October 23, 2014

I Know It’s Not for Everyone, but I’ve Found an Oasis in the Mainline

Lent 2012: A Journey through the Wilderness
I Know It’s Not for Everyone, but I’ve Found an Oasis in a Mainline Church

In other essays here on Internet Monk, I have described my own journey through the post-evangelical wilderness. I grew up in a mainline church (United Methodist), but most of my spiritual journey has been in evangelicalism.

I had a spiritual awakening in Southern Baptist churches when I was in my late teens, attended a non-denominational and dispensational Bible college, served as pastor in a Baptist church (nominally American Baptist that became independent), a Bible church (Independent Fundamental), went to seminary at one of the most prominent conservative evangelical seminaries in the world and received my ministry license in the Evangelical Free Church, and served in two non-denominational “Community” churches that were founded by Wesleyans, most of whom had ties to Asbury Seminary.

When I resigned from a difficult church situation, I entered the wilderness. After several false starts and experiments, my wife and I found a lovely ELCA Lutheran church with a simple liturgy, wonderful music, a healthy and grounded pastor, a hospitable congregation, and an emphasis on Christ, grace, vocation, and other Lutheran essentials that answered questions I had been turning over in my mind for years in my evangelical settings. Last fall I wrote a “wilderness update” about coming to terms with the faith tradition to which I now belong and the decision I’d made to pursue ordination in the ELCA.

Though I recognize my debt to evangelicalism and am grateful for what God has taught me on the journey, coming back to a mainline church for me means coming home. I’ve found my oasis. I don’t hesitate to call myself a mainline Christian.

What happened to me is not a new phenomenon and there is a large company of people who have made a similar journey.

Let me introduce you to a few friends I’ve found along the way.

It was back in 1985 that Robert Webber described his own experiences of becoming an Anglican and the conversations he was having with students at Wheaton College about their attraction to historic churches and liturgical worship.

In his book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, Webber made it clear that leaving free church evangelicalism was by no means a repudiation of orthodoxy, but a deeper participation in the orthodox faith.

Webber named six aspects of orthodoxy that were not adequately fulfilled for him in his previous Christian experience, but which he found in the Anglican church:

  • A sense of mystery
  • Worship that transcends intellectualism and emotionalism
  • Sacraments that provide tangible symbols of Christ
  • A historic sense of identity
  • An ecclesiastical home
  • A holistic spirituality

Webber described his own pilgrimage as a journey in three stages: from familial faith in fundamentalist Christianity to searching faith to owned faith in the Anglican church.

Diana Butler Bass is fine Christian writer who likewise found an oasis in mainline Christianity. She describes her transition in Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith.

For many years I had been associated with conservative evangelical Protestants. Despite many good things they taught me, and the many faithful individual evangelicals I knew, I increasingly experienced their communities as narrow and inhospitable. I worried about the increasing political partisanship in evangelical congregations. The liberal church that I joined was just the opposite — full of lived grace, an open invitation of God’s love, and refreshingly unpartisan.

Bass’s book is designed to counter the accepted wisdom that America’s mainline churches are in decline and that the truly vibrant, growing, and influential churches are the conservative evangelical congregations, especially the megachurches. Surprisingly, she found that many traditional neighborhood assemblies are flourishing and displaying authentic Christian faith and witness.

Tod Bolsinger is an evangelical believer who graduated from Fuller Seminary and who teaches at Fuller and Denver Seminary. He is also the senior pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church, a PCUSA congregation. Where I live, churches are fleeing the PCUSA. Two close to us just left the denomination and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian church. Others have gone PCA. One down the road is joining the Christian Reformed tradition. But Tod Bolsinger has decided to stick with his mainline ordination and congregation. On his blog, It Takes a Church, he wrote an open letter telling his friends why.

I realize that for some leaders leaving the PCUSA at this time is an issue of conscience.  For them, being members of a denomination or Presbytery where some would condone what they find to be in contradiction to the Scriptures is a violation of their consciences.  I too have deeply struggled with this and continue to wrestle with it, so it is not difficult for me trust them to their convictions.  I would guess that my opinions on this will matter little to these who for conscience’s sake feel as if they must withdraw from the denomination, and frankly that is the way it should be. But, I offer this rationale in a spirit of inquiring conversation to any whom would be interested in perhaps finding a different way.

…I am concerned that the anxiety of the moment and the drive to bring ‘relief’ from our tensions is keeping us from doing the hard work of truly defining and experimenting with a Reformed, Presbyterian ecclesiology in a post-Christendom, missional context.  If nothing else, staying within the PCUSA keeps me squarely in the middle of that critical ecclesiological conversation and exploration.

…My perspective is framed more by the larger changes that are required of every church, every community of faith, and every theological institution that endeavors to remain culturally engaged and prophetic for the gospel of Jesus Christ today than any particular issue, no matter how important.

In short, Bolsinger believes that the energy being expended on certain issues dividing mainline Presbyterians needs to be redirected.  “I am concerned that the focus of creating of yet another denomination, at this time, can become a way of avoiding addressing the deeper issues of ecclesiology, discipleship and mission in a post-Christendom world,” he writes. Therefore, he will stay so as to keep on addressing those issues.

Frank Schaeffer grew up in an iconic evangelical family and was influential in the early days of the culture war, when the Christian Right was born as a political force in the 1970’s. In a March 15 article published in the Huffington Post, Schaeffer echoes something Michael Spencer wrote back in 2007 — this is a time when mainline churches should be recognizing as opportune. There is whole wild wilderness full of post-evangelical spiritual refugees out there. Much of what they are longing for might be found in mainline traditions if only pastors and congregations would begin tapping the resources at their disposal and offer them to wanderers.

Listen to Schaeffer:

I’ve been speaking at many small colleges that have historical ties to the oldest mainline denominations in the U.S. I have been noticing something interesting: a terrific hunger for a deeper spirituality on the part of many young people who come from evangelical backgrounds like mine and also like me are looking for something outside of the right wing conservatism they come from.

I’ve also noticed that while some people in the so-called emergent evangelical movement are reaching out to these young people the leaders of the mainline denominations both locally and nationally often seem blind to a huge new opportunity for growth and renewal staring them in the face. That new opportunity is the scores of younger former evangelicals diving headlong out of the right wing evangelical churches.

…I don’t get it. Where is everyone? Why is the “emergent” evangelical church reinventing a wheel that’s been around for centuries? And why aren’t the mainline churches letting us know they are there?

…If the mainline churches would work for the next few years in a concerted effort to gather in the spiritual refugees wandering our country they’d be bursting at the seams.

If this is to happen and post-evangelicals (especially those who continue to maintain evangelical beliefs) are to be attracted to mainline churches, here is a starter list of characteristics that I suggest those churches must demonstrate:

  • They must show that they take the Bible seriously.
  • They must be able to present the case for tradition, historical connection, liturgical worship, and the sacraments with clarity and winsomeness.
  • They must not only be able to carry out strong programs of spiritual formation for those baptized and confirmed in the church, but also intentional efforts to make converts through outreach and evangelism.
  • They must provide a strong practice of pastoral care.
  • They must find ways to expand the idea of “inclusiveness” to include people with conservative views, and creatively take the lead in helping folks with differing opinions talk and relate to each other.
  • They must not become imitators of evangelical culture and think that they should capitulate to contemporary culture in the attempt to be “relevant” and grow their churches.

I know the oasis I’ve found may not be for everyone. But mainline churches have a huge potential waiting to be tapped. And there is room for a lot more around the water hole at this oasis I’ve found.

Comments

  1. CM…at the end of the day you have to do what makes you happy. I’m glad you found a home in the ELCA.

    A thought occurred to me this weekend that I have never thought before. In the past I’ve always refered to how evangelicals live in this “us” vs. “them” mindset. It was one of the things that bothered me. So yesterday I went to the Reason Rally and I listened to a couple of speakers who framed their atheism in an “us” vs. “them” mindset. I mean for some of the people there I felt like they declared war on religion just as Focus on the Family has decalred war on gays. That aspect of the “Reason Rally” really bothered me.

    I don’t know why but after that event (which I left early BTW….) I felt guilty about attending. So I deceided to attend mass at a nearby Roman Catholic Churchon Capital Hill (talk about a schizophrenic day eh?) I was looking at a flyer that I picked up in the enterance of the church about penance and how to prepare oneself for the sacrement of reconciliaiton and what sins to confess. One of them is to confess being involved in non Catholic church activities. And that struck me as odd…it almost seemed as if there was an “us” vs “them” mindset from a Catholic perspective.

    So afterward I was wondering…between evangelicalism, atheism,. and Catholicism…is the “us” vs “them” perspective just a part of mankind and the fallen world? Is it a sin condition that knows no boundaries? I never thought of this like that…but it did leave me wondering…. Is tis a part of being human?

    • It is a common human tendency, Eagle. I’m sure people and communities and nations needed to develop such thinking as a survival mechanism. And I would assert that there is some “us” and “them” thinking that is purely natural and relatively harmless — after all we do tend to hang around with people we like and with whom we have things in common. But our sinfulness easily distorts that into thinking we’re better than others and that others are “bad” in a variety of ways.

      This is one contribution Jesus made. He was always willing to hang with “them.”

      When we follow him in that, it makes a difference. I remember being in India and leading a pastor’s conference. When we did these conferences we often did foot-washing ceremonies and washed the feet of the local pastors. We wanted them to know that we weren’t just another group of rich Americans coming over there telling them how to do their work and taking their money. We were there to serve them. In one of those meetings, a few Hindu priests from town came to see what we were doing. One of them came forward and I washed his feet. Later, a friend told me the Hindu was astonished. “No Hindu priest would ever stoop to wash another person’s feet!” he said.

      So much the worse for the Hindu people. Jesus washed mine, how could I not wash those of others, without regard to who they are?

      • One more Mike says:

        “Us” v. “Them” could be a derivation of that archetype of human thinking from the Gilgamesh to “Hunger Games”; Good v. Evil” All great stories and all recorded histories are basically built on this theme. The Bible, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Faulkners “Yoknapatawpha County ” chronicles, all of Flannery O’Connors writings are about good and evil and the conflict therein.

        Who decides which side is “good” and which “evil” is up to the best writer, marketer and most convincing spokesman. You have to make up your mind for yourself in this particular conversation, where everyones convinced that everyone else is evil. Things are never that black and white, unless you have BPD, which seems to be rampant now.

        Think well, Eagle.

    • I understand exactly what you mean eagle. As a high school student , in a “christian’ community , I see an us Vs them mentality regularly. I’m not sure why it is that way. Eagle , I heard about what Richard Dawkins said at the rally , about mocking religious people….All i can say is i sense an sharp increase in nasty culture war in the next couple of years… I predict:”evangelical salfism VS new atheism(the 12 imams of reason”.

      Chaplain Mike if you don’t mind I have a link that i think is relevant , please enjoy it everyone!

      http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.ca/2011/10/slavery-of-death-part-12-american.html

      • One more Mike says:

        I’m amazingly impressed with a high school student who reads Richard Becks blog and iMonk. I salute you tapji, there may be hope for your generation after all (GW).

        I also commend “Experimental Theology” to all other imonk’ers. Great thinking going on over there.

    • Eagle:
      I have lived all over Canada, and in French Canada, USA, Mexico, Colombia and Saudi Arabia. I have traveled around the world twice. Everywhere I have been for any length of time I have seen an us vs them. I remember hearing people in my city in S. America being suspicious of the Bogotanos (from Bogota). Urban Saudis putting down Bedouin, English Canadians putting down French and French putting down English. Brits being suspicious of Europe, Dutch not liking Germans. Taiwanese suspicious of mainland China (both are Chinese)

      I have concluded it is human nature. It springs from belonging, and noticing we are different than them.

      At minimum it is benign, in it’s most destructive form it causes wars and dreadful atrocities. I think of it as harmless but coupled with sin it can be toxic.

      I know this much, Jesus calls me to something different.

      • Ken……I think some basic concept of “us vs them” is a veryprimative survival reflex……is this person one of “our tribe” who will share food and protect us, or is he here to harm us or steal from us??

        Having said that, your litany brought an old Kingston Trio song right to my mind…..

        “The whole world is festering
        with unhappy souls….

        The French hate the Germans
        The Germans hate the Poles

        Italians hate Yugoslavs
        South Africans hate the Dutch

        ….And I don’t like anybody very much!”

      • Thanks….maybe I’ve been wrong to be so harsh against evangelicals on this issue. I have a lot of thinking to do….

        • The Previous Dan says:

          The problem isn’t that Christians are worse regarding the “us vs. them”; the problem is that we are the same as everyone else. Jesus called us to a higher standard. That standard of love is the strongest “proof” of the Gospel. Stronger than science, logic, etc.

          But it boils down to fear. At least that is what I find when I look at the cause in my own heart. Instead of reaching out to “them” and risking pain/loss, I take a defensive posture to protect me and mine. In doing so I refute the very Gospel that I claim.

          • Joseph (the original) says:

            and from the divine perspective, all humanity was them…

            not like the giant ant move Them!, but the ones Jesus decided to become. could use that comparison though, you know, about a God becoming like an ant to communicate to them in their ant language & hang out in the ant farms…

            anyway, there is nothing in the religious stories of humankind that compares to the Christian God. the irony, i feel, is in the grand responsibility He entrusted to His followers: we are to accurately represent Him to the other thems we dwell among…

            wow…

    • Eagle…re: preparing for the Sacrament of Reconcilliation~

      I think you might have have mis-intrepreted the flyer you looked at. In 50+ years as a Catholic, I have never seen belonging to non-Catholic organizations as an occasion of sin. What it MAY have meant was involvment in ANTI-CATHOLIC organizations, such as Freemasons or the John Birch Society or involvement with organizations that have purposes at war with basic doctines of the Church, like pro-abortion groups or occult practices.

      Hope that helps…..and correct me if I am wrong, since ‘d like to know if there is something out there that isn’t kosher! :-)

      • Pattie here is what it says, I’ll link to the website for the Archdiocese of Washington..

        http://www.thelightison.org/guide.html

        “•Did I put my faith in danger through readings contrary to Catholic teachings or involvement in non-Catholic sects? Did I engage in superstitious practices: palm-reading or fortune-telling?”

        This line in the reconciliation pamphlet reminded me of the “us” vs. “them” perspective. You know maybe I have been too harsh on this… I have a lot of thinking to do Patte, I really do….

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          This is the first time I’ve heard of “involvement in non-Catholic church activities” as a sin, but given the exact quote, it’s a little easier to understand. There are a lot of anti-Catholic church activities out there (remember your grandmother’s funeral?) and this might have been intended to warn about them. (In which case, it was a warning against “church activities” which could pull Catholics away into “sheep-rustling”; in Latino communities there is a BIG problem with Evangelical splinter churches rustling Catholic sheep.) The second sentence on “superstitious practices” seems to back this up; a lot of splinter churches (especially Pentecostals) tend to drift into “superstitious practices”; I’m sure you’ve heard of angelology gone wild (“SHEEKA BOOM BAH! BAM!”), curses being put on dissidents in the Name of God (“Christian Witchcraft” in the words of another blogger), and Spiritual Warfare Witchfinders-General. As phrased, I think this was the intent.

        • For what it’s worth, I think it’s worthwhile to note that it doesn’t say ‘Did I read things contrary to Catholic teachings or attend events run by non-Catholic sects?’ but ‘Did I PUT MY FAITH IN DANGER through readings contrary to Catholic teachings or involvement in non-Catholic sects?’ I don’t think this would apply to reading books from curiosity or in order to hear and understand an opponent of Catholicism’s point of view, or to merely attending a non-Catholic service. I suspect it’s more along the lines of someone who’s on the fence and wants to be persuaded or actually become a member of some other religious group (or anti-religious group). The key idea seems to be less that non-Catholics are unclean and to be avoided and more how robust is my faith and whether I’m intentionally trying to weaken it, That’s my take on it, anyway.

          • Good distinction, Glenn. Otherwise it would prohibit the study of history and phiosophy, and the readings of people such as Marx and Nietzsche. The Catholic Church certainly doesn’t discourage the reading of opposing views for educational purposes.

        • Eagle, I’m with Pattie, and the paragraph you quoted supports what she said.

          — “contrary to Catholic teachings”: Read: “anti-Catholic”, as Pattie suggested. The word “contrary” means “anti”, not “non”.
          —“non-Catholic sects”: Read: “cults” or other dangerous groups. The word “sect” is the clue.
          —“superstitious practices”
          —“palm-reading or fortune-telling” Read: “Occult”.

          Having lunch at Denny’s after mass may be a “non-Catholic” activity, but I don’t think that’s what they meant because it’s not anti-Catholic.

    • Eagle,

      I would concur that using an “us” vs. “them” is a basic tendency in human psychology. Socially, it is also one of the main tools that communities use to define themselves. It reoccurs over and over, whether you are looking at religious communities, ethnic groups, nations, or anything else.

      That said, that doesn’t mean that the tendency is good. It can be so easily overemphasized and put to bad uses that we have to consciously question it and counter it. I would argue that, at least to a large degree, Christianity requires us to set aside us/them in favor of a different (radical?) ethic. If human culture wants to categorize, divide, and define, the gospel proclaims the ultimate in boundary-crossing: God becomes man so that man can become godly. And we’re supposed to emulate this–somehow!

      BTW, I think your observation about the mentality of the atheists and the fundamentalists being similar on this point is spot on. Put a fund-raising letter from the Christian right about church-and-state issues next to a fund-raising letter from atheists about the same issue: the rhetoric is almost identical.

      I can’t speak to the Catholic issue you mention. I haven’t heard of it, unless they mean participation in competing organizations (other religious activities? Secret societies?) or participation in activities inconsistent with Catholic convictions.

      You mention trying to escape the us/them in fundamentalist/evangelical communities, the more strident atheist orgs, and (perhaps?) the Catholic poster. Honestly, you might try a few mainline churches. They are sometimes a little fruity-feeling in their openness (as in, I get paranoid that people are so accepting because they just don’t think ideas or practice “matter” in the same way a “conservative” does). But that is not always the case. And you will find yourself surprised that few people in such a congregation will be very surprised that you have questions or struggles. They will say, “yes, I also heard the sky was blue,” and then feed you casserole. You may like it, or you may not, but you won’t be treated like an outsider.

      We’ve been hiding out in the mainline for a few years, and I’m slowly coming to realize that it is a good place to be, not just a place I landed because I had nowhere else to go. (We might be about to join ELCA church…)

  2. This is such a helpful story and reading it is timely for me. I am an English Anglican Priest in the process of trying to plant a church and many of your observations (not all though because you have a context) resonated with me and have left me things to think about. Thank you.

  3. In the oasis of mainline Christianity that I have found, we realize the reconciliation has already been totally accomplished…by Christ.

    And now we are free. Free to go to a Catholic mass if we want…or not. Or to an atheist rally if we want…or not. (I’ll take the ‘not’ on that score.

    It’s all about freedom (Galatains 5:1).

    • Freedom is a good word for what we’ve found.

      Now I know that many people I’ve met over the years who found Christ in a fresh way in evangelical churches would say the same, at least initially. However, many of them (myself included) now find themselves gravitating back to the mainline or other historic traditions.

      I’d love to hear more stories about that.

      • Adrienne says:

        I really appreciated the word “oasis”. Just yesterday a friend asked me if I am settled and content in the “neighborhood” Lutheran Church I have been attending for the past 2 years after about 35 years in an Evangelical “Bible” church. I told her yes, I have found the one thing I desperately needed and could not find in my long-time church – peace. I said that I had just run into a woman who is still attending my former church who said to me, “I guess you know about the turmoil at the church.” I chuckled and said yes, the turmoil is never ending and I could no longer live with it.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          In fairness, Lutheran churches can have their own turmoil. But it is not generally a constant condition. One advantage we have is a well understood church governance model with centuries of experience behind it. We hold regular meetings which usually are entirely uneventful. This is a good thing. It means that the group is running smoothly. So why hold the meetings? Because they are in place as institutional checks and balances. If, say, the pastor runs off the rails, there is a regularly scheduled opportunity to bring him back on course. If that meeting is only held when a situation arises, then the mere act of calling the meeting (and who has that authority?) is a controversial political act.

          Of course the price we pay is sitting through some pretty dull meetings.

    • One sign of that freedom is joy, and not of the ersatz Amway variety. I’ve found those at my new home consistently joyful. Also they are active without the ‘wretched urgency’ of pushing forward towards GOD’s alleged big plan for the yr. It’s easy to rejoice when we are in HIS yoke and not ours.

    • I think that this is really helpful reflection on Christian freedom! One is free to do anything; yet a servant to all …

      • Right. Christian Freedom is the best Christian writing since Augustine, and only CS Lewis has come close to it since.

  4. This is a great post. I am currently attending a Southern Baptist Church but do not feel I have the freedom to go beyond “buying fire insurance–that is being saved and going after the lost”-which is part of the truth, although I do not like to think about it in the way SBC thinks about it. My wife is ardent SBC but I love her and the people, so please pray for me.

  5. I think American culture generally is pining for more ritualized engagement; for more rites. The pendulum swings back, and rightly so. Life devoid of at least some ritual becomes disconnected and random. I just look at how any given holiday seems to have gone over the top with outdoor decorations. The inclination toward ritual seems to find its fulfillment one way or the other.
    Eagle, glad to hear the whole day turned into a valuable experience. Great stuff!

  6. Timely post for me. My wife and I found a home (we are fairly certain) in an Anglican community here in KC. Oddly, and soemwhat ironically enough, the bishop of this parish is Todd Hunter of Vinyard lineage. I’d been a Vineyard attender since “88, with a yr or two off while at school in Chicago.

    We love this place for everything Webber mentions and more. The focus is on Christ , the liturgy, the sacrament, and community expressions of faith (love the responsorial prayers). The pastor does NOT have to be “the dude”. I’m sure there are many other healthy churches out there, just thought I’d share this story to encourage.

    Blessings and the shalom of GOD, btw, if you’ve found the same haven with Vineyard, that’s cool with me.

    • Interestingly enough, this anglican church is VERY intentional about reaching out to the ‘unchurched’. Also interesting is the music is acutally very vineyard oriented: your grandma would not recognize the music, though she would recognize everything else about the service, I think…..

      • Greg R.

        I’ve recently contacted the local Anglican Bishop about possible ordination in the ACNA. But I’ve been dying to see how modern music can be woven into the historical liturgy!!!! Can you email me so we can talk about it?

        • Pastor,

          Our AMiA church has been doing this in a very good way, I sing about once a month with 2-3 other people, and we keep it acoustic and simple. Our leaders are good at using newer songs along with traditional prayers and hymns. Newer guys like Fernando Ortega or Rich Mullins are sung often, but even more CCMish songs by Stewart Townsend or Matt Redman are sung.

          You can email me as well if you’d like me to send you a PDF of a bulletin or something similar (justinvn AT gmail)

        • I’ll get you at least one name, maybe more, that can answer your questions a lot better than myself. I’m 100% audience/participant, and have no skill in “worship leading”. What Justin says seems to be the lay of the land where I’ve landed. Lots of contemporary stuff, but done without major volume or doing the same verses 19 times. Some electric instruments, but acoustic seems to lead the way.

          From what I can tell, the old folks (I’m not that much younger, btw..) seem to go along with this just fine.

          GregR

    • I’m in KC wondering about the wilderness, finding myself constantly attracted to the Anglican church – would you mind telling me more about your Anglican community? Perhaps by email so as to not hijack the thread? I’m at matthew.allen.scott@gmail.com.

      • Glad to do that. Will send you something detailed tonight, bro. GregR

        • Thanks! I’d be glad of it. I’m tired of the only group of people who care to track with my wilderness thoughts all being only online. As much as I do appreciate internetmonk – and I don’t just appreciate it…I need it…it has been my main spiritual guidance for the past 3 years – I would love be in a church where I can see people face to face who understand.

          • You are 100plus % on target, Matt; as Chap Mike is prone to say from time to time: IMONK is not real life…… (though it has been VERY helpful to me in dealing with real life). At some point , all of our blah-blah-blah has to incarnate and find real human expression.

            If GOD can lead me to still waters, and HE does, then HE can lead anyone there.
            GregR

  7. Yesterday, for the first time in 40 years, my wife became a member of a church (United Methodist) that she chose–I spent 35 years as a UM pastor. We both feel so excited about this congregation, its worship, its people and their commitment to serving Jesus, its music, and all aspects. We are not so naive to realize that there are “issues,” (we already know some), but this church feels like a new home for us, a place to worship and serve, and a place for a new beginning after 15 years in a previous congregation from which I retired. (By the way, as a retired UM pastor, I continue to be a member of the Indiana Conference of the UMC.)

  8. I used to assume that the term “mainline” referred somehow to a church’s middle-of-the-road theology or historic roots, but according to this article in Reform Judaism magazine (Winter 2011):

    Their shared name, “mainline,” harkens back to the 19th century, when their “tall steeple” churches were sited along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “mainline” tracks near Philadelphia.

    http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=2935

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I am skeptical of that etymology (as if, for whatever it is worth, Wikipedia, which suggests it may be a folk etymology). In the Philadelphia region the “main line” is an area of inner suburbs along the main line of the Pennsylvania Rail Road. These developed in the late 19th century with country houses of affluent Philadelphians, who commuted into the city on the railroad. This of Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. The thing is, the characteristic denomination of that crowd was Episcopalian, with some Presbyterians. Perhaps some Quakers holding over from the old days. But decidedly not Lutheran or Methodist, and the American Baptists weren’t even on the radar. So if this is the source of the denominational term, the meaning has broadened considerably. My guess is that the actual origin is as a variant of “mainstream”.

  9. Greetings IM community (with this response I move from lurker to respondent)!

    This post certainly resonates with me as I have just found a church that I become a will be a church home. I definitely identify with the sentiments in your post along with those you quote that young Evangelicals are searching for something richer. My own journey began with a small, rural, independent Baptist church (KJV-only, no women ministers, Roman road to salvation, etc.) that was friendly but often too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.

    During college I remained baptist but discovered the social gospel (via Oscar Romero and campus ministry) and attended a large and historic Cooperative Baptist congregation in my college’s city. The church exposed me to a more formal worship style (responsive readings, vestments, aspects of christian calendar, etc.) and the strengths of a moderate Christianity. I specifically remember seeing both Obama and McCain stickers in the parking lot which impressed me with the diversity of the group. This church exposed me to aspects of the faith that truly connected with me.

    Currently I have moved to another part of town and took that as an opportunity to find a new congregation. (I would keep attending but after several years I still felt as if I hadn’t connected with the church in a meaningful way). I now attend a small (avg. attendance of 75) UM congregation. What attracted me was, yes, the use of liturgy, historical awareness and other things discussed throughout this blog but also the way I was greeted. I have visited many churches but never been so genuinely embraced by a church and invited in. I am not ignored neither did they seek me out to be the token 20-something. I knew these foiks by their love and I foresee calling this church home for quite some time. I will probably even join, having never done so before.

    Thank you IM community for continuing to help me articulate and consider the many different considerations of my search and faith journey.

  10. David Cornwell says:

    Thank you for telling your story here. I’m a member of a very old mainline church in the core of the city. Next door to us is an Episcopal Church, one block away the old, large, ELCA congregation, and just a few blocks from there the PCUSA. Large Catholic churches are also nearby.

    I’m glad these old congregations chose to stay downtown and stick it out. Now this part of town is experiencing a resonance of building, culture, sports, and culture. Most of these old churches experienced decline over the years. Much of it was connected with demographics and the decline of old downtown areas.

    These churches now have unprecedented opportunity. It’s not that they don’t have the gospel. It’s more that they have ignored it or shoved it aside for other things for too long. But I sense change for the better. They are also attracting people from many parts of the city looking for something different, and not requiring them to park their thinking at the door. This is a trickle, not a flood. The younger people come from a variety of denominational backgrounds, most often in mixed marriages (racial and denominational). Some are gay. Most aren’t saints.

    I’ve always been the member of a mainline denomination. I was also born into the conservative side of Methodism with it’s own brand of evangelicalism. Much of it I wouldn’t trade for the world. I love its enthusiasm for the gospel, mostly solid preaching, love for the old hymns, and concern for sinners. I also liked its lack of concern in the battle of over evolution and end-time craziness. One didn’t have to park his/her brain at the door. What I don’t like is the emotionalism and concern for the “right feeling” that one needs in order to have “assurance” of salvation.

    We will never find the perfect home until Christ brings in the Kingdom in its fullness. I trust Him to sort through our mistakes, our errors, our wrong-headedness and to set it right.

    It’s good to see so many of us here, in this place, from all our backgrounds, talking together. It’s also good to know that we are all praying to the one God and His Spirit is leading us through this sometimes confusing wilderness.

  11. David Cornwell says:

    resonance=resurgence (so much for writing quickly)

  12. Chaplain Mike, one of your comments to a question made me realize something.

    The first church I went to was Anglican. I would have been 4 or 5 and I went a few times. My mother rarely attended church but took me.

    Fast forward to teenagehood and I became a Christian through evangelicals. And I thought because Anglicanism did my mother no good it was off track. More fundamental evangelicals tend to carry heavy judgement toward mainline churches. For years I thought that they were not Christians. New wave Charismatics call it ‘a religious spirit’, old Pentecostals and Baptists might just say ‘the traditions of men’.

    In spite of this, there is much good about my Evangelical past. There is an immediacy about God that is good, and at it’s best a hunger and desire to allow scripture to mold our lives. Very strong marks on good intentions! However, there were gaping holes that were difficult for me to reconcile.

    On the one hand a tendency among charismatics to disdain the mind and non-charismatics a fear of the experience of God. Among both not a very good framework for teaching a way of life that has a sustainable and healthy spirituality. The Christian life becomes like applying for a VISA to Saudi Arabia, numerous steps and as you tick each step off the list you are one step closer to that stamp on the passport that gives you permission to enter the magic kingdom. And no, the experience is not enjoyable, you endure it.

    Endemic is an amnesia that spans the time from the New testament until Luther’s day. God was simply not answering the phone until Luther showed up! Add to this a pathological tendency to fragment just like Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands.

    And what started to be the final straw was this movement during my life toward church becoming a fusion of pop-culture and American business all in the name of being seeker sensitive or in Apostolic Reformation churches the move to Barnum and Bailey to coordinate the three ring circus replete with barking, ‘manifesting’ in the spirit and the variations on Todd Bentley. All in the name of ‘God helping us find a new container’.

    And so I ended up at the local Anglican cathedral with a bunch of liberals where they recite an orthodox christian liturgy that blew my mind by how Christocentric it is, and the Dean of the cathedral was only permitted 20 minutes to express his/her existential doubts about the gospel and then had to bow to the Apostles Creed. The taking of communion is deeply meaningful, and the tradition has been deeply influenced by it’s Benedictine roots. An earthy spirituality that permits doubt and certainty to co-exist, that considers worship as a community to be of paramount importance and where we recognize that our congregation is only one small part of the body of Christ universal.
    Anglicanism has turned out to be a virtual oasis for us. I have finally landed in the more orthodox Anglican Church of North America and I am involved in a church plant. I have been doing seminary studies and am discerning a call to priesthood with my community. And lately I have realized that I am coming home.

    Thank you Mike for such a thought provoking article.

    • Nice post; much of what you’ve written resonates with me: born and raised RC, then saved into a “bible” church at 21, then 14 yrs in Vineyard before finding a new home in a very progressive (I’m guessing) Anglican church here in KC. In particular, I’m drinking in the deep appreciation for church history: I’ve heard many of the early church fathers cited, as well as Augustine, Aquinas, some anabaptists, Merton, and the desert fathers.

      Oh yay-yay !…… maybe we really DON”T have to re-invent the wheel, while pretending we’re not.

      The architecture also is a plus and doesn’t shout “rock on for Jesus, dudes…..'”

      May the LORD fill you with HIS passion as you take to steps to learn to shepherd HIS flock.
      GregR

  13. I fully agree with Frank S’s words there. I am not emergent. I have emerged. I am cozy and comfortable in liturgical traditions and I do not need a hipper Jesus.

    I think it is hard for many emergent s to break ties with evangelicalism completely. I think that’s understandable, espeically when you consider that your peer/age group is typically still functioning comfortably in evangelical paradigms. Don’t get me wrong: I love going to my ELCA churches and being treated like a long lost grandson by many in the congregation. However, I do need to be around Christians my age.

    It’s always a tricky balance. I’ve learned to be flexible. Though I hope to baptize my future children in Lutheran congregations.

    • In my experience, it’s not simply cutting ties with people in your own peer and age group is hard. It’s hard to continue relationships with people from your previous church history. There are always people who don’t understand why you’d want to leave or why you’re actually bothered by certain things. I also think there are people who genuinely feel like you’re rejecting them if you leave their church.

    • It’s tough, Joel. There are a lot of older people in our congregation, also.

      I’m not so young anymore, but when I was younger I too, wanted to be arounf more folks of my own age. But I wasn’t wiling to give up the pure gospel and Sacraments for it.

      There’s a huge church around the corner with lots of young people. But I have been there, There’s basically NO gospel there. It does show up occaisionally…but then they rip it away from you when they give you all the biblical principles for making you ‘better Christian’.

      Definitely not worth the trade-off.

  14. I appreciate this post Chaplain Mike.
    I’m in the midst of wrestling with a call into Anglicanism. I’m a young minister, and I’m finding that Evangelicalism no longer has a place for a pastor like me. I’m not YEC. I’m not Calvinist enough. I’m not…etc, etc, etc. I think history, tradition, and theology are all very important. I take scripture very seriously, but I no longer see the value in arguments over inerrancy. The Bible is true. Evangelicalism is feeling more and more like a straight jacket. I’m pretty sure the specter of Ken Hamm is hunting me down to kill me.

    Further, I have children, and I want them to walk with the Lord. I am truly concerned that Evangelicalism might actually make it harder for me to raise my children to follow Jesus the Christ, which is ironic given the amount of time and resources are given to ministries to children. Even as a pastor, I am sometimes almost powerless to stop the tides that move an independent congregation. We have no historical anchors, and we are driven and tossed by every wind of change, or whoever has the latest hot selling book, or the coolest song on the radio.

    For many of the reasons you’ve stated before, and some I’ve come up with on my own, I feel the need to make a significant change. I find among the Anglican Church of North America a place where a pastor like me can fit in, but the practical obstacles to pursuing ordination while trying to stay employed and raise a family are daunting. The issue of infant baptism is perhaps a theological obstacle for me as well. I’m still working that out. We are certain that God will lead us, but right now, the way seems blocked.

    • Blessings on your journey, Eric, wherever the Lord may lead you….keep us up on your “trip” if you can!

    • I like to say that we (conservative) Lutherans practice open Baptism and closed communion, whereas fundamentalists get it all backwards, and restrict Baptism, despite the lack of restriction in Scripture, and open communion, contradicting Paul’s stern warnings to tread carefully with the true body and blood.

      Where did Christ or the Apostles ever restrict grace in baptism? Nowhere! Infant baptism is a direct corollary from justification through faith alone. Just like babies don’t choose to be born, life is a free gift from its parents, grace (and the faith to receive and accept that grace) comes as a free gift from God. It comes through Word, whether by hearing the Word preached in church or in Baptism. I think even unborn babies can have faith if they hear the Word in utero. Baptism gives perfect assurance however, as it comes with God’s explicit promise.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I like the way you state the doctrine of baptism. I know from experience the simple faith in Christ that can come the lives of the smallest of children. Baptism giving perfect assurance — I love it.

      • “I think even unborn babies can have faith if they hear the Word in utero.”

        Would you elaborate? I advocate infant baptism, but your comment is unintelligible to me.

        • Lutherans believe that when an infant is baptized, the grace of God, acting through the Word, creates faith in the infant, and thus the infant receives life and salvation. So long as the infant continues in faith as she grows up, and does not renounce the faith, she will be justified at the last day.

          Given that, I suppose even the unborn baby could be saved if they hear the Word in the womb. It’s not in the catechism, though, just a “pious speculation” on boaz’s part.

        • Not the author (Boaz) but what I THINK he means is that God is in the heart of all of us from our first heartbeat, even though we lack any understanding of Him until many years later…..

          ….and that infants who never take a breath of air are still His beloved children.

          But I may be incorrect in my interpretation of Boaz’s statement, if so this is all on me.

          • Pattie, Ben Carmack is correct.
            According to Lutheran theology, God is not “in the heart of us all”. We are all born guilty of sin, and worthy of damnation. We are estranged from Him, and we are completely bent away from God and only inwards towards ourselves.

            In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit grants us the gift of faith, life, and salvation. God continues to give and uphold this faith through the Word and the Eucharist. Faith is not something that humanity can ever aspire to; it is a complete gift of God. To claim otherwise is claim that our actions can merit our salvation, and a denial of the Gospel.

            Again, according to Lutheran theology.

    • Eric:
      I know what you speak of. I have a young family as well and am just starting the discernment process for ACNA
      I am employed fulltime AND working on a masters degree toward ordination. Big hill to climb.

      If you feel inclined to communicate sometime let me know, I can share some of the things I have learned in this process.

    • I’m in the EXACT same boat as you!!!!

  15. Wonderful thoughts, CM. Like many of the folks here at IM, I spent my youth in a liturgical, conservative UMC; rode the wave of post-modernism into a Baptist mega-church, ordained as a pastor there, went on to serve in a couple more Baptist settings, then a charismatic non-denominational church that was a nightmare in terms of lack of accountability for the pastors on staff. I took a year off from ministry, turned down several offers, and looked for peace. I wound up in the Anglican Church (ACNA), where I’m currently ordained as a transitional deacon. Since then, the demands of family and career have limited my ability to participate in the life of my diocese (the closest body is over an hour away from my home), so we’ve wound up back where I started…In the UMC where I grew up.

    I love it. There’s a healthy mix of what’s old and what’s new. I would love to see more traditional liturgy, but the emphasis on community (without stressing over whether we’re reaching the target demographic) is refreshing. I say it all the time…Word and Table, bread and wine, mystery and familiarity…along with proper episcopal oversight and a focus on reaching and loving the local community…these are the things that make a church great…not how many butts you’re putting in the seats, or whether your video system is up-to-date.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Pastoral concern and care are very important in some of these smaller churches also. That goes along with emphasis on community. Everyone cares and love is real. These things are very important to me.

      • Absolutely. Even though we don’t use the same language, this church is a true “parish”…It’s the center of a local community, focused on that community…not on being the “next big thing”.

  16. Richard Hershberger says:

    Frank Schaeffer is very much on point. Frankly, more so than Michael Spencer was. IMonk pretty much said the mainlines should dump the gays in order to attract former Evangelicals. This completely misses the point of the liberal churches’ and homosexuality. Schaeffer doesn’t go there at all, and instead wonders that the mainlines aren’t marketing themselves more effectively. He is absolutely right about that. We Lutherans absolutely suck at this. On an individual level the idea of evangelism causes much clenching of sphincters. It is easier to get people onto the stewardship (i.e. fund raising) committee than the evangelism committee.

    I don’t know what the answer is. Trying to get Lutherans to evangelize is like trying to get Catholics to sing hymns. You can sort of manage it by having some guy stand up front and gesticulate wildly, but it will only last as long as the gesticulation continues, and even then it will be half-hearted.

    Recall aslo the UCC ad of eight years ago, which several networks refused to run as being too controversial. Any marketing effort will require distinguishing the mainlines from the Evangelicals, which implies a criticism of the latter and will therefore be controversial. There are institutional barriers to this, both internal and external to the mainline denominations.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “Any marketing effort will require distinguishing the mainlines from the Evangelicals, which implies a criticism of the latter and will therefore be controversial.”

      In my opinion mainlines make a mistake doing marketing on a national level. Local churches need to find ways to do it locally. There are ways to distinguish themselves from the prevalent church mentality, without direct criticism of evangelicals. People looking for change aren’t necessarily wanting to throw everything overboard. Listen to them and they will tell you what they like about the evangelical or mega-churches they have been attending. They will also let you know, quickly, what they do not like.

      And many, many people are simply strays– no connection– but are feeling a spiritual longing, something within that tells them are missing something important.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “In my opinion mainlines make a mistake doing marketing on a national level. Local churches need to find ways to do it locally.”

        This is clearly true in principle. In practice, national efforts have the advantage that they can actually happen. An advertising firm is hired, a program developed, and then implemented. It is ridiculously inefficient, as a local effort would be both cheaper and more effective. But I refer you back to those clenched sphincters.

        My own church has three typical avenues for gaining new members. We are a self-consciously ethnic German group, so we do actually set up a table at the annual German heritage festival, and are attractive to persons who identify with that. We also hold an annual Christmas market with imported German foods and the like, and an annual sauerbraten dinner which attracts sauerbraten lovers (and who doesn’t love sauerbraten?) from miles around. These events get people in the door, and a few end up staying. (Especially those impressed by the beer hall upstairs from the sauerbraten dinner.) The third avenue is the German language school, which we have run for about a century now. This attracts immigrant families who want their children to learn the language. Again, a few end up as church members.

        What is the common element to these three avenues? The ethnic German thing is the obvious answer. The less obvious is that all three are essentially passive. We provide a service which attracts people for non-church reasons, and hope that some will stay for church. The closest to traditional evangelism is the table at the heritage festival, but even that is a matter of putting ourselves in a self-selected environment of likely interested persons and waiting for them to come by. Could we be more aggressive? Certainly in principle, but in practice we would be at a loss knowing how to do it. The current strategy works, in that our numbers have been steady in the ten years I’ve been a member, but it isn’t a strategy for serious growth.

        (Lest we come across as self-centered, I will put out the plug that we also provide sack lunches daily to the homeless. We consider this an essential ministry, which gets funded one way or another no matter what. And yes, we had one person join, but this is an outlier.)

        • Richard, if you live in Baltimore, I think I may have been lurking in your church!

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Yup: Baltimore. (I don’t live in the city, but I commute in for church.) I attend the English service. I won’t say I never miss a Sunday, but I am usually there. I am a tall middle aged white guy with a beard. I’m not the only one that description applies to, but that should narrow it down. And it is a small enough congregation that you can just ask for someone to point me out and they will probably know who I am. I don’t use a nom de internet, so you know my name. Come say hi! Or drop me an email: rrhersh at yahoo dot com.

          • Come ON Richard, you KNOW it is not “Baltimore” but “Balm-er” ! :-)

            Wow, a sudden craving for crabs and PBR beer!

            …and you are sadly spot on about us Catholics and singing….but some of us try, despite lacking the gifts of pitch, tone, or breath control!

            I am a proud graduate of the former College of Notre Dame on North Charles Street (now Notre Dame University of Maryland) and miss the old place…B’more is like an odd old auntie who is wierd and dated but you love her to death anyway.

          • Radagast says:

            No Pattie, its Bal-tee-more according to a co-worker and its where the Ravens play – ex Cleveland Browns and arch enemies of the Pittsburgh Steelers – yins guys….

          • Danielle says:

            Richard, we’ve most likely been sitting somewhere behind you. We’re very sneaky, hiding in the back and generally keeping quiet, so you may or may not have seen us. Remaining unobtrusive has been our modus operandi while trying to figure out what to do with ourselves in a new city. But we’ve been in Baltimore a few months now & are more and more frequently at the English service. Anyway, I’m the pregnant lady with the tall, thin husband.

            Patti, St. Mary’s is pretty!

            Small world, eh?

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            @Pattie: I wasn’t raised in Baltimore, so I cannot pronounce it as Balm-er without a deep sense of irony. And I am deeply happy to point out that there are some excellent local brews, e.g. http://www.ravenbeer.com, so there is no need to descend to PBR.

            In the small world department, my wife went to Notre Dame, dodging those disreputable Loyola boys (and don’t even get me started on Johns Hopkins!). I can always annoy her (every spouse’s highest ambition) by commenting on how the Fighting Irish are doing.

            @Danielle: I’ve been the lurker in the back in my day, as I’ve moved around. I am (I hope) done with moving, and I expect to be in this church the rest of my life. So I moved up front. I’ll look for you to say hello. Indeed, we probably already have, when I am the assistant minister, unless you sneak out the side.

        • Richard, I would love to know what year your beloved graduated….I am class of 1979 and spent a fair bit of time next door at Loyola due to ROTC and my business classes!

          In fact, please share with your wife the lyrics to one of our winning “Sing-Song” appearances (to the tune of “Another Saturday Night”)

          Another Saturday night and I ain’t got no body
          I’m through with Hopkins cuz they’re all the same
          Loyola boys they all just bore me
          I’m in an awful way

          :-)

    • “I don’t know what the answer is. Trying to get Lutherans to evangelize is like trying to get Catholics to sing hymns. You can sort of manage it by having some guy stand up front and gesticulate wildly, but it will only last as long as the gesticulation continues, and even then it will be half-hearted.”

      As a former Lutheran, I suggest that evangelization doesn’t matter. The more fundamentalist synods (Mo. and Wisc.) are so thoroughly caught up in the culture wars (YEC, the GOP, Tea Party, birth control) that they’re largely the SBC with liturgical colors. Spend a week reading Gene Veith’s blog. Also, American Lutherans are so … well, white. The synods are 95% + white folks. The populations of people of color are exploding in the US, but not in evangelical/Lutheran churches. De facto segregated denominations will eventually pay a huge price for that kind of bunker mentality. Who wants to join up with one now?

      I agree completely with your points about Frank Schaffer. His writings are enormously helpful and interesting. You can get a good sense of what he’s talking about by going to his website and watching the videos, if nothing else. Very good man to hear these days.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        On the charge of whiteness, I can only plead guilty. I disagree with the characterization of “bunker mentality”. The ELCA self-consciously tries to attract non-whites. But again, this involves the evangelism we are so terribly bad at. In the northeast there is a long tradition, going back to the 19th century, of having a handful of black families, usually middle class, in an otherwise white congregation. We were never so segregated as some denominations. But when you start with a bunch of northern Europeans, you have a long ways to go.

      • ‘The more fundamentalist synods (Mo. and Wisc.) are so thoroughly caught up in the culture wars (YEC, the GOP, Tea Party, birth control) that they’re largely the SBC with liturgical colors.” Yes, YEs, YES!!! You nailed it on the head. I’m very connected to this brand of Lutheranism, and they are quickly veering into scary.

        As far as evangelism, I really guess I don’t get what is so darn difficult about understanding that all evangelism should start with relationships. You have to see anyone not in your circle as a fellow human being with all that involves, good and bad, and that we are all fellow travelers through this life. But, no. We see them as fruit to be plucked from the tree of unbelief and he who has the biggest fruit basket is declared the winner. And we don’t think “they” see that? They do.

        • Wow, I think you just summed up why evangelism always seems like such a good idea in the abstract, and so unnatural or painful in practice.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            …such a good idea in the abstract, and so unnatural or painful in practice.

            Like Marxism?

  17. I have to admit that my peaceful place has always been in a mainline church. I’ve never thrived in an evangelical setting (although I appreciate those types of churches and all the wonderful people who attend there)—it’s just not for me. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on mainline churches. You gave me a lot to think about.

  18. Let me ask this…

    How do some of you who are evangelical but who have a different mindset survive in evangelicalism? I hear the youth thing…I get that. There is a trade off…

    But for those who lurk here or who still attend an evangelical church what do you do to hold your own?

    • Eagle, you will get a variety of answers and approaches to your excellent question, but what kept me alive and coping, even in the worst of yrs were

      1) I stopped expecting the pastor and the institution to keep me fed and healthy

      2) I pursued friendships and relationships that made me a better person and a stronger christian; some of these people were in my local church ; some were not; I ceased to care about same-denom affiliations.

      3) I found the stuff that my church was doing that jazzed me, and did that (urban ministry, local co-operative efforts with Head start; meals for sick people) I let other “big priorities” fall off my back.

      4) I renewed my efforts and friendships within my local family, and made that a priority, whether or not they expressed any interest in my “church stuff” or not.

      5) I stopped expecting the head pastor to have things all figured out, and allowed him to be as broken as me….well , maybe not THAT broken, but you get the idea.

      Hope this helps.
      GregR

    • Eagle,

      I am happy in my evangelical church. We have women in leadership. We don’t get sermons about YEC. Our Pastor is gracious towards other expressions of the Christian Faith. We have two worship teams, both of whom are considerate and thoughtful in the songs that they chose. We support each other through our small group ministry. Inerrancy is in our statement of faith, but it has never come up as a big issue. People show love and care for each other. We celebrate the church year. In short, most of the complaints that you will read about on hear about evangelical churches are not issues at our church.

      I like Pastor Mike’s title. “I Know It’s Not for Everyone, but I’ve Found an Oasis in the Mainline.” When I was looking for a church in the past I did try out a few mainlines in the area. They did not work for me.

      I did post a list a while ago about things I liked about my church. Check it out.

      http://eclecticchristian.com/2009/06/19/my-church-isnt-perfect-but/

      I posted about it here.

  19. What is nice about this forum is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer in the post-evangelical wilderness. I think that tone was set by Michael Spencer, who I don’t think landed on an answer. I’m kind of back in the hunt for an answer, after thinking I at least had a partial solution. I honestly am not convinced there is an answer, except to bloom where you’re planted. It’s hard to be humble, if you think you found the answer. Unfortunately, when you don’t have the answer, humility is one thing, but frustration, bitterness, anger, cynicism, and despair are real temptations (will this ever end?).

  20. What matters is what comes out of the preacher’s mouth.

    We don’t need political alliences of the left…or the right. We don’t need racial preferences…one way or the other…we don’t need churches or preachers that are ashamed of Christ and afraid to say His name for fear of alienating other religions.

    We need Christ centered, non-political gospels. Churches like this are out there…but they are few and far between.

  21. As a European, I remain convinced that the American mainline churches have great opportunities in front of them.
    The US remain a “spiritual” country, and a moderate mainline church would have much to offer to people fleeing the weirdos of the “Left” or the Bible-thumpers.

    I grew up in liberal denomination. Spent seven years in evangelical circles. Joined a confessional synod. If my family had to go back to the States, my choice would probably be a right of the center PC-USA or ELCA church or a left of the center evangelical community.

    On the other hand, your debate is irrelevant on my side of the pond, where mainline churches are dying and where evangelicalism is seen as a joke by most semi-intelligent people.

    • I think you are right about that, Tom.

    • I agree. Much of what is currently labelled “evangelical” in America is an off-shoot of revivalism, which is unsustainable, except by rapid, on-going bursts. Much of what followed revivalists like Charles Finney was called “scorched earth”, because what followed the initial emotional movement was a disinterest in religion in general; the emotionalism simply burned the towns where rivivals were held. At some point, revivalism will cease to reinvent itself, but I have been wrong before. I would have never imagined holy laughter, barking in the spirit or Todd Bentley. Who can imagine where the movement will go next. The mainlines do look like an ever attractive refuge from the revival circus.

      • That ‘scorched earth’ thing you mentioned with Charles Finney- with a religious emotional high followed by disinterest and a backlash of apathy- is that a recognised social historical phenomenon? It would be interesting to get some statistics on that. Could be instructive.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I think we might be confusing this with the “burned-over district”, which was coined by Finney. This refers to central and western New York state during the Second Great Awakening. The region was heavily evangelized, and various religious movements came out of it or prospered in it. The Mormons and the Seventh Day Adventists both came out of it, and the Shakers established themselves there. Most converts went to more mainstream movements such as Methodism.

          The image of the “burned-over district” was that so many revivals had gone through the area that there were no more potential converts. Think of a forest which has had a huge fire sweep through it. There is nothing left to burn. This is not to be confused with the metaphor of a person being “burned out”.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The region was heavily evangelized, and various religious movements came out of it or prospered in it. The Mormons and the Seventh Day Adventists both came out of it, and the Shakers established themselves there.

            Don’t forget the Spiritualists, too. They also started around that place and time, and got a big boost from grieving next-of-kin after the American Civil War.

            And those are the ones that lasted long enough to get into the history books. Some friends of mine near that area tell me about weird 19th Century cults that didn’t survive long — like the Naturist (Nudist) one that lasted only until their first Pennsylvania winter. Or the one where the men did all the Spiritual Meditation while the women (who were shared in common) did all the work — and mutinied and skipped within a couple months of this arrangement.

            Back during the big “Harmonic/Moronic Convergence” hype years ago, I heard a sermon on that day by a Jesuit priest. He referred to the Burned-over District as “the Southern California of its day”, i.e. the Weird/Offbeat Religion captial of the time.

  22. CCsoprano says:

    I’m mostly a lurker, but a member of a right of center PCUSA church. Personally I have more leftist leanings, but stayed to provide that voice of dissent. I ended up at imonk years ago because my church bought the purpose driven line. In my own congregation, there were a lot of recovering Baptists from the SBC. That explains some things. To our credit we didn’t buy into it 100%, but were damaged by it. We are now trying to recover from that and the larger issues facing us. I can’t help but wonder if the mainlines were and are damaged by the hard core, far right, inerrantist concepts of the evangelicalism of the past several decades. I think the current issues of the PCUSA reflect just that. Yet, I can’t be totally surprised,. Presbyterians on the whole are a sort of hybrid between apostolic and congregational concepts that retain some of the liturgical traditions of the RCC, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Throw inerrancy/fundamentalism into the mix and now you have the current situation.

    It is hard to be welcoming to self identified evangelicals lost in the wildness when for years those selfsame evangelicals called us and the other mainlines apostates and unbelievers, because we interpret scripture differently. It makes me so sad. In the end I am not sure the mainlines as a group could find the most excellent way of countering those allegations. After all, those making them were and are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I cringe reading blog posts about the neo-reformed and the Calvinistas and how awful reformed theology is. That is not my experience as a generational presbyterian/calvinist. The reformed theology I learned and practice is much more subtle. If anything I was mystified at being asked if I was “born again” in my youth in the ’70s. At the same time most of us don’t really get limited atonement either. It is a bit of a mystery and paradox and I am content to leave it that way.

    For those in the wilderness, still searching for a home, we are still here. Some of us are very battered. Expect
    challenges, but you will never have to check your brains at the door in the practice of your faith.

    • Good post!! I love your widsom!! :-D Please share more here at IM!!

    • “It is hard to be welcoming to self identified evangelicals lost in the wildness when for years those selfsame evangelicals called us and the other mainlines apostates and unbelievers, because we interpret scripture differently.”

      I think you will find that those evangelicals who are lost in the wilderness are not the same evangelicals who called the mainlines apostates and unbelievers. Rather, they are likely in the wilderness to escape those who make such claims.

      • CCsoprano says:

        Perhaps that statement was a bit harsh, but the name calling resulted in barriers and misconceptions. Those evangelicals wandering in the wilderness may not be those responsible for the name calling, but they likely carry the baggage. That’s what concerns me. Even in this wonderful forum, many of the wanderers continue to bash the mainline protestants over abandoning scripture, caving to culture, denying the deity of Christ and so forth. In my experience in what is now the PCUSA for 50+ years, this just isn’t true. Over the years lurking here, I’ve read so many comments from wanderers that stop short of investigating or joining a mainline congregation with a but ….. or a because ….. statement that is critical of how we came to be where we are now.

        In Chaplin Mike’s quote, Frank Schaeffer asks some good questions of mainlines, but I think the problems are deeper. How can the mainlines engage these wanderers and spiritual refugees when they are so indoctrinated with inerrancy, YEC, complementarianism, and the like? These are large obstacles, but the focus has to be on Christ.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          i.e. How can the mainlines engage these wanderers and spiritual refugees who are so indoctrinated with attitudes and doctrines and behavoir resembling Salafi Islam more than mainline Christianity?

        • CCSoprano-

          No you are right in what you say. When I was a fundagelical I referred to mainline Protestants, Catholics, and even other evangelical churches as not “being Christian”

          Others did this as well. I remember my Campus Crusade for Christ director referred to a Lutheran student in the Crusade chapter I was in and said that “if she were serious about pursuing God she would attend an evangelical chruch”

          I was baptized in an Evangelical Free and they refered to Catholics as not being Christians.

          On and on it goes….it is a problem. I am burned out as are many. This is part of my hesitation of being involved in Christian chruches, well that and becuase of how skeptical I am. Maybe if I worshipped Tim Tebow it would be different. It’s clear God is no longer blessing Denver anymore!!! ;-)

          • “I was baptized in an Evangelical Free and they refered to Catholics as not being Christians.” Which makes it even funnier that evangelicals are now falling all over themselves to back Rick Santorum.
            I think it’s pretty obvious that in America, religion is way more about politics than God.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
            — common line in this one Christian radio talk-show’s phone-ins

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “I was baptized in an Evangelical Free and they refered to Catholics as not being Christians.” Which makes it even funnier that evangelicals are now falling all over themselves to back Rick Santorum.

            To paraphrase a certain baby dinosaur:
            “NOT THE MORMON! NOT THE MORMON! NOT THE MORMON!”

  23. Christ prayed that “they all might be one.” Paul said “there is one body.” Denominations and churches deny this principle by requiring commitment to their particular distinctives. Us and Them.

  24. “I don’t get it. Where is everyone? Why is the “emergent” evangelical church reinventing a wheel that’s been around for centuries? And why aren’t the mainline churches letting us know they are there?”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read Gibbs and Bolger’s Emerging Churches. Thankfully I read ANcient Future faith by Webber at the same time, which was a great relief in comparison.

  25. “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
    -Albert Camus

  26. You know, it makes me wonder. If all these disaffected evangelicals are on the move to the mainline churchs, why does all the statistical evidence indicate the mainline churches are in full retreat? All the surveys indicate the Methodists, the Presbyterians, yes even the Lutherans, are losing people, not gaining them. Now I don’t believe the health or the value of a religious organization is measured by its size but in a society that has free enterprise religion-and as much as we here at Internet Monk hate that idea and live in denial of its reality-a faith community that is losing its members loses both its influence and its respect in the community.
    The truth is-and I expect to be berated greatly on this-the evangelical church is more throughly American than many of the European rooted mainline churches.
    I realize this is anecdotal-but perhaps a microcosm of what is happening other places. The first church I pastored back in the 70’s was a small Baptist church in a midwestern community of 1500, with deep German roots. There were 7 churches in the communilty-5 Lutheran churches, 1 Catholic church and our little Baptist congregation. Two of the Lutheran churches still maintained services in German while I was there. I left in 1980, and in a recent vist, I learned that the population of the town declined slightly, while our Baptist church built a new building and doubled in size while 2 of the Lutheran churches have closed in the last 30 years. Now I do not believe there is a spiritual reason for this shift, but a cultural one. The German ethnic culture is losing its influence and the little town is being “Americanized” with and increase in size of the one lone evangelical church.
    Now my thesis is not based on a belief that the evangelical churches are right and the mainline churches are wrong, but that evangelical churches are more likely to hold “American” values that resonate with American political values, such as personal religious freedom, autonomy of local churches, priesthood of the believer with no other spiritual authority over the individual,e tc. When evangelical churches move away from these values, such as some of the mega-churches seem to be doing with hierarchical values replacing individual rights, such churches will eventually lose their influence, as well, I believe.
    Mark Noll (America’s God) and Nathan Hatch (The Democratization of the American Christianity) have shown us that since the American Revolutlion it has been political values that shape American churches-not churches that shape the culture but churches that are shaped by the political culture in which they exist.

    • You make excellent points. I’ll be pondering them

    • I agree with most, if not all,of your post, but I think we’d have to have a long cup of tea and talk about what you mean by “influence”. If you mean something so big it shows up markedly in the appropriate stats and demographics, then I’d concede your point, but I will maintain that church, when done in an atmosphere of humility and compassion will make an impact on the community nearby.

      This may not show up in CT or Newsweek. I don’t think this makes what appears to be inconsequencial any less “impactful”. Your post might be another way of saying “the crowd, by and large, likes how the evangelical churches do church, maybe esp. the larger churches”. I’d concede that point in a heartbeat, but I think there is a trend within a trend of disaffected evangelicals who are bailing on that show , and going back to something more traditional, more ancient, more rooted in history and liturgy. In terms of brute numbers, this might not be a large shift, but I think , over the long haul, it WILL amount to something.

      Sadly, the shift to no church at all is going to amount to something also; and that is a driving factor for posts like this one.

      GregR

      • Radagast says:

        … and I believe the shift to no church just accelerates the continued fragmentation of christianity. It may be a nice place to park for a while but do so permanently and it means an individual interpretation of the faith that dies with the individual. Enough of that sort of thing and something else will come along to fill the void….

    • Radagast says:

      I think it has partly to do with cultural christians waking up and wanting fed at an emotional or sensory level. From my subjective perspective I view this as kind of a stage 1 of spiritual growth or awakening. The rock bands, contemporary services, the chance to “do” instead of to be is more appealing when you are on fire. Its kind of like the lust phase of a new relationship.

      Some folks like to stay there and never grow deeper. I think those who are moving to a more mainline church, or crossing the Tiber or over to e. orthodoxy are doing so because they have a solid base, are growing deeper and sense there should be some thing more than….

      I believe though that the first group out numbers the second, but in my humble opinion the second has more substance…..

      My two cents….

    • Danielle says:

      It should perhaps be noted that evangelical gains and mainline losses are partly (some have argued mainly) actually due to birthrate. Think about the average family size in many evangelical churches. Now think about the mainline church with which you are most familiar.

      If the outsider reference is kosher, here’s the article the spurs my comment:

      https://sociology.sas.upenn.edu/sites/sociology.sas.upenn.edu/files/Birth_Dearth_Christian_Century.pdf

    • Danielle says:

      On another note, I am not sure that mainline churches (outside the ethnic ones) are less “American” than the evangelical churches. To the contrary, they embodied the American mainstream for several decades.

      However, revivalism does embody a number of American tendencies. Further, fundamentalists and evangelicals alike are better at marketing themselves and expressing themselves in terms that resonate with certain American cultural and political values. So I do think there’s a strong element to this as well.

      For one example, I wrote my dissertation on evangelical literature about the family. Early on I expected, given the culture wars and the long tradition of fundamentalist protest against “modern values,” to discuss evangelical difference and dissidence. Instead, I wound up wrestling with the fact that evangelical advice literature is exceedingly mainstream. The source of the popularity of such literature is, I think, its ability adopt mainstream values and anxieties, but provide an sectarian, evangelical, and “better” way of achieving the coveted result.

    • You may be interested to see the book that Zondervan recently released, “Journeys of Faith” by Robert Plummer. It talks about how more and more former Evangelicals are finding homes in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches. Of course, the numbers are still on the side of the large, evangelical megachurches, but I think a person would be naive to at least not acknowledge that more and more people are growing increasingly frustrated with the large megachurches.

      • Alan, I think you might be surprised how many evangelicals attend smaller churches, not mega-churches. For example, in the Southern Baptist Convention, a group known for their evangelicalism, only 4.4% of 46,000 churches have an attendance of more than 500 in their services. The great majority of evangelicals attend smaller churches.

  27. “On another note, I am not sure that mainline churches (outside the ethnic ones) are less “American” than the evangelical churches. To the contrary, they embodied the American mainstream for several decades.”

    I think you are right, historically. In truth, throughout much of American history most protestants would define themselves as evangelical. Karl Barth, the mid 20th century European neo-orthodox theologian defined his theology as evangelical (Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 1963) It has only been in the last part of the 20th century that evangelicalism has been defined popularly as a moderate version of fundamentalism. Before that, evangelical was considered synonomous with protestantism. Throughout most of American history, particularlly throughout the 19th century, mainline protestant churches were the most “American” of churches and defined their theology as evangelical.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Probably what happened was the “Fundamentalists Lite” from the mainline Protestant churches left and came together into their own tribal identity to form today’s Evangelicals. For better AND for worse.

  28. What’s really interesting to me in this post is that there is really no discussion of theological liberalism and theological liberalism is a large part of Mainline Christian identity.

    Granted not every Mainline Christian would self identify as a theological liberal but many do. What sets Mainline churches apart is this toleration of theological liberalism (See the Auburn Affirmation).

    What you like seems to be not so much Mainline Christianity but the magisterial traditions of the Reformation. This would certainly include the Mainline Churches but also churches like the LCMS, PCA, ACNA, etc.

    While I understand you are not yourself a theological liberal what is your attitude toward theological liberalism in Mainline Christianity?

    When I see it said that Mainline churches must show that they:

    ‘take the bible seriously’, ‘present the case for tradition, historical connection, liturgical worship, and the sacraments with clarity and winsomeness.’ (Without simultaneously presenting a case for modern reexamination of these same things), ‘carry out strong programs of spiritual formation for those baptized and confirmed in the church, but also intentional efforts to make converts through outreach and evangelism’, and ‘They must not become imitators of evangelical culture and think that they should capitulate to contemporary culture in the attempt to be “relevant” and grow their churches’.

    I’m reminded of the early issues of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. I see John Gresham Machen. Which bring me to your last point:

    “They must find ways to expand the idea of “inclusiveness” to include people with conservative views, and creatively take the lead in helping folks with differing opinions talk and relate to each other.”

    This was, has been, and will be tried again. Mainline churches don’t excommunicate theological conservatives and many conservatives within Mainline churches hold their beliefs in the pews and among the leadership. Some, sadly, have left, are leaving, and will continue to leave because they want a more exclusive church.

    .

    • Michael S. says:

      As a theological conservative in the United Methodist church, there’s a lot of what you’ve said that makes me think. While I’m not seriously considering leaving the church, I do think I’ll be one of the last of the “old guard” to fall. That mainline Methodism is now theologically liberal, I can’t disagree. This is why I sometimes feel absolutely theologically ostracized even in the church that I was born into and have never left — I serve as the pianist currently so I literally “never miss a Sunday”. This isn’t self-credit, it’s just a statement that through attendance, I’m tied in as well as anybody could be expected to be to how it goes on, at least at the local level.

      The reason that theologically-almost-Baptist members of mainline churches like myself are literally longing for the church to “take the Bible seriously”, “present the case for tradition”, and refuse to “capitulate to contemporary culture” is that in our minds, the church used to BE theologically conservative, for over a hundred years; in our parents and grandparents generations, Methodism was as Biblically accurate and conservative as anybody — and it’s only recent generations of young whippersnappers that have turned it into a circus. (I’m 23, but I planted my tent in the old folks’ camp years ago. Somebody’s got to do it.) It isn’t just a bad case of we-were-there-first-itis, it’s also a matter of genuinely believing we’re upholding God’s word and God’s will.

      One reason I stay there rather than going to a more “fundamental” group is that in many, many ways, I have accepted some theologically “liberal” positions as the best way to reconcile the Bible with reality. I don’t think evolution or an “old earth” threatens God, and I accept by necessity the fact that some books of the Bible are more historically accurate than others, and some aren’t meant to be interpreted as literally as others. However — those positions on which I *don’t* feel that the church is at liberty to compromise, are those that deal with moral conduct of God’s people, the salvation of God’s people, and God’s expectations of all of us. This is what I lament in the “current” mainline church — the fact that some of those moral doctrines and truly, genuinely clear and authoritative teachings of Christ and the disciples — are being ignored or downplayed as “outdated” or “unloving” or “unaccepting”.

      I think what I’m trying to say is that some of us fit into mainline because we don’t fit at either extreme — there are still some things about which we believe God’s authority can’t be doubted and about which His teachings were crystal clear — but there are other things that really don’t affect salvation or doctrine or the identity of God, and about those things, some disagreement/dissension is harmless. However, at the same time, this makes mainline a very stressful place to be, because there’s no consensus on WHICH issues are negotiable and which ones are not. I lean more towards the authoritarian view of God as defining moral “right” and defining “love”, and I truly lament the introduction of the “Jesus would love so-and-so, so the church ought to condone anything so-and-so does” view of “loving your neighbor” that has pervaded the denominations. Jesus loved the woman at the well — “neither do I condemn thee” — but he didn’t forget to add “go forth, and SIN NO MORE” at the end of it. “Theological liberalism” as a whole (I know, there are exceptions, please allow me to generalize to make a point) focuses so much on the “neither do I condemn thee” that it never preaches a sermon about sin or hellfire. “Theological conservatism” at the fundamentalist extreme focuses so hard on the “sin no more” that they become more unforgiving and intolerant and works-salvation oriented than is good for them or good for the world. Mainline tends to capture the “middle 75%” of both of those extremes…. which is good, in theory.

      The problem is that you can’t take in a group of misfits that large and arrive at one common, taught-from-the-pulpits consensus about what is right and what is wrong, which I personally desire in my relationship with the church, and which I also believe is one of God’s functional uses of the church on the earth. It’s like a ship that leans from side to side as the waves carry it along… at the moment, the UMC in particular and mainlines in general are sort of on a left-leaning wave that frustrates the few of us who still remain who still remember when Methodism would stand up for “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” right up there with the best of them. But, the tide changes, and we’ll lean back toward frustrating the theologically liberal for a while and back and forth… it’s a good place to be middle-of-the-road but it’s hard if you lean one side of center but yet not to the extreme side.

      • Michael S. says:

        I prefer to stay and solve problems from within if possible, rather than to leave in frustration. Not to mention, at the moment I’m committed to my particular congregation regardless of what the church-at-large does. With that being said, however, in response to the “Some, sadly, have left, are leaving, and will continue to leave because they want a more exclusive church” statement — if I did leave, it wouldn’t be because I thought the church should be exclusive. It would be because I felt that the church was truly presenting a false teaching and corrupting the word of God.

        My argument against false churches — the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness cults, Christian Science, other religions entirely — my entire basis for talking to people in those groups and trying to persuade them of the truth of the Bible and of the Christian church — is that God’s teachings are consistent, and we teach them consistently. My reason for not accepting the “cults” into the fold of Christianity is that *they teach things that God expressly said, in plain text, aren’t true and are unacceptable*. False prophets who fail the Biblical test for false prophecy simply can’t be allowed to present themselves as God’s prophets, and it’s dangerous to believe them. That’s my grounds for evangelizing people. They’re believing something, that God said not to believe.

        If my own church starts teaching something that falls into that category, I *can’t* in good conscience stay. That would be the reason for leaving, rather than just a desire to avoid contact with those who are different. Other people may have a different personal approach to this, but that’s my personal view of “leaving the church” — it’s not deliberately because exclusion is a good thing, but it involves preserving the integrity of things that (we believe) God instructed us to preserve.

    • Dan
      I would not call it exclusivism.
      Conservatives probably leave because they are tired of ‘anything goes’.

      Sometimes people claim to always want to be open-minded, and end up empty headed.

      I speak this as a boomer who dabbled in the counter-culture. It was great and even heroic to be searching for truth. The only sin was if you actually found it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Sometimes people claim to always want to be open-minded, and end up empty headed.

        Or, as the chorus of an old Steve Taylor song put it:

        “You’re so Open-Minded all your brains leaked out!”

        I speak this as a boomer who dabbled in the counter-culture. It was great and even heroic to be searching for truth. The only sin was if you actually found it.

        I used to say the epitaph of the Boomers would be “We spent so much time and energy trying to ‘find ourselves’ we never had the time to HAVE a self to find.”

  29. Perhaps various mainline churches are good matches with various post-evangelical wandering individuals, and it would be good to get them together, so they could help each other. That’s all fine, of course, and maybe that’s all folks are saying. But I wonder…

    Evangelicals (not all of them, to be sure, and not only them, either; but often enough it’s been them) are wont to appeal to facts about where the most folks are going to church to make the case that certain churches or denominations are “dead” or “dying”, while others are where it’s at. And when Frank Schaffer, for instance, writes that if only mainlines did this or that, “they’d be bursting at the seams,” I wonder if he might be still in that church-marketing-strategies mindset, at least a bit? Looking for mainlines to “win” in the way that, say, Mark Driscoll says that if a church does this and that, they’ll “win.” (“They’ll get the people, they’ll get the money….”)

    Maybe some churches are just what certain people need, but shouldn’t become too big? It’s tricky, and I’m not saying any churches should lock their doors or anything like that. I guess I’m just saying that bigger isn’t always better — nor is it always what God wants.

  30. Scaramouche says:

    Going through a similar (not so similar) experience. How does one found a Congregation outside of your immediate denomination?
    You stated you founded an ELCA church after being Evangelical Free.
    Please help.

    • I ended up in an ELCA church after being in a EFCA church for 30+ years. I went to a Catholic wedding and loved the liturgy. My familiy and I visited an Episcopal, LCMS Lutheran and the church we settled on. You just have to be brave and walk through the doors of an unfamiliar church and realize that nobody will remember that you were there and didn’t know what was going on. Also check the websites of the churches before you visit and you can figure out if they will be a good fit before you go.

    • water_to_wine says:

      Also left the EFCA. Spent 6 years in the wilderness. Our new home is a Congregational church affiliated with the United Church of Christ.