Thursday, January 05, 2017
Breaking News! Sun Rises In The East, Water At Room Temperature Is Wet And Liberalism Kills Churches!
In the "easiest news story to write ever" category we have David Haskell writing for the Washington Post and breaking out some seriously stunning news:
Someone break out the smelling salts because I done just fainted right away from shock. For real.
According to Mr. Haskell, liberal churches tried following the John Shelby Spong method to save the church, i.e. denying everything about Christianity, and it shockingly didn't work....
But the liberal turn in mainline churches doesn’t appear to have solved their problem of decline.
Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research.
"We came to a counter-intuitive discovery." What they seem to have found is that people who are staking their entire worldview and their eternal destiny want to actually believe in something. Weird, huh? Next thing you know he will tell us that people who vote in the primaries are usually more politically engaged than people who don't. That is some hard charging journalism.
In fairness to David, this probably does come as a surprise to a lot of people in academia, like he is, and in larger city journalism in general. As he points out specifics you start to see why this is the case and why "mainline" denominations are dying and yet are inexplicably constantly doubling-down on the exact reasons they are dying in the first place. Case in point:
For example, we found 93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.” This compared with 67 percent of worshipers and 56 percent of clergy members from declining churches.
So half of mainline clergy believe Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, the central claim of Christianity and a large percentage of their congregants are more likely to believe this than they are. If you don't think Jesus rose from the dead, it kind of defeats the purpose of Christianity. Paul said that if Jesus is not risen, we are wasting our time and in fact we should be pitied:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. ( 1 Cor 15:12-19)
It is hard to tell people that Paul wrote these words and yet have almost half of your clergy believing that Jesus did not in fact rise from the dead and still expect them to show up on Sunday to worship a Jewish guy who is still dead in a tomb somewhere. Then there is this:
For example, because of their conservative outlook, the growing church clergy members in our study took Jesus’ command to “Go make disciples” literally. Thus, they all held the conviction it’s “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” and thus likely put effort into converting non-Christians. Conversely, because of their liberal leanings, half the clergy members at the declining churches held the opposite conviction, believing it is not desirable to convert non-Christians. Some of them felt, for instance, that peddling their religion outside of their immediate faith community is culturally insensitive.
So when you combine a general disbelief in fundamentals of the faith leading to driving away your most committed members, a low birth rate, an aging congregant base and a reluctance and even a disdain toward evangelism, it is pretty obvious that you are going to be dying out and the United Methodists, the Episcopalians, the ELCA style Lutherans, MC-USA Mennonites, on and on are proof of this happening.
This sort of information is so widely available that it boggles the mind that people still think that the way to stem the decline of mainline Protestant churches is to keep embracing sexual perversion, keep peddling liberal social justice nonsense dressed up in religious language and generally denying everything that makes Christianity Christian.
What the church needs if it wants to thrive and grow with actual growth is not liberalism but it also is not fuzzy feel-good nonsense like Osteen teaches or the heresy "prosperity gospel" snake oil salesmen spew. It is an unapologetic embrace of the foundations of the faith, a deep and abiding faith in the authority of the Scriptures for faith and practice and the joyful spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In general you won't get that in liberal mainline congregations and that in turn explains why they are dying while conservative congregations are not, or at least not at the same breakneck pace. I will close with Haskell's closing paragraph which is super snarky, whether he intended it that way or not.
While our research helps explains the dwindling ranks of liberal mainline congregations, it isn’t likely to bring much “joy to the world” of mainliners, especially those on the theological left. But, if it’s any consolation, when it comes to growth in mainline churches, Spong and other liberals are right to claim that Christianity must change or die. They just get the direction of the change wrong.