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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Why Is Evangelicalism Failing?

I'm using "Evangelicals" and "Evangelicalism" for lack of better terms. 

We are starting with biblically based Christianity with this foundation:

  • the full deity of Christ
  • the absolute finality of his sacrificial work
  • the glory of his bodily resurrection
  • the free gift of resurrection life by grace alone through faith alone
  • the sufficiency of scripture, and his eventual return

Those who read this blog know that I hold to what some would call "unorthodox" doctrines, but none of these touches on the foundation that is Christ and the Word of Truth. My views on death, resurrection, and the afterlife (among some other things) would be rejected by most "fundamentalists." That's OK. The doctrines listed in our opening are the foundations of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian (have Life through his Name) to me. Yet, in acknowledging our differences, I am not leaving the differences aside as I believe the rejection of these latter doctrines contributes to the failure of American Evangelicalism and is thus part of the answer to the question posed. 

All of the failures can be traced to our failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Unfortunately, I am between a rock and hard place on this one. If you don't understand what it means to rightly divide the Word of Truth, you won't understand my core argument. I would encourage those unfamiliar with this scriptural command to look through the blog links at the end of this post. I have tried, however, to explain as best I can within this entry. Be that as it may, let us plow ahead.


Failure to Recognize the Judgments to Come


Any of us is capable of great wickedness and falling into sin. In fact, this topic permeates these pages. I have asserted repeatedly that the vast majority of warning passages in scripture are given to believers. We are each charged with the responsibility for his own walk. And we are each responsible for our study of the the Word of Truth. We will be judged for both our service in the flesh and our handling of scripture. Of course, the gift of resurrection is free. These judgments have nothing to do with Life.

There are many verses we could reference here, but I have chosen two representative verses.


Judgment of what we do in the flesh:

He who does wrong will be requited for what he has done wrong, and there is no partiality.
-Colossians 3:35

 

 Judgment for how we handle scripture:

Be studious to present yourself approved to God, a workman with no cause for shame, rightly dividing the word of truth.
-2 Tim 2:15


 It is in the failure to heed this latter charge which I believe is at the root of the decline of Christ-centered worship, doctrine, and evangelism. And the result of that decline is the decline of the West. Western Europe is in steep decline since neither Catholicism nor Catholicism-lite (Protestantism) has been able to control its culture for long. In trying to tame the flesh with religion, we have failed. 

No kingdom or empire ever collapsed from too much righteousness. They collapse and decay from immorality and superstition and greed. And, as we shall see later in this post, earthly ordinances have no power over the flesh. 

Men like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin rejected the weak (in spiritual terms) Christianity of Europe. Despite being steeped in rituals, candles, costumes, clergy, and cathedrals, Atheistic communism grew out of Russian Orthodox Russia and Catholic/Protestant Europe. This trend has come to the United States (albeit more slowly).


Failure to Recognize How Prophecy Works


If you listen to the contemporary Christian music of the 1970s and early 1980s, it is filled with apocalyptic overtones. Songs and even rock operas about the return of the Lord and end of the age. On one hand, "looking for his appearing" is both biblical and healthy, but, as with all doctrines, it must be based on "rightly diving the word of truth."

I have expressed my concerns about Hal Lindsey's book "Late Great Planet Earth" and Tim Lahaye's "Left Behind" book series. It's not that I fully reject the structure of the works. I, too, believe in the future fulfillment of the Revelation and things such  as Daniel's 70 Weeks. It is the place these speculative books have taken in Evangelical theology. Misplaced dispensational theology is as bad as Reformed theology.

My concern is that these books laid out scenarios in such specific terms. It is my contention that things like the events of the Revelation can only be seen through a glass darkly from our perspective. The Book of the Revelation (and parallel prophecies) are meant to be understood by those living in those days. We guess at best. And looking at the movies based on Lindsey's and LaHaye's books, their guesses were awful. 

I believe a delusion set in culminating in disillusionment. Evangelicalism has adopted two roads and has sought to travel either or both and no matter the course, have ended up in the ditch. The intellectual Christian and the emotional Christian. The intellectual Christian sees Christianity as a set of doctrines laid out in an approved catechism (in one form or another). It surrenders the faith to "authorities" and systems. They will not admit this, hiding under the mantle of Sola Scriptura while bowing to authorities.


Failure to be Truly Satisfied with Scripture


We saw this unconscious denial of the authority of scripture in  our look at RC Sproul's worship of Thomas Aquinas. Sproul stood on the mountain top with a Sola Scriptura flag as he bowed the knee to "the early church fathers." I want to be careful here. I am not the judge of another man's servant, but I certainly want to oppose those who oppose truth. Sproul's accolades directed at Aquinas and others are the matter of public record.

In addition to intellectualism, the other road preferred over the road of right division is emotionalism. This road melts down Christianity to washing feet, virtue signaling, social justice programs, and valuing love over all. Of course, love is absolutely essential, but as with all things, we must let scripture define true love. And to be sure, there is nothing wrong with a soup kitchen, but such a thing is secondary to exaltation of the great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!

As I understand it, Martin Luther King, Jr. denied the resurrection. That does not exclude him from praise for his work done on behalf of those excluded from access to parts of society, but it surely excludes him from any praise as a "Christian." All the good works in the world are of no value apart from Christ's completed work. There is no life beyond the grave in his denial (if this is in fact true).

In any case, we are to exalt no man above or with Christ. When we gather to worship the Lord, no other should intrude on that calling. We must draw strict lines. I honor Thomas Jefferson, for example, for his great work on behalf of the rights of men, but I would never include him in anything involving praise of the Savior.

Often these two roads merge. The intellectual wants to "rise above" what is deemed a "fundamentalist" (used as a pejorative) approach to scripture to find a "higher purpose" which is inferred. This is often mixed with emotionalism as the intellectual adopts earthly altruistic programs believing this is a "higher
Christianity. It scoffs at "base" fundamentalism. 

Before I became a Christian, I attended a meeting featuring speaker and heretic Tony Campolo. Tony raised the roof with his emotional plea in the context of a "higher" Christianity. His talk culminated in a rattling off of members of different "denominations" coming together to do social justice work in Philadelphia (to the delight of the crowd). I bought into it. Any struggles I had as a devout Catholic wrestling with the claims of Evangelicalism melted away in emotion and this "higher" Christianity. I adored the message. It was not until my conversion that I realized the man had sold me a packet of magic beans. he hid Christ from me in the guise of showing me the "real" Christ.  

Many of the proponents of this "higher" Christianity have so much disdain for what they mock as "fundamentalist" Christianity that they side with the enemies of the faith (and the enemies of Christ) to prove their intellectual bona fides. 

Now remember, those who call themselves "fundamentalists" have no use for doctrines I hold dear such as the state of the dead and the judgments to come. But we agree on Christ, so I don't mind what they call me. Adopting Paul's attitude (who in turn adopted the Lord's earthly attitude of humility), I rejoice when the death, burial, and resurrection are preached. What I don't do is reject Christ or lower Christ or compromise the finished work of the Savior merely because they've rejected me. That is a manifestation of the fatal flaw in modern Evangelicalism. Fundamentalism rejects me as I am thankful when they preach Christ faithfully. In the end, it is neither about my intellect nor my emotions, but about Christ.


Failure to Understand that Christianity is Christ


Take another example, singer Leslie Phillips. I actually met her before I became a Christian. I saw her perform at the annual Christian music festival "Creation" in  1986 in Pennsylvania. After her afternoon show, I waited to meet her. I'll be honest, I was taken by her voice and also because she was very cute and I was very 19 years old.

We chatted and she asked me to turn around. She took a sharpie and wrote on the back of my shirt "Romans 12:2" and signed it. I still have that faded shirt. I tread very lightly here as I do not know Leslie (now "Sam") Phillips and I do not want to speak for her, but we seem to have gone in two very different directions. I continued my search for truth, finding it in 1991, as Leslie seemed to drift. (I base that conclusion on her own words taken from interviews.)


And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

-Romans 12:2


Let's pull this in. Leslie released a song in 1984 called "Hourglass." It is representative of the "time is coming to an end" theme of the CCM scene in the 70s and 80s. Other songs were more overt, but you can sense the spirit of the age in the chorus and bridge.


And I'm looking to the hourglass
That's running out of sand
I'm looking through the hourglass
Into another land
Time is sifting away so fast
Loving
I've got to love what lasts

'Cause where you have your treasure
You hide your heart
If you hide it in this world, you know it's gonna fall apart

Not only is she saying that time running out, she warns (in light of the end) that the only things that matter are spiritual and eternal, not material. As she pursued a Christian record label, playing Christian festivals, I don't think it is a stretch to say she claimed a Christian faith (which was more obvious on other songs as well). After departing CCM, she seems to have held onto the generic idea of a nebulous "love" in her post-Christian life, but somehow that includes torturing and slaughtering babies in the womb to her. 


I think that love is always the most important thing, and what I felt a lot about the fundamentalist doctrine and their behavior was that they became exclusive, that they were excluding people who didn't believe in the same thing, or they were excluding gay and lesbian people, basically excluding a lot of people, and that didn't feel like love to me. Love is always my gauge in anything, or any kind of philosophy or group, whether it's religious or political, if love isn't apart of it I have a dubious view of it, I'm not going to trust it 100%. I feel like I am closer to having a spiritual life rather than a religious life. I think just going through the [Christian Rock] process, and watching all of that in full swing. At that point in my life the anti-abortion movement was beginning to take hold. I watched those kinds of clouds gather. It was a really interesting thing, because I think it was a metaphor for how that culture felt aborted from the culture at large. I don't talk about politics and about that very much, but it was definitely something that pushed me out of the [Christian Rock] world.

        -Sam Phillips (Excerpt: Pop Matters Interview, July 2011) 


I'm picking on Leslie because her career took a stark turn in the late 80s, about the time CCM started to ditch the apocalyptic themes. She also ditched any pretense of being Christian. OK, you don't like "fundamentalists." They don't like me too much and I have my issues with the movement. What I don't have a problem with is Christ or any doctrines they teach which honor Christ. She rejected Christ because she thought the Christians around her were too pro-Life? Because she didn't like Evangelical "culture?" 

One's Christianity, although surely affected by those around us, shouldn't be defined by those around us. I surrendered my fate to the work of the Savior while teaching Religious Education in my Catholic parish. I was eventually let go because of my faith in the finished work. No matter what Leslie/Sam felt about the way Evangelical Christianity was trending, it had zero to do with what Christ accomplished.

I went from a Catholic parish to a charismatic church. I eventually ended up in a Plymouth Brethren assembly and a Southern Baptist church. None of these traditions have much use for my distinctive doctrines. But that's OK. I answer to Christ alone. All judgment is with him. Leslie didn't like the direction the "movement" was going so she apparently abandoned Christ?


Failure to be Satisfied with Christ


The drift in Evangelicalism (and subsequently in the United States) has been for similar reasons. That is, Evangelicalism has always been subject to its desire for ritual and outward expression. The latter is not bad if it emanates from what we looked at in our last post: the example of humility set by the Lord.

CCM had its issue, "The End is Nigh." Readers of my blog know that I also believe that we are closing in on the last days. However, my Christianity is centered on Christ's death and resurrection and the Plan of God. Christendom has adopted Greek Myths like a fiery torture in hell by God and the bodiless souls in bliss, in doing so, it has demoted the place of the resurrection. The doctrine of the lack of decay of the Lord in the tomb (the reversal of the curse) is rarely mentioned.

There has grown out of these doctrines (unfortunately tied to the word "fundamentalist") a sometimes sick love of the idea of unbelievers being roasted by God. This damage (blasphemy) to the image of God has been used to justify a rejection of Christianity by unbelievers and a rejection of walking in the faith by some professing believers. Obviously, I think their "hell" is a terrible doctrine, but I don't blame Christ. 

Of course, each of us is responsible for seeking truth for ourselves. I was entrenched in a system which teaches not only the Greek Mythology of fiery torture for unbelievers, but also the prospect of that fire for believers who commit a "grave sin" and a form of that fire for believers who don't.  Truth, however, is all that matters. Sam can reject the system she doesn't like, but reject Christ? Reject the finished work? Reject the exclusivity of Christ? That is her responsibility alone. "I didn't like fundamentalists" is not going to fly.

Of course, based on her believing the torture and slaughter of babies in the womb and sex outside of biblically defined limits is central to the faith, it's doubtful her Christianity was ever about Christ's sacrifice and resurrection on her behalf. Readers will know, I hold that Christians can be homosexuals (because we're told it's possible). Christians can also be fornicators, adulterers, prostitute-seekers, etc. All of these make them subject to judgment at the judgment of servants. My beliefs are outside what you are going to hear from most Evangelical pulpits. But do I thus deny Christ or my Christianity? She can believe all she wants that God approves of every sexual liaison. But the fact that someone disgarees with her has led her to deny be associated with Christ? 


Failure to Recognize the Current Age


Let us move away from Sam. Lots of roads to go down there, but we'll leave it as far as we've covered it. I want to turn back to the fatal flaw in Evangelicalism that has led it down the same path as apostate Catholicism, the Orthodox faiths, Protestantism and its offspring: a failure to rightly divide the word of truth and to recognize the current present age.

I've touched on a number of topics in this post. I'll post links below to other posts with more details. I've bitten off more than I can chew in a single post (again), but I did want to circle the wagons back on the notion that earthly ordinances and religious fervor will fail in the end. We see a profound warning at the end of an illuminating chapter about what Religion will do to believers; it will delude them into thinking they are pleasing God in the flesh and and delude them into thinking they are invulnerable to sin and error.


If you have died with Christ to the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you imposed upon with ordinances? – “Do not touch, and do not taste, and do not handle”, which are all destined for decay with falling into disuse, these being after the commandments and teachings of men, which indeed have a reputation for wisdom in self-willed worship and humility and austerity of the body, but not of any value for satisfying the flesh.

-Colossians 2:20-23

The entire chapter is warning against falling back into practices meant for other groups in other ages. Chapter 1 of Colossians points the reader back to the focus of Paul's revelation in Ephesians 3 in regard to the age in which we live and revelation of the Dispensation of the Mystery. Understanding this age (by rightly dividing the Word of Truth) is the greatest deterrent for falling for either the world's secular or religious "wisdom." And as we see in the verse above, such "wisdom" and practices (no matter the appearance of wisdom and piety) will not satisfy or curb the desires of the flesh. Remember, the flesh desires not only sins like sexual sin, but sins of religious piety (virtue signaling) and self-glory.


I now rejoice in sufferings for your sakes, and I contribute my share to what is left behind among the tribulations of Christ, in my flesh, for the sake of his body, which is the church, of which I have become a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given to me for you, to complete the word of God – the mystery which was hidden away from the ages and from the generations, but now has been made manifest to his saints, to whom God wished to make known what the richness is of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory, whom we proclaim, admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, in order that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, for which I also labour, striving according to his invigoration which invigorates me with power.

-Colossians 1:24-29


Evangelicalism has fallen for the world as the other systems have. Not finding full satisfaction in Christ (evidenced by its need for rituals and works), it has drifted. Instead of doing the hard work of one who is studying so as not to be ashamed, we have taken an earthly Jesus in his humility and built systems around practices found in his life and in the Bible, failing to rightly discern and divide them.

A shallow faith will seek to supplement itself with ritual. In the case of Evangelicals, this is found its rituals of baptism and the "Lord's Supper." A shallow faith will also tire of scripture. That might seem like a head-scratcher as most of these gatherings are seemingly centered around the Bible. But listen carefully and you find that scripture is often reduced to merely a jumping-off point for the same messages of self-improvement, works, tithing, and the gospel. Of course the last is a good thing if it is not sandwiched in a fear of fire (from which many false professions have arisen). But of those who truly come to a knowledge of Christ, most are then herded into works and rituals to pacify them. They are handed an answer key. Programs of individual study are discouraged.

We've noted on this blog the glory of scripture and its supernatural composition. It is a book of endless depth. It can feed a baby with its milk, it can provide endless meat for those seeking to go on to full maturity. Its structures and arrangements and doctrines within doctrines are so rich and deep they cannot be be grasped in one lifetime. God does not expect us to know everything, but she does expect to study as though it's possible. 

Evangelicalism is failing in America as Christendom has failed everywhere else, by abandoning Christ in his headship of the One Body and adopting the rudiments of the world, both secular and religious. If you want works, there are many who do works outside of Christ. If you want ritual, there are many who offer far more ritual, pomp, and religious garb than we can offer. 

Critics of CCM accuse the genre of trying to win the world with the world. Yet scripture's view of the world is defined as anything not derived from the word of God AND anything meant for another age. If you plan on taking a sheep to Jerusalem for slaughter, you might be able to find such a thing in your Bible, it might feel religious, you might feel as though you have participated in a God-ordained act... but all you'll be doing is denying Christ. Such an act, although biblical, was never meant for this age.

Evangelicals get caught up in rituals and traditions which blur God's purpose for the current age. It is unsustainable and does not have the power of God with it. Such systems have failed everywhere in the world, they will fail here.


Additional Reading:


Addendum:

In a previous chapter we have mentioned the landslide away from the Truth before the apostle Paul died and its gradual recovery down through this age.  Even to-day the full-orbed truth given by the glorified Lord Jesus through the apostle is little known in our pulpits.
 
This is a potent reason why these riches are not received and enjoyed among the people of God. Another stumbling block is for Christians to approach the Bible from the wrong end, so to speak. Instead of first of all seeking an understanding of the purpose of the ages in the large and seeing it as a whole, and then finding the place in it that God's Love and Redemption has secured for them, they approach the other way round and become so taken up with themselves and their own needs that many of them never advance beyond this point.

Consequently they know little or nothing of other callings and imagine that God's plans revolve solely around themselves. This is a species of slavery to self that we all need to be delivered from. 

One result of this is to see a part of the revelation of God and imagine that it is the whole.
There are those who can only see God's purposes for a Kingdom on this earth.
Others deny this and see only a spiritual fulfilment and going to Heaven after death.
Both are only half truths, and like all half truths, are thoroughly misleading.

-Stuart Allen (Excerpt: The Unfolding Purpose of God) 




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