Those of you who are regular followers know that I have followed/participated in what I call the “Anglican Revolt,” a term which comes from a North American perspective. Brewing for years, in 2003 it was detonated in full force by the ordination of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man who subsequently went into and out of same-sex civil marriage, as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. That event was the major impetus in ultimately birthing the Anglican Church in North America (ANCA,) and many of the events between those two were well covered on this blog.
Those of us with roots in Anglicanism and who have attempted to suppress amnesia on the subject know that the left bent of the Episcopal Church is of long-standing, that we’ve been through (and been a part of) a membership bleed before, and that the Episcopal Church’s abandonment of the basics of Christianity–both those about sex and those which don’t–has been a major reason the church has shrunk and continues to shrink.
Now, it seems, those same disputes have come to the Pentecostal world, with Urshan College giving the Society of Pentecostal Studies (SPS) the boot as a venue for their gathering because the SPS had the bad taste to allow a prominent LGBT activist on the program. (Pentecostals will have to excuse my Palm Beachy characterisation of things, you like to celebrate roots, those are mine.) This has led to a firestorm on the “online trash fire” that Facebook has become. For those of us who have marched through this battlefield with the Anglicans, it’s “déja vu all over again.”
I think at this point it would be worthwhile for Pentecostals to draw some lessons from the experience of others, while at the same time highlighting some differences too. I dealt with this issue from a more general Evangelical perspective two years ago, but some more thoughts are as follows:
- The Christian sexual ethic is non-negotiable. People find this difficult because they think that Christianity is a popularity contest, and since we live in a society where people are defined by what they do with their genitals and how often they do it, we must go with the flow to survive. But Our Lord and his Apostles laid down a standard which is really higher than the one we see counselled in our churches; we either have to make a serious attempt to live it (I’m not talking about politics at this point) or stop professing and calling ourselves Christians.
- Don’t obscure the issues with gaudy rhetoric. In the Anglican world that means the infamous “Anglican fudge,” and I’ve called that out more than once. The Anglicans have tried to paper over their differences with it, and it hasn’t worked. In the Pentecostal world we see a similar thing where people adopt a “spiritual” form of rhetoric, which obscures the substance (or lack of it) of what they are really saying and what they really believe. In addition to opening oneself up to the charge of being duplicitous, this kind of thing only delays getting to the bottom of the issue, it doesn’t avoid it.
- Don’t let academia rule the waves. I grazed over this issue from a Roman Catholic perspective in my review of Christ Among Us. Their idea was that seminary academics would work to redefine the doctrines of the church. Needless to say, that got a smackdown under Pope John Paul II, much to the relief of the #straightouttairondale crowd. I’ve seen the same idea unspoken (usually, sometimes verbalised) by many Pentecostal seminary academics, and some of these are in turn in the SPS. But that’s not the job of the academy, and that comes from a PhD holding academic. The primary job of the academy is to train our future ministers to be effective preachers and stewards of the Gospel. Irrespective of the serious authority issues in Pentecostal churches, there is no Biblical sanction for moving that to the academy.
- Don’t let academia waive the rules, either. One lesson from the Episcopal Church’s experience that bears repeating is that their drift from orthodox Christianity began in their seminaries with the introduction of “higher criticism” and other new ideas that undermined the faith of the church. By the time of the critical moment in the 1960’s, the church folded when confronted with the likes of James Pike. That process is much slower in Pentecostal churches because, overall, the educational level of our ministers is lower than that in Anglicanism (as is the case with the laity, that’s the preferential option of the poor in action.) But it’s something that need not be ignored.
- Don’t be an institutionalist. This cuts both ways. One of the perennial frustrations I have with the ACNA is its fixation on being in communion with Canterbury. The recent Church of England synod should put paid to that obsession, but I wouldn’t count on it. They have the chance to both make a gain for orthodoxy and to break a racist-colonialist structure by making GAFCON the “real Anglican Communion,” but they can’t bring themselves to do it. OTOH, it is silly (and dangerous in the current circumstance) for people to insist that the institutions they work for accept their idea just because they have it and it looks trendy. As I noted in this piece, it’s their institution, not yours; deal with it.
I hate to see this issue come to haunt Pentecostal churches, but I guess in my gut I felt it would sooner or later. As I said before:
Before he went to trial, suffering, crucifixion and death, Our Lord exhorted his disciples in this way: “I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 TCNT) That has not changed. Neither should our response.