75. Orthodoxy and Other Faiths: Modern Protestantism, Part 3 – Why is the Mainline down? Why are Evangelicals up? Pentecostals. Charismatics.

We’ve been tracking the decline of the Mainline Protestants and the rise of the Evangelicals.  According to Pew Research in 2014 above, maybe the change in American religion has been even more radical. Look who’s growing fastest now, and rapidly.

I can’t begin to describe how different the American religious scene feels today compared to 50 or 60 years ago. Then it seemed as if everybody went to church. Christianity was all over the media. Feature The Milwaukee Journal with a major Easter presentation covering their front page. The Evangelicals/Fundamentalists were small and, to other Christians, seemed almost ignorable. The Roman Catholic Church was strong and its hierarchy respected. Mainline churches were flourishing, establishing new missions, enlarging their buildings. We Eastern Orthodox were even smaller and more invisible than we are now. And non-believers were almost non-existent. No more.

Why did the Mainline fall apart? Why have Evangelicals grown?

The Mainline, as a whole, refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong. The Evangelicals, though they now appear to be declining slowly, will say they grew “because we teach the Bible.” I think there’s something to that, and we Orthodox should pay attention. But I believe there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are my guesses:

1  I’d argue that, in the United States at least, Protestantism as a whole is more a cultural phenomenon than a theological/religious one. Protestantism shifts with the times. Consider:

As late as the early 1960s (I was there), Americans were much more formal than we are now. God knows there was a lot wrong with society, but looking back I’d say we had more “class”, sophistication. Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant never had to cuss or take off their clothes or blow up cars to make their movies worth watching. Sometime catch the 1963 movie Charade. Many people appreciated classical music. Listen below to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and hear how pop music styles have changed. (If you think this is just my excuse to sneak some of my favorite old big band jazz into the Blog, you’re right.)

When you push the center arrow, it may say “this video is unavailable”. (This comes and goes on my computer for reasons I have no idea.) It is not true! Solution: Tap the arrow in the middle, then tap the YouTube label, lower right, and it should play. Then when you wish to return to the Blog, tap the “return” arrow at the top of your computer, or you can open the Blog all over again – or you can just give it up and watch TV.

How to compare this to contemporary music with all its variety, I have no idea. My point is only that, with rare exceptions, it is very different from that elegant old pop music.

In the old days, people dressed well for work, for travel, for church. For men it was suits or sports coats and ties. To “dress” up, women wore dresses! and always hats to church. (I’m just describing here. I don’t mean all changes in American culture were for the worse. Some were for the better. For one thing, women should not wear dresses during cold Wisconsin winters! And as for the better treatment of women and minorities, I hope that goes without saying.) But in those days nobody would have dreamed of wearing t-shirts and jeans to worship our holy God. People then were usually polite, and politicians were almost always polite! or else no one would vote for them. I think people spoke English a lot better than they do now – and people actually spoke with each other, instead of burying our noses in smart phones. Americans still had a sense of history. The style of Mainline Protestantism fit all that, reflected that kind of culture, and people went to a church where they felt at home.

Then things changed. Everything became more casual. When I came back from Europe, the first thing I would notice in American airports was the casual (ok, sloppy) clothing over here. I saw a guy in shorts and tank top at a Protestant funeral “wake”. Music styles went…well, in the old days country music stayed south of I-70; now it’s in my dentist’s office here in Wisconsin. Instead of reading and thinking, we now allow ourselves to be bombarded by images. Most Americans have lost touch with history. I think the Evangelical style reflects these cultural changes. People have again gone where they feel at home.

Another piece of evidence that modern American Protestantism is a cultural phenomenon is found in their politics. Have you noticed: Protestant denominations which are theologically conservative are politically conservative, and likewise Protestant denominations which are liberal theologically are liberal politically. This reflects not theology but just a general conservative or liberal cultural mind-set.  (Granted, not all laypeople follow their denominational leadership. I know Episcopalians who have remained conservative while the Episcopal Church’s leaders moved rapidly to the left.) This refers to the American scene. The configuration is different in other countries. Many traditional English Anglo-Catholics were liberal socialists. Likewise, Orthodoxy doesn’t fit neatly into American social or political categories. That’s because we come from somewhere else.

Back to the question: Why is Mainline down? Why are Evangelicals up?

2 Mainline Protestants, despite their divisions, offered worship which required people to turn towards God in mind, soul – and sometimes body.

What follows below is not exactly your typical Mainline worship! but actually it is. Even the royalty are worshiping and singing to God. But this no longer seems to relate to modern culture, except for special events. How many of these Brits will be in church next Sunday? You saw the stats last week. (Well, the nuns probably will.)

Now compare the above to what follows.

Evangelicals offer more informality, to put it mildly. I can’t tell you what is the normal Evangelical Sunday service, if there is any. I tried to find a video which is an Evangelical worship service instead of a performance, since they’re hard to tell apart. Here is the entire Sunday May 27 service at Crossroads Christian Church in Joliet, Illinois. Is this worship? You decide. The video is well done. At the end: corny pizza jokes?! And also, at the end is a report on their missionary work in Africa. This is “what’s happening now” in American religion, brothers and sisters.

More possible reasons:

People like “cafeteria religion”. They can buy what they like, go where it makes them feel at home or feel good. This was true to some extent with the Mainline, but now… Is this good for the soul? No. But it draws people.

People need community. When I was young (oh, here he goes again…), the United States felt like one big community. I remember signs from the 1940s: “The U.S. is US.” We have lost that. Sadly. Now in America it’s us versus them, and we have little sense of working for the common good. Most people 60 or 70 years ago lived chiefly where they had community: in stable small towns or city neighborhoods where they knew each other. Now we’re spread out all over in ever-changing suburbs or we live in condos where we rarely meet our neighbors. The Evangelicals have many ways of making people feel “at home” easily in today’s American culture which more formal Protestant churches sometimes did not.

Let me add here that my wife, having heard all the above, doesn’t find my guesses very convincing, and thinks they chiefly reflect my mostly-small-town-and-suburban-but-only-slightly-urban-white-guy’s experience.

So if you have other ideas, please add a Comment down below regarding: 1 Why has the Mainline declined? Why have Evangelicals grown? And also Why have European Christians dropped out, while Americans have switched from Mainline to Evangelical? Why are the Unaffiliated now the fastest growing “religious” group in the country? And my wife says if you send in enough Comments, I should make a whole Post of it. OK! (You can see who’s the power behind the Blog throne.)

But, now that the Mainline is going, going, almost gone, how solid is Evangelicalism? 

Some years ago the pastor of a large influential Baptist congregation said to me, “The modern Evangelical movement is a mile wide and an inch deep.” That got me to thinking. Yes, they do often seem like “a reed blowing in the wind”. Not all Evangelicals go along with the crowd, but…

When I was young, Evangelicals focused on private conversion (“being saved”) and personal morality. Then the emphasis became mass conversions, Billy Graham-style. In the 1980s they turned to politics and became the Republican conservative “moral majority”. This was followed by wholesome “family values”. Then came Rick Warren and personal fulfillment, The Purpose Driven Life.

Today personal morality and family values seem to have been abandoned in order to gain political influence. Evangelicals now actually endorse candidates, no matter their personal character. To the media, their politics has become the face of American Christianity. However, thank God and it’s about time, things may be changing again. The new head of the largest Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, says he wants Baptists to be more inclusive of women and minorities and stop being so political. The following makes for interesting reading: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/southern-baptists-call-off-the-culture-war/563000/  And after that, what will the next trend be?

“A mile wide and an inch deep”? I can’t help but wonder if someday a big wind is going to come along and…

All this seems so inconceivable to us Orthodox, where what you got 1000 years ago is what you still get today. The Baptist pastor I mentioned at the beginning of this section is now an Orthodox priest.

Pentecostals 

These folks, who don’t fit the usual Evangelical pattern, number about 300,000 in the United States and about a million world-wide.They began in 1900 with a 3-year Asuza Street Revival in Los Angeles. They believe in the necessity of being “born again in the Spirit”, by which peoples’ interior spiritual life is revived. They believe water Baptism is only symbolic, and it may precede, accompany, or succeed this spiritual rebirth. Some Pentecostal congregations are independent, each with its own theology, but others are part of the several “Church of God” denominations. Pentecostals often “speak in tongues”, as some did including Saint Paul, in the earliest Church. (1 Corinthians 14:14–19). In this phenomenon people talk in languages unknown to themselves or perhaps “nonsense” words, but sometimes interpretable by others.

Independent Pentecostalism can sometimes go very peculiar. People have been known to be “slain in the Spirit” and pass out during services. A Pentecostal church in Toronto specialized in the “Toronto blessing” in which people laugh uncontrollably and bark like dogs. A few Pentecostals practice snake handling, as predicted in Mark 16:18 – perhaps related somehow to Saint Paul’s surviving being bitten by a snake in Acts 28? A man died not long ago while handling a large snake during a Pentecostal service. (I have not included a picture of this. “….. …” You’re welcome.) My opinion is that these gifts are not of the Holy Spirit but rather of another spirit.

The Charismatics

The Pentecostal phenomena have appeared also in some classical Protestant denominations as well as among Roman Catholics, but, so far as I know, only very briefly in 1 Orthodox congregation. Some Orthodox parishes do offer healing services.

Charismatics do not refer to this spiritual renewal as “being born in the Spirit”, lest it be confused with true spiritual birth in water Baptism. They think of it as a renewal of Baptism. This experience can lead to insight into the Scriptures, the gift of prophecy, speaking in tongues, the ability to heal and clairvoyance – perceiving events from afar. Some of these charismatic gifts (but not speaking in tongues) are also known among Orthodox saints and elders. (Read Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece available from Amazon.)

The Charismatic movement appeared in Mainline denominations in the mid 1960s. Why then? I heard an Anglican bishop explain it this way: The “God is dead” movement had just appeared, teaching that God now wants us to “live as if there is no God.” (Don’t ask…) This good bishop said the appearance of the mysterious Charismatic phenomena was the Holy Spirit of God saying, “You think so, huh?”

I went to a Charismatic meeting at an Anglican monastery to see what it was all about. Local people who had gathered, and maybe some of the monks, were speaking in tongues. I prayed, “Lord, I don’t want to speak in tongues, but I will if you want me to.” He didn’t. A Charismatic woman later told me I had done this all wrong! but I felt honesty with God was the best policy.

The Charismatic movement has diminished in recent years, but it has had some good effects: For one thing, a re-emphasis on the Third Person of the Holy Trinity who is sometimes almost forgotten in Western Christianity. He then re-emerges in successive “Holy Spirit” revivals of various sorts, only to fade away again. Their problem is that the Holy Spirit of God is not “integrated” into Western Christian devotion and theology.

The Charismatic movement has led some people into Holy Orthodoxy. At Saint Nicholas Church, Cedarburg, our present Parish Council chairman and our Pastor, and also a few other folks, were directed to Orthodoxy through their experience with the Charismatic movement. At Father David’s first visit to an Orthodox Church, he said to himself, “So this is what it was all about”, and he never left. Both men are now devout, convinced Orthodox. Even more interesting, 25 years ago Khouria Dianna and I were sent on a mission to some British Anglicans who were interested in Orthodoxy. One of them, Father Michael Harper (memory eternal +) was head of the Charismatic movement in the Church of England. When we got off the train, after he and his wife greeted us, his first words were, “The Holy Spirit has told us we must be Orthodox. Tell us what it is.” (!) In time Father Michael became Dean of the Antiochian Deanery of Great Britain and Ireland. You might want to read his last book A Faith Fulfilled.

Here, I think, is why some Charismatics have left the “movement” behind and have come to Orthodoxy: A member of a Pentecostal church visited our Saint Nicholas Church one Sunday. I wondered what his reaction would be. After Liturgy he said to me, “You’re more formal than we are, but you do the same thing we do: 2 hours praising God in the Spirit”. This is the Spirit-filled Holy Orthodox Church.

The modern profusion of Protestants

We have finally come to the end of this series on Protestantism. Let’s sum it up:

First let’s give thanks for what Protestantism recovered in the West: emphasis on the Holy Scriptures, good preaching and teaching, personal faith in God, worship in the language of the people, freedom from Papal authoritarianism.

But then let us grieve for the utter disunity and confusion that Protestantism has brought to Western Christianity, to all of us who live in the West, and now to the whole world.

I thought it wouldn’t hurt to insert the Orthodox view of Christian history here.

Today there are “Bible churches”, classic Evangelical churches, new American Evangelical churches, Fundamentalist churches, community churches, independent churches, Pentecostals and  Charismatics, liberal denominations, conservative denominations, and on and on and on.

In Milwaukee, for example, Protestantism gives us everything from All Saints Episcopal Cathedral which till not long ago had Solemn High Mass every Sunday and daily Mass every weekday and a respectable-sized congregation, to Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church a block away which is liberal, to First United Methodist Church which is mainline liberal Protestant, to the Missouri Synod Lutheran churches which stand strong in the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, to the very conservative Wisconsin Synod Lutheran churches which don’t even allow table prayers with other Lutherans, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America with its gay clergy, to Saint Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church, to Going Up Yonder Community Church, to the Pentecostal All Nations Church of Holiness, to New Covenant Temple United Holy Church of America Incorporated, to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church which is for the “Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual Queer Community” but others are welcome, to the Church of God, and the Church of God of Anderson, Indiana, and the Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee, to the independent “Brook” churches which can hardly keep up with their population explosion, and once upon a time to Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church and Perseverance Presbyterian Church, both of which closed because they ran out of people.

And after all this, I never mentioned the Adventists who believe Christians should worship only on Saturday, and the Mennonites, a gentle folk who are not sure whether they are a denomination or an ethnic group, of whom the Amish are one sect who decided to stop in the late 19th century, so that they are not allowed to ride in cars but they can ride in buggies and trains because they were invented before then, and I’m so sorry they missed Ella Fitzgerald…  we could go on almost forever.

All this and more derived from the Protestant Reformation.

If Martin Luther could only have known.

Next Week we’ll take a look at Some Extra-Protestant groups

Week after Next: The Transfiguration

 

 

21 comments:

  1. Well, I have some theories on the decline of religious faith in general, and of the various Christian denominations in particular.

    For the general decline (the rise of the unaffiliated) I would suggest several factors:
    1. Religions in general have made the error of claiming authority, and even power where they had no business going, leaving themselves open to ridicule and denigration as science marches right by. The problem is especially acute today as science has progressed extremely rapidly. When science and medicine can explain so very very much, it tends to diminish faith, especially when the authority of that faith once rested on areas now solidly claimed by science. To take two examples:
    A) Why would need faith for healing when your doc can fix you up? It is very easy to believe that medicine has all the answers (and docs themselves are respected authority figures). Of course doctors and scientists also routinely claim authority and power where they too have no business going, but that’s harder for people to see, especially when such folks claim that their “proof” is imminent, “just around the corner”.
    B) Religions do not make room for doubt on their claims, so overbroad claims drive people out. Over-insisting on a literal 7 day creation (and all that is associated with it) sets people up for doubt, especially when pastors insist (as one of mine once did) “If you don’t believe in the 7 day creation, then you don’t believe in the Bible at all!” That sort of argument is effectively saying that if you doubt at all, then you doubt in full and should just leave. If it is all at once, or nothing at all, with no room for doubt or mystery, then many will simply abandon any faith at all. (more on this below)

    2. Religion is blamed for unnecessary warfare, suffering, cruelty, and death. After decades of hearing about the evils of the Crusades, and decades of hearing about Islamic fighting, a lot of people just figure “they must all be wrong”, and they walk away.

    On Protestantism in particular I think both the decline of the Mainliners and the rest are inextricably linked:
    I think you hit right on it by observing that, for many, they’re just reflecting the culture instead of standing apart from it. Of course there have been some understandable reasons for this: as American culture itself has fractured, the older churches became unwelcoming. It is too easy to confuse dressing up and singing traditional hymns with actual lived faith – the two do not necessarily go hand in hand – so the newer churches moved away from old formalities both as attempts to “be authentic” in their faith, and to be more welcoming to those then on the fringes of the faith (after all, a church is not a 4 star restaurant, you shouldn’t need a coat and tie to get in). The Mainliners’ drift from sound theology, of course, didn’t help either.

    But this approach has its own weaknesses, in particular that churches began to cater to particular audiences. When your focus is on “being welcoming to all”, you turn your worship into a democracy (which worship style pleases the most people at once?), and that leads to factions, or else it becomes a dictatorship of whatever that church’s pastor or elders wants. In short, “welcome to all” really becomes “welcome to others like us, and only like us”. If you speak up and criticize the worship style, or the doctrine, you’re told “you just aren’t welcoming enough”, or something similar. And now the Evangelicals are starting to decline as the Mainliners did before. They became the establishment they so decried.

    The playing of politics by all parties has been damaging, and if it continues will be disastrous. Here I return to my notes above about claiming authority. If you claim authority over anything , you will be challenged there, whether in science or in politics. So if you tie your personal pastoral authority, or your church’s authority to some politician or party, your spiritual authority will rise or fall on their actions.

    I think that all denominations will decline rather sharply over the coming decade, as they chase after the ever ephemeral culture. This is to be lamented, but it should also serve as a warning that THE Church really is supposed to be for all people, and that the way to do that is to hold fast to what is true and right, while also continuing to address and engage with the world at large. But we do not change to please the culture, rather we live and work to change the culture itself. It may well be that we are entering a time when the faithful will decline greatly in numbers, but this should sharpen us, and embolden us.

    1. Thanks, Skip, for a perceptive reply. Just 2 things: 1) I’ve always thought the debate over evolution was absurd. Why argue whether God created things fast (6 literal days) or slow (over aeons)? The point is he created everything. 2) In a seminary class in 1966, I think, one of the students asked our professor why the “Church” wasn’t involved in politics. Our professor answered, “Who do you think the Church is? Only the clergy? President Johnson is a Christian. [And then he listed a number of other Christian politicians.] The “Church” IS involved in politics.” Christian clergy will have political opinions (and I certainly do), but that is not our area of expertise. Christian politicians should do politics, just as Christian plumbers should do plumbing.

  2. They will know you are Christians by the love…. The statistics cited, the 30,000 denominations that surround us, the questions raised by this discussion; all reveal that none of us take this division seriously enough. We say, “We believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”: but, do we honestly mean it? I think our true to life actions speak a resounding, “NO!”, which is far louder than our false-words. This, I believe to be the single most important factor in the decline of the churches. We have no credibility.

    1. And I believe that until all go back to our “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” roots, the divisions will continue.

      1. I could not imagine them coming together unless it was for the Catholic and Orthodox both shrinking and becoming a necessity to merge for survival, numbers and strength. Since these two no longer have authority over Protestantism, and when man began to read the bible for themselves after the printing-press was invented with Luther, the true ones will always find new insights thru loving Christ and struggle to begin and start a renewal or New Church. What it does, it emancipates the individual spiritually to find their roots in Christ and community and not in a man made institution ruled and governed mostly my men and their interpretations. It becomes stiff-necked after a while, just like the pharisees were. But both roads will make their mistakes, and pay for the damages. Maybe in another 1000 years they can come together not lording or dominating each others, but as equals and free in Christ knowing and having the laws written in their hearts not by men, but by God. God’s spirit leads into all truth. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and in him we have our being. We just continue in loving kindness to do the right thing, regardless. Jesus asked Peter I think three times, do you love me, and Jesus said, then feed my sheep. And this love or loving kindness became the cornerstone of the Church. For this reason, Protestants will always find a NEW BEGINNING and Christ will help them along the way. And they mess up again just like the Jews did over and over, but eventually they become adults.

        1. As I said I think the only cure for Christian disunity is for all to try to return to the Apostolic Faith and the Fathers. In the 1960s and early 1970s it looked as if this might actually be happening in the “Mainline” churches, under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. Then suddenly that movement fell apart, and today theological liberalism (or whatever it is) has taken over.

  3. Fr. Bill,
    What a great summary of what has been my experience here, as a European Immigrant. One word: Utter “Confusion”, it was traumatizing and shook me up, questioning everything I stood on, believed in, lived by and most of all loved. I felt like an utter fool in the end surrounded by people who believed in ‘what ever”, and with no formal training in anything, they even stood in the pulpits talking about how God delivered them from Drugs or something similar.
    I never knew there were so many denominations. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, raised in catholic boarding-schools for years, my family was Baptist, my oldest brother met a girl in the Salvation Army of England and switched Church, and of course there was the Lutheran Church. I think I knew a total of 6 denominations, all acceptable, conservative, formal and small. We definitely were Community, no loud music, but sacred classical, like Ave Maria, Haendel’s Messiah, Bach and Mozart etc. I still have all those records. My own Baptism in the Baptist Church was so holy and sacred with the Choir singing praises, and prayer, when I emerged I felt like an Angel, with an Angelic choir and the seriousness or solemness of my decision and event, I was only 12 years old. I will never forget it and it is still so vivid. Nothing like it is here today. I have really been just a wanderer now looking for my spiritual home I’ve left and lost in Europe many years ago.
    When I go home, it is still there, small but has changed to all that is American too now. I say in the 1960s it all started to change.
    Divorce laws changed to no fault, it was easy and no one took responsibility, the pill and then abortion. Sex became a Hobby or sport, free for all and nothing sacred anymore. Partnering with God to create his Children was old fashion and square. Selfishness and the me Generation, perhaps in the US the American Dream, not God’s dream took center stage. Civil unrest and the racial divide, paying for past grudges and grievances of long gone Generations gave rise to questions of Equality and what that means, drawing money out of the present Generation for guilt of the past. The 3rd or 4th Gender issue, another bizarre issue, a world gone mad and the Churches adapted to the secular culture while investing heavy in Missions around the world. Oh lets not forget those TV Evangelists who embezzled money for themselves, like currently asking money for a 4th airplane. Huge Glass Cathedrals being built and debts incurred that the Congregation had to pay for the Pastors dream. A whole lot of NON-SENSE was going on and still is going on in the name of Christianity. No different than the Catholic Church in the middle ages collecting money for prayers for the dead so the Priests can live in luxury. Who wants to stay in Church? We are not stupid.
    I don’t think Science has anything to do with it. People just have turned to it because Christianity no longer answers any questions honestly anymore. The scriptures get twisted with shaming and agenda’s attached, or sold as cheap salvation, no cost to you, nothing, all free, a free ride, a beautiful social club, no matter what we’ve done, the people we’ve hurt etc. no amends, forgiven and forgotten, a get over it pop psychology came from it. Maybe Billy Graham in his zeal did more harm than good in all their millions of converts and watered down the gospels and lost in actuality more then he gained. You can win the world and lose your or the gospels (Christians) soul. I think that is what really happened. This moving around now is in search of something that may have remained, and it is largely emotionalism, the happiness one feels when knowing you are loved by a God, saved by a God and that all is and will be well with your soul. It is this perpetuating searching for the beginning, because they did not tell them the whole truth. A disciple is a way of life and process and your troubles are not all over, but God will see you thru it. The churches sent the new disciple out to disciple others right of way to bring more people in, perhaps more money too. A small Church is seen as not filled with the spirit of God. It brings so many horrific memories up, shocked and grieved to no end.
    I think some day I will write a book from an Immigrants perspective. Titled an American Religious Nightmare.
    Sorry, this feels so good getting this off my chest. I just wished I could write better English and my Emotions would get in the way, because I’ve become so furious about what I’ve seen and experienced and of course I feel lost and without a home. I could cry.
    The Christians here are not anchored in Christ, but in their culture, though you can have a Christian culture, a way of life too etc.
    Great essay Fr. Bill, and thank you. Forgive my lines, an opportunity I thought I would never get. To speak my mind, or truth to what is happening. I am just here on this Orthodox site to check Orthodoxy out from a distance. I don’t need more hurts. But so far I have to say I’ve liked most of what I’ve read. But I know some or our Theology is different, though familiar to me thru the Catholic Schools.
    AGAIN, MANY THANKS.

  4. My theory is that Original Sin and the soteriology that flows from it created much of the mess. Original Sin sets up the need for monergism. God must act, must save apart from the will of a sinner. When various denominations (the mainline) who could not see a way to uphold Original Sin and free will, they just ditched Original Sin altogether. Man’s problem was never death, Satan, and sin – it had been the corruption of nature and will. Man’s condition was reduced to no problem and when that happened there was no relevance in the message of the mainline. Evangelicals kept alive and strong the common creation, fall, redemption theme with much of it’s Reformed influence. Since Satan, death, and sin were never really man’s problem – you’re real problem was the need for regeneration. Satan had already been reduced to non-necessary, death a problem fixed by heaven, and sin was due to conditioning.

    So, the Evangelicals had a relevant message and a reason to share it. The mainline erased man’s problem and became irrelevant. There is relatively little discussion about how free will debates were a cause for so much denominational proliferation.

  5. All the debates over Adam (the science debates) for a Protestant are over Original Sin and being able to uphold it. Evolution had put in jeopardy the whole of salvation theology because of it. Though I reject the randomness of evolution and believe in a historical Adam, you can see how Orthodoxy would have been better prepared to deal with the issue since the did not believe in Original Sin – the salvific message of Orthodoxy doesn’t require a belief in it. All Americans who have held to any “historic” doctrine hold to Original Sin. For so many groups this has reduced salvation to a born-again experience: you are a sinner (Total Depravity), Christ came to suffer in your place (substitutionary atonement), if you repent and trust Him you’ll go to heaven when you die – this creates a real problem about what life should be like after conversion. Many denominations popped up to deal with the problem of nominalism created by Original Sin – since when you are “saved” there is really nothing left for you to do. There’s no need for sacraments (or Priests), no need for works (Christ’s work is all that is required – it’s even blasphemous to think you can add to His work), often no need for the church except to have fellowship, etc, But this is an inherent fault in mis-reading the Bible with Original Sin instead of Ancestral Sin.

    I believe you can trace doctrinal degernerative devolopment to this false soteriology and false anthropology from Augustine to the present day.

  6. It appears to me as an amateur church historian that the mainline churches declined because they had no demands or expectations for their members. The cultural norms of behavior became barely distinguishable from the church’s norms. That helps confirm your theory about formal dress for church in the 1950s and anything goes today. Their message is “God loves you and everything’s okay; just join our club where everyone is nice to each other. The only message most mainline Protestant churches have to proclaim is “We try to be friendlier than the others.” My theory is that if a nonbeliever bothers to get out of bed and go to a church, he or she expects to be challenged. Those longing for peace with God or meaning in life do not want to be told everything’s okay because it isn’t or they wouldn’t be there. Most mainline Protestant churches do not ask you to do anything. Evangelical, Mormon, and some Catholic and Orthodox churches have grown because they make expectations and demands of their inquirers to believe something or do something different, even if we can debate their theology. I like being an Orthodox Christian because I want to be challenged to be a better Christian and a better person tomorrow than I am today.

    1. There was a book back in the 1970s, “Why Conservative Churches are Growing”, which made your point – churches which expect something of their members will attract people who want to give something. The Orthodox Church officially has high expectations of her members, but some Orthodox parishes also forget that and become mostly social clubs. I should add that in 1963 I was confirmed into an old “mainline” Anglo-Catholic parish that had high expectations: regular attendance, fasting and confession. Sadly, in areas of lifestyle their expectation was low.

  7. Well, I’ve kept up with this series of blogs – though truth be told, I’ve skimmed bits and pieces here and there. All in all it’s been an interesting series. You definitely know a few things, Fr. Bill. Now, you did ask if there were any other ideas for why some things are how they are – I opted to pen a few thoughts.

    1. Why has the Mainline declined?
    Before I decided to do the Orthodox thing, I tried going back to a Baptist church. Quite frankly it was dead. They could fill the pews, but it was absolutely dead. It was a social gathering for the elderly and partially infirm (physically and/or spiritually). They couldn’t offer me anything so, being the 19-20-something at the time [21, getting close to 22 at the time of writing], I simply decided to give up the Church thing again. Perhaps it’s the upbeat music and instruments, maybe the cringe-worthy efforts of seeing the middle-aged try to be “hip,” or maybe the lack of piety and seriousness that the occasion of worship deserves. I struggle to try to pen the exact problem with what I witnessed, but the only word that sums up the best is that it was simply: dead. Though not entirely dead, more akin to a festering corpse kind of dead. The corpse is dead, but there is still life in it in that it’s now home to all manner of larvae.

    2. Why have Evangelicals grown?
    This one I honestly don’t know, but I’ll offer a shot in the dark. It’s because of daycare, the coffee bar, and megachurches in general. People get to feel “special” because they belong to this big club, in a huge amphitheater-like complex. I’d imagine whatever attracts them is the same kind of foolish zeal that makes people worship their favorite sportsball teams. I’d be particularly interested to see if there’s a correlation between dedication to a given sportsball team and attending a megachurch. Of course there’s probably boatloads of exceptions to this, but, exceptions don’t make the rules.

    3. Why have European Christians dropped out, while Americans have switched from Mainline to Evangelical?
    Europeans suffer from a mental, though probably spiritual, issue(s). I could probably write a volume to sum up my suspicions about Europe. In short I believe every “-ism” and “-ology” (except for hard sciences) that’s come up since the 1800’s is to blame for Europe’s current state, along with the common culprits of materialism and impiety. Europe was ground zero for a lot of philosophies and (erroneous) thinkers, and those who took their ideas to heart committed unimaginable atrocities that we’re still having to wrestle with today. There’s also very devious bankers to blame too, but, I’m trying to not write a book here.

    Now, why Americans are flip-flopping, I think because of the coffee bars. Evangelical churches probably have better coffee and daycare services.

    4. Why are the Unaffiliated now the fastest growing “religious” group in the country?
    I think this goes back to the protestant idea of Sola Fide. The problem with sola fide, among other problems, is that there’s really no point to belong to a “denomination” because it’s faith alone. Which I believe this phenomena also ties into the social idea of “all organized religion is bad”, the two (Sola Fide & Organized religion is bad) feed off each other and can give people the impression non-denominational is the way to go because all organized religion is bad, but with faith alone, you’re golden. There’s some goofy (faulty) logic in it, but my impression is that’s probably why the shift exists.

    Now, I tried to not write a short book. But those are my thoughts on the given questions.

    1. You have a lot of good insights. Yes, I’ve heard of Evangelical churches where they actually have a coffee bar i the back of the church! And maybe Sola Fide has led people to drop out of organized religion. However, I wouldn’t be as hard on the Baptists and the Mainline as you were. Repulsive imagery! Maybe you just hit a bad congregation. If I read you right, you’re new to the “Orthodox thing” as you put it. Keep in mind that there are also Orthodox parishes that are lifeless. But the real question is not which congregation is lively but rather which Church deep down is true to the Apostolic Faith. Nor would I be as hard on Europe. After having spent some (limited) time there, Europe perplexes me. For the most part Europeans are now painfully secular. However they do a far better job of caring for people – the poor, the hungry, the sick (Matthew 25:31-46) – than we do. Also, after their long history of almost perpetual wars, for 70 years the EU has managed to keep peace among their members. While “Christian” America has a lot to account for. More things I just don’t understand.

      1. And do remember, when talking about Europe, that Catholic Spain is different from Orthodox Greece is different from Lutheran Sweden, etc. It is difficult to generalise about the countries that make up Europe once you have more than a superficial knowledge of them. So, Fr. Bill, you are not the only one puzzled! Even the UK – which has different religious history and sensibilities in its constituent parts – is hard to pin down. What I will say is that while many Anglican parishes do sterling work, taking opportunities to get out to people (the parish system means that everyone lives within a parish), more and more people have no real contact with church. Christians are portrayed almost uniformly negatively in literature, film and TV. The American Christian Right doesn’t help and, unfortunately, because of our shared language has too loud a voice over here.
        To sum up, people think they know what Christianity is and dismiss it while having no real encounter with it. The Christian group that most people respect is the Salvation Army because they help people.

  8. One brief thought on the Europe/US differences is the wildly different different experience of the great wars of the 20th century. America has not suffered foreign invasion, Communist or Fascist oppression, etc. We have, since the War of 1812, pretty much been a military powerhouse that did what it liked.

    And suffering can either break a spirit or forge it anew. Witness the revival of Russian Orthodoxy (of which I have heard tell), and I also witnessed personally the healthy diversity in age/economics in Sv. Nedelya in Sofia, Bulgaria, and got to visit with a newly-illumined twentysomething who had just been baptized in Sv. Georgi church (also, Sofia). Europe is not a monolith, by any stretch.

    Anyhow, the American lack of suffering (even a categorical rejection of suffering) is somehow, in my mind, tied up with this vast diffusion of religion, where the surface area spreads ad infinitum, but the intensity fades.

    Thanks, Fr. Bill, for this series, it has been interesting.
    In Christ,
    Mark

    1. You’re welcome.

      There was our Civil War which caused a lot of suffering. It divided all Protestant churches for a time, north and south – with the exception of the Episcopalians who held it together. Does anyone know what effect it had on piety, if any?

  9. I’m a cradle Orthodox Christian who has never left the Orthodox Church. However, I have been in every aspect of the Church–and grew up in the 1950’s thru 1970’s (young adulthood) to present day (now nearing retirement age). Baby boomers rejected not only their parents’ lifestyles but also their churches; regardless of denomination, including the Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Churches prior to 1970 were all “ethnic Churches of their grandparents and great grandparents and were old calendar (with the exception of the Greek and Antiochian Archdiocese), and bilingual (if lucky) and culture of the old country. American Orthodox young adults inter-married with non Orthodox and if lucky married in the Orthodox Church and reared families. But many left. I don’t see the culture of the Protestants, Roman Catholic, Orthodox much different. The Anglicans/Episcopalians were Scots, English, Roman Catholics were Irish, Italian, German, French, Polish, etc. (and were separated by their ethnic groups into parishes), the Lutherans, were Swedish, Norwegian, German, and the other Western Christians were mainly other European cultures– this is in the Northeast where I grew up. Everything changed after the Viet Nam War,
    and post Vatican II.

    1. Thanks for your perceptive comments. The only difference is that those of British background naturally became “Americanized” earlier than the others. Roman Catholics and Lutherans came next, and many Orthodox are now in process. Orthodox who grew up with non-English worship have had an especially difficult time hanging onto their Orthodoxy. Some Greek Orthodox friends here in Milwaukee speak of “a lost generation”, some of whom are attending “Bible churches”, but others have just dropped out. However, it appears to me that those who have hung in are remarkably devout and committed.

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