The Confessing Movement is a neo-Evangelical movement within several American mainline Protestant denominations to return those churches to what the members of the movement see as theological orthodoxy.
It relates and cross pollinates with other conservative Christian movements such as Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Holiness groups, Anabaptists, and Fundamentalists. Its members have a stated commitment to remain in their home denominations, unless forced out, to stay and work for reform from within, in contrast to what they see as other modern reform movements that splintered Protestantism into thousands of denominations. They acknowledge that full reform of their churches may not be achieved. Of particular concern has been a perceived lack of concern for, or non-evangelical approaches to, evangelism, to the deity of Christ, to questions of sexuality and homosexuality in particular.
The Confessing Movement should not be confused with the Confessing Church, a Christian resistance movement in Nazi Germany, nor the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, an unaffiliated group of pastors and theologians promoting a return to historic Reformation principles within the Reformed and Lutheran churches.
A large group of laity and a somewhat smaller group of clergy within the mainline churches have protested that their denominations have been "hijacked" by those who, in their view, have 'forsaken Christianity' and embraced what they consider moral relativism to accommodate democratic pluralist society in America. They reject church leaders such as United Methodist Bishop Joseph Sprague of Chicago and Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong as apostate.
Although many issues are longstanding, the trigger that led to the formation of the Confessing Movement was the acceptance or the possible acceptance of practicing homosexuality. Other issues influencing some groups were the ordination of women, and the decline in attendance of many of the mainline denominations through the 1950s to the 1980s in the US, while many conservative churches were growing. Some of the difference may represent individuals moving from the mainline to the more fundamentalist or evangelical churches, while the rest simply reflects a general decline in organized religious participation. Leaders of the Confessing Movement claim the shrinking of mainline church membership as evidence of a wrong path taken.
In some instances, denominational leaders have sought to denounce, repress, or expel Confessing Movement members.
Many moderates and liberals in mainline denominations accuse the Confessing Movements of being part of an attempt by well-funded outsiders such as Institute on Religion and Democracy (a group founded by the prominent neoconservatives Michael Novak and Richard Neuhaus) to silence the social agenda of the mainline Protestant denominations, rather than being a series of organically arising movements within various Protestant denominations as the Confessing Movements' leaders often claim it to be.
Many of the laity in the confessing congregations, however, may maintain that the aim of these Confessing Movements is simply to maintain the received Christian doctrine of the denomination as they understand it to have been traditionally taught and understood.
The confessing movements state that they receive no funding from the IRD. The groups that accuse the Confessing Movements groups of conspiring with the IRD claim that they derive a significant percentage of their budgets from the IRD, and in turn, the IRD itself is funded largely the by Scaife Family Charitable Trusts/Scaife Foundations, and to a lesser extent by the Smith Richardson Foundation.
In 2007, the IRD released a report that showed that in fiscal year 2005 the National Council of Churches mainline umbrella organization actually received more money (US$1.76 million) from secular foundations and other non-church organizations than from member communions. (US$1.75 million). IRD remarks, "We should be clear that there is no necessary sin in a Christian organization-the NCC, the IRD, or the Salvation Army-accepting contributions from or forming alliances with persons or groups who may not themselves be Christians. The problems come when the non-church funding and alliances loom so large that they cannot help but change the nature of a Christian organization. Then serious questions arise: Are the non-church funders and allies determining the programs and positions of the Christian organization? Or are organization leaders reshaping their programs to fit the priorities of the funders and allies?"
One of the fastest growing Confessing Movements is within the Presbyterian Church (USA). In February, 2002 more than 800 laity, pastors, deacons, and elders gathered in Atlanta, Georgia for the first National Celebration of Confessing Churches. Participating churches affirm that Christ is the only way of salvation, that the Bible is infallible in its teachings, and that sexual relations are exclusively for marriage.
More than 1,300 of the denomination's 11,000 congregations have adopted such declarations and become part of a loosely knit Confessing Church Movement.
The books Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church (1999) and A Passion for the Gospel: Confessing Jesus Christ for the 21st Century (2000), both by Mark Achtemeier and Andrew Purves have served as rallying cries for Confessing Presbyterians.
''See also: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church quotes Methodism's founder, John Wesley, who said:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
Leaders have included Thomas C. Oden, Maxie Dunnam, Bill Hinson, John Ed Mathison, Karen Covey Moore, William Abraham, and James Heidinger. Good News Magazine is the main publication of Methodists members of the movement. The movement has been very successful in maintaining doctrinal standards and traditional United Methodist positions on theology and practice at the General Conferences in Cleveland (2000) and Pittsburgh (2004).
The newly-formed American Anglican Council states:
Here are the facts about the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) as it currently exists. It is a Church that is no longer in relationship with the majority of Anglicans worldwide. It is a Church that no longer turns to Holy Scripture for its guidance. It is a Church that has chosen the ways of man over the ways of God. It is a church that has undermined the institution of marriage. It is a church with which many worldwide Christian denominations have broken relations. It is a church that has lost its heart and soul and its commitment to making disciples and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.See also: Continuing Anglican Movement and Anglican Communion Network.
Brethren Revival Fellowship was one of the earliest evangelical concern movements among the mainline Protestant denominations. It says:
Many within the Church of the Brethren have set aside a firm belief in the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible, and knowingly or unknowingly have embraced the historical critical views of biblical interpretation. There has been a drift from a balanced Biblical-Anabaptist-Pietist and Brethren oriented understanding of church and state, war and peace, church discipline, and New Testament ordinances (such as the three part love feast). The Church of the Brethren has moved from preaching the Gospel of reconciliation of individuals to God through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, to a human centered program of political involvement. We believe that cultural renovation begins one by one with personal conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. We are concerned about the diminishing membership and the need for revival and evangelism within the Church of the Brethren. It seems that many of our church officials are not ready to accept the fact that doctrinal beliefs and morality issues are affecting the giving and are contributing to the membership decline.
Conservative traditions have always been strong in the Lutheran synods of North America. Over the last two centuries, most of the many new synods were started by members who felt their synod was straying from Christian orthodoxy. There are several reform movements that have been founded in recent years to affect change within existing Lutheran denominations.
The largest of these organizations is the WordAlone Network, organized in 2000 in opposition to the Concordat / Called to Common Mission agreement with the Episcopal Church USA. Under that agreement, the ELCA agreed to undertake the Episcopal practice of being governed by bishops in the historic episcopate. Many Lutherans saw this as contrary to Lutheran theology and organized in opposition to it.
While the WordAlone Network has worked to reform church governance, sometimes with little visible reward for their effort, they succeeded at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA in slowing the efforts of those who sought to revise the understanding of homosexuality within the ELCA. This was accomplished in cooperation with others who did not oppose the historic episcopate through the Solid Rock Lutherans organization. WordAlone has also been an incubator for launching related groups working to reform the church. They include a new publisher of a Lutheran hymnal (Reclaim Lutheran Worship), LC3 and Lutheran Core .
The most successful WordAlone outgrowth is Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, a post-denominational association of 212 congregations in seven countries, with 152 of them in the United States.
The Evangelical Lutheran Confessing Fellowship (ELCF) is one of the more recent of these "reform" movements, inspired by the other Protestant "confessing movements" described in this article.
The ELCF was organized in Hamilton Square, Pennsylvania, in June, 2002 by about 60 pastors and laypersons who belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest and perhaps most liberal Lutheran body in North America. The goal of the movement is to persuade the ELCA to move its theology and teaching rightward, rather than separation from the ELCA. According to their initial press release, a primary goal is to head off apparent movement toward formal recognition and ordination of homosexual clergy. In 2005, the proposals to allow ordination of homosexual clergy and blessing of homosexual relationships were defeated at the ELCA's national convention.
In the United Church of Christ the confessing movements include Biblical Witness Fellowship, formed in 1977 advocating local church renewal and national level reformation. Under the leadership of Executive Director Rev. David Runnion-Bareford, this movement has presented reformation initiatives before each of the last five Synods of the UCC, including a successful reaffirmation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the denominations historic symbol the "Cross Triumphant" in 2005. "Focus Renewal Ministries" was founded as a charismatic expression within the United Church of Christ, and the more recent formation of the "Faithful and Welcoming" movement under the leadership of Rev. Bob Thompson(www.faithfulandwelcoming.org) followed the controversial synod of 2005 and seeks to keep churches from leaving the denomination.
After a 2003 decision not to make an outright ban on the ordination of practicing homosexuals, conservative members of the church formed The Reforming Alliance in order to discuss the issues and work out a strategy. This process was helped by another group called Evangelical Members within the Uniting Church in Australia (EMU) which had been formed in the early 1990s as a conservative response to what is seen as the church's growing liberalism.
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