briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, November 22, 2019

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

It’s Friday, November 22nd, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

‘No Members, No Attenders, No Givers’ —  Will the Anglican Church of Canada Be Gone in Just 20 Years? If So, Why?

A wake-up call — that’s what Anglican Archbishop Linda Nicholls referred to when information through research came that her own denomination may disappear by 2040. “A wake-up call” — Religion News Service reports, “That’s what Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican church of Canada, called a new report showing there may be no members left in the main line Canadian denomination in 20 years.” The report that was commissioned by the church was delivered to the Council of General Synod meeting November 7-9 in Mississauga, Ontario. Reverend Neil Elliot, an Anglican priest in British Columbia who was the author of the report stated, “Projections from our data indicates that there will be no members, attenders, or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040.”

Now let’s just do a little quick math. That’s less than 21 years from now. We’re talking about the virtual extinction of an entire Anglican mainline Protestant denomination in Canada in less than the blink of an eye of church history. We’re talking about basically two decades of continued life in any sense for this liberal denomination in Canada. Canada, as we have noted several times on The Briefing, is secularizing at a pace faster than the United States. It is following a more European trajectory. And similar kinds of statistical warnings have appeared in nations such as Great Britain. For example, just a couple of years ago, it was noted that given the decline in Easter attendance in the Church of England, the Church of England may have less than 25 Easters in its future.

Now looked at one way, this is a long process dating back more than 150 years. Viewed another way, it’s a very speedy process. It reminds me of a section from one of Ernest Hemingway’s most iconic novels, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. One man asked another character, “How did you go bankrupt?” The bankrupt man answered, “Two ways: gradually and then suddenly.” Well that’s the way it works, a long period of financial decline, and then all of a sudden, disaster. In these denominations, it is a long period of numerical decline, and then all of a sudden, no members, no attenders, no givers, nobody home. Looking at the Religion News Service report by John Longhurst, it is clear that this Anglican denomination in Canada has seen this coming for some time. Neil Elliot, the man who authored the report, had based his predictions on church statistics from 1961 to 2001 and then at data that came subsequently. We are told that membership in the Anglican Church in Canada fell from a high of 1.3 million in 1961 to only 357,123 in 2017.

Now this is the Anglican Church in Canada. Its primary mainline parallel in the United States is what is known as the Episcopal Church in the U.S. Now, years ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article with a similar kind of headline. In the case of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the headline was “The Episcopalian Goes the Way of the Dodo,” referring of course to the most iconic of all the extinct birds. The point made in the Wall Street Journal was that if you want to see a Dodo now, you can’t even find one in a zoo. And eventually that will be true if statistics are to be believed when it comes to Episcopalians in the United States. And remember that the Episcopal Church in the United States has produced most of the leadership at the highest level of our political and corporate class for most of American history — the Episcopal Church in the U.S. producing no less than 11 presidents of the United States.

Now, as you’re looking at statistical decline in denominations in the U.S. and in Canada, it’s now clear that most of the conservative denominations are also experiencing some numerical fall off. And we also understand that that is to be expected in a society that is, in general, secularizing. There is no longer a cultural imperative or impulse that leads people to attend churches, but it is nonetheless incontestable that it is the liberal churches that have been hemorrhaging their members at a far higher rate. They’ve been losing members far faster the conservative denominations, and they often were hemorrhaging those members even when conservative churches and denominations were demonstrably growing. Christians operating out of a biblical worldview come to understand that all of this is extremely predictable.

A church that abandons the gospel will eventually be abandoned by gospel people, but the lesson is actually beyond that. It turns out that a church that abandons the gospel is not only evacuated by gospel people, but by people. It turns out that without a gospel, there is no reason to come, and thus the Church of England may have just a few more than 20 Easters left, and the Anglican Church in Canada may not even have that. No one at all at home as of 2040 according to these projections.

Now you would think that this kind of stunning statistical pattern would lead a church to ask the question, are we perhaps missing the point? Are we perhaps missing something like the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we abandoned Christ in Scripture? Is this God’s judgment on our churches? But you also have to note that the entire pattern of liberal theology was an argument that if the church does not abandon biblical truth, then people will abandon the church. But it turns out the exact opposite was true. But once again, you would think that after a century of having tried liberal theology and in most denominations especially given the last half century or 60 years, you would think that the tragic experience of these denominations, let’s just go back in the Anglican Church in Canada in 1961, 1.3 million to 2017, 357,000 people, you would think that that statistic alone might lead people over that time period to wonder, “What happened in our church between the 1960s and the present moment that might explain why people are jumping out of our church faster than people jumping out with parachutes from a crashing airplane?”

If you look at the Episcopal Church in the United States, you can see its embrace of progressive and liberal causes and liberal theology going back at least to the midpoint in the 20th century. The same thing is true of the Anglican Church in Canada. In the United States, the Episcopal Church ordained its first openly declared gay bishop in 2003, and even as the denominational hemorrhage continued, they continued headlong into the full embrace of the LGBTQ agenda. And it’s not just that. A church that reaches that point has already abandoned any claim to Scripture as the authoritative Word of God, much less God’s inerrant and infallible Word, is already doing something else when it comes to the preaching that comes in worship if any preaching comes at all, and the worship itself is often translated into some kind of mirror spirituality that is to result in some kind of social justice rather than the worship of the one true and living God that results in an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over every dimension of life.

Now, a part of the liberalism of this denomination is the fact that its archbishop is Linda Nicholls, a woman serving as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and she says, “Don’t fear. Even though these statistics mean denominational suicide, we mustn’t be negative.” According to Religion News Service, she argued that Canadian Anglicans should focus more now on the churches calling to be a faithful witness in Canada, that’s not described by the way, instead of being drawn into what she described as a “vortex of negativity” about the denomination’s decline.

Now, if I were told that my own denomination was likely to disappear by 2040, I would not only find myself in a vortex of negativity, I would want to bring as many Southern Baptist into that vortex as quickly as possible. I will give credit to Geoff Woodcroft, identified as the Bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land in Manitoba in Northwestern Ontario, who described the report with one word, “dire.” But then he continued by saying, oddly enough, “We need to take it very seriously,” but he went on to say, “It’s not a death knell for the church.” Well, alert to the bishop, it is.

It’s also very interesting that the Religion News Service report goes to a former Archbishop of Canterbury, that would be the titular primate of the entire Anglican communion. This former archbishop of Canterbury was Rowan Williams. He once said that the church is “not ours to save.”

Now, looking at that statement, is it true or is it false? Well, in one sense it is true. The church is not ours to save. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 16 of his true church, “Upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

“I will build my church.”

The church is saved by Christ and the church will only be saved by Christ. But at the same time, there are clear biblical imperatives, New Testament imperatives for the church about the preaching of the gospel and the guarding of doctrine and the upholding of truth and the taking of the gospel to the nations and the establishment of gospel congregations and the structuring of those churches with right biblical order, the preaching of the gospel. All of this comes as Christ’s command, and we should not be surprised that a church that violates that command, the church that abandons the gospel, the church that doesn’t preach the Word of God, is going to be a church that is abandoned by people.

Going back to the former Archbishop’s statement that the church is not ours to save, in essence it’s true. We can’t save the church. But it’s false. We are to obey the commands of Christ whereby the church is built up.

Part II

Theology In the Headlines Again: What Three Recent News Stories Tell Us about Mormon History and Doctrine

But now we’re going to shift from the church of Jesus Christ to a very different phenomenon, and this would be Mormonism in the United States. It identifies itself of course as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but its theology is not a version of Christian theology, but rather Mormonism is a different religion that borrows some Christian terminology. That becomes very, very clear in two recent news stories. Mormons make some of the kindest neighbors we could ever hope for, but when we understand Mormonism theologically, we come to understand that it is a rival faith, a rival theological system to biblical Christianity.

But the first article actually appears at ABC News and it has to do the Mormons and the Boy Scouts, or more particularly why the Mormon authorities announced last year that Mormonism was exiting the Boy Scouts of America, which had been an historic partner with the Mormons for decades and decades and was going to begin its own program. As ABC News reports, “A high ranking leader with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said Friday the church severed its century-long tie with the Boy Scouts of America because the organization made changes that pushed it away from the church. M. Russell Ballard, a member of the top governing panel of the church called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, ‘The reality there is we didn’t really leave them. They kind of left us. The direction they were going was not consistent to what we feel our youth need to have to survive in the world that lies ahead for them.'”

We’re told that Ballard was in New York City when he made these comments — there leading events with young adult church members and talking about preparations for Mormonism’s bicentennial next April. Now that bicentennial reference refers to something that should have a theological trigger effect for Christians. It should trigger our understanding. When we talk about Christianity, we go back to that text I mentioned earlier, Matthew 16 where Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Later in the New Testament, we are told that the church is based upon Christ and the apostles. Mormonism’s central truth claim historically is that Christ’s church disappeared after the apostles and was only restored in the 19th century by the prophet Joseph Smith and those who came with him to form what became known as Mormonism. Thus, Mormonism claims a revelation subsequent to Scripture, not only the Book of Mormon, but other documents as well. It claims a restored priesthood and it claims a restored apostleship. Thus, the man who was speaking is the interim president of what Mormons call the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

But it is also clear that a part of what Mormonism borrowed from the historic Christian tradition was a biblical understanding of sexual morality, and that biblical understanding of sexual morality and other moral issues put the Mormon church into a direct collision course with the Boy Scouts of America, which for the last several years has been undergoing a radical liberalization on these very moral issues, admitting openly gay scouts and then openly gay scouting leaders and then transgender scouts and then admitting girls with boys after confusing the difference between girls and boys into scouting programs and even dropping the name Boy Scouts of America and instead becoming Scouting USA.

This Mormon authority was speaking quite accurately when he said that it wasn’t that Mormons left the Boy Scouts, but rather that the Boy Scouts left the Mormons. And they left many others too. The three largest sponsoring organizations for boy scout units across the United States were the Roman Catholic church, Protestant congregations, and Mormonism. Those were the big three. But that particular article about Mormonism and the Boy Scouts are about why Mormonism broke with the Boy Scouts is important because it reminds us about who the Mormons are, and it also reminds us about the direction the culture is going as indicated by an organization that had been as central to American society as the Boy Scouts of America.

But the second article appeared at Religion News Services is by Jana Riess. Its headline: “Mormon Girls Now Acknowledge Heavenly Mother, But Boys Do Not.” Now this is an interesting article. It’s in one sense a second article on the same theme in Religion News Service. The theme had been in the first installment of how Mormonism is inherently patriarchal in its structure and how there is no circumstance within Mormonism in which men are under the authority of women. The article that had appeared earlier by the same author went so far as to point out that when Mormon boys reached the age of 12 they no longer are operating under female authorities in the church but only male authorities, so there is no point at which a male north of puberty is ever under female authority. And thus, she was arguing that this implies makes very clear a structural injustice in the Mormon church.

Now by extension of course, if that’s true for Mormons as a matter of injustice, then you would see why the society would extend that to biblically-ordered Christian churches as well or to the Roman Catholic limitation of the priesthood to men. All of these are simply seen by a secular society as forms of prejudice, but that’s not the main point of this article. The main point of this article is that this new group to replace the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts in Mormonism is going to be known as the Young Men Organization and the Young Women Organization. It turns out that they are going to operate under the Mormon general authorities with assigned themes, and these themes it turns out are indicative of how the Mormons want their boys to grow up to be men and their girls to grow up to be women. And there is a distinction in the themes that becomes the focus of this article.

Again, listen to the headline, “Mormon Girls Now Acknowledge Heavenly Mother, But Boys Do Not.” Now to Christian ears, that sounds immediately strange. Who in the world is heavenly mother? Well, hold that thought for just a moment. Let’s look to the difference in the themes for teenage males and teenage females, boys and girls within the youth organizations that are now taking shape in Mormonism. The young women are to say, “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and eternal destiny.” Boys are to begin by saying, “I am a beloved son of God and he has a work for me to do.” Notice the distinction there. It is a very important distinction the young women are to say, “Not I’m a beloved daughter of God, but I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents.”

What in the world does that mean? Well, it reminds us that for Mormons, they do not hold to a classical biblical monotheism at all. They hold to an effective henotheism. That means a hierarchy of different deities, and they do not believe in merely God the Father as what they call “heavenly father,” not the Heavenly Father, but heavenly father. But they also believe that the God who created the world has a female consort who is known as heavenly mother. Now, this is not only a little bit different than biblical Christianity. This is a total rejection and replacement of the God of the Bible with a very different deity — in this case, not just a very different deity, not only a different heavenly father, but heavenly parents.

Now, if you follow this logic through, you understand why Mormons also hold to the same definition, at least right now, that Christians do, and that is a man and a woman and only a man and a woman. You’ll also recognize that it’s different. It’s actually radically different because the background to the Christian understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is that God created human beings in His image and made us male and female and gave us the institution of marriage and then the responsibility of multiplying and filling the Earth. And we also understand as Christians that that was because of the responsibility He gave us to reproduce additional image bearers.

But that’s quite different than the Mormon understanding of heavenly parents in which heavenly father and heavenly mother actually have reproduced spirit beings, which eventually lead to the understanding of humanity. But it also leads to more than that. It leads to the sacralization of sex. It leads to what happens within the temple sealing ceremony and Mormonism of a husband and a wife who are sealed not only for time but for eternity. By the way, Jesus explicitly told his disciples that was not to be the case for us. It was Jesus who tells us that in heaven there will be no marriage nor giving in marriage. But instead in a Mormon eschatology, there is not only marriage, but there is the opportunity for these eternally sealed couples, a husband and a wife, mirroring heavenly father and heavenly mother to continue to give birth to spirit beings in this endless cycle in the celestial kingdom of reproduction.

And you’ll also remember that for a time in the 19th century, the Mormon church also affirmed polygamy. And you can understand the logic of polygamy, particularly within this Mormon theology, but Mormons repudiated that doctrine as the price of Utah entering the United States as a territory.

But this oddly enough takes us to recent horrifying headline news with the shooting of two women and numerous children in Northern Mexico. They were identified as Mormons, but not as part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What exactly did that mean? Well, you may recall that there is a large Mormon community in Mexico, but what isn’t often remembered is how they got there. They got there by the encouragement of the Mormon authorities at the time who were looking to Northern Mexico as a continuing refuge for polygamy after polygamy was outlawed in the United States. And polygamy with church sanction was allowed there in Mexico for much longer than in the United States.

Eventually church authorities cracked down on polygamy there, and that’s why the Mormons who continued in polygamy in Mexico separated themselves from the authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is believed that the women and children were brutally murdered there in Northern Mexico by a drug cartel. One 13-year-old boy survivor helped even younger children to survive. The entire story is one the most horrifying anyone could imagine. But very few in the mainstream media appear to be asking the question as to how these Mormons ended up in Mexico in the first place.

But then again, Americans don’t appear to have adequate interest and how all of these stories are often interconnected. If you go back to 1907, a boy was born to one of these American Mormon communities in Mexico. The boy’s name was George Romney. He would eventually move with his parents to the United States during the Mexican revolution. He would eventually be elected the governor of Michigan. He would run later for president of the United States. His son, Mitt Romney, would actually become the 2012 Republican nominee for president of the United States and is currently serving in the United States Senate from the state of Utah. He was also the former governor of Massachusetts. Clearly Mitt Romney and George Romney and their families were a part of the Mormon community in Mexico that did stay in absolute contact and consistency with the direction of Mormon authorities there in Salt Lake City.

As I often try to point out on The Briefing, if you look hard enough — and you often don’t have to look hard at all — there is just a lot of visible theology there, right in the headlines.

Part III

Recent Study Reveals One More Distinction Between Men and Women: When Disaster Strikes, Men Run to the Window to Watch

But finally, we are often told by a secular society, “There is a very big difference between men and women, boys and girls, males and females,” and then we’re told, “No, there isn’t, and you’re wrong to suggest there ever might have been.”

But it is really interesting to note that even the secular media keep reporting on research that demonstrates again and again that men and women, boys and girls, males and females are different. I was particularly drawn to this recent article in the Telegraph of London, “Men too quick to look out of window when disaster strikes.” The Daily Telegraph reporter tells us that there is a distinction between men and women, males and females when it comes to responding to the perception of disaster. And it turns out that this is often dangerous for men because if there is some kind of impending disaster such as a bomb strike, it appears that women tend to run into the center of the room and men tend to run to the window to see what happened. They don’t want to miss it. And unsurprisingly, sometimes that doesn’t go well.

The Telegraph reports, “Women are better equipped than men to deal with a disaster because men are more likely to go to a window to see what is going on, then to take cover.” This again according to a recent study. “The reactions of both genders during an emergency were tested by interviewing men and women who were effected by a tornado, which ripped through Texas in 2013. Women were found to be more likely to take a safer approach, but were not always able to convince their partner to follow. They were quicker to take cover when disaster strikes or to prepare for an evacuation when warned of approaching hurricane or tornado according to researchers from the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. However, men want to stay in the thick of it, whether to witness or to go out and take part in community efforts connected with the incident. This the researchers told the scientific journal Disasters.”

You’ve got to love all these scientific reports and you’ve also got to observe the secular confusion about them. This is the cultural reality of our day. We’re surrounded by people who want to follow the politically correct line that there is no inherent difference between males and females, but they can’t keep that argument for long, even when a tornado comes to town and women run to the center of the room and men run to the window to watch. It’s also important to recognize that the researchers understood that the men who went to the window weren’t there merely to watch but to see what needs to be done. This is the kind of study that one should not use in order to base the building of an entire worldview, but it is a very strange and unexpected affirmation of the biblical worldview and of the fact that there really is a distinction between men and women.

But to bring our discussion full circle, Christian theology recognizes that distinction between male and female but sees it in humanity and in the rest of the created kingdom made by God but never in God. That is a crucial distinction, and on that distinction eventually hangs everything.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from San Diego, California, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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