The article also goes beyond merely lamenting the presence of mainline church leaders in discussions of Christianity to focus on the work of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an institution dedicated to reforming the mainline church through a return to biblical principles. In the article it's called a "neo-con" organization that has been launching systematic attacks on the mainline denominations "to disrupt mainline churches, discredit their national agencies, and 'decapitate' mainline leaders. "
So now we know why mainline churches have been failing to reach the hearts of the American public. It's "their" fault.
Or -- and I know this is a stretch -- perhaps it's not someone else's fault at all. Perhaps it's because we haven't had anything to say.
For at least four decades mainline churches have been more focused on holding together crumbling infrastructures and maintaining outdated hierarchies than focusing on what gave us our status as, well, status-symbols in the first place, which was a very pointed and real effort to reach the unchurched. Somewhere along the line, we figured that since we didn't see anyone who was unchurched, they didn't exist. That, or they were "over there" in some far off country or they were young and foolish and would join our ways if just given enough time, though we'd be darned if we were going to expend much effort on them in the meantime. We had proud histories of ministry and change. We rested on them, clung to them, and held them up whenever anyone asked about our relevance in the world.
Into that void, stepped the young upstarts, the evangelical, pentecostal, and charismatic churches who bothered to connect with youth, made mission a priority, worked on being relevant in their communications, and decided to make history now rather than reflect upon it.
Et voila! Evangelicals on the rise, mainline in decline.
Clearly it was "their" fault.
Ok. I know it's more complicated than all of this, but really -- do we have anyone to point to other than ourselves? We're the ones who have let this happen, who have treasured institutions over individuals, structures over Spirit, process over people. This mess is all us, not "them."
It's time to move beyond this and start actually doing what our denominations were founded to do -- put faith into action without leaving our brains at the door.
The fact is -- the mainline churches do actually have a pretty large leg to stand on when it comes to Biblical theology. We've got pretty good ideas, really, and a history to back us up and inspire us, not excuse us from action.