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Progressive Christians

by Wesley Putnam

They call themselves progressive Christians. Mostly members of "mainline" denominations, they declare they have found new truth. Seminary professors, bishops, members of boards and agencies, pastors and more enlightened laity . . . they are an impressive group.

What they declare is amazing! For centuries, truth has lain undiscovered and unknown. But now, we can all breathe easier. After over 2000 years of Christendom, THEY have discovered the truth. Just take a look at some of what they are teaching.

. . . Manís knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world. 
-- R. Bultmann

. . . I do not see Jesus as seeing himself in Messianic terms, and I do not think he saw his death as central to a Messianic vocation or as in some sense the purpose of his life . . .

. . . I donít think the gospels are "completely factual." For me, metaphorical narratives (such as the stories of Jesusí birth, walking on water, multiplying loaves, the wedding at Cana and changing water into wine) can be powerfully true, even though I donít think they are historically factual. 
-- Marcus Borg

I must dissent from Christocentric exclusives, which hold that Jesus is the only way to Godís gift of salvation. Such an arrogant claim stands over and against the inclusive Jesus of the synoptics and limits God in ways that humans cannot and must not.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but I cannot believe that his resurrection involved the resuscitation of his physical body. 
-- UMC Bishop Joseph Sprague

(There was) a resolution approved 56% to 38% with 6% abstaining, affirming that homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are all gifts of God. The resolution says the current statement in The United Methodist Book of Discipline that "homosexuality in incompatible with Christian teaching" is "not reflective of the historic Wesleyan unwillingness to limit prerogatives which belong solely to God, and is not representative of every biblical/theological perspective."

The resolution encourages clergy to proclaim from pulpits that homosexual orientation can be compatible with Christian teaching; encourages lay people to teach it in Sunday school classes; affirms that loving, monogamous, intimate relationships between persons of the same or opposite gender are an expression of Godís love; and affirms that persons of all sexual orientations are equally called to ordained ministry.
-- Northern Illinois Annual Conference, June 2003

What if the early Christians had believed what the Ďprogressivesí teach today?

Peterís message would have been much different when he stood and preached the Gospel for the first time in Jerusalem. Instead of insisting on faith in Jesus alone as the way to salvation, he would have had a much more tolerant sermon. He could have told them, "Greetings fellow travelers. We are all on the same road. Letís agree to travel together in peace. I will not attempt to proselytize all of these wonderful committed Jews. That would be terribly intolerant."

And when Paul stood on Mars Hill, he could have addressed the crowd, "I perceive you are a religious people. Good. So am I. Letís form a committee to celebrate our different beliefs."

Just think of the millions of Christians who could have been spared martyrdom if only they had possessed our superior knowledge. There could have been far less of a threat to society if they had not been such radical right wing fundamentalist religious bigots! But, alas, they died in their ignorance.

The progressive Christians tell us:

The early Christians were captive to their culture. It was a culture filled with superstition that allowed for belief in crazy things like miracles, virgin birth, and bodily resurrection. They were too naÔve to know those things could never have happened. The fledgling church simply created faith stories to help develop a sense of unity.

First century believers were also confined by a legalistic code of conduct that would not allow for personal interpretation of right and wrong. They actually declared that some behavior was displeasing to God and should be considered to be sin. They didnít understand that itís not our place to judge.

The repressive patriarchal society of that day would not even allow for a female deity. That'í why Jesus referred to God as "Father". He knew his audience would not be tolerant of progressive understandings of the goddess.

Recycled Heresies

The truth is, this so-called "progressive" Christianity is really nothing new. These ideas were being fiercely debated as early as the second century. This is the very reason the creeds were written. Think through the Apostlesí Creed with me, one phrase at a time ---

I believe in God the Father Almighty
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the
Father almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the
quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Each phrase is a definitive declaration of an essential, non-negotiable element of our Christian faith. What is being touted as new is nothing but old heresies recycled to our generation. These teachings have held power in the seminaries and hierarchy of the mainline churches for almost a century now.

How has Godís Kingdom been advanced by their "new" teachings? Every denomination that has embraced these progressive doctrines has seen radical decline. The United Methodist Church has lost the equivalent of a 250-member church every day for the last 30 years. It seems a lost world isnít buying what the progressives are trying to sell in the name of our churches. The shallow, relative truth of the progressive movement has no power to transform lives, so searching souls look elsewhere. The old hymn says it well, "On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand."

Scripture tells us weíre supposed to be guardians of the "faith once delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3). I believe itís time for the Church to stand and declare the timeless truth of Godís Word. We must not be intimidated into silence. Godís call to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel" has never been taken back. The methods of going may change, but the message never will.

One word of warning. When you decide to stand for truth, you will be labeled as "intolerant." This is the only sin left in a world where all beliefs and all religions are considered equal. Donít let the label worry you. Wear it proudly.

The Church we leave for our grandchildren depends on our faithfulness at this critical point in our history. Pray for Godís strength and direction. Begin meeting with a small group of like-minded friends to cry out to God for our Church and our Nation. Plan to be in Pittsburgh in April 2004 as a part of the prayer effort for General Conference. God is the only One who can turn this around. He is our hope.

I believe we are on the verge of real revival. Now is not the time to give up. By His grace, we must ". . . make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel."


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