Monday, June 14, 2010

realignment fever is not just for colleges. It is for churches, too.

Orlando- The past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity among NCAA universities as the Big 10 began the present flurry of activity of mascot trading among athletic conferences. Power conferences such as the Big 10 and Pac-10 attempt to expand their horizons into new territories in a Jabez-esque fashion while the Big 12 fails to keep the hordes of marauding orcs of the Sauron-like commissioners of those conferences outside their gates. In its typically copycat fashion, the Christian church has chosen to respond in similar fashion.

At a recent meeting of the leaders of the Gospel Coalition and Southern Baptist Convention in advance of the SBC meeting in Orlando, FL, possible expansion was discussed. It is believed that the Gospel Coalition, consisting of SBC pastors, as well as those of other conservative denominations and mega-church pastors like Josh Harris and Mark Driscoll, is willing to allow itself to move to this powerful conference. However, negotiations hit snags on 2 main issues, Infant Baptism and alcohol.

The SBC has offered membership to all Gospel Coalition represented churches, even those that practice Infant Baptism. However, each of these churches must show willingness to change its view on alcohol consumption. Convention spokesman, Lewis Granger told reporters, “We are willing to take the bold step of offering membership to practitioners of infant baptism for the sake of expanding our membership base and creating new revenue sources coming from an increased number of churches. However, we will not release our convictions that alcohol consumption, while not specifically banned in the Bible, is wrong. No increase in numbers of young people will change that. Plus, as we know, they can still drink. They just keep it on the down low.”

Gospel Coalition members from Presbyterian churches, as well as Mars Hill Church in Seattle have released a statement that they will not join the new expanded SBC. Instead they will create a mega-conference with the American Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church in America, the Origins network and conservative branches of mainline denominations in which alcohol consumption is not forbidden. Invitations are to be extended next week.

Seeing these realignments as a threat to their existence, the Emerging Church networks have chosen to formalize membership and admit to its Liberal leanings by creating a new conference (“we are not a denomination,” explains spokesman Steve Knight). The groundwork has been laid in the past, but invitations will be given to major US denominations, including the Presbyterian Church(USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ and non-Southern Baptist baptist groups. Hopes are growing amongst the leaders of these groups.

Says Knight, “We expect to compete in the future with the mega-SBC and Gospel/ Beer Coalition for book deals, events as well as people. As you may know, our openness on pretty much every subject, besides social justice, ecumenism and economic redistribution make us attractive to anyone left of center on anything. We have asked most African American denominations to join, but our lack of relevance to their daily lives leads them to consider staying put. We will keep asking, and keep growing.” When asked if invitations will be extended to Sojourners, leaders of the new Emerged Church Conference were coy, due to recent incidents related to diversity.

Christianity Today’s Andy Crouch believes this is just the beginning of a complete overhaul of the denominational structure of the United States. “Don’t be surprised to see some of the groups consider aligning with those groups they were historically predisposed to hate, like the SBC and Catholics or Mormons. I expect groups like the Emerged Church to join forces with Reformed Judaism and Buddhism. However, their overtures to Islam will be rebuffed. Islam does not need them as it expands on its own.”

Free agents like Rob Bell, Donald Miller and Tim Keller are yet to announce their future plans, leading to speculation they will begin their own conference.

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