The Modernization of Protestant Religion in America, Leonard I. Sweet

These are exciting times in which we live! More and more Americans began their walk with God outside their denomination church and stayed there. Why? Sweet, nor I, are being critical of the denominational church but we both are wondering what happened.

Factors that contributed to the decline of the mainline churches are: the growth of individualism, high criticism professionalization of the clergy, unwise and unpopular decisions made by denominational bureaucrats, ecumenism, actionism, pluralism. The end result of all this has been the decline of the mainline churches–both numerically and spiritually. Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostal moved to center stage as modernism has been forced into retreat. In characterizing the mainline denominations during these five decades, Sweet notes: “With everything gone, there was little reason for people to stay.”

Sweet gives much attention to the relationship between the denominational leaders and the church members, were growing increasingly distant. This led to the leadership taking stands without considering the beliefs and feelings of the people in the pews, which then resulted in a growing distrust by the members of their leaders. Sweet describes these developments as a loss of mastery and mandate–that is, the loss of mastery of the common touch and mandate of the common faith.

Some have thought these to be exciting developments. Others see these as a dangerous trend toward existentialism and away from confessional faith. You will have to decide.

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