The Episcopal Church is in serious trouble. I won’t detail the recent events and politics here, but I commend this article to you for a good summary. ow.ly/ceSsG Some of those making comments claimed the piece was unfair and biased, but I saw no one actually dispute the substantive facts. See for yourself, but this matter should concern conservative Christians and I want to explain why in this post.
Terms like conservative and liberal get thrown around a lot, but I am using them here only as very general indicators within Christianity. Liberals in general have a lower view of Scripture than conservatives. They are less tied to “orthodox” theology and usually have a high view of humanity and embrace evolutionary science with more ease than conservatives. They have a dim view of religious fundamentalism and are often embarrassed by its fruits. Liberal Christianity has its roots in the modern era and believes in the progress of humanity. They highly emphasize social justice.
Conservatives have a higher view of Scripture, but a lower view of humanity, because they believe strongly in the depraving effects of sin. They are not likely to dispense of core Christian doctrines like the Trinity, atonement, and the incarnation (or else they would cease to be conservatives). They are much more likely to be suspicious of evolutionary science. Though being a conservative does not necessarily make one a fundamentalist, they are certainly among the ranks of conservatives. Conservative Christians have begun to embrace the “social gospel” as part and parcel of the proclamation of salvation in the name of Jesus.
While I paint broadly here, the demonstration of liberal Christianity and its undoing is readily seen in the article I linked above. Not everything that liberal Christianity has emphasized over the years has been bad, and, in fact, some of there emphases has been a needed corrective for conservatives (such as more concern for justice in the world). However, Christianity is not built around a vague idea of social justice and humanistic optimism. It is built on the core theology of the redemptive work of the Trinity, as particularly expressed in crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you remove this core, then what you have left is something you can call liberal, but it isn’t Christianity.
It is worth noting, there are many committed believers among the Episcopalian Church and other liberal mainline denominations. They are the ones mentioned in the linked article that are leaving in droves for more conservative leadership, even though risking their church properties, a big deal for Episcopalians–if you want to know why go tour one of their beautiful buildings!
Despite the differences between the liberal and conservative views of Christianity, there is reason for conservative Christians not to dismiss these happenings as irrelevant to them. At the heart of liberal Christianity is the rejection of the Bible as uniquely authoritative for belief and practice in the life of the Church. In my own observations, this devaluing of the Bible is spreading among the conservative churches.
It is now difficult to claim biblical authority for anything, because of our generations mistrust of authority. So, if I say the biblical view of sexual intercourse is that it is blessed and affirmed only in a committed marriage between a man and a woman, you can be sure such a view will be challenged. A number of years ago, that the Bible said this plainly was not in serious question. Ah, but in comes the power of post-modern’s deconstructionism! Deconstructionism specializes in making you skeptical that we can really understand anything the Bible says.
I am not dealing right now with the debate on homosexual marriage and other related sexual issues. I think that issue needs addressing in very substantive ways and I will offer my thoughts as I feel so moved. However, the view of the authority of Scripture is the bigger issue underlying all of this controversy. Does the Bible say anything with authority? Can we really say what is says and insist on a Christian view of sex, money, marriage, life, etc.?
I am very aware of shoddy interpretation for the purpose of gaining power in a given situation. People used the Bible to defend slavery and a host of other injustices. However, I am still convinced that intelligent interpretation of the Bible girded with humility will allow us to say the Bible does say some things that are indispensable to the Christian faith (cf. Eph. 4:1-6). The Bible has long been viewed as the inspired Word of God and uniquely authoritative for the Church. If God has spoken, and the Church can’t hear, then who can?
In between this liberal/conservative divide is a growing population of folks who claim to be Christian but mistrusts many of the traditional Christian understandings of the past. The past should not be trusted without awareness, but are we so wise that we can easily cast off the very core of the Christian faith and redefine it in the image of our own generation? That’s exactly what some folks have tried to do in the Episcopalian Church. The fruit speaks for itself and conservative Christians should take note.
p.s. Here’s another good read about the situation with its own warning to conservative Christians. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/douthat-can-liberal-christianity-be-saved.html?_r=1&smid=tw-share