I know that I do not have good feelings about those who seem bent on leading the Church in new theological directions. I also know they have similar feelings about me and those who are equally outspoken and more prominent than me. There are really only two major differences between myself and liberal religious progressives besides the obvious theological disparities. The first is that I am willing to admit that I do not have pleasant feelings about what they are doing and the way they are trying to do it. The arrogance they exude by suggesting that historic beliefs and practices of Christianity need improvement and updating, with them, of course, doing the improving and updating is astounding. Moreover, how are we supposed to feel about those who either lied during their ordinations or haven’t the dignity or honor to say they no longer believe as they once did? They pay only enough lip service to required affirmations of faith to keep themselves from being kicked out. I despise that kind of deceit and hypocrisy and say so. But neither is it a secret that they are just as disgusted and angry with similarly minded people as myself. They write their columns, commentaries, and responses to their critics as if they carried the weight of papal encyclicals.
That brings me to the second major difference between us. They have far more power than me. I can do nothing to them other than bring forward certain perspectives that they would rather not become pervasive in the rank and file below them. At present there are a few less than 700 people who subscribe to this electronic commentary. Many of those have already left the United Methodist Church. Others represent a diversity of Christian denominations and non-denominations. And there is that silly little group of spies who faithfully forward these commentaries to the powers that be in hopes that I have written something that I could be charged with. And I seriously doubt the complaints would be dropped and the complainants would be advised to apologize to me either. The Church hierarchy, on the other hand, oversees millions of laity and thousands of clergy. Much of the laity is only concerned with their particular local church and gives little thought to District Superintendents and Bishops that they rarely ever see. If one, two, or even a majority of Bishops were to renounce the basic doctrines of Christianity what is that to them so long as their church and pastor are faithful to orthodox Christianity? The influence and power of those in authority is only increased when people become and remain indifferent.
As to the clergy beneath the hierarchy there are those who support and advocate what the liberals are doing, there are those who do not but fear the repercussions for openly opposing them, there are those who are preaching and practicing faithful Christianity but see no need to risk their future appointments and pensions by making waves, and there are those who are banding themselves together creating their own little hierarchies of evangelical conservatives. However you look at it though, all the power rests comfortably with them and not me. I cannot alter one facet of their lives in any way but they have the power to ruin me if I keep on criticizing them.
So how should I feel about those I am convinced are attempting to reduce the great historic doctrines of the Church to the equivalent of religious Aesop’s fables? I am quite aware of the anger that burns in me whenever I read the latest from Bishop Sprague or Mr. Jim Winkler or any number of other pseudo-intellectual Church leaders/authorities. It used to worry me because I realize that the Enemy of God wins when burning anger morphs into subtle hatred. Righteous indignation is only a short step away from hatred. God never takes that short step but the rest of us can do so without realizing it quite easily. Hatred instantly transforms well-meaning Christians into murderers and liars who do not know God (1 John 3:15 & 4:20). No one is worth severing a relationship with God over. Refuse to hate.
On the other hand neither do I want to become unconcerned or impassionate about blatant heresies being promoted by those who have been entrusted with the sacred honor of being Church leaders. I had been seeking God of late concerning how I feel about Sprague, et al. Should I just cool it for my sake and my family’s? Let others deal with it? Embrace their teaching and theology? I cannot win this fight alone and that is not my calling anyway. I needed some assurance that my feelings and commentaries are not based upon disguised (to me) hate. Had I taken that short step from righteous indignation to hate?
I received my answer in a rather odd way the other day. I live in the deep South and there are really only two professional baseball teams to follow: the Saint Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves. I am a Braves fan. Always have been. Yes, even during the embarrassing days when Ted Turner donned a manager’s uniform and pretended to know something about managing baseball. The other day I tuned into the game and was disappointed to see another program on with “Braves Rain Delay” in the upper left hand corner. The program was “Most Dangerous Police Chases 3.”
A funny thing happened as I watched the show. Anger began to rise up within me. And I know it was the same kind of anger I feel whenever I read or hear the theological relativists and progressives in the Church. It only took me a little while to understand how the two are connected. As I watched police chase after police chase I became aware of two things. First, the fleeing suspects had absolutely no respect or fear of the law. For the life of me I do not know why someone with half dozen or more police cars behind and in front of them think that they can escape capture and justice. Although it triggered incredulity at such foolishness that is not what sparked my anger. If someone thinks he or she can outwit and out maneuver the law then as far as I am concerned they are in for a rude awakening. They are just making life in the present and future hard on themselves.
It was the second thing that I became aware of in each police chase that incited my anger. The absolute lack of regard for the lives of countless others the fleeing criminals were needlessly endangering. These people fleeing the police would drive down the wrong lane and even cross the median of a four lane highway risking head on collisions with innocent passers by. The lives and futures of women, children, and entire families were being risked just so some renegade from law and order could try to make fools of the cops or escape a citation for driving without a license. The anger was both burning and familiar.
While I am not very big on saying, “God told me…” as a Wesleyan United Methodist I do believe in the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit. As I had been asking God for wisdom about my anger towards some Church leaders I was not surprised when I got an affirmation from a strange place. I do not like it when people are put at risk needlessly and thoughtlessly. If a law breaker wants to hole up in his house and have a shootout with the police then that is his or her decision and he or she knows ahead of time what the consequences will be. And it does not matter either if the lawless try to wrap themselves in the mantle of Robin Hood either. John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde thought themselves to be working class heroes by battling the law but they died bloody undignified deaths for doing it. But when that person takes to the streets putting innocent people at risk for their own crimes that is quite another thing. I know some will take offense to my analogy between renegade Church leaders and people who flee from the police but I believe in my heart what I am writing.
It is one thing for prominent people in leadership positions in the Church to adopt and embrace beliefs and teachings that are clearly in conflict with common sense and traditional understandings of historic doctrines and affirmations of Christianity. If they wish to gamble with their eternal salvation by displacing the truths of the old old story of how the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from sin with New Age (which of course isn’t new) relativism and call it “progressive theological interpretation” then that is their business. They should be warned of the consequences of doing so and they have been. If they wish to shoot it out with Moses, Elijah, Paul, or Peter then let them have at it. I do not think they will like how it will inevitably turn out but they had to be aware of the gamble they were taking when they found themselves without a single Apostolic or Church father standing with them. That warrants my pity not my anger. But when they take to the proverbial streets charging ahead recklessly putting the eternal salvation of others at risk that is another matter. I would think every born again believer would be angry when those who are in the infancy of the faith, those who are seeking a connection to Christ, and those who are simply lost in a maze of materialism, carnality, and worldliness are needlessly put at risk by those who enjoy flaunting their disregard for orthodoxy.
If you wish to assert that those who believe only faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse a soul from sin are idolaters ,then that is your business. But when you say “The time has come for progressives, courageously to advance other theories [in place of the blood atonement as]…our own confession of the meaning of the cross” you are recklessly endangering the eternal souls of people who have no idea that you have no idea what you are talking about. They just assume that Church leaders are both intelligent and faithful just like I used to assume that anyone with a Ph.D. was an intellectual giant. Then I met some of them.
If a United Methodist minister who calls himself a theologian wishes to delude himself into believing that Jesus was a practicing homosexual then let him gamble with His soul that that assertion will be forgotten by the One who sits on the Great White Throne. But when he publishes it in a book called The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament then he is putting the souls of homosexuals at risk as they are desperately searching for legitimization for their sin before God.
Over and over again the scene is replayed. Out of control Church leaders bent on evading the Truth who are not content to embrace doctrines and positions the Bible clearly identifies as heretical. No, they wish to establish those heresies as normative. It demonstrates a total lack of regard for anyone else. Isn’t that precisely what made Jesus so hot with the Pharisees? “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15 NASB). My interpretation of that verse is that Jesus is not merely disappointed with the religious leaders of His day. He is angry. He calls them hell bound. He does not mince words. He does not hide either His anger or His disgust. And who were the Pharisees but the religious elite of Jesus’ day. And they say we are an advanced civilization?
I have a saying of John Wesley hanging in my office. It reads:
Do all the good you can,
I also happen to know that one of Wesley’s chief rules for his clergy was this very simple dictum: Do no harm. Shouldn’t we be able to hold Church leaders accountable to those very basic and straightforward expectations? Forget about trying to prove doctrinal infidelity. There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that many Church leaders are doing a great deal of harm. They are doing it intentionally. They have stated unequivocally that they will continue to do so. So, yes, I am angry. Aren’t you? If so, what are you doing about it? If not, why not?
One of my superiors recently pointed out to me that there is a lot of anger in my commentaries. Another suggested that I seek professional counseling (at a discounted rate, of course). Yes, I am angry with some of the leaders of the Church. I think I have a right to be. Not only are they making a mockery of our Wesleyan heritage they are demonstrating a blatant disregard for the spiritual well-being of anyone who happens to have the misfortune of crossing their paths. Criticize me if you like but I do not see much difference between those who run from the police and those who espouse heresy under the guise of theological progressivism. Both needlessly and recklessly jeopardize the well being of others for their own benefit. The only difference is the police always get their suspects and lead them away in handcuffs on the Police Chase videos. Our Church authorities pat theological renegades on the back and give them raises for causing irreparable harm. I hate that.
Raymond J. Rooney, Jr.
Copyright © 2003
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