The Way It Is

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On Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to Italian clergy, and his statements seem, at first blush, rather sad. He told the assembled that Christian churches in the West appear to be dying. In particular, the so-called mainline Protestant churches have been losing members for nearly a century.

Jay Anderson at Pro Ecclesia conjectures:

“Mainstream churches” appear to be dying. Well, then, they aren’t really “mainstream”, are they? Just like the dying “mainstream media” isn’t really “mainstream”.

In America, the real “mainstream” churches – the ones that lots of people actually go to – tend to be more evangelical, more Christ-centered, and less concerned with leftist political action.

Jay’s correct. According to a Lutheran web site, Global Christianity:

Some “mainline” Protestant denominations–Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and others–declined in membership for most of the twentieth-century. Lutherans and other mainline groups barely sustained membership, in a time of national population growth. At the same time, however, the twentieth century was a time of steady growth for Southern Baptists and independent evangelical churches. The most dramatic church growth has been among the Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal groups. Spectacular growth occurred in Mormonism, which at the close of the twentieth century had 5.1 million members in 1998 in the U.S.–more than the combined total of the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Mainline decline was one part of a larger picture: overall church membership in the U.S. expanded from about 25 percent of Americans in 1870 to about 61 percent in 1990.

As I said, though, the news is only bad at first blush. Those declining Protestant churches have been overrun with capital L-Liberals who have driven out the God-fearing people and replaced them with God-flipping-off people. As the 100+ percent growth in religious participation indicates, people are not turning away from God–their churches are.

Jay makes another great point:

I would venture a guess that the more “orthodox” a Catholic parish/diocese is, the less likely it is to be “dying”.

True as true can be.

By early 1992, this Mass was being offered in approximately 110 U.S. parishes, representing fifty percent of the U.S. dioceses. The fact that almost every month, another Mass location is added to the list, indicates its increasing popularity. A 1990 Gallup poll commissioned by the St. Augustine Center Association showed that 76% of Catholics in America would attend the Traditional Latin Mass if it were readily available in their parishes. (source)

Living with a house full of catechumen, I can tell that those looking to put God into their lives want God served up serious and sacred. We belong to the neighborhood parish because we more-or-less have to. (We have catechism, PSR, etc.) But we regularly attend the Tridentine Mass at St. Francis de Sales, deep in South St. Louis. We make the 38 mile journey most Sundays because we get to worship God, to meditate on His sacrfice. Most importantly, though, we get to escape the profane, ugly, sin-filled world around us for an hour and see, hear, smell, taste, and feel true beauty. Godly beauty. Great craftsmanship and architecture. As Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, “Do we better meet Christ by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world?”

Some Catholic dioceses and parishes and most mainline Protestant denominations think it better to drag Him down. And they are all shrinking. The churches that rise up to meet Him are growing. What better argument could one give for tradition?