The Decline of the Mainline

Here’s an excellent piece from Kevin DeYoung on his blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed. He quotes William Murchinson, who writes in his book Moral Follies about why mainline Protestant churches (Lutherans, Methodists, Presyterians, and Episcopalians) have lost their edge:

“Oh, please, approve of me”–the usual message of modern Christian churches–makes a feeble substitute for “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” The trouble with Christianity is not flamboyance of conviction. The trouble is paucity of conviction, flaccidity, the turned cheek replaced by a “Kick Me” sign. it is, at the lowest level, failure to believe all–or to believe at all.

Murchison goes on to say that Christian churches should dig back into their own denominational histories, and understand again what their forefathers did — that the Word of God is sufficient and Jesus is fully God. DeYoung comments on this in his conclusion:

If the mainline Presbyterians really believed Westminster and the Reformed really believed the Three Forms of Unity and the Lutherans really believed Augsburg and the Methodists really believed their hymns and the Episcopalians really believed their liturgy, we would see widespread renewal in the mainline churches. But not before.The first task of the mainline is to repent. The second is to remember.

I agree with this statement 95% of the way. I do have some reservations, because any Christian belief system should carefully measure itself against the Word. I don’t agree with everything in the Augsburg Confession. I do agree with most of it, like when it says on Original Sin:

We condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

As a Calvinist, I certainly give this a hearty “amen,” as many non-Calvinists would as well. But what about this statement on baptism:

Of Baptism we teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. We condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

Now, I disagree with this statement on multiple levels. With this in mind, I would put a qualifier on DeYoung’s statement (one he would more than likely agree with). Remembering what our fathers said is extremely valuable, but it should always be done carefully. Knowing our confessions has it’s own (mostly historical) merit. But knowing Paul, Peter, James and ultimately God’s words are of infinite value. I would suggest holding Westminster in one hand and the Bible in another.

Read the whole thing.


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