Saturday morning I was interviewed by Chicago-based Moody Radio on “Should you leave your church if it’s forsaking biblical orthodoxy?” The other guest was my friend, the always impressive Cherie Harder, who heads the Washington-based Trinity Forum, a thinktank that examines faith and culture.
Cherie talked about her own formerly Episcopal, now Anglican congregation, the historic Falls Church in Virginia, which recently lost its property after years of litigation with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The over 4000 member church, which is mega sized by Episcopal/Anglican standards, quit the Episcopal Church in 2006 after the 2003 election of that denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop. Becoming part of the new Anglican Church of North America, the Falls Church continued to grow, even founding several thriving new congregations.
Meanwhile a shell congregation of the Falls Church that disagreed with the over 90 percent vote to leave the Episcopal Church has continued to meet and now possesses the large property. Reportedly fewer than 100 attend its services in a facility that once accommodated thousands. One of its recent preachers was a radical former missionary forced to leave Sudan because of her LGBT advocacy. So the shell congregation is marching in sync with the Episcopal Church’s national leftward, spiral. I predict that maintenance costs eventually will compel the small congregation to rent most of its large campus to another, much bigger church, likely evangelical.
As Cherie recounted, her Falls Church Anglican congregation is now nomadic, sometimes meeting in a Catholic high school, sometimes a public junior high. Attendance remains high, and its new church starts individually have several times more attendance than the old shell congregation. In just several years, one has already outgrown the Baptist church it bought and is now building a new sanctuary. There’s likely more vitality just in the Falls Church and its new church starts than in the whole Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
God is blessing the Falls Church, despite its legal and property adversities. Cherie explained well why her congregation was spiritually compelled to quit the Episcopal Church. The radio host asked me whether I would ever leave United Methodism, if, for example, it backed same sex rites, as the Episcopal Church recently overwhelmingly affirmed. I explained United Methodists are following a different path, thanks to our large, growing African membership, without which we likely would face decline and schism like the Episcopalians. I recalled John Wesley’s treatise on schism, when he explained he would not leave the Church of England so long as he could freely preach the Gospel.
Sometimes evangelical friends ask me when United Methodism will split. My response is likely never. Had our church surrendered its marriage and ordination standard like other Mainline denominations, some conservatives almost certainly would have created a new denomination, as orthodox Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglicans have done. But historically, liberals have almost never founded new denominations. Liberals will remain in United Methodism, increasingly frustrated, as their own numbers decline and the African churches keep growing, along with some U.S. evangelical churches.
I’m glad we United Methodists won’t likely suffer what Episcopalians and Anglicans have. And I’m grateful for the faithful witness of the Falls Church and its members like Cherie Harder.
Here’s a podcast of the Moody Radio interview with Cherie and me: http://www.moodyradio.org/upfordebate/