Watch Out for Jesus Freaks in New England!!

Sky Saxon from The Seeds bought my guitar
Within the largely Catholic culture of New England, those who would hold to an “evangelical” view are a growing minority.  It seems like a small group of people at first glance.  Demographically, culturally, and politically, conservative Protestants have a weaker hold on New England than on any other region in the United States.  According to the NARA, as of 2000 only about 27 percent of the region’s Protestants and 37 percent of its Protestant congregations are evangelical.[1]

But even with all this in mind it’s also important to understand that in the mid-twentieth century, conservative strains of Protestantism (evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and Pentecostalism), were virtually invisible in New England.  Which makes the growing conservative Protestant presence in New England significant.[2]

This revival (of a conservative Protestant presence) began during the 1950s, fueled by population movement, and by deliberate mission efforts launched from other parts of the nation by a large number of evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal and holiness groups. [3]

But one could ask, what does the presence of conservative Protestant New Englanders look like in the 21st Century?  It’s clear that the new vitality of conservative Protestantism in New England flows from two sources: from the activities of Protestants migrating to New England and from the now-significant regeneration of pockets of conservative Protestantism that survived after the overwhelming majority of New England Protestants moved to theologically moderate or “mainline” orientations in the early 20th century.[4] Its clear that many Protestant denominations in New England moved more clearly towards the broad culture’s mindset.  However it seems that many people within these folds have begun to be awakened to a true, deep study of scriptures.  On top of this are all the migrations to New England.  I live in the beautiful town of Conway, New Hampshire.  I’m originally from Ohio, I work with a pastor who lived in Iowa, and we have people in our church from Texas, Florida, Georgia and more.  Many people around the U.S. are starting to recognize that New England lacks a loving, truthful Biblical witness.  I’m glad to see and be a part of bringing the grace and truth of Christ to many people here who have been burnt by hypocritical leadership, strange cult teachings, and dead irrelevant religion that has no bearing on their life or personal struggles.  And I’m aware of my own hypocrisy, lack of full understanding of the totality of truth, and proneness to habitual ritual that keep me from reflecting Christ fully.  However, God’s grace continues to work in me and we see His power and grace at work in the church we’re in.

Since we’re part of a church re-plant the name of our church was changed from “The White Mountain Chapel” to “Journey Church”.  This name change reflects a culture that we desire to reach- people on a spiritual journey.  We desire to see the gospel go out amongst the hippies, progressives, mavericks, young professionals, and salt of the earth working class heroes of Conway, New Hampshire.  Many Pentecostal churches are also participating in a broad movement away from calling their churches names that highlight denominational identity, usually arguing that denominational labels mean little to non-churched people.[5]  We are seeing a great movement in New England away from the irrelevant wineskins of yesterday’s religion and into the expression of the gospel of the 21st Century.

Yet there is still much work to be done within the church of New England.  There is a particular in-group mentality that exists within some churches.  New England evangelicals are more Republican than evangelicals in any other region of the country, except in the Pacific Northwest and in the Mountain West states.[6]  All political leanings aside, this doesn’t say that it’s bad to be a Republican.  It just says that people of liberal persuasions are not coming to accept the gospel in New England, for if they were, statistics would represent a contingent of believers who lean to the left politically.  There can be a general “Us vs. Them” mentality within the church, where many republican Christians believe that the culture is out to destroy them with liberalism, homosexuality and other forms of ungodly behavior.  The irony here is that the apostle Paul and the band of early disciples found themselves in the same culture, possibly more decadent and freewheeling, in the empire of Rome.  Yet churches were established amongst the pagan Gentiles, who accepted this free gift of grace often more readily than the pious Jews of the time.  We need a radical gospel that offers the grace of Christ to everyone in New England, without compromising scriptural values.

All in all, Conservative Protestantism has momentum in New England.  Its churches are growing.  They are constructing highly visible new structures on the outskirts of many of the region’s towns and cities.  The movement’s educational infrastructure, although small, is well organized, well-funded, and of high quality.[7]  The most valid assessment is that New England’s conservative Protestants are prospering, but still dwell mostly on the margins.[8]  So though there are many more steps to take forward within the church in New England, the digression is hopefully over!

The big test will be whether conservative Protestants will become doctrine and consumer oriented to the point of giving up the will toward good works.  Will mainline congregations that move in a conservative direction retain their strong civic orientation?  Will they act more like conservative Protestant congregations, which are typically much more inward looking?  The implications for New England’s hyper-local culture could be significant if the mainline abandons its role as cultural custodian.[9]  Christians with biblical values in New England need to truly live out those biblical values, which means having strong biblical doctrine, loving the poor and marginalized, being an active loving member of the communities they’re in, and building the Kingdom as well as proclaiming the gospel.  May the chasm between the social gospel and the fundamental gospel disappear that we may experience the full council of God’s Word!  It is worth emphasizing that the notion of the New England town as an organic, democratic entity that bestows a common local identity on residents and transcends religious identities was developed by and for Protestants.[10]  We need to pull ourselves out of the mire of dead tradition and religious apathy and pursue the faith of the truly faithful that once inhabited the newly found towns of New England!  I’m not speaking here of those bigoted Puritans that chastised Catholics, but more of the faithful few believers in Christ in the founding days of our country who lived out the gospel in every way, and strove to be at peace with all men.  Men like that don’t make the history books, because their glory is in heaven.

[1] Religion and Public Life in New England, 107

[2] Ibid., 107

[3] Ibid., 108-109

[4] Ibid., 107

[5] Ibid., 112

[6] Ibid., 117

[7] Ibid., 121

[8] Ibid., 121

[9] Ibid., 121

[10] Ibid., 140


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s