What happened last week with World Vision should make us all take notice. The billion dollar evangelical charity announced they would accept same-sex marriage when hiring employees.
The reaction to World Vision was swift and unambiguous. A number of high-profile evangelical leaders rebuked the organization, and thousands of laypersons added their voices via websites, emails, and phone calls. It seems likely that donations to the charity would have dropped like a stone. Many of those who give to them would have simply switched to support of some other Christian charity with a similar mission. Perhaps some have.
Within two days, thankfully, the organization relented, recanted, and repented. World Vision’s own policy states, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible authoritative Word of God.” So it’s hard to understand why they would have made this decision in the first place.
In their initial announcement, they noted Christians are divided on some issues, such as evolution and modes of baptism. But marriage? Jesus affirmed marriage as being between one man and one woman (Matthew 19).
Despite the culture’s growing acceptance of same sex “marriage,” it is not up to us to redefine it.
What almost happened last week gives me an opportunity to reflect on a wider issue.
History is filled with great movements that began Christian, but now are mostly not. Some are even committed to the opposite point of view. There are many of them: the YMCA, the International Red Cross, Harvard and the Ivy League schools. Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of Princeton, said, “Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”
In virtually each of these organizations, there was always some wedge issue that arose that caused them to go from being Christian to eventually being secularized.
Spiritual entropy is always at work in this world. It’s the natural tendency for movements, even ones with strong Christian beginnings, to eventually secularize---if we’re not careful.
For example, New England began with very strong Christian roots. In 1643, the various settlements that comprised it created the New England Confederation and stated: “[W]e all came into these parts of America with one and the same end and aim, namely, to advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in the purity with peace. . . .”
But in the late 18th century, Unitarianism began to grow within some of Boston’s formerly Trinitarian churches. Unitarianism disagreed with Trinitarianism, i.e., the position of the historic Church for the most part.
The foremost leader of the Unitarians at the outset of nineteenth century America was Rev. William Ellery Channing, pastor of the Federal Street Church of Boston.
Channing objected to the doctrine of the Trinity as being “irrational” and “unscriptural.” I don’t agree, but that’s not the point. He felt the Bible was against it.
Through Unitarian influence, which divested Christianity of many of its distinctive, supernatural elements, orthodox Christianity waned and shrank considerably in New England. That’s not surprising. One 2006 study found that less than 20 percent of Unitarians in the United States label themselves as Christians. But Unitarianism became the wedge issue for New England.
It also became the wedge issue for Harvard to become liberal, theologically and otherwise. The wedge issue for Yale was the rejection in the early 19th century of Calvinism. And so on.
The wedge issue for the many Christian parachurch groups has been the hiring of unbelievers in key leadership posts.
The ultimate wedge issue for humanity at large was when Eve said yes to the serpent, whose first words were aimed at attacking God’s Word: “Indeed hath God said…” Yes, God has spoken.
Much to the surprise of many sociologists and those who argued throughout the 20th century that Christianity must give up its unique moral and supernatural elements in order to remain relevant, the mainline churches that have departed from many of the historic, traditional tenets of Christian orthodoxy have seen a vast decline in the numbers of those attending—while the more conservative, evangelical, Bible-based churches have continued to grow. Trading in the Bible’s traditional teachings for cultural currency has turned out to be a fool’s bargain.
I personally have raised money for World Vision and am so glad they didn’t cave ultimately. But I think it behooves us all to watch and pray in our own lives for whatever wedge issues could cause us to leave the straight and narrow. They may be more subtle than we realize.
Dr. Jerry Newcombe is a TV producer and the cohost of Kennedy Classics. He has also written or co-written 24 books, including The Book that Made America and (with Dr. Kennedy) What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? and (with Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Jerry hosts gracenetradio.com Thursdays at noon (EST). tiam.org. Follow him @newcombejerry