When Churches Go Bad: Fight or Flight?

On the Anglican Church split:

It is a perennial question: What happens when a Christian church or denomination or school or institution starts to go bad? And by this I mean when they start to clearly depart from biblical teachings and reject core Christian beliefs and values. It could mean they are denying basic biblical doctrines or fundamental matters of Christian ethics.

Obviously there are many such issues that are plaguing Christian bodies today, but a key one over the past few decades has been how Christians deal with the homosexual and trans agendas. Do they remain faithful to what Scripture teaches on these issues, or do they turn their backs on 2000 years of Christian teaching and run with the world on these matters?

In my 2011 book Strained Relations I quoted ex-homosexual Joe Dallas who said this over three decades ago: “The debate over homosexuality and the Bible – specifically, whether or not the Bible condemns homosexual acts in all cases – will do no less than rip the body of Christ apart within the next decade. It will force believers to declare, in black and white terms, where they stand on issues of sexuality and biblical interpretation.”

That has certainly been the case, and plenty of divisions have already occurred. Sometimes faithful Christians feel led to stay and fight, and resist those who are seeking to destroy historic biblical Christianity. But sometimes it is wiser to leave an all-too corrupt body, and form a new one with other orthodox believers.

It takes much prayerful and careful wisdom to know what is the best path. Both flight and fight are options found in Scripture and in church history. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/03/when-churches-go-bad/

One of the most recent cases involving churches under attack from within has to do with the Australian Anglicans. Three months ago I wrote about how a looming split was on the cards: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/05/12/australian-anglicans-who-do-you-serve/

Well, that has now happened. As one newspaper report today put it:

Australia’s Anglican church has split, and conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage have launched a breakaway movement led by former Sydney archbishop Glenn Davies aiming to lure Anglicans who are unhappy with progressive bishops. The Diocese of the Southern Cross was formally launched in Canberra on Sunday. The first service was led by a rebel minister who resigned from the liberal Brisbane Archdiocese because he “cannot go along with same-sex blessings”.

 

Davies, who finished his term as Sydney archbishop last year, said many Anglicans felt the Australian church had strayed from the teachings of the Bible, particularly on same-sex marriage. At present, they must move to another diocese if they disagree with their bishop. But they can join the new church from anywhere – it will cover the whole country – and Davies expected many will do so. He is already speaking to ministers and lay people who are preparing to defect, but will not name them.

 

“I think you’ll see the Diocese of the Southern Cross will have a significant impact,” he said. “It will send shivers down the spines of some bishops in the Anglican Church of Australia.” There have been many small, localised breakaway churches since the Diocese of Australia was first established in the 1830s, but never anything of such scope or involving such senior, consecrated members of the established church.

 

Its social and theological conservatism – especially that marriage is only between a man and a woman – aligns with the views held by Sydney Anglicans, who are often described as the most theologically and socially conservative in the English-speaking world.

 

But other dioceses, such as Brisbane, Gippsland and Perth, hold different views. They ordain women and are open to blessing same-sex marriages. Most defections to the Diocese of the Southern Cross are likely to come from dioceses with progressive bishops. The issue of same-sex marriage has led to similar splits in North America, Brazil and New Zealand.

 

The new church was registered with the charities commission in October. It will not be “in communion” with the archbishop of Canterbury, but will instead be aligned with the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a group of conservative churches dominated by those from Africa.

 

Davies said the paperwork for the church was done ahead of the split, and the decision to proceed was made after a vote at the national Anglican synod (a church parliament) in May when a majority of bishops vetoed Sydney’s motion affirming that marriage was between a man and a woman.

 

The motion had been supported by most of the lay and clergy representatives, and many argued the division showed that the bishops were out of touch with grassroots Anglicans. “For those who cannot live under the liberal regime of a bishop, they can come and be thoroughly Anglican under a bishop,” said Davies, who will be commissioned as head of the breakaway church in Canberra on Thursday. www.smh.com.au/national/anglican-church-splits-conservatives-form-australian-breakaway-20220816-p5bact.html

So there you have it: yet another case of theological liberalism and progressivism white-anting the churches from within. Only three main options tend to arise: the faithful stay and fight; the subversion is successful and the church is destroyed (in terms of being a true witness of Christ and the gospel); or the faithful Christians are forced to leave and create their own institutions to remain true to the Word of God.

Of interest is how the progressives viewed this split:

Matthew Anstey, a progressive Anglican theology academic from South Australia who argued in favour of blessing same-sex marriage at the synod, described the breakaway church as corrosive. “They’re basically saying, ‘maybe your bishop is not a true Christian, you shouldn’t trust him or her, we’ve got the truth, we’re right’,” he said. “They’re strongly implying that a lot of the rest of us aren’t even Christians. That’s what we find offensive. This is fundamentalism writ large. This is a split.”

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Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality by Muehlenberg, Bill (Author) Amazon logo

Hmm, so much revealing stuff is found here. First, in typical fashion, the lefties want to somehow blame the conservatives for causing the split. Um no, it is those who reject the basic tenets of Christianity who have caused it. And then there is the old slur word “fundamentalism”.

As I have explained elsewhere, the term had once been used proudly by biblical Christians to resist liberalism in the churches over a century ago. They emphasised the fundamentals of the faith. But later the term was associated with Islamic fundamentalism and became a pejorative term: anyone who still holds steadfast to biblical truth is some sort of ignorant cave dweller. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/1999/07/26/what-is-fundamentalism/

But most interesting is when he says that conservatives are implying that the progressives are not real Christians. Hey, I for one am not implying it – I am saying it! When folks claiming to be believers deny the fundamentals of the faith, dismiss the Bible and its teachings, and effectively call God a liar, or someone who does not know what he is talking about, then yeah, I would say they certainly are NOT Christians!

Those wanting much more detail on why this is so are invited to check out all the biblical material that I present on this in the book that I mentioned above. It has all the key Scriptural data to make this case that those pushing this agenda are not at all being faithful to the biblical witness.

But this guy finds that to be offensive. Well guess what? What I find offensive are these wolves in sheep’s clothing. What I find offensive are these renegades and apostates still pretending to be shepherds of God’s flock. And I have a feeling God takes offence at these wolves as well. In fact I know he does. As the Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts: 20:26-31:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert.

[1389 words]

18 Replies to “When Churches Go Bad: Fight or Flight?”

  1. Hello
    In our world of many religions, you cannot force someone to believe one thing or another. Even God does not do this. But our choices do have consequences.
    Separation from Christ is revealed when people start teaching theology such as there are many paths to God or in the case of this article, that a Christian does not have to submit to teaching of the very word that Christ came to fulfil.
    An understanding of bible teaching shows that there will be a separation in the end times. A religion that is acceptable to everyone and is even endorsed by governments and there will be a people that have salvation through Christ Jesus who are the followers of Christ. The followers of Christ will be despised and hated. Clearly in light of this discussion, the bible has been shown to be true.
    Splits are never a good thing but sometimes it is very necessary.
    For the followers of Christ we may split to preserve sound doctrine and to obey the bible to separate ourselves from those that want to walk in sin as defined by the bible but we must always walk in love and harbour no bitterness. If those who have rejected the bible wish to return to Christ should we not welcome them with open arms. But if they choose to reject the teachings of God’s word then they are free to do so. They are even free to call themselves Christians if they choose to.
    In the end we will all stand before Christ and have to give an account for all that we have done. It will be better to make choices in line with God’s word than to make choices that we think are right because there are guarantees in the bible but these leaders who teach other doctrines will find it difficult to make the same guarantees as found in the bible.

  2. Correctly written Bill, as well as your article on May 12th. The writing was on the wall when my late wife and I left the Uniting Church in 1988. (for a different reason) However, the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in 2003 voted to ordain homosexuals who apparently had the gifts for ministry. The decision was made by a combined vote of clergy and laity. At that point we decided not to return to the church of our birth.

    Of course it’s now got worse with a recent decision to marry homosexuals. Some U.C. clergy though won’t do that, which is respected by the rest. So a divided church with 2 forms of a marriage ceremony!

    Another comment. I still have good Christian friends who have decided to remain in the U.C. but they tend not to fight, as you said.
    They simply get on with the job of making disciples and caring for people pastorally.
    U.C. congregations who are evangelical in belief want to call a minister who is the same. But it doesn’t always happen that way with a shortage of ministers.

    The decision by the Australian Anglicans was also bound to occur eventually. I also spent about 10 years in Anglican churches and discovered the latent power of the bishops. Still it was a close call.

    The basic issue of course is that the theological liberals reinterpret the basic doctrines of scripture.

    Another comment

  3. Thanks, Bill. Spot on. Been there, done that, still there, still doing that. God has made the issue crystal clear. Only charlatans like to muddy clear water.

  4. A church in an episcopalian denomination may at any time find itself under the oversight, directly or indirectly, of a false teacher. The rector or vicar will have given some sort of undertaking to obey or submit to this person.
    For decades there have been accommodations, machinations and wool-pullings to prevent splits.
    Meanwhile, the trumpet gives an “uncertain sound” (1 Corinthians 14: 8).

  5. Sad but necessary. When the Bible is not seen as the basis of our faith the faithful must walk

  6. Thanks Bill, this was inevitable.
    Many of our Anglican friends have spent a lifetime of love, energy, and dogged commitment to that institution, hoping against hope for a change in direction.
    The “come out of her” call has been made and we pray that people will be willing to pay the cost
    of severing friendships, that have proved to be a friendship with the world.
    None the less, the pain and grieving must be immense for many and we must support them in their search for biblical truth and encourage them to know that their relationship is with Jesus.
    We pray that the strongholds of man’s wisdom, rusted on relationships, family dynasties, and dependencies on money, superannuation and properties will be torn down.
    We pray that there is a tangible sense of new life and hope as people make a clear choice to “take up the cross and follow Me” call in this matter.
    St Andrews?

  7. Yes the GAFCON group has been working patiently for years to try to get the church back from apostasy, although I’m not sure how many in the church realise that it is apostasy. The apostates can claim it is divisive but it is they who are altering Christian doctrine and yes I’m pretty sure it is apostasy and not simply heresy. They will not be saved; who have blasphemed God so obviously as to claim He doesn’t know what sin is and who defile God’s statutes for marriage and even within the church gathering. They are defiling the Temple. The Holy Spirit is there when people gather in Jesus’ name and they are insulting Him to His face. This is is pretty basic stuff and leading people to Hell is obviously not love. I keep telling people to read Ezekiel 9 because, as the Apostle Paul pointed out – we are the temple and God will destroy those who defile the Temple (1 Cor 3:17 etc..)

    We tell them they are not Christian for their own sake as much as anything. It obviously would be wrong to not warn them. As you have effectively said many times, Bill, you cannot ignore what God has told us in scripture and still think your claimed faith is going to save you. That sort of attitude may be faith and belief in something but it is not faith and belief in the God of Israel.

  8. In Victoria they should all be asked if they are going to attend the Pride festival in support of their fellow parishioners, in January and February, where traditionally it is the lovely summer months of Marriage.

    God Bless Bill, and the work you do is much appreciated.

  9. Thanks Bill
    Sadly this split has been a long time coming. Are we seeing a repeat of what happened in the Uniting Church? Sadly the Assembly of Confessing Congregations has not progressed that well. In a way I’m glad they attempted what they attempted. But the ACC seems to be an old wine skin. (These are just thoughts or impressions, not closely checked observations.)

    Forgive the the following divergence, but I have been reading Selwyn Hughes recently on the topic of “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Selwyn argues that the New Testament church was predominantly a lay movement; or better, built predominantly by just ordinary Christians. He says that we need to get back to this. He also says that he believes that the church of the future will operate like this again; without the distinctions of people in full time ministry and laity. With the level of spiritual blindness that currently exits even in churches which remain true to biblical teaching, (In particular I’m referring here to the overwhelming blindness of churches to the massive threat our nation faces through media misinformation and governmental compliance regarding the now overwhelming evidence which shows the dangers of Covid vaccination.) I think Selwyn Hughes is spot on. The overwhelming majority of our churches appear sadly to be dinosaurs who are about to pass away. While there are significant numbers that are awake. Sadly, they are very much in the minority. Can people in the old wine skins be woken up? That remains to be seen.

  10. Glad to see some still see FLIGHT as an option! So many want to stay because “we’re to be the salt and light” which is why for decades Christian kids have been in increasingly more hostile schools because “if they can save just one soul….” Yeah but if we loose 100 souls to get that one is it worth it??? (And for you OSAS people many children, despite a “profession of faith” as toddlers or 5-6 years old, aren’t believers yet so yes you are losing them to gain one soul.)

    I’m not saying as soon as things get a bit rough we need to flee but we shouldn’t have to wait till till filling the last life boats to decide we need to get off the titanic because the boat ACTUALLY IS sinking. We should be able to tell much sooner that the time for flight is now as we have fought a good fight but we aren’t going to prevail. I think we keep hold of 3 sayings that weight us down: one plus God is a majority, with God on our side we can’t fail and I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. We figure we’re fighting for God’s way, for what’s right by God so we will prevail so no need to flee unless you doubt God.

  11. Churches and Denominations are in their operation Political. There is always someone who wields the Ppwer generally with highly placed supporters, hopefully following the Biblical Doctrines and not Man’s Philosophy. Martin Luther was pivotal with his statement, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” Luther was swiftly branded an outlaw and as the Media Piece states the excommunicated are branded likewise. Only the Scriptures illuminate Sin and God will only Bless His Word!
    Ian.

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