…Contend for the faith…for certain people have crept in unnoticed…ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality… - from Jude 3-4
This past week, in a highly anticipated meeting, delegates from the United Methodist Church voted by a narrow margin to uphold the "Traditional Position" of the church in regards to sexual matters. By this they again affirmed their belief that marriage has been ordained by God to be between a man and a woman and that marriage is the only proper context for sexual expression. This vote came as a great disappointment to many within the global body of United Methodists and in particular to the more liberal U.S. council of United Methodist bishops. If it were not for the fact that the United Methodist Church has a substantial number of churches and church members on the African continent, the vote would have undoubtedly gone in a direction that would have affirmed the LGBT community in their lifestyle choices. But the African church remains much more conservative and admittedly "Biblical" than its European and American counterparts. But just in case one thinks, "Well, that issue has finally been settled" within the United Methodist Church, opponents of the decision vowed that they will bring it up again for a vote at the next annual convention. And for all the disagreement among the delegates, there was an overriding sense of agreement on one point, namely, that the United Methodist Church will soon be fracturing, with one or both sides leaving to form a new denomination.
Other ecclesiastical bodies have already faced this kind of fracture: the Episcopal Church, USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ, to name a few. Some other denominations (such as the Southern Baptists and the Evangelical Free Church of America), having taken an aggressive posture many years ago in support of traditional marriage, have seemingly circumvented their going through the same pains of division now facing the United Methodists.
All of this raises the question "When is it right to leave a church or denomination?" Unfortunately the scriptures do not give any hard and fast guidelines in answering that question. Many churches withdrew from the Presbyterian Church (USA) some 40+ years ago when that denomination voted to require that churches within the denomination have at least some female elders. The famous Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia (where James Boice was the senior pastor at the time) was one of the churches that withdrew at that time.
At Burning Hearts we do not run exactly the same risk. We (currently) are not part of a denomination and so we need not fear where our denomination might be heading. But we still run the risk that the overseers of this church might someday so soften their position on the authority of scripture that the net effect becomes the same as having an entire denomination wander from the truth.
But we pray that day never comes. And given the track record of those currently in leadership, it is difficult to imagine such a day arising for a long, long time to come. But, again, let us be vigilant in praying for our church leaders. And, as Jude warns, be careful of those who come in "unnoticed" but who have the intent of perverting the grace of our God into sensuality.