Congregational Inflationism

While this congregational inflationism is unquestionably problematic, it has two fundamental strengths, both of which are of decisive importance for the shaping of Protestantism in the United States and beyond.

1. It allowed Protestantism to deal with rapid social and cultural change, which often leads to churches being locked into the realities of a bygone age. Entrepreneurial pastors and preachers can easily recast a vision of the gospel, adapted to the new situ- ation – in much the same way as older visions were adapted to their situations – and thus prevent Protestantism being trapped in a time warp. It enables Protestants to respond to perceived needs for specialist ministries to specific groups through the formation of voluntary societies, which often come to exercise a para-church role.

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2. It enabled Protestant churches to deal with situations in which the denominational leadership is seen to be radically out of touch with its membership – typically, by pursuing theological agendas or cultural trends which are not accepted by the majority of their congregations. It does not matter whether these agendas are right-wing or left-wing, conservative or liberal. Protestantism empowers the congregation, firstly to protest against their leaders; secondly, to remove them; and thirdly, to form their own congregation elsewhere, while still remaining a Christian church. While some Protestant denominations attempt to shield themselves against such accountability to their mem- bership, these fundamental rights remain, in principle, as part of the movement’s core identity. A Protestant believer can leave one denomination and join another – while still remaining a Protestant.

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