“This is not the protestant/catholic divide; it is not the evangelical-charismatic vs. mainline divide. It cuts across all communities in the West, even affecting the Orthodox and Roman Churches in some degree…It is creating a massive realignment within Christianity; those who hold to the traditional Scriptural and patristic Faith and discipline of Orthodox Catholicism; and those who reject it, criticize it, and I will add, as you well know, persecute it…There is a radical cultural shift away from traditional Christianity, toward something unrecognizable.”
– Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), addressing the assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (ANCA).
What is happening to the church in the West? To summarize Metropolitan Jonah, an apostasy is taking place, where good portions of people claiming to be Christian are utterly compromising with the post/anti-Christian western world, to the point of claiming God endorses sin as part of his design, and denying the exclusive truth that is the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and everything that entails. While heresies have always plagued the church from the very beginning (Gnostics, Arians, etc…), the wholesale rejection of the classic Christian ethic on issues such as the family, sexuality, life, and evangelism is new in the history of Christianity. It is an interesting time when the “global south” or “third world” has to call out Christians and church bodies that previously evangelized them!
This split has its roots in some of the “higher criticism” that came out of the misnamed “Enlightenment” of the 18th century, and the radical break with traditional Christianity in academic circles in the 19th century. In fact, this conflict would come to a head in the 1920’s-30’s “fundamentalist vs. modernist” controversy that affected all of the major Christian communities in the United States. While the “modernist” group early on compromised on essential parts of the Christian faith (such as the Virgin Birth, bodily Resurrection of Christ etc…), there was enough residual Christian worldview and Western culture that the shift wasn’t as noticed in the overall culture until later on in the 20th century, when the invention of “new theologies” and the rise of ultramodern/postmodern thought came to the fore. While the following chart is not absolute by any means (thank God for the faithful still remaining and trying to turn things around, and every faithful group has goats), it does demonstrate where the general trends are in the different Christian traditions, and what groups are at least attempting to be faithful to the “traditional Scriptural and patristic faith” as Jonah put it (for brevity, I will focus on three traditions in the U.S.):
Confessional/Traditional/Orthodox —- Modernist/Compromising
Anglican Church in North America Episcopal Church
Orthodox Anglican Church
Continuing Anglican Groups
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod ELCA (Evan. Luth. in America)
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
American Association of Lutheran Churches
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Bible Presbyterian Church
With very little variance, those on the right-hand side tend to take a “progressive” and “new” view on things such as women in ministry, sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, liberation theology, and the like. The biblical text is considered “important,” or “central,” but modern chauvinist readings of the text and “alternative theologies” are accepted or even encouraged. The classic consensus of the church (based on the Scriptures, the fathers, the ancient councils and creeds etc…) are given historical value, but are not part of an active, living and breathing faith handed down since the beginning. This allows them to engage in politically correct sociopolitical actions, and to change theology on the whims of cultural trends. Those who actually maintain the faith handed down are branded “(prefix)-phobic, patriarchal, oppressive, unloving” and many other favorite pet-labels of the modern chauvinist.
By contrast, those on the left hand side almost always subscribe to a confession of faith that is considered normative and binding on believers everywhere (all three include the ancient councils and creeds), and maintain the biblical (as the actual inspired word of God) and natural law positions on sexuality, family, etc…The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions officially maintain what has always been taught on these issues like those on the left-hand side, but there is much rebellion in the ranks of the average congregant and some of the lower clergy, as Jonah notes above, meaning the most tradition-minded churches are not immune.
The Great Realignment is taking place, so where do you stand? One encouraging development has been a renewed interest in the consensus-bearing era of the church (first 700 years or so), as a way of Christians expressing a common heritage. Other developments include faithful Christians joining together in statements such as the Manhattan Declaration, or in visual support such as that of Metropolitan Jonah to the faithful Anglicans. We should also pray for those who have been seduced by the post-Christian west to return to the faith handed down, and for those faithful who remain within to try to work for renewal. Kyrie Eleison!
(Let us hope and pray that the new Pontiff of the Roman church is firm, faithful, and addresses these issues head on).