Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Mainline

A scathing critique of a tendency of mainline denominations

Thanks to Ben Myers over at Faith & Theology Blog for posting this.  It’s from Australia, but is applicable to the mainline denominations throughout the English Speaking world.  The frustrating thing is, I think most folks in our culture live with a view of Christianity formed by a fundamentalism-not fundamentalism polarity.

Ruins of Laodicea engraving by William Miller after T Allom

Ruins of Laodicea

What I mean by that is something exhibited  by Richard Dawkins’ defense of Pat Robertson as a “true Christian.”  The campaign of the new atheism depends largely on the widespread belief that all religious folks are fundamentalist and all religions dangerous by nature.  I would say that many Christians have tacitly accepted this narrative as well, and, if they are not fundamentalists express their faith largely as “we’re not that.”  It’s just this sort of attitude, coupled with a natural desire to preserve institutions and the natural resistance of structures to change  that have wrought much of the decline within mainline denominations.  (That, and the fact, as Peter Berger has pointed out, the mainline “won” culturally speaking and the values that defined the mainline protestant churches have pretty much been universalized in our culture while being detached from their roots.  For many folk, there’s no reason to go to church only to have what one already thinks affirmed.)

The lowest common denomination: a lament

by Scott Stephens (Scott is a pastor and theological educator in the Uniting Church in Australia, one of the country’s largest mainline denominations. In this piece, Scott discusses the Church’s founding confessional document, the Basis of Union. A shorter version of this piece was published in the denominational magazine, Journey.)

Over thirty years ago, the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) embarked on what could have been a remarkable journey, but it deviated from its original course with devastating consequences. It is now a shell of its former self, like so much Liberal Protestantism throughout the West, having gone whoring after the strange gods of impotent theology, liturgical gimmickry, inert bureaucracy and social respectability.

The past decade in particular has seen the UCA relinquish any prophetic vocation it might once have had — along with a considerable portion of its ecclesial and evangelistic vitality — and instead assume the inoffensive role of the religious division of a non-government provider of community and health services.

And so, in an extraordinary apostasy from its original calling, the UCA has decided to represent the ‘middle way’, the path of least resistance, a facile alternative to fundamentalism, evangelicalism and pentecostalism. In short, it has become the lowest common denomination. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine that, if God sees fit to grant it another thirty years, all that will be left of the Uniting Church itself is the logo on hospitals and Blue Care letterhead — and that for purely historical reasons.

But perhaps most troubling is that the fledgling church was warned against this very apostasy by Davis McCaughey, inaugural President of the Uniting Church. In his incendiary address to the 1979 Assembly of the UCA, McCaughey expressed his fear that the Church would be hijacked by bureaucrats and pedants, and that its clergy would be reduced to careerists and panderers:

“We no longer seem to expect our ministers to spend hours (literally hours) every week, thinking, reading, praying: so that when the hungry sheep look up they may be fed…. And I am not wholly convinced that our Constitution, Regulations and Procedures are sufficiently and rigorously controlled by [our eschatological hope]. I am not persuaded that they are not in danger … of becoming ends in themselves.”

He warned just as passionately against the tendency he perceived to adopt a form of incestuous Church patriotism, which would obscure and ultimately destroy the Church’s vocation to carry on the mission of Christ:

“At all events the cry for a sense of identity in the Uniting Church cannot be answered by the offer of a new kind of Church patriotism. In an important sense, we in the Uniting Church in Australia have no identity, no distinctive marks — other than belonging with the people of God brought into being by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on their way to the consummation of all things in him.… We have embarked on a course in which we ask men and women to forget who they are, and chiefly to remember whose they are.”

{Read it all}

From Adam Hamilton: Why Mainline Worship has a future

In the midst of all the Lambeth stress and worries about the future of the Anglican Communion it is easy to get discouraged. When coupled with the particular issues facing congregations and pastors of all denominations, the seemingly psychopathic desire of denominational institutions to impale themselves on the swords of their own irrelevance, self-obsession, and agenda-driven politics it is very easy to get discouraged.

But while I may not be very hopeful about the long-term health or even survival of the mainoldline denominations, I am encouraged by the possibilities available to those who unashamedly preach the gospel while at the same time maintaining a generosity to those who are seeking or even disagree. “Generous Orthodoxy” has become nearly a cliche phrase, but I believe it is what we ought to shoot for, and that at it’s heart it is what C.S. Lewis meant by “mere Christianity.”

Recently two blogs I read regularly have brought up two issues that could play out in favor of whatever remnant keeps the faith and resides within/emerges from the oldline denominations. One is from Adam Hamilton, the pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, a UMC mega church that has as part of its mission “The renewal of the mainline:”

On the weekend of June 28-29 our worship team met on retreat at Glen Eyrie Retreat Center in Colorado Springs (this is a fabulous place – owned by the Navigators – it is adjacent to the Garden of the Gods). We spent 3 days together praying, hiking, eating, discerning, studying and planning as we developed worship ideas and plans for the next twelve months. It was a great blessing. Each year, as a part of this retreat, we worship together at two or three churches. The aim of these visits is both to experience worship and to see what we can learn from others (in the corporate world this is known as “bench-marking”).

This year we visited two churches – a large non-denominational church in a “conservative-evangelical” tradition and a small “alternative” service that was a part of a mainline denomination’s cathedral in Denver.

After worshiping at both congregations our worship team was unanimous in saying they felt they had experienced a deeper and more profound sense of worship at the alternative mainline service than at the non-denominational mega-church. This was true not only for the “traditional” worship team members, but for the “contemporary” worship leaders and even, or perhaps especially, for the four “young adult” members of the team.

{Read it all}

The other comes from a commenter over at Michael Spencer’s InternetMonk, via the Boar’s Head tavern:

I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday School class for a couple of years now. I’ve got a great group of people, people who love, accept, pray for, and support each other. They say they appreciate my teaching, but I feel I’ve learned far more from them than they have from me. I’ve also taught a number of Discipleship Training classes at my church, and I’ve been a leader in the FAITH evangelism training. I’ve been doing sound for services and special events at the church for 16 years now. I say all of this to show that I deeply love and am deeply involved with my Church.

But some members of the church, none in my SS class, have some problems with me, and would like to see me removed as a SS teacher. The first incident occurred a couple of years ago when I was teaching a DT class on Revelation. Someone in the class made an offhand comment about how they didn’t see how anyone could believe in evolution, and that anyone who believed in evolution must be an atheist. I pointed out that I accepted the evidence for evolution, and that Christians had many different views on the subject of origins and the interpretations of Genesis one. I then moved back on topic to Revelation. The following day I received a call from the associate pastor saying that he and the pastor wanted to meet with me. A few members of the class had gone to the AP to complain about what I said re Evolution. Note that they didn’t come directly to me, as Jesus commands. The meeting with the Pastor and the AP went well, but half of the class didn’t show up for the rest of the sessions. (Interesting side note: it was the younger members of the class that dropped out. The older, 50+, people stayed on.)

{Read it all}

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