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Theological Realignment Begins Across Denominational Lines


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The great realignment in American Protestantism has now begun in earnest.

The experiment with Liberal Theology which preoccupied most of the 20th Century is slowly grinding into the ground - a spent force.

This week the Southern Baptist Convention, a body of some 17 million members meeting in Indianapolis and America's largest Protestant body, announced that it would split from the theologically liberal Baptist World Alliance.

It took only a few moments and a brief show of 8,000 hands then it was all over. The inerrancy of Holy Scripture and the blessing of same-sex blessings concerned these orthodox Baptists, and so they said farewell to the international body (BWA).) Another issue - a constitutional amendment to protect marriages as the union of a man and a woman - also concerned the Baptists.

But it is not just Southern Baptists; it is also Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and the United Church of Christ who are in the midst of a spiritual battle, fighting for the souls of their churches and the millions of faithful followers of Jesus Christ who will not bow the knee to the revisionist Moloch.

A brief look at how the major denominations have voted by some of their members and their political goals is instructive.

American Friends Service Committee is in favor of same sex marriage.

The Interfaith Alliance demands the removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and the Boy Scouts shouldn't be allowed in schools. They also reject the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA).

The United Church of Christ is in favor of same-sex marriage, and says to the Boy Scouts: change or get out!

The Friends Committee on National Legislation is in favor of same sex marriage

Unitarian Universalism opposes the Boy Scouts and supports same sex marriage.
They also demand the removal of "under God" from Pledge of Allegiance. (The UU comes under the broad heading of Protestant, but is in fact a bastardization of Protestant theology and thought).

The Presbyterian Church USA supports same sex marriage and rejects the FMA.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America opposes FMA (that is, the ELCA leaders openly support same sex marriages). And the official ELCA Policy on the Boy Scouts is not encouraging. The ELCA OFFICIALLY JOINS THE RELIGIOUS LEFT screamed a headline this week. And so it has.

People for the American Way wants to stop the FMA and celebrates the fact that the PBS trashes Boy Scouts with tax-payer money.

On the other hand, The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination strengthened its stance against homosexuality at its recent General Conference in Pittsburgh. The 2004 Conference also voted to reinforce their Church’s disapproval of homosexual practice in several other areas. They overwhelmingly endorsed laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They also voted to expand the prohibition of pro-homosexuality advocacy to include local annual conferences. The United Methodist Church demonstrated that it was possible not to soften its stand on homosexual practice and still keep its membership. It may even grow as a result. Christians like boundaries, some even think the Bible promotes such.

But the Presbyterian Church USA has more strident liberals and they have won more rounds in the spiritual culture wars, but it has come at a price.

Presbyterian Layman Editor Parker Williamson, addressing a group at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., recently warned that the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. had “compromised” the Gospel, while at the same time stressing that theologically orthodox “confessing movements” in the PCUSA and other mainline denominations represent the “burgeoning reality” of the future.

“Confessing movements are crossing denominational lines,” Williamson said in his January 19 remarks. “Christians wearing one label sense spiritual communion with Christians wearing another. And this bonding appears more like a lateral internet connection than the structure of a hierarchical institution.”

Williamson admitted that the Gospel is still proclaimed in many congregations and can still be found in denominational documents. “But what we must say is that there are those occupying positions of controlling authority in this denomination who do not believe that Gospel,” he asserted. “Two faiths are now encompassed in this clay pot, and they are irreconcilable.”

“Ecclesiastical politics will not save this institution,” Williamson said. “No Rodney King, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ theology will save us. No big-tent church. No local-option compromise. No human construct will save us.”

Referring to the confessing movements within the mainline churches, Williamson said, “The power in these movements is not yet political. This is yet to come. But make no mistake about it: Confessing the faith is itself powerful. Ask the Roman Caesars what happened in their realm when people proclaimed the Gospel. Where are those Caesars today?”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has also bought into the same pansexual world as The Episcopal Church, prompting a Confessing Movement to rise up in that denomination lead by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Hershman, a Lutheran priest and family counselor.

The ELCA is further down the moral slide and is closer in spirit and theology to The Episcopal Church with which it shares a Concordat, and the two are going hand in hand towards the bottom of the ocean even as their pews empty.

But the announcement of a major alliance of six groups in the Anglican tradition this week shook the Anglican world.

Working under the banner of the Anglican Communion Network the six groups representing some 200,000 Anglican made "common cause" under the Anglican tradition.

The groups, all based in the U.S. came under the chairmanship of the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, ACN Moderator. In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, leaders of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), Forward in Faith North American (FiFNA), the Anglican Province in America (APA) and the American Anglican Council (AAC) pledged “to make common cause for the gospel of Jesus Christ and common cause for a united, missionary and orthodox Anglicanism in North America.”

It was stunning and brilliant move, and while not entirely unexpected, it comes at a time when the 17-person Lambeth Commission is meeting at Kanuga, NC, within a day of their meeting with Frank Griswold ECUSA's Presiding Bishop.

The orthodox are already expressing their excitement and you can be sure that the liberals and revisionists in ECUSA will be doing their best to put a spin on this new alliance.

Episcopal Life will probably ignore it, the Via Media crowd and some 60 plus revisionist bishops will set about doing damage control among their people.

On the positive side, what it does do is give hope to the thousands of rectors in parishes across the country caught in revisionist dioceses with shrill and strident sodomists screaming their mantras of "inclusion" and "diversity".

But it will do something even more significant. It is now very clear that no longer will the orthodox be seen as ecclesiastical warts on the back side of the ECUSA, but serious players that cannot and will not any longer be ignored by Griswold's "diverse center".

What is becoming clearer is that two very different views of truth are now on the table for all to see, and hopefully the Commission will see that with extreme clarity.

In 1923 Presbyterian Princeton theologian and apologist J. Gresham Machen said that the chief modern rival of Christianity was "liberalism," and he said further that an examination of the teachings of liberalism showed that at every point the liberal movement is in opposition to the Christian message.

Those words were never truer more than eighty years later.

In his book, Christianity and Liberalism, Machen wrote that the issue in the Church of the present day is not between two varieties of the same religion, but, at bottom, between two essentially different types of thought and life.

And nowhere is this truer and explicitly being played out than in the Episcopal Church USA which refuses to discipline John Shelby Spong for his 12 theses, has failed to uphold Biblical morality while forcing pansexuality onto the church, and demonstrating its failure to uphold basic Christian doctrines at the church's recent General Convention in Minneapolis.

And the net effect is that now after 40 years of accelerated repudiation of the 'faith once delivered' we are seeing a realignment that will be recognized by the Global South bishops and force Archbishop Williams hand at the same time. It will now be impossible for him to ignore this new alliance, and once he recognizes it, it will be a death sentence for the ECUSA, which the Anglican Communion Institute says should go its way as it is they, not us, who no longer uphold the faith.

The energy that will be unleashed from this action has yet to be felt, but felt it will be. The Bishop of Pittsburgh Bob Duncan can take a bow. The formation of the Network in Plano was a brilliant strategic move and one can only think that more orthodox bishops will now sign on.

Tens of thousands of faithful laity, thousands of Episcopal priests and dozens of bishops will be galvanized by this action, and they will fight the revisionists with renewed vigor.

Some of them like Fr. David Moyer, Rev. Greg Brewer, Fr. Eddie Rix, Fr. William Ilgenfritz, Fr. Larry Snyder, Fr. Don Armstrong, Dr. Ephraim Radner in the Dioceses of Pennsylvania, Bethlehem and Colorado - men who have taken the proverbial bull by the horns, can now stand up with greater confidence and beat back venal bishops like Bennison, Marshall and O'Neill.

Increasingly orthodox priests will, with the Sword of the Lord in hand, fight their revisionist bishops for their parishes and the souls of their people. They will take back the church street by street, parish by parish, diocese by diocese; even willing to go to court, perhaps suffer persecution, but stand.

It will also mean that every diocese that seeks a new orthodox bishop will stand up to the Via Media crowd as they did in the Diocese of Albany recently, and as they are doing in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, and faithful priests will no longer be silent when a revisionist bishop comes unbidden into their parishes. They will have the strength now to stand up and fight, galvanize their vestries, write letters; start orthodox chat rooms on the Internet, contribute to liberal Episcopal chat rooms without fear (until they are thrown off), secure e-mail addresses to tell their stories, and let their voices be heard all the way to Lambeth Palace.

Liberal Lambeth Commission chairman Archbishop Robin Eames will wince at the new found power among the orthodox in the ECUSA, and all his Irish charm will not quell the fears that Global South bishops have that Western Anglicanism now seriously gone astray, has, at last, a united voice.

The Lambeth Commission will now have a basis for punishing The Episcopal Church, and it will be swift and severe. And why? Because the souls of millions of Episcopalians and Anglicans are at stake, perhaps as many as a million in The Episcopal Church alone, and they are worth fighting for, each and every one, and the orthodox will not give up on the ECUSA because it will not give up on them, they need Jesus as much as any agnostic or post-modern Hollywood brat.

Machen was right. The two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or (otherwise designated) non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity sprang from different roots, and we are seeing the fruit of those two trees today.

The Anglican Communion Institute (ACI), ECUSA's orthodox think tank also came out with a statement this week, brilliantly timed for the Lambeth Commission, and they are urging the strongest possible disciplinary action against the post-modern bishops of ECUSA including its Presiding Bishop.

The only issue now is will the Commission do it; and if not, will the Global South bishops now force Dr. Williams hand? We can hope and pray.

The next few months may well be the most exciting time in the history of Anglicanism, at least for its North American branch.

But one message is clear, ECUSA's orthodox need to know they can fight - some 700 clergy recently signed a statement to the Lambeth Commission urging the Commission's "immediate intervention to establish discipline, order and accountability for the Episcopal Church."

The ECUSA's orthodox now know they have more on their side than they knew, and they will never again be stilled, their voices no longer silenced, for in the end they know they will win because truth will always triumph. Always.

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