Dissemination and Dissolution

What will become of Christianity in America?

Readership: Christians;

Introduction

In his post, Hitting bottom must be necessary. (2020 November 6), Jack wrote an excellent, comprehensive timeline of major events that have led us to modern Christianity.  I agree that Christianity finds itself in a crisis situation.  I have my own ideas about what comes next, which I will describe below.

First, though, a couple of quibbles about the generally very helpful timeline.

First, Jack wrote that the Methodist church started in 1729.  This was the time that the Methodist movement got started, but the Methodists didn’t become a “church” until at least the 1780s in North America, and later, after John Wesley’s death, in Britain.

Wesley started promoting his ideas, through preaching in CofE churches, mostly in the 1730s, and it took off from there as a movement within the Anglican Church, and was carried to America that way, which is why, for a very long time, the Methodists in the US were called the “Methodist Episcopal Church”.  They only became the current “United Methodist Church” in the 1960s as a result of a merger with the Evangelical United Brethren, a German/Dutch-heritage but subsequently Wesleyan influenced denomination in the US that was similarly one of the so-called “Holiness Churches”.

Wesley himself never promoted the Methodist church in Britain itself, remaining a faithful Anglican priest his entire long life.  But after the American revolution, he supported the development of a new Methodist Church in the US, since the “state church” no longer applied there, and he created a slightly modified (edited) Book of Common Prayer for their use.  I think that’s the earliest you can say there was a Methodist “Church”.

A Camp Meeting revival, early 1800s

The second point is a larger one than that quibble.  Basically, in my view, you can’t understand the current state of American Protestantism, which is largely what American Christianity consists of, without taking into account the impact of the Second Great Awakening (1790-1850) and the revivalist mindset that it created.  That “revivalist” model quickly became the dominant model in American Christianity, and it led to the wildfire growth of both the Baptists and the Methodists in the US during the immediate period after the Second Great Awakening (in fact, in large part this growth is why the Baptists, followed by the Methodists, are, among “denominational Protestants”, the first and second largest Protestant denominations in the United States).  The methods and means promoted by Charles Grandison Finney in particular continue to be central to much of American Protestantism today, 200 or so years later.  The highlights of the revivalist model include,

  1. An emphasis on growth at the expense of everything else, and therefore light (often very light) on doctrine so as to draw people in.
  2. A great emphasis on contemporary forms of everything (music, worship, preaching, organization, dress, everything) to draw people in.
  3. An emphasis on personal agency (decision for Christ).
  4. An emphasis thereafter on practical benefits in daily life (continuing the “sell” of Christianity to the believer) coupled with redirecting the new Christian to replicate the same process through involvement in further evangelization along similar revival-type lines.

As you can see from this list, the central feature of this model is about growing membership, based on enhancing the social relevancy of evangelism in order to make the church more attractive to the targets of these evangelical efforts in any one specific time and place.

This “model” is now taken for granted in much of American Christianity, but in fact, it only dates to Charles Finney and the Second Great Awakening.  Obviously not all Protestant Churches follow it (the mainlines don’t, for the most part, nor do the generally theologically conservative “confessional Protestants” like the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church or what have you), but the vast swathes of American Protestantism that are represented by much of Baptists, the conservative side of the Methodists, and most non-denominational churches explicitly follow this model.

It’s an important point, I think, because that model greatly facilitates the apostasy we have seen in American Christianity, precisely because it focuses on de-emphasizing everything that interferes with continued growth in numbers.  This creates tremendous pressure to be culturally relevant, and to compromise with the culture in order to achieve that, so that evangelism remains lively in a cultural context that has largely moved on from Christianity.  The form that these compromises take varies, and often involves creative justifications using scriptural exegesis or, commonly, eisegesis, but the pressure is there because the more “out of step with the culture” that these churches become, the harder it is for the Finney model to work.

David Gushee, formerly a leading Evangelical ethicist and now an ex-Evangelical who left Evangelicalism over the gay sex and marriage issues

The Finney model works best when the culture at large is mostly influenced by Christian values, even if many people in it are spiritually backslid or worse, because Christian evangelical efforts can reach people in culturally “relevant” ways in such a context without compromising Christian values and teaching, because the culture generally accords with those values.  It works much less well in a culture that has walked away from Christian values, and we are seeing that problem today … unless, of course, the Church finds a way to “deprioritize” those values which conflict, like it did with women for the most part, through the rise of evangelical feminism in the form of “complementarianism” — an approach that was itself specifically formulated to preserve the cultural relevance of evangelicalism in the context of a broader culture that had definitively become feminist.

That leads me to where I see things going next.  The gay sex and marriage issues have basically torn apart the mainline Churches in the last few decades, leading to various schisms in the Episcopal world (most recently the formation of the ACNA, which appears likely to be the main successor for traditionalist ex-Episcopalians), and the migration of a steady stream of remaining “orthodox” mainliners from rainbow mainline denominations like the PCUSA and ELCA to the non-mainline confessional versions like the PCA/OPC and LCMS/WELS.  The Methodist warring parties had agreed to a split before COVID hit, and this year’s general meeting was canceled — assuming that the split is approved eventually, we will have a schism in the huge Methodist Church, finally.  (It will be interesting to see what the conservative Methodists actually look like, because I have never actually met a conservative Wesleyan, although to be fair, former U.S. President George W. Bush is one.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber, former self-described “dyke” (yet married to a man) and “Pastrix” in the mainline “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America”

Keep in mind, these schisms about the gay sex and marriage issues are happening in churches that are already overwhelmingly socially liberal.

It won’t end there.  The same issues are going to rip apart the remainder of non-denominational churches, and it will play out differently, of course, because unlike the mainline, the non-denominational churches do not have the kind of church polity where a central assembly passes rules above the level of the congregation.  The issue will instead ripple through congregation after congregation, causing massive generational schism, rival church plants, and a lot of public recrimination about the issue, all arguing about whether a compromise on the gay sex and marriage issues (similar to the complementarian compromise on feminism) is needed in order to avoid greatly damaging evangelization in a culture that has largely moved on from Christian teaching regarding homosexuality.

It’s already happening, of course, here and there.  It will happen more, year after year, as the cultural pressure increases, and the desire to continue a Finney/Revival approach faces hard decisions in a culture where being on the “wrong side” of gay issues is increasingly viewed as akin to being a member of the KKK.

In summary, the fundamental elements of the revivalist model, which led to the phenomenal growth of evangelism in the United States and which are ingrained into American Christian culture, are likely to work against the church in the years ahead, in the context of a culture that becomes decisively anti-Christian, and which therefore is very hard for any Christian church to remain “culturally relevant” towards without compromising its own identity and core teachings and values. In fact, it appears likely that the deep-seated tendency of American Christians to think in terms of cultural relevancy will be deployed very effectively against the moral orthodoxy of American Christian churches in the years ahead.

Related

This entry was posted in Churchianity, Collective Strength, Culture Wars, Evangelism, Homosexuality, Models of Failure, Models of Success, Organization and Structure, Politics, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Dissemination and Dissolution

  1. cameron232 says:

    Everything you write seems correct to me. Something else which may be relevant.

    I think something important was lost when Christians stopped making a distinction between mortal and venial sins (and lost the implication that real sins committed post conversion can and do send Christians to hell).

    Paradoxically, that can lead converted Christians to act as if real sins (the Bible ones) don’t matter much AND cause excess focus on BS pseudo-sins like sexism, liberal sins of omission, being “mean” by preaching Hell, etc. In the older faith, the average Christian was too busy trying to avoid real sins (that we all tend to commit), sacramentally confessing them, doing absolution, etc. I don’t write this to create an EO-Catholic vs. Prot rift – I just think historically this affected where we’re at.

    Like

  2. AngloSaxon says:

    Its funny how the “love wins” crowd are guilty of diving Christs church because they reject the moral Law of God.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. SFC Ton says:

    Bush is a conservative? Who knew?

    Like

  4. lastmod says:

    This was way over my head for the most part.

    The “rules for thee but not for me” was basically the norm in the Christian faith. I was striving….but still “sinning” and (gasp!!!!) really trying to take this Jesus as a life and death matter

    I watched and saw most other supposed more mature Christians than myself out right lie, fornicate, cheat, steal, and just about zero humility. The men were 10,000 x worse than the women……in the behaviors of “leadership” (according to them) and an ego the size of god himself.

    I actually started to feel better about myself and DO things when I left them behind to their petty squabbles and they could NEVER answer questions. (who is a cuck and who isn’t / some men god loves more than others / why was my mother taken so young / why was I given a brother with downs syndrome / why was I made ugly….even though he “loved” more more than anything)

    It was a club, and I wasn’t part of it.

    This is another reason why most people “don’t like” christianity and it wasn’t the liberals or femimism. It was many of the men who are in it now….and its not the “cucks”

    Like

  5. Scott says:

    “American” Christianity is exemplified in the line from the movie “Kingpin”

    Roy Munson: “Brother Thomas, you know what it says in the Bible about not forgiving?”
    Brother Thomas: “Why don’t you tell us all what it says, brother Hezekiah”
    Roy: “It’s against it.”

    That’s about the level of depth you get now.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Scott says:

    American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA are two fantastic microcosms or secular mirror images of what you will see in the future.

    Ostensibly (if not explicitly) the “conservative/traditionalist” “alternatives” to The Girl Scouts and The Boy Scots, these fringe groups are already becoming converged by and will be borg-like assimilated by the surrounding culture and society. Everybody in AHG and TLUSA is a special American snowflake, just like everywhere else. The idea that institutions exist to maintain the status quo and perpetuate timeless values, whether you personally find them obnoxious or difficult to adhere to is bizarre to us.

    See: The unprincipled exception, Lawrence Auster. (RIP)

    A civilization built entirely on the idea of “individual freedom” has its long term drawbacks it appears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cameron232 says:

      Welcome back. I was a VFR reader and commenter from about 2004.

      Like

    • Elspeth says:

      I don’t know, Scott, if I agree with you. We are pretty acquainted with people who are intimately involved in Trail Life and have had some exposure to one the founding members of the organization. These are people who are serious about Biblical family standards, male headship, and teaching young men to be strong, decisive and unapologetically masculine men. Is it perfect (using red pill definitions of perfect as the standard)? Nope, but there is a lot to be desired in any alternative ideological effort.

      I think as Americans (and I include you here as well), there is a strong bent towards individual liberty. At the very least among our social circle (many of whom are Trail Life people) are people who have picked up and moved to be closer to their churches, closer to their aging parents, etc. We passed up lucrative opportunities in order to stay near and be available to care for our -now dearly departed- fathers. Our mothers both died very young. People like that are not obsessed with individual liberty. But they are also rare.

      However, you’re right that vigilance to fight against the seemingly endless and insidious onslaught of leftism has to be kept on the front burner. For my part, I am continuously beating the drum among my friends about the dangers of even mild, Susie B. style feminism which was never as “Christian” as many of my dear, sweet, submissive friends thought it was.

      It makes more sense to speak up to the sincerely well-intentioned as opportunities present themselves than to parse and pick nits with every tiny imperfection or area of disagreement.

      I think President Trump built a masterful, unprecedented coalition of voters by doing just that; standing bold without apology but also refusing to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

      By the way, there is Biblical support (in the Old Testament, no less!) for republican, representative forms of government. See how Moses was commanded to set up the Hebrew nation. Local control on the foundation of the people’s ability to govern their daily lives through self-control and obedience to God’s law. See how God responded to Israel’s request for a king.

      I know Protestantism has a often deserved bad rap in these parts, but has anyone taken a look lately at the Catholic church, LOL?

      I have no doubt that a little research will find cracks emerging in Orthodoxy’s armor, because humans gonna human and sin is always crouching at the doors of our hearts.

      Like

  7. Sharkly says:

    The only reason faggotry is imagined by churches to be anything but an abomination to God and a capital sin, as the Bible clearly tells us, is because churchians would clearly rather their sons take dicks up their butt than that they themselves should be asked to read and acknowledge God’s words and turn from their own worldliness.

    Meanwhile the followers of “woke-pope” contend with the Protestants over who is more welcoming of buggery. The Mother of Harlots competing with her daughter churches to see who is the most defiled! Nor is adoring, like idolaters, the man-made trinkets and traditions of the various daughter “orthodoxies” any closer to to pleasing Holy God, even the Father! All established churches are descended from the Mother of Harlots and are her daughters.
    2 Corinthians 6:17 Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you.

    We worship not in defiled temples built by men, according to the traditions of earthly priesthoods!
    John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

    There is no true church, only true believers, a remnant who do the will of the Father.
    Matthew 12:50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

    The Old Testament concludes with this prophecy:
    Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
    Turning the world back to God the Father’s original Holy patriarchy, is doing that work of the Father! We, the children of God, must turn to God our Father, and we who are also the children of earth must return people’s hearts to reverence their earthly fathers. So that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We must start by reverencing our own fathers, and then teaching others to reverence theirs. We must forgive them their trespasses as we want to be forgiven by God and our own children. How can we who fail to teach the reverence of fathers in our own families, expect to teach the reverence of the Holy Father to the family of God?
    1 Timothy 3:5 For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?

    To this world, the “F” word is the name of God, the “Father”. And we men, husbands, and fathers bear His image and glory.(1 Corinthians 11:7) And many psychological dysfunctions can trace their roots to people’s damaged relationship, or lack thereof, with their father. We live in a dysfunctional world where fathers are not honored, from God the Father on down to all His images here among the sons of Adam. Honoring your father and mother is a command with God’s promise. And you can tell who gets honored in churches by listening to the mother’s day mom-worship versus the father’s day disparagement about how all men should do better. The churches teach woman-worship and man-contempt. Because they serve their lord and master Satan, who wants every father to be disparaged, form God the Father, to men who image God on this earth.

    Liked by 1 person

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