Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

The Briefing

January 11, 2019

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

It’s Friday, January 11, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The moral revolution perfectly illustrated as Methodist leaders call for change on homosexuality

It’s one thing to consider the pace, the velocity of moral change in the larger culture, especially in the sexual revolution focused on LGTBQ issues. As you look at the culture, you have to realize that serious moral change, anything amounting to a moral revolution in previous times took centuries, very long periods of moral change.

Not so now. When you’re looking at the LGBTQ revolution, just consider the question of same-sex marriage. Over the past decade, in a period documented as no more than seven years, the American people went from a majority clearly believing that same-sex marriage could not and should not be legalized, to almost the same percentage majority declaring that same-sex marriage must be legalized.

It’s hard to come up with a precedent for any moral change in that short amount of time. It tells us something about the velocity of social change in the modern era, especially in the hyper modernity, which comes via social media, digital technology and various other communications technologies that have on their own and together significantly accelerated social change.

But that’s on the secular side, that’s in the larger culture. What is perhaps far more concerning is the pace of theological change, moral change within historic Christian churches on the very same issues. In this case, it’s not just a matter of wonder looking at the velocity of change, it’s a matter of horror looking at the compromise that is here involved.

Consider a story that ran at RNS, that is Religion News Service, yesterday. The headline is this, “Methodist university presidents call on denomination to amend LGBTQ policies.” Now what’s the denomination? It is the United Methodist Church. Where did the United Methodist Church emerge? It emerged in a holiness movement, a movement of biblical devotion and of spiritual seriousness of obedience to Christ that emerged from within the Anglican communion, but eventually became a separate denomination, a separate church. Methodism is historically rightly associated with John Wesley. Also to a lesser extent with his brother, Charles Wesley.

You are talking about a movement that was abundantly clear, especially in the beginning, about a biblical morality. And taking that morality with full seriousness. But now you look at this headline that came yesterday, the reporter is Yonat Shimron, she begins the story telling us, “Ahead of next month’s special session on sexuality intended to resolve an issue that has dogged the United Methodist Church for decades, a group of affiliated college and university presidents issued a strong call for full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians.”

The group, she tells us, which represents presidents of 93 United Methodist affiliated colleges and universities, urged the denomination to amend its policies and practices to recognize the sacred worth of all people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Now, as you’re defining a moral revolution, it’s hard to come up with any kind of illustration more graphic than this. Here you have a unanimous statement, we are told, made by those who attended the recent meeting of the 93 United Methodist affiliated colleges and universities, who came up with this statement basically demanding that in next month’s special session in which the church is to resolve this issue, it must do so with the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Which means the absolute surrender to the normalization of homosexuality, the transgender revolution, everything that is included within LGBTQ and what will be an expanding list. There can be absolutely no doubt about that.

We are told that the 93 affiliated schools include institutions such as American University, Boston University, Duke University, and Emory University. Well, looking at that for just a moment, one of the first things we need to recognize is that listing those schools, I can think particularly of Boston University, Duke University, and Emory University, you are talking about textbook cases of the secularization of church related higher education in America. We are talking about a process that is now very well documented, a process that certainly began in the late 19th century, accelerated in the early 20th century, whereby these schools, and so many others, severed their relationships, their truth claims, and their accountability to the churches that had given them birth.

Now you look at Boston University, Duke University, Emory University, you’re looking at the top tier of American universities as you think of prestige and they see their identity and their accountability in that larger academic culture. Certainly not within the churches that gave them birth.

So what’s going on next month? Well, in the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, that’s a meeting that is held of the full church every four years, there was an absolute impasse over the issue of human sexuality. It’s really important to note that the Book of Discipline, that’s the official statements and doctrine and practices of the United Methodist Church, right now on January 11, 2019, declares that homosexuality is incompatible with scripture.

The same Book of Discipline says that it is against Methodist law and discipline and practice for a participatingly, openly homosexual person to be ordained as a member of the United Methodist clergy. That has clearly been flaunted and violated over and over again. There have been church trials, but there have been even more threats of church trials because you’re looking at a church that is clearly divided. It is of two minds on this issue.

Those two sides came too an absolute impasse in 2016, and at the end of 2018, the bishops of the church, at least a majority of those bishops, came up with what they called a “One Church Plan,” a compromise that would basically give to local districts the ability, or local conferences, the ability to determine their own position on the inclusion and ordination or openly gay persons, and of course that includes that entire, once again, LGBTQ spectrum.

That One Church Plan is exactly what you would expect to emerge from church bureaucrats seeking to preserve the institutional unity of the church at all cost. And there’s a great deal at stake here. Of course conservatives consider what’s at stake and they see the Bible and doctrine and Christian truth and the gospel and the witness to Christian holiness. But liberals look at the very same equation and they are very concerned about making certain that their church joins this moral revolution and gets on, you’ve heard this so many times before, the right side of history.

The bishops represents those, and this is not speaking of every individual United Methodist bishop, it is speaking of the majority represented in this One Church Plan, they seem to be far more concerned about just keeping everything together. There’s a lot of money at stake. There are at big institutions at stake. It’s very interesting in a lot of these situations and mainline Protestantism to note that the annuity or retirement plans, the funds designated for those plans, turn out to be a very big issue. Theology, well, it sometimes takes a backseat.

It is interesting also to listen to the language used by at least some who are behind the headline that came yesterday. Scott D. Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan University, he’s a board member of the association. He said, “The presidents are really firm about full inclusion. It is my disappointment,” he said, “and the feeling of many of my colleagues that this has been one of the reasons contributing to a decline in membership and attendance. The church has not stayed current with the people it serves.”

Now that’s one of those statements that’s hard for us to believe can be made with straight face. You are looking at mainline Protestantism in general, and the United Methodist Church specifically, that has been losing members by the thousands and the tens of thousands. It began doing so even before the LGBTQ revolution. And of course conservatives looking at that pattern would say that is exactly what you would expect when a church no longer believes the founding beliefs and the biblical doctrines on which it was established.

But now you have that argument being extended even to the fact that the reason there is decline in the United Methodist Church today is that it’s not sufficiently liberal. That’s one of those arguments, again, it’s just hard to believe can be made. But it is made. It’s made in public, it’s made over and over again. And that will be one of the arguments you can count on being made in that special session of the United Methodist Church next month.

I obtained a copy of the statement itself and I want to read to you the opening words because they say just about everything. Although, many in the mainstream media seem to have missed the point. The opening words, “Embracing the United Methodist Church’s core religious and humanistic values that all persons are of sacred worth and equal standing, the 93 United Methodist affiliated colleges, universities, and their respective presidents,” well it goes on to say that they adopt the statement.

What’s most important are those first words, “Embracing the United Methodist Church’s core religious and humanistic values.” Religious and humanistic values? That’s the kind of language you use when theology, Bible, morality, the doctrine and discipline of the church are abandoned. This is the kind of language you use when you can no longer, with a straight face, use theological language. You’re just reduced to religious and humanistic values. I dare say that John Wesley would not recognize the movement that he began, now as represented by the United Methodist Church, as reduced to merely core religious and humanistic values. But on the other hand, the reduction to that language does tell you just about everything you need to know.

Part II

Transgender people welcomed into Anglican church in ‘baptism-style services’. Why this liturgical change raises huge theological questions

But then we shift across the Atlantic to another church that is being split apart, or potentially split apart on these issues. In this case, we’re looking at the Church of England and the Anglican communion. A headline that comes from The Telegraph, a major newspaper in London, “Church of England to offer baptism-style services to transgender people to celebrate their new identity for first time.”

Reporter Helena Horton writes, “The Church of England has encouraged its clergy to create baptism-style ceremonies for transgender people to welcome them into the Anglican faith. New pastoral guidance advises clergy to refer to transgender people by their new name, though it stops short of being a baptism.”

Now, this is one of those stories that the secular press can’t possibly understand in full, at least when you’re thinking about the deeper theological issues that are implied here. The main concern of this article is the fact that the Church of England is encouraging its clergy to create baptism-style ceremonies. What would a baptism-style ceremony be?

Now of course at this moment we have to bracket the fact that as a Baptist, I severely disagree with Anglicans and others who baptize infants. But when you’re looking at this particular advisement about a ceremony, you’re not even talking about something like infant baptism. You’re not talking about a distinction over the manner and the mode and the method of baptism, you’re talking about something called a baptism-style ceremony.

So what’s going on here? This is the kind of doctrinal improvisation that is inevitable when a church tries to abandon its convictions and join the transgender revolution. You are looking at the fact that those who are asking for these ceremonies, presenting themselves to Anglican clergy for this kind of ceremony, are going to be saying that they have a new name. They are now to be recognized in a new gender.

The Church of England wants to affirm this. Again, I have a document of the actual pastoral guidance and it’s very, very clear about this. In the very beginning of the statement it says that the approach is to be affirmative. “The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people.” Now, what does unconditional affirmation mean? It goes on to say, “Equally with all people within the body of Christ and rejoices in the diversity of that body into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit.”

That diversity language in this opening sentence means that the Church of England, by means of this ceremony and beyond, is actually celebrating the transgender revolution and doing so quite clearly. The guidance states, “For a trans person to be addressed liturgically by the minister for the first time by their chosen name may be a powerful moment in the service.” That is again, a trans person to be addressed liturgically, that is in the context of worship by the minister for the first time.

Now you will note that The Telegraph reporter very carefully said that this new ceremony is not be to considered a new baptism. It’s instead baptism-style. Just this week, the Church of England came back to clarify that, saying that it’s not even exactly a new recognized ceremony. So we could call this a ceremony-like, baptism-style ceremony, according to the confusing language of the Church of England.

But there is a huge theological issue here that the mainstream media won’t recognize. The Church of England is insisting in this guidance that this new ceremony, or ceremony-style, baptism-style ceremony, is not be considered under any circumstances a second baptism. What’s so important there? Well, in the entire span of Christian history, no major church or denomination has accepted or recognized a second baptism. Or a third or a fourth or so on, for that matter.

So what about persons who have been baptized, or think they have baptized, more than once? Well, in reality, whatever church is doing the baptism is actually implicitly, or even better, explicitly, requiring the person who submits for baptism to make very clear that whatever happened previously was not to be recognized as a baptism. That’s not just a Baptist conviction, that’s been a conviction throughout the history of the Christian church. Thus there is the theological reflex within the Church of England to say, “Well, whatever this ceremony-style, baptism-style ceremony is, it is not to be considered a second baptism.”

But that’s where the issue gets really tricky, because if it’s not, then what are you doing when you celebrate something liturgically which involves even the change of name of someone adopting a new identity? How is baptism to be understood in that context? It’s a huge theological question. It’s a question that for the most part this guidance wants to jump over as quickly as it can.

But then it gets to some very interesting sub plots because in the documentation given in the guidance, there are examples such as this, of scripture readings that might be included. Here’s one, for example, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17, where, as the document says, God changes the name of Sarai to Sarah. Wow. So that’s now supposed to be a biblical precedent for celebrating a transgender individual’s supposed new identity? Well, that’s the kind of confusion that written widely and deeply into this document.

But the confusion here is also incredibly illustrative of the fact that there are going to be vast theological, indeed liturgical changes required, if any church is really going to join this moral revolution on the LGBTQ issues. Eventually, it will mean a different doctrine of baptism. It can’t eventually mean anything else because the inevitable outcome of the confusion in this document is that it’s going to have to be clarified.

The LGBTQ revolution, if truly normalized within any church, is going to require a different understanding of sin, a different understanding of salvation, a different understanding of the atonement, a different understanding of the Christian life, a different understanding of the relationship between law and gospel, a different understanding of Christian holiness. All that is going to be required and that’s not even an absolutely comprehensive list.

These two news stories, one from the Methodist Church in the United States and the other from the Church of England demonstrate that these issues are live, extremely live, in church after church and denomination after denomination. And very quickly we’re going to know where every single church and denomination stands.

Part III

Has acceptance of LGBT identity become 'too firmly established to dislodge'?

Next, earlier this week we talked about a controversy over these very same issues in the Netherlands. I will not go over the entire story, but the controversy has to do with the fact that about 250 Dutch preachers, pastors, and other church leaders had signed a document clarifying biblical understandings of gender sexuality, marriage, you could go through the list. And that has led to so much controversy in the Netherlands, such a highly secularized and sexually liberal culture, that in response, a gay pride flag was hung at the Hague, that is the capitol of the Netherlands, and the Dutch Prosecution Service said that it is at least looking into the potential criminal prosecution of those who released the Nashville Statement and those who signed it.

Now the story was, subsequent to that, covered by Christianity Today and other news. In the Christianity Today story, an important quote came from Jan Wolsheimer, who is the director of the evangelical council known as Missie Nederland. He said, “This document undoubtedly brings deep divisions among Christians in the Netherlands.” He said, “In addition, I find it from a pastoral point of view a document that will give a lot of grief in those circles where people have a different opinion on homosexuality and gender issues.”

Now, let’s just be clear, that was the point of the Nashville Declaration, to make very clear what the Bible teaches and to create a boundary statement to understand, this is what Christians should believe. And that means very clearly that those who created the statement, I was one of them, and signed it, want to say that those who disagree with this, we believe, are not upholding scripture.

Now there’s something else in the news coverage that now comes from the Netherlands, even after our discussion just a couple of days ago. The Economist of London, one of the most influential business periodicals in the world, reported on the story with the words, “This week two Dutch worlds clash.” It’s an interesting account and it also includes some really important statements. More than anything else perhaps, the importance of this article is the fact that The Economist, of all journalistic periodicals in the world, thought this story about 250 Dutch pastors was important enough for the readers of The Economist.

The article tells us that the president of Amsterdam’s Free University, identified as a Protestant university, that counted a few faculty members among the signers, denounced the declaration. I’ll just intervene here and point out that the Free University of Amsterdam was established as a school to uphold the Christian worldview. It was largely established by the efforts of Abraham Kuyper, one of the most important reformed theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries. A man who between 1901 and 1905 was the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

As is the case with John Wesley and the United Methodist Church in our first story, in this case we can assume that Abraham Kuyper is metaphorically spinning in his grave over this declaration by his university’s president.

But the most important issue of all, as you’re thinking about the article from The Economist is the way the article ends. It ends by trying to explain the situation theologically, telling us that the biggest driver behind those who signed this statement is a confessional commitment amongst conservative. The Economist calls them ultra conservative congregations, which refused to join what became the Consolidated Protestant Church in the Netherlands. The Economist, of all things, considers it important to tell its readers that this included both Calvinists and Lutherans and that some Calvinists consider the difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism to be not trivial. A very interesting footnote in a story like this.

But then there is also the final judgment made by The Economist about the entire situation. These are words that every evangelical Christian in the United States needs to hear. “In the end, the effect of the Nashville Statement’s Dutch version has been to confirm that outside a tiny minority, acceptance of homosexuality and transgender identity is too firmly established in Dutch society and in Dutch Christianity to dislodge.”

That’s an absolutely amazing statement. Telling us that the acceptance of homosexuality and transgender identity is now so established in Dutch society and in Dutch Christianity that it will impossible to dislodge. The bombshell here perhaps is that The Economist of London, one of the world’s most authoritative and influential secular news magazines, recognizes that much and that is indeed a bombshell.

Part IV

Meditation in the modern age: Deepak Chopra has not just become a tech evangelist, but also an investor in Silicon Valley

We end this week on an interesting news story that ran in The Washington Post. Here’s a headline for you, “Deepak Chopra has a prescription for what ails technology.” Geoffrey A. Fowler is the reporter. He goes to the very prominent media guru, Deepak Chopra, and he comes up with what he thinks is an interesting story and that is that the supposed eastern mystic is actually quite positive about technology.

He actually begins his day at 5:00 in the morning, we are told, to meditate and exercise. “Then he spends an hour focused on ‘mindful technology,’ including posting and interacting with people on social media.” Now, let’s just back up for a moment and say when you think about the classical eastern worldview, you think about, for example, the classical forms of Buddhism, the idea that you could call anything “mindful technology,” is itself, well it’s an oxymoron.

But that does tell you a great deal about what it means to be an influential guru in the social media age. And then to show up, and that’s what makes this news story a news story, at the Consumer Electronics Show. That’s the biggest show place of high technology in American society.

But what’s fascinating in this story is how worldview comes through. For example, consider this statement, “I have little doubt Chopra thinks deeply, and regularly, about tech. His ready answer to ‘Are we living in a simulation?’ is practical, not dystopian. ‘Yes, I think your body mind and the world that you experience is a human construct. And what we call the universe is human experience through a human nervous system,'” That’s to say, yes, he thinks in some sense the universe as we know it is a simulation and both human consciousness and the world are actually just human constructs.

There’s a little more nonsense at the end of the article where we are told that he said, “I believe technology is part of human evolution, and it’s here to stay. If you don’t adapt to it and you don’t use it creatively, then according to Darwinian principles you will soon be extinct.”

Now I’ve seen some warnings about irrelevance, but I have never seen a guru make the advisement that given Darwinian principles, if you do not get with technology and you don’t adapt to it, you will soon be extinct. Earlier in the article he says, “I think in today’s age everybody is a tech guy. You have to be, otherwise you become irrelevant.”

I will give The Washington Post credit for going on to report that Chopra “has financial interest in being a tech evangelist. He gives talks to Silicon Valley companies, uses Facebook and Twitter to build an audience and has his own wellness app called Jiyo. And he is an adviser to a tech company called Delos, which brought him to the Computer Electronics Show to talk about its smart home software called,” well here it is, “Darwin that Chopra uses in his own New York City home.”

So it turns out that Dr. Chopra has a financial investment in Silicon Valley and in its future in social technology and in the entire picture. So he may actually believe or he may not believe that our mind, body, and the world we experience as a human construct and that what we call the universe is human experience through a human nervous system. But he’s also gone on to invest in the financial system as well.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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