Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The crumbling foundation of organized religion

The religious news world is abuzz with the news, long expected, that the Presbyterian Church-USA has paved the way for non-celibate homosexuals to serve as clergy in their rapidly dying denomination. This is from the official webpage of the PC-USA regarding the change to PC-USA ordination. The old language regarding ordination standards read as follows:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

That has been dramatically revised. Note the change:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G- 14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
What is clearly removed is the requirement that clergy be either a married in a heterosexual marriage or chaste. That requirement made sense and was perfectly Biblical. What replaces it is a complete lack of standards at all. Note also that any reference to repentance of sin is also removed.

Set aside the whole clergy issue for a second here. My position on that is quite clear. As I understand this, unmarried clergy are no longer required to be celibate. So someone who is a pastor and is single, of either gender and of any sexual preference, can be engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage and that is not only OK, it is celebrated?

So here are several scenarios.

One: An unmarried heterosexual male pastor lives with his girlfriend in a non-celibate sexual relationship. That apparently is OK.

Two: An unmarried homosexual female pastor lives with her girlfriend in a non-celibate sexual relationship. That is also OK.

Three: An unmarried bi-sexual male pastor lives in a home with an assortment of men and women, all of whom engage in sexual acts with one another. I guess that is OK too?

Forget gay marriage, if you don’t think there is anything wrong with your church leaders being in non-celibate unmarried relationships why bother with marriage at all? The only real reason for marriage becomes tax and legal benefits and getting stuff at your wedding shower.

I can’t see how anyone can read the New Testament and think that open and unrepentant sin, or to put it more bluntly the embrace and celebration of sin, is compatible with the church, a Body made up of sinners who have been born-again and made into new creatures. Creatures that struggle with sin for certain but never, ever that embrace sin as holy. What an upside-down situation!

This has ramifications far beyond just the death of mainline protestantism. All around us the structures of organized religion are falling. The so-called “mainline” denominations are dying by means of a slow suicide, trying to make themselves more “inclusive” but alienating the very believers who make up the church. Some segments of the traditional church seem ascendant at the moment but the cracks are apparent if you take the time to look. The Western culture that is defined in large part by organized religion that is a pale imitation of Christianity is in its death throes and what will remain in 20 or 30 years is going to look very different from the world we are accustomed to. As I have repeated ad nauseum I do not lament the death of Christendom but I do wonder if the Body of Christ is prepared to do the work of evangelism, mercy and ministering in a post-Christendom culture without the safety and security of the cultural acceptance of our faith. I am afraid that by and large that answer is no. Far too many of my brothers and sisters are stubbornly clinging to the traditions of the past in the hopes of rescuing the present. We still persist in trying to replicate Western Christendom in the mission field when in fact we should be looking to the mission field for clues to how we will need to function in the future. The future of Christianity in America is going to look a lot more like the 21st century church in China than it will the 16th century church in Geneva. We need to prepare our youth for that day instead of trying to integrate them into the fading Western church culture that never looked much like the New Testament church in the first place. The great theologians like Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon still have a place in the church but we had better start looking to the martyrs and the persecuted church to a greater degree. Jim Elliot and Michael Sattler are going to have a lot to teach us regarding the days ahead.

(Dr. Mohler has an excellent essay on this subject from a different perspective: Following Jesus While Rejecting the Bible? Yet Another Tragedy in Mainline Protestantism )


Anonymous said...

Why are SOME conservative Christians so fixated and passionate about people in samesex relationships? Why dont they have the same hysterical reaction to people who remarry after divorce when their first spouse is still living, which JESUS clearly condemned? Could it be that they have a specific, heightened prejudice and disdain for gay people and their relationships? This is why so many of us are hesitant to associate with conservative Christians today. Recent surveys show that antigay attitudes and beliefs are one of the main reasons people cite today as a reason they do not go to church or identify with Christianity. Although I am active in a gay-friendly charismatic church, I avoid churches that disrespect gay Christians. We will not support people who persecute and disrespect our gay and bisexual brethren, no matter how they try to use religion to justify their prejudice.

Arthur Sido said...


If you had taken the time to read my post you would see that this goes far beyond homosexuality and into a permissive "anything goes" mentality that refuses to call sin what it is.

Although I am active in a gay-friendly charismatic church, I avoid churches that disrespect gay Christians.

Would you proudly label a church "adultery friendly"? What about "polygamy friendly"? Or "divorce friendly"? Homosexual behavior is sinful, as is adultery and divorce and murder. How can someone claim to be a follower or Christ and yet be friendly with sin?

BTW, the reason people avoid Christianity has nothing to do with the church being "antigay". The reason people don't identify with Christianity is because they don't know Christ. If the church embraces sin, whether homosexuality or divorce or murder, it ceases to be a Gospel witness and is reduced to a religious organization. We already have plenty of those.