Christian Life — May 12, 2022 at 4:19 am

The Impending End of Evangelicals in Mainline Denominations

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We seem, at long last, to have reached the end phase of Evangelicals leaving mainline denominations. The powerful Sydney diocese this week moved to impose its anti-same-sex marriage agenda nationally, but it was thwarted by bishops

Now that real unity is clearly a dead letter, some dioceses will perhaps step out confidently to embrace same-sex blessings and other progressive causes.’ (Image by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
‘Now that real unity is clearly a dead letter, some dioceses will perhaps step out confidently to embrace same-sex blessings and other progressive causes.’ (Image by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia voted on 10 May, 2022 on their understanding of marriage.  A Biblical and historical Christian understanding of marriage between a man and a woman was rejected—not by the laity or the clergy but by the bishops in a vote 12-10.  The response of the orthodox Christian bishop and chair of GAFCON Australia, Richard Condie, and the text of the defeated statement on marriage, may be found here.

Various issues arise around this failure of the Anglican bishops, but one is the ongoing fellowship of orthodox Christians with false ‘brothers’—a problem Paul dealt with clearly and decisively in 1 Corinthians 5.  This false partnership has followed every mainline denomination over the past half a century at least, and the result is always the same in the end: after a great loss of membership, the denomination eventually splits.  The purpose of this brief post is to bring an excellent letter on the subject to the attention of readers who might wonder if Biblical concern for ‘unity’ in the Church somehow might mean continuing in the same denomination with persons who promote immorality such as homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  The letter was written in 2011 by Professor Robert Gagnon to a very confused Rev. Dr. Sheldon Sorge, then Pastor to the Pittsburgh Presbytery of the PCUSA denomination.  It may be helpful to those Evangelicals in Anglican dioceses and provinces who mistakenly think that Biblical unity means fellowship with sexually immoral persons calling themselves ‘brothers,’ as Paul says.  Gagnon’s letter, which may be accessed here, is particularly helpful in that it clearly and decisively corrects Sorge’s misuse of several texts in Scripture on the issue of unity.[1]

Most Evangelicals have moved on from this stage of the debate: whether to stay or leave mainline denominations that have changed the doctrine, ethics, and practices of the Church beyond any recognition of Biblical and orthodox Christianity.  Just this month, significant numbers of orthodox believers in the United Methodist Church have separated to form the Global Methodist Church.  This is a move that has come very late, with other denominations having separated from and formed distinct from heretical mainline denominations many years ago.  Some churches are simply ‘stuck’ for various reasons in these denominations, and they continue in a kind of ‘hospice ministry’ within them.  They must not be disparaged or forgotten.  Yet the argument, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, that Evangelicals could somehow bring revival to these denominations by staying in them has long since proven wrong.  This raises the question why some Evangelical seminaries still hire some faculty carrying ordination in mainline denominations like the PCUSA or Episcopal Church—are they really ‘Evangelical’ after all?  No professor should be seen as an independent operator such that his or her denominational affiliation is irrelevant to their ministry.  The process of leaving a denomination for a church or diocese/presbytery, however, is somewhat drawn out, difficult, and emotional, but those who can leave should do so now.  Individuals with no flock to guide who are simply faculty members should have made their exit long ago on the same grounds that Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 5.  For those with others in their care, Evangelical priests/pastors, bishops, etc., what is urgently needed is unity with each other so that they can separate together and not one by one.

What we are witnessing now is the final part of the first act of separation, and we can only hope and pray for God’s blessing and wisdom for the Global Methodist Church or GAFCON Australia and others.  Only then will the ecclesiastical virtues of faith, love, and hope be free to operate.  The second act began years ago with the formation of new Evangelical denominations or independent Evangelical churches.  For some of these, many challenges have already arisen, including some concerns about orthodoxy.[2]  The third act will either be a refining of ‘Evangelicalism’ to exclude progressives (those compromising Biblical teaching and orthodoxy because of their friendship with the world) and include a more robust ecclesiology around traditional Evangelical tenets, or it will be the failure and demise of Evangelicalism.


References
[1] Robert Gagnon’s book is a classic, scholarly work on the subject of homosexuality and the Bible.  See The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002).  See also S. Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic,  2016).

[2] See, e.g., my article, Platonists, Stoicists, and Paul and Gender Fluidity, ‘Side B Christians,’ and ‘Conversion Therapy’; https://bibleandmission.blogspot.com/2022/04/platonists-stoics-and-paul-on-gender.html.

Author

  • Dr. Rollin Grams, Professor of Biblical Theology and Ethics

    Dr. Grams is a professor of Biblical theology and ethics. He has served at Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus from 1992-1997 and again since 2006. He directed the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity from 2007-2014. He was the first professor hired for the Charlotte campus, where he taught from 1992–1997. Dr. Grams has also been actively involved in foreign missions for most of his life. Born in South Africa to missionary parents, he has spent many years overseas in theological education. He has lived and taught in Croatia, England, Kenya and Ethiopia. He has held academic posts at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Kenya; the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia; the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in the United Kingdom, and the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague. He was also a visiting lecturer at the Asia Theological Centre for Evangelism and Mission in Singapore and with TCM, International in Austria.

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