Saturday, June 03, 2006

Is It Time to End the "Babylonian Captivity" of Evangelicals in the Mainline Denominations?

Today, I read some fairly strong criticisms of an evangelical Baptist. This stimulated some thinking on my part. The following is offered tentatively, fearfully, and provisionally. I solicit the feedback of those sisters and brothers more astute than me who may be willing to add or subtract from these thoughts.

Early on in the Reformation, Martin Luther’s friend Spalatin asked him to write about the sacraments. Luther did not tentatively embark upon his mission but quickly attacked the papacy for its system of sacramental observance (or wrong headed misunderstanding of it as Luther saw it).

The title of his work, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), refers to the time the Jews spent under Babylonian rule in the sixth century B.C. Similarly, Luther argued that Christians had been carried away from the Word of God and made subject to the papal system. Luther opined that because of this abuse Rome was "identical with the kingdom of Babylon and the Antichrist itself.”

Luther’s impulse was away from slavery to freedom. In his mind the Roman church had subjugated the people of God with a system both unbiblical and onerous. How can anyone compare this to the current controversy in the ABC? How can an evangelical revolt against Valley Forge be construed as liberating? Should we not associate the trajectory of freedom with the left and its embrace of human rights, civil rights, and the courage to recast traditional sexual roles in more humane and humanistic directions?

As Paul would say, "Me genoito" (“May it NEVER be!”)! The fault line separating evangelical Baptists from the Valley Forge establishment concerns more than interpretation and hermeneutics. It relates to the very authority of Jesus Christ, himself. The mainline impulse in the past few decades has pointed toward an inclusive vision bordering on syncretism and a revisionist program partaking of denial of essential Christian tenets held virtually universally in the church for nearly two thousand years. That the American Baptists are perhaps the most traditional of the seven mainline sisters does not deny the significant drift from historic orthodoxy in our ranks as well.

Our commitment to Jesus Christ and to shared mission cannot be reconciled with radical revisionism of the church’s sexual ethics without doing violence to the Bible and to the authority of Jesus Christ in the process. Paul, the great pioneer charged with fleshing out the meaning of “radical discipleship” began his greatest epistle declaring that homosexual practice was not only “incompatible” with Christian teaching (as the ’92 ABC resolution would have it), but that it stands under the eschatological wrath and enduring judgment of God.

Unless we are willing to strip the kernel from the husk and remove the “trappings” from what we take to be the central meaning of the Bible, we cannot dismiss Paul as a raving culture-bound homophobe of the first century. And, if Paul stands as an accurate communicator of the Word of God, we cannot easily parse the unanimous teaching of the New Testament on human sexuality in any other way without denying the authority of Jesus Christ who clearly believed “Your Word is truth.” That difference, for example, separates this issue from questions of slavery and women in ministry where the witness of scripture shows some ambiguity of precedent and teaching.

Freedom is an intoxicating construct, particularly in our present day world. But, just as being “liberated” from oxygen results in asphyxiation and “freedom” from food leads to starvation, the open-minded revisionism of the left will result in alienation from God and standing under his eternal judgment, not the promised utopia.

Insofar as the leadership of the ABCUSA has repeatedly declared itself willing to live in the tension and cognitive dissonance of being personally “traditional” while simultaneously “holding on” to those who reject the Word of the Church’s Christ, perhaps the time has come to identify the “freedom” of the revisionists for what it is. This is not the “soul liberty” of our early forbearers. It represents a deadly “liberty” or separation from truth, from life, and from Christ. As Paul told the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

At this point, evangelicals in the ABC have more in common with traditional Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Congregationalists than they do with their own denomination. The issue cannot be reduced to narrow mindedness or the ultimate shibboleth, "fundamentalism." With no realistic prospect of changing the culture or policies of Valley Forge, maybe the time has come to end the “Babylonian captivity” of evangelicals willing to submit to the freedom of truth who have been suffering at the hands of those embracing the spirit of this age.

[Editorial Note: My affection for EVERY one of the leaders in Valley Forge (having met and shared meals with all of them) should preclude the assumption that one reader made that my reference to the Babylonian Captivity implies that I think VF people are the "antichrist"!!!]

[His Barking Dog reminds readers that these howls against the revisionists are my own opinions only. I do not pretend to speak for ANY organization or entity or structure or modality or sodality or coffee club or coven or investors' club or gang or prayer group.]

9 comments:

Northeast Baptist said...

Just a reminder. Luther did not leave - he was ejected. I chose to be in the ABCUSA because for the most part it is a broadly evangelical denomination. As an evangelical baptist who believes in the ordained ministry of women and the validity of charismatic experience and practice I don't see any other good options.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Luther's burning of Exsurge Domine and a book of canon law on December 10, 1520 in effect excommunicated Leo before the issuance of Decet Romanum Pontificum on January 3, 1521.

I have a wife who is a full-time associate in an ABC church and know numerous friends who affirm the validity of charismatic experience within Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW).

Dennis Reeves said...

Dennis,

I wish to "amen" your comments. I understand Northeast Baptist's" concerns, but think the time has surely come to leave. I am not satisfied that CCN offers the necessary elements of a successful alternative, but I am hoping that Transformation Churches will become open to those of us in a "galaxy far away." If I am going to become part of something new, and if I am going to feel comfortable on behalf of my church, I need to see a representative organization with an elected board that holds leadership to accountability. I know you don't speak for ABCPSW - but it would be good if you could speak to ABCPSW about expanding its ministry.

The other Dennis

Northeast Baptist said...

"I have a wife who is a full-time associate in an ABC church and know numerous friends who affirm the validity of charismatic experience within Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW)."

Which is why I’m sorry to see PSW go. Frankly, that action has made it more difficult for the rest of us. Ditto in spades for the demise of ABE. Transformation Ministries’ numerical and regional limitations make it a marginal opportunity for someone in the Northeast, though I would probably find it a congenial environment. I share the other Dennis' concerns about CCN. Meanwhile, I will have to pass on the approach that change cannot happen in ABCUSA. We may not be able to do it, but the Holy Spirit is another matter.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Northeast,

During my 50+ years in the ABC (30+ on an ABC church or related organization's payroll), people have been telling me to be patient and realize that change takes time. At this point, the movement seems to be in the opposite direction. If you have the desire to be a change agent within the system, may the Lord bless you. It will be a VERY uphill battle.

Innercity Kid said...

I think that what most folks are dealing with is whether they want another denomination or not. CCN is to radical for some. People say that they want change but when it comes down to it they will change anything to keep it the same.

Innercity Kid said...

Dennis E., you are correct in the uphill battle. Plus, who wants to spend the time and the money and the effort when our own churches are sick, dying (ave. age of ABC'er is ovedr 62)and our communities are lost. I have been observing the beacon church gang for sometime. Just the inordinate amount of posting or complaining about the ABC virtually is the entire forum. There is just token service being given to the other headings. Its truly a wonder anything will succeed for evangelicals in the ABC. First they are too independent (look at every tact all the regions are taking nothing coordinated), the PV guys are virtually nonexistent, CCN is sputtering at best, GCN didn't make it in the ABC but I have been told they are working with over 40 denominations. Are we in a post-denominatnional age and we just can't come to grips with it? just wandering around the net. I do appreciate your blog however. I loved the babylonian piece. provocative

Northeast Baptist said...

Dennis,

You said, "Luther's burning of Exsurge Domine and a book of canon law on December 10, 1520 in effect excommunicated Leo before the issuance of Decet Romanum Pontificum on January 3, 1521."

I'm more inclined toward Heiko Oberman's perspective (Luther, Eng. trans., 1990. pp. 186-7): 'From a spectator's vantage point Luther seems to have severed all ties and resolved to undertake a heroic struggle for freedom. He himself experienced the dramatic years between 1518 and 1521 very differently: he had not turned away; he had been turned away, excommunicated three times--- by his religious order, by the pope, and by the emperor. He experienced the triple blows a painful process of separation. The misery of isolation made a lasting imprint on his memory: "In the year 1518 Staupitz released me from my vow of obedience to the order and left me alone in Augburg. Then the pope cut me off from his Church and finally the emperor from his empire. But the Lord took me up." (Table Talk from the early 1530's)' Oberman continues, "Luther did not see himself as a man going his own way but as a man forsaken; that is how he experienced and understood the beginnings of the history of the Reformation ----."

Italian-Swamp-Yankee said...

Enough

"Freedom is an intoxicating construct, particularly in our present day world. But, just as being “liberated” from oxygen results in asphyxiation and “freedom” from food leads to starvation, the open-minded revisionism of the left will result in alienation from God and standing under his eternal judgment, not the promised utopia." <----What a great quote BD!!!!!

There seems to be a tide coming into shore where traditionalist, orthodox, evangelicals, and whatever other name one can come up with are saying "enough".
Left-wing-nuts have dominated conversations through a plethora of mediums over the years, for too long, evangelicals have been graciously silent saying, "Live and let live". Now, people serious about Christ's commission are standing up speaking the truth in love--and the Theo-left CAN'T HANDLE IT.

"How dare you question what we say", is the mantra of the day. DD reported the affect of blogs. Evangelicals will always win a fair debate as they always have truth on their side. The redaction/revisionist crowd can't act overtly because their "isms" and "ologies" were born straight from Babel where man tried to create a utopia away from God that crumbles and gets scattered. There’s nothing new under the sun.
Just this week in the political realm, I have seen conservative people publicly question the methodology and approaches of knuckle-dragging liberal fundamentalists--and they went ballistic! This person, who happened to be a woman, dared to question a loud spoken minority of people considered "victim" status. After, when mindless, talking-heads attempted to call her “uncaring”, she courageously challenged their perspective and they stopped yapping. I believe the same dynamics are happening in the ABC. The good intentioned (I hope) "religious wrong" is finally being held accountable for their un-thoughtful blathering. I have a feeling they will be stuttering as they try to explain their years of power plays.

Disenfranchised or not, evangelicals have to stand up like Martin Luther and say "enough".