Churches in America are on the march, however they are not all marching in the same direction. "Onward Christian Soldiers" has different meanings to different groups.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has elected its first openly homosexual synod bishop.
The number of Presbyterian churches requesting dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) last year has increased five fold compared to 2011.
There are clearly two views of the church's mission. One is to conform to the culture, be "welcoming" and accepted, while the other is to stay the biblical course and transform the culture.
What is the actual mission of the Christian church?
Conform in an attempt to show love, accommodation and inclusiveness? Or, in love, to speak God's unchanging Truth with the intent of bringing redemption and transformation to broken individuals?
Why does the church exist? To welcome and affirm or to redeem and transform?
We are not surprised---disappointed for sure, but not surprised that Apple Corporation has pulled from its iTunes store a mobile app created by "Setting Captives Free," a non denominational ministry which offers free courses aimed at helping users battle "habitual sins" such as "sexual impurity, substance abuse, self injury and gambling." That list wasn't the problem. The problem was with one of the courses titled, "Door of Hope" which helps "free users from the bondage of homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ and the cross."
That was a problem. Apple took the app off.
Unfortunately, some churches are behaving in the same way Apple is. Although the Bible is abundantly clear that homosexual behavior is sin and strongly condemns it, churches are hearing the "conversation" about fairness and "equality" and pulling their app.
In one way, this is discrimination against homosexuals because it is the power of God's redemptive love that heals us all and delivers us from destructive sin---and all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, therefore all of us need a savior and redeemer.
But for that particular sin---to affirm that sin, churches and denominations are willing to split, people are hurt, families are hurt and some churches and their denominations choose to turn their back to the truth of God's Word in regard to that particular sin while continuing to "reach out to those in need with the gospel." A selective gospel, while feeling they are administering "equality" or social justice and fairness.
All churches that are choosing to affirm homosexual behavior as normal and welcome it into the church and into the church leadership are not considered part of the "Emerging Church" but the Emerging movement and mainstream denominations end up in the same place for some of the same reasons.
There are three basic problems with the "Emerging Church."
1. Culture dictates church practice. While the Bible teaches us to worship God, the Emerging Church often relies on incense, art, images and non-biblical experiences to "draw near to God."
It's a breeding ground for contemplative spirituality, which becomes a kind of eclectic Christianity with no specific doctrines or beliefs. Relativism. Beliefs are based on experience rather than experience being based of beliefs that are rooted in God's Word.
2. Theology is in a state of flux as experiences, preferences and needs change, therefore the beliefs of the church must adapt to the culture and change its beliefs. They advocate that "good" people have come to different conclusions on Scripture and theology, so why focus on theology at all. Consequently, theology is not something concrete, absolute or authoritarian. No one is "right" or "wrong". Therefore theology is based on preferences, and various Scriptures are quoted to affirm those preferences.
3. Preaching or proclaiming is outdated because that suggests authority.
This problem flows from the first two and leads to no leadership but rather facilitators who sit in a group of peers and discuss their personal journey, often quoting Scriptures to affirm their changing but meaningful beliefs.
In this world, all philosophies are equal. There is no biblical authority because the Bible is merely used to affirm beliefs and behaviors, not provide a clear moral compass with consequences.
If Scripture is in flux, why did God give it to us in the first place? The answer is clear. It is not in flux. God's Word is not relative to cultural preferences.
Jesus said He is the Truth. Has that too changed?
While there are differences between the Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and the 'Emerging Church" movement, they are arriving at the same place. And they are embracing many of the same philosophies.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church has elected its first openly homosexual bishop.
Rev. R. Guy Erwin, a North Hollywood theology professor and pastor, has been voted bishop of the ECLA churches in Southern California.
Many ECLA congregations are choosing to leave their denomination over this issue.
The number of Presbyterian churches that requested dismissal by the Presbyterian Church USA is up five fold from 2011 to 2012.
While only 21 churches asked to be released in 2011, 110 were granted dismissal in 2012.
Nearly to a one, these congregations cite the decision of the Presbyterian Church to ordain openly homosexual pastors as the reason for leaving.
In January 2012, the conservative biblically based Presbyterian churches met in Orlando, resulting in the creation of a new body known as the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians---or ECO.
This past January, one year later there are 28 churches in the new body with 75 more considering becoming a part of it.
The PC (USA) explains that their loss of membership is not related to this issue, rather it is associated with a general trend experienced in all churches.
In the case of most mainline churches who are willing to stand against God's Word on the issue of homosexual behavior, they do so because they are trying to stop the decline in membership.
This is a sad commentary.
If the church allows the surrounding culture to dictate its practices, its worship, its theology and resulting beliefs, it will ultimately be assimilated into the culture, losing its identity, its power and its value.
"Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the power of God."
Rather than having conversations about God, perhaps we should have a conversation "with" God and confess our sins, asking Him to forgive us through the power of His Son Jesus Christ and to transform our culture.
This message will transform lives, retain membership and fill pews. And ultimately change our world.
Be Vigilant. Be Discerning. Be Prayerful. Be Active. Be Blessed.