Sunday, April 19, 2015

From oldline to mainline to sideline. . .

America's religious past is intertwined with the history of what were the oldline Protestant denominations who became the mainline churches of this nation.  No one can deny the profound impact of the old churches on our history and identity -- from Congregational to Reformed to Presbyterian to Methodist.  Now, as you survey the landscape of our country, there are no more Congregational Churches, few Reformed congregations, a hemorrhaging Presbyterian that births new denominations more than new congregations, a Methodist Church that is a shell of its once former, robust self (its ad campaign about open minds was perhaps the last straw), and an Episcopal Church which is largely a ghost.  In effect, the loss of name, of people, of influence, and of relevance have pushed these to the sidelines.

Once Lutherans, always second class folks to the oldline and mainline churches, aspired to play with the big boys.  The ELCA has largely succeeded and, in doing so, fractured its own identity and bled off more than a million people and a thousand congregations almost overnight.  The LCMS was envious of the prestige of taking a seat at the table but has resisted the liberalism of faith and morality that characterizes what is left of the mainline churches and is often counted as an evangelical denomination (elevating their belief in Scripture and its infallibility over its decidedly catholic worship and sacramental life).  Perhaps we are just too odd to know what to do with.

In the meantime, Roman Catholicism has been the largest presence in America since the mid-1800s even though it emerged from the ethnic ghettos only after World War II.  With the immigrant population as its fuel, it remains the one church body that grows consistently in numbers (though the actual numbers of those in Mass weekly or who have gone to confession recently betrays a soft underbelly even to this behemoth).   In particular, the LCMS has a kinship to Rome because we too hid in our own ethnic refuges or rural and Midwestern America so long we still feel uncomfortable among the urban settings so familiar to so many Americans.  We find ourselves also wearing the ill fitting garments of democracy like Rome and harbor a strange longing for the structures we left behind in Europe.  We both feel most at home in places where our people are the majority.

My point is this.  Even Rome is awakening to the reality that for America, Christianity is itself moving from the oldline roots of our heritage and the mainline presence of our congregations to the sidelines of irrelevance.  Whether you are in a church that has adopted every social justice position of history or in a parish where Christ and Him crucified is still preached and taught faithfully, our culture has shoved us all to the shoulder of the road and marched past with a doctrineless spirituality that tastes and samples without owning the creedal faith of historic confession.

I don't like it.  But I almost feel like it is better to be on the outside of American culture looking in than to continue the myth that church and state in the US have some sort of symbiotic relationship.  True faith has always been at best tolerated, usually marginalized, and at worst persecuted.  The churches who confess such faith and their people are in the same boat.  In the end, it just might be our salvation.  We have become businesses who judge all things by the bottom line of increased sales and sales volume instead of faithful enclaves of those who wear Christ's holiness while witnessing His saving death the world.  We have amassed properties off the tax rolls that we must justify, that consume our dollars, and that distract us from our true work and if they were taxed we just might have to choose what we are about instead of trying to have it all.  We have become more social clubs in which we come to find happiness, satisfaction, and entertainment instead of communities gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord.  We have exchanged the pressing desires of the day for the judgment of eternity and turned God into a personal trainer, life coach, and inspirational speaker instead of acknowledging Him as almighty Creator of all things, sacrificial Redeemer of sinners, and Giver of faith and Sustainer of the faithful.

All my kids work in retail and live in slavery to the sales volume and how it compares to last year at this time.  My wife works in the medical community where nurses end up dealing with customer satisfaction as much as the healing arts.  Sadly, I have seen over my 35 years as a pastor that the church has followed the leadership not of the Lord but of business.  The business of America is business, as it was once said.  We Christians heard and followed.  Perhaps we were too successful.  We got what we wanted but people shoved us to the sideline anyway.  Maybe now we will wake up.


ErnestO said...

The LCMS should quickly return to being a House Of Prayer. As Martin Luther observed, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness”.

Anonymous said...

Wow Pastor Peters great article, I couldn't agree more. It is a wakeup call for the church.

What will be our response?


Anonymous said...

Pretty sad to see LCMS go the way of the world with all the others as so many depart from God's Word to court the ways of the world. God, have mercy.