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Confessing Movement

The Confessing Movement is one of several modern expressions of conservative Christianity in North America, composed of clergy and laity that are unhappy with their denominational shift away from traditionalist, conservative Christianity. It is a rapidly organizing force within the mainline churches. It relates and cross pollinates with other conservative movements such as Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Holiness groups, Anabaptists, and Fundamentalists, but also differs from the others in some aspects, especially in that its members are unwilling to leave their home denominations, unless forced out. Unlike many reform movements in modern times, which have splintered Protestantism into thousands of denominations, these groups are determined to stay and work for reform from within. At the same time many sadly admit that they may be unable to fully reform their respective churches, and that these churches will remain to the left of the Confessing Movements' members.



Within the mainline churches there is a large group of laity and a somewhat smaller group of clergy who feel that their denominations have been hijacked by those who, in their view, have 'forsaken Christianity' and embraced moral relativism to accommodate secular society. Church leaders such as United Methodist Bishop Joseph Sprague of Chicago and Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong are considered by members of the Confessing Movement to be apostate, and are rejected as spokespersons for the church. Although many issues are longstanding, the final straw which has provided the impetus that has galvanized church members into the formation of the Confessing Movement is the acceptance or the possible acceptance of homosexuality. The advent of female clergy was perhaps the major impetus that drove traditionalist members to seek to reform their denominations. Another part of the background of the movement is that from the 1950s to the 1980s mainline churches in the US lost many of their members, while conservative churches were growing. Some of the difference represents individuals moving from the more liberal to the more conservative churches. Some represents a general loss of evangelistic zeal in liberal thought. The confessing movement points to the shrinkage of the church as evidence of a wrong path taken, and seeks to bring the church back to its original confessions of faith.

A few liberal church leaders have taken steps to denounce, repress, or expel the Confessing Movement, but they face a grave difficulty, if they succeed, for expelling such a large segment of a mainline denomination would have obvious financial ramifications.

Many of these Confessing Movements derive a significant percentage of their budgets from the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a group founded by the prominent neoconservatives Michael Novak and Richard Neuhaus . In turn, the IRD itself is funded largely the by Scaife Family Charitable Trusts/Scaife Foundations , and to a lesser extent by the Smith Richardson Foundation. This has led to many moderates and liberals in mainline denominations to denounce the Confessing Movements as an attempt by well-funded outsiders to move mainline American Protestantism to the right, rather than a series of organically arising movements within various Protestant denominations as the Confessing Movements' leaders often claim it to be.

By denomination


One of the fastest growing Confessing Movements is within the Presbyterian Church (USA). In February, 2002 more than 800 laity, pastors, deacons, and elders gathered in Atlanta, Georgia for the first National Celebration of Confessing Churches. Participating churches affirm that Christ is the only way of salvation, that the Bible is infallible in its teachings, and that sexual relations are exclusively for marriage.

More than 1,200 of the denomination's 11,000 congregations have adopted such declarations and become part of a loosely knit Confessing Church Movement.

The books Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church (1999) and A Passion for the Gospel: Confessing Jesus Christ for the 21st Century (2000), both by Mark Achtemeier and Andrew Purves have served as rallying cries for Confessing Presbyterians.


The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church quotes Methodism's founder, John Wesley, who said:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

Leaders have included Thomas C. Oden, Maxie Dunnam, Bill Hinson, John Ed Mathison, Karen Covey Moore, William Abraham, and James Heidinger. The movement has been very successful in maintaining doctrinal standards and traditional United Methodist positions on theology and practice at the General Conferences in Cleveland (2000) and Pittsburgh (2004).


The newly-formed American Anglican Council states:

Here are the facts about the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) as it currently exists. It is a Church that is no longer in relationship with the majority of Anglicans worldwide. It is a Church that no longer turns to Holy Scripture for its guidance. It is a Church that has chosen the ways of man over the ways of God. It is a church that has undermined the institution of marriage. It is a church with which many worldwide Christian denominations have broken relations. It is a church that has lost its heart and soul and its commitment to making disciples and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

See also: Continuing Anglican Movement

Church of the Brethren

Brethren Revival Fellowship was one of the earliest evangelical concern movements among the mainline Protestant denominations. It says:

Many within the Church of the Brethren have set aside a firm belief in the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible, and knowingly or unknowingly have embraced the historical critical views of biblical interpretation. There has been a drift from a balanced Biblical-Anabaptist-Pietist and Brethren oriented understanding of church and state, war and peace, church discipline, and New Testament ordinances (such as the three part love feast). The Church of the Brethren has moved from preaching the Gospel of reconciliation of individuals to God through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, to a human centered program of political involvement. We believe that cultural renovation begins one by one with personal conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. We are concerned about the diminishing membership and the need for revival and evangelism within the Church of the Brethren. It seems that many of our church officials are not ready to accept the fact that doctrinal beliefs and morality issues are affecting the giving and are contributing to the membership decline.


Conservative traditions have always been strong in the Lutheran synods of North America. Over the last two centuries, most of the many new synods were started by members who felt their synod was straying from Christian orthodoxy. The Evangelical Lutheran Confessing Fellowship (ELCF) is one of the more recent of these "reform" movements, inspired by the other Protestant "confessing movements" described in this article.

The ELCF was organized in Hamilton Square, Pennsylvania, in June, 2002 by about 60 pastors and laypersons who belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest and perhaps most liberal Lutheran body in North America. The goal of the movement is to persuade the ELCA to move its theology and teaching rightward, rather than seperation from the ELCA. According to their initial press release, a primary goal is to head off apparent movement toward formal recognition and ordination of homosexual clergy. [1]


United Church of Canada

Uniting Church in Australia

After a 2003 decision to ordain practicing homosexuals, conservative members of the church formed The Reforming Alliance in order to discuss the issues and work out a strategy. This process was helped by another group called Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU) which had been formed in the early 1990s as a conservative response to the church's growing progressive stance.

External links

Groups calling themselves Confessing Movements (or analogs)

  • Association for Church Renewal - Multi-denominational - a fellowship of renewing and confessing movement leaders within mainline Protestant denominations in the United States and Canada
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13