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By Campbell Campbell-Jack
29 June 2023

The church must 'change or die', or so say progressive Christians. The core of their argument is that if the church resists the demands of the modern world it will be doomed to irrelevance.

This might have some force if the evidence bore it out. However, those denominations which have gone the furthest with the progressive programme have seen a fatal decline in numbers of worshippers and clergy, along with a distortion of liturgical practice.

To reach the world with the saving news of Christ, the church has to present the unchanging gospel in a way which people understand and which addresses their needs. It is when understanding the surrounding culture becomes adapting to and even adopting the surrounding culture that the church destroys itself.

A Dying Church

The clearest example of this is probably the most progressive church in the West, the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the US. It has gone much further than most mainstream denominations elsewhere, and is paying the price. According to TEC's executive council and reported in the excellent Virtue Online, in 2021 the number of funerals, (23, 127) outweighed the number of baptisms (13,859) by nearly two to one. Six dioceses had no children confirmed, one diocese had no baptisms, child or adult. In the meantime hundreds of parishes are unable to find priests. Total average attendance has dropped by 24.7% percent from 2008 to 2021. The Episcopal Church is dying, if not dead.

There has been an alarming decline in membership and attendance. Numbers released for 2020 indicate a doubling in the rate of membership decline and a tripling in the rate of attendance decline over the previous year. Median Average Sunday Attendance in the denomination has dropped from 57 persons in 2016 to 50 persons in 2020. Long-term, 61 percent of Episcopal parishes saw their attendance decline 10 percent or more in the past five years.

Julia Ayala Harris, President of the House of Deputies and highest-ranking lay person in the denomination, tried to deflect concern: 'We sometimes talk too much about numbers, numbers of people in the pews, and not enough about the fruit of our ministries.' The church's website notes that Ms Harris 'is passionate about a multitude of issues, such as immigration, race and ethnicity, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and truth-telling, as well as justice initiatives'. No mention of a passion for Christ, Scripture, the gospel, evangelism or theology.

The executive council reports steady progress on another front. In 2004 Gene Robinson became TEC's first openly homosexual bishop, and in 2020 Rev Bonnie Perry the first openly lesbian bishop. Today the executive council reports that 'LGBTQ+ priests now make up about one in four in The Episcopal Church.'

In addition, 'men outnumber women as priests, but women are being ordained at growing rates, especially as bishops. More and more people of color have been consecrated as bishops or called to other senior leadership positions, though clergy of color still lag far behind those of white clergy in parish calls.' A church with not enough priests to fill its declining number of parishes is focusing on the diversity of its vanishing clergy.

The Bible Abandoned

Lesbian Bishop Bonnie Perry unwittingly revealed why TEC is vanishing: it has abandoned biblical theology for self-affirming therapeutic spirituality. 'What we say in the faith community is: each and every one of us is made in God's likeness,' she said. 'If that's the case, then God's image and likeness has many different faces.'

This teaches that what we are must be affirmed because that is how God made us. Such a message leaves no need for God because we are what we are by his design and all we can do is come to terms with and value how we are. As such, it is a message unable to reach a hurting man or woman struggling with their lives and longing for something better than what they already have.

The more woke TEC becomes, the more people abandon it. As society in the US becomes ever more secular the church finds itself unable to attract these modern people. This should be no surprise: why join a church which offers only the surrounding culture with an added whiff of incense?

The progressive church, whether in the form of TEC or the mainstream church in any of its manifestations under the control of progressive Christians, rejects the idea of the Bible as God's Word. They are bringing up to date a heresy which has been with us since the church began. From the errors of Marcion (c85 -- c160) through the German Christians adopting Nazi ideology and on to today, there have always been those who treat the Bible as a pick'n'mix counter from which they select bits which appear to fit their own presuppositions and discard the rest. They think the Bible should answer to the bar of their thinking rather than have their thinking standing before the bar of Scripture.

The woke Church has become a form of religion which, emerging from Christianity, can best be described as ersatz Christianity. There are many people genuinely wishing to follow Christ trapped unthinkingly in woke churches due to loyalty, tradition and lack of teaching. Orthodox believers should speak clearly and describe such bodies for what they are: apostate churches which shelter heretics amongst their leadership.

Campbell Campbell-Jack is a retired Church of Scotland minister. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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