Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 29th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Recovering the Mainline’s Voice

mosaic-christ-pd-yorck

Jesus is angry you’ve forgotten him

In discussing something recently with a friend, we both agreed it was okay to say “this is right,” “this is wrong” but we must find a way to do it without arrogance or self-righteousness. The further into politically correct culture you travel, the more difficult it becomes to speak to black and white matters. Relativity reigns.

This is not always a bad thing. In ecumenical relations, dwelling in the gray is needed; otherwise, we would not be able to build full communions between the various denominations. However, it becomes a bad thing when you are so limited, you must give way to every opinion, or matter of personal belief, as if no particular one can be wrong.

We generally have issues with telling people they are wrong. I, on the other hand do not — when it is necessary. For instance, unrestrained capitalism is wrong. A denomination not in direct apostolic succession has built themselves upon a wrong foundation. Denying the Trinity is wrong in orthodox Christianity. Recently, First Things ran an article by Stephen Webb, a Catholic theologian that tracks Mormon. Webb is wrong, as is Mormonism on the topic of the materiality of God. I hope Mormons disagree with me and would have no issue telling me I was wrong. I hope gnostics think I am wrong I hope they can bear with me with I tell them they may not be correct! Such things are actually beneficial, much more beneficial than each side suppressing their own theology or even walking head long into meaningless existence. It only becomes dangerous when we think our differences are boundaries to determine worth.

All of this started my thinking process. Mainline denominations have become places lacking theology and lacking theological conviction as well as a voice. Indeed, while many of us do great service, we lack the desire to stand up for what makes us (Christian in far too many cases) unique among the denominational landscape. It is almost like we afraid to be something different and by being different, offensive. This doesn’t have to be the case. In my opinion, United Methodist Wesleyans are by far the best of the Protestant options because we have one foot in the evangelical sphere as well as the episcopal sphere (by this, I mean we also make use of Tradition).

We need to reclaim a voice based our doctrinal heritage. All mainline denominations are rooted in the Protestant Reformation and/or the great divorce between Rome and Canterbury. We have a historic tradition reaching back to the earliest days of Christianity and through this tradition we have helped to shape Creeds, Councils, and even Kingdoms. We have, in a large part, shaped this country in which we live as well. We have given voice, because of our doctrine, to the voiceless, fighting for those who are powerless. We have lost this voice because have lost the ability to say what it means to be a Christian and a Christian as a mainliner.

My great concern is that Christianity in the Mainline Denominations has become the stereotype assigned to it by more legalistic traditions, that of a country club. We do good, yes, but we are failing miserably because we no longer really know why.

So, what can we do to reclaim a voice?

  1. We must relearn our doctrine and theology. Not everyone’s opinion, doctrine, or belief system is right. It is just not. Neo-Calvinism is wrong on a few levels, and not in the least because of the role women are forced to take. To deny, dismiss, or ignore the Trinity is likewise wrong in orthodox Christianity. Just because you think it, does not mean you have the right not to be told you are wrong. We are who we are because we are not others. We can be ecumenical while not giving up what makes us who we are. We once had the best and brightest theological institutions and minds. What do we have now?
  2. We need to know our history and heritage. We need to know why this is important as these things help to guide us into the future. Unless you use them as such, they are not completely restrictive. Mainlines are mainlines because they tend to accept progress easier than others. We have long accepted science, historical criticism, as well as changes in polity. Further, we do not need to be afraid of these things nor employ stereotypical conspiracy theories to dismiss them.
  3. We need to reclaim the language of the Gospel. Yes, there is still sin. Yes, there is still salvation. Yes, there is evil. There is satan. There are boundaries. There is exclusion. We speak of justice which means we know of lines that cannot be crossed. We speak of the just which means there is the injust. Yet, we seem to have lost the ability to speak the language of Christianity because of post-modernism, sensitivity and tolerance.
  4. We need to find hope. Evangelicals have this (false) notion that one day Jesus will return and take us (good ones) away. That this there hope. Mainliners have long ago left this hope behind as unscriptural. So, what do we substitute for it? There is still the hope of the afterlife, but I think the words of 2 Clement are likewise important. We hope towards the change in the world we know God has promised. It will ebb and flow and sometimes we will lose ground; however, we continue to hope towards justice, unity, and the maturity of the Church. That is our hope, that all may be one with each other, this body with Christ, as Christ is with the Father. Christ did not establish the covenant just with a select few to give them acreage in heaven; rather, God is in Christ reconciling the world.

The reason we need a voice is simple. Aren’t you tired of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists having the voice of Christianity? We see a good many small sects, non-mainlines, and others leading American Christianity, abusing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and destroying our foundations. What if we knew more than it was good to do good works, but why and what makes them good? What if we knew what sin was and what sin wasn’t rather than just relying on such faulty notions as human rights?

What are your thoughts?

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

5 Responses to “Recovering the Mainline’s Voice”
  1. I was with you up to the very end. Then, “rather than just relying on such faulty notions as human rights?” had to jump out rather uncomfortably.

    • Gary, let me clarify!

      I believe we have developed human rights in conjunction with our moral teachings about the person, personhood, liberty, etc… To divorce human rights from our ethical foundations means we have an abstract notion of what is human and what is right. We see this in governments, even Western, today when rights are violated with nothing to fall back on for the victims.

  2. From your most recent post on UMSCO. Confession of Faith, “As Christians we recognize the governments under whose protection we reside and believe such governments should be based on, and be responsible for, the recognition of human rights under God. We believe war and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ.”

  3. The Mainline can and should be a place for vibrant Christianity without the baggage either of fundamentalism or extreme liberal Protestantism. May that tribe increase!

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      Should be but can not be. My fear is that we are run by politicians and not by those who are following their first love. But, in all fairness, I have been a bit of a cynic lately.

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