Thursday, April 9, 2015
The Obstinacy of Christianity and the Pliant Apostate
Recently, I had an encounter with a man we shall continue to call “Ted.” If you look back at my last three or four blogs, in the comments you will find a lengthy exchange between “Ted” (he goes by a different name in the com box) and I, mostly on the subject of the nature of Scripture. Ted represents many modern western and especially American professors of Christ. These people have gathered into groups that have been springing up all around the Church for a variety of reasons. False versions of Christianity, competitors if you will, have presented themselves from the very beginning of the Church. Personally, I think one of the more common reasons for this modern phenomenon in evangelical churches is due to the complete lack of emphasis on what it means to be in communion with the Christ of Scripture and with His Church. Another reason is because what we have as “pastors” in most Churches in 2015 is simply indescribably appalling.
Long ago these men (pastors/leaders) abandoned the basics of Christian catechism and for decades now they have focused most of their time on building their little kingdoms. Program after program and curriculum after curriculum has focused, not on Biblical aptitude, godly living, and Christian service but rather on relationship building, social causes, self-esteem, marital bliss, parenting, positive thinking and a plethora of subjects that are simply a mirror of American culture. As a result, we stopped making converts and disciples and started enlisting club members with common interests. To be specific, we have filled our churches with unconverted, unregenerate, good moral people. And now, the chickens are coming home to roost in the likes of men like “Ted,” Rob Bell, the gay-Christian movement, an essentially Pelagian message they call the gospel, and many, many other heresies. The solution, albeit a painful one, is nevertheless, in my opinion, really quite simple. We must return to our true faith. We must once again get back to being a confessing community, affirming the truth of the gospel by way of stated creeds and confessions that embody the essence of what it means to say, “I am a Christian.” It goes without saying that such a confession and creed must reflect the highest views of Scripture, God, Christ, and must themselves reflect the hard work of exegesis so as to reflect the essential one and only faith handed down by Christ to us through apostolic tradition.
The Obstinate Nature of Christianity
Christianity is the movement established by Jesus Christ, the long-promised Jewish Messiah, redeemer and deliver of the entire world. Jesus Himself claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. (John. 14:6) That is a staggering claim. Of all the religious teachers in the world, Jesus Christ made the most incredible claims of any of them. Moreover, Jesus also claimed to be the only way to God. If a human being wants a relationship with the Father God of all that was, is, or will ever be he or she will have to go through Jesus Himself in order to experience it.
Jesus also claimed that unless we believe that He is the Son of God, God Himself, the Messiah promised from long ago, we would die in our sin. As God, Christ is also the infinite unchanging one. The writer to the Hebrews pronounced that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8) James tells us there is no variation or shifting shadow in God. (James 1:17) God does not change. God is not pliant. Christ is not pliant. Christianity is the entire submission of the human person to the Christ of Scriptures. This submission means a complete faith acceptance of His teachings and His ethic top to bottom, end to end, every jot and tittle. Because Christianity is the living out of Christ in the world by the individual and the community, Christianity is also fixed, inflexible, immoveable, and obstinate. The one and only faith handed down by the apostles of our matchless Savior is the basis for the existence of the Christian community. Hence, Christianity resists any and all efforts to change it, even slightly and for any reason. Christianity resides in the culture, in the world, but is cannot be absorbed into the culture so as to become a culturalized faith. Christianity is in the culture but not of the culture.
The Autonomy of Apostasy
I realize there are legitimate reasons for cutting fellowship with a professing community of Christians. Communities do themselves commit apostasy. But the apostate never has legitimate reasons for doing so. It is the apostate that changes or wishes to change the community itself. It is that one that we are typically concerned about. Christians are called to submission. First, we are called to submission to Christ. Second, we are called to submission to the Scriptures of the Christ. Third, we are called to submission to those faithful elders of Christ that are over us in the body. These elders are elders that are faithful to Christ as shepherds and as such are equally faithful to Scripture and faithful in their care of Christ’s sheep. Fourth, we are called to submission to the body, the local church in which we fellowship in Christ, our magnificent Savior.
Apostates are those who have spent some time in the body, but who, in God’s own time, eventually begin to develop ideas, beliefs, and practices that contradict the stated beliefs of the body. (I will deal with the basis of belief in the body in a later section.) A good example is the Christian view on the nature of Scripture. By the way, there is such a thing as a Christian view on the nature of Scripture. An apostate will begin to question even this very basic view, somewhat softly at first. This questioning will usually come in the guise of humility. Eventually, the apostate will challenge the long-standing view of Christian orthodoxy on the nature of Scripture and begin to challenge others and attempt to win supporter from the community for his view. If he is successful, the apostate and his friends may decide to go out and form a church of their own. John deals with such apostates in his first epistle. He says they went out from us because they were never really of us. So much for growing up Baptist or Presbyterian or whatever.
Now, the apostate, and the emergent apostate in particular, love to destroy the Christian tradition by supposedly calling its most basic tenets into question. My recent discussion with “Ted” is a perfect example of this tactic. They think, foolishly I might add, that all they have to do is question a teaching and that is enough. This is a reflection of their uncritical subscription to postmodern thought. “The Bible never says the Bible is the Word of God.” To the uncritical thinking, shallow, unconverted churchgoer this argument may seem profound. But to such a mind, Madonna and Justin Bieber songs probably seem profound too. But what has not been considered is that with every negative or skeptical claim, there must be a positive claim underneath it in order for the claim to pass logical muster. If I claim that the Bible is not the Word of God because it does not itself state that the Bible is the Word of God, then I have to defend my negative claim with a positive one. This argument, so popular among this crowd of apostates, rests upon the premise that the Bible must claim that the Bible is the Word of God in order for it to be the Word of God. But such a premise is entirely without logical defense. The standard itself is arbitrary to begin with. Second, it does not follow logically that a document has to contain specific words about its own self, that it is such a thing, for one to be justified in believing it to be that thing. The conclusion of the apostate argument is simply false and we can reject it prima facie.
It is illegitimate to call into question or oppose a long-standing practice without having some positive framework that casts suspicion on the practice or belief. Apostates must offer a positive case for their desertion rather than merely a negative one. You cannot logically challenge the authority of Scripture and the teachings of orthodoxy unless you can provide positive counter evidence for your action. What is the basis for calling the basic tenets of Christianity into question? Quite simply, it is a the uncritical acceptance of postmodern thought which has at its foundation the unbridled, and retrained autonomy of man.
The Unbreakable Truth
The Christian tradition is a tradition going back to the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus Christ came to show us the Father. Jesus has explained the Father to us. (John 1:18) He has revealed God to us in greater detail than any revelation given in the history of redemption. The revelation of Jesus Christ was not correcting previous revelation but was an expansion of what was already revealed. Jesus brought the Father into much greater focus than previous revelations. Think of the revelation of God in Christ as moving from 17th century bifocals to the top microscope used in the best scientific labs the world over. That is the revelation of God we have in the New Testament record of the life and teachings of Jesus the Messiah. And that is precisely what the New Testament writings are: all of them.
The Christian community has to purge itself of American postmodernism. I am not talking about the emergent Church, or those groups that have clearly apostatized from the faith by denying such basics like the divinity of Christ, the atoning work of Christ, the depravity of man, the holiness of God, the reliability, infallibility, and authority of Scripture and so forth. I am talking about genuine communities of faith that have been weak and far too influenced by American ideologies. Personally, I think that applies to almost all of us to one degree or another. What I am saying that the Church is in desperate need of a reformation that takes her back to the confessions of the unbreakable truth of Scripture. We cannot afford to invite apostate men and even unbelievers to join us in our conversation about sacred matters. The Church is a holy community called to a holy life. What place do men like Rob Bell, Matthew Vines, and others have in the congregation of the Lord?
Christian churches have to return to the confessions and creeds of the past. We must test those who wish to be members. Potential members must openly affirm the basic tenets of Christian dogma and adhere to the Christian ethic. When we fail to live up to the standards of Scripture, we hold each other accountable. We lovingly correct one another. We confront one another. We restore one another. Today, you may need rebuke but tomorrow it is my turn. We will each take our turn in the seat of needing correction and forgiveness. And our Lord is just the kind of God that lovingly forgives and restores. But we must also be ready to identify and dismiss or excommunicate if you prefer, those who refuse to confess the faith or to live up to its standards. There can be no middle ground. For far too long now, I fear this has been ignored by even the best of churches.
We need more shepherds that are going to take a stand and not be afraid to lose members. We need more shepherds that are not very interested in making people happy but extremely interested in making them holy. We need shepherds less concerned with an image, with a kingdom, with having just the right “kind” of people in their churches so that they can have just the right kind of music, and just the right kind of worship, and just the right kind of programs to inflate their already overblown ego. We need shepherds that care about truth and pour themselves into preaching and teaching and defending it. We need shepherds to connect Scripture with culture so that their congregation becomes better thinkers, better evangelists and apologists. We need shepherds to care enough about their members to return to the old days where they called them on the phone and even, wait for it, wait for it, made personal visits to their homes. It is not enough to pour yourself into the text. You must pour yourself into your people. Not only is this loving them, it puts you in a wonderful position to know where they are and what they need from their pastor. And finally, it puts you, Mr. shepherd, in a position to hear and know if your parishioner is being influenced in a poor direction. After all, Paul was intimately familiar with the goings-on in the churches. Do you think he obtained that information by having lunch once a year with the local elders, who in turn hardly ever had a meal with those under their care? Think about it.