Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Christianity I Do Not Recognize

This commentary is not written in anger or in pride, and I share my observations with a profound sense of sadness and with a recognition of my own shortcomings which are many. I believe I have had a somewhat unique perspective in that I have friends from across the spectrum of doctrinal persuasions, at least from within the blog “chat room”. But it is apparent that the reflection, as well as the definition, of Christianity itself has changed and continues to change. Some contend this is good and healthy, but I must humbly disagree.

The post Pentecost church began as a small band of newly saved Jews who knew less doctrine than the average 12 year old Baptist Sunday School boy. They had no New Testament and the core of their faith was that Jesus was the Christ, their Savior. Many in those early days, including the Apostle Peter, did not even understand the universality of the gospel offer, having confined it to the Jewish people. As the decades passed the Holy Spirit continued to both reveal New Testament truth hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures as well as teaching through apostolic revelation. Somewhere around the fourth century A.D. the New Testament canon began to be crystallized and the church began in more depth to see new truth.

For centuries the gospel spread throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, but during that time the Roman Catholic Church was born and enveloped most of Christianity while changing the way of salvation and teaching that true salvation is through that church. Again centuries past and then God in His unfathomable wisdom chose a multi-flawed German monk by which to light reformation fires that would spread throughout Europe. Justification by faith was reborn and the church again began to grow. Centuries passed and most of the evangelical church shuffled off the remaining vestiges of Roman Catholic ceremonialism and God graciously sent preachers who scoured the earth with God’s redeeming gospel. Salvation was preached, sinners were saved, and even revivals were experienced.

Now centuries have passed again since those post Reformation days and for the most part the evangelical church has agreed upon the gospel and the ingredients of a true disciple. There were differences and legalistic streams that attempted to infiltrate the church, but generally the evangelical community agreed upon the basics. That is no longer true today. There are no longer minor differences of theology or even behavioral practice, there exists now great chasms of disagreement resulting from new ways of arriving at those views. And because these differences were arrived at because of new methods of Scriptural interpretation, these differences continue to widen and become more startling.

The changing eddies of Biblical thought and practice were at first confusing, then unsettling, and now have become the most dangerous attack on New Testament Christianity since the Roman Catholic Church swallowed the early evangelical world. And not only has the gospel and its atoning implications been modified, the lifestyle of a believer is now presented as congruent with the culture and comfortable with partaking of all the hedonistic trappings of that same culture. And this is not limited to the emergent church as such, these tendencies are taught and exhibited by the seeker crowd, the purpose driven crowd, the health and wealth crowd, and a large group of churches that do not align themselves with these specific groups but display the same practice and theology.

There is little if any teaching on sanctification as it applies to the element of separation, and the average evangelical would be ignorant of that term as it had been understood in previous generations. The number of professing believers that avoid alcohol, cursing, smoking, filthy movies, and other objectionable behavior is dwindling and in fact more and more pastors partake openly of these things and preach liberty to their listeners. No one can be saved or even more saved by avoiding these things, but the sanctification of a believer had always included his outward behavior and if indeed some things were not sin they were “weights” as Hebrews tells us.

I am not pronouncing a curse on anyone but I am sharing my distress in the light of church history, some of which I have observed within the 32 years of my personal journey. The Scriptures used to be interpreted literally and we understood that the common believer without original language credentials could still glean the simple and profound truths of the Word complemented by the teaching of an anointed preacher. Today some preachers expound the Scriptures in a way that seems to render all previous understandings as null and void and even inaccurate. I have listened to messages that I could not believe were supposed to be based upon the same Bible I preach from.

These are not minor issues of Christian conduct. Some would claim that no believer should enter a movie house which of course is behavior legalism, but that is not what appears to be happening here. The only discourse about personal separation from worldly things is usually in the context of dismantling the former teachings that dealt with such things. Of course there will always be some rules oriented, legalistic tendencies but now the door to liberty has been thrown wide open with no parameters, and the Scriptures that deal with these issues are redefined as petrified in the cultural context within the time they were written and therefore of little or no application in the modern world, and the etymological obstacle course complete with rabbinical and apostolic understandings remove any vestige of ecclesiastical and personal guidance and challenge for today.

Once you allow the Holy Spirit to remove any fleshly anger or pride, your heart gets heavy. And as unrecognizable as this new behavioral Christianity is, the theological teachings can be even worse. There are many streams of teachings that have left the stable including the nature of Scripture, the existence of hell, the substance of heaven, the eternal destination of followers of Mohammed, and many other disturbing departures of orthodox teachings. But I want to deal with one that targets the core of the gospel. There is now much teaching that includes atonement as an ingredient to a greater and overarching definition of salvation. This teaching uses a kingdom verbiage which includes feeding the poor, justice for all, spreading the wealth, and generally upgrading people’s earthly situation as the core of the gospel.

This is a major league departure from the faith once delivered to the saints that is exclusively spiritually redemptive through the forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It stems from a focus on the gospels at the expense of the epistles and especially the Pauline epistles. If the gospels were sufficient for the complete revelation of the essence of gospel truth, then why did the Savior choose the Apostle Paul to whom he made the mystery of the gospel known? Jesus Himself made it clear that He had many more things to say to the church but until the Holy Spirit came no one would understand them. Let us be clear, it was Jesus speaking through Paul and not Paul’s private thoughts. So without the defining relief of the epistles, the gospel narratives can be made to tell whatever doctrinal story you desire. It must be the revelation of the epistles that give doctrinal interpretation to any gospel narratives and not the reverse.

And so here is my point, we now have teachings that the message of salvation is part of a holistic plan to bring in the kingdom of God which transforms communities based upon the humanitarian works of the church and not the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, some say that these works are part of the gospel itself. So that view contradicts the message of justification of faith and obscures the clear “Go and preach” mandate to “Go and change” which is a kingdom view of the mission that Christ has given to us. It is well meaning and profoundly wrong.

Do not underestimate the implications of such a theology, and some now even downplay the atonement essence of the cross in favor of some triumph over evil view. And with that they say that our mission is to triumph over the evils of this present world, those being poverty, disease, injustice, racism, and all the other manifestations of our sinful world. However lofty these ambitions are, they not only are not the gospel but they subtly and not so subtly do damage to the gospel. That is correct, any teaching that blurs the line between faith and works is deadly and unbiblical at its core. Jesus almost exclusively spoke to Jews and challenged their nationalistic view of a “kingdom” and it is not rightly dividing the Word to generate some gospel kingdom teaching from the Lord’s words in those narratives.

The cult “The Way” takes Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler and teaches that in order to be saved you must sell everything. Without the teachings of Paul who can say they are wrong, after all, those words are in red. Many times Jesus was probing and poking and providing a transitional teaching that would remove the comfort of Jewish ethnicity, self righteousness, and nationalism which would later be unfolded in its spiritual entirety through the New Testament epistles, written to the church and for its doctrinal foundation. To build a doctrinal understanding of salvation and the gospel without the foundation of the Pauline epistles leads to serious misunderstandings even though the humanitarian works of compassion seem to authenticate what we believe Jesus would do.

The only window into what would Jesus do today must be found in the book of Acts. They went in the power of the Spirit and preached the gospel. You see, we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel and now we need the ornamentation of humanitarian works which are duplicated by the unregenerate world. Good works are important as a way of exhibiting God’s love, but they cannot ever take the place of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a subtle but colossal error.

And so we continue to see the shift gain momentum, and sometimes the ones who desire to speak some correction only complicate the situation through caustic and self righteous verbiage that mocks and scorns men personally, and the phenomenon of scornful humor has now taken hold within the warm fortress of the “I’m glad I’m not like other men” club. That is not only overtly prideful it is spiritual laziness and lacks the compassion that we should exhibit toward those who have been captured by these deceptions. If they are our brothers then we should correct them in love and humility, if they are not our brothers should we not point them to Christ with the same love and humility? Either way scorn, name calling, and a general distasteful ambiance that is sometimes most unreflective of Christ’s overall ministry is counter productive.

And we ourselves must never research the sins of others at the expense of reflecting on our own. I am personally repentant of my own powerlessness and the lack of compassionate love in my heart for some of my brothers. We must forge ahead with our own personal journey to allow the Spirit to guide us in our views, our approach to others, our prayer lives, our humility, and our devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. James says it is useless to say “be blessed” when our brother is in need and we have the capacity to help. In that same way, just verbally identifying the errors of others is equally as impotent, and if we refuse to pray for our own revival which will anoint us with His power and give us His strength to release the captives then we have become a harmless megaphone that soothes our conscience and allows us to “think more highly of ourselves” than we should.

Remember, although I do not recognize this type of Christianity, in the light of men like Brainard, Wesley, Edwards, Taylor, and others, I do not recognize their type of Christianity in myself. Let us pray, love, pray, remain humble, consume God’s Word, pray, witness, and always…pray.


Anonymous said...

Amen Rick. And now, aside from the 'emergents' and pdl'ers, we destroy the fellowship of Christian brothers who may be 'calvinists' or 'arminian's'(whichever camp is different than our own!). There is a real spiritual battle going on, one where men are literally changing the gospel(in the eyes of men) right before our very eyes. It makes my heart sick.

I believe that we are saved by grace alone THROUGH faith alone. I believe that everyone has the GIFT of faith (enough to go towards the light of Christ or away from Him). This makes salvation ALL of God, he provides the grace and the faith, we don't. Still we must accept or reject the grace, through faith. All men are responsible for their choice.

My point is, I don't believe that my works save me. That does NOT mean that sanctification is optional! We MUST be sanctified. We must have the kind of 'belief' that leads to obedience otherwise we have dead faith. Sanctification is a MUST. This sanctification comes from submitting TO the Holy Spirit. We do have the option to disobey, if we didn't, no one would sin after conversion!

Now if I say this in front of 'calvinist' BROTHERS, they will say I believe in salvation by works!,even though I have just stated that I am saved by grace alone, through faith alone! I am called a heretic. In reality, I think MANY 'calvinists' believe that sanctification is necessary. I hear them preach on it, post on it, etc. BUT because they are 'calvinist's' they do not see this as heretical. In reality, we both know we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus ALONE. We both know that this saving faith will and must lead to sanctification. We are brothers if we abide until death in Jesus. Why do we fight each other when the 'emergents' are re-writing the gospel???!!!!

Let us be like those early Christians you mention, just loving Jesus, knowing that He is our Savior and making Him our Lord. Let us preach Jesus and Him crucified. Let us just focus on Jesus and remain repentant. Let us grow in true love, the knowledge of Jesus. We have a MAJOR battle going on and we are wounding one another. Instead, let us love one another and love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strenght. Let us love our enemies that they may see Christ Jesus in us and come to the knowledge of the truth! Let us pray, pray, pray.

Thank you dear Rick. I love you in our Lord Jesus Christ.


Jonathan Frueh said...

What a can of worms you would open if you put this on CRN info. It is sad that many Christians aren't coherent to the fact that the true gospel of Jesus Christ has been severely compromised. They are not only incoherent, but they have allowed themselves to be led to the boat of compromise and falsehood. Prayer...what's that? I believe Christians are afraid to really pray and seek the face of God because they know what that will lead to....they will have to stop their building programs, gospel-less humanitarian efforts, chit chat conferences, money seminars, marriage seminars,pointless youth group meetings etc and repent!If we changed our ways as a whole then eternity might be focused on and not the worldly view of the here and now!It's almost over...the coming of the savior is at hand and the itching ears have made their requests!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and give a hearty AMEN!! when you say:
" I believe Christians are afraid to really pray and seek the face of God because they know what that will lead to....they will have to stop their building programs, gospel-less humanitarian efforts, chit chat conferences, money seminars, marriage seminars,pointless youth group meetings etc and repent!"

Yes, yes, yes!! We must seek the face of our Lord. We must seperate from meaningless talk and effort and devote ourselves to lasting efforts, that being the gospel(Jesus death, burial and resurrection according to the scriptures). We must love each other AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH, meaning to lay down our lives!

I'm so glad to hear from dear brothers who not only see what is going on with the church and that we are nearing the time of Jesus' return, but also LOVE one another. We cannot afford to be divided right now.

And you're right, this would probably open a can of worms at CRN. I love them very much, and their discernment meter is very good. I just wish they would put aside these differences. We all (Christians whether arminian or calvinist) know GOD IS SOVEREIGN. The difference is that arminians believe that God sovereignly allows free-will and calvinists believe God does not sovereignly allow free-will. YET.... we all (Christians) KNOW that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. We all know that we MUST be sanctified. While we are bickering and devoting entire blogs to this either/or calvinst/arminian argument, Satan is advancing with a NEW gospel!! Which isn't the gospel at all! It is a false gospel and it is spreading like a plague!!

Thanks for being out there Jonathan. I thank God for you.


Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Even though I disagree with Calvinism, it is the arrogance of some Calvinists that block fellowship. I have some good Calvinist friends who love Christ and never act superior in their theology. Those reflect the spirit of Christ!

Mike Ratliff said...

Well said Rick! None of us are any better than anyone else. We are all on our way to Hell without the grace of God. Thank you Lord Jesus for saving me! And I also do not recoginize the Christianity that is now "main-stream." We get angry and concerned and then react without first getting before the throne of grace for guidance and wisdom and discernment then wonder why we step off into a chasm of darkness when we try to fight the battle from a platform of pride. We must stop doing this and trust God to preserve His remanant. He knows those who are His and they must become the Spirit-filled beleivers who obey Him. The Gospel has not changed and that is what we must proclaim. We preach Righteousness to everyone and point them to the only way - Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

Anonymous said...

I have some really dear Christian friends that I am close with who are Calvinist. We fellowship together weekly and through the week. We grow in the knowledge of Jesus and have wonderful fellowship together. Our bond is in Jesus and His gospel. It is only the arrogance and pride of man that can interrupt fellowship with those who believe differently (not in the gospel but in regeneration timing etc.)

You said: "He knows those who are His and they must become the Spirit-filled beleivers who obey Him. The Gospel has not changed and that is what we must proclaim. We preach Righteousness to everyone and point them to the only way - Our Lord Jesus Christ."

And I say AMEN!


Dave said...

Rick, I really like your posts. They are so humble and loving. That was a very good article to challenge me to look at myself clearly.

Brent said...

If we really want unity in the faith, then both 'sides' need to put down the labels every time they write and blog or meet another Brother or Sister or write another 'church' name. We shouldn't go around and espouse only leads to division of two or unity of two against another. During the coming persecution, no one will discuss it.
1 Peter 4:1 (KJV)

"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;"

Proverbs 22:10 (KJV)

"Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease."