Conversely, not a small number of pastors have adopted attitudes from the cultures in which they find themselves. Rather than producing churches that are opposing unbiblical and ungodly cultural views and practices, they are creating and incubating churches that are more the product of their culture than they are the product of biblical sanctification. This is most visible in those churches that have openly denied the authority of Scripture, and most veiled in those churches that mask themselves in solid creeds and confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, all the while denying the very confessions they profess to believe by engaging in or tolerating sinful practices and ungodly attitudes. For instance, many churches have adopted a pro-homosexual stance contrary to what Scripture teaches. They buy into the cultural philosophy that homosexuality is the product of God and therefore God accepts the lifestyle. If God accepts the lifestyle by continuing to give us people who make the homosexual choice, then so should the church. Some churches even accept abortion as a woman’s right. They accept the cultural views on the subject and integrate those views into the practices and polity of the local church. Now, many conservative folks reading this blog will shout a hardy “amen” to much of what I have said. However, you may want to hold your “amen” until the end. This is because your criticism is next. I have given up the notion of defending the church or the actions of people who claim to be legitimate members in the church. The issue is one of credibility. To be clear, I do not mean my own credibility. Rather, I mean the credibility of argumentation. I mean the credibility of the art and science of defending truth is lost when we hypocritically defend the indefensible. For example, when we defend the practice of unbiblical divorce or unforgiveness or hateful acts and attitudes in our own churches, we are defending a practice that cannot be legitimately defended without abandoning the truth of Christianity itself. Churches that have all but abandoned Church discipline have no credibility by which to defend the gospel. This is the price one pays when they decide to pick and choose which truths they will integrate and which truths they will conveniently lock away out of sight and out of mind. I cannot defend the behaviors that have become normative in the visible Christian community. I am not talking about the fact that we sinfully fail in our attempts to please Christ. I am not talking about legalism. I am talking about the manner in which the Christian community has dispensed with Biblical Authority. The local church has adopted Western politics and as a result of that decision, she rarely permits Scripture to preside over her affairs. This is unfortunate and regrettable, but not altogether unpredictable given our sinful proclivities. Humble and complete submission to God’s Word is a lifelong challenge for all of us. It is the most difficult thing any of us will ever do. If you do not understand this fact, then you do not understand biblical submission. The idea of completely submitting to God without qualification is not something our sin nature wants to do. Nevertheless, do it we must. We must die to self. We must mortify the deeds of the flesh. We must die daily. As John Owen said, either we are killing the flesh or the flesh is killing us. We are fine submitting to God with certain qualifications. I will submit to God as long as I am happy with my spouse. If not, then I will not submit. I will divorce her and move on. Pastors will submit to God until it means having a hypocritical group in the church leave because that group holds some key positions or has a little more influence than makes the pastor comfortable. I am sad to say that the flesh is killing many churches. The church has returned to a pre-reformation arrogance as she displaces Scripture, not so much with her own traditions, but with whatever cultural philosophies she fancies the most. The most damnable thing about this new condition of the church, especially the conservative church, is that she does so all the while professing to uphold the most conservative creeds and confessions. Western culture is a culture of lip service. We love the way we sound. Presidents have learned how to avoid answering the most direct questions about their conduct by playing with words. It is not surprising that so too have our pastors, elders, and members in the Christian community. Rather than seek to simply bind ourselves to the Word and humbly do as God has called, we engage in all sorts of strategies to reach our ultimate objective. We even convince ourselves we are doing the work of the kingdom in many instances by engaging in “wise” behavior. Sin can be extraordinarily deluding.
The Practice of Church Discipline
One way you can tell if your church still recognizes biblical authority is church discipline. There are enough unregenerate people in the churches today that the process of church discipline should not be unfamiliar to the congregation. This practice should be taught in the new members class, it should be part of the church covenant, and it should be taught and preached as a matter of routine. I find it outrageous that one could be attending a church for five years and never witness the public excommunication of someone from its role. That is a serious red flag. At a minimum, it merits self-reflection and examination. Jay Adams writes, “But even though discipline is difficult and runs many risks, churches dare not run the greater risk of withholding a privilege and blessing provided by Christ, thus depriving sinning members of all the help He has provided for them. Nor dare they disobey Him in refusing to follow his program for church discipline lest, in the end, they find themselves disciplined by Him (cf. I Cor. 11:31-33).” [Adams, Jay, Handbook of Church Discipline. 75]
A Plurality of Elders