Wednesday, April 12, 2017
In Search of the Historic Christian Church Modern Defection from Christian Truth is Nothing New
There is a real naivety that exists in modern American Christianity. This naivety even exists in modern Christian Americans. What is the difference between these two terms? Quite simply, by American Christian, I am denoting the outward, visible professors to the Christian faith. These are mostly false Christians, Christian in name only. On the other hand, when I say Christian American, I am signifying a true Christian who also happens to be an American. The naivety I am talking about concerns the defection from the faith by men like Hank Hanegraaff, or the rage that seems to be gaining steam regarding “The Benedict Option.” Now, if you don’t live in America or are not American, just replace American with whatever nationality belongs to you. Christianity is doomed, some are claiming. Christianity is declining, secularism is on the rise. What is the Church to do? How do we reach homosexuals, women, immigrants? What do we do about the racial tensions in society, abortion, gender dysphoria? What is the church to do?
First of all, if you have studied church history, then you know that none of this is new. The history of the visible Christian Church is littered with as much ugliness and contradictory behavior as one could possibly imagine. None of these modern phenomena should strike you as new or novel. What we “see” is mostly a community of unbelievers parading around as Jesus followers in word only. We have seen this throughout Christian history. It is not new. In fact, we see these pseudo-Christians in the Bible itself from the very beginning of the Christian faith. The original followers of Christ engaged in intense battles with these false converts. Paul, Peter, and John all three wrote about them. Jude in his tiny book wrote about them. James wrote about them. And as we pass into the early days of Christian history, we see Marcion, Valentinus, Arius, and Pelagius and many, many others attempting to corrupt and pervert the simple truths of the apostolic faith. In the history of Christianity, these things are not new. Let that fact sink in.
What is going on in our culture then? What is happening in American society? Why does it feel like there is a new battle taking place? There are a number of reasons it feels different. First, the battle was never not taking place. The problem is that Christian Americans were so far removed from the battle that they could barely, if at all, here the sounds of the bombs. We were comfortable. But we were comfortable to our own peril and embarrassment. We have been apathetic for the most part. We have expended very little energy becoming acquainted with the faith we claim is the genuine heartbeat of and purpose for our very existence. For years now we have entered the Church building on Sunday after Sunday after Sunday and sang with passion “I am desperate for you” all the while taking up our Bibles after the service and hardly lifting a finger to know anything about God’s revelation, the history of that revelation, the history of Christianity or Judaism, the creeds and confessions, nothing. We expend 10x more energy on fantasy football and golf than we do understanding our own religion. I am not talking about the false converts. I am talking about genuine Christians. I can talk about the most basic issues related to defending Christian belief or simple theological truths with men who have been in the way for over 20 years and they look at me like they haven’t a clue. Why is that?
Many Christians, including myself for most of my life, have bought into the false idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and was, for most of her history, a Christian nation. Remember when President Obama said that America is not a Christian nation? Remember the scandal that those words created among Christians, especially, evangelical Christians? Mr. Obama was right. The very idea of a Christian nation is unbiblical from the standpoint that it does not exist. The only Christian nation that exists is the one that exists in Christ. This is the one that is in covenant relationship with God. America has never been in Christ and has never been in covenant relationship with God. However, America was founded on Judeo Christian principles. For this reason, Christians confused those principles with true Christianity and even mixed their loyalty to God with their patriotic feelings toward their country. Loyalty to God meant loyalty to country. The two became one and the same. To speak against America as a nation was and still is in many places to speak against God. Hence, the confusion we see in the Church in America. It has been filled with false converts for a very long time now.
The first five-hundred years of Christianity
From its inception, Christianity has been attacked and contradicted. Why wouldn’t it be? It represents the single greatest threat to human autonomy than anything else in existence. Paul dealt with false teachings throughout his ministry. Hymanaeus and Alexander are just two among many who sought to pervert Christian doctrine. Or the apostle John, it was Diotrephes who refused to acknowledge the authority of the apostle whom Jesus loved. Later on, it was Ignatius standing against the heresy of Docetism. Then followed Justin Martyr, who in his Dialogue countered the Jew Trypho. Eventually he would be executed by Rome for being a Christian. Iranaeus battled Gnosticism. Then the Church had to confront Montanism. Marcion created his own Bible along with his own version of God, totally rejecting the OT. Valentinus invented his own method of hermeneutics by which he perverted the entire Christian worldview. Arius created a Jesus that was created. Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin and teaches salvation by good works. Add to these, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, and a host of other controversies and it is easy to see that the first five-hundred years of the church were littered with controversy, scandal, false doctrine, political corruption, and severe persecution from pagan governments.
The last five-hundred years of Christianity
The crack in the foundation of the Church of Rome began hundreds of miles away in England with a man whose name history rightfully honors to this day: John Wyclif. Wyclif was the spark that would ignite the small embers of a humble German Monk some one-hundred and thirty years or so later. This ember would grow into the nuclear explosion in Christianity we call the reformation. At the time of the reformation, the Church of Rome had come to embrace idolatry, a works-based salvation, a corrupt clergy that went all the way up to the pope, and she was committing fornication with every pagan government with which she had to deal. Since that time the controversies have not relented, not even a little. Many of the reformers were martyred for the sake of the gospel. Others imprisoned and unjustly punished, lives turned upside down by the Church and in the name of Christ. The reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg, on October 31st, 1517. Approximately three and half years later, at six o’clock in the early evening of April 18, 1521, the hour had arrived for Martin Luther. We all know the story. Luther stood firm upon the authority of Scripture and Protestantism was born. Since that time, over the last 500 years, the Church has seen one sect after another, one denomination after another until there are so many in the world today it is impossible using only natural means to determine what the Church actually is and what Christianity really believes. But we do not use natural means to determine truth. We call on the authority of a supernatural revelation of Scripture alone. More than anything else, it is the view of Scripture that helps us to filter out the noise of the perverse, the fake, and the counterfeit.
The warnings of Christ and His Apostles
In Matthew chapters 7 and 24, Jesus warned his disciples about false prophets and false teachers. Paul commanded the Corinthians not to let anyone deceive them! (1 Cor. 3:18) John wrote his epistle specifically about those who were trying to deceive the brethren. (1 John 2:26) Peter warned that there would be many false teachers who would enter the church. (2 Peter 2:1) Jude called the deceivers “ungodly persons” who seek to pervert the grace of God. (Jude 4) If you study the New Testament documents, you find that they are filled with warnings about immoral and false teaching. It seems as if the apostles were obsessed with pointing our false doctrine and ungodly behavior. Isn’t it strange that the modern church has pulled every lever and pushed every button it can in order to get away from calling out ungodly behavior and ungodly beliefs. The mantra has been that doctrine divides and the new command is thou shalt not judge! A lack of concern with doctrine and a lack of concern for godly living have led the church in modern times to this place. And this place is damned if ever there was one.
The Proper Attitude
So what is the proper attitude for the Christian? Should we do as the Benedict Rule or option suggests? Should we hide in fear of the culture? Should we continue with our apathy? Should we be more concerned with relationships than we are with godly living and right doctrine? Should we get more involved politically? What is the right attitude? Well, the right attitude begins with a right view of Scripture and a right relationship with Scripture. No longer can you afford to know more about golf, football, baseball, basketball, the republican or democratic platform than you do about Scripture and about the history of the Christian religion. Those days have to be behind you. Accept the fact that God speaks in his word. Seek to understand it, to live it, and to give it to others. Accept the fact that the culture and the visible church is filled with god-hating pagans. Learn to expect that there are all sorts of problems that come with men who have rejected God top to bottom. Accept the fact that there are no perfect churches. But also be realistic. Expect that there are people in your church that do not belong in your church. Get to know them. Let God use you to bring them to true repentance or to purge your church of their membership. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t get worked up into a frenzy or become depressed. This is God’s world operating within God’s plan. Embrace that for all its worth. Glorify God and enjoy him forever despite the things you hear, read, and see. Swing the sword one more time. And then swing it again.