Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Houses Divided

I have written before that my experience in the PCUSA taught me that the two religions there were orthodox and progressive Christianity. Certainly, there are variations and degrees of both, but it is clear: there are, in mainline denominations two different “churches.” One believes in the Bible at face value and seeks to maintain what the Church has taught through the ages. The other believes that culture, sociology, and science have as much or more to teach us than Scripture. One progressive responder to this blog defined this kind of “faith” saying, “What do first century marriage and sexuality in what is present day Turkey have to do with American 21st Century marriage and sexuality? Answer: virtually nothing.”

I just read an article, “Irreconcilable Differences” by Jack Estes that clearly demonstrates the fact that mainline denominations actually are made up of two different faiths from the Episcopalian perspective.

Who is Jesus? What is the gospel? How does holy scripture have authority? What is sin? Morality? Is God independent from the universe, or interdependent with it? These questions penetrate the idyllic surface of statements to which all claim to adhere. Beneath the surface we are faced with answers from two separate and distinct theological systems. These systems may be cohesive in and of themselves, but are radically different from one another.

Once the surface is broken, like a scuba diver we begin to see clearly what lies beneath. Two distinct visions of what it means to be an Anglican, perhaps even what it means to be a Christian, have emerged, and there is a great divide between them. This divide will not be breached by simply talking it over in the common language of the surface. Such conversation is merely representative. It does not convey the meanings that reside in the depth. The only way this division can be overcome would be if one or the other abandons their theological presuppositions.

Will this happen? Will liberal Episcopalians abandon their commitment to promoting gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender inclusiveness, a peace and justice gospel, and the acceptance of all faiths as equivalent paths to God? Will conservative Anglicans abandon their commitment to morality based on an objective scriptural standard, Jesus as the exclusive means of salvation, and a gospel that proclaims the need to convert others to Christianity?
Simply answered, No!
(emphasis added)
Not only is there a huge difference between progressive and orthodox Christianity, but some in the progressive camp revert to claims of orthodoxy when dealing with orthodox dissidents. They do this without apparently recognizing the irony, or even having the decency to blush.

An egregious example of this comes from the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to one of her orthodox bishops. She is concerned that his diocese is considering leaving the denomination and she argues the point—get this!—by implying that he is undermining traditional faith.
I have seen reports of your letter to parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, which apparently urges delegates to your upcoming Diocesan Convention to take action to leave the Episcopal Church. I would ask you to confirm the accuracy of those reports. If true, you must be aware that such action would likely be seen as a violation of your ordination vows to “uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” I must strongly urge you to consider the consequences of such action, not only for yourself but especially for all of the Episcopalians under your pastoral charge and care.

I certainly understand that you personally disagree with decisions by General Conventions over the past 30 and more years. You have, however, taken vows three times over that period to uphold the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” If you now feel that you can no longer do so, the more honorable course would be to renounce your orders in this Church and seek a home elsewhere. Your public assertion that your duty is to violate those vows puts many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence. I urge you, as a pastor, to consider that hazard with the utmost gravity.

As you contemplate this action I would also remind you of the trust which you and I both hold for those who have come before and those who will come after us. None of us has received the property held by the Church today to use as we will. We have received it as stewards, for those who enjoy it today and those who will be blessed by the ministry its use will permit in the future. Our forebears did not build churches or give memorials with the intent that they be removed from the Episcopal Church. Nor did our forebears give liberally to fund endowments with the intent that they be consumed by litigation.
(emphasis added)
The Presiding Bishop, representative of the core of those who are re-writing faith into something more comfortable to them, is accusing this traditional bishop of "violat[ing]...the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them"! She has the audacity to say that he is the one putting "many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence" even as she and her ilk have undermined and/or dismissed the saving core of the Gospel!

I believe that the mainline denominations—Congregational (UCC), Presbyterian (PCUSA), Methodist, and Episcopalian—are headed to ultimate division. I also believe that there will be a further disintegration of the progressive remainder as, without clear belief or evangelism, they will simply die out. This seems sad but, in a time when people are mostly disinterested in denominationalism, it may simply be progress toward the inevitable.

Keep praying—keep the faith,


Pamela Cook said...

I read about the nonsense that the Episcopal 'bishop' said to the CA diocese. That proves that the doctrines of the Episcopal Church is more important than the Bible. Some may try and say that criticism of her is solely because of her gender. There may be a little bit of that but she is a real nut if she really thinks that she is upholding Christian beliefs by telling the man to just leave quietly. She could care less about him but wants to dismiss the will of the congregation.

Call yourself a religious group. Do not lie and call yourselves Christian when you could care less about anything Christ has said.

Non-random Thoughts said...

Pastor Tom,
I am wondering if you have read Nancy Pearcy's "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity"?

Pearcy shows that many of us tacitly aver the "fact/value" split -- believing that facts are absolute but values are relative. The irony is that if values are relative, then truth is relative and dissenting opinions cannot be true in any objective sense. In such a case, contrary opinions are not even worthy to entertain.

On the other hand, if God exists, then Truth exists. If Truth exists, then God's Word is Total Truth. Since His Word is full of testable truth claims that have passed millenia of muster, can we do anything other than concur with Jesus when He says: "Scripture cannot be broken"?

On what basis should we conform to moral relativism? If Scripture cannot be broken, moral relativism is false; if Scripture can be broken, moral relativism is uninfluential.

John West said...

Pastor Tom, you have focused very well on the heart of the issue in this writing. There are some groups that you mention that do not appear to have much of a division as they are mostly abandoning the morals of the scripture so they may not have much of both viewpoints left. There are a few excellent examples that need to be credited with remaining essentially true such as Nazarene who as far as I know have no rift. Southern Baptist have remained very true with the only squable of recent years being the issue of inerrancy vs. infallibility of the scriptures. Catholics remain very true as far as I know with the main issues being latin vs modern language. Some issues of alleged child molestation have emerged but those appear to be mostly efforts to empty deep pockets. The whole basic reason for the continuance of denominations is probably to field a meaningful mission effort. All three of the groups mentioned above have outstanding and very efficient works in this arena. Otherwise I see little reason for denominations in the modern environment. It seems very difficult though to field missions without the clout and backing of the denomination particularly in the area of hospitals and similar complex efforts. Tom, keep up the good work, you are doing an excellent job with this. John West, Hillsdale ks.

Larry said...

Non Random Thoughts regarding the Nancy Pearcy book seems to be an offshoot of Pascal's Wager. To wit:

You believe in God. If God exists, you go to heaven: your gain is infinite.

You do not believe in God. If God doesn't exist, your gain is finite and therefore negligible.

You believe in God, and God doesn't exist. Pascal insisted that in this case your loss is finite and therefore negligible.

You do not believe, and God does exist. Your loss is infinite: you could have won the prize.

Ted Rossier said...


As well as Nancy Pearcy's book (which I have not had the chance to read but which I understand is excellent), I would recommend to all J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism which is public domain and available online as well as in book form. Even though it was published in 1923, it rings with relevance today.

I also think that the time has come for an ecumenical Council. It's high time that orthodox Christians of whatever denominational stripe get together and declare the truth, once and for all marginalizing liberal heterodoxy. I agree that eventually the so-called "progressives" will be crushed under the weight of their relativism as the church tires of their vaporous platitudes. However, a Council would go a long way toward speeding that process up. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy was a start, but it needs to be built upon.


TomGray said...

I've read both books and also recommend them highly. Machen's book is quite timely. One of the things I most appreciate about Pearcy's book is her encouragement to have people (especially youth) learn what their worldview is, and how it compares to worldviews presented by the media or universities.

Jim Smith said...


The signs of progress that are evident are not at all what you think. Mary Cheney pregnant with the Vice President's grandbaby...that is progress. It is indicative of the direction of our culture. 50 years from now, the question of homosexuality in the church, as in the larger society, will be moot. We will seem as antiquated in our nuveau-Victorian adherence to these oppressive norms as the Victorians do to us now. It is inevitable. Our grandchildren will view our views on homosexuality as relics of a meaner age.

Jim Smith