December 3, 2020

iMonk Classic: Mainlines — We’re Having a Moment Here

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Original post: July, 2007

I wrote this piece in July of ’07. It garnered 70 comments and some grousy updates on my part. (You can read the original here.)

I’m reprinting the post with a clear comment thread because I feel the sentiment I expressed in this piece is even more true now than ever: there are thousands of evangelicals who would give a serious look at mainline churches, traditional worship and the riches of Protestant heritage IF some good brothers and sisters could recognize our journey and meet us somewhere halfway along the path.

It seems that at the moment there is the most interest in the broader, deeper more serious heritage of Protestantism and a growing discontent with worshiptainment, there is a strong prejudice against evangelicals within those communities that could reach out to them. Evangelicalism needs what Protestantism has always done right… least in those places where they still remember what was right all along.

Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans….

Mainline churches….we’re having a moment here.

Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ…do you know what I mean? We’re having a moment, and it’s slipping right by.

What moment?

We’re having a moment when thousands of evangelicals are getting a bellyful of the shallow, traditionless, grown up youth group religion that’s taken over their pastor’s head and is eating up their churches.

It’s a moment when people are asking if they want to hear praise bands when they are 70…or if they will even be allowed in the building when they are 70. It’s a moment when the avalanche of contemporary worship choruses has turned into one long indistinquishable commercial buzz. It’s a moment when K-Love is determining what we sing in church and that’s not a good thing.

It’s a moment when some people are wondering if their children will ever know the hymns they knew or will ever actually hold a Bible in their hand at church again. It’s a moment when a lot of people are pretty certain if they hear the words “new,” “purpose” or “seeker” one more time, they may appear on the evening news for an episode of “church rage.”

It’s a moment when significant numbers of people have heard the same ten sermon series so many times they could fill in for the pastor on short notice. It’s a moment when many people would actually like to see a section of the congregation who are over 50 and not trying to look under 30.

It’s a moment that- believe it or not- some people actually want to go to something that looks like church as they remember it, see a recognizable pastor, hear a recognizable sermon, participate in the Lord’s Supper, experience some reverence and decorum, and leave feeling that, in some ways, it WAS a lot like their mom and dad’s church. It’s a moment when reinventing everything may not be as sweet an idea as we were told it was.

It’s a moment when the baby boomer domination of evangelicalism is showing signs of cracking. Some younger people actually want to hear theology. They aren’t judging everything by how seekers evaluate it or what Rick Warren would say about it.

Yes, my mainline friends, we’re having a moment here. You can see it all around the edges of evangelicalism. It’s there and it’s real. It isn’t easy or automatic, but it’s there. And it is sad to realize that at the very time so many are looking for what you have, you’re mostly squandering the moment entirely.

Your churches could be taking in thousands of evangelicals. That’s right. Those recognizably “churchy” churches of yours, with the Christian year, the Biblically rich liturgy, the choir robes, the still-occasionally used hymnals and the multi-generational, slightly blended worship services, could be taking in thousands of evangelicals.

Of course, you’d have to want them. You’d have to, in many ways, meet them halfway or more. You’d need to talk to them as younger evangelicals, not dangerous fundamentalists. You’d have to reconsider how important it is to you to keep homosexual grievances constantly on the front burner. You’d have to start acting like Biblical morality meant something. You’d have to stop acting as if being mainline is a game where you wait to see how fast the membership dies off.

It’s a moment when you need to speak the language of people who want to hear the Bible; a moment when preachers need to preach mature, Biblical evangelical messages.

Those younger evangelicals are ready for your appreciation of tradition, your more balanced theological method, your commitment to multi-generational churches and your more substantial appreciation of justice issues.

But they aren’t ready for the things that have emptied so many of your churches. They will never come if things remain the same. Much needs to change and should change.

You need to communicate, and you need to go back to your roots. It’s frustratingly ironic to know that when many of us are longing for a church that has the things we cannot find in evangelicalism, you have so many of those very things every Sunday. But what you don’t have is the willingness to come back to the center of evangelicalism where people who love the Bible and take it seriously can find a home with you.

You’ve made it clear that you want those on the left. And evangelicals have made it clear that they are not going to accommodate those who want tradition. We’re having a moment here, if you can stop and see it, who knows what could happen? Will your own churches divide in order to meet evangelicals on the road? Or will the moment go by, a “might have been,” that never was to be?

The moment will come and it will go. Right now, the moment is upon all of us.


  1. Randy Thompson says

    I completely get the need for the rootedness of (healthy) tradition. I wouldn’t want to be without it.

    However, I’m not so sure that the mainline churches are the way to go, because the theological erosion of some of these churches is shocking. I just reviewed some brief essays I wrote for a former church I pastored that was just about to vote itself out of the UCC, and it served as a useful reminder of why I’m now in a theological no man’s land, neither mainline nor subculture evangelical.

    Tradition and rootedness is more than good taste and a liturgical show. For example, the Episcopal liturgy is glorious, but it is too often only a very thin liturgical veneer of good, solid wood over cheap theological particleboard. Lutheran, Congregational and Presbyterian churches can also have wonderful music and liturgy too, but it’s what’s underneath the appearances that matters. (I might also add that the level of biblical illiteracy in many mainlines churches is staggering, which would be unsettling for many ex-evangelicals trying to make the transition.)

    My perspective on this is very different from many other Internet-monkers, as I’ve spent much of the past 30 years as an evangelical in mainline, often very liberal, settings. The grass here definitely is not greener, even though it may look so from the evangelical side of the fence!

    In their own way, the mainline churches, as a group, are just as messed up as the “fundagelical” churches. It is very easy here to jump from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

    • Randy ~ I agree as I am trying to “fit in” a Lutheran church. Beautiful music, wonderful worship and liturgy and very welcoming people. Yet, I saw a pastor literally teach the young children that the feeding of the 5,000 was an “illusion” and he used a card trick to make his point!!! This was the children’s sermon in the Sunday Service. God help him. I should have stood up and protested or walked out – I just don’t know where to go. Started to attend a friend’s fundamentalist church and I was there 3 weeks when they had a huge split over Calvinism. Threats of violence and all!! It was like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Very unsettling as I am older and have no desire to start over but…

      • It’s rough out there. The mainline seminaries are churning out pastors, many of whom don’t even believe in an afterlife.

        It’s very sad and disheartening.

        • You know what? The Bible is not very clear about the afterlife either.

          • Really? Mine is pretty specific.

          • Several mutually-exclusive theories are mentioned: lights out (Ecclesiastes), resurrection of the dead, sheol as a land of the shades, or by the New Testament, life through the continuation of a nonphysical soul which may enter various heavens or hells. Some or all of these may be metaphoric. Popular Christianity has little patience for such nuance.

          • I was asked last night in a Bible study what is the difference between Paradise and Heaven. Ask the question on here, and you will probably get a 100 different answers.

          • I am deeply suspicious that these mutually exclusive theories might actually be harmonizable in a way that is beyond our current comprehension potential. I can’t begin to articulate what that might look like, but just as heaven is a utopia beautiful beyond imagination, so the alternative is not quite exactly comparable to anything we’ve experienced in this real. However, all theories have a common sentiment: It’s not an option you want.

        • Randy Thompson says

          Hey, you’ll find some who don’t even believe in a personal God!

      • Randy Thompson says

        We live in a time where maybe all we can do is pick our poison and serve God there. That’s not a cheery view. But, if enough people seek to grow where they’re planted, even if the soil isn’t the greatest, there’s an opportunity to bear fruit. I’ve met people who stood firm for Christ in some very dreary churches, and God made them a blessing there. If church is finally about Christ and serving him, then the church’s quirks and blemishes really are a side issue. I know people who stuck it out in some bad places and had a tremendous impact for Christ there! Hang in there!

        • ^+1 Randy… that’s where I’m at.

          I often call people who grow in-spite of their church circumstances…weeds. They’ll grow anywhere so long as there’s hope for a little light.

      • I have to admit that I’m a bit impatient with the time and energy that Internet Monk, and we as Christians, spend talking about churches. I’m getting older and crankier but I just don’t find a discussion of churches all that interesting or productive.

        • Your suggestion? Should we be discussing the housing crisis, the best cars on the road, or the Kardashions?

          We can NOT talk about God and His plans for us without looking at the fracture lines within Christianity. I am RC, and try to follow along to help ME understand the differences as well.

          And, ummmm……you COULD just skip those posts, like I do anything that concerns sports….

        • Hi Tom,

          Would you be willing to share with us why you see yourself as becoming “crankier” as you get older ? Has experiences within the church or with people led to this “crankiness” ?

          What is it you believe would be more productive and helpful ? I am not being sarcastic, I am truly wishing to understand where you are coming from. Is there something you are searching for that you would hope to find some answers to here on imonk ?

          Hope you have a wonderful Sunday 🙂


      • There are mainline churches that are trying to remain true to traditional orthodoxy. My Lutheran congregation voted this summer to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over its creeping apostasy and disregard of Scriptural authority. We joined the new North American Lutheran Church. Hundreds have left the ELCA and joined Missouri or new bodies like the NALC and others. Same thing going on in the Anglican communion. The mainline churches continue following the policies and progressive and liberation theology that have led people to “vote with the feet” and leave in droves, and they don’t seem to care, so long as they’re pure in their own eyes.

    • Randy, I think Michael is calling the mainline churches to begin doing what you are asking — get more serious about the Bible, meet evangelicals part way, revitalize the sound ecclesiastical structure with solid content and serious pastoral ministry.

      • How about it, mainliners? Are you ready to start hating gays again, so people like the late Michael Spencer will feel comfortable? (Because as we all know, it’s not possible to be serious about the Bible and accept homosexuality, or oppose slavery.)

        Oh wait a minute–that’s the same kind of market sensitivity that Spencer was complaining about.

        You guys are like Ron Paul, except with religion–you have to decide whether to keep hanging around your old pals the Libertarians / Objectivists, or push your way into the Republican camp.

        • Randy Thompson says

          Homosexual practice and homosexual orientation are two different things. Everyone has an orientation of some sort or other, sexual and non-sexual. What the Bible seems to be quite clear about is that not every desire is one we should practice. The Bible is a map which guides believers through the minefield of the human heart and its desires.

          As to slavery, it is true that the Bible nowhere explicitly forbides it. Yet, a clear-eyed reading of the New Testament makes slavery impossible. That wonderful and odd little letter to Philemon is a case in point.

          So, it seems to me that it is not all that hard to “be serious about the Bible” and not get sucker-punched by either liberal protestantism or fundamentalism.

        • I’m a sporadic lurker and an infrequent commenter on this site. Having jumped into this discussion late on a Saturday evening, I need to ask Blake what is behind his aggressive questions about hating gays. Maybe I just missed it but the comment doesn’t seem responsive to the Spencer article on mainline churches.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            The original includes this: “You’d have to reconsider how important it is to you to keep homosexual grievances constantly on the front burner.”

            When I see gay Christians around me, I see brothers and sisters in Christ. I also see Americans who have–or should have–every bit as much right to participation in civil society as anyone else. So when I am advised that there are hordes of Evangelicals who would just love to join my church, if only I would throw my brothers and sisters in Christ under the bus, I must respectfully decline. I would still have to live with myself.

            In any case, Michael’s premise is flawed. As we have discussed in recent days, most of the mainlines have liberal and conservative versions in separate church bodies. For any Evangelical yearning for a gay-free mainline version of his favored tradition, there is no real obstacle apart from an unwillingness to belong to a church with a name somewhat similar to another church which is insufficiently gay free. This does not suggest to me a new found seriousness.

          • I have deleted some of Blake’s comments because they were simply provocative without contributing to a constructive conversation.

          • Really Mike, what would you consider to be “constructive”? Dissing gays is apparently considered unprovocative, but questioning the meaning of the word “God” is apparently too much. I don’t want to be a troll here, but you sound a whole lot like the evangelicals you’re trying to move past.

          • PS. The effect is to make it easy to attack liberals on this site, but not so easy to defend them.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            There is a common baseline assumption among Evangelicals, including those looking elsewhere, that the attitudes of some mainlines towards gays is a deal killer: an irrefutable sign that these churches aren’t serious about scripture. I certainly got this sense from Michael Spenser. There is no consideration of the possibility that this attitude toward gays is a conclusion reached from our study of scripture, not the product of a lapse of attention to scripture. This makes discussing the subject difficult. (You know who else associated with the wrong sorts of people and was criticized by serious, respectable students of scripture for this?)

          • Blake, I have allowed you more than enough opportunities to state your opinions, and have retained enough of them without moderation to make your complaints about moderation incongruous.

            Please remember you and everyone else are guests here and that it is the host’s prerogative and responsibility to set and enforce the rules. You can read those rules on the FAQs/RULES page under “About IM.” There is no absolute right of free speech in this blog’s comment threads.

          • FWIW, endorsing homosexuality/hating gays is a false dichotomy. Some might argue that to do the one is actually to do the other.

      • Randy Thompson says

        I don’t know if the mainline churches are theologically coherent enough to “get more serious about the Bible.” Some in them are, to be sure, but these institutions are not at all healthy, from what I can see.

  2. I believe Micheal Spencer went from Evangelical/fundy (Baptist) to Calvinist (Baptist) to Post-Evangelical to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.
    I have some leanings to the Luthuren/Anglican branches of Mainline (less so the Reformed branches).

    My issues with the Mainlines are:
    State-Church histories & influences, the Euro-Centric Culture, the Gold & expensive decor, & the Formulas.
    I think people from a Emerging Church kind of background would have the same problems & less so the problems Micheal talks about.

    Is is possible to have Traditions (the best of Traditions) w/o the Formulas of Worship????
    Can Traditions be made simple instead of confusing to outsiders????

    • “Jesus Shaped Spirituality” was a phrase that he used, but it was really more like “Spencer Shaped Spirituality.”

      • PS. Gold? What churches have you been going to?

        Most Western culture is in some sense Eurocentric, but you must realize that there are black mainline churches…?

        As for forumulas, you guys are constantly going on about how “all” Christians accept the creeds.

        • I don’t believe I ever mentioned creeds – but I do like the Apostle’s Creed – but it is missing Jesus’ teachings so I think it falls short & needs something else w/ it. Usually the Lord’s Prayer.
          A list of truths is different than laying out exactly how we worship, come to faith, grow in grace, & share God’s love.

          • You said “formulas.” What did you have in mind? If not the creeds or Lord’s Prayer, then presumably repetitive, ritualistic behavior of some sort.

      • As opposed to a “Blake-Shaped” sarcasm….and an ad hominem attack on someone no longer in a position to answer. (He probably IS, however, in a great spot to pray for YOU>>>)

      • Well yes, but this is what we all do: we try our best to understand things, and in the process we inevitably leave our own fingerprints all over the product of our labors. It’s the very nature of being human and being trapped inside of our own biographies and historical moments.

        But you know that. Realizing this truth is the root of many honest, and also many ‘liberal’ readings of sacred texts and church history. Given that this is the case, can we really fault the saints of any particular generation for seeing and experiencing things inside of their own worlds? That is the mystery of incarnation and the whole sacramental imagination of Christianity, isn’t it?

    • Randy Thompson says

      RE: Gold and expensive decor.
      I see your point, and agree with it.
      However, I also see that the “gold” and “expensive decor” were part and parcel of a desire to praise God in and through architecture. I have never been to one of the great European cathedrals, yet I have been inspired by the pictures I’ve seen of them, and to walk into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, which I have seen, is to be blessed. I wouldn’t want to be part of a fundraising effort to build one of these things now, but I might feel very differently about that if I lived in the Middle Ages, or even in the 19th Century.

      If nothing else, the “gold” and “expensive decor” of Europe’s incredible cathedrals are a reminder to the most secularized population of the world of its Christian heritage and the Christ at the center of it. Even these behemoths are a witness.

      • I actually agree. I can see the idea of architecture as worship. But it is still hard to justify today.
        I still hold on to “blessed simplicity” – a nice word table, some bread, a nice glass cup, a basin , a cross, & the Word. The rest just gets in the way.

        • shoud be WOOD table

        • Randy Thompson says

          Come to New England and check out all the wonderful Congregational “Meeting Houses,” if you like blessed simplicity. Too many of the congregations are somewhere beyond a theological dead-end, but the buildings still have the capacity to bless!

      • Glenn A Bolas says

        Re the fundraising effort, I don’t think the time period is as much a factor as we tend to think it is. A couple of years ago I spent some time travelling in Egypt. I was particularly interested in the Coptic churches and was fascinated by their history, iconography, etc. Many were centuries old, but the one that struck me most was the Coptic cathedral in Aswan. It looked pretty much like any of the other Coptic churches I had seen, except it was only three years old.

        These Copts in Aswan, a marginalised and not terribly wealthy minority, victimised and persecuted by those around them, and met with every legal obstacle possible when trying to obtain the right to build a church for themselves (not sure what happened to their old one, but I can guess), had constructed a place of worship as magnificent as anything they had built in centuries past, and easily on par with a European cathedral.

        If we comparatively wealthy Christians in the West can’t build churches like we used to, there may be several reasons, but lack of funds isn’t one of them.

        • As was the belief of the generations of stonemasons, carpenters, and others who worked for several centuries on the great cathedrals of Europe….it is ALL for the Glory of God.

          Folks may live in drab shacks, but anyone, anytime, can gaze at the dazzling opulence of God’s house. And before anyone jumps into feeding the poor with that funding, see scripture re: the hooker and the jar of expensive ointment.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “Can Traditions be made simple instead of confusing to outsiders????”

      The name for this is “seeker friendly”. It is a large part of what Michael Spencer criticized about modern Evangelicalism.

      • come on now, That’s like calling me a Socialist because I like the Social Security program.
        There is a middle ground between Traditionalists & “seeker-friendly”. We need to find it.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          I wasn’t trying to be snarky. You asked a question about tradition and outsiders. People asked the same question some forty years ago, and answered it with the seeker-friendly church model. I remember while serving on the council of a (Lutheran) congregation, the pastor gave us all a book on church growth. The advice was to be as un-Lutheran as possible. (It wasn’t explicitly in those terms, as it was not aimed exclusively a Lutheran churches. Had we been a Presbyterian congregation, the same advice would have been to be as un-Presbyterian as possible.) I did not yet know to recognize the patterns of the church growth movement, but I did wonder why we would want to be an un-Lutheran church: after all, there already are plenty of those to choose from, for those Christians are looking for a church lacking Lutheran characteristics.

          So you want a middle ground. I’m honestly not sure what this would be. It would require us to identify the stuff that we do but which we don’t consider particularly important to our identity, then hope that removing these things would be enough to attract people with a low tolerance for unfamiliarity. I am not optimistic.

          Here is a pragmatic example. When I was a kid, we read and sang the liturgy out of the front section of the hymnal. (It was technically the “Service Book and Hymnal.) This could be quite complicated, since the liturgy included various options and there was a lot of skipping around between sections. The only aid to this was a one page mimeographed bulletin giving page numbers. We used a lot of book marks. Attending at a different church was an adventure, since they would almost certainly implement a slightly different set of options. It kept us on our toes. Nowadays, with inexpensive photocopying, all this stuff is usually put into the bulletin, which has grown much larger. We hardly ever open the front part of the book anymore.

          This is an example of leaving the tradition untouched, but making it more user friendly. Point me to stuff like that and I will cheer you on. Suggestions for tradition-lite? Not so much.

  3. It’s a moment that- believe it or not- some people actually want to go to something that looks like church as they remember it, see a recognizable pastor, hear a recognizable sermon, participate in the Lord’s Supper, experience some reverence and decorum, and leave feeling that, in some ways, it WAS a lot like their mom and dad’s church. It’s a moment when reinventing everything may not be as sweet an idea as we were told it was.

    I understand what this post is getting at, and perhaps I’m just to cynical, but when I read this paragraph I fail to see why it’s so different than the consumer-driven mentality that people complain about at evangelical churches. It just sounds like you’re saying something along the lines of, the demographic is changing, here’s what they want, make sure you don’t miss out on it. It sounds a bit like a radio station deciding to change its format to attract new listeners.

    What I’m looking for is a community of genuine Christ-followers. I don’t care what type of building they meet in, really. I care some about the music. I care about what they believe, but I care more about how they treat each other and other people. I care about how much they look like Christ.

    I think the problem is that in America we tend to make everything into a mass-market commodity. Everything becomes a trend. More and more people decide they like beers from a micro-brewery better than the Budweiser. Eventually Budweiser starts making products that pretend to be microbrews. That’s the thing I see we have to be careful about. When we start expecting churches to change themselves into something we like, it’s very easy to fall into a consumer driven model again.

    • Notice how often this image of “church” shows up on TV and in cartoons. That’s because it is a trope–it saves having to explain things. For example, ministers have to wear collars on TV, even though many don’t in real life, because otherwise it would be harder to tell what they are supposed to be.

      • Randy Thompson says

        I read about a Baptist pastor of a church in a blighted section of one of Connecticut’s blighted cities who wore a collar so the people in that community wouldn’t mistake him for a pimp.
        I also had a friend in New York, an Episcopal priest, who wore his collar while visiting some of the nightclubs in his downtown neighborhood. He did it because the collar served as a terrific conversation starter–and an opportunity to interact with people about faith issues.
        I think the collar is a useful “trope” to use your helpful term!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I think in TV Tropes this is called “All Churches are Catholic”.

        The reason being is that movies and TV are visual media that require on-screen action, and a liturgical church has a lot of on-screen action. Plus, the use of “uniforms” by its clergy provides an instant ID of a character as a clergyman.

        “Keep on walking, Preacher-Man.”
        — River Tam, Free Trader Serenity

    • “I think the problem is that in America we tend to make everything into a mass-market commodity. Everything becomes a trend. More and more people decide they like beers from a micro-brewery better than the Budweiser.”

      This is the problem of the anicent-future path—it can lead to snobbery.
      it is great to grow in tradition but it can quickly become a bunch of guys smoking cigars trying to one up each other about who said the best creed, or who has the most authentic organ.

  4. What we really need is to get back to true Christianity and the concept of the “big C” Church, not local denominations with disputes over open handed issues. We need radical disciples!

    • Amen! That’s exactly what *I* understand the Aquarian Gospel to be saying.

      • Aquarian Gospel? Blake, don’t leave us hanging on that.

        • Now, now–let’s not get into disputes over open-handed issues. “Big C” Church! Radicalism! Woohoo….!

          (Okay, it’s a late 19th century spiritualist text which claims that Jesus went to India during his “lost years,” and was later initiated in the Great Pyramid. The next time somebody makes a Jesus movie they should totally use this!)

          • Cedric Klein says

            I read it years ago and have a copy somewhere. And it’s free on the Net- “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ” by, I think, Levi Downing. And an independent movie version is in the planning.

          • Glenn A Bolas says

            So what’s with ‘Aquarian’ then? Is that like ‘Age of Aquarius’ Aquarian? Or does the text postulate that Jesus swam to India?

          • Yes, like the zodiac. No, Jesus joined a caravan from Syria.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “When the Moon is in the Seventh House
            And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
            Then Peace will guide the Plaaaanets
            And Love will steer the Stars…”
            — Sixties Pop Song “Age of Aquarius”

  5. The word “mainline” is not used so much in Australia. In many denoms the main points of difference (and the words we use for them) are liberal v evangelical (theological) and traditional v contemporary (worship style).

    Another interesting factor in Australia is that the pentecostal churches are a large sector, and they are mostly very contemporary. Most megachurches are pentecostal and the worship songs that come from that sector are the most common ones sung in our contemp churches.

    There is such a strong connection between pentecostal and contemp here these days that when an Australian Christian reads The Cross and the Switchblade they are amused that an AoG pastor is reading the KJV and singing old hymns.

    The churches that hold most strongly to the tag ‘evangelical’ are often the reformed sort of churches who value depth and would look down their nose at any “come to church and win a car” sort of nonsense.

  6. This essay troubles me a little in the details. The main thrust – the opportunity presented to mainline Protestant churches by disaffected evangelicals – is a good point and certainly more outreach by mainline Protestants might be a good thing, but the manner it is suggested this might take place is, I think, a bit off. Spencer suggests that these now drifting evangelicals are attracted by liturgy, depth of worship and history but find a lack of ‘Biblical morality’ a problem. But that makes it sound like the mainline approach to the faith, the Bible and morality is the easy bit, a little addendum to the church that can be compromised on in the name of getting attendance! In reality, of course, it is the key and the centre. If mainline churches decide to ‘meet them halfway’, they’ll rapidly cease to be what they are. Sometimes it’s about standing for what you believe in, not standing in the best place to get converts.

    Secondly, I’d like to take issue with the comments about mainline Protestants not ‘acting like Biblical morality meant something’ or ‘taking the Bible seriously’. We do – it’s just that we take it seriously and then don’t come to the same conclusions as evangelicals.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Yes. These are the points I have been aiming at. Michael is essentially saying that a bunch of post-Evangelicals would like to join our church, but first they have a list of changes we will have to make. Even were these changes indeed trivial stuff on the periphery, the offer would hardly be winsome. That he apparently thought that the changes were trivial stuff on the periphery suggests he didn’t understand us. And the blithe assumption that any reluctance to make these changes is a sign of unseriousness about the Bible is both insulting and precludes any constructive discussion. So my response is thanks, but no thanks.

  7. Blake…..really, Brother, if you cannot say something without being sarcastic, vulgar, and confrontational, please find one of the zillions of other sites out there that look and sound like a cage fight of drunken sailors. You may have some points to make, but your anger and smart-arse presentation makes it impossible to hear you.

  8. Church? meh…I’m in a De-churching, De-schooling phase. Churches are hive mind. Everywhere you go, everyone wants you to think like them. There’s a word for that. Psychopathy.

    I can’t imagine the nightmare of church services and fellowships today. Everyone unemployed and whining. Begging God for something. Not even sure what. meh… you can have it.

  9. “Your churches could be taking in thousands of evangelicals. That’s right…Of course, you’d have to want them.”

    That’s an important clarification. Having an influx of morally-conservative evangelicals into a liberal denomination is a perfect recipe for a denominational split.

    In addition, should mainline churches be seeking to attract disenchanted, disenfranchised evangelicals, or to seek and save the lost? Indeed, some evangelicals are as good as lost, after years of Christless preaching. They need a church to welcome them and take them into discipleship, not just fellowship. Many evangelicals, with their heads full of religious facts and principles, probably think they are the ones providing the discipleship to mainliners. Evangelicals may simply be a lost generation, and mainliners should seek to reach those who have never darkened the door of a church before.

    Smells, bells, liturgy, and sacraments may in the end just be another religious show. The last thing we need is more form without substance. Evangelicalism’s lack of both form and substance can make this look quite tempting.

    • “Smells, bells, liturgy, and sacraments may in the end just be another religious show.” I think it is, especially among the hyper-orthodox. I grew up in a mid-west LCMS church and hardly recognize many of the ultra orthodox “traditions” that are now being touted by many of the clergy. These were not the traditions of my youth some 50 years ago. I think it’s a backlash against the performance based evangelicals, kinda like pitting Placido Domingo against Lady GaGa.

  10. We need to understand what killed mainline churches. One common illness has killed mainline and evangelical churches alike: revivalism. My studies of the Great Awakenings revealed that many mainline churches which embraced Finny-ism fell into disarray. If I were looking for a mainline church, I would make sure that I wasn’t running into the same doctrinal issues that I was trying to escape. If I were the pastor of a mainline church contemplating an outreach to evangelicals, I would require catechism for membership. I would not put eager evangelicals into teaching positions but first make sure they are grounded in a discipleship program. When they are allowed to teach, it needs to be under supervision and accountability to the catechism (not just scripture; right interpretation is critical).

    • I have lived this. My somewhat conservative mainline congregation of the PCUSA bought into nearly all the aspects of the seeker-sensitive church growth movement. I cannot begin to describe the damage, nor would I want to in this forum, done to my church by these practices. Most of it derives from the CEO pastor model. It was the implementation of these practices that brought me here as a lurker years ago. My church is now adrift in the post-evangelical wilderness, with congregants that have no understanding of real pastoral care, liturgy, and the historic creeds etc.of the church. I don’t know how we are going to recover. Some of us held out. I count myself amongst the holdouts. Perhaps we can guide our church back to some stability. Granted I don’t spend all my time reading Christian blogs, but I wonder how much of the decline of the mainlines can be attributed to the negative influences of practices associated with evangelicalism.

      I won’t deny that we members of the mainlines have our issues, but in the end we were never inerrant. The inspired Word of God tradition orientation. In my entire life in a mainline congregation I’ve never had to check my brains or later. my scientific training at the door.

  11. How many of you are afraid? i mean many of you are closer to faith than I am. I’m quite frightened and weary of anything that is faith driven. One thing I like about blogs like this is that I can read, comment and discuss them from the safety of my humble abode. That is refreshing. But I would think many people here are afriad of going to another place only to get burned in a different way. That’s part of the reason why I feel stuck. I’m unsure which way to move, or how to go. If I can getinvovled in a place again I think it’s going to be after many fears could be assuaged and I can feel comfortbable. Does that resonate with any of you guys here?

    • Of course.

      For myself, I went through a phase where I was angry and reactionary against a form of fundamentalism that had been influential in my upbringing. I felt disconnected and “stuck.” I was going through doubts about whether or not Christianity was a big deal or not, if it was true or not. I thought about solving those doubts by joining the Catholic Church. I didn’t do that, thank goodness.

      In the end, while I was angry at the fundamentalists I still had retained a fundamentalist mind: I still had a need to be “right” and be right absolutely. That was the flaw. I could have taken anything, religion or atheism, and ruined it. It wasn’t that Christianity wasn’t true; it was that I was an ass–a hyper sensitive, overly intellectual ass who needed to settle down and let the anger and nervous tension go.

      The anger and nervous tension you find in many churches is not of Christ. People need to learn to live and let live.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        n the end, while I was angry at the fundamentalists I still had retained a fundamentalist mind: I still had a need to be “right” and be right absolutely.

        As Thomas Merton described “The Moral Theology of the Devil”?

        “In the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men…”

    • Ben makes a good point. I would add an account that I read about a remarkable man that grew up fundmentalist. He became a notable leader in his circles, and he was infamous for the abuse that he doled out to other Bible believers who did not share his strict points of view. He caused much pain and anguish to many people in his career.

      In a remarkable life-changing event that some would call miraculous, this man began to view the Lord in a different light. His compassion for people of all kinds of backgrounds was obvious to all who knew him, and his love for the person of Jesus knew no bounds. Not content to pursue only those who were “outsiders” to faith in Jesus, he was constantly seeking to reach the very fundamentalists that had so warped his thinking, his worldview, and his very life. These fundamentalists treated him with as much, or more, abuse than he himself ever dished out. You would think that he would quit, but wherever he moved, he always sought to reach those fundamentalists with the gospel of Jesus, and always with a sincere and selfless loving spirit

      His story is inspiring to me, because like you, I am tired of being burned. I am tired of wondering who will hurt me next. And then I consider this man’s story, and I realize that it does not matter if I get hurt or not. It only matters that I preach Christ and remain faithful to Him.

      The man’s name was the apostle Paul.

      I hope this helps. I know it helps me . . . often.

    • I know the fear you speak of. It is not uncommon.
      IMHO some of the types of things that happen can be because of the crowd I am with. In my experience if the people I am with tend to be quite black and white, not prone to much self reflection and highly experiential it can be a problem. It can also be the same if they do think, but along rigidly prescriibed lines.

      Part of what I look for is humility. What happens the first time you have to discuss an issue that is sensitive? So I look for a few things, I look for those who hold truth in humility, and are not so focused on ‘truth’ that they forget character. I would argue that ultimately, Christianity is something lived out.

      Some of what has happened is that many Christians in defending against the enlightenment have become rationalists and so they give reason first place. So it becomes important to believe a set of statements and how you live is not as important.

      That does not mean belief content is not important, it just means that how we live is as important.
      I guess I have come back to the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. I have to live my life with a type of dynamic tension between correct belief and correct practices (is that orthodoxy and praxis?)

      Eagle, there probably is somewhere for you. Ultimately it is Jesus, but along the way it is with fellow travellers.

  12. An internet friend sent this blog to me. I’m a forme Seventh-day Adventist pastor, “programmed” in this system from childhood; secretly struggling with unanswered questions I discovered the authentic gospel through reading Martin Luther’s commentaries on Romans and Galatians, and began preaching justification by faith ALONE, and sovereign grace only to be terminated when I refused to cease. Further study led me into the freedom of the gospel in Jesus Christ, rejecting the false sectarian teachings of “SADventism.”

    I am not a member of any church now and worship most of the time daily in my own home with my wife. We don’t seem to fit anywhere except with New Covenant Theology believers, but not face to face with anyone.
    We have found our solid “Jesus is Better” theme consistently at the forefront of and to look over what they offer: I suppose in a practical heart-connection- level you could say Sound of Grace has become our “church family.”

    LOUD guitar and blasting drums, and singing choruses 99% of the time that have no melody without the old gospel hymns, dos not provide for us an atmosphere conducive to worship. And as has been stated above, we find the majority of the churches we have visited over many years of searching, eventually insist you embrace their particular interpretations and “key” doctrines, most of which do not fall in the category of a “must” in order to be saved, we have missed an acceptance and brothe/sisterhood that centers in “the Lord our righteousness, and gathering – primarily – around the foot of the cross in uplifting and glorifying Jesus Christ, NOT “the church, the church, the church!”

    I once said if I ever started another congregation I just might call it “the Church for Mis-Fits.” I have talked to many non-Christians who have said, “If you do, let me know. I’ll come!” While I won’t attempt to read into that some meaning with my spin on it, it still seems significant, coming from non-believers – who apparently feel the need of something connected with Jesus and salvation, but are turned off by so much of organized religion where a “system” seems to speak louder than the “authentic gospel of Jesus Christ.”

  13. Blake
    We get all kinds of people here at the iMonastery, some who don’t agree at all with the messages, and may not like Christians.

    But the one thing we all want to do is show respect. It sounds like you have some interesting thoughts. But some of the zingers and insults you let go sound like a toned down form of Tourette’s.

    How about you get into some meaningful dialog? Chaplain Mike sure doesn’t bite, but he will chase off the dogs that do!

    • And this is the third or fourth time you’ve been asked to “heel”, Blake. A strong leash correction and time in your crate is next, if you cannot conduct yourself in a manner acceptable to this “pack”.

      Play nice, or find another dog-park where untrained pit-bulls and yippy mop dogs are allowed to run around unchecked.

  14. I think we need a “Don’t Feed the Trolls” policy.

  15. Sometimes I wonder if replacing ancient Judaism with a new and improved systematic religion was what Jesus had in mind when He founded His church. Of course, that is what happened historically — but still I wonder.
    From the shallow, faddish, consumerist stuff going on in the current evangelical world to older, more ritualistic expressions of churchianity — no matter where I look in the church world or in church history, there just seems to be something out of character about it all when lined up beside Christ and His deeds and teachings as presented in the four Gospels.
    I find myself asking dangerous questions.
    Where did we get all this religious stuff, and why did we feel it necessary to collect and perpetuate it? Was it to please God or to please ourselves and make ourselves more comfortable? Do we have God’s permission to decorate the church tree any way we want, or would He prefer a plainer tree, so long as it’s bearing real fruit? Is there still a living tree there underneath all the flash, fluff, pomp, and ornamentation? Is anyone willing to check and see?