Thursday, June 22, 2006

Understanding Denominational Chaos

The scripture tells us that it was in the springtime of the year when kings go out to battle that David stayed in Jerusalem. In America, it is also in the spring and early summer that most mainline denominations have their annual conventions and meetings. When you see and hear stories in the news about these convocations, it can be slightly confusing. In the midst of great madness, let me try to help clarify

The Southern Baptist Convention wrapped up the 2006 convention in Greensboro, North Carolina last week. The meeting closed with the SBC facing some struggles of cooperation; but, in general the meeting was a time to clarify and unify our focus on world evangelization. Other denominations who met this past week are facing problems. The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA are deeply divided, but not over world evangelization. They are breaking apart over the ordination of openly homosexual priests and bishops, as well as an anti-biblical view of gender roles. Here is how Ruth Gledhill of The Times (London) reported the proceedings of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA: The Episcopal Church in America descended into chaos last night after leading bishops on both the liberal and conservative wings disassociated themselves from a last-gasp effort to avert a schism with the worldwide Anglican Communion. Just hours after its newly elected woman head preached a sermon in praise of "our mother Jesus," the Episcopal Church agreed to "exercise restraint" in appointing any more gay bishops after a tense day of debate and argument.

This is the kind of theological insanity and foolishness that has developed after a group, long ago, rejected God's Word as the absolute source of truth. We cannot allow our seminaries or colleges to slip into this well worn pattern of rejecting the truth of God's Word. In his new book, Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, Dave Shiflett tells the story of one young seminary student, in a liberal denominational seminary, who found himself consistently at odds with his professors. Another student said to him, "We have figured out your problem. You're the only one here who believes in God."

Could this be why these same mainline denominations are in a decline nosedive? According to a 2000 study by the Glenmary Research Center, the Presbyterian Church USA declined 11.6% over the previous decade. The Episcopal Church lost 5.3% and the United Church of Christ watched as 14.8% of its members walked away. On the other side of the vast theological divide, most conservative denominations are growing. The Conservative Presbyterian Church of America [PCA} grew 42.4% in the same decade. The Christian Missionary Alliance grew 21.8%, Evangelical Free Church grew 57.2%, Assemblies of God increased 18.5%, and Southern Baptist grew 5%.

What lessons should we learn? First, God does not need denominations; denominations need God. The true church of the Lord Jesus Christ can be found in many different denominations and non-denominations. Denominations, at their best, are often wonderful examples of Christian unity in purpose. Together, we can do what few alone can accomplish in God's kingdom. Yet, we must guard our association with one another. We must be diligent to maintain fidelity to the inerrant Word of God. We must not allow ourselves to slip down the slope of theological liberalism.

Pray for our church to be “salt and light” in this decaying culture. Pray that we will offer hope to all people that can only be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ed Litton