WRF Member John Wilson Discusses "When the Church Lets You Down"
In the C S Lewis classic (Screwtape Letters), senior devil whispers to his apprentice: “one of our greatest allies at present is the church itself”. Screwtape is aghast that Wormwood’s patient has become a Christian, but he encourages his junior devil by saying that the church is in such a mess that “it matters very little … your patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.”
I feel sad today, and ask: Is one of the devil’s greatest allies at present the church itself?
It’s one thing to have Australian society approve of same-sex marriage, but when a church approves – it’s disturbing … and confusing. To be sure, not our church, but nevertheless a branch of the Christian church in Australia.
A week ago, the Uniting Church in Australia issued this statement: “To honour the diversity of Christian belief among our members, we will hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage”:
- that marriage is between “a man and a woman”
- that marriage is between “two people”
And with that, for the first time in Australia, we see the introduction of same-sex wedding services within the Christian church. In announcing the decision of the UCA’s highest body (its national assembly) the expression “dual integrities” is used to explain and defend it: they see themselves as holding to dual integrities.
But surely, both ways can’t be right. Both ways can’t be equally valid. It lacks integrity to suggest that they can be.
It’s significant to note in the UCA Moderator’s statement that this decision is taken “to honour diversity among its members”. I concede that it does exactly that – it honours and serves diversity. But is God honoured? I’m let down by a church not placing God’s honour first.
From the Scriptures, we are reminded of God’s wonderful provision for us. He offers to us the path of true and fulfilling happiness:
- the book of Genesis tells us that God created Adam and Eve distinctly as male and female, with the invitation to multiply and fill the earth;
- Jesus affirmed that this continues to be God’s kind provision for us: it’s right and fitting that a man should leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and that they should become one flesh;
- the apostle Paul, in his letters, taught that any arrangement other than a man and his wife in sexual intimacy – in particular, homosexuality – is against the natural order of things, shameful and dishonouring to God.
The church is called upon to submit to the teaching of Scripture. This is the best way of honouring God and enjoying a fulfilled life. It’s significant to note that the proponents of the Uniting Church (prior to its inception) promised that they would submit to Scripture (see the 1971 UCA Basis of Union for the UCA): the church’s “faith and obedience are nourished and regulated” by the unique testimony of the Old and New Testaments. Further, the church’s preaching will be “controlled by the Biblical witnesses”.
In contradiction to its own Basis, here is a church not allowing Scripture to regulate her. This is refusal to be “controlled by the Biblical witnesses”; a flagrant disregard for the plain teaching of God’s Word. This is the result of fancy theological footwork explaining away the testimony of God in the Garden of Eden, of Jesus himself and the apostolic witness.
We should not be surprised – we who have observed from a distance have seen such fruit previously. Jesus said that you will always know a tree by its fruit. It comes 41 years after Rev Dr J Davis McCaughey in his UCA inauguration address, 22nd June 1977, referred in his sermon, broadcast over ABC national television, to “the legend of the virgin birth.” Church drift starts with the smallest departure from the teachings of Scripture. Dismissing the trustworthiness of Scripture leaves a church without sure footing. It’s a church no longer standing on a platform but a slope.
At a more practical level, how can it be honouring to God to compose a prayer for the new wedding service that dares to ask God to bless a union and a lifestyle that displeases him? How is it possible to pray for God’s blessing on something that dishonours him? Isn’t such prayer nonsense? When does prayer become blasphemy?
Members of the Presbyterian Church of Australia – how should we respond?
- Let’s earnestly pray for the Uniting Church in Australia. God can revive a church, even as he did way back in the days of King Josiah and his prophet Zephaniah. God revived and blessed his Old Testament covenant people after the re-discovery of the Word of God and following fresh allegiance to it. We have many dear friends in the UCA. There are many loyal, faithful and dedicated Christians in it. I’m not close enough to know how things work within the UCA, but I wonder if this decision was driven “from the top” – by ideologues in positions of authority … and therefore it’s a decision that disturbs and even appals many UCA’ers in the pew.
- Let’s pray for the churches and members who are part of the ACCC (Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the UCA) who endeavour to maintain clear testimony to the evangelical faith informed by belief in the Scriptures as the final authority for the church.
- While we do not seek to proselytise among members of other churches, we need not discourage those who approach us for worthy reasons, especially since we are a church which clearly upholds biblical faith and practice. Let’s be sure that a warm and genuine Christian welcome awaits any visitor from the UCA earnestly seeking a new home. Some see this decision as the watershed moment for them, the tipping point.
The PCA is not a great church. We can be so slow to respond to good things that a church should do to help a hurting world, we’re not brilliant at adapting to our ever-changing culture, and we even have disputes among ourselves at times … BUT we’re still a church worth joining. Especially so because we are devoted to Jesus Christ the Saviour, we love the Scriptures as God’s Word – inspired and without error, we preach the evangelical gospel for the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and we are zealous for evangelism and mission throughout the nation and across the world.
Sometimes, the church will let us down. Christ never will. We should make it our goal to please him.
WRF Member John P. Wilson is the Moderator-General of the The Presbyterian Church of Australia (PCA)