What would a church led by unbelievers look different than the existing church? Can you imagine a future day when the body of Christ would be led by people who didn’t believe in Christ at all? It is a horrifying thought to think that the things of God could be taught by people who don’t believe in that very God. Is it so absurd to think that a reality may exist in which this would be the case? Such a thought is scary to think about and seems so far off that it is hardly worth considering. Yet recent events reveal that such a reality is already here, and not in an obscure or clandestine way.
Our story takes us to Scarborough, Ontario, a district found within the massive metropolis of Toronto. There we find the congregation of West Hill United Church, part of the United Church of Canada and led by Gretta Vosper. As minister, Vosper is charged with the spiritual growth, teaching, and care of the congregation. Her ability to do so adequately has been questioned to the point that the Toronto Conference Review Committee, the overseeing board for the United Church of Canada, who is recommending the defrocking (removal) of Vosper. The reason? Her denial of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
The initial reaction is to think that the story is made up. We would expect that it would take an absurd set of circumstances to create such an absurd reality. Few will get beyond the disbelief that a church could exist under the existence of an unbeliever. However, our love for Christ should compel us to look at the issue deeper and question how we could ever arrive at this point.
The fact that Gretta Vosper is so open about her unbelief is telling in itself. It means that the environment has existed for so long that she doesn’t feel the conviction deep enough to necessitate hiding her belief (or unbelief). The reality is, this reality has existed for quite some time, although not quite so blatantly. Churches, in the broadest and most inclusive use of the term, operate all across the United States with unbelievers acting as their guides. Consider Rob Bell or Joel Osteen. Rob Bell claimed to be a believer while denying the authority of Scripture. It should be no surprise when he dropped his identification as a Christian all together. Joel Osteen pastors the largest church in the United States and yet can’t articulate the most basic tenets of the Gospel (see any of his interviews with Larry King). These are only two of the most prominent examples of unbelievers leading churches. These men were not as overt in their unbelief as Gretta Vosper, but it has existed for quite some time. Therefore, we should not be surprised that there has come a day in which one can be so open about their unbelief and still be allowed to pastor a church.
This begins with the denial of Scriptural authority and integrity. A denial of one area allows for the denial of everything else. It opens the door to manipulate Scripture to say what a person desires it to say or to outright deny parts that he or she doesn’t want to accept. When Scripture isn’t believed to be authoritative and true, it is no longer the standard by which people live. It becomes replaced with man’s authority and the result is unbelievers leading supposed believers.
Need an example? The West Hill United Church. Clearly they compromised Scripture years ago by allowing a woman to be pastor; Scripture expressly forbids women as the pastors over congregations. When one compromises Scripture, it can’t be done once in a small way. Even the most infinitesimal way breaks down the complete integrity of Scripture. Thus, it is no surprise that churches have unbelievers for pastors, even several on the Toronto Conference Review Committee admitted that many of their ministers had similar (un)beliefs to Vosper.
The concern is not only that we have gotten to a place in which unbelievers lead a church, but also that people are not so outraged by this to be compelled to do something about it. For many, they see nothing wrong with this picture. In fact, as evidenced by the West Hill United Church, they support it by continuing to attend the church or by defending the unbelief of the pastor.
If you are not disturbed by actions and teachings that are so obviously contrary to Scripture, there is cause for you to be concerned about yourself. Such a story should compel us to desire to recapture the Bible for the full power of what it is: God’s very Word. This starts with initiating the desire to dive deeper into God’s word and study it for itself, drawing out the very marrow of all that it is. The second then is to live by the Word of God. Studying it is meaningless without living it out. We live it out to show its authority within our own lives. By our actions, attitudes, and activities we provide a powerful, outward testimony for the application of Scripture. Finally, we teach it, not just by living it out but by the direct discipleship and teaching of it. If people are not well-versed in it they won’t know when it is being compromised. This is the only way. To recapture the preeminence of God’s word, it must be preeminent in our own lives.
To see a story on the controversy of West Hill United Church, click here.