Evangelicals’ Theology of the Church Must Be Born Again

The ‘Great Dechurching’ is an opportunity for our tradition to rediscover a more enduring ecclesiology.

Most people who stopped attending evangelical churches in recent years are not “nones” or exvangelicals.

In fact, many still self-identify as born-again Christians with perfectly orthodox Christian beliefs, according to Jim Davis and Michael Graham’s newly released The Great Dechurching. These Christians believe in the Trinity, the atonement, and the reality of Jesus as their personal Savior.

They just don’t go to church.

It might be easy to imagine that the millions of dechurched individuals are an aberration whose evangelical identities are somehow suspect. Surely, they don’t really understand what the Christian faith is all about, we might think.

But what if evangelicalism itself is partly to blame? What if the problem with dechurched evangelicals is not their faulty understanding of faith, but rather evangelical theology’s own lack of emphasis on the church?

Relative to other forms of Christianity, evangelicals have historically maintained a rather low view of the church, compared to their high view of a believer’s individual relationship with God.

While Catholics for centuries insisted on “no salvation outside the church,” evangelicals have traditionally insisted that a person’s salvation has nothing to do with church affiliation or church sacrament. While some Protestants, such as Lutherans and Anglicans, have reserved a role for the sacrament of baptism in salvation, many evangelicals have eschewed this sacramental theology.

American evangelicalism was born in eighteenth-century outdoor revivals, which denounced unconverted ministers and called people to experience the Holy Spirit and the gift of salvation outside of church walls. The Anglican …

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