Published November 23, 2006
I feel that it is the responsibility of The Christian Index to chronicle the work of Georgia Baptists, encourage the work of evangelism, missions, and ministry among Georgia Baptists, and provide some accountability as we endeavor to stay on mission. We must not stray from our bedrock convictions and from our mission of reaching people for Christ, planting new congregations, and building healthy kingdom churches.
Therefore, it is important for us to be aware of what happens to churches and denominations that drift into liberalism.
In his address to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1988 the venerable old warrior, W.A. Criswell, proclaimed, “It is very apparent why [there is a] decline in all the old mainline denominations of America. The curse of liberalism has sapped their strength and their message and their witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why.”
Charlotte Allen, a Catholic journalist, wrote an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Liberal Christianity is Paying for Its Sins.” She contends that although most mainline Protestant churches and many American Catholics for the past 40 years have embraced liberal Christianity as the future of the Christian church, it has resulted rather in providing the death knell to their denominations.
Allen reports, “… all but a few die-hards now admit [that] all the mainline churches and movements within churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are demographically declining, and in the case of the Episcopalian Church, disintegrating.”
Allen writes: “It is not entirely coincidental that at about the same time that Episcopalians, at their general convention in Columbus, Ohio, were thumbing their noses at a directive from the worldwide Anglican Communion that they ‘repent’ of confirming the openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, three years ago, the Presbyterian Church USA, at this general assembly in Birmingham, Ala., was turning itself into the laughingstock of the blogosphere by tacitly approving alternative designations for the supposedly sexist Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Among the suggested names were ‘Mother, Child and Womb’” and ‘Rock, Redeemer and Friend.’”
Moved by the spirit of the Presbyterian revisionists Beliefnet blogger Rod Dreher held a “Name That Trinity” contest. Entries included “Rock, Scissors, and Paper” and “Larry, Curly, and Moe.”
To me such disrespect for the blessed Trinity is blasphemy.
Allen also states, “Following the Episcopalian lead, the Presbyterians also voted to give local congregations the freedom to ordain openly cohabitating gay and lesbian ministers and endorsed the legalization of medical marijuana.
“As if to one-up the Presbyterians in jettisoning age-old elements of Christian belief, the Episcopalians at Columbus overwhelmingly refused even to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord. When a Christian church cannot bring itself to endorse a bedrock Christian theological statement repeatedly found in the New Testament, it is not a serious Christian church. It’s a ‘Church of What’s Happening Now,’ conferring a feel-good imprimatur on whatever the liberal elements of secular society deem permissible or politically correct.”
Dave Shiflett, who has recently written a book entitled Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, contends that “God-lite” just doesn’t cut it. Indeed, thousands of churches that preach a watered-down gospel are hemorrhaging and their constituents are finding homes in houses of worship that preach the exclusivity of the gospel and a more demanding ethic.
According to the Glenmary Research Center, mainline Protestant churches are rushing headlong into oblivion. According to John H. Adams, the Presbyterian Church USA, which had a membership of 4,254,597 in 1983, will have only about half that number by year’s end.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy reports that after 30 years of decline and over a million members lost, the Episcopal Church is desperately in need of reform and renewal. The reasons given for the decline are interesting: (1) seminaries that have abandoned Biblical Anglican theology, (2) public policy that may reflect leftist positions, (3) unrelenting pro-homosexual advocacy and undermining of the family by church leaders, (4) a House of Bishops that is divided and no longer offers moral leadership, and (5) church officials who embrace a radical feminist theology.
The United Church of Christ, the first major U.S. denomination formally to endorse same-sex “marriage,” has lost one million members (more than 40 percent of its membership) in the past 40 years.
The United Methodist Church has lost two and a half million members since 1965, a decline of 24 percent. A report from Concerned Women for America stated that although the denomination operates the largest seminary system in America, none of their schools are devoted to traditionalist Wesleyan doctrine, and essentially all of the seminaries and church agencies openly support “gay” rights.
The American Baptist Churches USA have also experienced a membership decline and suffered budget cuts in recent years. John Pierce, writing for Associated Baptist Press and quoting ABC General Secretary Roy Medley, reported, “Despite dealing with controversy, American Baptists are energized by growing relationships with other groups such as the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the Church of the Brethren.”
In another article in ABP two months ago Pierce reported that the American Baptist Historical Society, which claims the largest collection of Baptist resources in the world, is moving to the Atlanta campus of Mercer University, also the national headquarters for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
In April of this year former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Bill Underwood, president of Mercer University, hosted leaders of other Baptist conventions and organizations including, among others, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the American Baptist Churches, USA. Those present agreed to hold a convocation in 2007 “to celebrate these historic Baptist commitments and to explore other opportunities to work together as Christian partners.”
Vance Havner, a great revivalist a generation ago, said, “A lot of folks are like the herd of swine into whom Jesus cast that legion of devils in Mark, chapter 5. I can imagine those swine conversing with one another as they were running down that hill toward that sea in which they were drowned.
“And one said to the other, ‘Where are we going?’”
“And the other said, ‘O, it doesn’t make any difference as long as we stick together.’”
Southern Baptists must guard against alliances that would cause us to compromise and dilute our principles. Adrian Rogers once commented, “No homogenization of bad eggs will make a good omelet.”
Allen also wrote, “When your religion says ‘whatever’ on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize, and lets you do pretty much what you want, it’s a short step to deciding that one of the things you don’t want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.”
Then the Catholic journalist concluded by writing, “Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which preach Biblical morality, have no trouble saying that Jesus is Lord and they generally eschew women’s ordination. These churches are growing robustly, both in the United States and around the world.”
While our denomination is growing [slightly] larger, we must forever guard against lukewarmness, lethargy, legalism, and liberalism.
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