Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Third Way" Warning Reported in E-Media

The news release I blogged earlier today (see text in the entry below this one) has been picked up nationally; here's some reporting and analysis.

From The Christian Post:

WASHINGTON – Conservative leaders from across denominational and geographic borders issued a joint letter warning against “third way” proposals that may change mainline church teachings on sexuality.

“This letter is a shot across the bow of those who, having failed in a frontal assault on biblical standards barring sex outside the marriage of man and woman, are now trying to subvert the standards indirectly,” said the Rev. James V. Heidinger, chair of the Association of Church Renewal that sent out the letter. According to a Nov. 21 press release from ACR, the letter is meant to inform U.S. mainline Christians of the “new strategy” used by gay-rights advocates in changing current standards on ordination and marriage. Traditionally, Christians either believed homosexuality is a sin or believed homosexuality – if examined closely in today’s context – is not a sin. This new strategy introduces a “third way” viewpoint on the sexuality debate, where churches agree that homosexuality is a sin but gives room for individuals, churches, and bodies room to dissent. “This new strategy is less direct." The letter stated. “Yet the effect would be the same: to undermine and ultimately to set aside the historic Christian teaching that affirms God's good gift of sexual intimacy solely within the marriage of man and woman.” Such a strategy has already been adopted in several denominations, including the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the American Baptist Church. The ECUSA, which is currently embroiled in an international brawl over ordination standards, in 1996 adopted a decision that said that Christian teachings against homosexuality were not “core doctrine.” In the ABC, the denominational policies say the practice of homosexuality is incompatible to Christian teaching, but the church allows some congregations to dissent. Similar strategies have also been introduced in the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the largest Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran denomination in the United States, respectively.Each of those denominations has dedicated several years to study the thorny issue of homosexuality and has affirmed that it will remain united in spite of obvious differences. Reformed leaders have long complained about such an approach with some suggesting the denominations split into dissenting factions. In the United Methodist Church, for example, Heidinger was involved with the circulation of a letter that called for an “amicable separation” over the differences in understanding homosexuality, during the denomination’s 2004 General Assembly.While the UMC never adopted the informal proposal – delegates to the Assembly instead adopted a statement affirming their unity – the thought of separating continued to surface periodically among conservative circles.The ACR reiterated such concerns. “No promise of ecclesiastical peace and unity can justify these distortions of the church’s theology and polity,” the letter stated.

The letter also suggested that the “third way” approach signifies a “retreat” by advocates of gay rights.

“Tacitly, they are conceding that the weight of biblical and traditional Christian teaching is against them,” the letter stated. However, the statement continued, “it would set a terrible precedent of a church openly acknowledging a biblical command and then treating obedience to that command as optional.” “We stand opposed to this false ‘third way,’ with the same firmness with which we opposed the earlier attempts to re-interpret the Bible,” the letter stated. “We warn you to beware such ‘compromises’ that give away too much.”The Association for Church Renewal is a roundtable of leaders of renewal groups, mostly within the North American mainline Protestant churches. The ACR letter was signed by 29 individuals from 21 organizations. Among the denominations represented were: the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the Church of the Brethren, and the United Church of Christ.The text of the ACR letter, the list of signatories, and other information on the Association for Church Renewal is available its website at ird-renew.org/acr.

Elaine Spencerelaine@christianpost.com

Copyright © 2004 The Christian Post.

Source: http://www.christianpost.com/article/church/2399/section/

From Agape Press:

'Compromises' on Human Sexuality Undercut Biblical Standards, Say Renewal Leaders

By Jody BrownNovember 22, 2005

(AgapePress) - A coalition of denominational renewal groups is warning Christians in America that an "assault" on biblical standards regarding sexuality -- in the guise of supposed "compromises" -- is in reality subverting those standards so that church bodies and officials can disregard them whenever they wish.

For decades, it seems, several mainline Protestant denominations have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality among their clergy, their laity, and society at large -- and how to deal with it in their official denominational procedures and doctrine. Seemingly unwilling to simply declare the lifestyle as sinful, instead they have taken to adopting different strategies toward homosexuality. The Episcopal Church USA, for example, concluded in 1996 that traditional Christian teachings opposing homosexuality were not "core doctrine." Eventually ECUSA consecrated the first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson, who now oversees the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Other examples include the United Methodist Church, which last year almost approved a resolution that would have added to the Book of Discipline a phrase "recogniz[ing] that Christians disagree" on the question of whether the practice of homosexuality is or is not compatible with Christian teaching. In a similar vein, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America this year turned away a proposal that would have permitted exceptions to be granted even though ELCA ministers would be expected to "abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."

And next year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is expected to consider a resolution that would permit local churches to deem as "non-essential" the constitutional requirement of "fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

While those who hold a liberal theology might consider such strategies as progressive, the Association for Church Renewal (ACR) -- a roundtable of conservative leaders from these denominations and others such as the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, and the United Church of Canada -- sees the moves as a "compromise" intended to win the Church's affirmation of homosexual acts. That, says the ACR, is an attempt to indirectly "subvert the [biblical] standards" and to invent "procedural devices permitting church bodies and officials to disregard the standards at will."

In an open letter to Christians in the United States, the ACR warns that this compromise evident in several Protestant denominations "would sever the church's practice from its doctrine," essentially setting a "terrible precedent" in which a church openly acknowledges a biblical command -- and then treats obedience to that command as "optional."

"If denominations start granting exemptions from church discipline in one area," states the letter, "it will be very difficult to maintain any kind of covenant of mutual accountability within the church."

According to the ACR, advocates of compromise -- or the "third way," as the ACR labels it -- claim their proposed solution would strike a balance between different interpretations of Bible passages and allow the church to "get beyond yes/no polarities" that force it to make painful choices. Such an approach, says the ACR letter, "is utter nonsense."

"The Bible is filled with unavoidable yes/no choices," the letter points out, citing Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15, Matthew 25:33, and Revelation 3:20. "A church that systematically refuses to choose between truth and error has no place left to stand.

"To the extent that any church declines to distinguish the better from the worse biblical interpretations, it undercuts its own ability to teach clear doctrine from the scriptures," add the signers of the ACR letter.

The letter concludes with the ACR's reaffirmation that the standard of fidelity in marriage -- and abstinence in singleness -- remains "the most faithful interpretation of God's will for human sexuality" and an essential component in the Holy Spirit presenting sanctified believers as "holy and blameless" before God.

"We ask you [brothers and sisters in the Lord] to stand steadfast with us in rejecting any compromise that would shift Christ's church away from that godly endeavor," says the letter, which is signed by more than two dozen individuals from 21 different organizations.

Source: http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/11/222005b.asp

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