The Mainline Question

A Response to Richard Ackerman

In the mid-1970s, a recent honors graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Wynn Kenyon (1948-2012), reported to his Presbytery that he would be willing to serve with women pastors and would not use his position to obstruct the ordination process of women pastors, but he could not in good conscience participate in the ordination ceremony of women. In response to this minor inconvenience, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) overturned Kenyon’s ordination. There could be no pushback no matter how compromised. 

At the same time, it was quite possible and perhaps even common at that time for ministers in mainline Presbyterianism to deny virtually every sentence of the Apostles Creed (virgin birth, bodily resurrection, second coming, etc.) without any disciplinary consequences. How was it even possible that modern egalitarian concerns could trump the most ancient confession of the universal church? The answer is that a new religion had replaced mainline Presbyterianism just as it had replaced all the mainline traditions. It has worn those traditions like a skinsuit and occupied their buildings and carried on their names, but it is a blasphemous fraud.

In “The Secret to Retaking American Culture,” Richard Ackerman grapples with the mainline question by attempting to make the case for a conservative Reconquista of the mainline Protestant churches by way of joining, recruiting, networking, and outlasting the governing Leftists. This is a beautiful theory, but in reality, it is a naive fallacy, which by necessity makes it a foolish theory. In this response to Acerkman, I hope to show that the mainline churches are not only unworthy of saving, but also there is no realistic path for saving them. 

The Mainline Are Not Legitimate Heirs

The author speaks of the history of the mainline as once having money, power, and prestige. They had Yale and Harvard. They hosted Handel’s Messiah. Nearly everyone who was anyone attended their services. Although I could only nitpick the author’s idyllic portrayal of those golden years, I am going to put the bulk of my attention on where the author and I differ most: the assessment, not of what the mainline churches “had,” but of what they currently “have” and whether what they currently have is worthy of saving intervention.

Ackerman maintains: “Mainline churches have the names, accomplishments, and works of generations upon generations of faithful Christians literally carved in stone, something that is utterly irreplaceable.” This is rather grandiose language for saying that the mainline churches have a corporation, a trademark, and some marvelous storefronts. Those legal possessions are quite impressive in worldly terms, but the church is much more than that. 

The church is primarily a spiritual body of the heavenly kingdom. Having the storefronts and trademark is fine, but it must be more than whitewashed tombs full of dead people’s names, accomplishments, and works along with every type of uncleanliness. What is the point of those things? Christ has given the visible church on earth the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, and although the visible church sometimes appears small and aesthetically unappealing in the eyes of men, it is and will be preserved by God against the rage of the whole world until the end. 

The corporations, trademarks, and storefronts are utterly replaceable. What matters is being a true church, and a true church is distinguished from a false one by a number of “marks,” which should include (1.) the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached, (2.) the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and (3.) proper church discipline is enforced. Even if we added a “more or less pure” qualification, it would be an incredible stretch to claim that the mainline churches possess even one of those marks, and I am not just speaking of individual, idiosyncratic congregations, but rather their entire institutions. 

Does this assertion that the mainline fails to possess all or any of these marks really need to be elaborated on? Just look at their official positions on abortion and sodomy. They have destigmatized two sins that have universally been regarded as sins. Some even call them “holy.” How can they be expected to conduct proper church discipline when they are confused about something as basic as that? Do they conduct church discipline in any meaningful sense at all? How can they properly administer the sacraments when a huge chunk of the people allegedly administering the sacraments are forbidden to administer the sacraments? (I am speaking of the mainline’s universal acceptance of women’s ordination of course.) Is the gospel clearly preached in the mainline? From what I’ve gathered the gospel is frequently presented in a muddied fashion and more frequently misrepresented as something else entirely.

With all that said, the mainline churches clearly do not have the marks of a true church and are therefore not the legitimate heirs to their great Western traditions. Instead, the heirs are those congregations who broke off from the mainline in order to honor their theological forefathers.

There Is No Long March for Traditionalists

The author notes that “Left-wing elites know a secret about society that many modern conservatives unfortunately overlook: cultural change happens through elite institutions.” I am inclined to somewhat agree with this statement, but it is ever so slightly incomplete. What really occurs is the elite through elite institutions attempt to implement cultural change. I know this sounds like a nitpick, but it is significant because it is at the point of this slight misdiagnosis that the entire premise of reconquest begins to get off the rails. 

Regime change (the circulation of the elite) does not happen with regular people rising up and saying “This has gone too far!” They happen when members among the elite lose confidence in the current order of things and these counter-elite fight the establishment elite for control using normal people to represent the popularity of their positions. The mainline churches have no viable counter-elite. What they have are dissidents: dissidents who the elite will drive out the mainline the moment they become too uppity as the Kenyon Case demonstrated.

What the Left has actually accomplished was more than merely “capturing” institutions. They captured institutions from liberals, who more or less subscribed to the “ideals” of openness and tolerance and were more or less sympathetic to leftist causes in the first place. When faced with a closed door, the Leftists accused the Old Liberal Guard of hypocrisy for proclaiming the ideals of freedom and openness while not living up to those ideals, then their sympathizers among the Old Liberal Guard proceeded to let the Left into the institutions. What is called the long march through the institutions was simply Leftists slowly replacing the Old Liberal Guard with like-minded Leftists, driving out their opponents, and closing the doors to non-Leftists. This framing of the transformation is important because it directly relates to whether the Leftist playbook for capturing institutions is repeatable or not. The Left is completely unfazed by accusations of hypocrisy, especially accusations of hypocrisy from people who have no power to do anything about it. They adhere to the “ideal” of tolerance to everything except intolerance, and that is what conservatives represent to the Leftists who currently control the institution. In short, there is no long march through the institutions for non-Lefists. 


If the mainline churches are not legitimate heirs to their tradition, and if there is no viable path to saving them from themselves, we should have no interest in propping up their institutions whose sole identity is based on rejecting orthodoxy and providing a veneer of Christianity to the dominant leftist ideology. In fact, our current task should be to completely delegitimize the apostate mainline institutions, cheer for their collapse, and encourage the true heirs of those traditions to purchase their buildings. Perhaps working with local historical preservation societies and local governments could ensure that such properties are not converted into nightclubs or mosques or whatnot. Either way, this is not a primary concern. We must be willing to sacrifice the buildings. The true Reconquista requires defeating and driving out the infidels from the spaces they illegitimately occupy, not by joining and submitting to their leadership in the hopes of one day outlasting them.

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Philip Derrida

Philip Derrida is a writer and commentator from Florida. Find him on X @PhilipDerrida

21 thoughts on “The Mainline Question

  1. Absolutely. Fundamentally, I would say that Ackerman’s proposal fails because it is, at root, a managerial, procedural proposal. The problem with mainline denominations isn’t their procedures. It’s that they’re run by childish heretics.

    Ergo, any proposal for “retaking” any organization, whether mainline denomination, academic institution, or government entity, that does not have “kick the bums out” as Step One is naive wishful thinking.

    If “kick the bums out” does not appear to be a realistic goal for a given institution, then neither is retaking said institution.

  2. I grew up in a mainline church, got married in one, and had my kids baptized in one. I am familiar with the faults of the mainline churches. For over 30 years, I have been attending conservative churches that is if the OPC and Bible Fellowship denominations can be considered conservative. I say that because some conservatives are very picky.

    If the leftists in the mainline church are guilty of anything, they are guilty of the same kind of sins that many conservatives are guilty of: confusing church standards with societal standards. But in approaching the same kind of sins, leftists and conservatives approach those sins from different directions. For while leftists want to make their moral standards for society into the moral standards for their churches, many conservatives want to make the moral standards for their churches into the moral standards for society. And regardless of the direction, confusing the moral standards of society with those of the Church has greatly harmed the reputation of the Gospel.

    Why do leftists take the direction they do? It is because they see that churches are so influential that the changes they want to make in society requires that their churches must accept those changes too. Therefore they look to seize control of the most influential churches. Note the word ‘influential’ because that means that the target churches for leftists can change. Why do many conservatives take the direction they do? It is similar to why leftists do what they do only they fear that the changes made in society will filter down and corrupt their churches. Therefore, those conservatives feel that they must seize control over society to protect their churches.

    The problem is that the directions that leftists want to make in society and the orthodoxy that conservatives want to keep in the Church are valid. And perhaps one way we who hold to Christian orthodox beliefs can better influence leftists is to recognize their concerns that are valid.

          1. Ryan,
            So they do have some legitimate concerns. It matters not if others share those concerns. In fact, it shows what I wrote in my first comment to be true.

            Can you list some of the concerns that leftists have which you don’t share?

          2. Leftist concerns that I don’t share? Where to start? How about:
            – Kissing Caesar’s ring;
            – Normalizing sexual deviance; and
            – Murdering babies.
            Those are just off the top of my head.

          3. Ryan,
            1. Not sure what you mean by Kissing Ceasar’s ring especially when one considers the regard that Republicans have for Trump vs the regard that Dems have for Biden.

            2. As for normalizing sexual deviancy, it depends on whether you believe that those in the LGBT community should have full equality in society.

            Here we should note that same sex behavior (SSB) is found in around 1,500 species and there have been benefits to the SSB in at least some of those species.

            As for transgendering, there are physical causes in at least some who have gender dysphoria. For example because of physical problems, certain hormones are not normally processed or a male can have a female brain structure and a female can have a male brain structure. That has been observed in some who have gender dysphoria.

            And so we with SSB and gender dysphoria, that a person own physical, not sinful, nature may be giving that person signals that we are not aware of and are not in line with how God designed nature. That disparity is the result of the fall of nature that came with Adam’s sin and the fall of man.

            3. I agree that we should oppose elective abortion.

            Your list leaves several concerns that you share with leftists.

          4. No, it really doesn’t.
            1. Tu quoque. Also, TDS.
            2. I reject your framing entirely.
            I’m done here.

          5. Ryan,
            Unless you’re not concerned with racism, climate change, and the economy, you have several shared concerns. You may not view those concerns in the same way that leftists do, but they are there.

            You will have to explain, if you are willing to, the ‘tu quoque’ comment and what that is directed to.

    1. Asserting moral standards onto society is the very mission of the church. We are to make disciples of all nations, after all. What is discipleship but repenting of sin and following Christ? This wishy-washy idea of “both side are bad” is a symptom of moral relativism.

      I do concede that the rush to adopt Christian Nationalism is in large part due to the complete alienation that many Christians feel from modern society and a desire to see society become one more accommodating to Christian morality. However, this seems to me to an appropriate response, moving from an indefensible libertarian ideal to more rigid and firm ideological ground. Christian Nationalism as an ideology has the ability to push back the tide of leftism, whereas liberalism does not.

      1. Dylan,
        First of all, what you say depends on what you mean by the word ‘assert.’ If you mean speaking boldly, I see no harm though boldly may not be the most productive way to speak at the time. If you mean to force Christian morals on others, then I believe that you have reduced what. it means to make disciples down to the passage on the Great Commission. And reductionism, more than not, leads to misinterpretations and misapplications of the Scriptures.

  3. I respect the original proposal for what it wants to do, but I agree. If there is even a single good church in an area, it would benefit the believer to go attend and support that church over attending a heretical one. Even were there to be no true churches in an area, it would seem better for all that a new church be started. If there are enough individuals to overtake a false church, then there are enough for a new church to be forged.

    I really like the consideration of the role of the elite here, something I really haven’t considered. It’s funny, the right wing is the naturally hierarchical ideology, but it lacks an elite willing to defend it. The left is the anti-hierarchical ideology, yet it doesn’t lack for elites willing to pay lip service to it.

  4. I think there’s a good chance you’re right that there can be no conservative Long March, but if there’s a chance that conservatives in the mainline can outlast and outgrow the liberals, then why countersignal Reconquista?

    It’d be one thing if Ackerman was suggesting that the faithful members of confessional denominations like the OPC and PCA leave and join PCUSA churches; that would be harmful and putting all our eggs in a less than sturdy basket. Or if he was advocating that faithful Christians sit under unfaithful pastors in hyper-liberal congregations.

    However, that’s not the aim of Reconquista. Ackerman is targeting people who would otherwise join a generic evangelical non-denom to join a mainline congregation that’s more or less as pure in doctrine and practice as a generic evangelical non-denom.

  5. Although this article says many true things, its premise is false and therefore it ultimately fails.

    The false premise is that Ackerman is calling biblically-faithful Christians to join heretical mainline Protestant congregations. This would obviously be a futile tactic, not to mention being spiritually poisonous for the would-be reconquistadores.

    That’s not Ackerman’s plan. Read his article and see the following:

    “in addition to preserving conservative congregations, we can also push moderate mainline congregations in a more conservative direction.”

    Every heretical denomination has biblically faithful congregations. The actual plan is to strengthen these faithful congregations, and push wavering congregations in the right direction. Totally different from what Mr. Derrida says it is.

    The reconquistadores would be akin to missionaries. A commendable vocation.

    I have discussed this at my blog:

  6. I don’t know why Mr. Derrida is so convinced that Operation Reconquista can’t succeed. If it’s a work of God, it will!

    But in some ways, the conclusion that OR won’t ultimately bring mainline denominations back to biblical truth is missing the point.
    In the trying, Operation Reconquista is attempting big things for the Lord and for the salvation of the souls of people. Along the way the movement is giving purpose, meaning, and spiritual knowledge and wisdom to thousands of young people who have joined the effort. God is in control of all of it–from the heart and mind change of each individual participant to the future embodied souls who will enter the doors of the target churches and hear the gospel one day. And who among us can definitively claim He won’t ultimately change culture as He changes hearts?

    Whether entire denominational structures turn back to God or not, good things are happening in the trying. Mr. Ackerman has given community, belonging, and purpose to thousands of Gen Z’ers at a time when these are badly needed. He has people excited about God, Jesus, the Bible, and doctrine. I can’t wait to see and hear what God does with this faithful young man as he and those in this movement attempt great things for God! “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    1. But is this Operation Reconquista the best use of one’s time? It would take years to do, which is fine. But with that, you are giving up years where you could have been going to a faithful church and instead attending one that rejects God’s word. And in the end, what are you left with but a building? Is it not better to just attend a faithful church and purchase a nicer building as it grows?

      1. Respectfully, Dylan, my impression from your comments on this thread leads me to wonder how familiar you are with Redeemed Zoomer/Richard Ackerman. For example, he does not advocate attending churches that reject God’s word, as you stated in your comment above.

        I invite you to take a deep dive into the sources where his content can be found and then reconsider. I suspect you’ll come away excited to see how the Lord is using this 20 year old young man to share the gospel and the truths of God’s word in places where both are in jeopardy but are not yet lost. (A podcast Ackerman on Truth Over Tribe/Nov. 8 gives a great overview of who he is and what he’s doing. And his youtube channel is excellent)

  7. Having had my own tussle with the leadership of one mainline denomination, I am generally of Philip’s opinion, but phrased this way…the institutions of the mainline are not worth saving. Preserve individual churches that are faithful, yes. Perhaps strive for the heart of individual churches that are at a crossroads, yes – provided one on these two points can stomach being in the same denomination as the ravenous wolves leading the denominations. Prayer that the wolves, hirelings, and agents of the devil masquerading as agents of righteousness leading these denominations come to genuine repentance and faith, yes. Labor to save the institutional mainline, no. Any number of people have tried over the past century and the institutional mainline has progressively gone further and further into sin and unbelief and it is clear that God has clearly abandoned them to the fruits thereof. Furthermore, those denominations that have a more congregational polity, including the mainline Presbyterian and Reformed denominations, may be able to be restored one day in God’s grace and mercy, but the UMC and the TEC in particular will be a different animal, given the power of the bishops, especially UMC bishops, over individual congregations. Perhaps only the head of the Roman church exceeds UMC in ecclesiastical power and authority within his denomination.

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