Posts Tagged ‘Apostasy

22
Nov
11

the church and fellowship after the apostolic age (2) the apostasy of the church from grace

My contention is that the apostasy of the Christian Church, already underway before the demise of the apostles, led to the Judaizing of the church – a tendency already present during the lives of the apostles.  The NT church was plagued by both Jewish (Judaistic) and gentile (Greco-Roman) notions from early days.  Many of the NT letters are attacks these very diseases.   In fact, Judaism and Greco-Roman faiths had some principles in common which is why Paul was able to say to gentile believers ready to adopt Judaistic practices that this was simply a return to the ‘weak and beggarly elements’ of religious bondage and death they had left behind.

Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you [gentiles without the covenants of promise] did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more [the OT Mosaic Law, Judaism, they were being encouraged to embrace]? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

What then are the ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world‘ that the church were tempted to adopt, and in time did, in abundance?

I want to sketch over a few posts three areas of Judaistic recidivism now institutionalised in the professing church.

a)    a Judaistic soteriology

b)    a Judaistic ecclesiology

c)    a Judaistic eschatology

Let me say, these posts will but scrape the surface.  You will need to read and reflect much further to grasp the extent to which the Church has capitulated to a Judaizing apostasy.  It is a journey of discovery that is unpalatable for it shakes our complacency. Often, when the choice is between living in our comfortable and cosy theological world and the messy world of hard truth we choose the former.   We don’t like to think just how far removed our church experience is from NT Christianity for it requires adjustment and that is often painful.  So before reading on I would say to you as Morpheus says to Nero in the film ‘The Matrix’ :

‘This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.’

To read on is at least to flirt with the red pill.

But first…

the gospel of the grace of god

Christianity is a wonderful story.  It is the story of grace.  It is the story of the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the whole biblical story anticipates this grace (1 Pet 1:10).  Yahweh (the Lord) who reveals himself to Israel in the OT is merciful and gracious.

Exod 34:6-7 (ESV)
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

His grace is evident among his people throughout the OT.  However, in the arrival of Jesus and the Kingdom, God’s  grace flows as never before.   John tells us ‘the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ – an implied contrast surely cannot be avoided.

In the Law, the glory of God was hidden behind a curtain in the Holy of Holies.  No ordinary Israelite could look on this glory and live.  Thus Moses hid his face (which shone with this glory) when he came down from the mountain.  Only the High Priest could enter into God’s Holy presence and see his glory and he could only do so once a year (and only with blood) and even then the Holiest was thick with the smoke of incense and his vision was faint.   God was among his people but essentially hidden from them.  One reason for this was that God’s glory under Law was essentially the glory of his holiness and grace was not to the fore.  Thus Sinai, which lays the basic character of the Law relationship, was a place of thick darkness, thundering, lightning, and terror – the people were afraid to draw near and forbidden to draw near (Ex 19; 20:18; 34:30; Hebs 12:18-21).

It is in Christ that God is revealed in the brilliance of grace and truth.  The Word became flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us.  We beheld his glory, says John, the glory of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).  The hidden God is now revealed.  And of his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1:15).  The heart of God that moves out in love, compassion and salvation to sinners is seen in all its glory in Jesus Christ.  The gracious God – the God who is Father – is revealed in him.  We know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich he became poor that we through his poverty may be made rich (2 Cor 8:9).

In his flesh, he revealed the glory of God but, ironically, if there was any veil to this glory, it was this flesh.  While he lived in this life on earth the way into the ‘holiest’ (the immediate presence of God) was not open to us.  But through his death all this change.  We now have access into the immediate and majestically holy presence of God.  We enter with confidence, anywhere and at any time, the Throne Room of God.  We stand as creatures before his aw(e)ful purity and, beyond all belief, we do so without fear of expulsion, without fear of death, without fear of condemnation or accusation; we are holy and without blame before him in love (Eph 1:3).

Facing God in the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, the way of  Judaism and human religion (though Judaism did acknowledge sacrifice and grace albeit as an adjunct to a relationship of works) is an impossible thing,  fearful and futile.  We are crushed and condemned if we seek to face him this way.  Our conscience immediately accuses us and we ‘tremble to die’.   If heaven and earth flee and there is found no place for them before the holiness of God on his throne what hope has a wretched sinner?  I cannot stand before God on the ground of responsibility – if I do, I am lost.  ‘I’ is a weak link that will collapse before intractable righteousness and all-seeing eyes.  No, if I am to be in God’s presence I must be there on another ground altogether.   I need the righteousness of grace (Roms 3:24), the righteousness of God that comes through  the infinite worth of the atoning life-blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ God’s Son which cleanses me from all sin.  I need to be there knowing that God is for me, and if God is for me who can be against me.  It is God who justifies (not, who judges, but who justifies) who then can condemn (Roms 8)?

In God’s presence the only righteousness that is acceptable is his own.  And so Christ was made sin for us, he who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21).  We stand as those whose sin no longer exists – without conscience of sins (Hebs 10:2).  We are without stain, a new creation.  We stand pure, justified, forgiven by virtue of his blood… justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Roms 3:24) and it is by faith that it may rest on grace (Roms 4:16).  Blood that gives more than a merely superficial, ceremonial, temporary cleansing but cleanses the conscience forever and brings us faultless into the presence of God.

Heb 9:11-26 ;10:19 (ESV)
But when Christ appeared… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God… For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf… he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself… Therefore, brothers we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…’

All rests on grace.  And if it is grace it is no longer by works or grace would not be grace (Roms 11:6).  Being justified by faith we have peace with God and stand in grace (Roms 5:2).  We need no  further redemption, justification, sacrifice, or reconciliation before God.   All has been accomplished, once for all, by Christ’s death, a death that by the grace of God he experienced for every man (Hebs 2:9).  Our sins and iniquities God will remember no more forever.  We have been enriched in him with every salvation blessing out of the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:7) – the God, who is the God of all grace (1 Pet 5:10) .  By grace we have been saved, and that not of ourselves, not of works [of Law] lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8,9).  God’s throne has become for us a throne of grace where we find grace (Hebs 4:16).  Indeed, we have, by immeasurable grace, been raised with Christ and find ourselves not merely standing in God’s presence, but seated there; seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 1).  We have been chosen by grace  (Roms 11:6) not merely to be forgiven sinners but to become family members, sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (Roms 8).  And all is of grace.  Our security and salvation rests on the reliability of grace for we are not ‘under law’ but ‘under grace’ (Roms 6:10).  We live in ‘the reign of grace’ (Roms 5:21).  Through the one man, Christ Jesus, ‘we receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness’ and ‘reign in life’ (Roms 5:17).  The invincible and inexhaustible grace of God in Christ is the source and guarantee of everything.

We can be sure, if all rests on grace, not only of forgiveness and filial relationship but also of freedom.  Freedom from all that destroys and enslaves.  We are no longer in bondage to sin because we are no longer under law but under the rule of grace (Roms 6:10; Cf Gals 5:1).   The Law of Moses could not bring this freedom.  In fact it only accentuated our slavery to sin and death (Acts 13:39; Roms 7).  It made demands that none could keep and that fallen human nature rebelled against.  Indeed to be ‘under grace’ is to be ‘free from law’, the only way to produce fruit for God (Roms 7:1-6).  It is God’s all-powerful all-enabling grace (not law) that has appeared in Christ to all men that is ‘ training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in m the present age waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Tit 2:11,12).

All we are and ever will be rests solely on the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10).  His providing grace is sufficient, indeed more than sufficient, for our every requirement (2 Cor 9:8,14, 12:9; Jas 4:6).   If God did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all will he not along with him graciously give us all things (Roms 8:32).  Every skill and calling we have is a gift of grace (1 Cor 3:10; Eph 4:7; Roms 12:6).  Our salvation is to the praise of God’s grace, and to that grace alone (Eph 1:6).  The gospel is grace from first to last.  All is from God.

And there are immeasurable depths to the riches of this grace that only eternity will reveal (Eph 2:7).  Thus we live, growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Pet 3:18) having our hearts strengthened presently by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1: Hebs 13:9) and our hope set fully on the grace that is to be ours at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:13). The gospel, in entirety, is the good news of the triumph of grace.  It is intoxicating, glorious, heady, liberating wine for the soul.

As usual classic hymns capture the heart of the apostolic gospel so well.  John Newton exults in the triumph of grace when he writes

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

And so too does Philip Doddridge in his eulogy of grace

Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to mine ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that grace display
Which drew the wondrous plan.

Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
’Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.

Grace taught my soul to pray
And made mine eyes o’erflow;
’Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.

O let Thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine
My all my powers to Thee aspire,
And all my days be Thine.

Such is the gospel of the grace of God, the word and grace of God in truth (Col 1:6) by which the Church of God has been called (Gals 1:6), made a partaker (Phil 1:7), and with which it is entrusted as with a precious deposit (Acts 20:24; 1 Cor 9:17; Eph 3:2; 1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 1:8-14).  The gospel to which Peter referred when he wrote his first letter and urged:

1 Pet 5:12 (ESV)
I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.

When we begin to grasp the dimensions of grace in the gospel we understand the dismay, grief and anger of Paul when this gospel began to be subverted by Judaizing teachers and the faith of God’s people established in grace was being shaken, defected and potentially lost.  Listen to his words to the Galatian believers

Gal 1:6-9 (ESV)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Elsewhere he will say of those Judaizers that they are ‘dogs’ (an abuse rich in ironic intent for it was usually reserved by Jews for gentiles Phil 3:2 Cf. Mk 7:27) and wishes that they would ‘emasculate themselves’ (Gals 5:12).  He hates what they teach for it ‘severs’ from Christ those who believe it (Gals 5:4).

What did the Judaizers (often called, the circumcision) teach?  Simply put, yet truly, they taught that the grace of God in Christ was not enough added to it must be the Law of Moses.  They taught salvation in Christ plus Moses or salvation by grace plus works.    The very covenant of death that Christ had come in grace to deliver from and render obselete they wanted to reinstate, to rehabilitate.  Their teaching is a lethal virus that has invaded the church ever since in one form or another.  Tragically, the story of the professing church is all too often one of Christ plus Law for the flesh (self) cannot endure grace.  Grace exalts man, even to divine glory and divine excellency, but it sets aside self wholly.  Thus flesh neither trusts grace nor tolerates it.  Flesh always wants to glory in flesh and cannot bear exclusion.   Flesh demands that something in my salvation must be my accomplishment – the predicate of all human religion.    And, all too often it is the flesh and not the Spirit that has been heeded in the institutional church resulting inevitably in an apostate church – a church that is fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).

We shall explore this in the next post in this series: a Judaistic soteriology.

In the meantime…

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with your spirit (Roms 16:20; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Gals 6:18… the benediction at the end of most Pauline letters).

04
Nov
11

the church and fellowship after the apostolic age (1)

In the comments section of the previous post the question of how we identify an authentic Christian church was raised.  It’s an important question.   I don’t intend to try to answer it.  However, what I would like to do is try to shape the context in which any final definition can be made.

the church today is not as it was in the C1

Hopefully this is self-evident.  The churches of the NT, composed of professing Christians, were founded by the apostles and, while autonomous, were in full unity with each other.   There are no such apostolic churches today.  No church can claim apostolic succession or a mandate for such.  No church is in any strict sense a NT church.  The church as it was in its infancy does not exist today.  This is a simple fact that any who have the slightest sense of historical perspective will acknowledge.  Realising this means that no church will claim exclusive rights for itself.  Claiming of exclusive rights to being a proper church, by the way, is not simply the error of Roman Catholicism, other groups make similar absurd claims.  I should know.  I once belonged to one.

we can never recover nt church conditions

My point here is simply that attempts to bring about structural unity with all professing Christians  is wasted energy.  The kind of church unity that existed in the NT is no longer possible.   All NT churches began as churches of true believers.   They were churches of those who believed the gospel, and for many years, although false teaching arose in various forms, this was held at bay and combatted by apostles and trusted apostolic delegates.   In the early churches, truth triumphed and error was contained and excommunicated.  As the C1 progressed, however, the tables began to turn.  Before even the end of the C1 many churches were turning away from the gospel and apostasizing.  False teaching was not simply in the church, it was gaining ascendency, even dominance.  True belief was becoming a minority position.

an apostate church

In every epoch of God’s dealings with humanity, whatever God in grace introduces, man corrupts and destroys.  Apostasy, defection from what God begins, is the story of humanity in every situation he has found himself tested.  Adam is created and placed in the garden and rebels.  Noah comes out of the ark and gets drunk.  Even as Moses is on the mountain receiving the words of the covenant the people are breaking it below building an idolatrous golden calf.  The same pattern can be seen in the institutions of the priesthood and the monarchy in Israel.   The corruption is usually obvious from very early on in the administration and then spreads and takes over leaving only a remnant.   The church, viewed as an administration, a visible community responsible to God (God’s household), has been no different.  It too has been corrupted and spoiled.  Pentecost and the birth of the new covenant people of God was a glorious realisation of the Spirit.  Acts tells us:

Acts 2:41-47 (ESV)
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

The following few chapters describe more of the same.  We have accounts in Paul of gentile churches being formed and the presence and power of the Spirit among them as they ‘turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God and wait for his son from heaven’.  But such halcyon days did not last.  Believers did not guard their hearts and in time Paul is writing:

Phil 2:21 (ESV

… all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Where the hearts of God’s people are so compromised, heresy and defection from truth flourish.  It is while men slept that the enemy sowed tares.  And so it was in the early church.  False teaching began to proliferate.  As I say, in the early days this was contained and judged, but where hearts care more for their own interests than those of Christ the false will make inevitable inroads.  Thus, before Paul leaves Ephesus for Rome he warns the Ephesian elders:

Acts 20:28-31 (ESV)
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

Paul’s prediction was confirmed.  By the time he is writing his last letter (2 Timothy) Paul is reporting that ‘all Asia has forsaken him‘ (2 Tim 1:15).  Now, he does not simply mean they have taken cold feet because of his imprisonment and were avoiding him.  He means they are turning away from his authority, from the gospel he preached.  Asia, is Asia Minor, modern Turkey.  Paul is including churches like Ephesus and Colossae and the churches in Revelation 2-3 in this departure.    So while this defection does not include every believer (as 1:16 shows), it does signal a serious defection from the apostolic gospel in many key churches.  The letter clearly indicates that Timothy, if he is to be true to Paul and the gospel, will have his back against the wall, not simply from the world outside, but from the professing church itself.  The ‘mystery of lawlessness’ was at work.  The church was apostasizing.

Paul. although grieved by this defection, is not surprised.  Defection from the faith was  expected.  He makes this clear in 2 Tim 3.

2Tim 3:1-5 (ESV)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Now, a casual reader might assume this is a description of the world at large for this description parallels Paul’s description of a world rejecting God in Romans 1 (Roms 1:18-32).  However, Paul is not describing the world, but the professing church.  Notice those described have ‘the appearance of godliness, but deny its power‘; these people claim to be Christians.  The appalling truth is that such is the scale of defection from the gospel by the professing church predicted for the gospel age (the last days)  that the professing church becomes indistinguishable from the dissolute world.  A mere glance at the professing church in our world today confirms the truth of this prediction.

Again, Paul warns Timothy:

2Tim 4:3-4 (ESV)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

It would not only be the world who would believe a lie, but the professing church.  And Paul’s theology of apostasy was not created on the hoof to account for the situation at the time he wrote.  He had already warned of this apostasy in his first letter to Timothy.

1Tim 4:1-3 (ESV)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

Nor was this expected apostasy a fevered figment of a pessimistic imagination that one might find in an imprisoned man perhaps not seeing clearly.  The other apostles spoke of it too.  Peter in his 2 letter parallels the experience of OT Israel and the NT church when he warns:

2Pet 2:1-3 (ESV)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 

John too writes,

1John 2:18-22 (ESV)
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour… Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

Notice, it is not the evil in the world but the apostasy of the church that John sees as a signal of the ‘last hour’.  Antichrist will come but the spirit of antichrist is already working… lawlessness is already at work in the professing church and will be until Christ returns.

2Thess 2:1-12 (ESV)
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out-of-the-way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 

Falling away or rebellion (apostasy) from what?  From the gospel.  The ‘man of lawlessness’ will sit in the Temple of God and proclaiming himself to be God.  What would the early church understand to be the temple of God?  Why, the church of course!  It was God’s Temple.  Whatever the details may be, here is a defection from God that corrupts the whole world and it is sourced in the church itself.  The corruption of the most holy is the very worst kind of corruption and the greatest rebellion and affront to God.

Of course, as the apostles throughout these texts cited regularly affirm, their predictions are really only an echo of what the Spirit of God had already revealed.  Both Christ and the OT had made the same point about the last days.  Jesus said,

Matt 24:11-13 (ESV)
And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many [that is, many believers] will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Many other Scriptures could be cited but I hope enough have been mentioned to establish the point that even before the end of the NT the professing church had largely abandoned the purity of Paul’s gospel.  And Scripture held out no hope of improvement.  Paul says ‘evil men and seducers will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived’ (2 Tim 3:13).  In Rev 2,3 Christ walks among the professing churches in disapproval; most have significantly compromised.  His words are strong and critical.  He threatens to remove their witness unless they repent, and invites (and finds) fellowship only with individuals who overcome.  The church after the C1, viewed comprehensively, is a parody of a NT church.  Every kind of unclean bird nests in its branches.  Only in a believing remnant is there substantial loyalty to apostolic truth; the gentile church, like the Jews before them, had embraced unbelief and would be ‘cut off’ from the olive tree (Roms 11).

I believe, before any defining of what a church is takes place, and before any talk of ecumenical unity, this biblical perspective needs to be understood and accepted.    There is no return to the pristine days of NT church life.  They are gone forever in this age.  There can never again be that initial unity when visible and invisible church were one, nor does God intend there should be.  Structural unity is a folly for any structural unity was an expression of the only true unity of the people of God, unity in the Spirit (Acts 2; Ephs 4:1).  In a future blog we shall reflect on the instruction given in Scripture for believers living in days of apostasy.  But I can say just now, we will find no injunction to seek unity outside of the gospel.

If it is true that the church has apostasized, what is the nature of this apostasy?  What are the hallmarks of ‘falling away’ in the professing church?  Actually, all apostasy is simply the ripening of the two strains of apostasy that germinate in the NT church.  Two evils afflicted the NT church: Jewish legalism and gentile lasciviousness.  Or, to put it another way, the early church was corrupted from within by influences from without, namely Judaism (the Jewish influence) and paganism (the gentile influence).   All apostasy has its roots in these as I hope to demonstrate in future posts.

05
Apr
11

new evangelical myths and monsters

Question

What do the following have in common?

  • egalitarianism (the Bible does not teach male leadership in home and marriage; leadership is transgender)
  • homosexual practice is not a sin (an almost irresistible corollary to the above)
  • inclusivism (faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation)
  • a denial of penal substitution
  • God has no wrath
  • hell does not exist or will ultimately be empty
  • the gospel is primarily a socio-political message for change now
  • Gen 1-3 is myth

Answer

They are all examples of a hermeneutic of accommodation that is invading evangelicalism. There are more, of course, but this is a fair sample.

Comment

None of these beliefs is an obvious inference from the Bible.  Only hermeneutical sleight of hand can make a (specious) case for any.  None is part of historical Christian orthodoxy (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Eastern) and even less part of Evangelical orthodoxy.  The single unifying  drive for each and all comes from contemporary culture.  These are part of present unimpeachable cultural orthodoxy and by-hook-or-by-crook they must become part of a Designer Evangelical Christian orthodoxy which cannot bear to be inelegant or gauche; and so, the weight of biblical truth must give way to the whim of cultural trends.

We are prepared to abandon core biblical truths in order to be liked and hip and respectable.  Thus we employ creative hermeneutics to accommodate: we create highly-speculative reconstructed backgrounds to problem texts; we play the culturally-conditioned-limitations-of-Scripture card; we pose a trajectory theory; we arbitrarily privilege an aspect of who God is and the gospel that appeals (God is love…) and so on.  These ‘principles of interpretation’ help to make Scripture say what we want it to say (if we don’t look too closely) and we breathe a sigh of comfortable middle-classed relief and sink into the sofa with a stemmed-glass of chilled wine.

And, after all, what the Bible says, let’s be honest, is not that important.  Yes, we like to hear that God loves us, accepts us as we are, and that we will live forever in a new exciting world.  In fact the new exciting world begins now; the gospel means indignation at oil spills, female oppression, greedy corporations and the like. But all that stuff about the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanites, the sons of Korah, the exile in babylon, the rich man in hell, people thrown into a lake of fire… well com’on… we’re the café latte generation… the suburbanites who party and play… we don’t get it… that’s scary stuff… primitive stuff… that’s the God of the OT… all fire and thunder and smoking mountains… stick to the big print and ignore the detail (even if it is not really detail but part of the big print).

Should we have women teaching the church?  For goodness sake woman teach everywhere else in life.  Look at all these women preachers most of them better than men… you say the Bible forbids it, but that’s your opinion, your interpretation, it’s not mine…anyway, its well-known there are lots of views on this… and the Bible’s not clear… though, the trajectory is clear, in Christ there is neither male nor female… time to get past these jaded questions , I have.. get real… concentrate on what really matters… we’re living in the C21 not the C1… what kind of ‘good news’ is it to modern women to tell them they must submit to men… we need a theology to suit, a more refined, nuanced and generous orthodoxy.

And it is a rapidly evolving orthodoxy (an oxymoron).

It is an orthodoxy that increasingly deems it oppressively patriarchal to speak of God as Father…  God is not male… let’s drop male pronouns… he is as much a she as a he… its not enough to be silent about women’s leadership you must be actively for it.. and while we are at it we should avoid psychologically crushing ideas of eternal punishment… notions like these traumatise people… they are toxic… hell is now and what we make it…  and who are we to claim our message is right and other religions have got it so wrong… to tell people their religion is wrong and they must become Christians is simply a power play… we must learn humility and avoid the arrogance of certainty and absolutes… we must avoid hate-crime… we must not try to force people into the Kingdom by fear… fear is a negative unhealthy emotion… it is manipulative and ugly.

And so the Orwellian nightmare is enacted in the church.  The past is reimagined – biblical truth and Church tradition are rewritten.  Evangelical newspeak simplifies language.  God words like head, submit, wrath, hell, holiness, dread, fear and the like disappear.  We are left with love and a few synonyms.

If you really want to see the trajectory of evangelical church life today, then in my view this is it.

Christians who love God and his Word need to wake up to this revolution.  It is happening in a church near you… perhaps in your church.  It will be all too easy to sleepwalk into apostasy.  For that is what it will finally be.  It will be hard to resist.  The tide will be strong and against you. You will be caricatured as a museum specimen, a relic from the past, stingy, hard, prejudiced, loveless, boringly predictable, staid, intolerant, ungracious, unimaginative, a people hater, daft and dangerous, and many other things.  You will be defending what is mocked as passé and oppressive.

But, God knows, we need people to be willing to take such a stand.  Unless we stand against a hermeneutic of accommodation the church and the world will, like the pigs and the humans in Orwell’s Animal Farm, simple fade into each other and be indistinguishable; the church will simply become the world.

Is this what you want for your church?

You may at the moment have embraced only one or two on the opening list, you may not buy the whole package yet.  But you will.  Give yourself and your church time.  Why?  Because you have bought the hermeneutic you just haven’t fully applied it.

Am I exaggerating, being melodramatic?  I don’t think I am.  You must judge.  Of Course, God in grace may interfere and change things radically.  He may stem the haemorrhage of truth.  If he does, are you and I willing to be part of his solution?  Are we willing to be part of it now even if it costs us family and friends and fellowship?  Even if it means being unsophisticated and uncool and impolite?

10
Aug
10

anne rice quits christianity

In response to Anne Rice’s recent public renunciation of Christianity (though not, she says, Christ) Mike Wittner has written a helpful blog.

Rice seems a classic example of someone whose faith capitulates to the values of secularism.  She seems more convinced by these than Scripture.  Although she aims her criticisms at the Church (and her experience of Church is principally Roman Catholic though she has read much wider) and seeks to drive a wedge between the Church and Christ, in fact the pressure points are in the main if not entirely express a conflict is not simply with the Church but with Scripture.  She wants a Christ that is different from the Church, in some issues this is possible, unfortunately the issues she cites reveal she wants a Christ different from the Bible.  In this respect she represents many today.

If you are aware of Anne Rice and her writings take some time to read the blog.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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