There is an experiment tried over and over. It is a kind of insanity, always hoping for a different result than last time. That is, “theologically liberal” Christianity. It varies, but generally seeks to be “inclusive”, “tolerant” and “affirmative” of every person and their actions. I suppose this is so that they “feel good” about themselves and the church would grow. It’s a lie (always) and thus sinful (depending on the usual factors) and ultimately doomed. I have previously covered the Episcopalian journey from orthodoxy to liberalism resulting in their spectacular meltdown as well as others.
Our orthodox Christianity is inclusive / tolerant / affirmative too, except always raises God and His revelations to us above all else. We are inclusive of every person in their equal human dignity, no exceptions, but not of non-repentant sinful behavior. We tolerate and celebrate our unique differences but not immoral actions. We affirm every person as created in the image and likeness of God, but not their free-will choices against Him.
A scholarly study was released earlier this year examining 22 mainline Protestant churches in Canada. Of those, 9 were growing and 13 were declining. Why?
Tim Mattingly summarized the results on his Get Religion blog:
Crucial findings in this study showed that, in growing churches, pastors tend to be more conservative than the people in their pews. In declining congregations, pastors are usually more theologically liberal than their people. For example:
- Clergy in growing churches affirmed, by an overwhelming 93 percent, that Jesus rose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb, while 56 percent of clergy in declining churches agreed. Among laypeople, this divide was 83 percent vs. 67 percent.
- In growing churches, 46 percent of clergy strongly affirmed, and nearly 31 percent moderately affirmed, this statement: “Only those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will receive eternal life.” Zero pastors in declining churches affirmed that statement and 6 percent moderately agreed.
- In growing congregations, 100 percent of the clergy said it’s crucial to “encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” while only 50 percent of pastors in declining churches agreed.
- In declining churches, 44 percent of pastors agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers,” compared with 100 percent of clergy in growing congregations.
There were other patterns worthy of future study, said Haskell. Growing churches were much younger, with two-thirds of their members under the age of 60, while two-thirds of those attending declining churches were over 60. Families in growing churches also had more children. Finally, growing mainline churches were finding their new members among outsiders – people who say going to church is new for them – at the same rate, about 12 percent, as growing evangelical Protestant churches.
It is a short piece, but check-out Canadian researchers find that doctrine really does matter, in terms of church growth. The study abstract, 57 references and link to purchase ($40) is at Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy.