Influential Christian College Withdraws from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities

In a world where increasing numbers of people are questioning the truths of the Bible, cultural shifts have followed — and organizations that profess the name of Jesus Christ are finding themselves forced to respond. One of the organizations that has taken a bold stand is The Master’s College, based in Santa Clarita, California.

Dr. John MacArthur, president of The Master’s College, announced in an email that the school had withdrawn from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) over issues of doctrine.

We have increasing concerns about the direction of the CCCU, given that the vast majority of member schools do not accept the Genesis account of creation or the inerrancy of Scripture.

Two former CCCU schools have demonstrated that opinions are also shifting away from the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. There are likely other member institutions that are not faithful to the biblical position. The CCCU’s willingness to offer affiliate status to these two schools and the affirmation of 75 percent of member college presidents, raises serious questions as to whether the organization still holds to biblical Christianity.

Over the summer and into the fall of this year, the CCCU took a stand when Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, two Mennonite schools who were part of the council, changed their hiring policies to allow same-sex employees. As a result, the CCCU offered to allow the two schools to become “affiliate members,” a demotion of sorts that allowed the schools to remain part of the council while differing on a crucial policy. Both schools refused and left the council.

In a statement in September, the CCCU responded to the departure of Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University. The statement admitted that the council remained open to a broad spectrum of theological thought while reaffirming commitment to traditional marriage.

As a broad and diverse association, the CCCU has never adopted specific creedal or doctrinal tests for its members and affiliates. Nevertheless, the Council has been and remains dedicated to the advancement of Christian higher education that is aligned with the historic Christian faith. Accordingly, the CCCU has maintained the historic Christian view of marriage, defined as a union of one man and one woman, in its employment policies and student academic program conduct codes. As it relates to this topic, therefore, the CCCU only advocates for “principles of religious freedom, which allow Christian colleges to hire based on religion and to only employ individuals who practice sexual relations within the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman” (Board Policies Manual, section 11.2.1).

Reaction from less conservative Christians in the higher education establishment demonstrated that the matter reflected poorly on the CCCU. Over at Inside Higher Ed, Central College president Mark Putnam wondered whether taking a stand on doctrine would come at the expense of unity:

Through all this, no individual college or university is being asked to change its theological position, its statement of faith, its worldview or its practice of ministry. What we are being told is that the simple association with those who differ is now untenable.

If the CCCU attempts to establish a set of purity tests for members over a range of longstanding or emerging theological disputes that are further complicated by intervening social and political ideologies, then unity will be lost and this organization will be in peril.

Progressive Christian blogger Kyle Roberts seemed more concerned with the effect the decision would have on gay and lesbian circles than with the beliefs of the CCCU:

I interpret the resignation of EMU and Goshen from the CCCU as a big loss. It may seem like a win for the fundamentalists and for those who insist that “historic Christianity” must include explicit and formalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons. But a coalition of academic (mainly liberal arts) institutions should be the context where complicated questions are faced openly and where disagreement can be seen as a sign of healthy dialogue. The message communicated by this development is that dialogue on this issue (perhaps the most divisive issues in Christianity today) is just not going to happen.

It remains to be seen if other schools will soon follow. Another question remains: is this tension involving crucial doctrinal issues characteristic of the church as a whole, or just of the Christian higher education establishment? The Master’s College has taken a bold step in standing up for its values, and we’ll see over the next few months how other institutions respond.