Saturday, October 28, 2006

Statements of Faith Not Enough

It is getting commonplace for churches to hold to a seemingly air tight statement of faith, yet in practice deny the very things they profess to adhere to. This is increasing in frequency as more church leaders succumb to this postmodern age. In Phil Johnson’s post this past Monday, he refers to a man by the name of Joseph Parker, a notable popular preacher during Spurgeon's time. As Phil points out, Parker was considered by many as "more cutting-edge, more influential, and certainly more sophisticated than Spurgeon" and appealed to the younger generation. Though he was progressive, Parker appeared doctrinally orthodox and carefully avoided denying vital doctrine. He avoided doctrinal controversy, in a time period when the essentials of evangelical faith were under brutal attack. He took great pains to simply avoid discussing doctrine considered controversial or outdated for the times. Isn't it uncanny how this resembles the situation in evangelicalism today? One thing seems certain; the church doesn't learn very well from church history. In ignorance, it just repeats it.

Bob DeWaay had an article entitled "Redefining the Church", discussing this issue in the church today. I was alerted to this article some time ago from a comment left in response to one of my posts. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"Jesus told his apostles what was to be the message of the church: “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20a). He did not say, “teach them those parts of my message that they think are relevant to their felt needs”! In the Luke account of the Great Commission Jesus said this: “and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). A Biblically defined church preaches the gospel, including the need for repentance and proclaims the whole counsel of God as Paul did. Everything Jesus taught, including that which was written by His authoritative apostles in the New Testament, is to be taught. People who attend Biblically defined churches should soon become fully Biblically literate and able to defend the faith cogently. They should be so well trained in the truth of Scriptures that they have discernment (Hebrews 5:14).

In the new seeker paradigm churches the message is tailored to appeal to the largest possible audience. The goal is to build the visible church to be as large as it can get. Therefore, pastors lay aside those parts of the New Testament that are not deemed desirable or relevant by potential religious consumers. Evangelicals who adopt the Robert Schuler inspired version of creating a religious corporation do not deny any important doctrines. They just do not confess them publicly. They believe in a literal hell, they just do not preach it from the pulpit. They believe in the wrath of God against sin and the need for the blood atonement, but that is left out of the pulpit as well. Doctrine is privatized. It is relegated to a “statement of faith” on a website or made available elsewhere in case someone actually cares about such things.

In the new paradigm churches the orthodox “statement of faith” contains truths that the pastors do not care enough about to preach to their own congregations or to sinners. However, should someone in a discernment ministry challenge them about their teaching, they trot out their boiler plate orthodoxy to deflect criticism. What they fail to realize is that the many mainline protestant denominations that left orthodoxy during the modernist takeover of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries kept their orthodox statements of faith intact. They had no time for such foolish doctrines such as the virgin birth; but why needlessly start a fight by trying to change denominational confessions that were hundreds of years old? What is preached from the pulpit is a much better test of what is truly believed than a statement of faith."

What is disturbing is that if you are a member of a church like this and you wish to carry out biblical ministry, you are treated as an outcast. In fact, you may very well be pushed out of your church! In the very first part of DeWaay's article, he describes a situation where a friend of his had a ministry that was deemed as "not compatible" with the "purposes" of his church. Here is what he wrote:

"Several months ago a friend of mine, who puts on seminars, publicly pointed out the errors of several well known teachers who promote mystical practices. Shortly thereafter he invited me to attend a meeting with some leaders of his church to clarify his relationship with the church and determine whether his ministry was welcome there. This discussion made some important issues clear for me.

The leadership told him that his teaching did not comply with their practices. They do not practice correcting false teachers. In the course of the conversation, the leaders cited the basic mission of that church. It was a good mission and had to do with bringing people to Christ; but it did not include correcting error or false teachers. Thus my friend’s seminar is not compatible with their purposes.

As a result of the meeting I found myself pondering that situation in light of the many emails I have received from people around the country. These people often are unwelcome in churches in which they had been members for many years. What seems so strange is that the unwelcome members were not accused of sin or heresy; they were accused of not supporting the church’s mission or program. In some cases the mission and program had recently been changed and the long standing members had resisted the change. Ultimately most of these people left willingly, but with sadness of heart. Some who decided to stay and fight were eventually removed from fellowship.

What has happened that evangelical churches are willing to lose solid Christian members who have not fallen into sin or heresy? In this article I will propose that evangelical churches have changed the way they view themselves and their organizations; and that this change has lead to practices and emphases that build large visible churches, but neglect and abuse Christ’s “little flock” (Luke 12:32) -- the true body of Christ."

Notice how the church did not appear to deny the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. They had a great mission statement aimed at bringing people to Christ. But they seemed adamantly opposed to correcting false teachers. I wonder how these so-called leaders think that they can get around the commands in Scripture to "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 1:3), and to confront false teachers and as Paul put it in Titus 1:11, "silence" those who were teaching heresy. It is a divine command in Scripture to correct and rebuke false teaching. This is imperative for the spiritual safety of God's flock. Scripture was given for "teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness". (2 Timothy 3:16) Sadly, few churches want to engage in reproof (sharp reprimand) and correction. However, to avoid these actions is to walk in disobedience to the commands set forth in Scripture. It really floors me when leadership claims that they are "led of God" to do the things that they do. It floors me even more when they claim God is not leading them to rebuke false teachers. Oh really?! Since when does God lead one in a manner inconsistent with His Word?

What a sad state of affairs in the church today, when believers who desire to be faithful to Scripture are persecuted by their own church. As more churches drift away from adhering to Scriptural guidelines, it is getting more and more difficult to find a church that wants to remain faithful to biblical principles. Too many churches are avoiding confronting error altogether, much to their detriment. False teaching does not remain benign, but rather spreads like a vicious disease. Scripture teaches that a little leaven leavens the whole lump and spreads like gangrene destroying whatever it comes in contact with. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

I really do not believe that there is any church that has drifted from biblical truth that set out with intentions of doing so. It began through apathy, careless exegesis of Scripture and succumbing to the spirit of the times. The same drift is occurring today in many churches because of carelessness and the sloppy handling of Scripture and fascination with the fads of the moment, in a dire attempt to be "hip" with the culture. It always starts out innocently under the guise of reaching out to the culture.

Don't be fooled by churches that seem to profess adherence to a solid statement of faith. Rather, pay close attention to what is preached from the pulpit and taught in various Bible studies. Pay attention to the books and materials they utilize. Who are the authors of these materials and what do they believe? Ask yourself whether the leadership is willing to confront error and warn the flock of false teaching and dangerous trends prevalent in the church today. Do they avoid certain truth because it may offend some people? If so, they are headed down a very slippery path and will likely end up eventually compromising the very truths they professed to uphold.

1 comment:

Tim A. Blankenship said...

It is a detriment to the Church and to the society we live in when pastors and churches fail to stand on, and preach the very doctrines they profess to believe.
The teachings of the Bible, the words of Jesus, are necessary for the growth of the individual Christian, and the local congregation.
I enjoy your articles.