With the recent announcement (UPDATE: They reversed the initial decision) that World Vision will now hire homosexuals that are legally married, it’s past time for me to admit what I’ve been in intentional denial over: The death of Evangelical consensus. Richard Stearns even noted that they already accommodate a broad spectrum of convictions as a multi-denominational, para-church ministry, and that this decision is nothing more than further accommodation to matters that are adjudicated among these respective ecclesiastical jurisdictions. World Vision isn’t taking a position, we’re reassured, simply respecting its parachurch boundaries by accepting what other churches decide. Problem is that Stearns doesn’t say they’ll only accept married homosexuals from an affirming denomination, but rather qualifies the arrangement on whether they’re married in a state that recognizes such an arrangement. What if the homosexual union involved church discipline? What if I’m in a church that affirms but a state that doesn’t? I honestly don’t trust Stearns reasoning. While elevating the status of the church in rationale, he ignores the messier elements of whether these members were actually disciplined precisely because there were objections to such a status, even if the state have their blessing.
While much can be said about what may be considered the fatal flaw of parachurch organizations, namely an accommodating relationship with churches that contradict one another theologically and ecclesiastically, and also the implementation of a leadership structure that isn’t accountable to true spiritual oversight, the church, what has allowed for the existence of parachurch ministries is a general commitment to the Evangelical center on matters of doctrine and ethics. Disagreement on baptism is one thing, but a unified commitment to the person and work of Christ and the gospel would allow for sufficient consensus when it came to matters of evangelism, joint partnerships for benevolence and emergency response, orphanages, and such. While denominations might disagree on matters of divorce and remarriage, it was never questioned that marriage itself was defined by fidelity in a heterosexual union. While denominations might have different positions on the consumption of alcohol, they’re all generally agreed that drunkenness is a sin. Evangelicalism was partly successful precisely because it fostered a general confessionalism that allowed for a lot of hand-holding over the appropriate boundaries of denominational identity — and even this for precise goals, not the erasing of denominational and confessional lines for the sake of reconstructing a new church that’s defined by the lowest common denominator. Even so, Evangelical consensus meant something.
Though Evangelical commitments were represented in general confessions, it would be wrong to categorize it as a bare bones operation. Even J. Gresham Machen, a self-identifying magisterial reformer, viewed Evangelicals as an ally in defining orthodox Christianity. Evangelicalism was a meaty proposition, one that prized itself for commitment to the authority and nature of Scripture, the person and work of Christ, the substitutionary nature of the atonement, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, the nature of God in His attributes, the need for personal faith, and, among other things, a commitment to sanctification and biblical ethics. When the very construct of marriage is now relativized to disagreement over the mode of baptism, the Evangelical consensus is dead; and worse yet, there is no corrective arm within a World Vision to adjudicate what is necessary from what is a matter of indifference. When a general confessionalism can’t even tell the difference between matters of sexuality and baptismal mode, it is stripped from the originating principles from which it arose, the Evangelical movement of the 20th century. It’s ironic that Christianity Today broke this story, for even this periodical is the result of Evangelical efforts for institutional credibility and propagation.
Stay tuned for what the future holds for parachurch ministries and organizations that were once bound by Evangelical consensus. When we can’t even agree on what the general confession means, we’re in trouble — and not just in the parachurch domain. Biblical authority, the nature of the atonement, the person and work of Christ, and so on are all being questioned in Evangelical ranks. If parachurch organizations are going to accommodate the breadth of views within Evangelicalism, and if this Evangelicalism, in many quarters, has descended into ditches, then parachurch ministries will free-fall over the cliff — all in the name of deference to the church. Wouldn’t be something if it was the Evangelical parachurch ministries that called out the churches for their failure to adhere to their confessions? Don’t count out any scenario — we’re talking American Evangelicalism here; weirder things have happened.
© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.