Conservatives from seven Mainline Protestant denominations marked Reformation Sunday this year by publishing their own 95 theses calling for reform in their respective denominations — except for those affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, who published 9.5 theses to get more to the point.
The Martin Luther-inspired declarations are part of a larger movement called Operation Reconquista, led by an unnamed council that seeks to rescue churches “hijacked by secular liberalism.”
On an FAQ page, the question, “Who is leading the Reconquista?” is answered: “The Reconquista started as a lay-led movement, and still is primarily so, even though we have clergy in our community. Our online community has a council that meets regularly, with representatives from each Mainline denomination. This council makes all the decisions, sets the policies, and delegates tasks for the movement.”
No names are given.
On the Episcopal side of the movement, however, a name familiar within the denomination appears: Jake Dell, a New York priest and former communications officer for the Episcopal Church in America. He is listed as “chaplain” to the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal.
On the United Methodist side, called Young Methodists for Tradition, two leaders are named: Gabriel Ervin, chairman, a third-generation Methodist from Michigan and liturgist in his unnamed home church, and Tanner Russell Strunk, council member, a member of First United Methodist Church of Glendale, Ariz., and a fourth-generation Methodist.
Strunk declares on the group’s website it is “crucial to save the United Methodist Church and its belief from theologies and movements that seek to alter the gospel and insert secular cultural ideas into the Christian tradition. He sees it as his duty to God to work for the saving of not just a church, but all its congregants, and to help prevent them from being led astray.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America version is called SOLA. No leaders are listed there.
The Reformed Church in America version is called Reformed Revivalists in America. No website exists, but the group has an Instagram page.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) version is called Presbyterians for the Kingdom. No leaders are listed on the website.
The ABCUSA version is called American Baptists for Christ. No website exists, but the group has established an Instagram page. No leaders are listed.
The United Church of Christ version is called Puritans of the UCC. It has a Facebook page but no website. No leaders are listed.
A controversial name
The very name, Operation Reconquista, is controversial. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Reconquista” was a series of campaigns by Christian states in Medieval Spain and Portugal to recapture territory from the Muslims or Moors, who had occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula in the early eighth century.
In other words, another version of the Crusades. One image on the group’s website shows ancient Christian Crusaders marching to war with the headline: “Be a soldier for God’s kingdom.”
In the FAQ page on the Operation Reconquista website, a question is posed about the name, and this answer is given: “We’ve tried to reframe the ‘Reconquista’ more as a ‘return of the exiles’ and as a ‘rebuilding the wall.’ In other words, more Ezra and Nehemiah and less Joshua.”
A call to return to orthodoxy
While each of the seven movements appears small — based on the relatively few signatures affixed to the various 95 theses — they share common language and vision. All want to “return” their denomination to the “orthodox” roots from which they came.
All want to “return” their denomination to the “orthodox” roots from which they came.
This is the same language that was used by Southern Baptist Convention conservatives in the 1990s to charge the “conservative resurgence” that captured complete control of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. It is also the same language used by Al Mohler as he assumed the presidency of the SBC’s oldest seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 30 years ago.
Like the Operation Reconquista movement today, Mohler declared himself at war with perceived “liberalism” that had moved the SBC and Southern Seminary away from its founders and their theological views — even though most of them were slaveholders.
While the exiles from the ABCUSA might get points for brevity in their 9.5 theses, the other six declarations are cumbersome to read. While each is written a bit differently, they share common themes and language, particularly about biblical interpretation, a wariness of the Social Gospel, and disdain for the inclusion of LGBTQ Christians.
For example, the Episcopal 95 theses include:
- “Christian ministers must affirm the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. Any denial of Scripture’s authority in the determination of doctrine and administration of discipline shall not be tolerated.”
- “Christian ministers must affirm the authority and divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and avoid questioning it on the basis that it is a culturally relative or historically unreliable text.”
- “Christian ministers who attack the authority of Christ, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the English Reformers, or the Doctors of the Church attack the very ground they stand on.”
- “The Church has no authority to explicitly deny the existence of eternal damnation, given that Jesus Christ spoke so plainly of it.”
- “While liberation theology and the social gospel contain elements of truth, they cannot take the place of the Biblical Gospel, as they change its message from redemption of sin and eternal life into belief in an earthly utopia.”
- “While we can unite with other religions in earthly matters, such as promoting understanding and the common good, we cannot unite with them in spiritual matters.”
- “The Church should be much quicker to discipline ministers who deny the divinity of Christ than to discipline ministers who will not bless same-sex unions or who decline to ordain women to the priesthood.”
- “Churches should spend more time talking about Eternal Life in Christ than about contemporary political issues.”
- “Preaching about God’s love without preaching about God’s holiness and wrath toward sin is just as bad as the inverse.”
- “Social justice is an important part of the Gospel but not the whole of the Gospel, and it too often has become a euphemism for a partisan political agenda.”
- “The words of Scripture and the Creeds should not be changed to insert ‘gender-inclusive’ or ‘gender-neutral’ language that changes the meaning of the original text. Likewise, the Hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer should not be altered for similar purposes, such as the rites of Holy Matrimony being rewritten to insert ‘marriage’ between two men, two women, or anything else outside the union of one man and one woman into one flesh.”
- “All are to be baptized in the name of the ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost),’ not in any alternatives such as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer;” nor should feminine pronouns be applied to God in these texts, as that renders their baptism invalid and ineffective.”
A recipe for reversing numerical decline
Each of the denominational-specific groups argues their religious bodies face numerical decline because of liberalism. The Operation Reconquista website touts the now-discredited assertion that “progressive churches always die out and conservative ones don’t.”
The declaration from conservative American Baptists states: “While there are many causes of this decline, one stands out from the rest: the failure of many churches to give first importance to our central message, the good news of the perfect life, atoning death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The Episcopal group asserts: “Over the decades there have been many pitfalls, from improper understandings of the sacrament of marriage leading to affirmation of the LGBTQ movement, to support for late-term abortions as children cry out in death, and even the death of scriptural authority giving us false and broken definitions of God. In order to return to him, we must return to the church.”
Recapturing real estate
Operation Reconquista focuses not only restoring orthodoxy but also on regaining control of the vast real estate holdings of Mainline churches in America and the influence they wield in communities.
The FAQ page also addresses what’s sure to be a common question. Here’s how it is stated on the Episcopal page: “Why don’t you just join the Anglican Church in North America?” The ACNA is a small but growing conservative offshoot of the Episcopal Church.
The answer given: “Because our goal is to stay in the Episcopal Church and to help ensure that conservative, traditional and biblically orthodox Episcopalians continue to have a place to stand within the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion.”
And there’s also the real estate.
The About section of the Operation Reconquista page states: “Operation Reconquista is a movement of Bible-believing Christians in Mainline Protestant denominations who recognize that our denominations have drifted away from the historic Christian faith. We are fighting to restore our churches to the true faith and revive them, because we do not want the great institutions built for God’s glory to be used against his kingdom.”
And another question posed is: “Why not just attend Evangelical offshoot churches?”
The answer: “While Evangelical offshoot denominations, like the PCA (Presbyterian), ACNA (Anglican), GMC (Methodist), URC (Reformed), or NALC (Lutheran) did a commendable job preserving sound theology, they left behind the Mainline churches’ resources and institutions when they split off. These institutions took centuries to build up and are funded by generations upon generations of faithful Christians donating their estates to the universities, churches and organizations of the Mainline church. We believe it dishonors their legacy to let what they built up over the years be used against God’s kingdom.”