A year-ender: Which churches do what well?

Judy in Pennsylvania asks:

The various Christian denominations seemingly have particular strengths in the theology, practice, outreach, and church polity of their forms of Christian faith. How would you see these strengths being shared among individual churches and Christians across the USA and around the globe in an effort to strengthen the Christian faith?

The Guy answers:

It’s that year-end season when journalists concoct lists. The Guy has no idea how and whether churches might share their strengths but — setting aside this blog’s downplaying of mere opinion — here’s a top-of-the-head strengths listing that may rouse some comments:

Salvation Army — Taking Jesus seriusly, and not just at Thanksgiving or Christmas (“as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me.”)

Eastern Orthodox — Worship that conveys awe and mystery. Unwavering devotion to the faith that “was once for all delivered to the saints.”

Roman Catholics — Doctrinal clarity. Rich intellectual tradition. Parochial schools. Hospitals. Charities. And much, much else. But could benefit by learning from:

Presbyterian & Reformed churches — Skill with sermons (usually). Classic Protestant governance balancing regional oversight with local iniitiative, plus responsibility, voice, vote, and sense of vocation for lay members (concepts that helped create secular republics).

Lutherans — Choirs. Parish architecture and other visuals (often). Wise handling of schism to honor conscience and limit strife.

Anglicans & Episcopalians — Liturgy. Hymnody. But could learn much from the Lutherans on schism.

Black Baptists & Methodists — Enthusiasm. Free expression. Personal services in challenging circumstances.

Pentecostals & Charismatics — Ditto.  Revival of healing ministries. New music forms and worship experiments (not always beneficial).

Mennonites & Quakers — Social services.  And though most disagree, an idealistic stance against violence that invites reflection. Special thanks to the Quakers for launching America’s movement to abolish slavery.

“Mainline” Protestants generally — Also a heritage worth preserving, e.g. lending white moral support to the black civil rights movement.

“Evangelical” churches and groups — Originality in all sorts of outreach, media enterprises, and specialized ministries. Commitment to the Bible and to Bible study.  Originality also (though not always for the best) in theology and political activism.

Southern Baptists — Creative dedication to home and foreign missions. Some success in keeping adolescents and young adults engaged.

Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) — A much more successful system to achieve that last point.

Observant Muslims & Orthodox Jews — All church groups might learn from their disciplines that bring reminders of God’s presence into life each day.



About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

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  • T. B.

    My understanding is that the date of the Annuciation (Western; March 25th) was choosen first, than 9 months later presto Christmas. The Saturanlia was from the 17th to the Solistice on the 21th. The 25th had no particular pagan significance until after Christians were already celebrating Christmas on that date. As for Christmas Trees they were first in Livonia around the 12th cent. than via Poland to Germany. They are not of pagan origin. Your history requires overlooking exactly how the Christmas Tree which you originate around the Reformation was a borrowing from the paganism that had disappeared from Germany many centuries previously.

  • Rose

    Awesome! Insightful! Genius! I could not agree more! (For the record, I am a practicing catholic who grew up in a bi religious Muslim/ Christian household who now also attends a Protestant church in addition to mass on Sunday).

  • http://theoldadam.com/ theoldadam

    Good stuff!

    I would have added one to the Lutherans (well, the Lutherans of old, anyway)…a real understanding of the pure gospel for the ungodly (which is what we all are).


  • Steve Olson

    For other things Lutherans do well, check out Lutheran World Relief….when there are disasters LWR is often the first in and last out with help.

    • Richard Ostling

      Lutheran relief does great work and so do virtually all Christian branches large and small (whether or not the Guy singled them out in the above list)

  • Dennis Dolan

    Interesting given your background. How about this? Let’s do this on some kind of objective measure.
    For example, Salvation Army’s care for the least of these v. Roman Catholicism’s. (Hint: There is no numerical comparison of scale in any area of this kind. RC’s are the largest humanitarian organization on the planet and yet they don’t rate being the example for this characteristic.)
    Not to quibble but that kind of exposes this whole list as merely subjective, personal impression. Where’s the expertise?
    Could that be tied to the fact that the RC’s are the only ones singled out to learn something from other groups?

    • Richard Ostling

      Quibble away!
      Admittedly the Guy is non-Catholic but you gotta admit that on a per capita basis the Salvation Army is hard to beat — and note that I also lauded Catholicism for its charities. In retrospect, I should have added that not just the Army or Catholics or the others but virtually every Christian denomination large or small, publicized or unheralded, operates excellent charities. True that I said the Catholic Church could learn something from the Prots — a comment provoked by tiresome coverage of scandals over 2 decades — but I also suggested outsiders could teach something to the Episcopal Church in which I worshipped with appreciation for some years.