Friday, May 25, 2007

A Ray of Hope or a Grim Glimpse of the Future?

I came across a story from the U.K. today about Rev Dr Richard Turnbull and a fiery proclamation that he made. Dr. Turnbull is the principal of Wycliffe Hall which is the evangelical school of theology within Oxford University. The article I found comes from the English newspaper, The Independent, and carries the title “The man who says we are all going to hell.” Dr Turnbull’s statements have added fuel to the fire of controversy and division inside of the Anglican Communion, and they have provoked mixed feelings from me. First things first, here’s what he said,

"We are committed to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who don't know. In this land that's 95 per cent of the people: 95 per cent of people facing hell unless the message of the gospel is brought to them." 1

When asked to clarify specifically what he was talking about or who he was referring to, Dr. Turnbull said that he was “thinking only of the atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, people who are too lazy to get up on Sunday morning, and anyone who fails to make it to a regular church service.” The way that Dr. Turnbull summarized his intention worried me, and made me concerned that he was more focused on ecclesiological Christianity (i.e. whoever goes to church is a real Christian) instead of the true understanding of the personal transforming nature of the gospel.

However, further reading of the article caused me to drop my concern over that comment because he was shown to have a deep interest in defending various socially unpopular applications of the gospel. Also, his comments from the speech that is quoted above may have been explicitly referring to evangelism, not intra-church reform, even though both of these missions seem to be very important to him.

Here are some of the facts from the article that caused me to be excited about his ministry and mission instead of being concerned and apprehensive:

  1. There has been much controversy and even an investigation into how Dr. Turnbull has managed Wycliffe Hall. In fact a document critical of him and his leadership made the accusation that under him, the institution has become "increasingly hostile to women priests and openly homophobic".2
  2. Dr. Turnbull’s handpicked (against opposition) deputy3 is the Rev Simon Vibert who was the co-author of the paper "The Ministry of Women in the Church Today" arguing that women should not teach men.
  3. He is the chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council that, among other things, has “encouraged Christians in parishes where the vicar had liberal views on issues such as sex and marriage, or who appeared not to believe in the ‘uniqueness of Christ’ to break away and form their own congregations, and offered to supply suitable ministers.”

Those three reasons give clues that he, Wycliffe Hall, the Church of England Evangelical Council, and anyone else with whom he associates with in ministry have traditional and biblical approaches to proper sexuality and the qualifications for ministers. But the final reason given for petitioners to break off from their churches, a defense of the uniqueness of Christ, is, quite frankly, the key.

His commitment to the gospel truth and the Word of God over, above, and against the stream of culture was summed up in a warning from the "Covenant for the Church of England" that was presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in December. It made a scything assessment of the Church of England as well as a strong declaration of orthodoxy,

"The Church of England is increasingly polarised into two churches: the one submitting to God's revelation, Gospel-focused, Christ-centred, cross-shaped and Spirit-empowered; the other holding a progressive view of revelation, giving priority to human reason over Scripture, shaped primarily by Western secular culture, and focused on church structures." 4

So why did I have mixed feelings when I read this article? Basically, I see a glimpse into the future of American Christianity when I see what’s going on in the Anglican Communion. There is a plethora of denominations, hierarchies, and worship traditions in the United States, so the apostasy of one single denomination would not be as devastating for our society as a whole as it is for the U.K. when its main church falls from orthodoxy. However, the moves made by the Episcopal church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) away from both orthodoxy and the Scriptures in favor of social and contemporary influences on the church signal disaster on the horizon for us.

There is also the rise of blatant heresy and false teachers that are in the guise of Bible-based and Christ-centered churches. From Creflo Dollar to T.D. Jakes, from Benny Hinn to Rod Parsley to Joel Osteen and everyone in between, our nation is filled with self-styled evangelists and prosperity preachers who are aligned with Biblical Christianity on many of the social issues like abortion and marriage, but they are preaching the equivalent of arsenic in so many of their other doctrines. I have seen both Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar either refer to, or preach out right, a demonic doctrine stating that Christians are little gods. I have seen the overwhelming emphasis on temporal wealth, health, and other trivialities and a distortion of the gospel and its command of repentance and faith to sinners. And in what is possibly the best example of a lack of spiritual discernment, modern Christendom has accepted and acknowledged as one of its leaders a man whose beliefs were condemned as heresy almost 1700 years ago. T.D. Jakes is a charismatic speaker with an inspiring story, but his doctrine denies the Triune Godhead of Scripture. And that, my friends, is heresy.

The issues that we face here in the U.S. are not necessarily those of openly homosexual clergy or the endorsement of homosexuality as a God accepted and approved way for men and women to live…not yet, anyway. But we too face the challenge of keeping the gospel and the church pure. And the answer and course of action that we must take in order to preserve the integrity of the gospel and to reach others for Christ is the same here as it is across the pond. We need to be “committed to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who don't know it,” inside and outside of the church walls.


2 An explanation may or may not be necessary for why this is a good sign. Normally, people who hear what the Bible has to say about the roles of men and women in the home or in the church and find that it is contrary to their own perspective; they’ll demean it by labeling it patriarchal or oppressive to women. Similarly, those who find their sexual proclivities and lifestyle at odds with what Scripture teaches will use labels. So, for those who hear the clear teaching from Scripture that men should not have sex with men, but they themselves are in favor (in practice or principle) of that action, they will label our doctrine as homophobic.

3 I believe this is a sort of vice-president or other important leadership role.


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