Mainline/liberal denominations continue to self-destruct. The United Methodist Church is providing the most current example, committing to seventy-five weeks of intensive prayer in order “to ask and listen for God’s leadership at this critical time.” Created by the Council of Bishops, these seventy-five weeks of prayer are part two of the UMC’s initiative called “Praying Our Way Forward.” Couched in the language of concern to obey Jesus’s command to make disciples, the press release tacks on the vague objective to aid “the work of the Commission on the Way Forward.” Members of the UMC churches may be wondering what the Commission on the Way Forward is working on. Buried in a link to a press release that is mostly specific-less in regards to objectives, another link to another press release reveals the details.
In plain language, the Council of Bishops’ Way Forward recommends:
…that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.
The United Methodist Church is taking seventy-five weeks to determine if God’s parameters for sexuality are going to be obeyed by the denomination or not. Any church or denomination that places a higher import on not hurting people’s feelings over the clear commands of God is a church or denomination that fails to understand the purpose of churches. It’s also a church or denomination that’s going to find itself scrambling to shore up quickly decreasing member rolls.
The cynic in me wants to claim that these seventy-five weeks are actually a buffer that the Council of Bishops has given itself in order to figure out how to prevent the probably inevitable exodus of tithing members once they announce what the UMC Bishops have already decided. The United Methodist Church passed the line of theological liberalism decades ago, and, apart from the grace of God, the continued slide into further apostasy is probably inevitable. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many faithful followers of Jesus scattered throughout the denomination. For true Christians, there’s a line, and the Council of Bishops is going to find out that they’re about to cross that line, whether my cynicism about their motives is correct or not. Of course, according to statistics, the validity of my cynicism is inconsequential to what’s going to happen to the UMC if they don’t reverse their descent into theological liberalism.
Prior to Roger Finke and Rodney Stark’s groundbreaking book The Churching of America, many believed that theological conservativism was the death knell to church growth. The two prominent sociologists, however, demonstrated through intense research and tight statistical analysis that the exact opposite is true; liberal theology leads to steep declines in church membership. In fact, the pair found that churches that embrace conservative theology tend to experience growth in membership.
Over the last year, non-theists have gloated over numbers that indicate religion’s shrinking place among Americans. While not lying, the numbers don’t reveal the whole truth at first blush. According to the Pew Research Center, evangelicalism in America has remained steady even in the face of a shrinking attachment to Christianity among Americans. So where is the loss of numbers coming from? Well, mainline/liberal denominations. In other words, yes, it’s true that religion’s place in our society is shrinking. But the religion that’s disappearing is a false religion anyway.
Proving Roger Finke and Rodney Stark correct, denominations that have embraced liberal theology are losing members at an alarming rate. The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops may very well believe that the path to sustained denominational growth is through a continued embrace of liberal theology and progressive ideology, but every indicator points to the reality that their solution is actually an anti-solution. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
By even considering embracing aberrant beliefs about sexuality, the United Methodist Church has signaled that they are willing to deny God. Churches cannot mock and deny God without expecting Him to withdraw His blessings. And churches cannot mock and deny God and expect true Christians to remain within the whitened sepulchers erected by apostate denominations.