Why So-Called Progressive Religion Always Fails

"Progressives" talk about getting on "the right side of history." But the numbers, and the Word, tell another story.

By Michael Brown Published on June 17, 2016

If the pundits and prognosticators are correct, those of us who hold to a conservative interpretation of the Scriptures are a dying breed, soon to be replaced by the enlightened, “progressive” believers who have found a new way of reading the Bible. They are the ones ready for the modern world, the ones with a relevant message, the ones who own the future, while we are consigned to putting our trust in bronze-age myths long-since repudiated by science and reason.

The reverse is actually true.

It is the so-called progressives who will dissipate and diminish, while those of us who hold to the historic tenets of the faith will continue to grow and thrive. And it doesn’t take a sociologist to explain why.

Simply stated, if someone truly believes that the Bible is God’s Word, believes that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and purchased us with his blood, believes that there will be future rewards and punishments, believes that our words and deeds can make an eternal impact, it is only natural for that person to be deeply devoted to the Lord and to the Church.

In contrast, if someone believes that the Bible is not really God’s Word but is rather a book filled with good spiritual insights interspersed with human opinions and outmoded concepts — meaning that the Bible cannot speak with divine authority to the life and death issues we face, nor can it speak with certainty about the world to come — that believer will not make the same level of commitment to his or her faith as will the conservative believer. Why should he?

He cannot possibly take his faith as seriously as people who believe that God is really speaking to them through the Word. People are moved to acts of service and sacrifice by conviction, not by opinion, myth and speculation.

As I noted in my 2015 article, “The Terrible Failure of the Secular Gospel,” it was German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg who observed, “What people look for in religion is a plausible alternative, or at least a complement, to life in a secularist society. Religion that is ‘more of the same’ is not likely to be very interesting.”

That’s why the so-called progressive denominations continue to hemorrhage and lose members — not just in America but in other countries as well — while it is the conservative denominations and churches that are, more often than not, growing and thriving.

It is these conservative groups, commonly mocked as fundamentalists and obscurantists, who are more actively sharing their faith, attending church services, raising their families with spiritual purpose, and standing against the flood tide of secularism. In contrast, the so-called progressives tend to come up short in each of these categories.

That’s why there are massive cathedrals in Europe that sit virtually empty on Sunday mornings. The “enlightened” clergy, trained in “progressive” seminaries, hardly believe in the Bible they are commissioned to preach. What kind of comfort or hope or assurance or direction or calling can they give to their congregants? Little or none.

We see something similar in the world of Judaism. On the one hand, “progressive” Jews, who are members of Reform and Conservative Judaism (both quite liberal), make up the great bulk of American Jewry. But they are also assimilating at a dangerously rapid rate and their commitment to the tenets of Judaism tends to be fairly marginal. On the other hand, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews are having much larger families, are much more passionate about their faith, and are growing in numbers worldwide.

Of course, there is something rightly called “dead religion” — religion that merely passes on the traditions of previous generations without a real encounter with the living God — and churches that practice dead religion will also diminish and die. But where believers are deeply committed to practicing their faith and passing it on to the next generation in a living way, there will be life and multiplication. As the saying goes, if it’s alive, it grows.

I was prompted to address this issue again in light of some telling developments in the United Methodist Church, a denomination that has been leaning farther and farther left in recent years but has recently showed signs of turning around.

As reported on May 21, on the last day of their General Conference, “delegates voted to delete a four-decade old statement from the denomination’s Book of Resolutions which affirmed the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision striking down state laws restricting abortion.” Indeed, “The resolution was defeated 445-310 (59-41 percent) that very broadly encouraged access to abortion under the guise of ‘responsible parenthood.’”

This is highly significant.

Just a few days earlier, the denomination also voted to withdraw its support from a strongly anti-Israel, BDS group called “the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,” this by a vote of 478-318.

The delegates also “voted 428-405 to delay all consideration of LGBT-related proposals. Instead, the delegates created a commission that will spend at least two years reviewing policy on the subject, contained in the Methodist Book of Discipline, with the goal of developing a plan to address their differences.”

So, the leftward, “progressive” slide seen in other major denominations, a slide which generally includes a pro-abortion, pro-gay activist and pro-Palestinian (= anti-Israel) platform, has been temporarily halted, and possibly reversed.

Why is this happening? It is certainly not because of the sentiments of the majority of Methodists in America, where the denomination has declined in numbers as it has grown more liberal. Rather, the United Methodists are growing in places like the Philippines and Africa, where the believers are much more conservative in their faith. And it is these conservative believers who are helping to turn the tide.

So, let the “progressive” prognosticators and pundits go on with warning us that we are on the wrong side of history, that we must embrace abortion and same-sex “marriage” and other liberal social issues in order to be “relevant.” We can smile at them and say, “Actually, we’re on the right side of God, and that’s what will matter in the long run.”

Just watch and see.

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  • John

    It seems to be more of a political-media push than what the actual US citizens are about. Yes there has been a dumbing down over the decades due to Christ (The Truth) being made illegal in these so called schools back in 1963, but I think that more people are waking up to this so called progressive (a misnomer as it is actually regressive) movement as actually being the tired (not to mention dangerous) rhetoric (Marx, Lenin, Sanger) and realizing that The Sword of The Spirit is The Truth.

  • Dean Bruckner

    Amen!

  • JustNTyme

    It’s true (and proper) that these post-Christian churches are all shrinking away, despite their claim to be “inclusive.” However, their continued existence poses one problem: the sexual activists can claim that “many Christians” condone and celebrate homosexuality, which is technically true, even though these “Christians” are far outnumbered by Christians who hold to the traditional view of marriage. In the past week, I’ve actually seen people saying that ALL churches should be made to toe the line and follow the Episcopalians, PCUSA, UCC, etc, in condoning homosexual sin – otherwise, horrible acts of violence (in the most recent case, perpetrated by a gay man who was a Muslim – not a Christian) will ensue.

    • John

      It seems that Christ has challenged those who want to be religious anyway in The Book of James.

  • Puddleglumm

    Good article. I am part of a conservative UMC here in the US. Renewal groups such as Good News, IRD, Aldersgate Renewal Fellowship, and the Confessing Movement are working hard to reverse the slide into apostasy in the UMC. The battle isn’t over but there are at least some congregations that still preach the Gospel!

  • davidrev17

    “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…” (Isaiah 46:8-10)

    Amen!

  • Gary

    “Progressive religion” does what it was designed to do: make people feel religious while allowing them to continue in their sins.

  • Charles Burge

    It’s easy for Americans to forget that there’s a whole world full of people out there. Christianity might be on the decline in the United States (though we certainly could have a revival at any time), but it’s growing significantly in Africa, China, and even South America.
    Author and researcher Rodney Stark points out that, on the whole, the world is probably more religious right now than at any other time in human history. Granted, he includes non-Christian religions when he says that, but it still refutes the liberal notion that humanity is “outgrowing” religion.

  • Ashley Bowen

    Amen, Dr. Brown!

  • Jerry Abernathy

    You all are being way too judgmental! The Southern Baptist lost so many of their solid historical churches by being this judgmental. As more and more Christian entertainers are coming out of the closet and several solid evangelical churches are addressing gay issues, why don’t you all spend more time learning from science and stop such nonsense as those folks at Exodus International use to do. Such leading evangelicals as Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine, Tony Compolo of Eastern University and David Gushee of Mercer University have come on the Freedom Train in support of marriage equality. So should you, for the truth shall make you free!

    • LKR

      Jerry, God’s word will never change and Christians cannot be complicit with the secular, worldly views of Progressives or we cease being the blood-bought Church of Jesus Christ. Christians are not followers of mere men, but rather we are followers of Jesus and His word is our Truth. Not one single soul is excluded from the freedom found only in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is all-inclusive.

  • 1PierreMontagne1

    Q. What is the difference between Liberalism and Paganism?
    A. An honest comparison shows there is not difference.
    Q. What then is a Liberal Christian?
    A. A Pagan Christian.
    We now understand the form of Godliness mentioned in 2nd Timothy 3.

    • David Pillath

      Proud to be Pagan. I’ve been doing the progressive Paganism for a while, without flaking from it. Guess I don’t need scare tactics to elicit commitment after all… OH and I would also ide.ntify as a Christian. But not as a Pagan Christian because I have many more labels. Please tell me about how these are contradictions, and at a time when I am free to debate I will take you on a journey through history.

  • Sashabill

    Secular “progressives” would like for all churches to become ecclesiastical flophouses like the Unitarian Church. (I happen to be a former Unitarian, so I got a pretty good look at an “ecclesiastical flophouse.”)

  • David Pillath

    Your theory is non-Progressives are more successful because they have more of a desperate urge to cling to your beliefs. I will grant you that has certainly made them more visible as many of them think they are in some kind of war. Liberal religion is growing. The best non-progressives have had is that they are loud, but that will not last…

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