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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Can Evangelicals Still Recognize Sin?

In his nationally syndicated column today, Cal Thomas reported on some of the appalling things that took place at the Episcopal Church U.S.A’s General Convention last week. He reported on how the new bishop, Katherine Schori, does not believe that homosexuality is a sin. He goes on to criticize the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as well as decisions made at the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. His criticisms revolved basically around the attempts of mainline liberal denominations to be “relevant” to the culture.

I should go ahead and confess up front that this is the sort of thing that gets to me. So what you are about to read is the cranky side of me – though I hope that won’t cause you to stop reading.

Now I don’t know anything about Cal Thomas personally. I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything by him before, though I’ve heard his 60-second radio spot on a few occasions. He might spend as much time criticizing Evangelicals as he does mainliners, for all I know. And he himself might be a member in good standing at a solid church from an Evangelical or classical Reformation tradition. But Thomas represents to me a segment of Evangelical personalities who spend all their time shooting at “those liberals over there” rather than dealing with the problems in their own Evangelical churches.

What in the world makes us think that mainliners would listen to us is beyond me. I know there are true believers in the mainline churches, though my experience (for what it’s worth) suggests to me that they are few and far between. While there are, as I understand it, congregations in the mainline churches that are solid, the liberals generally run the show. People in the ECUSA began to wake up when a homosexual bishop was elected three years ago, but they were well over a hundred years too late. The mainline churches began abandoning Scripture before the turn of the twentieth century. People like Schori don’t care about Scripture, and they don’t give a flip about the true and living God, no matter what kind of illusion to the contrary they attempt to maintain. As far as the ignorance of the laity goes, there is a sense in which you can hardly blame them. Without orthodox leadership to guide them in understanding and applying Scripture, they were left to some degree helpless. Now, I say “to some degree” because I don’t think they can be completely absolved of responsibility. They had Bibles and didn’t read or study them. Their churches had libraries that were established and filled with books back when their ministers actually believed the truth, and they didn’t read those books in an attempt to know Scripture better. In some cases, they didn’t raise a fuss when a new minister came to town preaching what they knew to be heresy. For all these things they are to be blamed.

But I also don’t know why mainliners should listen to us. While Evangelicals are at least far more orthodox on paper than the mainliners, we are just as guilty as the mainliners in doing anything it takes to be “relevant” to the culture without much question about the rightness of it. Once again, this is just my experience speaking. But having been in several churches the past few years, and interacted with numerous Christians outside the church as well, this is what I have encountered:

1. A vast ignorance of the Scriptures, not a whole lot of recognition of this as a problem, nor much attempt to correct it.

2. An ignorance of systematic theology. People might memorize Bible verses, but they don’t have a clue how those verses fit into the scheme of Scripture or their lives. What verses they do memorize have moral import, which is good, but they are divorced from the dogmatic or doctrinal portions of Scripture.

3. An ignorance of church history. Statism has been very successful. People know George Washington, Martin Luther King, or John F. Kennedy, but they can’t tell you who started their denomination or church, nor do they see that it matters.

4. An ignorance of the historic liturgical and devotional practices of the church. Churches devise their own worship services based on blind adherence to tradition or blind adherence to whatever is current and hip. Likewise, if the laity spend any time in private worship, they fail to take advantage of the historic devotional practices of the church in guiding them in this.

5. And with all the focus on “practical issues” in sermons (which means lack of doctrinal content), people still manage to live at a level morally that often differs little from the pagans around them.

One example of these things shows up in Thomas’s article itself. He takes after Schori for her stance on homosexuality, but he totally ignores the clear teaching in Scripture that a woman shouldn’t have the office of a bishop to begin with (I Timothy 2-3). This could be because Evangelicals themselves are growing more and more egalitarian, and he wants to focus on a problem that everybody agrees about. But God’s Word couldn’t be clearer on a subject than it is on this one, and no amount of attempting to ignore it or explain it away is going to work.

When it comes down to it, whether it be the problems in the mainline or among the Evangelicals, we all have our own problems to deal with. I am suggesting, though, that until we Evangelicals begin to work out our own problems, all the shouting that we do at mainliners will continue to be ignored. And rightly so.

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