What happens to a church that tries to please everyone and tries to appease those who press aggressively for innovations?
For an answer, look no farther than the spiritual carnage at the United Methodist Church's General Conference 2004.
Like some other mainline churches, the UMC over the years grew flaccid in its doctrine. To keep its membership growing, to keep peace, to avoid ructions, the UMC ducked confrontations with those who played fast and loose with Scripture, sometimes ignoring Scripture altogether.
Now the church is being torn left and right, and if it survives without schism, that's more than can be reasonably expected.
Over time, aggressive homosexuals infiltrated the UMC and tried to turn it into an anti-Biblical sham of a denomination. The outcome of the Karen Damman trial shows how far they succeeded. There, a kangaroo court in Seattle had the effrontery to proclaim that the active, unrepentant practice of homosexuality conflicted neither with Scripture nor church rules.
At the General Conference, UMC delegates labored to turn their denomination back to God. They reaffirmed the obvious truth that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christianity, strengthened the church's rules against ordaining actively homosexual clergy, and tried to revive their church's fealty to Christian doctrine.
Meanwhile, homosexual militants, led by renegade UMC clergy, disrupted the conference with demonstrations, confrontations, and unreasonable demands. And the bishops of the church tried again, as they have tried so often in the past, to temporize, to parley, to bargain with the aggressors.
This is Rodney King theology: "Can't we all just get along?"
But between light and darkness, between belief and unbelief, can be no fellowship.
This is not about getting along. This is about standing up for God's truth.
It's not about kicking sinners out of the denomination. If any church did that, there'd be no one left.
The UMC's homosexual militants are worse than sinners. They are unrepentant sinners, rebels against God's law, who not only deny that they are sinning at all, but demand that everyone else in the church join them in their rebellion.
The UMC would not be in this trouble if it had not, years ago, relaxed its grip on God's Word.
The UMC has a choice between recommitting itself to God's Word — a movement that has seemingly begun — or continuing to try to please everyone, especially the aggressive "gay-friendly" Pacific Northwest Conference.
No one can serve two masters. The denomination cannot let the Pacific Northwest bully everyone else into apostasy. If the Pacific Northwest cannot accept faithfulness to Scripture as a non-negotiable standard, the UMC would be better off without them.
For as long as Karen Damman remains a UMC minister, the conference's legislation looks meaningless. It's as if the U. S. government, after passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, allowed someone to continue to own slaves. If the UMC wants credibility, it must show Damman the door. Only then will the Methodist churches in Africa believe the Americans are sincere. They expressed some doubt about that at the conference.
The UMC must grow up and accept the truth that Christianity cannot be so "inclusive" as to include unrepentant sinners. There will always be strong temptations to "get along," to grow the membership, to expand church buildings and activities, to collect large offerings. But what does it profit a church to gain the world, but lose its soul?
It will be painful to take these steps, but the reward will be a house undivided, built on the foundation of God's law. And such action by the UMC will encourage other struggling denominations.
For all its profusion of denominations, the Christian church, the body of Christ, is one. The virus that has infected the UMC, unless it is expelled, will infect other denominations — as indeed it has already.
To ignore God's law has consequences. To coddle and appease those who break it is to share in the consequences.
One of those consequences is to have a troubled, battered denomination that may or may not survive the next ten years.