No Ecclesiology, No Identity

Here are a few quotations to support the earlier claim that World Vision and evangelicalism more generally is infected with modernist Protestantism:

World Vision now has staff from more than 50 denominations—a handful of which have sanctioned same-sex marriages or unions in recent years, including the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, and federal judges have struck down bans in five other states (Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, and—most recently—Michigan) as well as required Kentucky to recognize such marriages performed in other states. (All six rulings are stayed until the appeals process is complete.) . . . .

“Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,” he said. “So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.”

The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? “It’s kind of a historical issue,” said Stearns. “Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.”

And the change has been painful to watch. “It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church,” he said. “It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”

Highlighting the church/parachurch distinction: Board member and pastor John Crosby, who served as interim leader when a number of churches split off from the Presbyterian Church (USA) after the denomination dropped a celibacy requirement for gay clergy in 2011. At a conference that laid the foundation of the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the Minnesota megachurch pastor stated, “We have tried to create such a big tent trying to make everybody happy theologically. I fear the tent has collapsed without a center.”

However, as a World Vision board member, Crosby didn’t have a problem voting for the policy change. “It’s a matter of trying to decide what the core mission of the organization is,” he said.

If World Vision’s leadership is largely worshiping in mainline Protestant churches, then this quotation on the organization’s reversal makes more sense, as in, “wow, we never considered that”:

“The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

“We listened to [our] friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives,” said Stearns. “We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.”

Somewhere along the line, a lot of U.S. Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) gave up the battle with modernism. In my reading of the record, it started for Protestants with the neo-evangelicals of Billy Graham fame who wanted a kinder gentler conservative Protestantism. That neo-evangelical project ignored ecclesiology for the sake of a broader effort, and so it refused to rule out Protestants who were members of modernist churches. For Roman Catholics, it seemed to come with Vatican II, a time when Pius X’s oath against modernism looked like a quaint relic (can encyclicals be relics?) of an era different from the life and times of the 1960s church. (It is more of a mystery, given all that infallibility jazz, that Rome has gone soft on modernism. Evangelicals have long been confused.) Only where the battles with modernism are alive and well have the saints (Protestant) the capacity to see problems in World Vision even before their recent waffling.

Postscript: As an example of how modernism continued to haunt some confessional Protestants, here’s a quotation from E. J. Young’s December 6, 1955 letter to Carl Henry in which he declined serving on the editorial board of Christianity Today:

As you well know, Carl, there was in the Presbyterian Church a great controversy over modernism. That controversy was carried on by Dr. Machen in part. There were many who supported Dr. Machen in his opposition to unbelief. On the other hand there were many who did not support him. When matters came to a showdown and Dr. Machen was put from the church there were those who decided it would be better to remain within and to fight from within. . . . Since that time I have watched eagerly to see what would be done by those who remained in the church. They have done absolutely nothing. Not one voice has been raised so far as I know to get the church to acknowledge its error in 1936 and to invite back into its fold those who felt constrained to leave, or those who were put out of the church. . . . What has greatly troubled me has been the complete silence of the ministers in the church. They simply have not lived up to their ordination vows.

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37 thoughts on “No Ecclesiology, No Identity

  1. When about 17% of your billion dollar revenue stream comes from “government grants” you are pretty much soaked to the bone in modernity. I think I would agree with your assessment that neo-evangelicalism is at the root of WV’s “can’t we all just get along” management philosophy, but surely the lust for taxpayer dollars has played some role.

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  2. Perhaps the battle with liberalism was given up when any attempt to understand “covenant” by means of ‘election” was discarded as being “sectarian” and insufficiently concerned with the creation. When the words “common grace” replaced the word “providence”, then it became easier to accuse those still at war with liberalism of being “gnostics” and “dualists”.

    Matthew 25:40
    And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

    1. not all are brothers in Christ, and God is not the redemptive Father of all creatures
    2. therefore, there must be a redemptive connection between us and Christ if the ones who help us are doing for Christ when they do for us. We have to be in his family, in his body, in the new covenant, or otherwise what they do for us is not done for Christ. Every knee will bow does not mean that Jesus Christ redeems everyone or is even attempting to redeem everyone. Jesus is Lord of all creatures, not the Savior of all creatures.

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  3. When I was reading through the CT (natch) article, I missed this statement the first time through: “Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.” Wow, an entire decade of agonizing controversy in the church. That’s ten whole years–my car is that old.

    I point this out because nearly everything on his Christians Disagree about These Things list are at least 150 years old (I’m guessing Darwin is the youngest). Whichever side you may come down on with any of those like-matters, at least the church has been discussing those issues for a long, long time. I mean, Nicea wasn’t until 325. Couldn’t WV give just a little bit more time to this debate before it sends out an “in all things unity” announcement?

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  4. Cris, it’s simply from the letter, in Westminster’s archives.

    Or in other words, dear Watson, it’s elementary. (wink)

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  5. It might make more sense to separate the humanitarian work from the missions work. If a church or group of churches is able to band together to do some humanitarian work along with evangelism and church planting, then more power to them. It will probably have to be on a smaller scale than a World Vision, but that’s o.k.

    To try to do anything big while expecting theological agreement on difficult issues is nearly impossible.

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  6. The summer after my freshman year of college I worked at a Young Life Camp as a baker. I was signed up for 2 months and ended up bailing out after 5 weeks. It was purely a volunteer thing. I was exhausted and needed to go, but one of the factors was talking to one of the speakers that was brought in as an evangelist for one of the weeks. We were talking about Jesus doing miracles and he said he didn’t believe that Jesus really did the miracle of the loaves and fishes, he merely inspired people to share their lunches. “Jesus wasn’t about magic”, he said. I had to ask myself what the heck I was giving up my summer for.

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  7. I argued religion with atheists on facebook back in the day. Here is a book they told me to read, which I did. Was OK, there’s better stuff out there. But I thought of it as I read the leader of WV explain himself, as quoted here by our host.
    FYI is all.

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  8. They simply have not lived up to their ordination vows.

    I understand what he’s saying. But let he who does, cast the first Sunday school question. In other words, can any ordained man say he truly lives upto Paul’s standard, as he explained to Timothy? Did Paul?

    I don’t. I do try though (fwiw..)

    Peace and g’night.

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  9. Pinging Erik – someone post pastry recipes to pinterest (emoticon).

    Ping me when the blog about golf, yo. I’m out.

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  10. Darryl, Christians can band together to do non-ecclesiastical tasks that don’t belong to the church working from a Christian-faith informed perspective. So, yes, from that POV you can be a Christian entity without the church.

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  11. Terry, but which Christianity would inform such a “Christian-faith informed” task? Is it going to be the Bible only? A creed? A feeling? An inspiring thought?

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  12. DG: Is it going to be the Bible only? A creed? A feeling? An inspiring thought?

    Caleb: How about a well baked heterosexual wedding cake?

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  13. Darryl, the group banding together gets to decide. They can make the common ground to be whatever they decide. Think of WTS as an example. No pope or presbytery needed. Besides popes and presbyteries ought not step out of their Biblically mandated spheres.

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  14. Terry, come on. Thinks WTS. All faculty and board members must be ordained in a NAPARC communion (or something close to that). I’m surprised the lengths to which you’ll go to defend neo-Calvinism. Actually, I’m not.

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  15. My wife is pushing to raise chickens and maybe a goat in our backyard — in the middle of town. My teenage daughter is mocking her relentlessly. I’m reserving judgment until I’ve tried the eggs.

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  16. Terry, no. But the ball is still in your court. How is a Christian organization Christian without reference to a church? This understanding is weak (and you can drive a semi- of liberalism through it):

    By identity, I mean that a Christian organization needs to think of itself as such. In some cases that may take the form of a comprehensive statement of faith; in others it may be a minimalist identification (as for example Cardus, which simply identifies itself as a think tank drawing on 2,000 years of Christian social thought). In either example, however, there is a clearly-defined starting point for the conversation as to what it means to be a Christian organization. This is a necessary prompt for both internal and external conversations and becomes a helpful accountability mechanism.

    This makes the National Council of Churches Christian.

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  17. Such “Christian” groups would be judged by their “creed” (and their adherence to it). You can have any stripe of Christian that you want. WTS doesn’t get Arminians and if they did one could question their commitment to their constitution or by-laws. I do think that “Christian” is not really enough for many such groups (think of Kuyperian pillarization). Many cooperative ventures that tackle issues outside the sphere of the institutional church need a more confessionally based worldview. But not all do.

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