The Briefing 12-12-14

The Briefing 12-12-14

The Briefing


December 12, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Thursday, December 12, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Vast theological and moral chasm within Anglican Communion shows a church losing its center

The Times of London, one of the world’s most authoritative newspapers is out with a major story having to do with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who also serves as the primate – or the very head – of what is called the Anglican Communion. That’s the communion of all the church is related to the church of England in terms of the larger Anglican tradition. This includes churches in the United States known as the Episcopal Church USA and now, given the liberalism of that church, various Anglican communions as well. This also means churches in other parts of the world – in particular what’s called the Global South. Churches in Africa and Central and South America, far more conservative than the American and English churches now.

And this leads to the very reason for the article in the Times about the Archbishop of Canterbury. Because it turns out that he has just concluded a massive global tour of the Anglican Communion. He’s been a full 11 days on airplanes over the last two years. He has traveled more than 149,000 miles, visiting places as diverse as Brazil, New Guinea, Sudan, Rwanda, South Korea, and Myanmar – all as he was making visits to the primates, or that is the local heads of those Anglican churches in those nations. But even as the times article primarily has to do with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England and the Anglican Communion there are lessons here for all of us. For every church, every denomination, every Christian.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted as saying that what he learned in terms of his worldwide visit to the entire Anglican Communion is that the communion may well break up. The first edition of the story in the Times carried the headline, “Conflict may Force Church to Split.” Subsequent editions of the story softened the headline somewhat, but the bottom line is still the same. There is every likelihood that the Church of England will break apart, and primarily over the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. There are larger issues but all of them are related to the great cleavage between theological conservatism and Protestant theological liberalism. What you’re looking at here is a massive division that is only growing wider. And that’s the reason for the likelihood of the breakup.

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury was elected as something of an evangelical. He’s at least identified with coming from the evangelical wing of the Church of England. But as the British Separatists and others of noted for a very long time, the conservative wing of the Church of England – though certainly including many theological conservatives – is after all in the Church of England. And the Church of England is by any measure in the Anglican Communion. And so what happens in one of these churches relates to all of them because of their interconnectivity, because of their fellowship, and indeed because of the fact they’re all unified in some sense under the Archbishop of Canterbury. And now you have a church, in particular the Church of England, and a communion , the Anglican Communion, that is trying to define itself as able to encompass this massive division theologically between those who believe that homosexuality is a sin and those who believe that it’s simply normal. Those who believe that the Bible is basically an ancient relic that includes some kind of divine inspiration, and those who believe that it is the inerrant and infallible word of God. Those who believe that what God did for us in Christ is a substitutionary atonement that achieves salvation from sin and those of believe that the gospel is instead more about a social message, more about liberation from social oppression.

You’re looking at a communion of churches that is losing not only any sense of the boundaries, but also any sense of the center. Leading to the obvious question, what exactly holds the Anglican communion together? And as this headline story indicates it might be that right now the answer is, ‘not much’.

A bit of history is instructive here; the Church of England makes a claim upon what is known as comprehensiveness. It’s a very important claim to understand. The Church of England basically claims (and not only the Church of England, but the larger Anglican Communion in some sense) to be able to encompass comprehensive theological views. That is to say, views on the far left and the far right. Views that in the Church of England include evangelical, absolutely radically liberal, and Anglo-Catholic. The question is can any church hold together with the kind a diversity of theological positions? Going back to the 19th century the strains were already there. You include those who hold the classical Christian orthodoxy and those that those very same persons consider also to be heretics.

Going back to the 20th century you already had bishops in the Church of England  that were denying the divine inspiration of Scripture, the exclusivity the gospel and other crucial doctrines. You also had bishops that were denying the existence of a personal God. So already in the 20th century this claim to comprehensiveness meant comprehensiveness in one church, or denomination, or fellowship of churches that included people who are orthodox Christian believers and those that are effectively described as atheists.

It should be instructive to us that that did not split the Anglican Communion apart. People weren’t talking about this kind a split over the issue of atheism but now they’re talking about it over the issue homosexuality. Some theologians looking at this explain that we are finally getting to an issue that virtually everyone can understand – what many sociologists refer to as a transparent issue. This relates to other churches as well. In the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 90s the presenting issue was biblical authority, defined in terms of biblical inerrancy. But there were many laypeople the churches who didn’t understand the nuances of definitions about inerrancy. What they get understand was an individual’s position on abortion and the sanctity of human life, or on questions a sexuality. That same dynamic seems now to have appeared in the Anglican communion, where even though there many people who might not understand what a bishop is saying when he tries to obfuscate or confuse a theological issue, they do understand whether or not someone believes that a woman should serve as a priest or a bishop. Or whether someone believes that homosexuality should be normalized and same-sex marriage should be legalized.

One thing’s for certain, the current Archbishop of Canterbury sounds pretty much like the ones who came before him. Seeming always to speak in terms of an ‘on the one hand and then on the other hand.’ According to the article, the Archbishop said

“I think, realistically, we’ve got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together or not hold together, for a while. I could see circumstances [he said] in which there could be people moving apart, and then coming back together, depending on what else happens.”

Later he said,

“I’m not saying that it’s inevitable, even probable than not. I think it’s very much of up in the air at the moment, and my suspicion is that the vast majority people will stay within the communion completely.”

Or, we could simply say, on the basis what he himself has said, ‘or not.’

From the Christian worldview perspective the most interesting aspect of this article is where the Archbishop discusses the churches on the extremes of this claim of comprehensiveness. And the two churches given as an example are the church of Nigeria on the one hand, and the Episcopal Church US on the other hand. The church of Nigeria holds that all homosexual practice is inherently biblically defined as sinful. On the other hand Episcopal Church USA not only has normalized homosexuality but now endorses same-sex unions, even same-sex ceremonies, and elected even a decade ago an openly gay man to serve as a bishop. In other words it’s hard to imagine a distance, theologically speaking, greater than that between the Church of Nigeria and Episcopal Church US. Presumably trying to articulate something like what others have described as a ‘third way,’ the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he has profound disagreements with both of these churches – without particularly saying what his profound disagreement might be.

The article then states,

“And although the church in America almost provoked an open schism with the consecration of an openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003, Archbishop Welby said that his visit had been something of a breakthrough. ‘It was a real gift in terms of communication, at least there was understanding why we disagreed with one another when we disagreed, rather than simply disagreeing and not understanding each other.’”

Now when you hear that from a church leader here’s what you need to understand; the situation is almost never a lack of understanding and this is a situation that is well over a decade old. This is a situation the prompted an entire multi-year study commission of the Anglican Communion, and this is a situation that everyone has well understood for a very long time. And so it’s basically a dodge in terms of ecclesiastical responsibility to say, ‘we disagree but at least now we understand one another.’ No, the understanding actually came at the very beginning. This is a very clear disagreement, not a misunderstanding.

Just to make the point more emphatically, at the end of his comment the Archbishop said,

“The situation there [speaking of the Episcopal Church in the United States] is complicated, to put it mildly.”

Those who are committed to a biblical Christian worldview have to understand that the Bible itself says that belief cannot have fellowship with nonbelief. It is simply impossible. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. If that is true in terms of the biblical worldview, how in the world does a church actually claim comprehensiveness as something that it ought to be able to achieve, or even to claim? If comprehensiveness means claiming those within the church who are orthodox believers in terms of the Christian faith, and those who are no longer even theists, in what sense is that even defined as a church?

And when you consider the new comprehensiveness witch this communion is trying to achieve between those who believe that homosexuality is a sin like every other sin that leads to death, and those who believe that actually absolute normalized and even now celebrated, how in the world can that kind of comprehensiveness be sustained with any accountability to the Christian faith whatsoever? And the only way out of this is for the church to declare itself, for the Anglican Communion to define its doctrines and its boundaries and its doctrinal center, and then to make those an actual issue of accountability for the entire communion. It’s not enough, it’s not nearly enough, for the Archbishop of Canterbury to say “ the situation there is complicated to put it mildly.”

The situation is a complicated; it’s wretched.

2) Narrow repeal of LGBT ordinance in Fayetteville, AR  reveals rising threat to religious liberty

An important event took place in the United States this week in the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, in which voters in that city repealed a law that had been passed by city officials; a transgender homosexual ordinance that many acclaimed would pose a direct threat to religious liberty. As Tom Strode for Baptist Press reports,

“In a special election Tuesday (Dec. 9), residents of Fayetteville — home of the University of Arkansas — approved repeal of the measure by fewer than 500 votes, with 52 percent … of voters in favor of repeal and 48 percent … opposed. The result rescinded a law passed by the city council in a 6-2 vote in August. Opponents of the ordinance collected enough signatures within a month to place its repeal on a special election ballot.”

The reason this ordinance gathered so much attention is because it posed very direct threats to religious liberty. It was written in the most vague language, and would’ve affected everything from public accommodations to virtually every aspect of business and institutional life within the city.

As Strode writes,

“The rejected ordinance included real or perceived “gender identity,” “gender expression” and “sexual orientation” among a list of classifications to receive protection from discrimination in employment and housing. It also barred discrimination by establishments that provide “goods, services, accommodations and entertainment to the public,” which would include hotels, restaurants and other businesses. In addition, the measure created the post of civil rights administrator, who would be responsible for investigating complaints and recommending prosecution.”

Interesting aspects of this included the fact that, churches could have been prosecuted if they refused to hire gay or transgender people for “secular” staff, that is, not with direct, demonstrated, ministry responsibilities. Christian schools and bookstores could have been required to violate their own convictions in terms of employment practices. Business owners with religious convictional objections would’ve been prosecuted for declining to provide services for same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies.

These are typical kinds of issues that have emerged elsewhere. What’s important here is exactly what we saw in light of the Minneapolis transgender issue last week, and that is the fact that we’re not talking about here a liberal state on one of the two coasts. We’re talking about Fayetteville, Arkansas. It tells us something that this particular ordinance, vaguely written as it was and opposed even by the Chamber of Commerce simply because they said they couldn’t even advise businesses on how to comply with the law –  it tells us something to the commission there passed the law in August, it tells us something that it was repealed this week by fewer than 500 votes.

I want to draw particular attention to Tom Strode’s article when he says that the Fayetteville Arkansas measure had created “the post of civil rights administrator, who would be responsible for investigating complaints and recommending prosecution.” Now just keep in mind what this law thus authorized, the law that was just very narrowly repealed. It created a new regulatory entity, it created a new bureaucratic officer whose job was to investigate complaints made on these issues, and then “recommend prosecution.”

2) Narrow repeal of LGBT ordinance in Fayetteville, AR  reveals rising threat to religious liberty

Now at this point keep in mind the fact that I discussed just days ago the reality that a church here in Louisville, Kentucky, formerly related to the Southern Baptist Convention and the Kentucky Baptist Convention had performed a same-sex ceremony – not yet a same-sex marriage legally speaking, because Kentucky does not yet have legal same-sex marriage – but it was in terms of the religious event that which is tantamount to it. That was the Crescent Hill Baptist Church here in Louisville. That church was in the headlines just a matter of weeks ago because in November the Kentucky Baptist Convention removed fellowship from that church because, in the words of the Kentucky Convention ‘it had violated Scripture in terms of this new position.’

What links these two stories together, other than the issue homosexuality, is the fact that there is a commissioner involved. In this case, the Kentucky human rights commissioner wrote a letter to the local paper here in Louisville, the Louisville Courier-Journal, commending the church for its action and applauding the church even in the fact that it’d been excluded from the Kentucky Baptist Convention. In a letter published in the local paper on November 29, George Stinson, identified as Chair of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights wrote to the church saying,

“We write to you today on the occasion of your church’s recent separation from the Kentucky Baptist Convention. As a government body, we are obligated to respect the freedoms of speech, religion and association that are the rights of individuals and groups in our society.

“We commend you in affirming the worth and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) people and in your continued efforts to include LGBT people in the life of your community.

“As stewards of our state’s civil rights heritage, we see the rights of LGBT people to work, live and participate fully in society as a logical progression in our continued pursuit of equality. The inclusion that LGBT people seek today is comparable to the women’s suffrage movement, the dismantling of Jim Crow and so many other human rights efforts in the life of our nation.”

He concludes in writing,

“One lesson of the 50-plus year history of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is that change is never easy and progress often has a price. We know the process has not been easy and you have lost both friends and resources in living your beliefs.

“A letter cannot assuage that reality, but we want you to know that many who have labored in the field for human equality stand with you, and your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. We commend your courage and compassion in standing for your principles and we know someday that courage and compassion will be vindicated.”

Thus says, or thus writes, the Chair of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.We’ve been noting a political leaders looking to churches have been saying, as David Cameron said (that is the Prime Minister of Great Britain) to the Church of England, ‘get with the program.’ Now you have the commissioner of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights applauding a church that is been disfellowshipped from its larger denomination for a liberal stand on human sexuality, and saying to the rest of the denomination, more or less, ‘when will you get with the program?’

Furthermore, you have this head of an official Kentucky commission making very clear that he believes that the issue of LGBT rights is exactly synonymous with issues related to the rights of women and to those of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. But when you think about what happened this week in terms of that very narrow vote to repeal that ordinance in Fayetteville, that ordinance that included the establishment of a commissioner just like the one who is described in this letter, just remember the opening words of this letter to the paper written by George Stinson, who is the chair the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. Let me remind you of his early words in this letter,

“As a government body we are obligated to respect the freedoms of speech, religion, and association that are the rights of individuals and groups in our society.”

Did you notice the use of that word ‘obligated’? Here you have someone who is head of an official commission for the state of Kentucky who says with very straightforward language that he is simply obligated –  it’s an obligation – that he respect the freedoms of speech, religion, and association that he says are rights of individuals and groups in our society. The use of the word obligated cannot be assumed here to be accidental. He sees this as an obligation. The question of course is this; how long will this commissioner or this commission feel obligated to respect religious liberty?

If it’s an obligation –  the very word he used – we can only assume that what he wants as quickly as possible is to be free of that onerous obligation.

4) Misleading scientific headline evidence of need for Christian discernment

Finally from time to time we see a news article in which the headline doesn’t possibly match the content of the article. And when the Christian worldview and its very central issues are concerned, this means it’s something that ought to have our attention. Here’s the headline: “Scientist Re-create What May Be Life’s First Spark.” This appeared in the Associated Press this week in an article by Seth Borenstein. Borenstein writes,

“Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what might have been the original spark of life on Earth.

“The researchers zapped clay and a chemical soup with the laser to simulate the energy of a speeding asteroid smashing into the planet. They ended up creating what can be considered crucial pieces of the building blocks of life.”

Well, all right let’s consider those first two sentences. We are told that scientists just may have re-created what just might be life’s first spark. Evidently, a spark that somehow was to have been created in the primordial history of the entire universe when clay and chemical soup were somehow zapped by a high-speed asteroid. If you’re following that theory, you just might be able to follow the article.

The study was published Monday this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included this statement,

“These findings suggest that the emergence of terrestrial life is not the result of an accident but a direct consequence of the conditions on the primordial Earth and its surroundings.”

Now one of the things it doesn’t become clear it all this article is why an asteroid hitting primordial clay in a chemical soup wouldn’t be described as an accident. It sounds to any fair-minded reader is something that might well be described as an accident. One scientist in Prague explained scientists have been able to make RNA bases – that’s a simpler relative of DNA described as a blueprint of life – in terms of using chemical mixes and pressure, but this( according to the Associated Press) is the first experiment to test the theory that the energy from a space crash could trigger the crucial chemical reaction that might eventually lead to the emergence of life. The article goes on to explain that this new research reveals something that just might have happened, that just might have been an accident, or just might not have been an accident. But the essential bottom line of the article is this, the headline is “Scientist Recreate What May be Life’s First Spark.”

But guess what didn’t happen? Anything. Anything described as life. They created what they say, in this headline, might have been life’s first spark, but there was no spark of first life. So when you’re engaging the media in any form and you see a headline or lead such as ‘scientists re-create what may be life’s first spark,’ you need to keep in mind that only the article will reveal if even the article reveals whether or not there’s anything to the headline after all. In this case the best line in the article comes from John Sutherland of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. He said the amount produced of one chemical base was so small “that the results don’t seem relevant.” But as the week comes to an end, let’s remember the crucial, infinite distance between a headline that says ‘scientists re-create what may be life’s first spark, and those words that come to us in the book of Genesis, where God said “Let there be.” And there was.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Vast theological and moral chasm within Anglican Communion shows a church losing its center

Schism? More a temporary separation, The Times of London (Michael Binyon)

Conflict may force church to split, Welby says, The Times of London (Oliver Moody and Michael Binyon)

2) Narrow repeal of LGBT ordinance in Fayetteville, AR  reveals rising threat to religious liberty

 Fayetteville, Ark., LGBT law repealed, Baptist Press (Tom Strode)

3) KY advocate of LGBT rights views tolerance of religious opinion an obligation, for now

 Letter | Crescent Hill Baptist, Louisville Courier-Journal (George W. Stinson)

4) Misleading scientific headline evidence of need for Christian discernment

Scientists re-create what may be life’s first spark, Associated Press (Seth Borenstein)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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