Are denominations dying? If so, is this something to mourn, or celebrate? What say you, kind readers of the "Episcopal" Café?
From The Christian Century
Denominations are cultural constructs. They take their shapes and forms and ways of "doing Church" within particular socio-historical moments. Presbyterianism grows out of 16th century Western Europe; it is impossible to tease apart the influences of those origins from the shape of Presbyterian life. Denominations don't "unlearn" the customs and habits of their genesis moments, because those customs and habits get woven into the core statements defining who and what that tradition is and believes. Presbyterianism, deeply embedded in 16th century Western Europe (and arguably even more deeply embedded in mid-20th century American culture as the central pillar of mainline Protestantism), struggles to adapt itself to the cultural patterns, aesthetics, and philosophical modes of 21st century America. Is anyone surprised?
Denominations feel permanent because they last; they last because they work. The ones that survive manage to capture a way of being Christian that makes sense to people. Ironically, "making sense" to a critical mass of people in a given cultural context may be exactly what ends up infecting a denomination with the disease that eventually kills them. Denominations "divinize" their longevity and success, and forget how contextually-rooted and therefore transient their corporate life really is.
The Presbyterian Church USA may have a "sickness unto death." It may have been infected by last century's "success"; it may be playing out Reformed Protestantism's seemingly endless process of one-upsmanship and schism; it may be one denomination among many that is being overwhelmed and transformed by seismic sociological changes that are shifting American living patterns, ways of thinking, and cultural connections. This may be death--or just a change that feels like a death.