The Leaven of Culture and the Episcopalian Dilemma

The Leaven of Culture and the Episcopalian Dilemma

Benjamin S. Cole

August 1, 2003

By virtue of Christian charity one is loath to criticize another denomination in the midnight of its prophetic demise, but the recent action by the Episcopal Church in America to install a homosexual bishop cannot escape the sternest words of intemperate reproof. From every sector of American evangelicalism the cry of contempt has sounded as the church awakens to the very real and present threat that cultural excesses of our generation are beginning to infect an unsuspecting and complacent ecclesiastic communion.

I have listened carefully in recent days to the justification offered by those who have endorsed and supported the Episcopalian departure from a biblical ethic of sexuality. I have listened as the good bishop of New Hampshire has exclaimed in interviews that "God is doing a new thing." I have winced when he suggested that "the church needs to see what God is doing in our generation, and get in on it." And I am left wondering what precisely he thinks is so new about sexual perversion and the attempt to rationalize it?

As I have listened, I have realized that the arguments in favor of installing homosexuals in the Episcopalian diocese of New Hampshire are grounded in a more fundamental and dangerous assumption. It is suggested that the church must modernize if it is not to be marginalized. The leading advocates for this "new work of God" express heartfelt disdain for the historic values of Christianity and esteem the shifting sands of cultural peculiarity as a more solid ground for building the house of God than the firm rock of Christ and his unchanging Word.

So what are we to make of this assertion that the church must strip itself of archaic doctrinal formulations, adapt its ethical standards to reflect the culture, and modernize its traditions and liturgy? Like it or not, the same justification that is being used to promote heterodoxy in one ecclesiastic community is being used to promote heteropraxy in another.

To offer just one example, have you noticed the hermeneutic consistency between the argument to install homosexual clergymen in New Hampshire and the move to ordain women pastors in Texas? While the former may reveal a more shocking rejection of biblical proscriptions, the shared pattern of culturally guided interpretation of the sacred text is unmistakable. The move to soften one’s confessional identity may be less subtle than the move to alter the liturgy and forms of the church, but the driving presuppositions behind each reform are virtually inseparable.

Southern Baptists had better not look down our noses too quickly at the identity crisis in the Episcopalian Church of America. The effects of a little cultural leaven within our own denominational lump are just as dangerous. When church buildings look more like concert halls, when pastors talk more like self-help gurus, when choral anthems sound more like Broadway musicals, and when the greatest indictment of a church is that it is not contemporary, casual, or creative, then be assured that we are not far from abdicating the biblical identity and moral ascendancy that Southern Baptists have forged through years of controversy and strife. We must not forget that the Bible we so ardently defend as inerrant is likewise infallible to define the worship and mission of the church in every generation.

So while the Episcopalians flounder in the tempestuous seas of a culture gone awry, Southern Baptists ought to be all the more vigilant that our prophetic salt does not become unsavory either by moral indifference or ecclesiological uncertainty.