An atheist minister walks into a church ...

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted November 12, 2018

No—that headline isn't the beginning of some bad joke. It turns out that the Rev. Gretta Vosper does this every week in a congregation of the United Church of Canada.

One of Canada’s more theologically open denominations—their last two national leaders were a lesbian and a gay man—has ended efforts to dismiss Vosper, age 60, from her ordination because the cleric said she doesn't believe in God.

Heresy Trial

In reporting on the settlement of a “heresy trial,” CTVNews noted Vosper “is free to continue her ministry without any restrictions. She calls herself an atheist to describe her non-belief in a theistic, interventionist, supernatural being called God.”

To Gretta Vosper, then, there is no “supernatural being called God,” and this alleged deity does not intervene in world affairs. Much of her congregation on the east side of Toronto agrees with her, although the news report says some church members opposed her stance.

Attorney Julian Faulconer, who represents Vosper, said avoiding the trial was a positive outcome. "Both parties took a long look at the cost-benefit at running a heresy trial and whether it was good for anyone (and) the results speak for themselves," Falconer told the news agency. "They recognized there's a place for Gretta, and that there is no reason to separate the minister and the congregation."

The Rt. Rev. Richard Bott, who was elected to lead the United Church of Canada in August, issued a statement in which he cited both “inclusiveness” and “faith in God” as two of the denomination’s core values. "The dance between these core values, how they interact with and inform each other, is one that we continue to explore as followers of Jesus and children of the [C]reator," Bott said in the statement. "As a Christian church, we continue to expect that ministers in the United Church of Canada will offer their leadership in accordance with our shared and agreed upon statements of faith."

And the chairman of the church board where Vosper serves said the congregation’s belief statement contains “non-exclusive language [that] provides a church experience that draws participants across a wide spectrum of belief and unbelief."

Belief in God Optional for Clergy?

In other words, both the West Hill United Church of Canada’s lay leaders and the head of the denomination in which Vosper is licensed apparently give a wink-and-a-nod to the notion that the pastor of a Christian church is supposed to represent Christian belief. Permitting an avowed atheist to serve as the ordained pastor of a Christian congregation is, at the least, baffling and at most is utter hypocrisy.

As quoted in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is explicit in His understanding of what a Christian is supposed to uphold: Answering Peter’s question about the way to God, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ ”  (John 14:6).

There aren’t any loopholes, no excuses, and no free passes. The way to God the Father goes through Jesus—no ifs, ands, or buts. People can and do call this biased, or exclusionary, or unfair. But humans don’t set the terms; God does.

Vosper has given no indication that she will hold back on expressing her atheistic beliefs, and it appears that neither the local or the national leaders of her denomination will ask her to maintain a Christian standard. In this congregation, at least, it seems that just about anything goes.

Membership Decline

Empty church pewsIn 1964, the United Church of Canada’s membership was at its peak, some 1.1 million members in a country of 20 million people at the time. Today, in a Canada of nearly 40 million people, roughly 420,000 people are baptized members of the denomination. There could be any number of reasons why the membership has fallen by approximately two-thirds, but any observer would have to wonder whether a shift away from preaching a solid Christian message might have something to do with it.

After all, if the message you hear on Sunday morning—or on the biblical Sabbath day, for that matter—is no different from what the world tells you every other day of the week, why bother? If a church won’t tell you the Bible is true, that God intervenes not only in world affairs but also in the lives of individual believers, why get up early, dress sharply, and get to church on time? You might as well sleep in.

We Believe

Of course, Amazing Facts always tries to preach a full Christian message, found in what we believe is the Word of God, the Bible. We believe in God, in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to lead godly lives. We believe Jesus came to this planet, became the sacrifice for our sins, was resurrected and is in heaven right now. We believe Jesus is coming again, and soon, to take His children home.

We believe this not only because it’s true, but also because we’ve seen, in instance after instance, story after story, that God alone has the power to change the lives of those who seek Him. On our homepage and throughout this website, you can read and watch the testimonies of those who’ve been touched by God’s love, healed through His power, and saved by His grace.

Pastor Doug Batchelor shares his own testimony in answering one of the Most Important Questions, “Is There a God?” You’ll find it compelling, and it’s the heartfelt message of a Christian pastor who does believe in God! You can also enjoy this brief message regarding the proof for God by Joe Crews.

Proof of God

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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