One of the enjoyable aspects of my life and public ministry is coming to Washington, D.C., twice each year to share in a two-day meeting of the Association for Church Renewal (ACR), a group of individuals who working informally as a network to speak truth to the mainline Protestant churches in North America. Included among this group of people are representatives of the Methodist Church, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ and various Canadian groups as well. I am always inspired by the stories of such people who are courageous and faithful, especially in places where it is very hard to be faithful to the gospel.

The question we always ask seems to be this: "Can the mainline denominations be saved?" I do not mean saved soteriologically but rather saved as apostolic Christian communities (denominations) for the "faith once for all delivered to the saints." The answer in some cases appears now to be "No." In others the answer is "Maybe." In some it seems to be "Yes." New forms of the church are shaping and forming even as I listened to some twenty reports today. We should expect the wine skins to change but the church of Jesus Christ will remain, regardless of the errors of men.  Christ will prevail and his Word cannot fail.  It is with this confidence that I end a busy and most interesting day.

Please pray for us as we ask God to do something new with the ACR, something that will stretch us all and perhaps provide a new impetus for spiritual renewal and reformation for many churches in North America. This is an expression of one of God’s callings upon my life thus I ask for your prayer for me and ACT 3.

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  1. Gene Redlin March 13, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Sadly, after 4 years trying hard to help a Lutheran Church out of the 16th century I must report NO.
    Mainline Christianity is dead. Not dying. Dead.
    It’s like the movie, Weekend at Bernies. The participants keep trying to make it look alive by waving of the hand, pretending something of consequence was said, and no one notices that the emporer is completely nude. So,
    Sad to say, I have about decided there is no hope for the mainline anymore.
    Lets just hope that which follows won’t fall into the same trap in 1 or 2 hundred years.
    Alas poor (fill in your favorite mainline denomination here) we knew ye well.
    Sadly, these are good places with good people but with nothing inside.
    All the trappings are there except the power of the Holy Spirit. Not just tounges. POWER.
    It’s like Frozen Apple pie you buy at the grocer versus MOM’s homade apple pie. If all you ever ate was the frozen commercial product you would think that’s what apple pie tastes like. But, if you ever Had mom’s homade you would say WOW, there’s no comparisom. They would never go back again.
    To the person raised on Frozen Apple Pie they might say, But what do you believe is better about your homade pie?
    My reply?
    Mom’s has real appples in it. So does frozen.
    Mom’s has sugar, Ditto Frozen.
    Mom’s has cinnamon, so does frozen. What’s the difference?
    In frustration I can only answer,”You have to try it, you have to taste it. Once you have you will never go back again.”
    That’s what mainline Church is, Frozen Apple Pie. Not bad, just not great.
    And there is so much better out there. And once people get a taste of the real thing, it’s all over.
    So, it’s really over. Most of those old Church buildings will make great Condos or nightclubs.
    It is a pity.
    I have a pastor friend who took over a chuch facility from a mainline denomination with a 2 million dollare endowment, 7 staff members and 45 attendees. It was dying a very slow but certain death.
    They (the mainline denominatin) was wise enough to see the handwriting on the wall. They found an on fire man of God from an on fire fellowship and made him the offer.
    Now, a year later that church is full again with people hungry for more of God.
    Isn’t that better?
    Yes the new church is fire baptised pentecostals. But isn’t that a better use than going condo?
    I think so. I hope as the mainline churches die off they will consider this better use of their unused facilities.
    I have doubts they will. They were consecrated to God but resentment and “reason” (greed)will win the day and those old buildings will go condo or nightclub as they have all across the fruited plain. We are not only closing 800 churches per week in America, we are decommissioning, deconsecrating them to pagan uses.
    THAT is very sad indeed.

  2. John H. Armstrong March 13, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    Your generalizations, and this is what they are really, have a large amount of truth in them. But this is simply not the whole story. I will be brief in my response.
    Mainline structures, i.e. denominational hierarchies, are dying and will likely die. Not all, but most of them, should die. God will, you would clearly agree, always raise up new wine skins as I wrote in my blog. What is clearly alive today will need the same in 100 years or less. No ministry alive today will survive without fresh grace and true power given again to the next generation. That is the nature of the situation since Pentecost.
    But, and this is a vitally important but, many churches and pastors in mainline settings are not dead at all. There are vital congregations, especially among Hispanics, Koreans, Africans, etc. and they are mainline and very much alive. Some urban churches are rising from the ashes of dead places and a few suburban churches are not dead yet either. Take Wheatland United Methodist in nearby Naperville as an example. It is alive when the bishop was going to close it over twenty years ago, but not only is it alive it is really thriving with the gospel and real power.
    So, you speak much that is true but the danger is that you generalize based upon your own limited experience, the very thing that you would not want anti-Pentecostals to do, which they so often do to you and other friends of mine like you.
    I know there is life in some of these places and could show it to be there beyond any reasonable doubt. Take my word on it or better yet let me send you to some mainline places and you could see it for yourself. Will the old agencies be revitalized? Probably not. Will churches be revitalized? Absolutely. You do not limit the Holy Spirit, I know, so pray for an outpouring on these dead bones. Some are receiving what God is giving and I would only believe this upon the basis that I have witnessed it first-hand.

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