Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Open Letter from Church Renewal Leaders - "This approach is utter nonsense!"
An Open Letter from Association for Church Renewal Leaders
And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he [Christ] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23, RSV)
Sisters and Brothers in the Lord:
We, renewal leaders in various North American Protestant denominations, write you with thanksgiving for Christ's great work of reconciliation and sanctification. It is our only hope in life and death.
We encourage you to remain steadfast in your faith in Christ's work, looking to him as the sole source of unity and purity within his church. There are constantly shifting alternatives that offer a false, cheap peace. But we urge you not to let go of the true and costly peace won by Jesus Christ.
As many of us gathered October 17-18 in Arlington, Virginia, we noted a shifting situation in several denominations. This letter is our attempt to alert you to these new developments.
The debate within our churches over biblical standards for human sexuality may be entering a new phase. For decades, revisionists have argued that the Scriptures, properly understood, do not prohibit homosexuality as it is practiced today. Indeed, they have insisted that biblical values of "justice" require the acceptance of homosexual relationships.
Increasingly, however, the arguments have shifted. We now see, in several denominations, a new strategy to win the church's affirmation of homosexual acts. This new strategy is less direct. It is offered as a "compromise," a "third way." Yet the effect would be the same: to undermine and ultimately to set aside the historic Christian teaching that affirms God's good gift of sexual intimacy solely within the marriage of man and woman.
We stand opposed to this false "third way," with the same firmness with which we opposed the earlier attempts to re-interpret the Bible. We warn you to beware such "compromises" that give away too much.
The essence of the new strategy is this: to leave in church law books the orthodox standards calling Christians to fidelity in marriage and sexual abstinence in singleness, while inventing procedural devices permitting church bodies and officials to disregard the standards at will. This strategy has been proposed-and, in some cases, functionally adopted-in the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Insofar as it succeeds in some of those denominations, the strategy will likely be replicated elsewhere.
This strategy marks, in some ways, a retreat by the pro-homosexuality advocates. Tacitly, they are conceding that the weight of biblical and traditional Christian teaching is against them. They have not been able adequately to answer the powerful exegesis buttressing that teaching, represented especially by Robert Gagnon's masterwork The Bible and Homosexual Practice. The pro-homosexuality advocates have not persuaded most church members to abandon the historic teaching. For this indirect vindication of the truth, we must all be grateful to God.
Yet we cannot be content with standards that remain on paper while being emptied of all force. This false "compromise" would be, in some respects, more damaging than a straightforward blessing of homosexual relations. Not only would it convey tolerance of sin in the important area of sexuality, but it would also set the church adrift more generally.
This "third way" would sever the church's practice from its doctrine. It would set a terrible precedent of a church openly acknowledging a biblical command and then treating obedience to that command as optional. If denominations start granting exemptions from church discipline in one area, it will be very difficult to maintain any kind of covenant of mutual accountability within the church. No promise of ecclesiastical peace and unity can justify these distortions of the church's theology and polity.
Advocates for this "third way" make arguments that strain credibility to the breaking point. They claim that they are "proposing no changes" to the church's standards. But in fact they are seeking a radical change-to demote the standards to "non-essential" status. They claim that their "compromise" would split the difference between traditionalist and revisionist views on sexuality. But in fact it would yield exactly the result desired by the revisionists-moral approbation of non-marital sex-on a slightly longer timeline.
"Third way" proponents also claim that their solution would strike a balance between different interpretations of the Scriptures. When two interpretations are mutually contradictory, these proponents want to accept both the one and the other as equally valid. They urge the church to "get beyond yes/no polarities" that force it to make painful choices. Their "third way" would avoid such choices by affirming all individuals interpreting the Bible as sincere and faithful Christians.
This approach is utter nonsense. The Bible is filled with unavoidable yes/no choices: "I set before you life and death, blessing and curse" (Deuteronomy 30:19); "Choose this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15); "He will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left" (Matthew 25:33); "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you" (Revelation 3:20).
A church that systematically refuses to choose between truth and error has no place left to stand. To the extent that any church declines to distinguish the better from the worse biblical interpretations, it undercuts its own ability to teach clear doctrine from the Scriptures.
The existence of different interpretations does not imply that all those interpretations are equally valid. Nor does it imply that all interpreters are equally faithful. On the contrary, it is more likely that every interpreter falls short of complete faithfulness-to a greater or lesser degree. The church cannot give unconditional affirmation to all its members' personal views of Scripture. It always has the responsibility to seek the most faithful interpretation and to act upon it.
We are convinced-by the consistent testimony of the Scriptures and the Church Universal, through the ages and around the world-that the fidelity in marriage and abstinence in singleness standard remains the most faithful interpretation of God's will for human sexuality. This is an essential component of our calling in the Lord Jesus and our sanctification through the Holy Spirit, who purposes to "present [us] holy and blameless and irreproachable before him." We ask you to stand steadfast with us in rejecting any compromise that would shift Christ's church away from that godly endeavor.
Sara L. Anderson, Executive Vice President, Bristol House, Ltd. (United Methodist)
The Rev. James D. Berkley, Interim Director, Presbyterian Action for Faith & Freedom
Verna M. and Dr. Robert H. Blackburn, National Alliance of Covenanting Congregations (United Church of Canada)
The Rev. Karen Booth, Executive Director, Transforming Congregations (United Methodist)
Pastor Mark C. Chavez, Director, WordAlone Network (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
The Rev. Susan Cyre, Executive Director, Presbyterians for Faith, Family, and Ministry
The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network
The Rev. Thomas J. Edwards, Executive Director, New Wineskins Initiative (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.))
The Rev. Dr. Ira Gallaway, Confessing Movement (United Methodist)
Dr. Scott M. Gibson, President, American Baptist Evangelicals
The Rev. Dr. Donna Hailson, pastor, author, former professor (American Baptist)
The Rev. James V. Heidinger, President, Good News (United Methodist)
The Rev. Arthur Hiley, Vice President, National Alliance of Covenanting Congregations (United Church of Canada)
The Rev. Harold S. Martin, Editor, Brethren Revival Fellowship (Church of the Brethren)
Craig Alan Myers, Chairman, Brethren Revival Fellowship (Church of the Brethren)
The Rev. Bill Nicoson, Executive Director, American Baptist Evangelicals
Dr. Thomas C. Oden, board member, Confessing Movement (United Methodist)
The Rev. David Runnion-Bareford, Executive Director, Biblical Witness Fellowship (United Church of Christ)
Terry Schlossberg, Executive Director, Presbyterian Coalition
Faye Short, President, RENEW Network (United Methodist)
David and Jean Leu Stanley, Chairman and Steering Committee member, UMAction (United Methodist)
The Rev. Vernon Stoop, Executive Director, Focus Renewal Ministries in the United Church of Christ
The Rev. Michael Walker, Executive Director, Presbyterians for Renewal
The Rev. Roland J. Wells, Jr., Vice President, Great Commission Network (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
The Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, Executive Director, Anglicans United
The Rev. Parker T. Williamson, Editor and Chief Executive Officer, Presbyterian Lay Committee
Alan Wisdom, Interim President, Institute on Religion and Democracy, elder in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)