Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mainline Protestantism is winning

Mainline Protestant Churches are bleeding membership, while more conservative orthodox churches have shown a lot of vitality and growth over the past few decades. It would seem that mainline Protestantism has lost the struggle with more orthodox Christian denominations.

But that may be a misunderstanding.

John Turner at Patheos makes an interesting observation:

The Rise of Liberal Religion
...observers of American religion have been too obsessed with institutional strength at the cost of ignoring culture... Liberal Protestants may have ultimately lost the battle for membership, but they won the larger cultural struggle. A trenchant quote from the sociologist Christian Smith: “Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.”
Indeed, culture is where the war for souls is mainly fought today. And in the culture, the mainline Protestant presumptions-- that the Gospel is primarily a social and self-affirming doctrine, rather than the radical proclamation of Christ's redemption of creation and call to holiness-- has become the implicit cultural stance.

I saw this when I converted to Christianity almost a decade ago. I went to a couple of mainline churches, and I left thinking that I could get the same pabulum in any sociology department seminar or Liberal Party conclave. Christ wasn't there.

Mainline Protestant churches are floundering, but mainline Protestantism has merged with the culture, each shaping the other.

Many aspects of our hedonist consumerist culture are toxic, and one doubts that the our enabling Laodicean Churches are capable of providing the antidote.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Mike,
    A blessed Palm Sunday to you and your folks.
    (and to all those reading!)

    While I agree with the sentiment in general regarding the Laodicean example, I do not think the Roman Church is above/exempt from the identical criticism.

    While I would perhaps not nail them to the bottom of that list (Laodicea) I would perhaps peg Rome right along side Canterbury in the brackets of Pergamos... maybe descending (both) into potential Thyatira.
    Perhaps Rome is less so than some, on some issues when convenient. Perhaps there is more vocal opposition in the Roman communion than in most. But as the problems go she has much of the same problems.

    Recent examples of pro abortion politicians receiving high communion at the Vatican proves the point.

    Further, despite not being my way of worship, I do think there are still many protestant denominations that are vigorous.
    We see plenty of them rally to broader Christian causes. They are by no means to be discounted.

    Lastly, having grown up where and when I did - I despise sectarianism.
    Compromise with sin exists at both ends of the tolerance scale.

    I see a similar pattern to the author and you, Mike. But I do not see the source as being one of liturgy or some design flaw.
    I see it as civilization-wide.
    The wealth and prosperity results in a general hedonistic decline. That decline creates a ripple of apathy and selfishness.
    That ripple results in the 'changes' we see in the nature of all the Christian religions.

    Surely, a solution can be found in Christ.
    But, I do not think it will be found in mass conversion from one denomination to another.
    Instead, I think it will be a eucanemical cure for a eucanmenical disease: Christ.

    PS Sorry for the repost. It cut the end off the first time, for some reason.

    1. crus:

      [I do not think the Roman Church is above/exempt from the identical criticism.]

      I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, one thing that I pray for in my Church is the kind of fervent spirituality I see in the worship by some of my evangelical Protestant brothers.

      Lukewarmness is a real problem among Catholics, and is one of the most serious problems the Church faces.

      I didn't intend to imply in my post that Protestants are uniquely subject to the Laodicean problem. It afflicts Catholics at least as much. My point was that our common view that lukewarm Christianity is losing, and orthodoxy is winning, may not be quite right.

      Orthodoxy is winning in the churches, but losing in the culture. In that sense, the Laodiceans are winning.