Renewing the United Church of Christ
Why the Witness?
Commentary Reprinted from The Witness, Summer 2001
Each time we publish someone will email or write in and ask us why we continue to spend a significant part of each Witness exposing aspects of UCC reality that cause many of us pain? Some of you ask why we just don’t leave the poor old UCC alone? Some of you ask why we just don’t leave the UCC? Some ask, what do you expect us to do when you tell us things are bad?
Above all, we are passionate and faithful in our love of the once 6300 churches, which came together to form the United Church of Christ. From the village churches struggling for survival in New England, to those grand brick E & R’s across the Midwest, to those faithful African American Christian congregations across the South, to the Hawaiian churches that bear testimony to the missionary efforts of our heritage, to the thriving renewal churches that dot the country, and all the rest, we believe that the Holy Spirit is far from finished and that we will one day again see our communion thriving and growing in Jesus Christ from sea to sea.
The educated leadership and bureaucracy called “The United Church of Christ,” however, has not done well. They have contributed significantly to the fact that the UCC has suffered 44 consecutive losing seasons in which a net loss of members, children and congregations has been a constant way of life. Even Cubs and Red Sox fans would demand a change of managers with such a losing record. The “organization” known as the United Church of Christ has failed to fulfill its promise and has profoundly broken covenant with the local church.
How has that been true?
First, we as local churches bought into the UCC because we believed that the reform creeds and Biblical authority would covenant us together in a common life in Jesus Christ. We understood the creeds were not ‘binding’ in a legalistic sense but we also know that revisionist theologies, new moralities, and social ideologies that directly contradict and violate the teaching of scripture and those creeds are a gross exercise in license. Spiritual schizophrenia is not a viable way of life together. The new “dogma” of sexual politics and “progressive Christianity” are alien intrusions to the covenant that holds us together.
Secondly, we came together in the promise that “all may be one,” that the UCC would be a truly ecumenical church. That is a promise that the leadership has not kept. The political campaign to support abortion and sexual license in the UCC has separated us from our Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic brothers and sisters. Sexual politics has also made us the cause of crisis in our relationship with other mainline denominations. Meanwhile our relationship with the Evangelical and Charismatic mainstream of the protestant church is strained at best, and the attitude of many in UCC leadership is antagonistic. As much as some may be in denial, the truth is that the UCC is now a very isolated denomination and the object of suspicion and worse in the larger Christian church. Again, a promise has not been kept and a core value of our covenant together has been broken.
Thirdly, we came together as a kingdom people committed to pursuing the agenda Jesus laid out in his first message at the synagogue in Luke 4. Sadly our drift is toward an ideology of self-actualization in which the compelling mandate of Jesus Christ is increasingly lost.
Our mandate in Bearing Witness Faithfully is to raise up the unchanging truth of God’s revelation in His Word. In doing that it is unfortunately necessary as reformers to let the churches know that the emperor is wearing no clothes. It is our task to alert the church to the reality that much which is being “sold” is really different than the content of the package. The direction of the “organization” called the UCC, as distinct from our individual congregations, is on a collision course with reality. Those who report the fire are not to be blamed as those who set the fire, and unless the fire is reported, the building cannot be saved.
What do we want you to do?
Pray for those in authority over us. Pray for revival. Pray for those with whom you profoundly disagree. Pray for your pastor. Become determined in your commitment to the long-term future of your church. Then educate your congregation. There is a remnant of committed, faithful believers in every UCC congregation.
The Witness is a point of beginning. The material we publish has to be well documented or we couldn’t publish it. We mail it free to individual leaders in all the agencies of the national office as well as Conference offices and seminaries. When we spell your names wrong or report a minor fact inaccurately, you tell us. But please pursue the resources we suggest as well as others you can find on your own.
Our short-term desire is to restore an authentic conversation. If the so-called “ONA studies” were in fact balanced studies of the facts, mythologies, and realities of human sexuality and Biblical revelation, rather than exercises in propaganda, we would applaud.
If the UCC embraced graduates of evangelical seminaries to revitalize the ministry, we would be enthusiastically supportive.
If the UCC would listen with humility and repentant hearts to our African American, Korean, Samoan, and Hungarian churches, we would be ecstatic. Instead there’s much talk about multi-culturalism, which really only means we welcome all who say “yes” to our social sexual agenda.
If the UCC were to use its resources to spiritually nurture the churches, and prepare Godly leaders, rather than entangle itself in endless bureaucracy and the pursuit of an ideological agenda, we would be delighted.
If the UCC were to genuinely recommend the wide mainstream of evangelical resources to its congregations alongside the books, hymnal, and curriculums of its own ideological idiosyncrasy, our task would have to be reexamined.
If the UCC, having moved away from the triumphal missionary proclamation of the gospel toward pluralism, were to encourage its churches to seek out faith missions and to pursue their own mission programs, we would not have to fill that void.
In the meantime, The Witness stands in the uneasy tradition of Isaiah and the Old Testament prophets, Luther, Wycliffe, the 19th Century Muckrakers, and the Civil Rights Movement of the last century in calling those in power to keep their covenants and to bring truth to light. We look forward to the day when our mission will no longer be necessary, and the profound conflict for the soul of the church will be resolved. We suspect that will be the day Jesus Christ returns and every knee bows and every tongue confesses him Lord.