Thursday, April 07, 2005

The New Denominationalism, 1963

Meanwhile, in 1963 the first large-scale survey research studies of American religion were launched by Charles Glock and Rodney Stark. When the data were in they dealt a devastating blow to the notion of a common core American Protestantism. Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive of greater doctrinal diversity and division than Stark and Glock (1965) reported in an article revealing what they called the “New Denominationalism.”

Table 6.5 [click on image below for larger version] reprints a few of the key findings from this survey.
SOURCE: The Churching of America. (Emphasis added.)

SOURCE: Table 6. 5, Stark and Glock (1965) Posted by Hello
"The New Denominationalism," Review of Religious Research.

The data

indicate that the fissures which map what might be called the ‘New Denominationalism’ fragment the very core of the Christian perspective. The new cleavages are not over such matters as how to worship God properly, but whether or not there is a God of the sort it makes sense to worship; not over whether the blood and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation, or are only symbolic, but over whether or not Jesus was merely a man…In light of these findings it is difficult for the hopes and activities directed towards general ecumenicalism.

Stark and Glock as quoted (including ellipses) in The Churching of America.

The fissures are deep and I agree with the thrust of the argument as supported by the evidence in Table 6.5.

However, I think some active members of the denominations, lay and clergy, will find that "whether or not ... but" comparisons unconvincing. The danger this presents for those active members of the denominations and interested in the survival of their church is this: they will dismiss the entire argument.

What's unconvincing about the "whether or not ... but" comparisons? Answer: The divide in American Protestantism is between two kinds of denominations:

1. Tolerant/Open admission. As fundamental (!) to growth in faith, the invidual is encouraged to express doubts and to question orthodoxy. A range of views is regarded as acceptable, whether these be about transubstantiation or the divinity of Christ. Membership open; conformance to a set of beliefs is not a condition of membership. Open even to members who would belief the second category of denomination is the only true denomination.

2. Intolerant/Admission by approval. Opposite of above.

That is, there is no "either or" that tells you what camp your denomination is in. You know your camp by whether it tolerates members who are not all on the same side of questions of faith or undecided - faith or belief being staking your life on something that is unknown and unknowable.
Which is the more human approach? The approach which will bring you closer to God and to what God wants for humanity? Which is the more succesful in winning converts and growing?

I know what the answers to these questions are to me. And the answers are disturbing.

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