An Inevitable Divide
“And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” Matthew 24:10
My pastor has been preaching through the gospel of Matthew. We came to the church for the first time three years ago, after I stepped away from pastoral ministry, and at that time, he was in Matthew 6. I’ve delivered several of those messages myself, but I told Pastor John that he could have Matthew 24 all to himself, to come see me again when that chapter was finished–because it deals, of course, with end-times events (not my forte–assuming, that is, that I HAVE a forte). I must say that his treatment of the subject has been exceptional; he has come at it humbly, acknowledging our “through a glass darkly” stance, and the fact that some folks who love Jesus powerfully have different understandings of eschatology from ours.
At any rate, last week he got to the verse above, as he was recounting a number of things that Jesus said will take place prior to the “end”. There will be, to paraphrase Jesus, apostasy, betrayal, and hatred taking place among those who at one time or another, in some form or fashion, called themselves “Christians”. I would venture to suggest, in the point I make here, that there are many who still would use that title of themselves, but who have “fallen away” from the truth, and whose apostasy will amount to a betrayal of other believers, yea even “hatred”, at least after a fashion.
I am speaking of theological liberalism. It infests mainline denominations to a significant degree (disclaimer: not all people in mainline churches, by any means, are liberals; I have friends who are solidly evangelical and yet have made the determination to remain in mainline churches. God bless them; I couldn’t do it, but they don’t answer to me, but to God, and that’s all I have to say about thaaaa-aat.). As a consequence, we find some leaders in such mainline churches doing things like endorsing the governmental redefinition of marriage, fighting for “abortion rights”, etc. They call themselves “Christian”, but here’s the truth: their definition of the word and mine are not the same at all. From where I sit, these folks are guilty of a capitulation to the spirit of the age, a re-crafting of the message of the gospel such that there is a ready acceptance of the cultural norms that pervade society.
A couple or three disclaimers: one, I do not pretend to judge hearts, motives, or eternal souls; all of those things and more are up to God. Two, I do not claim that all who wear the name “evangelical” are bound for heaven. Three, I do not deny that, at least humanly speaking, there are some good things that are accomplished from time to time by theological liberals. I am encouraged by Jesus, not to be an ultimate judge, but to be a “fruit inspector”, and so with all of that said, the fruit that grows from the root of theological liberalism is rotten fruit. A denial of the cardinal truths of the Bible is not merely an intramural squabble between brothers; it is a betrayal of God. It begins, as Francis Schaeffer so cogently observed, with a denial of the inerrancy of the Bible. Now, critical as that is, it will not lead every person all the way to heterodoxy, but it will always plant the seeds of such, and denominational movement after denominational movement that has begun down that path–and not turned around, a la the Southern Baptist Convention–has ended in one degree or another of apostasy.
I was rather appalled, for instance, to see fellow evangelicals defending President-to-be Obama as a “Christian”. Again, I do not pretend to judge his soul, and further, this post isn’t about him (I only reference him to make a point). We were told that we had to accept him as a brother in Christ. Well.
The president had been a member for twenty years of a church that was among the most apostate of all mainline denominations, the United Church of Christ (and yes, I’m sure that somewhere, there’s a decent one or three; fine). Beyond this, the pastor of this church, Jeremiah Wright, loudly proclaimed a bastardized “theology” of “black liberation”. This man, in short, could not be a member of any church I’d pastor, were his theology to be known, because his theology is straight from the pit of hell; I say that without fear of contradiction. Given these things, while I can’t judge the president’s soul and concede to him the equal right to call himself “Christian” that I enjoy, I must say that by all appearances, his understanding of what it means to be a Christian is significantly at odds with mine. Charitably, I could be wrong and he could be right; conceivably, we could both be wrong. But what cannot be true is that the theologically liberal version of “Christianity” cannot ultimately be reconciled with conservative evangelical theology. We may share the name “Christian”, but it is hard to see how people who hold these theological stances, denying Biblical authority, the virgin birth, deity, sacrificial atonement, and bodily resurrection of Christ, can in any sense of the word be called “brother”.
Wrapping up, it seems to me that this current issue, “gay marriage”, may well hasten the cleavage between people who believe the Bible, and those who…well, don’t, or at least who adopt an approach to it that cannot be seen as orthodox. And thus the verse with which I began: we will increasingly see, I believe, a betrayal, even a hatred, growing between those who confess, and those who deny, the cardinal doctrines of Scripture.
I would disagree that the Supreme Court decision was about “gay marriage.” The Bible defines marriage and the Supreme Court of The United States of America does not have the jurisdiction to alter that. What the Supreme Court did was an attempt to legalize homosexual co-habitation.
Well, we’re certainly not disagreeing, as I see it, Dad. The Supreme Court does have the jurisdiction to recognize/legalize what it will, but nothing can ever change what real marriage really is.
While mainline churches have suffered sinking membership and worship attendance, both evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups have been growing.
The Stott / Lloyd-Jones debate is important for it highlights a real tension for evangelicals in mainline denominations. At what point should evangelicals simply pack up and leave the decaying husks of mainline churches that are declining all over the Western world? Complicating this even further is the fact that some Anglican evangelicals, like J.I. Packer and David Short, who at first argued for evangelicals to stay in mainline denominations, are now arguing for them to leave. Why? According to Packer and Short, the Anglican leadership have repudiated the gospel by their repudiation of biblical norms of sexuality. Simply put, they’re preaching a gospel without a need for repentance, which is no gospel at all.
Why are the defenders of the shrinking Protestant mainline churches so annoyed with this entire discussion — or assertions that they are increasingly irrelevant to anybody but themselves?
There were 13 Butler County churches that saw an increase in their congregations, but none was mainline Protestant, according to the ARA data.