At what point does a re-imaged successor to evangelicalism just become a mainline church?
Let me back up a bit first before I get to that question.
After becoming a Christian in college and being for the most-part a standard issue evangelical (albeit with a liberal political bent), around 2006 God made me some new wineskins. With the help of a faith-altering message by Richard Rohr, the brutal honesty of the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, and a bit of toe-dipping into the emerging church, God showed me that my faith to that point could not be trusted to hold the new wine that he was about to pour into me.
Now, assuming there are any readers of this blog (which is not an assumption I will make), I’m just going to assert what some of those readers are probably thinking. Yes, I know you think I’m a heretic. Yes, I understand you think I’m going straight to hell. No, I don’t really care what you think. Trolls go away. This isn’t for you. Enjoy whatever church you belong to.
So, fast forward twelve years. Life happened, the fire died down from that initial rush of contemplation/joining with the historic church in its traditions/voraciously devouring all of the books outside of the evangelical safe and approved list. In the midst of all of this smoldering faith, I grumbled.
You see, 2016 had done it for me. Evangelicalism had sold its soul for political power and elected perhaps the worst human being to ever hold the office of the Presidency. I was done with it. A church that does not believe that black lives matter, that casts off all compassion toward immigrants, and that is casually accepting of white supremacy is not the church for me. Yes, I understand that not all or even most evangelicals believe these things. But they do. Their actions speak louder than their professed beliefs.
So, anyway, I’m out. I never really was on board with the inerrancy thing, or the whole eternal conscious punishment thing, or the fact that it has to be PENAL substitutionary atonement. But I was willing to kind of stick around because there are a lot of things about evangelicalism that I will miss if I leave. But I can’t abide the racism, even though evangelicals deny they are racist. But they are. They had no problem voting for an openly racist, misogynist, I will stop now because of the Thumper rule.
But there are things about evangelicalism that I will really miss. I actually like good evangelical worship. And while most of it is quite bad, when done well, not as entertainment but as the work of the people, it can really draw us closer to God. And while I’m big on not making the Bible into our idol and respecting the democracy of the dead of church tradition, I really like the evangelical focus on scripture. Also, while I’m not really a charismatic, God has used charismatic experiences to strengthen my faith in ways that could not have been done otherwise.
So back to my original question. Let’s say we start something new. Something that looks like this:
1. The statement of faith simply references the historic creeds and nothing else. That’s all you need in order to sign on the dotted line and become a member.
2. Mercy and justice. Stand in solidarity with the marginalized, be compassionate to those in need, and advocate for a just transformation of the power structure.
3. Communion. Every week. Being open to the idea that maybe Christ is really present in the elements in some way, but being okay with people believing that it’s just a symbol too. Oh, and it’s open. Jesus shared meals with everyone, including a first communion with the one who had already chosen to betray him. Why shouldn’t we?
4. Read the scripture in church. Maybe three of them. And say things like “A reading from…”, “The word of the Lord…” and “Thanks be to God…” Oh, and stand for the reading of the word.
5. Preaching from the lectionary is great.
6. Liturgy! Maybe not Anglican/Lutheran/Catholic levels of liturgy, but worship songs shouldn’t be the only work of the people.
7. Everybody who is willing to put up with us is welcome. Yes, everybody. In case that isn’t clear enough, that means especially LGBT people. Oh, and did I say they can take communion?
8. Back to communion. No plastic cups, and everyone comes up to the front to take it. We don’t have to drink from the same chalice – lets just dip it, because hygiene and microbial science, but still. And did I say it should be every week?
9. Contemplatives welcome! Lets learn from the historic practices of the church so we can grow deeper in our relationship with Christ, which is really what this is all about, right? And you’re welcome to make the sign of the cross, bring your rosaries, kiss icons, and kneel at the foot of the cross as needed.
10. Hymns! A lot of hymns. Much better theology than in most contemporary praise music.
But along with off this “new” old stuff, lets keep:
1. Good, creedal, contemporary worship songs.
2. An extremely high view of the scripture. Again, we’re not talking that we make everyone believe the Bible is inerrant/infallible/whatever. But we should probably accept that the Bible is the one that God gave us, so there’s probably a reason for that. And we can keep the “inspired” part.
3. Bible studies. Lots of bible studies. But maybe also lets mix in some church fathers and church tradition teaching too. We can even study systematic theology as well, but lets not hit each other over the head with it. It’s pretty rigid.
4. And hey, lets still be the church outside of our walls. Everyone can’t be welcome if we have no one to welcome.
5. A reasonable length, gospel-based message. I can never get enough of the gospel. It wasn’t called the “good news” for nothing!
So, back to the original question. Is this just a mainline church? Is this just Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox? Or is there something in this formulation that could be the starting point of a new movement of the church?
I know what you’re thinking. “You damn Protestants, always need to come up with something new.” And I get that. But what if the reason the church has so many different facets is because God is really creative and created a whole bunch of different people? And maybe, just maybe, rather than pushing millennials (and don’t forget post-millennials) and people of color, and people who just are tired of all the culture wars and heresy hunting out of the existing church, it’s time for a new expression of the church?