In our Tuesday Bible study, we have been spending the last few weeks reading through the first letter of John. Like the Gospel itself, 1 John speaks extensively of light, of its power against the darkness, of its power to lead us on the path to God.
To me, the light represents, among many other things, the church. But I’m pretty sure at this point that of all the churches out there, even in all of their wisdom and virtue and grace, few if any burn the way we have been called to, whether because we worry that we are too small and feeble to minister in the ways we want, or because we sometimes abuse the sheer scope and scale of the power inherent in caring for a person’s soul.
So we see another church, another light, doing it differently, doing things in a way we do not like. And we create a new church—a new light, a light that looks a little different from any of the other lights currently burning in the darkness. This is where I think my spiritual lineage still lingers, with the venerable mainline Protestant churches beginning to flicker rather than illuminate when compared to the newer, brighter lights of megachurches.
It’s funny, in a sad clown sort of way. Like, there’s no way on earth I’d join the frequent flier programs of American Airlines or United or Delta or US Airways. I fly Southwest or Alaska whenever I can. But when it comes to brand loyalty to churches, I’m still firmly a legacy flier.
But that doesn’t keep me from wanting my legacy denomination to create out of itself, to paraphrase Revelation, a new thing.
As Paul wrote, when I was a child, I spoke like a child and I thought like a child. But then I became an adult, and I gave up my childish ways.
The Disciples have gone from one stage of life to another, but I realize we still have a rap for not giving up our previous ways of doing church that don’t quite translate to our current context.
Maybe that reality should test my loyalty.
But it doesn’t.
It has, though, made me realize that I am tired of identifying as a “mainline” Christian. Not because of the stigmas of old, or irrelevant, or enfeebled that still often come with that identity. But because the label of “mainline” Christian is incomplete. I’d just as soon be identified by the new life that I see happening in my mainline congregation than by the shallow perception of dying, of light fading into the darkness, that is associated with my mainline Christian tradition. I’d like to feel connected to the newness of church, not just the tradition.
Thing is, I don’t think I quite fit in with any of the other new movements that are happening in American Christianity right now. There’s definite overlap, sure, but it’s like a Venn Diagram—always some unique territory. I’m not entirely emergent, or post-denominational, or post-evangelical, but I am realizing that I am part of something new…
I see new visitors in the pews every week, and I believe that renewal is at hand.
I hear stories around the table of fellowship about the new missions we are supporting, and I witness resurrection at work.
I listen to the music of a praise team that has re-arranged its lineup and repertoire to include the folk influence of a banjo and a tambourine along with our more typical worship instruments of guitar and bass and keyboards, and I hear the promise of rebirth.
And it’s the Easter season—for Pete’s sake, I’ve just spent five weeks preaching about all of these “re-“ things: renewal and resurrection and rebirth.
Look—I know it’s schlocky, maybe cheesy, and more than a little presumptuous, but please indulge me in a moment of rebranding fantasy. It isn’t enough to simply say that I am a mainline Christian. I have REMAINED on the LINE of the Christian journey towards God. I can see the RE-newal of my mainline church all around me, and it still is a MAIN part of my identity.
After all, if you stick the prefix re- in front of almost anything, you lend that term a sense of creation, of promise. Whether it’s recycling old cans, redoing a failing essay, or repairing a well-traveled car, we have never hesitated to use that re- syllable whenever it fit.
Why can’t we do that in describing our church?
Why haven’t we done that in describing our church?
Because…it’s a pretty natural fit.
Long live the ReMainline Church.
Yours in Christ,