Australia News & Commentary

When Churches Go Bad: Fight or Flight?

On the Anglican Church split.

It is a perennial question: What happens when a Christian church or denomination or school or institution starts to go bad? And by this I mean when they start to clearly depart from biblical teachings and reject core Christian beliefs and values. It could mean they are denying basic biblical doctrines or fundamental matters of Christian ethics.

Obviously, there are many such issues that are plaguing Christian bodies today, but a key one over the past few decades has been how Christians deal with the homosexual and trans agendas. Do they remain faithful to what Scripture teaches on these issues, or do they turn their backs on 2000 years of Christian teaching and run with the world on these matters?

In my 2011 book Strained Relations, I quoted ex-homosexual Joe Dallas who said this over three decades ago: “The debate over homosexuality and the Bible – specifically, whether or not the Bible condemns homosexual acts in all cases – will do no less than rip the body of Christ apart within the next decade. It will force believers to declare, in black and white terms, where they stand on issues of sexuality and biblical interpretation.”

That has certainly been the case, and plenty of divisions have already occurred. Sometimes faithful Christians feel led to stay and fight and resist those who are seeking to destroy historic biblical Christianity. But sometimes it is wiser to leave an all-too corrupt body and form a new one with other orthodox believers.

It takes much prayerful and careful wisdom to know what is the best path. Both flight and fight are options found in Scripture and in church history. See more on this here.

One of the most recent cases involving churches under attack from within has to do with the Australian Anglicans. Three months ago I wrote about how a looming split was on the cards.

Well, that has now happened. As one newspaper report today put it:

Australia’s Anglican church has split, and conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage have launched a breakaway movement led by former Sydney archbishop Glenn Davies aiming to lure Anglicans who are unhappy with progressive bishops. The Diocese of the Southern Cross was formally launched in Canberra on Sunday. The first service was led by a rebel minister who resigned from the liberal Brisbane Archdiocese because he “cannot go along with same-sex blessings”.

Davies, who finished his term as Sydney archbishop last year, said many Anglicans felt the Australian church had strayed from the teachings of the Bible, particularly on same-sex marriage. At present, they must move to another diocese if they disagree with their bishop. But they can join the new church from anywhere – it will cover the whole country – and Davies expected many will do so. He is already speaking to ministers and lay people who are preparing to defect, but will not name them.

“I think you’ll see the Diocese of the Southern Cross will have a significant impact,” he said. “It will send shivers down the spines of some bishops in the Anglican Church of Australia.” There have been many small, localised breakaway churches since the Diocese of Australia was first established in the 1830s, but never anything of such scope or involving such senior, consecrated members of the established church. 

Its social and theological conservatism – especially that marriage is only between a man and a woman – aligns with the views held by Sydney Anglicans, who are often described as the most theologically and socially conservative in the English-speaking world.

But other dioceses, such as Brisbane, Gippsland and Perth, hold different views. They ordain women and are open to blessing same-sex marriages. Most defections to the Diocese of the Southern Cross are likely to come from dioceses with progressive bishops. The issue of same-sex marriage has led to similar splits in North America, Brazil and New Zealand.

The new church was registered with the charities commission in October. It will not be “in communion” with the archbishop of Canterbury, but will instead be aligned with the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a group of conservative churches dominated by those from Africa.

Davies said the paperwork for the church was done ahead of the split, and the decision to proceed was made after a vote at the national Anglican synod (a church parliament) in May when a majority of bishops vetoed Sydney’s motion affirming that marriage was between a man and a woman.

The motion had had been supported by most of the lay and clergy representatives, and many argued the division showed that the bishops were out of touch with grassroots Anglicans. “For those who cannot live under the liberal regime of a bishop, they can come and be thoroughly Anglican under a bishop,” said Davies, who will be commissioned as head of the breakaway church in Canberra on Thursday.

So there you have it: yet another case of theological liberalism and progressivism white-anting the churches from within. Only three main options tend to arise: the faithful stay and fight; the subversion is successful and the church is destroyed (in terms of being a true witness of Christ and the gospel); or the faithful Christians are forced to leave and create their own institutions to remain true to the Word of God.

Of interest is how the progressives viewed this split:

Matthew Anstey, a progressive Anglican theology academic from South Australia who argued in favour of blessing same-sex marriage at the synod, described the breakaway church as corrosive. “They’re basically saying, ‘maybe your bishop is not a true Christian, you shouldn’t trust him or her, we’ve got the truth, we’re right’,” he said. “They’re strongly implying that a lot of the rest of us aren’t even Christians. That’s what we find offensive. This is fundamentalism writ large. This is a split.”

Hmm, so much revealing stuff is found here. First, in typical fashion, the lefties want to somehow blame the conservatives for causing the split. Um no, it is those who reject the basic tenets of Christianity who have caused it. And then there is the old slur word “fundamentalism”.

As I have explained elsewhere, the term had once been used proudly by biblical Christians to resist liberalism in the churches over a century ago. They emphasised the fundamentals of the faith. But later the term was associated with Islamic fundamentalism and became a pejorative term: anyone who still holds steadfast to biblical truth is some sort of ignorant cave dweller. See more on this here.

But most interesting is when he says that conservatives are implying that the progressives are not real Christians. Hey, I for one am not implying it – I am saying it! When folks claiming to be believers deny the fundamentals of the faith, dismiss the Bible and its teachings, and effectively call God a liar, or someone who does not know what he is talking about, then yeah, I would say they certainly are NOT Christians!

Those wanting much more detail on why this is so are invited to check out all the biblical material that I present on this in the book that I mentioned above. It has all the key Scriptural data to make this case that those pushing this agenda are not at all being faithful to the biblical witness.

But this guy finds that to be offensive. Well, guess what? What I find offensive are these wolves in sheep’s clothing. What I find offensive are these renegades and apostates still pretending to be shepherds of God’s flock. And I have a feeling God take offence at these wolves as well. In fact, I know he does. As the Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts: 20:26-31:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert.