jasonbwatson

August 11, 2015

Would you jump too?

You may have heard or read already about City Church in San Francisco announced this past March that the church would “no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation,” by which the church meant that sexually active gay and lesbian couples in homosexual marriages would be permitted to become members of the church. This was a reverse of position for the church, which had taught the church “was holding and would hold to the historic Christian view of homosexuality,” according to a report in the July 11, 2015 issue of WORLD. This change “shocked” church members and “surprised” a group of some 40 pastors who subsequently sent a letter to Fred Harrell, the pastor of City Church, questioning the process by which the decision was made as well as the decision itself. I have written enough here at other times on the biblical position on homosexuality that I need not elaborate on it here, and that is not the main point of this post. Rather, I want to consider one of the reasons cited in the WORLD report for the City Church position change.

Marvin Olasky reported that in October 2014 City Church elders met and a majority of them decided to accept a gay man as a member of the church without any requirement that he remain celibate. However, the individual did not join the church and, according to Olasky, “almost all church members remained unaware of the imminent change.” It was in January that Harrell pushed the elders to make that vote the church’s official position, and the five elders present at the meeting agreed. Here is where my concern heightened. Olasky reports that there were “two developments” in January that prompted some at City Church to believe the time had come for the church to change its position on homosexuality in general and homosexual church membership in particular. What were those developments?

First, “two big evangelical churches in other cities–GracePointe in Nashville and EastLake in Seattle–announced they would now admit non-celibate gays.” That is the extent of Olasky’s commentary on that motivator and I do not know anything further about the impact that may have had on the City Church position change, but this rationale smacks of the age-old parent-to-child question, “If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” The decision by any church to compromise the teachings of Scripture should be an impetus for other churches to shore up their own position and ensure their own adherence to the Truth, not an excuse to join in and throw out the biblical instruction. This is why Paul instructed that believers need to test what they hear in church against the Bible, so that they are not misled by the “position of the moment” being espoused by any teacher or church when that position is contrary to Scripture. (This is also why, by the way, men literally gave their lives to see through the translation of the Bible into language the people could read for themselves–so that churches and church leaders could not mislead the people by ignoring parts of the Bible or claiming Scripture said something it does not say).

Second, Olasky reports, “An article in The Guardian on hip Bay Area churches focused on new entries: Reality, Epic, C3, and The Table. City Church didn’t receive even a mention.” Sadly, this too is an incredibly childish motivation. This reads like one child seeing that another was getting more attention than he, so he decided to throw a tantrum or do something outrageous in order to ensure that all attention shifted back his way. Churches that concern themselves with being labeled “hip” by any publication, much less a secular one that tends to lean to the left, are clearly churches whose priorities are in the wrong place. I do not know how much connection there is between the article and the church decision, but it troubles me deeply to think of any church suddenly embracing any position that contradicts Scripture even in small part in order to attract media attention or improve some kind of hip-ness rating. Jesus said that the world will hate His followers because the world hated Him first. Peter said that followers of Christ are blessed when they are insulted or persecuted for the name of Christ. I am unable to find anyplace in Scripture that commands, encourages or even suggests that Christians are to seek out the approval of the world.

City Church was not the first church to flip-flop on the issue of homosexual marriage or homosexual church membership and it certainly will not be the last. Anytime a church, a pastor or teacher or any individual Christian, for that matter, does a 180-degree change on any position to which he held previously there needs to be careful evaluation and examination of why the position or conviction was changed and whether or not that change was truly informed by Scripture–and a proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture, at that. Sometimes there may be legitimate reasons and sometimes the change will be one that needed to be made. When the change results in a new position that is clearly contradicted in Scripture, though, Christians need to take a stand and call the position change what it is–error, false teaching, heresy. When the change is motivated by a desire to follow the crowd or get back into the in-group, not only should the position change be questioned, so to should the very church making the change. Any church that changes a foundational position of the church’s faith for such shallow and temporal reasons will surely have other, far deeper problems.

November 12, 2014

The State of Theology

Last month Ligonier Ministries, in partnership with LifeWay Research, released the findings of a survey conducted on the state of theology in the United States. The survey polled 3,000 American adults between the end of February and the beginning of March 2014. The objectives of the survey were “To quantify among a national sample of Americans indicators of the theological understanding of
Americans today providing comparisons between: Christian church goers and the unchurched; and, Those who consider themselves Evangelical and those who do not.” As with any survey or statistic, there must be some discernment used in reading and applying the survey results, but the survey claims that the sample provides 95% certainty that the margin of error does not exceed plus/minus 1.8%. Accordingly, the results are worth considering, especially for anyone whose ministry is focused on the spiritual development of parishioners or students. You can easily find the full results of the survey by visiting Ligonier.org or by googling State of Theology, but I want to zero in on a few of the results here.

First, 71% of survey responders agree–strongly or somewhat–that individuals must contribute their own efforts for personal salvation. This is a startling number–particularly in light of the fact the Bible makes it abundantly clear that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and that works have nothing to do with salvation. Any belief to the contrary is dangerous for one of two reasons; either humans are capable, in an of themselves, of contributing to their own salvation, or the death of Christ on the cross was somehow insufficient in and of itself to provide salvation. To suggest that Christ’s atoning death on the cross must be supplemented by man’s efforts is to seriously undermine the entire salvation message. John 3:16 is nullified by the position that human efforts are required to obtain salvation. And lest you temper your concern about this figure by suggesting that the 71% is surely made up of unbelievers, note that 38% of self-identified Evangelicals strongly agree with this notion. That is the same percentage of Evangelicals who attend church once a month or more who strongly disagree with the statement, meaning that even Evangelicals are evenly split over whether or not man has a role in salvation. It is not surprising, given the tenets of the Catholic faith, that 49% of Catholics strongly agree that human effort is required, but 38% of Evangelicals to do so is cause for concern.

Oddly enough, 87% of self-identified Evangelicals who attend church at least once a month strongly agree that salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone. Only 33% of other Christians strongly agree, and just 13% of non-Christians. That range is not surprising. It is baffling however, that 87% of Evangelicals can strongly agree that salvation is through Christ alone while 38% of them also agree that human effort is a required element of salvation. That means some 25% of Evangelical responders are either schizophrenic or deeply confused.

The beliefs about salvation segue right into a question in the survey about the authority of Scripture. A startling 41% of survey respondents agree–either somewhat or strongly–that the Bible is not literally true. I am pleased that 80% of Evangelicals who regularly attend church strongly disagree with this statement, but it concerns me that one in five do not strongly disagree! Forty-five percent of survey respondents believe that the Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose–and only 66% of Evangelicals who regularly attend church strongly disagree with that. Only forty-eight percent of survey respondents agree that the Bible alone is the written Word of God. While 79% of Evangelicals who attend church regularly strongly agree, just 62% of all Evangelicals strongly agree and only 22% of Mainline Protestants strongly agree. This means that there is considerable belief that the Bible is not God’s only revealed, written Word. Among all survey responders, only 43% agree that the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches. And while 78% of Evangelicals who attend church regularly strongly agree with that statement, that still leaves almost a quarter who do not strongly agree. Even more troubling is that only 23% of “Other Christians” strongly agree.

So what can we learn from these statistics? First, the term “Christian” can obviously be applied very loosely, and just because someone identifies him- or herself as a Christian does not mean that they believe the things I would expect a Christian to believe. Second, we live in a world that is divided on issues of biblical authority and godly living at best, opposed to it at worst. (For example, 43% of the survey responders indicated disagreement that sex outside of marriage is a sin while only 48% indicated agreement. The balance was “not sure”). Accordingly, we need to be more diligent and more vigilant than ever in our churches, in our Christian schools and in our families that we are equipping our students with the Truth of God’s Word and preparing them for the realities of the world in which we live.

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