Ethics and Community

This general agreement fell apart in the early decades of the 20th century during the modernism controversies. Churches split over whether or not the Bible was compatible with Darwinism, and over historical criticism (the claim that the Bible is best understood as written by various authors for specific audiences in specific historical contexts, rather than as an inerrant message for all the ages). Liberals (modernists who want to accommodate science and historical criticism in their interpretations of scripture) tended to focus more intently on the biblical passages that emphasized social justice issues rather than those that addressed doctrine or personal piety, and therefore increasingly leaned toward political and cultural activism, such as civil rights, the ordination of women, the approval of same-sex relationships, abortion rights, etc. Conservatives tended to emphasize the biblical passages that addressed individual moral behavior and the salvation of souls, and therefore leaned toward issues of personal holiness, such as sexual chastity, avoidance of alcohol, regular prayer and worship, evangelism, etc.

In the last decade there have been several shifts in the conservative/liberal split, and new issues that are difficult to fit into these categories. Rick Warren, for example, author of The Purpose Driven Life, is a Baptist who is "conservative" on issues of sexual morality, but "liberal" on issues of climate change and combating AIDS in Africa. Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek Community Church founder and pastor Bill Hybels, has become a major advocate on behalf of those with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Some of the "mega-churches" (like Warren's Saddleback Church in California or Hybels's Willow Creek in Illinois) have integrated racially more easily than mainline congregations. This is the result of a concentrated effort to reach out to unchurched people rather than rely on the traditional neighborhood or families of people who are church members already to provide a flow of new members. It is also the result of an effort to create a "relevant" worship style that cuts across the worship styles historically associated with certain ethnic groups. The use of rock bands and gospel choirs tends to appeal across ethnic lines in a way that the traditional use of organ music does not.

Study Questions:
1.     Do Protestants believe that good works are necessary for salvation? Explain.
2.     Do salvation and good works always go hand in hand? Explain.
3.     How did liberals and conservatives develop different moral priorities?

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