A 2012 article in the NY Times announced the approaching death of the liberal church. I find it interesting to go back and look at the article two years later. The author gave the “liberal church” a face by identifying it with the Episcopal denomination. But I think the author missed some important nuances in his article that I am hoping readers will help me think through:
(1) Every mainstream denomination is in decline right now, not just the Episcopal Church. Non-mainstream, non-denominational, conservative churches are also in decline. Their attendance is harder to measure, because they grow and decline overnight with congregants chasing the latest and greatest programs and pastors around town rather than joining and supporting a single church community. Dear reader, is your church declining or growing? Mine, St David’s in Roswell, Georgia, is growing by leaps and bounds!
(2) The author also uses John Shelby Spong and his theology to define both liberalism and the Episcopal Church. I consider myself a liberal Christian (one can not be a female in ministry and be anything but left of center on the vast theological spectrum), but my theology and Spong’s rarely intersect except, perhaps, on social issues. He doesn’t speak for all Episcopal thought or theology. Nor do I. Does your church welcome a spectrum of theology or do you have to toe the company line?
(3) There is one thing about the Episcopal Church that is different from all other denominations and I think it makes us uniquely poised for outlasting the decline of American Christianity. The identity of the Anglican church (of which Episcopalians are a part) is the worship of Christ – not a particular theology. From the very beginning, our desire and focus has been to worship together despite differences in theology. I think this is the way Christ meant for it to be. Therefore, rather than finding our identity in what we believe – we find our identity in who we worship. This is why Spong and I, though we have vast differences in theology, can still worship together. Does your church define itself by what it believes or by who it believes in?
(4) The success of any church is not judged (by God) by how many attend, but how well they love others:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — Jesus (John 13:34-35)
April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.