Thursday, July 29, 2010
That great comic-strip philosopher, Pogo, said it best when he said "We've seen the enemy, and he is us." In the battle for the hearts and the minds of people, perhaps the most effective weapon of the enemies of the truth is the well-intentioned (sometimes) influence of some of those who claim to speak for the church. I'm speaking of the rise of liberalism in the church.
There have been differences of opinion in the church since the earliest days - read the letters to the Corinthians for example - but, almost without exception, there has been a common appeal to Scripture as the arbitrator of those disagreements. There are still differences between Christian denominations over baptism, the role of women, interpretation of prophecy, etc..., but the major tenets of Scripture have been accepted by all Christian groups who didn't want to find themselves on a list of cults.
Those beliefs have been summarized in different ways over the centuries, but the Apostolic Creed is certainly representative: "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen."
This creed, and other such confessions, could be agreed upon because there was first a fundamental commitment to the Bible as the inspired Word of God. These creedal statements are clear teachings which have been passed down from the teachings of Jesus and His disciples to the church and which are clearly evident in Scripture. There have been those within the church over the course of history who have challenged some of these teachings, particularly in the early days of the church, whose positions were clearly and soundly rebutted by the early church fathers. God has called the church to be the "pillar and ground of the truth," the place where God's truth is to be declared. Sadly, in many churches, liberalism and compromise have replaced the sound teaching of Scripture.
Modern liberalism has arisen partly as a response of some within the church to the pervasiveness of naturalism and the perceived need for the church to be more relevant to those raised in a scientific age. So, they've created a gospel with a small "g;" they've espoused a Jesus who was a good teacher, but performed no miracles, and who certainly wasn't virgin-born. Some have gone so far as to claim that Jesus was an amalgam of myths assembled from many different cultures and times that had little similarity to the Jesus of history.
Challenges like these are not new. What is new is that these challenges are coming from those who purport to be Christian ministers and who preach from Christian pulpits. Many within their own congregations sre shocked to find that their pastor doesn't believe in Easter; in fact denies the resurrection. People always have a right to their opinion, but how hypocritical is it to be receiving a salary from a Christian church while, at the same time, denying the fundamental beliefs upon which that church was established?
This, I believe, is a far greater threat than anything outside of the church, and this challenge should be met head on. We don't decide what Jesus said because a bunch of liberal scholars in "The Jesus Seminar" voted with colored beads; we have God's Word handed down to us from generation to generation. There are literally tens of thousands of manuscripts, of a better quality and quantity by far than for any other ancient manuscript. When you begin your deliberations believing that there's no such thing as miracles, you find what you're looking for. In fact, these remind me of those Paul warned of in 2 Timothy 3:5 - "having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people."
Thankfully, it seems that, by and large, their message is being rejected. Eileen Lindner reports in her Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches that: "the more liberal a church is the faster that denomination is declining." What concerns me is the confusion that is sown by those who don't take the time to look deeper and see that these arguments are not based on evidence but on presumption.
So, what is the answer? We need to know what we believe and why. I recommend courses like "The Truth Project" for every Christian. If that's too deep for you, start with "Alpha." If you're up for a challenge, read some of Ravi Zacharias' work. But apply yourself to know the truth. Be able to defend yourself. The truth matters.