What the Church is All About: The Case of World Vision

For years I have admired the work of World Vision– the globe’s largest and most effective Christian humanitarian organization. Last year, God blessed them with nearly 3 billion dollars in donations which they used, in Jesus’ Name, to serve people in sixty nations.

Bob Pierce, who founded the organization in 1950, was a compassionate man I had the privilege of meeting in the 1970s. A few years ago, one of his staff served on a team I led to Mongolia. WV’s global headquarters is only a thirty minute drive from my home, and in the past year, I visited its gigantic warehouse three times to pick up materials for a building project.

However, on March 24, World Vision made a big mistake.

Then they reversed it.

Through this dramatic sequence of events, we have learned what the church is all about.

I’m sure many of you have heard what happened. Reversing sixty-four years of precedent and faithfulness to God’s Word, the World Vision board, on March 24, 2014, adopted a new employment policy which essentially condoned homosexual acts and same sex marriage.

This decision brought a swift reaction from many Christian leaders.

What the Church is All About: Salt & Light

God created the Church to proclaim his redeeming message to all people. We have an important prophetic role to be salt and light in our cultures–without which the ravages of sinful behavior would hurt the lives of countless people and keep them from friendship with God.

Sin brings darkness, confusion, alienation from a holy and loving Creator. Followers of Jesus, in all of our diverse expressions (small groups, churches, and other organizations) were meant to shine the light of God’s principles into every area of life–for the good of all people.

It’s good to have a conscience. It keeps you from hurting yourself.

Regarding the prophetic role of His Church, Jesus announced, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

When World Vision stepped away from the truth regarding human sexuality and marriage, a number of spiritual leaders brought swift and loving “light” to them.

Franklin Graham said: “I was shocked today to hear of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“My dear friend, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, would be heartbroken. He was an evangelist who believed in the inspired Word of God. World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and woman and any other marriage relationship is sin.”

Dr. George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, also expressed his profound disapproval of World Vision’s policy change:

“Recognizing legally valid same-sex marriages is not a narrow policy change. It is a fundamental shift away from a normative biblical understanding of marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman. The policy change cannot be construed as anything but an endorsement of same-sex marriage.”

“World Vision requires its employees to practice sexual abstinence outside of marriage. If it now permits its employees to enter legally valid same-sex marriages, then it has explicitly taken a position opposite of Scripture.”

Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis wrote on March 25:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

“In other words, to treat regular homosexual intercourse as less dangerous than fornication, adultery, greed, theft, and drunkenness is to treat perdition as if it were a small thing, or not really coming. The same text that imperils active fornicators and adulterers and thieves and coveters, also imperils those who practice homosexuality.”

“Make no mistake, this so-called ‘neutral’ position of World Vision is a position to accept practicing homosexuals as following an acceptable Christian lifestyle…Over against this, the apostle Paul says they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. It is that serious. If it were not, God would not have given his Son to be crucified for our rescue. Therefore, World Vision has trivialized perdition and the cross.”

Russell Moore was quite candid when he said, “This is no surprise, on one level. The constellation of parachurch evangelical ministries founded after World War II have been running headlong, with some notable exceptions, toward the very mainline liberalism to which they were founded as alternatives.”

“But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth. At stake is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.”

Finally, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary,  Dr. Richard Land, summarized, “The Bible is crystal clear on the issue of marriage. As God declared in Genesis and Jesus reaffirmed in Matthew’s Gospel, marriage is between male and female (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19: 4-6). Furthermore, God condemns all same-sex behavior as sinful and immoral” (Rom. 1:26-27; I Cor. 6:9).

“Evangelicals cannot declare ‘neutrality’ on this issue, and it cannot be fudged or finessed. If you tolerate same-sex marriage and/or same-sex behavior as acceptable morality for Christians, then you have rebelled against biblical authority and departed from the orthodox faith of biblical Christianity.”

World Vision made a mistake. It comprised God’s Word on a vital subject. Thus, numerous spiritual leaders turned on the “headlights” of reality and spoke to the issue.

Then an amazing thing happened.

What the Church is All About: Repentance

Within forty-eight hours of being exposed for its error, World Vision garnered the humility and courage to change course and make things right.

World Vision repented.

Here is the statement from president Richard Stearns:

“The last couple of days have been painful.” We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent. Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that World Vision supporters helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

“We listened to our friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives. We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.”

“What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs.  We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.”

“Yes, we will certainly defer on many issues that are not so central to our understanding of the Christian faith.  But on the authority of Scripture in our organization’s work and on marriage as an institution ordained by God between a man and a woman—those are age-old and fundamental Christian beliefs. We cannot defer on things that are that central to the faith.”

Clear. Contrite. Honest.

A broken and repentant heart is a beautiful thing (Psalm 51:17).

After World Vision’s change of direction, Franklin Graham applauded, “World Vision has reversed their decision to employ individuals who are in same-sex marriages after an onslaught of negative reaction. In our country today, there is tremendous pressure on Christians, churches, and Christian organizations to lower our moral standards. God is clear in His Word, and His standards never change. I’m thankful that Christians across the country urged World Vision to reverse their decision, and prayed fervently that they would do so. Three cheers.”

George Wood likewise appreciated World Vision’s decision to change their decision and called on members of the Assemblies of God churches to accept the apology from World Vision and continue any support they had committed to the organization.

I wholeheartedly concur.

What the Church is All About: Compassion

Which brings us back to World Vision’s incredible strength where they are truly a light to all of us: serving the poor and needy around the world with joy in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Now they can continue to do so as salt and light in a fuzzy world with a clear, redemptive message of salvation from sin.

That’s what the Church is all about.

1 Comment

  1. Al Cinnamon on April 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Ron, thank you for your compassionate heart and faithfulness to the Word.
    Mr. Stearn's service to WV and the many poor and needy in the world has been inspirational for many years. However, a simple apology and then an expectation that things will go on as if nothing happened is naïve. Mr. Stearn and the WV Board members who voted for this 'abomination' should resign. I state this as a Biblical precedent. Actions have consequences. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Samson, David, Solomon, Peter, etc. All were held accountable for their 'mistakes' and had consequences. They should all step down for the sake of the ministry. To bring a clarity to the direction of WV.

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