After years of growth or at least a modicum of plateau-like status quo, the so-called mainline religious denominations are realizing declines in their membership, not surprising actually, since their leaders seem hell-bent on distorting core traditional beliefs in both the spiritual and social areas. These denominations - United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church; Episcopal Church; Presbyterian Church (USA); Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - have at least one thing in common, to wit, membership in the leftist National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
Collectively, these denominations lost more than 941,000 members (or about 4.5 percent) from 1996 through 2003, with the Disciples and Presbyterians losing the greatest percentage of communicants, 14 and seven percent, respectively. The burning questions plaguing the church groups have had to do with the marriage and ordination issues as they relate to gender, and the philosophy regarding the church's actions socially or socio-economically. Evangelical groups, such as the huge Southern Baptist Convention, which are not strictly governed by denominational hierarchies, are not as bothered with the marriage and ordination issues, at least for the most part, and only marginally with social concerns, through suggestions for boycott, for example, of corporations which recognize and support non-marital liaisons. The ordination of women (not lesbians) is not unusual in these denominations or in their member churches.
In a recent article, syndicated columnist John Leo pointed to the leftward slant of the mainliners, noting their quickness to accuse the United States of being just short of the world's most recognizable evil, while letting off the hook, almost entirely, nations that are blatantly in violation of the most rudimentary human rights. He gave some excellent examples of this phenomenon, one of which had to do with the Presbyterians' breast-beating about holding stock in Caterpillar, since its bulldozers level the homes of Palestinians in Israel's attempt to curb terrorism, never mind the same dozers cleaning up in the aftermath of the carnage wreaked in Israel by the homicide/suicide bombers. It's hard to imagine this sort of dichotomy engaged in by highly educated and supposedly intelligent people, but there it is.
The mainliners are actually considering, and have been for years, the sanctioning of homosexual marriage and ordination, never mind the strictest of biblical injunctions against even homosexual behavior, much less the sanctioning of it, as an Episcopal diocese has done recently through elevating one of its priests (once married and siring children, but leaving them), an openly practicing homosexual, to the position of bishop. Indeed, were it not for the vehement protestations of Anglican priests/bishops in Third World countries, the Anglican/Episcopal Church (Britain and the United States) probably would already be sanctioning homosexual marriages and ordination as a matter of course. The Apostles' Creed, apparently, has been enlarged in order to accommodate an even more important element than the spiritual, namely, political correctness.
In all of this, the mainliners have watched their numbers decrease, and the trend seems to be set. This means they have far fewer missionary activities and those that benefit the poor and sick throughout the world. With the dwindling membership there is the dwindling of dollars for efforts beyond their self-preservation. Sad.
It would appear that most churches and church groups, including mainliners and others, are losing ground or at least exerting less influence. Perhaps this is due to what sometimes appears to be their unbelievable effort to use the "ways of the world" in order to seduce people to church. In many churches, the music and worship seem more like informal and/or unstructured events such as rock concerts or come-as-you-are exercises in casual religiosity of a sort - feel-goodism - substituting for the element of personal sacrifice that has always been the hallmark of Christian living. In any case, the following verses may be appropriate, at least for many situations:
The times, they are now changing, and the church must change, as well,
Folks are tired of hearing "shalt nots," even more of fearing hell;
Talk of sin is strictly out, lest some soul might take offense,
Lest some soul who cheats on taxes might withhold his recompense;
Fornication is taboo...one must never speak of it,
Lest some members, shacking up, get themselves right in a snit;
Speak of covet...nevermore...since the righteous all adore
All the gadgets in the stores and a house upon the shore;
Let the TV cameras search in the Sunday worship place
For the preacher's better side...better still, a pretty face;
Let the program be announced, every group involved explained,
All those ski trips in the spirit, or laypersons weight-loss trained;
All the trips to churchly camps for some holy fun and games,
Or a Caribbean cruising to ignite revival flames;
Yes, the worship has to change...give the church the modern theme...
Let musicians snap the beat underneath a spotlight beam;
Let the prelude set the tone with percussion levels high,
Set to fracture one's ear bone...echo till sweet-by-and-by;
Let the preacher prowl the deck with his mike on his lapel,
In his sneakers circumspect, all the demons to repel;
Let the bongos set the tone for the special music scene,
And some crooner or some screamer then begin the blest beguine;
Let the members then applaud for they often know not what,
Since the amplified chaos zaps the words they never got;
Chuck the anthems and the hymns...give the music soul and jazz,
Put the praise songs on the screen, give the service some pizzazz;
And the organ...please remove it - it is...well...quite obsolete,
Modern worship calls for groove it...only combos make it sweet;
And the liturgy must go - all that getting up and down -
All that reading - all that kneeling...should the preacher wear a gown?
Let the politicians sermonize and prove that they are grand,
Grab them quickly since they only come when campaigns are at hand,
But be sure to check the offering plates when services are through,
Lest you find their saintly gofers probing them with hands-on glue;
With the reading of the scripture, quote the ball scores of import,
Did not Paul invent the race...the first Nike-sandaled sport?
Train the choir to bob and weave, keeping time with snappy claps,
So the crowd will dig the worship, and the deacons take no naps;
Lest some brothers go to sleep and escape the offering plates,
Let the ushers do the tango on their holy-roller skates;
And be sure to quote the market…just when bulls are running wild…
So investors in the pews will not be meek, will not be mild;
Let the sins St. Paul condemned be wrapped up in socialese,
So the members' self-esteem be not bruised by sin's decrees;
And play down the gender flap...and what scripture disallows,
Let the women marry women, let two men exchange their vows;
Let no preacher speak of evil...but that all is relative...
And that if it feels good - do it...Jesus said, just really live;
But, be sure to count the members who participate and praise,
Since statistics prove the greatness of a church in modern days.