The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: The Secular Church


Theme: Results of Abandoning Biblical Authority
In this week’s lessons, we see how the church can fall into becoming like the world, and so lose sight of thinking and acting the way God has laid out in Scripture.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1-5
I think there are four significant results of this kind of thinking. The first result of the abandonment of the wisdom of the church in the Scriptures is that it creates a pitiful uncertainty and insecurity on the part of church leaders. They don’t always talk about this, but on occasion you might hear some of this expressed. Robin Scroggs, a professor of New Testament at the Chicago Theological Seminary, said these words in his inaugural address in the Chicago Theological Seminary Register: “We are thus in no secure place. We have found no single authoritative standard from the past of what to say or how to live. Neither have we a secure self-understanding erected on the basis of our immediate experience. We, in fact, find ourselves in the abyss of a continual uncertainty, but we are kept from falling in the chaos by the very tension between past and present. We have no assurance that where we happen to be is the best or final place to stand.”
Secondly, as a result of the abandonment of the church’s wisdom we have the very turning to the world and its values that I’m highlighting in this study. As long as you have the Scriptures and a sure word from God, this is the place on which you can stand, but when this base is abandoned, the only place you can go is to the world.
Thirdly, connected with the second point, people who abandon the authority of Scripture end up having a dependence upon what has been called the consensus or the 51% vote. How do you find the direction in which you’re to go if you believe that God does not speak authoritatively? Well, you make your decision on the basis of what the majority of the people want.
This is the true meaning of the well-publicized Kenyon’s Decision in the United Presbyterian Church. When Kenyon was a young man he had come entirely through the United Presbyterian system. His father was a United Presbyterian pastor. He’d been educated in United Presbyterian schools. He had acquitted himself well, even at the seminary level, winning several of the prizes that his seminary offered.
When he came to ordination, he ran into difficulty with his Presbytery because he believed that the Bible did not teach that women should be ordained to the office of teaching or ruling elder in the church. He said, “This is the way I understand the Scriptures, and, therefore, I myself personally can’t participate in such an ordination.” Thus, he was barred from ordination and is serving elsewhere today.
Why did the Presbytery make the decision it did? Well, it wasn’t because of the teaching of the Scriptures because nobody from the denomination tried to argue the point on the basis of the Word of God. There wasn’t a word of argument on what the Bible really taught. Nor was their decision on the basis of the Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church. Rather, he was barred simply because the consensus of the church at that time is that a position like Kenyon’s was detrimental to the cause of women’s liberation. That’s what is meant by the 51% vote. This is the kind of thing that we have when the authority of the Scriptures is abandoned.
Fourthly, let me say that when the church acts in this way it becomes irrelevant. If it doesn’t have a sure word from God, it has nothing to say to the world along spiritual lines that is any different than the world could already say. A number of years ago, Peter Berger was speaking at the meeting of the Consultation on Church Union in Denver. Addressing men who were engaged in the ecumenical movement, he said, “If there is going to be a renaissance of religion, its bearers will not be people who have been falling all over each other to be relevant. I would affirm that the concerns of the institutional structures of the church will be vain unless there is also a new conviction and a new authority in the Christian community.” He’s right, of course, but it’s precisely at this point that the secular church of our day is weak.
Study Questions:

What four results occur when the wisdom of the Scriptures is abandoned?
What is meant by the authority of the 51% vote?

Reflection: Can you think of any other results that follow when the Bible’s authority is abandoned?

Study Questions
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