The Denominational Cycle

Church PoleI have noticed a trend; people are rarely satisfied with the denomination in which they were raised. This was not the case a century ago. In the past people identified themselves as "methodists", "lutherans", "baptists". The ties were so fierce marriage outside the denomination was discouraged. "Dagnabit Irene, you know we baptists don't hang out with them there lutheranians." This is seldom true today. If postmodernism has taught us anything good it is this: we should not be overconfident that we have everything right 100% of the time. My generation is more open to cooperation outside our own narrow fold... as long as they aren't Catholic... and don't cuss... at least not in church.

This trend has been attributed to our generational distinctive. Our grandparents were loyal to their church and their company from the day they crossed the threshold into work and religion. My generation feels that employers are not interested in the well being of their employees. They pay as little as possible and keep benefits as minimal as government will allow so the Man can keep his dragon's share. Churches are like every other industry, only interested in numbers and not me as an individual. Why offer loyalty to another big business that only wants me for one more tally in their numbers game? If I have to go to church it will be on my terms and they must cater to me, just like every other business I patronize.  A caricature of my generation.

Apart from this trend of consumeristic and suspicious thinking I have also noticed that, in denominational transfers, certain denominations logically lead to others. For example, baptists tend to turn liturgical, specifically episcopal . Why? Because if you have grown up baptist you may feel they only offer hype with no substance and structure. Baptists want people to come into the church and get saved. Every service begins with a call to salvation and ends with an alter call. (They used to call them altar calls until they realized no baptist really knows what an altar is.) They see hypocrites in their church and think, "these hypocrites are here because we are all shallow in the faith." After a half a lifetime of this the well thought out structure and depth of liturgy is appealing.

Episcopals in turn become pentecostal.  After half a lifetime of reading the same prayers, psalms and "peace be with you"s it can seem rote. They doubt that anyone can really mean what they are saying week after week. They see hypocrites in their church and think, "these people are all fakers and no one really means what they say." Then a friend brings them to a pentecostal service and people are shouting out, dancing, and waving banners. They compare this enthusiasm with their church and think, "yes, this is what true devotion and affection looks like, not reading dead words out of some little red prayer book."

Pentecostals in turn become baptists, or, if that is too hard for them to stomach, non-denominational. (In truth all non-denominational churches are baptist ashamed of their name.) Why? Maybe they couldn't manage the second baptism and felt left out. Maybe they faked speaking in tongues growing up so their parents would be happy but now they don't care what their parents think. Or maybe it was those hypocrites in their church who had so much enthusiasm on Sunday but treat other people like dirt. So why do they turn baptist? As much as they hate to admit it, pentecostals are baptists with an extra shot of HS power. They might disagree over "once saved always saved" but by the time someone is ready to give up on the charismatic gifts they are ready to be saved forever.

In two generations a family could easily end up back in the church they started from. While I have not seen this entire cycle played out over several generations I have seen each piece on a number of occasions.  I suppose other cycles exist that encompass all variety of protestants, and even catholics and the orthodox. So what does this all mean? You tell me.

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  • I’m a baptist turned episcopalian in a church full of ex-baptists and ex-Catholics. Didn’t realize we baptist-turned-episcopalians were a trend though. Sweet.

    I’d chalk the whole lack of denominational allegiance up to one of our tenants from the King’s Yomen days: We’re Christians, not baptists. I think our generation is tired of all the in-fighting and we’re eager to focus on what we have in common.

    That’s my two second guess anyway. 😉

  • Amira

    Adam.
    In my opinion, we go through different phases in our walk with God, matched closely to different stages in our lives with different needs. All those denominations fill a need for a time. After that, we are all trying to find that perfect church where we get good teaching , sound worship and wholesome fellowship. Add into that good children and youth services and you see where the problems lie. The hard thing is to decide what really matters before you get so cynical and put off that you don’t attend church at all. Therein lies the problem.