Thinking Out Loud

May 19, 2021

Denominations Losing Internal Influence

Saddleback Ordination Service; Screenshot via Baptist Standard; click image for story

In the last several days we’ve witnessed two serious breaches of denominational policies and protocols, both involving large, significant denominations and both involving gender issues.

In one, Saddleback, a California megachurch, which is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ordained three women earlier this month. Albert Mohler, who just yesterday announced his resignation as President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee, was quoted earlier by Religion News Service saying, “Saddleback has taken actions that place itself in direct conflict with the stated doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

In the other, members of the progressive wing of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in Germany have defied a Vatican edict forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions. A Jesuit priest there told Associated Press, ““I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin.”

As denominations lose influence over their congregations, and an entire generation of Millennials and Gen-Z reject affiliated churches in favor of house fellowships or independent congregations, the open defiance is a serious crack in the denominational fortresses. Though the RCC and SBC are very different on many issues, the RCC is very hierarchical, with The Vatican seen as the supreme authority, even overriding scripture on some points.

By contrast, the SBC has always been a much looser network of congregations, though continuing to use operate under the SBC banner has always required absolute adherence to its statement of faith, which includes the position that women cannot be pastors.

In both cases, there are semantic elements, such as whether the role of pastor implies the title of Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor or whether the blessing of same-sex unions is the same as approving of same-sex marriage. The words marriage and pastor create both theological and emotional responses from people on both sides of the issue in SBC and RCC congregations and leadership.

2 Comments »

  1. It’s (as usual) interesting and informative to see you post these stories Paul. But where (as Christians) do we stand on these issues. I note that you post but do not offer any judgement. And I totally understand why. Because I’m the same as you. Somewhat bewildered in the divisions in our churches and unsure which way to jump. Scripture tells me one thing and yet others interpret in a different way. The shame is Paul that we are being divided. And that can’t be good.

    Comment by Mark B — May 19, 2021 @ 1:50 pm

    • If the question is, “Do I believe in same-sex marriage?” or “Do I believe in women in ministry holding the office of Pastor?” well then yes, those are fair questions, but that was outside the scope of this article.

      Where we live, a woman just assumed the role of senior pastor in the Reformed Church the next town over. When my wife, who works for a conservative Baptist church, had her one and only Sunday off in the past 15 months, and I asked her where she wanted to go, she chose to visit that church. The woman is amazing both in and out-of the pulpit and I do not in any way question her qualifications. I’ve always been on record as egalitarian, though I was a slow and initially-reluctant convert, especially where that senior leadership position was concerned. (And yes, I did say Reformed church.)

      As to marriage, I’ve always felt that particular word has layers of meaning that can only be expressed in a heterosexual covenant, which I believe has always been God’s “Plan ‘A’.” The nuances of what it means to bless a same-sex union are not something I’ve got worked out as fully as the other issue.

      But the article stands as an essay/news-item about denominational authority, and that alone, and though I don’t mind stating all this in the comments section; I just don’t want to go a long way down the road on the two particular issues in this particular space.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 19, 2021 @ 2:25 pm


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