November 30, 2020

Another Look: I Know It’s Not for Everyone, but I’ve Found an Oasis in a Mainline Church

Note from CM: Yesterday’s back and forth prompted me to look up this post I wrote in 2012. Some things have changed in my life since then, but the main message of the piece still holds up.

• • •

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 a Southern Baptist church when I was in my late teens, attended a non-denominational, fundamentalist, 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 evangelical 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 winsome 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. In November 2011 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 [updated from 2012]:

  • They must show that they take the Bible seriously.
  • They must be able to present the case for tradition, historical connection, liturgical worship, the sacraments, and proven spiritual practices 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. There is a vacuum of moderation and peacemaking waiting to be filled in our culture. Why shouldn’t the church, which began as a project of uniting Jews and Gentiles under one Lord, take up this role as a major priority today?
  • They must develop more organizational wisdom to move past outdated, bloated, and, frankly, boring bureaucratic structures. They must not only talk about mission, but develop the kinds of infrastructure that will make mission flow more freely. This is especially true with regard to preparing and sending out those seeking vocational ministry.
  • They must not become imitators of evangelical “church growth” models and think that they should capitulate to contemporary culture in the attempt to be “relevant” and grow their churches.
  • While it is fine for them to keep a focus on matters like inclusion and social justice, they must avoid a tendency to make things that are not the main thing the main thing. The “whole” gospel includes encouraging our congregations to pursue a vibrant spiritual life in Christ, deep theological wisdom, and a measure of personal and corporate piety that ignites good works with spiritual passion.

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. senecagriggs says

    I had some friends who attended Mainline church in town; had a wonderful pastor who was a genuine believer, who retired after a great many years of wonderful service. He was replaced with another pastor who was quite liberal theologically but served faithfully for a few years and retired. Since then he’s been replaced with a young woman [ 30 ] with a social work background who doesn’t believe in the resurrection. The church has a small staff, no men whatsoever – except the janitor.
    ——-
    It truly is sad, from my perspective. I think this Mainline church’s future is pretty grim.

    • Yes, you are highly unlikely to get many overt (overt, mind you) deniers of the Resurrection in evangelical churches. But it’s not people like that social-worker pastor who are driving younger generations into the Nones/Dones camp. That work is being done by fine pastors who would all probably happily sign any number of declarations that they hold to essential theological doctrines – and then turn around and ignore/denigrate/sidestep the social and relational implications of the things they claim to so vehemently support.

      If tolerating heresy is the mainlines’ weakness, hypocrisy is the evangelicals’. And Jesus was pretty tolerant of heretics (Samaritans for instance) and gave no quarter to hypocrites (The Pharisees, Scribes, etc).

      • Burro (Mule) says

        I don’t think the younger kids are being driven from the evangelical churches by demon Pharisee pastors. Most just seem to drift away like milkweed on the breeze and never come back.

        This is happening everywhere, not just in Evangelicalism. Even Progressive Christian blogger Richard Beck comments on it – “Our kids are liberals, but not Christians”, he complains. “They’re never in church on Sunday morning.”

        North America has always been the outlier in the West for its religiosity. Now the birds are coming home to roost here.

        The future of Christianity is in South America, Africa, and Asia. Maybe even Orthodoxy.

        • Well, if anecdotal evidence is not out of bounds, then the things my wife’s younger coworkers say put them firmly in the “fed up qith the bull$#!t” category.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            The bull$#!t is everywhere, although why young people think it will be avoided in the business, entertainment, and political spheres is beyond me,

            Maybe its the jarring contrast of the message of Christ in the NT with the omnipresent bullshit in the Church that makes it more objectionable than all the other strains ofl bullshit we are drowning in on every side.

            • “Maybe its the jarring contrast of the message of Christ in the NT with the omnipresent bullshit in the Church that makes it more objectionable than all the other strains ofl bullshit”

              My point exactly. 😉

            • Robert F says

              The thing about the political, business and entertainment bullshit is that it can’t be avoided. The church bullshit, however, is totally optional, and can be completely avoided. Why should the young bother with more unnecessary bullshit than they have to?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And the Evangelical “Trump Tweeted It, I Believe It, THAT SETTLES IT!” and “Every knee shall bow, Every tongue confess, Donald Trump is LORD!” sure doesn’t help.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            Your premise is not an anecdote; it is in the data. The places where Evangelicals hold the strongest positions are seeing the most rapid rise of Nones.

            https://psmag.com/news/is-the-christian-right-driving-americans-away-from-religion

            Evangelicalism is eroding its own foundation.

    • Steve Newell says

      As one raised in Southern Baptist church, there is one major thing missing that I didn’t know about: Church History. There is no concept of out a local church is tied to the historical Christian Church. Where is not creeds since there is a false belief that creeds are viewed at equal to holy scripture. There is no church calendar to tie a local church to the historic cycle that the Church observes the life & ministry of Christ, beyond Easter and Christmas. (But they do honor national holidays as religious holy days).

      Now as a Lutheran (LCMS), I appreciate the historic ties we have back to early church every Sunday in our confession of the creeds, our following the Church Year, and liturgy that goes back multiple centuries.

      In addition I have discovered the brilliance of our church fathers in their writings. Many times, my head hurts when I read them. Compare that to the Christianity light that many books are now written at.

      • john barry says

        Steve Newell, It is great that you found a church that meets your needs as you worship. Just asking for clarification, in what manner did the churches you attended treat, convey or say that national holidays as religious holy days?

        The pinnacle of celebration of a national secular holiday is the Fourth of July. While prayers of gratitude are offered, patriotic songs , God Bless America, Battle Hymn of Republic, etc. are sung and a celebration of love of country that most are thankful to God they were born in I do not and never felt anyone was confused about a national American holiday was a holy day.

        Not trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill but I just think it is a broad generalization . For example almost every church I have attended makes a big deal of Mothers Day , gives flowers out, sings some songs about love , talks or even sermons about Mothers, etc but like the national holiday it is not consider a holy day except by Hallmark and florist.

      • another Brian says

        We are fortunate enough to attend a small SBC church that does recognize it’s historical ties. We observe the church calendar, our pastor preaches from the lectionary, we have a “lite” liturgy. It’s not a perfect church, of course, and we are an outlier in the SBC world. But I do think it provides some hope as to where the SBC *could* go.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As one raised in Southern Baptist church, there is one major thing missing that I didn’t know about: Church History. There is no concept of out a local church is tied to the historical Christian Church.

        So many of these “One True Churches Founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD”s have the same idea of church history as the Mormons and SDAs:

        1) The True Church went off the rails into Apostasy and Romish Popery immediately upon the death of the Apostles (at the latest, upon legalization under Constantine).
        2) And all was Darkness and False Teaching until…
        3) OUR FOUNDER (and Our Founder Alone!) Was Inspired By God to Restore the One True New Testament Church! US! Exactly as it had been in the Days of the Apostles!

        The Landmark Baptist variant traces the One True Church (from the Apostles to the Landmark Baptists) through a “Trail of Blood” succession maze of small (and PERSECUTED!) splinter groups, but otherwise conforms to the above mythic “history”.

        Note that this has a MAJOR discontinuity between the Book of Acts and the Founding Of Our Church. Except for the Landmark Baptist attempt, there is NO historical trace from the Bible to today. (Analogous to the lack of “intermediate state continuity of person” in the JW version of Resurrection.) This detaches the Bible from history (and by extension physical reality) into another book of mythology and folklore, just like all the other mythologies of the world. There’s the “Holy History” of BIBLE, there’s Reality, and never the twain shall connect.

  2. I found my first oasis in the ECUSA and my second in the PCUSA. The defining factor has been the people, not the organization, though the liturgy of the EC helped to calm my soul after a decade and a half in the Evangelical Circus’s free-form make it up as you go attempt at reinvention of the wheel at every meeting…

    • True that. I’d wager that, if they were liturgical, you’d still get more Scripture on an average Sunday morning at that church with the Resurrection-denying pastor than you get at your average evangelical church.

      • senecagriggs says

        ” I’d wager that, if they were liturgical, you’d still get more Scripture on an average Sunday morning at that church with the Resurrection-denying pastor than you get at your average evangelical church.”
        You would LOSE your wager.

        Please Eeyore –

        At my Evangelical church, for the last 30 years, Every message [ 30 to 45 minutes ] goes verse-by-verse through Scripture.

        Our church teaching history; book-by-book, paragraph-by-paragraph, verse-by-verse.

        That is what defines us – “Here is what the Scripture says.”

        I have visited Mainline Churches. Never yet heard a message that actually went Verse-by-verse thru Scripture.
        __________

        My impression of Mainlines churches; the older pastors [ now dying or retiring ] were pretty consistent about preaching God’s Word. The “young guns”, not so much. I think there are pockets of conservative churches within even liberal denominations; but they are increasingly few.

        • One passage a Sunday. In a standard liturgical service, you get three (OT, Psalms, NT), maybe four if the Gospels are broken out in a separate reading. And all these readings go in order, through the entire Bible, over the course of three years.

          I respectfully suggest that if you’re only getting the Bible in the sermon, that that is not enough.

          • senecagriggs says

            “I respectfully suggest that if you’re only getting the Bible in the sermon, that that is not enough.”
            _______

            And perhaps that is the primary division between the Mainline Church and the conservative Evangelical Churches who’s stance is: SCRIPTURE IS SUFFICIENT

            • If it’s sufficient (and there is a LOT of weighted assumptions in THAT choice of words), then you might think that more of it would be better…

            • “And perhaps that is the primary division between the Mainline Church and the conservative Evangelical Churches who’s stance is: SCRIPTURE IS SUFFICIENT”

              But that is where you are exactly wrong. I was a Southern Baptist for over 30 years (and a pastor for 10) and what you hear in that ‘biblical sermon’ is a verse read and then 5 or 10 minutes of illustrations, stories, and often plain nonsense ABOUT the passage, and then another verse and more of the same. That is IF the pastor is preaching expositorially. If it is a topical sermon you will usually get a short reading of a few verses (sometimes only one) and then 20-30 minutes of something usually only remotely related to the passage at all.

              In the Anglican church I attended for a year we got 3 full Scripture readings – often complete chapters – when was the last time you heard a whole chapter of Mark read in a Baptist church? Then the homily expounds on one of those passages. It is not unusual to hear 10 to 15 minutes of Scripture read aloud in an Anglican church. In an SBC church you are lucky to hear 2 minutes in the whole service. 15 minutes of Scripture read in an SBC church would have people snoring. But they are ‘people of the book’.

              If Evangelicals believe Scripture is sufficient then why don’t they read more of it?

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                Why?
                They have their Proof Texts and Clobber Verses ready and waiting in their silos, and that’s all that’s needed. Sometimes not even the Verse itself, just its Zip Code.

              • Richard Hershberger says

                This is my (admittedly limited) experience with Evangelical services. The pastor picks out a snippet–as little as a verse or two–that mesh with whatever it is he wants to talk about–at least if you don’t read the verses that come before and after the chosen snippet–and runs with it. The beauty of the technique is that you can always find a snippet that supports whatever it is you want to claim. All very Biblical.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  Magic Book Bible as Grimoire of one-Verse verbal-component spells.

              • Robert F says

                If evangelicals believe scripture is sufficient, why are their sermons so interminably long? For that matter, why do they have sermons at all?

              • john barry says

                Greg, is it possible that some of the dreaded evangelicals can read and read the Bible at home to expand their knowledge and to validate what the sermon was about?

                • john, my post was in response to seneca who challenged Eeyore’s claim that one hears more Scripture read in a mainline service than a conservative evangelical service. The point is ‘in the service’. And there’s little doubt about that. I’ll save my rant about evangelicals and their ability to read Scripture for some other time!.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                In the Anglican church I attended for a year we got 3 full Scripture readings – often complete chapters – when was the last time you heard a whole chapter of Mark read in a Baptist church? Then the homily expounds on one of those passages. It is not unusual to hear 10 to 15 minutes of Scripture read aloud in an Anglican church.

                That goes for any Western-Rite Liturgical Church.

                Dates back to the days when nobody knew how to read and hearing it read from the Lectionary and expounded by the Homily would be the only Bible exposure the congregation would get. (Handicapped by the readings being in Liturgical Latin.)

                And Liturgy of the Word did not stand alone; it was followed by Liturgy of the Eucharist (communion).

        • And, if you look at how the OT is used by the Apostles in the NT, the book by book, paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse model just. Isn’t. There.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I figure chapter-and-verse notation was originally added to provide a cross-reference index to find a particular passage quickly.

            Now the index has eclipsed the main text.

        • Burro (Mule) says

          Strangely enough, the more conservative voices in the mainline churches are often younger than the liberal “Old Guard”. This is true in the Catholic Church as well, where the energy seems to belong to the “New Evangelism” crowd, not the graying Worker parish/Spirit of Vatican II crowd.

          • senecagriggs says

            Really – fascinating Burro.

            • john barry says

              Burro, I agree with you , Ties in with that the real growth of most churches are in Africa and Asia where it is the conservative traditional churches that are growing.

              • Clay Crouch says

                By conservative traditional churches, do you mean the ones that are calling for the imprisonment of, and violence towards homosexuals? Or the ones that continue to entrench injustices against women? Maybe both?

                • Burro (Mule) says

                  You mean like the Orthodox church? Maybe both.

                  It will be a l-o-o-o-o-ong time before the average parishioner in an Evangelical church in Bolivia, Zambia, or Indonesia will be feminist or alternative-sexuality friendly.

                  Maybe never.

                  I expect the current enthusiasm for alternative sex roles and identities in the West to last two generations at the most before it trundles off to its well-deserved demographic dirtnap. That’s a blink of the eye for everybody except Protestants, for whom fashion is everything.

                  • Robert F says

                    Every single life that has ever been lived has been lived out in the blink of an eye, as inconsequential as you say that is.

                • john barry says

                  Clay C. What church that has any meaningful following is calling for the imprisonment of and violence toward homosexuals? What church is continuing to commit injustices toward women unless you consider not letting women be priest or ministers injustice.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                    “Church that has any meaningful following”?

                    There are a lot of fringe groups out there, including IBLP/ATI, Acts29, 9Marks, CBMW, Vision Forum, the Seven Mountains Mandate, Joel’s Army…. And some of these (like the Moonies) are after political power — “200-year-plans” to Take Back America and Restore a TRUE Christian Nation.

                    “What church is continuing to commit injustices toward women?”

                    Click the link to Wartburg Watch for a LOT of watchblog posts IDing such churches.

                    And when you’re at Wartburg Watch, click THEIR link to Spiritual Sounding Board for even more.

                    • Patriciamc says

                      Anything neo-cal.

                    • Patriciamc says

                      Remember HUG, Seneca, Jimmy, whatever his name is has a whole blog devoted to griping about Wartburg Watch.

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                      And after they banned him, he kept trying to sneak back in under half a dozen different names.

                  • I think if you are calling for gay marriage to be banned, the logical conclusion would be that gays who marry are committing crimes and should be punished (imprisonment?). That would include most evangelical churches.

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                      Only “imprisonment”?

                      Just like Islam, there’s a debate as to whether to use modern methods of execution or those God Saith in the Holy Book (i.e. stoning with stones that they die).

                      More and more, Evangelicals act like Fred Phelps’ REAL sin was being too direct instead of using Proper Code Words.

                      Before it effectively went on Hiatus, Homeschoolers Anonymous had an interesting take on the whole Unpronounceable mess: Yes, homosex was a taboo, but Christians also had to stand with those who are being crushed down and not join in the crushing. And Unpronounceables have been and are being crushed down in various parts of the world (and here until recently).

                  • Clay Crouch says

                    JB,

                    Ask and it shall be given.

                    Here’s an article from the fake news LA Times.

                    Seek and ye shall find.

                    How about this?.

                    While many seem certain that Jesus couldn’t care less, there are few folks who consider it an injustice for anyone to be denied a position based solely on their sex.

                    • john barry says

                      Clay C. Thanks for the news from March 2014 about an obscure wing nut that I had never heard of before. The conference was in 2009 and again other than the tie in to R. Warren who is well known it is just another extreme guy that wants a platform. The LA Times is not fake , just extreme in their progressive outlook and editorial commentary even back in March 2014. Even nut job Scott Lively opposed the action the nation of Uganda took.

                      What is the official position of the RCC on the natural law? Most major faiths do consider homosexuality a sin that does not mean they advocate death or making it a criminal offense. What about the EO , what is their stand on homosexual marriage.

                      The only position I think women should not be able to obtain is father or to be equal , for a man to be a Mother but with all the crazy science going on who knows.

                      How does any of this advance Christian unity which I believe is the nut of CM fine article?

                      Just for a news update WW2 ended on May 6, 1945 according to the then creditable NYT.

          • Clay Crouch says

            Is that a fact based or anecdotal observation?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Strangely enough, the more conservative voices in the mainline churches are often younger than the liberal “Old Guard”.

            Partially an expected reaction.
            I’d be surprised if it didn’t shake down that way.

            After a generation, NEW! FRESH! AVANT-GARDE! becomes “The Way We’ve Always Done Things — Don’t Rock The Boat” and any NEW! change will come from a different direction. Especially if the former NEW! FRESH! AVANT-GARDE! revolution/reformation had the usual accompanying case of Year One Syndrome.

          • Radagast says

            As a Catholic… agreed.. especially in areas where there are generations of cultural Catholics….

        • Clay Crouch says

          My impressions of evangelical churches were formed by over 30 years of attending them. Where do you get your impressions of mainline churches?

          • From what their evangelical pastors told them, most likely. I had to attend a mainline church for months before the decades of propaganda and prejudices finally crumbled…

            • Clay Crouch says

              I sat through years of the scripture being spoon fed from the pulpit verse by verse. Most of it in the the service of culture warfare. My tipping point was a video played on the sanctuary jumbotrons touting Christians as God’s warriors with visuals of an aircraft carrier in action.

              • senecagriggs says

                My church isn’t and never has been into culture warfare. Never had a pastor that preached the OpEds.

                We have supported a local women’s ministry however.

        • I speak as one in the Lutheran tradition now. And one reason I gravitated in that direction from evangelicalism was my perception that they truly value scripture and take it seriously. Lutheran pastors are taught to take the text seriously, to distinguish between law and gospel, and to make sure that Christ is at the center of every sermon.

          As one who preached the “verse by verse” expository method for many, many years, I can tell you that it led more to various forms of biblicism and intellectualizing of the text than it did to focusing the congregation’s attention on the good news of Christ.

          This is what Robert Webber’s point in the post is about when he says he found “Worship that transcends intellectualism and emotionalism” in the liturgical tradition. Bob was from a similar background to mine. The church had become a theological lecture hall and correct doctrine had become the goal. Christ was displaced from the center by the Bible itself, ironically, which in my experience leads to forms of Pharisaism in which we become “people of the book” rather than “Jesus-shaped.”

          Likewise, his comment about “emotionalism” refers primarily to Pentecostal/charismatic expressions of conservative evangelicalism which put spiritual experience above the drama of Christ in worship.

          The elevation of the sermon above the liturgy rather than seeing it as a vital element within the liturgy is a big problem in conservative evangelicalism and in more intellectual streams of post-evangelicalism such as the neo-Calvinist or neo-puritan groups.

          This is often justified by words that Seneca himself just used: “Scripture is sufficient.” It really takes very little thought to see the error of those words.

          • senecagriggs says

            Scripture isn’t sufficient C.M.?

            • Burro (Mule) says

              Scripture is sufficient, but exegesis (grammar and context) isn’t.

              • And if someone assumes they can read Scripture with no thought towards grammar and context… Well, that’s where the troubles begin.

                • Burro (Mule) says

                  I didn’t say grammar and context weren’t necessary, just that they weren’t sufficient.

                  Sheesh.

            • In a word, no. That’s just a slogan of biblicists.

              For a fuller discussion, you would have to define “sufficient.”

              • Patriciamc says

                “Scripture is sufficient” is a one-upsmanship term, and is a way of saying that if you disagree with me, then you disagree with God. I’m a huge believer in scripture (plus virgin conception, resurrection, etc.), and I always say that scripture is inerrant, but interpretation can be pretty darn wacky.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  “I Know I’m RIght —
                  I HAVE A VERSE!
                  SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!”

                  I like near Ground Zero for Calvary Chapel;
                  I am VERY familiar with “I HAVE A VERSE!” saturation barrages of Bible Bullets.

                • “Scripture is sufficient” is a claim that the scripture itself does not make. I recall that in 2 Cor. 3:5 Paul said that his “sufficiency is from God” and NOT of the letter…

              • senecagriggs says

                Jesus shaped spirituality? In His brief time on Earth he quoted the Old Testament 78 times. He acted like all the answers were found in Scripture.
                _______

                You might say he was a Biblicist.

                • Yes, but often times he contradicted the Old Testament – ‘you have heard it said but I say to you’. He is placing his authority over Scripture. He is the WORD of God, not the Bible.

                  • Rick Ro. says

                    BINGO!!! To use “Jesus quoted the OT ‘X’ number of times” as some sort of FINAL TRUTH ignores just about everything that he didn’t quote.

                • Patriciamc says

                  Not really because he worshipped God not scripture.

                  • Rick Ro. says

                    And this, too! Yes!

                    And I’m guessing Jim Jones quoted scripture a ton, too, as he led people down a path that ended up with a lot of people drinking the Kool-Aid.

                    • senecagriggs says

                      Yeah, Jim Jones/Jesus? I am not following that.

                    • Rick Ro. says

                      Just that you say Jesus quotes all this scripture, like that elevates scripture in some sort of way. My point is, even people way off base can quote scripture. It doesn’t make scripture magical. Heck, Satan even used it to TEMPT Jesus. Don’t prop it up too highly.

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                      Reminds me of a shtick when Jesus actually comes onstage in Left Behind: Volume 12. Author doesn’t want to “put words in Jesus’ mouth”, so every word of Jesus’ dialogue is a direct SCRIPTURE quote. (From the King Jimmy?)

                      I know bringing God onstage as a character is asking for trouble, but that makes Christ look like a dummy stuffed with straw with an MP3 player for a mouth.

                    • We have at least one instance where Jesus purposefully redacted scripture–and that pissed off his hearers.

                      Luke 4:18ff

                      Paul did the same with about half a dozen OT passages in Rom. 15.

                • StuartB says

                  No he didn’t. The authors who wrote the Gospels quoted the OT through Jesus.

              • Agreed CM; scripture is NOT sufficient.

                The text is not alive. It is useful, but without a tradition and reason it is dead.

            • Seneca, Scripture is sufficient, but let’s be wary any man’s interpretation of scripture. And even worse if he uses the term “the clear meaning of scripture” (which really means “MY” meaning of scripture.

              I like what Greg wrote above at 12:10 pm:
              https://internetmonk.com/archive/80414#comment-1111414
              about the nonsense that we often hear in sermons, and “That is IF the pastor is preaching expositorially.” Greg illustrates my belief that most, if not all sermons are topical even when they’re billed as expository.

              Scripture may be sufficient, even inerrant, but not the “clear meaning” of it as dictated by many preachers. Been there.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                “The Clear Meaning of SCRIPTURE”

                AKA The demon locust plague of Revelation clearly meaning helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapon “stingers” and piloted by long-haired bearded Hippies.

              • Patriciamc says

                +1

            • Robert F says

              If scripture is sufficient, then there is no reason for those appallingly long sermons.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I speak as one in the Lutheran tradition now.

            i.e. Western-Rite Liturgical one generation removed from Catholic, similar to the Anglicans.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Note “Verse-by-Verse”.

          A definition which was added later in the stream as cross-reference identifiers, with the side effect of breaking up narratives and arguments into arbitrary isolated One-Liners. Unrelated to each other.

          Which in turn acquired the aura of one-line verbal-component magic spells and charms.
          “I Know I’m Right —
          I HAVE A VERSE!”

          Wartburg Watch has cited Hyper-REFORMED “teaching pastors” who spend MONTHS on exposition of a single Verse.

          Remember “can’t see the forest for the trees”? THAT’s “every cell on every vein of every leaf of every twig on every branch of every tree”, like Autistic Sensory Overloading. (A phenomenon with which I have personal experience.)

          • senecagriggs says

            Or you can gloss over the meaning of passage and just say, “I think it says…..”

            • Most preachers do gloss over it, or beat it to death with BS, but they won’t say “I think it says…” They won’t admit that.

          • Yep. I know a pastor who spent 2 years in Ephesians! No forest at all there. I was in another Bible study where a lady taught through Hebrews. She had every verse broken down, every Greek word looked up (she didn’t read Greek and it was obvious), but she (and her students) had no idea at all what Hebrews was about. She had no clue about the flow of the author’s argument – completely missed the forest.

            • Rick Ro. says

              When I’ve more recently led studies in the shorter epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, etc.) we BEGAN each study by reading the entire letter first. That reminded us later, as we delved into particular sections or single verses: CONTEXT PEOPLE! CONTEXT!

              • Yes. Some people are almost astonished to find the biblical authors often (sarcasm alert) made real, logical arguments and that the Bible isn’t just a source for single verses to put on coffee cups and wall plaques!

                A good outline of the book helps to catch the flow as well. That’s where I usually start when teaching through a book.

                • Rick Ro. says

                  Well, it REALLY helps put things in perspective when you read six chapters of something, then look at the one line that says, “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

                  Umm…like…in the overall scheme of things, it’s almost an “aside”, yet so much is made out of it!

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  …single verses to put on coffee cups and wall plaques!

                  And to use as weapons in a Beatdown.
                  “SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!”

                  (Yes, I’ve encountered Calvary Chapel Bots. How ever could you tell?)

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              I have personal experience with Autistic Sensory Overload; it’s one of the reasons why I have such a hard time bringing my creative bubbling to finished form.

              And the reason I work in high-level languages (VB6 & SQL); getting any closer to the machine (such as in the C family of languages) and Too Much Detail and I Overload and end up thrashing with a 100+% paging rate in my brain. Robbie the Robot just freezes up and starts arcing like foil in a microwave.

              • Radagast says

                Also its no fun when in C you start trashing parts of memory that break the machine….

      • Usually true, Eeyore.

  3. Rick Ro. says

    Oases are good. So good.

    My oasis came slowly as I neared the end of a seven-year trek through a spiritual desert, coming in the form of a renewed sense of God’s presence and better understanding of the freeing love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Curiously it didn’t come through any church–in fact, it came almost DESPITE my church–but through relationship and conversation with faithful servants, a deeper study of the gospels and the book of Hebrews, and Philip Yancey’s “Disappointment With God.”

  4. Bass’s book is designed to counter the accepted wisdom that America’s mainline churches are in decline. She wrote the book well over 11 years ago and the accepted wisdom is that the mainline church’s are still in deep decline and the average age has in fact jumped to 52 years of age. as I am a Catholic liturgical and sacramental worship has always been important to me. But I expect that the mainline decline has more to do with other factors than liturgical worship. What that is, is open to discussion.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Stbndct –

      How about a Catholic’s eye view of a remark I made above, that the energy of your communion is with the moderate traditionalists rather than with the radical fringe? Is it true or am I full of it, seeing something I want to see rather than what is?

      • You are exactly correct in your observations. The energy is certainly driven by moderate traditionalists which I consider myself one of. The radical fringe makes the most noise but carries the least amount of weight except for garnering flashy headlines.And we hardly see them at Mass.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Moderate traditionalists” DO sound like the Middle Way and Silent Majority of any group.

      • Radagast says

        Energy comes from the young who are learned in the faith and take it very seriously….which was something started by John Paul II….but they also have learned to appreciate the elderly who have chosen to stick to the traditions of the Church… and project a silent wisdom….

  5. Burro (Mule) says

    Off topic, but why didn’t Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead ever win the Nobel Peace Prize?

    I downloaded a great concert from the late 70s and played it during my morning commute. No need even to twist a big sticky one – the music was enough to put me right in the zone. Not even the traffic cutters interrupted the feeling.

    Peace and universal benevolence, at least as long as Jerry’s and Keith’s guitar/organ duet lasted.

    Jerry, you are sorely missed.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “What a Long, Strange Trip it’s been…”

      • senecagriggs says

        It turned out to be a short trip for Jerry.

        Later in life, Garcia was sometimes ill because of his diabetes, and in 1986, he went into a diabetic coma that nearly cost him his life. Although his overall health improved somewhat after that, he continued to struggle with obesity, smoking, and longstanding heroin and cocaine addictions,[3][4] and was staying in a California drug rehabilitation facility when he died of a heart attack in August 1995 at the age of 53.[2][4]

    • Really off-topic, Mule, but thanks.

      Click onto this youtube of “So Many Roads” that Jerry recorded in concert one month before he died. He checked into rehab shortly after this and never made it out.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sFyRQPraJ8

      • And I’m still mad that Pete Seeger never won the Nobel Peace Prize. What are they THINKING?

    • Robert F says

      I didn’t appreciate the Grateful Dead when I was young, but I sure do now. No interpretative chemicals are necessary; the music is sufficient.

      • Rick Ro. says

        –> “the music is sufficient”

        Wait, I thought the Bible was sufficient!

        😉

        • Robert F says

          Intentional allusion to the prior conversation. There are many different kinds of sufficiency, with varying definitions.

          But you definitely don’t need to be an acid head to enjoy the Dead’s music; I think acid must get in the way of real appreciation of what they did.

    • Radagast says

      Mind altering… my experience with The Dead….. or was that I was mind altering when I was listening to them…

    • Still Deadicated.

      My last concert was 4/2/95 at the Pyramid in Memphis.

  6. Patriciamc says

    Take off the “I know it’s not for everyone.” There’s no need for a disclaimer or an apology to say that you like a mainline church. As long as it follows the beliefs as stated in the Apostles Creed, then the mainline is my preferred type of church. I just go to a big box church since they don’t isolate singles.

  7. senecagriggs says

    I am quite sure there are local Mainline churches I could comfortably attend. I suspect I would be comfortable in C.M. church actually. We share a background.
    ______

    I’m not sure I could eat Lutefisk however which I believe is a requirement to being a True Lutheran.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Not at all. You have been fooled by Norwegian Triumphalism. Go to a German Lutheran church and you have at least a shot at the food being good, or even excellent. Also, beer. For both food and drink, the closer you can get to actual Germans the better. My family settled in Pennsylvania well over a century ago. Central Pennsylvania cuisine is, um…, not so good. My church in Baltimore has actual Germans, who keep us Englishe in line. But even when the food is bad, German Lutherans won’t try to foist lutefisk off on you.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      How about Surstromming?

      • senecagriggs says

        Oh oh. I don’t know what this is but even the name suggest peril.

  8. Anyone interested in actually interacting with the points in the post suggesting a way forward for mainline churches?

    • Burro (Mule) says

      I think the suggestions are great, CM. If mainline churches would implement them they could become the religious trend of the 2020s, but it’s just so much more fun to wrestle in the mud.

    • Yes!

      It’s all the same stuff I would look for in an evangelical church. I would find a home anywhere these values are held. My only addition would be to create spaces for encountering the Holy Spirit via (choose whatever works for you): charismatic/healing/prophetic/spontaneous opportunities.

      I’ve been reading up on John Wimber and the early Vineyard movement, and what I am appreciating the most is that he seemed to balance (that is, not sacrifice) preaching, theology, and worship while creating space for the presence of the Holy Spirit to “do the stuff,” in his parlance. This seemed to work best at the end of the services. There’s lot of opportunity for “both/and.” I’d love to see sacramental/liturgical worship continue to merge with classic pentecostalism, with each approach having equal weight as it regards experiencing God’s presence. I think it’s starting to happen. Jonathan Martin is a great example of this.

    • I agree with all of them, though the devil is in the details (and the existing structures, SOPs, etc.). Evangelical churches would do well to follow a few of those suggestions as well.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      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.

      Otherwise, their only alternative to Done or None is the Church of the Donald.

      They must not become imitators of evangelical “church growth” models and think that they should capitulate to contemporary culture in the attempt to be “relevant” and grow their churches.

      Otherwise, they’ll just be another church to bail out on.

      While it is fine for them to keep a focus on matters like inclusion and social justice, they must avoid a tendency to make things that are not the main thing the main thing. The “whole” gospel includes encouraging our congregations to pursue a vibrant spiritual life in Christ, deep theological wisdom, and a measure of personal and corporate piety that ignites good works with spiritual passion.

      A Via Media between a Social Gospel without Personal Salvation and a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, combining both estranged halves into a coherent Whole.

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “Anyone interested in actually interacting with the points in the post suggesting a way forward for mainline churches?”

      Oh, c’mon, CM…you’ve been around this place long enough to know the odds of THAT happening!!!

      😉

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Writing as a lifelong Lutheran, we absolutely suck at evangelism. It simply is not in our genes. I completely believe we have a lot to offer a lot of people, but I haven’t the foggiest notion of how to go about it.

    • john barry says

      Chaplin Mike, good post and good points to reflect on. Point number one is important, a lot of conservative, evangelical Christians believe the mainline churches have “moved” on past the Bible except as a foundational standard to promote works though social work platforms.

      Just this week we had a discussion about John 8.11, the woman being stoned and the writer quoted it was his viewpoint was the woman was told to “go live your live” instead of what the Bible said “go and sin no more”. Sure it is interpretation but to conservative Christians it gets down to changing the meaning of the Bible to reflect what modern society wants the Bible to represent. Do not want to get into that specific issue but it is just a quick reference.

      Your last point in the article was right on also, that things that are not the main things do not become the main things if I have that correct. I admonished and pleaded still do with many of my friends not to let not to let secular world issues become on of the main things in our worship. That does not mean that one should not and cannot use their faith belief , their values and their moral underpinnings to make secular world political decisions but not at the worship venue. I do not need a voters list of “Christians” to know who to vote for if I follow the issues and know as best I can who best represents me and my values.

      In politics the saying is “the issue is never the issue” it is just a way to advance the main agenda. Conservative evangelicals by nature put more emphasis on personal piety and action than corporate piety and action, it seems to me.

      To sum up , it is not good that the true believers in Christ who want to spread the Gospel cannot bridge the gap that prevents certainly impedes the message of salvation. Your personal journey to where you are now is unique and it will take many people like you to be the bridge if it can be done. Not an easy issue you have raised here and it will take honest thoughtful communication to get Christians if not on the same page , the same chapter but at least we are in the same Book but at times you would never know it.

      At usual good, thoughtful and gracious message

    • Christiane says

      My favorite points:

      “They must provide a strong practice of pastoral care.”

      and

      “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. There is a vacuum of moderation and peacemaking waiting to be filled in our culture. Why shouldn’t the church, which began as a project of uniting Jews and Gentiles under one Lord, take up this role as a major priority today?”

    • Patriciamc says

      For the Methodis church, of which I am a member, I say to stop excelling in mediocrity. Methodists are frequetly afraid of offending anyone or of coming across as Southern Baptistish (I would be too!), that they tend to tone down on the tenents of Christianity, you know, the basics. Not all, of course, but many. They also tend to get so caught up in their activities and their budgets that Christ unintentionally becomes secondary. The big box non-denom church I attend can veer into entertainment, but they are good at keeping Christ central.

    • Robert F says

      Good points, but I don’t see them being engaged in the most of the mainlines that I’ve been member of most of my adult life. They seem content to die out, at least at the parish level, if not at the bureaucratic headquarters where strategies for reviving the denoms are reworked every few years, with failure ensuing every time.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        At which point the only remaining alternatives are None, Done, and The Donald.

    • Radagast says

      Points 2, 3 resonate with me as it goes to strong foundation and priority of spiritual growth and development. Points 7 and 8 I agree with as the counter to these move the church towards a structure more like a business. Since I am Catholic and also somewhat of a traditionalist I am not into seeing Lutheran/Anglican moving away from Liturgical form to contemporary to attract the youth. At that point the youth are just coming to be entertained. And Scripture… as long as it is kept in the context of scripture rather than self-help or a dissertation of fitting the text to a preconceived point of view that goes far past what the line of scripture was talking about.

  9. Richard Hershberger says

    The Wikipedia article on it is hilarious, in that Wikipedia deadpan way:

    “According to a Japanese study, a newly opened can of surströmming has one of the most putrid food smells in the world”

    “Because of the strong smell, surströmming is ordinarily eaten outdoors. The pressurized can is usually opened some distance away from the dining table, and is often initially punctured while immersed in a bucket of water, which prevents brine from spraying onto clothes and traps most of the smell.”

    “In 1981, a German landlord evicted a tenant without notice after the tenant spread surströmming brine in the apartment building’s stairwell. When the landlord was taken to court, the court ruled that the termination was justified when the landlord’s party demonstrated their case by opening a can inside the courtroom. The court concluded that it “had convinced itself that the disgusting smell of the fish brine far exceeded the degree that fellow-tenants in the building could be expected to tolerate””

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      There’s a lot of “Surstromming Challenge” videos on YouTube, usually with “Vomit Alert” warnings.

      The first one I saw was the “Angry Grandpa” one, where AG gets a can of it as a prank. He opens it in his trailer’s kitchen (indoors), gets a blast of Surstromming juice right in the face, and things go south from there. (“HUUUUK! HUUUUK!!!”) In a followup video shot a day or two later, they still couldn’t step inside; AG reminisces that it stank even worse than the worst dead body call he did when he was a fireman.

      Last time I checked, that first video was under a sign-in/for YouTube members only lock.

      • Rick Ro. says

        A part of me wants to look, and a part of me doesn’t.

        Maybe what Adam and Eve felt when offered the apple?

  10. Burro (Mule) says

    So, is Franky Schaeffer still Orthodox? He sure has my number.

    That’s worse treatment than anything I’ve ever received from anybody on this board, and supposedly by a co-religionist. Thanks for putting up with a benighted, hate-filled, mentally ill, bigoted, brainless fascist hillbilly thug. I love you guys too, even numo who doesn’t come around anymore.

    I wonder what Franky Schaeffer and I would talk about at kafeinon after Liturgy.

    • Robert F says

      Wow! Frank Schaeffer is on fire with anti-Trumpism! His blog is nothing but one anti-Trump/anti-evangelical post after the next. If we have to fight each other in the streets, Burro, I want Franky to lead my platoon. Just sayin’.

      • Stbndct says

        Of course you would Robert

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Wow! Frank Schaeffer is on fire with anti-Trumpism! His blog is nothing but one anti-Trump/anti-evangelical post after the next.

        I remember when he was “Franky Schaeffer” on the radio in the Eighties, doing a book tour for his Addicted to Mediocrity.

        In the interview, he never passed up a chance to bash Catholics. Kinda like Raul Rees of Calvary Chapel.

        He probably just shifted targets between then & now.

    • Frank Schaeffer Jr has always been an Angry Man. The exact focus of his Anger has shifted many times over the years (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Modest_Proposal#Modern_usage ), but his Angriness has not.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        I haven’t seen anybody hate Jews or black people as much as Schaeffer hates bad whites in fifty years, not since George Wallace and the Detroit riots.

        If your side gets General Schaeffer my side needs a couple of practice rounds first.

        • Robert F says

          Are you serious, Mule? I guess you didn’t catch any of the video of the guys carrying Tiki torches and semiautomatics in Charlottesville last summer, and you haven’t monitored any of the copious amount of racist hate speech from the Alt-right on Twitter. Franky’s anger is cub scout in comparison.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Thirty years ago it was Catholics instead of “bad whites”.

          I wonder if that was a factor in him going Orthodox shortly afterwards, trading in the Reformation for the Great Schism.

      • Robert F says

        Frank Schaeffer Jr has always been an Angry Man.

        Adam raised a Cain, and Francis raised Franky.

  11. I haven’t visited imonk for a month or so, i’ve also never commented before, but the community here seems loving and genuine. I am just now slowly overcoming a crisis of faith, i have always held to more conservative views on theology such as biblical inerancy and in my studies of early christianity i learned that some books of the bible have contested authorship, contradictions, and mistranslations. This along with the influence “questionable” biblical scholarship had over my admittedly weak faith shattered my faith, but i’ve spent mich time reading the writings of the church fathers, nt wright, and larry hartado and they’ve helped me begin rebuilding my trust in god. My studies have also lead me to be interested in converting to anglicanism. I apologise for the rambly ungramatical monologue, but i felt like i had to share, and maybe speak with others about my faith.

    • I just realized someone else here goes by the name Sean, i am not he, sorry for my stupidity 🙂

    • Sean, it sounds like you’ve discovered what many of us here have – that faith is a journey, it’s dynamic not static. That appears to be the pattern in the Bible as well. As people experience God, and life, they grow and change and question, often finding that what they once considered certain they no longer do (think of Paul’s journey from Shamaite Pharisee to apostle of Jesus!). Genuine faith is lived on the slippery slope. Blessings to you.

    • Rick Ro. says

      No need to apologize at all, Sean. Thanks for sharing your story. As Greg said, many of us have had to wrestle with some of the same faith assumptions that you have, and we’ve come out the other side, too. I’ve learned to embrace the mystery as well as embrace His grace for my wobbling.

  12. The emphasis on both Word and Table is so important (although not necessarily exclusive to the Mainline).

  13. A day late, but FWIW I think CM is pretty spot on with his suggestions for the mainline. They are all valid and comprehensive. Methodist here, been on sabbatical from my denomination since 2001. A few notes…

    What finally drove me into sabbatical was the institutional bureaucracy. Specifically, 1) the distance between the hierarchy’s views on what the denomination should be about vs what people in the pews could handle. Instead of bringing people along in the local church, there was a lot of dictating from above, without much concern for the buy-in. 2) The disregard for the local churches in general; rotating problem pastors, not taking the time to actually care for or help specific congregations. 3) The way the church governs, especially at Annual and General Conferences, is far more American politics than led by the Holy Spirit. Letting the debate over sexuality define the denomination for *more than 50 years*—-and it’s still going strong—-well, talk about the main thing not being the main thing. 🙁

    And yet, I still think my home denomination, and mainlines in general have a lot to offer. Methodist theology is reasonable and generous. Their central discipleship and spiritual formation resources have meant the world to me over the years. I appreciate the liturgy, the following of the lectionary and the marking of the church year. If we could ever get our act together, we’d have so much to offer.

    • Robert F says

      I think your comment is spot on, Vera; it certainly reflects my several decades long experience in the mainline Episcopal and Lutheran churches. Thanks for expressing it so clearly.

  14. cheesehed says

    Also late to the party…

    I resonate with much of what CM says about mainline churches. In a sense, they’ve been my salvation (not in the ultimate sense, of course). I was involved in various types of evangelicalism, some very good, a lot not very good. If I hadn’t been raised Methodist and then UCC as a teenager, I wouldn’t have known there are (better) alternatives to evangelicaldom.

    Now I attend a Lutheran church. I really believe the mainline churches have a lot to offer our culture, especially
    right now. They allow you to lead a normal life. At least the ones I’ve known!