mainline pastor going. I know you know exactly what I mean, Mike.

  12. Good stuff in this post, CM. I wish, wish, wish, our church practiced more of the liturgical elements and far less of the culture war agenda. Our pastor was raised Roman Catholic, and he is very gradually introducing some elements of the Church Year into our services, but he has to go slowly lest our Baptist members go into shock.

  13. Mike, thank you for the post. I have been answering the same questions and it is helpful to hear another person’s experience, explanation, and language to explain where God has called them.

    Robert Austell, from the PCUSA
    Charlotte, NC

  14. Excellent post Mike. There is no perfect church. If there were, we wouldn’t be a part of it. I too find myself in the ELCA, preparing to be a pastor with one more year of seminary left. There is that with which I disagree with, but I find many fine godly people of faith in this church as well.

    I wasn’t sure just what flavor you are Lutheran-wise. God’s peace.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    One of the practices that I find so unappealing about the politically-charged atmosphere that has corrupted evangelical churches and bound them to the culture war agenda is that people get so worked up about concerns that have relatively little impact on their daily lives and the lives of their neighbors. We argue, complain, spout our opinions, and take our stands with regard to “big” issues and national political matters, but fail to build relationships with our neighbors, visit the sick and elderly, get involved in community activities outside the church, and see our daily vocations as ways through which God shows his care for the world.

    Parsing Correct Theology letter-by-letter and screaming Anathemas at Heretics while pastors’ widows eat out of dumpsters.

    You know what these guys remind me of, more than anything else?
    Communist Party Ideologists.
    Purity of Ideology, Purity of Ideology, Purity of Ideology.
    And The Cause, The Cause, The Cause.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      As much as I tire of the “culture war” stuff, I don’t think there has to be a dichotomy between being orthodox in theology, doctrine, etc. and being compassionate in how we treat our fellow human beings. Maybe it’s hard to strike that balance, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

  16. David Cornwell says:

    Chaplain Mike expresses in a mostly positive way what is the argument for a Church that connects itself to the past and lives into the future with creed, sacrament, liturgy, historic tradition, and a local community of faith. Most of the arguments I’ve hard against the mainline churches are based in negativity. If one wanted to do so several paragraphs of negativity could be expressed against many evangelical churches.

    I’ve always been a member of a mainline denomination. Yes there have been errors, wrong decisions, drifting, and theological laziness at times. The church I attend now is probably a house full of sinners, but it is also a house of joy expressed in worship. It’s a place where a lot of theological backgrounds come together to worship a common Christ. It’s a place where people care about each other, a family with joys, hurts, sin, and forgiveness.Some of us are not theologically correct or biblically literate. Some have been hurt by churches that claim to be both.

    In the end if any of us are to get to Heaven, a world full of theological error will have to be forgiven (if it is even important at that point). I dare say we are all wrong at one point or another. We have all sinned, and most of us continue to sin. Some kind of universal forgiveness will have to come from God who alone can judge us.

    • “It’s a place where a lot of theological backgrounds come together to worship a common Christ.”

      That gives me an idea. If you want another 200+ comment post, ask “What is worship”. I have an argument, but I’ll save it for that post 🙂

      Hint: worship is not singing…

      • Ben Carmack says:

        Agree.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Singing is not worship, but music can be an important element of worship; music of the right kind that goes to the praise of God. Some music is more like the worship of one’s feelings these days.

      • Idea of worship in Evangelicalism was thrown out a long time ago as an empty ritual. Now they unknowingly worship numbers, votes, culture, etc…….

  17. As my favorite comment from this month put it, I don’t go to church to get fixed…

    well, i do…

    maybe the term ‘fixed’ needs a bit more definition. i don’t go to church for a spiritual ‘fix’ as used in drug abuse terminology. however, i do attend a communal faith expression to be reset more into the image of Christ.

    i need to be in the presence of other believers just as much in need of being fixed up, healed, transformed, or like the idea of a broken bone being set: fixed. yeah. while interacting with other imperfect needy people i am transformed. participating in worship & communion & fellowship i am ‘reset’. communing with like saints does place me in ‘right’ relation to our brokenness when compared to Jesus. and yes, Jesus does fix us when all the King’s horses & all the King’s men cannot. what they cannot do the King Himself can… 🙂

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      That’s the cool thing about Christian worship: As we put our sights on God and his glory, he tends to fix us almost as a “side effect.” I go to church to worship God and to celebrate Jesus and walk away refreshed and “fixed.”

    • True, true

    • “Fixed” as in the sense of “have all my problems solved.” We are complete in Christ and what I need is a church that points me to him and to that, not to tidy me up and make me presentable.

  18. Thank you for this reminder of what it is to be a Christian: not to be part of an exclusive Christian culture, but to live a life that daily reflects God’s love. I struggle with the issues addressed in this post and your answer has really given me a better perspective. This is my favorite one of your posts so far.

  19. Amen.
    Wonderful post.

  20. You can’t escape the gay issue so easily. At some point, someone in your congregation will ask to have a gay marriage. Your pastor will either agree, or he won’t. If you disagree with his decision, then either you will leave in protest, or you won’t. (While everyone around you makes the same calculus–including the pastor.) And then back to normal until some other issue comes up, as it inevitably will.

    Meanwhile, other churches have set forth their doctrine (one way or another) about homosexuality, so that everybody knows what they’re signing up for before they commit, or waste their money and lives supporting something they may later regret.

    • But…all of those places ALREADY went through the whole debate, short or long though it may be. Additionally, all the ones NOW going through it were once opposed. People kept bringing it up, leadership changed, and eventually more and more space existed for it to be heard. And, some wouldn’t live with it, and moved out, and others would, and stayed, or vice versa.

      So everyone in those congregations which now support gays, who was there before they supported gays, have wasted their money and lives on things they now regret. And everyone in those congregations that don’t now support gays, but who will experience fights later on, may also find they’ve wasted their money and lives, depending on the issue.

      Since there will be endless controversies about endless issues, and always have been, everyone’s always in this position. So I guess you pick what’s working for you today, and be prayerfully hopeful about tomorrow, or you just don’t play altogether.

      Our God is unexpected, challenging, uncontrollable, and wild. He’s good, but not safe. Why should we expect our churches to be any different?

    • Bingo, you may be right. But if so, I’ll talk it out with the pastor and we’ll work out a solution. I’m not afraid of that. We’re not in the post-evangelical wilderness because of issues like these. There will always be a “gay issue”—some controversy that threatens to divide. One of the points of my post is that I want a church that emphasizes lasting Gospel practices over issues of the moment.

  21. The Guy from Knoxville says:

    Chaplin Mike,

    I’ve read many of your posts and responded to many as well but I must say this is one of the absolute best that I have ever read. I have struggled so long now with this issue of church, evangelicalism, culture war – all that you you mentioned and the struggle has been so that I’ve nearly lost sight of God himself……. not from his leaving but mine and in recent weeks I’ve come to realize that even in my struggles and my moving away God has never moved and indeed he has been and will be there with me – for me. Allowing all this confusion and all that comes with it to get between me and God was a very wong and I should never have allowed it but having never had, for lack of a better term, a crisis of faith such as I’ve had I simply didn’t know what to do and certainly no pastor that I knew in my SBC bacground was going to help – if anything I would be told anything from a simple pray about it to have more faith to being castigated and marginalized…….. not a great state of affiairs.

    Slowly, very slowly, I’ve begun to get past some of these issues but the main thing is rebuilding a close relationship with God again only this time I want what you described in this post more than words can ever begin to tell yet there are still barriers – the COC that my wife and I attend……. while very progressive as COCs go it still lacks what you have described and having put my wife through the trials and perils of the SBC churches (2) that we were a part while I served as assistant organist and organist has left her scarred and she was intent on going back to the COC and I agreed to go back with her but I’ve never come to a point that I could fully commit to many of their positions even though, as mentioned here and in other post responses, they have a much more progressive position and one that I’m comfortable enough with to attend yet all the things that I want do not exist to the degree that I would like other than the fact that they do have word and table each week but so much is left out. Yes, my wife is aware of my feelings and she has suggested us going to separate churches but I just can’t go down that road – we belong together in the church we attend and bringing her back to a point to consider something other than the COC right now is not a road open yet – hopefully it will be in time.

    Thank you again Mike for this post – I just wanted to cry when I read it and the testimony of your grandmother and her in prayer when God came for her is beyond words……. oh that we could have that kind of dedication and commitment to serving God and man as it once was and still is in some places. Pray for my wife and I as we work through this situation. We’ve been together 15 years this August 31st and we’ve weathered many things by God’s grace with family, work, individuals and church and looks as though there’s a few more things yet to weather but each is a growing experience and makes us – our bond together even stronger.

    Let me add one futher thing – this kind of post is what brings back to mind what Michale did in the posts he wrote while he was with us and this…… this is what brought so many to this website – a safe place where none other exists and I applaud this post and the others that post regularly – it’s this that will continue to insure that Internet Monk continues to be a safe harbor – a safe place of warmth, caring, a place of binding the wounds, a place of healing, a place of feeding to so many that have found this place in the midst of their evangelical wilderness wanderings.

  22. Randy Thompson says:

    The mainline churches are just a political as fundamentalist churches. It’s just that no one takes their politics seriously any more. (Which is too bad, by the way, because often their political stands are way more grounded in Scripture than are fundamentalists’ views.)

    Also, but, if you are evangelical-type trying to fit-in in a mainline setting, you need to keep in mind that you, as a post-evangelical, are out-voted (generally) in that denomination, and the nice, loving Christ-centered church you’ve found (and they are there!), can be undone within a year or two of the current pastor’s departure, when the interim, approved by denominational leaders, attempts to bring the church into line with the denomination’s orthodoxy. As a former pastor in a mainline church setting, who comes in after you leave is a huge issue.

    Finally, what passes for the Gospel too often boils down to a God-is-love and God-accepts-everybody so God is radically inclusive message. The Gospel of mainline liberal protestantism is summed up best by Yale’s (late) H. Richard Niebuhr: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

    Post evangelicals fleeing to the supposed sanity of mainline liberal protestantism are only trading one kind of insanity for another.

    Choose your poison carefully.

    • You have valid points, Randy. What you say represents cautions in my own heart that keep me with at least one foot in the wilderness.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

        My life seems to be flowing in the opposite direction of many who post here. I went from a store front church in a California beach town to Yale Divinity School. Most of my adult life has been spent as a theological conservative in a liberal protestant setting. My feeling was, and still is, I think, that it’s better to be the in-house conservative than the in-house liberal. Unfortunately, the theological biases in many (not all) of the mainline churches are so skewed toward the liberal side of things that it is very hard to stay engaged. These biases also reflect the current and certainly the future pool of pastors. My sense is, it will be harder and harder, in some denominations at least, to find orthodox, level-headed ministers.

        I read an article in “First Things” some years ago about the “working theology” of the Episcopal church. It was written by a former Associate Dean (an Episcopalian) at my seminary. I thought it very accurately summarized the ethos of the Episcopal Church and other, similar mainline churches. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of that article nearby, and I can’t remember the title. I’ll post it below when I get it. It’s well worth looking up.

        Blessings to you all, whichever direction you’re going on the ecclesiastical highway!

    • William says:

      “Finally, what passes for the Gospel too often boils down to a God-is-love and God-accepts-everybody so God is radically inclusive message. The Gospel of mainline liberal protestantism is summed up best by Yale’s (late) H. Richard Niebuhr: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

      Sounds like Garrison Keillor’s description of the so-called “Happy Lutherans” (those that did not emphasize doctrine very much): “The Happy Lutherans said, in essence, God loves you and be glad that He does and can you please coach basketball this year?”

      And earlier: “Happy Lutherans, who believed in splashing some water on babies and confirming the little kids and then not worrying about, just come every Sunday and bring a hot dish.”

    • Well I also don’t think the mainline have the money like the fundy’s do or the connections to be just as political. The right wing beast hovers over much of the Christian political process and I don’t think it will change soon. As things at times get more desperate I’m expecting to hear more noise.

  23. William says:

    Before I became a part of my current church (Acts 29, SBC) I went through a three-year period of church shopping. As this was my first experience selecting a church as an adult, I decided to go no holds barred: I visited many mainline denominational churches that I had never been to before, and found that, at least on the surface, they weren’t quite the evil boogeymen I had always been led to believe. But they still had their problems: some seemed to be stuck in stifling tradition for the sake of tradition, or had primarily elderly congregations where they were few close to my age, or they held positions with which I could not agree. (And yes, I do realize that all of those things can happen in evangelical churches as well). But one thing evangelicals do better: welcoming the visitor. Many of the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches I visited seem to have no idea of what to do with those not already one of “them”.

    I remember visiting an Episcopal church where I really liked the liturgy and the sermon. But as I left, all I was greeted with was a limp handshake at the door and a mild “thank you for coming”. Evangelicals could learn from the mainlines about liturgy and sacraments; mainlines could learn from evangelicals about fellowship and welcoming the stranger.

    • William, you will also learn as you age that you won’t belong in fundgelicalism either. They cater to and have such a focus on youth. It’s attractive now if you are in your 20’s but as you age…30-45-60, etc.. you will feel out of place. My perspective changed as I aged a little, and I’m in my mid 30’s. But I’m also more agnostic and kind of felt as if I outgrew faith as I aged. Maybe that’s due to what I was taughtt when I was a fundy.

      • The Guy from Knoxville says:

        Now Eagle – I agree with what you are saying on the age focused issue in these churches…… especially so in the SBC and contemporary non-denominational type churches and new church plants. About the time one comes to about 16 years of age thru about 30 (top end) you’re ok but once you get past that and begin to mature in the faith more and more you find out just how quick you’ll be dropped and pushed to the side in favor of the next crop of young coming in. I completely understand the need to emphasize youth and to bring up the next generation but not at the expense of your older, mature and seasoned christians in the church. You wouldn’t believe the horror stories of older, senior and elderly church memebers and how they have been and are at times treated. This goes past the idea of change in churches – you get to a certain age and express and opinion or offer advice from years of life experiences and see what happens in a good number of these churches. This is one area the mainlines have far surpassed the evangelical churches……. not saying all evangelicals are lacking in this area but a great many have shameful present and past record of less than desirable treatment of folks as the years pass on.

      • Here’s my experience as a staff member with two churches – one a SBC, one a non-denominational. The older members were pushed aside over the contemporary music issue. In the SBC, a lovely, long time couple left because the young pastor was changing the worship, no discussion was to be had. It was a “my way or the highway” situation. In the other, non-denom, the pastor’s wife actually said this regarding the older people: “They had their day.” I will never forget that statement and have only to regret that I did not walk away that very moment.

    • William,

      You are so right about Catholic Churches not knowing how to welcome the stranger. That is one of the biggest problems that I have with them. I’ve been on an evangelization committee, and we couldn’t do anything. (Partly because the woman chosen as leader was drafted, etc.)

  24. Best post ever. Really hits where I’m at right now. All theology really is local. It’s so hard to know what to really prioritize when seeking a new church home. The more I learn about “theology” the more confused I get about what sort of church I should belong to. I’m coming down with A. W. Pink syndrome, so now every congregation is going to irk me, and most of them very quickly. I just need a place where I can receive the grace to endure. And no, it’s not on my knees. My personal relationship with Jesus is not enough. I guess I need people as screwed up and confused as me, because anyone who says they’re not is lying.

  25. I really enjoyed this post. I have been in the non-denom, evangelical environment for the last 20 years, however I have a great respect for liturgical tradition and “mainline” churches. It seems no matter what our denominational affiliation or background we can easily get lost in the bickering about doctrinal nuances (not to trivialize the importance of sound doctrine) or finding that church that is “comfortable” or the “the right fit” and lose sight James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (NIV) As members of the body of Christ it really is about loving our neighbors and looking after those in distress. I love the mission statement of a church I belonged to when I lived in Missouri, “Honor God, Help People”. My wife has modified this statement for her own life (I’ve stolen it for myself as well) to “Honor God, Help People and Disciple along the way.”

  26. LCMS – Pope is Anti-Christ, No Ordination of Women, Young Earth creationism, Strongly against Homosexuality, Conservative
    ELCA – Ecumenical, has Women leaders, believes Science & faith are not in conflict, stuggling w/ Homosexual issue (maybe in a way you disagree with), Liberal

    This seems to be the Liberal vs. Conservative equation in the Mainline Churches. I am not Mainline but I would definitely take the latter b4 the former anyday.
    I think the problem many face is that they are in the “in between” – you may be w/ the ELCA until the Homosexual issue —-or you may be LCMS except for the Ordination of women issue & so on.
    this becomes pure reductionism. what you are against makes you who you are.

    I believe that the Answer is to gather around the Word & table in a community of Faith that Loves each other because Jesus loves us.
    Jesus did not call us to Love the sinner & hate the sin. —–he called us to Love the sinner & forgive the sin!