Sinking Sand -- A Church that Forsakes God's Word Faces Ruin

Ed Vitagliano | Agape Press | Friday, February 13, 2004

Sinking Sand -- A Church that Forsakes God's Word Faces Ruin

The Scriptures have always suffered the attacks of the kingdom of darkness, even as far back as the garden of Eden, when the serpent slyly asked the woman, "Indeed, has God said ...?"

The Evil One knows that if he can undermine the Bible, he can undermine the Christian. For Jesus said His words are like a rock upon which a house is built (Matthew 7:24), serving as a firm foundation for His followers.

Of course, Christ's words are a rock when they are obeyed. If they are discarded, it is as if a man has built his house on shifting sand. When the inevitable storm of wind, rain and flood hammer it, the house will fall, and Jesus said its ruin would be great.

Christians are witnessing a real-life demonstration of Christ's warning in the actions of the 2.4-million-member Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. When a majority of Episcopal leaders at their General Convention in August elected openly homosexual Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, they tossed aside the clear teachings of Scripture.

Conservatives saw the decision as an act of ultimate betrayal. As Suzanne Gill, spokeswoman for the Episcopal diocese in Fort Worth, told The Dallas Morning News, "From our point of view, this is a departure from the teaching of Holy Scripture for the past 2,000 years."

A Truth 'Still Unfolding'?

Liberal Episcopalians seem to have understood that the Bible stands firmly in the path of the church's normalization of homosexuality. As a result, some merely argued last year that the traditional church views on homosexuality are not, in fact, what the Scriptures actually teach. By twisting Biblical passages in an attempt to legitimize sodomy, they have asserted that the Word of God has nothing to say about loving, committed same-sex relationships.

Perhaps more disturbing, however, was a different strain of argument that arose during the Robinson dispute, which claimed that, while the old view of homosexuality as a sin may have had its roots in the Bible, that is not what God is saying today.

In fact, at the height of the Episcopal controversy this summer, Rev. Frank Griswold, the denomination's presiding bishop, insisted that, on the issue of homosexuality, God's truth is "still unfolding."

Liberals seem enamored with this idea of a never-ending search for God's truth, a Hegelian process which turns its back on the past and is always looking forward to that fresh synthesis of old and new.

Diana Butler Bass, author of Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community, said members of the more liberal mainline Protestant churches "are open to the newness and unexpectedness of how God works. God can open doors and lead us to new understanding."

Robinson, in fact, declared after his election, "I feel like God is doing a new thing in the world. I believe something is happening in the church" regarding the acceptance of homosexuality.

This "newness" is applauded as something the Holy Spirit is doing among Christians today. "This [vote to confirm Gene Robinson] is a prophetic step forward," gushed Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of Claiming the Blessing, which has been urging the Episcopal Church to officially legitimize same-sex unions. "The General Convention has now said amen to what the Holy Spirit said to the people of New Hampshire" when they originally selected Robinson.

Most conservatives would find it an odd thing to claim that the Holy Spirit is saying something that contradicts the Bible, but liberals often seem intent on treating the Bible as nothing more than a bit of quaint advice.

For example, Dan Webster, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, said, "One of the things that I was always taught is that we love the Bible so much that we never take it literally."

This is a far cry from what Jesus said in John 14:23: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word." It appears that the Lord meant literally, regardless of what Webster thinks.

This is why, for some conservatives, homosexuality was not really the point of contention over Robinson. "The gay issue is not the real issue," said Rev. Steven R. Randall, who resigned his Episcopal pastorate at St. Timothy's Church in Catonsville, Maryland, in protest of the Robinson vote. "The real issue is: Does the Bible mean what it says, or can you make it mean whatever you want?"

Shifting Spirituality

The baptized relativism of liberals seemed to be the most prominent undercurrent during the Episcopal controversy last year. In a statement released by the Diocese of New Hampshire prior to Robinson's consecration, officials said it had "faithfully and prayerfully followed a Spirit-led process" in its decision to select Robinson as bishop. "We believe the Spirit is calling us forward into an ever-deepening relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we might reach out to all of God's children, and become God's loving arms in a world that hungers for that relationship."

Such words carry an air of legitimacy, marked by the authority of a "Spirit-led process," energized by prayer, and the promise of "an ever-deepening relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ."

Severed from the foundational bedrock of Scripture, however, such legitimacy evaporates. Richard Howe, who has taught philosophy and apologetics at a number of universities, said in an interview with AFA Journal that the Episcopal decision "had a semblance of objectivity, because it was done corporately. But the decisions are not grounded in something external to them -- so it's not really objective."

In other words, it is just opinion. The end result of such subjectivity is a shift in the whole concept of spirituality away from one that is God-centered to one that is man-centered.

Edith M. Humphrey, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a five-year member of the [Episcopal] Primate's Theological Commission, said in an article for Christianity Today: "Modern spirituality begins and ends with the self; Christian spirituality, with the Alpha and Omega."

This "truncated spirituality," she said, is "intent mainly upon finding an inner connection," and winds up being "an amorphous concept."  It can be whatever the person wants it to be.

Robinson told delegates to the General Convention, "[I]n my relationship with my partner, I am able to express the deep love that's in my heart, and in his unfailing and unquestioning love of me, I experience just a little bit of the kind of never-ending, never-failing love that God has for me. So it's sacramental for me."

Through his experience, Robinson has projected onto God his own mortal feelings of love for his same-sex partner, believing that this reflects God's approval. Robinson's feelings define what is holy, and thus what draws him closer to God. Thus, to Robinson, his sodomy becomes "sacramental" -- which, of course, is blasphemy.

Humphrey told AFA Journal that Christians must oppose the liberal assertion that, simply because they claim "the 'Spirit' is all about leading us into 'new things,'" that "contemporary (and individual) experience can 'trump' the wisdom of the apostles (as found in the Scriptures) or the ongoing witness of the historic Church."

That's not to say that experience is unimportant for Christians, but, she insisted, a proper understanding of experience reveals that it is not simply some internal feeling of bliss or connectedness to something greater. Instead, Humphrey said Christians should pray that they might "'experience' God's truth, love, and presence" in their lives.

That type of experience is anchored in the Word. Humphrey said Christians should remember "that God's will is heard through Scriptures, as understood in the Church as a whole (tradition). The Holy Spirit will continue to direct God's living Church -- but not over against what she has learned before."

As Episcopalian Russell R. Reno, associate professor of theology at Creighton University and author of the book, In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity, said, Bible-believing Episcopalians should do their best "to remind [liberals] that the Holy Spirit leads us into the depths of Scripture, not beyond it."

What the Future Holds

Unfortunately, liberals in the Episcopal Church seem determined to reject Scripture as the plumb line of faith and practice, in essence digging up the foundations of the house and filling in the gaping holes with shifting sand.

The problem, Howe said, is that church history demonstrates that once a denomination "begins to drift into liberalism, it's almost impossible to change it and bring it back to the Bible."

So what should Bible-believing Episcopalians do? Although he himself is not of that faith, Howe said that an important principle can help Christians in all churches. "It saps all my energy to be 'on the mission field' in my own denomination," he said. "Church is supposed to nourish me, but if all of my energy is being eroded fighting this battle [for orthodoxy], then I can't survive spiritually."

"Separation [between conservatives and liberals] is taking place even now, and this is a great tragedy," Humphrey told the Journal, adding that there "comes a point when Christians must heed Paul's call not to be 'unequally yoked' -- that is even true in the holiest of unions, when a marriage partner will no longer be faithful."

If that point has indeed come, it is a truly sad day; not many Christians have lived to see the ruinous fall of an entire denomination. But no Episcopalian can say that they weren't warned. All they had to do was read the Bible.

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Ed Vitagliano, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is news editor for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.  This article appeared in the February 2004 issue.

©2004 Agape Press.

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