Back in August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), during its Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, changed their church law to allow unrepentant, practicing homosexuals to be ordained as pastors. Make no mistake: it is a tragedy when the largest Lutheran body in the United States chooses to depart from the clear teaching of Scripture, endorsing what God does not endorse.
Coincidentally–or maybe providentially–there was a freak tornado that ripped through Minneapolis on the exact same day and at the exact same time that the controversial decision was being made, damaging the very building where the Lutherans were meeting. Was God angry? Was this God’s temporal judgment–a warning of sorts–against the ELCA? Good chance, as John Piper–a well known Calvinist Baptist pastor in Minneapolis–rightly pointed out in his blog.
And although Piper is accurate in his biblical interpretation and application on this one, there’s still something not right here. He even correctly exhorts the Lutherans to turn “from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality.” Great. Whoopee. But still, something is wrong.
And this is the problem: John Piper–and just about every other conservative evangelical leader in the United States, for that matter–is a wuss. Certainly he wants to give the impression that he is opposing heresy and giving a stern warning to liberal Christians who distort the gospel message. But what is he actually accomplishing? Nothing. Because from outside an organization, a critic can do nothing but gripe and grumble and make a public relations case against that organization. If John Piper wanted to really make a difference in the universal church and combat heresy, he would affiliate his church with the ELCA. Then he could take direct measures to remove the heretics he disagrees with. If he really was concerned with the purity of the body of Christ, he would put his money where his mouth is: he would become Lutheran (or maybe a member of some other liberal, mainline denomination) and start cleaning house, reclaiming those organizations for Christ. (You haven’t lived and you can’t be considered a reformer unless you have stood up at a presbytery meeting and articulated an orthodox, biblical position, only to be reviled as a mean-spirited person!)
But John Piper is not concerned with the purity of the church. He’s ultimately concerned only with his own purity. By safely sitting on his perch in the Minnesota Baptist Conference–safe from the stain of false teaching in other, defective denominations–he demonstrates that he’s only interested in keeping his own hands clean. And that’s something I’ve noticed with many conservative Christians, especially those who have left mainline denominations for doctrinally and ethically pure bodies: they can’t stomach heresy, and they don’t have the guts to stand up to entrenched liberalism in the church.
But this isn’t just John Piper’s fault. It’s part of our warped, heretical view of the church in the United States. We see things from a capitalistic, denominational, and competition-based perspective, even though such a model doesn’t apply to the organic body of Christ. In our hearts, we say, “If the ELCA or the UCC or the PCUSA are heretical, then we should ‘shop’ somewhere else, hoping they go out of business, kind of like shopping at Home Depot instead of Lowe’s.” But it doesn’t work that way. Our divisions, and how we accentuate our divisions, only weaken the church. And our divisions–even over concerns for doctrinal purity, oddly enough–promote heresy. Because by separating from each other we only insulate ourselves from the problems, cutting ourselves off from being a solution to the problem.
So I challenge my fellow conservative Christians. Let’s stop pretending that we are on higher moral ground by separating from the liberal mainline denominations–the very bodies that need renewal. And let’s start getting serious about making a difference in the universal church, even if it means getting our hands dirty in the process.