It is easy for non-mainline evangelical Christians to view the struggles within the traditional mainline denominations with a condescending eye. Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and now Lutherans have wrestled and split over various issues of biblical orthodoxy – particularly in recent years regarding the ordination of homosexuals. However, the root of the issue is not uniquely contained in those circles.
The battle now raging above the surface of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, or ELCA, over ordination of “sexually active, monogamous gays and lesbians” is just the latest chapter in the decline of biblical orthodoxy in mainline Christian denominations and the evangelical church in America at large.
The ELCA’s vote (559-451) at its national assembly displayed a deep division that has already provided fuel to the fire for many pastors and churches considering leaving the denomination. The more conservative Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod have both held the line on ordination of women as well as gays and lesbians and the WELS has issued a statement opposing the ELCA’s decision.
The underlying issue here is theological liberalism that split the Presbyterian church wide open in the 1930s and has slowly but steadily brought the same results in peer denominations such as United Methodists and Episcopalians. Combined with the watered-down, shallow “Bible light” teaching of many leading mega church pastors, it would seem that we face a toxic cocktail for Christianity.
The great news is that this is not news, and it’s certainly not new. Legendary British pastor Charles H. Spurgeon showed the resiliency of God’s truth against heresies even in the early days of the church:
But, my brethren, the church has been assailed by heresies within herself, and if anything might have destroyed her, surely it would have been these. I will single out but one – the Arian heresy. You that are well read in church history will know how very potent at one time the Arian heresy was in the ancient church. The divinity of our Lord became almost universally denied. He was a great man, a good man, perhaps the best of men, but they said that he was nothing more. It was a grand day when Athanasius declared that Christ was “very God of very God,” and, finding himself alone, yet said, “I, Athanasius, against the world.” … The pure faith of God has flung it off like drops of rain that are cast off from the housetops, and remain not … And so shall every heresy die. As the eternal God liveth, nothing is immortal but the truth – nothing is eternal but the gospel. (Spurgeon’s Collected Sermons)
It is truly no great surprise that with such chaos of belief in what is defined as Christianity in the United States and Western Europe in particular, our cultural mores and common values that created stability even through tumultuous times have decayed dramatically.
However, as Chuck Colson notes in his outstanding book, “The Body,” British scholar and author C.S. Lewis observed, “… that in every human story, as in divine history, there are two catastrophes. The first is utter ruin: the catastrophe of disintegration and undoing, the end of life as we know it, light extinguished and death’s dark triumph. The crucifixion.”
As grass-roots uprisings and upheaval roll from coast to coast in response to the governing insanity of the Obama administration and Democrat majority, we are reminded not to lose perspective even while we step into the battle for truth and freedom. Lewis takes us to the next step of the “good catastrophe,” which is the “… reintegrating and remaking, new hope rising out of the ashes – the good that would otherwise not be. The resurrection.”
The reality is that aggressors, whether philosophical, religious, political or military, challenge us to define and defend what we believe. It is that time now.
While pastors and congregations wrestle with the difficult decisions whether to be “puritans” or “separatists” as our ancestors of the faith did as well, as citizens we wrestle against tyrannical politicians and elite power brokers who would steal our property and freedom – we should remember that we are not the first, nor will be the last with such a dilemma.
Our inspiration to stay the course lies in the truth also articulated by Rev. Spurgeon in that same sermon:
The right hand of the Lord fights not for a lie, but it is lifted up and his arm is made bare for the truth of his Son Jesus Christ; and all along through the page of church history this is true – that the right hand of the Lord is exalted, and doeth valiantly in overthrowing error.
When pulpits proclaim the uncompromised truth of holy scriptures, the people are strengthened and grounded in the timeless principles of God’s love and His righteousness that we are now grafted into through our faith. Heresies will come and go; man-made denominations will rise, fracture and fall; nations and empires will dominate, then die.
His truth will prevail.