Many mainline denominations are hardly distinguishable from social service organizations and the secular left that regards its values as religious. Think: constant emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals, etc. Why should someone want to hear, say, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church preach when you can hear the same thing at the local homeless shelter (and where you could probably see more lives being transformed than in the Episcopal Church.)
There are a growing number of mainline churches with a traditional Protestant bible message based on Anglican 39 articles of faith – in a traditional worship service.
One only needs to look at St.Helens Bishopsgate in the City of London to see the future of thriving Mainline Protestant churches. If only the US mainline churches could replicate this model.
“They [the Mainline Churches] have lost the ability to make the Christian life and a Christian comm itment the vital center of community and family life” and speaks of “the vital principles of the fundamentalist core — doctrines like original sin, the atonement, and a strong belief that God, however mysteriously, acts in history.”
Meanwhile, “Fundamentalists in their determination to keep hold of the ‘fundamentals’ of the faith as they understood them diminished their ability to speak to American society about faith or about anything else.”
“In attempting to reconcile classic Christian ideas and standards with modernity, the mainline has somehow lost American Christianity’s characteristic and most vital strength: the ability to electrify generation after generation with the call to begin a transformational encounter with the person of Christ.”
“One hundred years ago the best and the brightest of America’s educated youth sought to serve God and humanity”
“they opened doors at home to waves of immigrants and addressed the terrible social conditions of our industrial cities. On top of all that, the mainline churches were producing theologians and preachers who engaged with the great social and intellectual questions of the day in ways that compelled the attention of society as a whole”
All this strikes me as true. The underlying problem, I think, is that Christianiity was a religion of self-sacrifice fitted to a world trapped in servitude; it was a way to give meaning and purpose to otherwise meaningless purposeless lives. Now that we in the liberal West have escaped the bonds of servitude — thanks to Christianity and its ethic of sacrifice — this whole narrative interpretation of the meaning of life has lost its historical bearing. No wonder intellectuals now think of the idea of God as a problem in epistemology rather than of semantics (the meaning of God as opposed to the existence of God). They are completely at sea with no grasp of the hell hole of history from which they have escaped.
If this vision is to be revivify it will have to become a worship of the past rather than the future, or rather a warning to the future lest they forget the past. A good place to start would be with what actually happened 6000 years ago in the Euphrates valley, where civilization and history began. What exactly was the unique event, the original sin that corrupted the world in concrete, archaeological terms.
In other words, we need to remove the idea of “creation” and the 7 day week from the cosmological to the historical plane, where honest empirical analysis makes sense. Then serious thinkers might once more be engaged. Until then fundamentalist tv preachers might as well be working for the devil so far as our educated elites are concerned.
The fundamental difficulty was recognized by the traditionalists at the very beginning, namely that by theologically accepting non-traditional interpretations of meaning, modernism opened the door to a Bible whose meaning cannot be clearly determined, and which therefore has no compelling message.
Traiditionalists, of course, have paid a cost as well… Holding to more strict interpretations of the entire Bible has made them a virtual non-entity among the academic community and more educated classes(a problem which has become fashionable in evangelical communities to blame among the academics and educated themselves).
Resolving this paradox cannot be done easily, but I believe it will need a coherent new exegetical method which reconciles the tension between ancient cultural practices best left discarded, and the continuing necessity of Christian thought and action in the modern world.
I hope that Mead or one of our community of Mead fans, comments on the meaning of the British writer and former atheist A.N.Wilson’s return to faith. I believe he was an Anglican priest before he lost the faith and became a novelist and historian of great renown. I think people, even elite intellectuals, are beginning to be more aware of the need for a sense of connection with God.
The so-called mainline churches have sold out to modernism and the secular world — the leftwing version of the secular world at any rate what with absurdities like homosexual marriage, woman bishops, quasi-socialism, etc.
As such, they deserve to die out. Indeed, the sooner the better.
And for those precious souls in mainline churches that still have Faith, they can alway go Catholic. You copy that, Mr. Mead? Maybe God is calling YOU to Rome. (You wouldn’t be the first.)
John Leith (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_H._Leith) was a mainline heir of Niebuhr. He’s even been called a “Prebyterian Niebuhr”. Sadly, Leith himself “in a sense has had no heirs.” Although I personally am a PCUSA layman who takes my theological bearings from Leith and like minded mainline figures.
It is not possible to talk about the differences between evangelicals and Mainline Protestants without mentioning social issues. In fact, that is by far the defining difference between the two groups. Homosexuality and abortion. Those are THE issues of difference.
Saying mainliners don’t have true Christian fire, are impoverished spiritually, and are quietly going into the night is a tremendous disservice to them. Have you ever walked into a typical mainline church and asked “What do think about original sin and atonement?” Do you think they’ll mutter, “well, ahem, maybe, I don’t know…”?!? No they won’t.
If there are differences in how mainliners and evangelicals will answer, it will be in downplaying or emphasizing respectively, the Holy Spirit and the Devil. 90% of both groups will have no idea who Niebuhr was. 99.9% won’t know he had a brother.
“I’m not going to attempt a prescription for the whole mainline church”
“For the sake of the mainline churches, for the sake of the place of religion in American life, and for the health of American society and the well being of the world, the mainline churches need to start thinking hard and deep about what they got wrong.”
The first clause is correct but why should I care? The place of religion in American life is virtually unaffected by mainline churches right now, and will be even less so in the future. The health of American society and the well being of the world depends on American Mainline Protestants? Self-inflated grandiosity is too pedestrian a term for that view. Just short of megalomania, I’d say.
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The mainline church is just not vibrant for the most part. After going to Pentecostal and charismatic churches where people worship in a fervent, demonstrative style, how could I go back to a place where people don’t even say “AMEN” out loud or lift their hands in worship? Mainline churches may be liberal in theology, but they tend to stifle the outward works of the Spirit. I am speaking generally of course.
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