Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Indicators of a Counterfeit Church
The premises for this post are twofold: first, that there is such a thing as a false or counterfeit Church and second, that the counterfeit Church emanates particular indicators that help us distinguish it from the authentic Church. I realize that some will dispute my first premise but that this will reflect only a small number of people holding to radical version Christian universalism. On the other hand, I also realize that a much larger number will call into question the criteria I use to help the reader think about what indicators constitute a counterfeit Church. Even though I intend to cover a number of basic indicators, I think it is important to recognize that these indicators are really symptoms of one final characteristic of a counterfeit church: autonomy.
The Lordship of Christ
The very first indication that a church is in fact a counterfeit church is its failure to acknowledge and submit to Christ as Lord. There are a number of ways that this position within a church may come to expression among the members and before the public. What I will attempt to do is show how a church can show that it actually rejects the Lordship of Christ. I will begin with the more obvious and move to the most subtle.
The most obvious indicator that a church rejects the Lordship of Christ is it’s denial of the divinity of Christ. While it has become somewhat fashionable and supposedly more intellectually honest to call into question or even deny the deity of Christ in some circles, even professing evangelical circles, such a move surely places the individual and the church engaging in such behavior within the category of counterfeit. In fact, the situation is so pathetic that many will take extreme offense to the fact that I would even make such a suggestion. However, unless the Church starts calling damnable doctrines damnable doctrines again, I fear that the only damnable doctrine that will survive is the doctrine that there can be no such thing as damnable doctrine.
First, I contend that the phenomena of Jesus-devotion reflected in Paul’s letters are to be addressed collectively, and amount to a constellation of pattern of devotional practice, a programmatic treatment of Jesus as recipient of cultic devotion. [Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 137] The issue from the beginning was not the fact of Jesus’ divinity as much as it was the problem with understanding how such a person as Jesus could have possibly been human. “The problematic issue, in fact was whether a genuinely human Jesus could be accommodated.” [Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 650] A Christian that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ denies their claim to be Christian, and proves to others that they are in fact a counterfeit. As Cornelius Van Til put it, “apostate religion lives antithetically to and in suppression of God’s truth.” [Van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, 116] The Christian Church did not merely confess that Jesus was Lord over Caesar but that He was Lord of all that ever was, all that is, and all that ever will be!
Another indicator that a church is counterfeit is its refusal to entirely surrender to Christ as Lord in all walks of life. A false dichotomy exists between Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord. What I mean specifically is that this false teaching is carried out in how one lives their life. This is the person that has been baptized, that has joined the church, and is in fact an active participant in the church. But when it comes time for godly, holy, sanctified living, they give it a wink and a nod. These churches can be identifies by their worldliness. They have little regard for following their confession with a godly lifestyle. In short, these churches and individuals have no regard for the commandments of God. There is no fear of God before their eyes. The works of the flesh mentioned in Gal. 5 are the predominant theme in their lives. And they constantly justify their own sin by pointing to God’s love and grace and viewing sin as a mistake or mere imperfection.
A counterfeit church is a church that refuses the Lordship of Christ in doctrine and in praxis. They deny the deity of Jesus Christ on the one hand and live as if Christianity makes absolutely no difference in ones values on the other. Indeed, there are thousands of counterfeit churches and Christians in our culture.
The Nature of God
Another indicator of a counterfeit church is how it defines God. A counterfeit church pretends to accept, love, and proclaim the God of Scripture when, in reality, it repudiates that God as a monster. For example, a counterfeit church rejects God’s justice by denying that God would ever condemn anyone to eternal damnation. In addition, a counterfeit church denies the absolute sovereignty of God. From this we see the counterfeit church claiming that God changes with the circumstances, that He does not know the future perfectly, and that God is predominantly pure love as they define love of course. A counterfeit church finds the concept of God’s wrath repugnant. One church removed “wretch” from the song Amazing Grace. Another denomination rejected the wonderful hymn, “In Christ Alone,” because it talks about the wrath of God. A counterfeit church feels quite at ease with redefining God as a loving, cheerful, easy-going daddy of sorts that could never direct boiling wrath at any one. Hence, a counterfeit church rejects the God who is holy, just, righteous, judge, wrathful, and one that is sovereign over all creation in preference for a god that is congruent with the hedonistic self-interest of godless men and women who are nothing more than deistic moralists claiming to be Christian. They are one more example of a fraudulent Christianity parading itself as the genuine church in contemporary times.
A Low View of Scripture
Another indicator of a counterfeit church is a low view of Scripture. Such a church denies that Scripture is fully inspired by God and/or that it is inerrant. I realize that this subject is likely to raise a lot of eyebrows, but once again, it seems only right to point out that things that make for a counterfeit church. The Scriptures themselves provide no allowance such low opinions of God’s word. Paul told Timothy, In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following (1 Tim. 4:6) Jesus said of the OT Scripture, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:18).” My point here is not to argue for inspiration or inerrancy, but to state frankly what are the indicators of a counterfeit church.
Every church that has every lost its power did not by first loosening its grip on the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. Without an authoritative revelation from God that was reliable, trustworthy, it was inevitable that the opinions of man would take its place.
“It is the understanding that whatever is given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whatever constitutes Holy Writ, is binding and authoritative. As such, it is the touchstone by which we measure ourselves and test every claim. It is the guide by which we learn to live before God in a way that is pleasing to him. Scripture alone is our authority.” [Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant, 226] Without an authoritative revelation that is reliable, we are left to our own devices. We have no way to knowing what information in Scripture about God is true and what is the product of ancient cultural projections. A radical subjectivism paves the way for agnosticism and skepticism. We simply cannot know anything with any degree of confidence. It is all or nothing; take it or leave it.
A High View of Man
In 1983 James Hunter discovered that of evangelical books published in that year, almost nine out of ten dealt with matters of the self. [Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant, 136] I think about the country song, “I want to talk about ME,” as I write. We live in a highly hedonistic culture. Everything revolves around the individual and that individual’s desires, urges, wants, and demands. The happiness of the individual has become a birthright. What is worse is what it takes to make us happy.
A counterfeit church revolves around the individual, not around God, Christ, or His word. The entire mission of the church is geared to pleasing and entertaining the individual. The music must be entertaining and appealing. The youth program must be hip, cool, and exciting. There must be lots and lots of programs for husbands, wives, couples, singles, young, old, men, women, etc. Sermons must be culturally relevant, speaking to felt needs, self-help psychologically driven pep talks designed to get me going for the upcoming week.
A counterfeit church deplores the doctrine of original sin. Men are not totally depraved, enemies of God by nature. Men are born naturally good and quite capable of understanding reality apart from God. Men learn bad habits along the way and when things get bad enough, well, there is always God, right there to help us out of any jam we mistakenly (not sinfully) get ourselves into. Men are not dead in their trespasses and sins. They are simply uninformed. What they need is better or more information about how to go about fixing themselves.
A counterfeit church holds that doctrine of libertarian freedom out to be one of the most sacred of all Christian doctrines. Man is indeed free to do as he pleases. Christian conversion is nothing more than an act of man’s free will. Man examines the Christian claims, weighs them by his use of autonomous reason, and makes his final decision.
A counterfeit church rejects the absolute Lordship of Christ, preferring to walk in their own wisdom, only submitting to those teachings they deem reasonable. A counterfeit church serves a god of their own construction. He must be loving, non-judgmental, and accepting of everyone they think he should accept. A counterfeit church does as it pleases with Scripture. The Bible is full of errors, contradictions, myths, and outrageous superstitions. The church must identify those elements and teach its community and the public accordingly. And finally, a counterfeit church has very high view of man. Man is autonomous, free, and capable of rationally choosing those components of the Christian message that are worthy to be believed and those aspects that should be dismissed. A counterfeit church either rejects Jesus as divine, calls His divinity into question, and/or pays only lip service to His sacred teachings. They can be seen endorsing sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion on demand, denying the exclusive claims of Christianity, mocking an eternal hell, embracing evolutionary theory, elevating science, and reason over Scripture, and worshipping the idol of the self.
Sadly, most of American culture has only ever witnessed counterfeit Christians, from counterfeit churches, preaching a counterfeit gospel. The mission field on American soil is indeed very rich. We need genuine Christians, from the genuine Church, preaching the genuine gospel and living genuine Christian values, shining the genuine light of the gospel into a very dark and insidious culture steeped in hedonism and idolatry.
A counterfeit church is a most unloving church. She rejects Christ’s commands and therefore cannot love Christ. She repudiates God’s justice and in so doing she lies to condemned men, convincing them they are quite alright when the flames of hell are cast about them. She convinces the homosexual and the fornicator that God approves of their lifestyle, and would never cast them away when the truth is they stand as enemies of a God who is ready to yank them into the depths of hell at any moment. Essentially, the counterfeit truth is devoid of love because she is devoid of truth. Where love is present, God’s truth flourishes. Hence, where God’s truth is suppressed, where it is not, love is a little more than a fleeting construct.