“Atheist Pastor Keeps Her Job.” Fake news? Sadly no. The headline on cp24.com was all too true. Before a trial for heresy began, Rev. Gretta Vosper, the church she pastors in Toronto, and the denomination reached a settlement, leaving her free to pastor the church. The Right Rev. Richard Bott, head of the United Church in Canada, proclaimed his pleasure, “The dance between these core values (which he called ‘faith in God and inclusiveness’), how they interact with and inform each other, is one that we continue to explore as followers of Jesus.”
That boggles me. How can faith in God include a church pastor who doesn’t believe in God? I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that clearly seems paradoxical. Like Hugh Hefner leading a chapter of “True Love Waits.”
But Vosper and the United Church present a helpful discussion. Which of our core values are so essential we won’t bend on? Do we have any, or does pragmatism drive our lives? What essential core values does our church cling to? The old line may apply here, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” So, what core truths unite us that we stand on?
Let me suggest that God’s word clarifies that. Paul commanded unity in Ephesian 4, and gave seven core principles that we can’t flex on. Not that we grasp these perfectly, but they represent essential targets for unity. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (verses 3-6). The church here has a pastor that denies 3 of those uniting faith beliefs, and inclusiveness trumps faith.
We believe in the Trinity—one God and Father, one Lord (Jesus), one Spirit. We believe we need faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We believe in connecting to others—the body of Christ, the church. We believe in hope—life after physical death. We believe in making a decision to enter a relationship—which baptism links to. Yes, we love all. We respect their God-given right to choose their beliefs. Yet unity in the church mandates these as our goals. Jesus came to bring a sword, not Super Glue to force together innate contradictions.
Should atheists be in church? Absolutely! We all sin and need Jesus, and in the church they can hopefully find Jesus. Should they lead? Not until they share those seven unifying factors.
Kick Starting the Application
What are your personal core beliefs? Have you thought of that concept? What beliefs are you willing to flex on? How do these two match the seven principles from Ephesians? What are the core beliefs of your church? Have you explored that issue? Going beyond essential beliefs, what are some of your preferences that are strong? Flexible? Do you suspect God might want you to work on some of these?
NOTE: as we did around Thanksgiving, beginning this Saturday and ending on Christmas Day, we’ll have a post on four days that explore the entry of God into humanity. I pray it will help you get spiritually strengthened.