Fafner & Fasolt in the Church

Something that should bother Christians very much is hidden retraction in church teaching. This means that in confessional material generated by those in authority in a given church, one will see evidence that beliefs no longer held are not being recognized as having passed out of existence. This is a variety of misrepresentation, and it comes about when a church’s belief has gradually been abandoned, but there is no admission of it by those who speak for that church. No one states specifically that there has been a change of mind, an abandonment of things once believed as true and as markers of church identity. Nor is there repentance for having divided the churches along sectarian lines—for having erected yet another partition in the Christian house.

A change or abandonment may happen when biblical teaching, over the course of generations, reasserts itself in places where the Scriptures are regarded as the standard of belief, and sectarian distinctives, in response, begin to fade—for example, in the gradual abandonment of doctrinaire teetotalism among Evangelicals. Another example of hidden retraction would be in churches that were founded on an egalitarian basis and, while having ordained female clergy, have over time become led almost exclusively by men, such as the Assemblies of God and the Foursquare Church of Aimee Semple McPherson.

I am speaking here of a belief just winking out of confessional discourse when the elusive Snark of clarity is at length apprehended. Old teachings become as though they never were, or are not matters of present concern, though the traces of their influence remain in and between the churches in the indelible intuitions and institutions of its history, including traditional enmities.

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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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