When John Paul II died a few months ago a number of Catholic and non-Catholic theologians and commentators wondered out loud if this was a "kairos" moment for the church. These writers understand a "kairos" moment to be a specific time that becomes decisive in church history. Anthony Figueiredo, former special assistant to the pontiff, believes Rome is in fact going through such a moment. I am personally not convinced but remain open and prayerful.
But what about Protestantism, especially the historic European and North American variety? "Mainline, historic Protestantism seems spiritually and morally almost finished," wrote religion observer Uwe Siemon-Netto in April. And, added the popular Catholic journal New Oxford Review, "Mainline . . . denominations are slowly dying. Let them die a natural death."
Siemon-Netto asks: "Is this true? Will only Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam survive the current crisis of faith, as a senior religious affairs adviser to the European Commission predicted some years ago?"
Protestant minister Albrecht Immanuel Herzog argues that the answer is a resolute "No." He believes "the Spirit who is Lord and gives life is also active in Protestantism." Herzog, head of a venerable Lutheran mission society based in Bavaria, correctly reminded Uwe Siemon-Netto that article 5 of the Augsburg Confession states: "The Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel." Precisely.
Many of my more conservative friends believe that I am wasting my time working and praying for renewal in mainline churches. I understand their position. I once doggedly held it myself. But I do not believe the mainline is dead quite yet.
The central structures of the mainline may be dead, in fact, I think that they are dead in some cases. The denominational structures of the United Church of Christ, to take but one example, are clearly apostate. And the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) is in the throes of self-inflicted death as well. (The direction this will go is yet to be seen over the course of the next few years as many good bishops and churches find a new way to express their Anglican form of faith.) The Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and the Lutheran Church (ELCA) are not far behind the UCC and ECUSA. But the Spirit of God has not stopped working within these old historic settings at the local and regional level. The church is not coterminous with the central office (denominational structure) of any group of churches so one simply cannot say "the church is dead" in any case. There is life in many quarters to be found in each of these groups. I have seen it first-hand over the past seven years. The more pressing question, I believe, is "Where will this life go?" What form will the work of the Holy Spirit take in the midst of these dying post-denominational structures?
I find that anti-mainline (separatist) evangelicals are often smug and satisfied by the fact that they are orthodox. They have increasingly grown comfortable and content in their status and position. This is a generalization for sure, thus not a full-blown argument, but I find mainline Christians are often hungry for God to do something in the midst of their chaos and great need. If this generalization is true, in any sense at all, then you can’t help but wonder how this "kairos" moment might impact earnest praying Christians within the mainline? I have learned one thing in this regard over the past years—never, never say what the Holy Spirit will not do.