An Overview of the Growing Rifts in Western Christianity
An Overview of the Growing Rifts in Western Christianity
The health of the Christian Church today is not good. Larger and larger theological schisms are occurring between denominations, within denominations, and even between groups within individual churches. While apostasy, heresy, faulty thinking, and compromised practices have always afflicted Jesus Christ’s Church, such discord is clearly on the rise. The apostle Paul specifically addressed this issue in his letters when he declared, “In the last days difficult times will come” (II Tim.3:1), and then went on to describe not the cataclysmic events that would come upon the earth but the darkened conditions that would engulf peoples’ hearts, and in particular, pseudo-Christians (vv.2-9). He added a warning, “But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (v.13). In an earlier communiqué, Paul was equally, if not more, straightforward, “In later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (I Tim.4:1). Apparently, these growing end-time divisions are not simply propelled by human coercion, but also, and possibly primarily, by demonic intervention.
In light of clear biblical warnings and current ecclesial trends, it is worth taking a simple look (not comprehensive in topics or content) at the growing rifts between liberal (pseudo) and conservative (orthodox) Christianity, plus orthodox charismatic and non-charismatic Christianity. Not only will such a review provide a better, but sobering, understanding of the increasing spiritual distances between these groups, but it will also highlight several dangerous pitfalls into which conservative and charismatic Christians can fall. In order to review more effectively some of the theological issues dividing the Church, a quick look at several pitfalls will precede an overview of the rifts. In addition, to avoid pointing fingers at particular movements rather than focusing on spiritual issues, the examination of rifts will purposely avoid naming religious denominations. Finally, when referring to liberal Christianity or the liberal Church, please note that this left-wing faction is generally not included in the true Church of Jesus Christ, but is, in the main, an apostate split from Christian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, it is only fair to recognize that there are degrees of liberalism within the Church, and orthodox groups and individuals within predominately liberal denominations. As a further clarification, it is understood here that moderate and conservative expressions of the true faith occur within the Orthodox Church, and neither is heretical.
As the boundaries of Christian faith and expression continue to be challenged by divergent non-Christian and non-charismatic positions, it is all the more important to know how to respond appropriately to them. In what follows, four pitfalls are addressed. Not all the dangers mentioned will apply to both the liberal/conservative and charismatic/non-charismatic rifts.
First, in the desire to facilitate open dialogue with differing religions and supposedly Christian views, there is the subtle temptation on the part of orthodox Christianity to diminish, almost inadvertently, the absolute authority of Scripture. Orthodoxy has always held to an extremely high view of Scripture, defending either the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible. The former holds to the word-for-word, or plenary, inspiration of holy Writ. Nothing has been humanly subtracted or added to the text as it was originally given by God to the writer. It is inerrant from cover to cover, entirely God-inspired. The latter view maintains that all of Scripture contains everything needed for life and godliness. Although the original manuscripts are no longer with us, God’s message of salvation has in no way been diminished. Whereas a the or an and may be confused in the ancient texts we now possess, God’s message has not been confused in the least. It is infallible from cover to cover, and entirely God-inspired as well.
These two orientations are difficult for the unredeemed, modern mind to accept because they advocate the uncompromising position of absolute truth. What God says about Jesus Christ, life, death, sin, salvation, sanctification, etc., is understood to be absolutely true and without equivocation. A predominately Western, modern world-view grounded in scientific empiricism and religious relativism diametrically opposes this position. Hence, numerous liberal factions of the contemporary Church have renewed the age-old effort to subvert the authority of the Bible by claiming that the word of God resides within – not throughout – its pages. Now, a person can pick and choose where divine inspiration resides, and so can claim certain passages are religiously biased, culturally irrelevant, morally outdated, or humanly edited.
The temptation for conservative Christians when in dialogue with their liberal counterparts is to capitulate in some small way to the issue of absolute biblical truth. “After all,” say the liberals, “how can we have honest dialogue when you come from a position of spiritual absolutism? To be sure,” they add, “hasn’t your orientation led to nothing but holy wars, jihads, inquisitions, witch hunts, and coercive evangelization of people groups – all in the name of your God and His absolute laws and injunctions? For us to better understand each other, you should listen openly to our perspective. Otherwise, our dialogue is not authentic because you have an absolute mindset and a specific agenda. In contrast, we want to come to a deeper understanding with those not like us and live in greater harmony with them.” Bible-believing Christians must recognize this seduction with the idol of religious relativism for what it is and stand firmly against it, even as Jesus stood firmly against the temptations of Satan to compromise Scripture by holding fast to its integrity and power (Lk.4:1-12).
Second, and closely allied with the first point, is the strong pull to exercise great, even absolute, tolerance with all religious, moral, and cultural expressions. As better communication increases globally, the temptation within many Christian denominations and groups is to accept these divergent “norms” on an equal plane with orthodox Christianity. “After all,” liberal Christians tend to say, “do not all roads lead to God?” Thus, there now are New-Age and alternative-faith seminars in “Christian churches,” interfaith services and Communions, and ordination of multi-faith bishops (e.g., one denomination has ordained a bishop who is walking “the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism”). There is also the acceptance of, even participation in, religious/cultural practices that defy the basic tenets of conservative Christianity, e.g., the use of drugs, potions, or libations in diverse people groups’ religious/cultural services; and the calling on various cultural groups’ gods (idols) for peace and prosperity.
The liberal sect of the Christian Church has essentially categorized Christianity as one of many viable expressions that people groups can embrace religiously or culturally. Although orthodox Christians have a mandate to love their enemies, accept the ones weak in faith, and bless those who curse them, they nevertheless are to hold the line when it comes to this second seduction – watering down the absolute standard that Christians must uphold against false religious expressions. For conservative Christians, religious tolerance is not their God, but the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the only true God, and worship of any other cannot be tolerated (I Cor.8:5-6).
The third potential pitfall for orthodox Christianity is to overemphasize pointing out what to avoid in liberal Christianity, while at the same time failing to emphasize sufficiently what to embrace in conservative Christianity. Jesus said, “Seek and you will find [not avoid]” (Mt.7:7). In this sense, the primary objective of conservative Christians is to show people what they can find – Jesus Christ and the biblically grounded gospel of salvation. Along the way, the Orthodox Church should also instruct these people on what to avoid – heretical, multi-faith, and morally unbiblical teachings, particularly as they come from the liberal faction of Christianity. Conservative Christians must never reverse this order, particularly as sacrilegious, profane, and immoral teachings are increasing in the liberal Church and in the world. Fundamental Christianity (Fundamentalists) should exercise particular caution here. God’s true children are first called to shine the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to dispel the darkness of faulty teachings and practices (Rom.2:19, II Cor.4:6, Eph.5:8, I Ptr.2:9). Shining the Light automatically dispels the darkness.
The final possible pitfall is directed toward the charismatic and non-charismatic groups within the Orthodox Church. There is a subtle, but seductive, pull as the factions between liberal and conservative Christianity widen – the temptation to pull in and “circle the wagons” of orthodoxy in reaction to the heresy spreading in liberal churches and denominations. While this reaction is understandable and justified, conservative Christians must not do the same within their ranks, and in particular, between non-charismatic and charismatic parties. In their mutual fight to defend orthodoxy against heresy, true Christians must not give in to teachings that promote a sense of security yet also make them less receptive to the unpredictable promptings and movements of the Holy Spirit. As both groups vehemently defend the total inspiration and ultimate authority of Scripture, they must not focus their theological rigidity – e.g., against heresy – on each other. Rather, they must exercise tolerance as they together stand firmly on Scripture. Thus, the charismatic party should always defer to the definitive authority of the Bible, above any prophecy, vision, revelation, visitation, or charismatic expression. Conversely, the non-charismatic party should exercise openness and vulnerability to the creative, ongoing, and miraculous work of the Spirit of God in the life of every believer, regardless of the security that comes from standing firmly on God’s sure Word.
The rifts between liberal and conservative Christianity and charismatic and non-charismatic Christianity are numerous. Below, an abbreviated discussion of liberal views is contrasted with orthodox views, along with a short overview of non-charismatic views contrasted with charismatic views. Several issues are made clear by quotes from unspecified sources.
Liberal Christianity across its denominations has attacked the authority of Scripture on numerous fronts. One avenue has been to construe much of Scripture as morally irrelevant and antiquated. For example, consider this shocking declaration from a prominent denomination: “There is no single biblical morality. Few biblical scholars would claim that a monochromatic approach to ethics and human behavior exists in the Holy Scriptures…The Holy Scriptures, written in antiquity, could not and did not foresee many of the ethical questions we face in our age.” Such faulty reasoning allows for an ethical/moral relativism not grounded in Scripture, but in human reason, contemporary culture, homogenized interfaith values, and the Bible (when acceptable). This strikes directly against the authority of Scripture and its ability, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to address in principle all areas of life and godliness.
Another liberal assault on scriptural authority denigrates the person of Jesus Christ while praising interfaith equivalence. Consider the following statement from a spokesperson for a liberal denomination: “‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me.’ The first thing I want you to explore with me is this: I simply refuse to hold the doctrine that there is no access to God except through Jesus. I personally reject the claim that Christianity has the truth and all other religions are in error…I think it is a mistaken view to say Christianity is superior to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism, and that Christ is the only way to God and salvation.” Here, a clear, concise biblical statement made by Jesus about Himself and His divine mission is rejected due to personal opinion and the belief in the equal validity of other religions. When fallible humans pick and choose what is inspired Scripture and what is not, the individual, church, or denomination positions itself as god and renders decisions on what it determines is divine or mortal. It follows that there can be as many renderings of biblical authority as there are evaluators. This position is unacceptable to Christian orthodoxy, which holds, “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim.3:16). It is God’s absolutely authoritative Word moving and convicting on its own, and not human validation or rejection of it, that is the foundation for human survival, well-being, and salvation.
In recent years, many liberal denominations have become increasingly anti-Semitic, particularly in respect to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The keynote word (i.e., smokescreen) used here is peace – Palestinian Arabs have as much right to pursue peace and prosperity as do Israeli Jews. While on the surface this generality seems innocent enough, even logical and fair, the means whereby left-wing denominations want to carry out this assertion is biased at its best and unscriptural at its worst. Christ’s faithful and true bride has always had, with few exceptions, a spiritually living and inviolable connection with the Jewish people, for they and their religion are the root, while we, the Church, are its branches (Rm.11:11-29). God specifically instructed Abraham that He would bless those who blessed him and his seed and curse those who cursed him and his progeny (Gen.12:3, 27:29; Num.24:29). The conservative, faithful Church is chosen of God because God first chose the Hebrew people to act and live as His representatives in the world, and we now carry that torch of truth and life through Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah. Hence, our first and undying allegiance is to the Jewish people and their right to the land that God Almighty gave them in covenant millennia ago (Gen.13:15, 15:17-21, 17:8). Ultimately, for the true, conservative Church of Jesus Christ, equal human rights between Israelis and Palestinians is not the issue, but rather the defending of the Jewish people and their land from those who intend to destroy them.
Before proceeding, one clarification is necessary. While the above biblical defense of Israel by conservative Christians is primary, the Church is not to justify sin, secularization, or atheism on Israel’s part. We are divinely called to bless Israel and stand with them, yet not give them carte blanche in violating God’s Ten Commandments. This being said, the liberal Church has attacked Israel’s sovereignty and prosperity on several fronts. One denomination called for the United States government to withhold financial and military aid to Israel, end the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank, and repent of its “sinful behavior” throughout the Middle East, including its “acquiescence” to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Another anti-Semitic approach cleverly endorses the struggle for peace among all the peoples of the Middle East. Regrettably, this has often led to promoting a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations doing business with Israel and Palestine (essentially, Israel; Palestine has few multinational corporations doing business in their territories). Cries against the security wall being raised up by Israel to keep out terrorists is being criticized, and the boundaries questioned. One denomination “supports fair criticism of the security wall insofar as it illegally encroaches into the Palestinian territory and fails to follow the legally recognized borders of Israel since 1967, demarcated by the Green Line. To the extent that the security barrier violates Palestinian land that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war, the barrier should be dismantled and relocated.” What this denomination fails to recognize is that the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are actually Israel’s in perpetuity, according to God’s covenant with His people (Gen.13:15, 17:8).
Why would a religious sect such as liberal Christianity not defend this biblical/spiritual aspect of the Israeli/Palestinian issue unless they do not hold Scripture as fully inspired and do not believe the Jewish people are God’s chosen race? Conservative Christianity has correctly emphasized the biblical component to Israel’s right to the land. Israel is not occupying Arab land, but exercising their right to this geographical area that was permanently given to them by God.
It is important to realize that liberal Christianity is on a campaign to water down seminal biblical truths, making them of little to no use for salvation, godly living, or righteous conduct. For instance, as addressed earlier, the Bible is understood by this left-wing faction of the Church to be humanly created, without or with little divine input. It is on an equal plane with other “holy books” in other religions. The Jewish/Arab conflict is between two equals. God has no preference; each are His beloved children, with equal consideration due both. In subsections that follow, this same equalizing principle is seen. Liberal Christianity defends homosexuality as an equally valid sexual preference to heterosexuality. Jesus Christ is considered merely a spiritual master on equal footing with other spiritual figures from other religions, e.g., Mohammad and the Dali Lama. So, while the triune God is systematically maligned and sexual perversion is readily excused, the almighty self is elevated. Consider that in the liberals’ defense of abortion (a coming subsection), the woman (self) has the absolute right to kill another life in order to further her own. Truly, the conservative Church is dealing with another religion when defending itself against the agendas of the liberal wing.
Liberal Christianity is championing several issues in the homosexual agenda, from the total legitimacy of this sexual orientation, to the support of same-sex unions and marriages, to the ordination of openly gay pastors, priests, and bishops. The highest ranking cleric in one denomination claimed the following in respect to the validity of homosexual expressions: “Holiness and wholeness and health all come from the same root in English, and they’re related quite intimately to the word ‘salvation’. Living a holy life, living a whole and full life, is one of our understandings of what salvation means, and when Jesus says, ‘I came that you might have life and have it abundantly’, he certainly means in the fullness of our beings, and if we understand that some people are created, are born, in this world with affections ordered toward those of the same gender, then perhaps it means we need to pay attention to that.” One denominational center went as far, if not farther, in their assertions: “For almost forty years, members of the ________ Church have discerned holiness in same-sex relationships and, have come to support the blessings of such unions and the ordination or consecration of persons in those unions. Christian congregations have sought to celebrate and bless same-sex unions because these exclusive, life-long, unions of fidelity and care for each other have been experienced as holy. These unions have evidenced the fruit of the Holy Spirit: ‘joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’”
Note in these quotes the use of Scripture to “validate” this lifestyle or the judgment that such “faithful unions” are “holy,” and thus blessed and used by the Holy Spirit. This is not simply faulty thinking; it is blasphemy. In calling evil good and good evil (Is.5:20), the liberal wing has completely distorted God’s order and will, and turned its back on Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This point is made all the more clear by the following declaration made by a high-ranking, homosexual cleric, “It [the homosexual lifestyle] is not something of which I should repent, and I have no intention of doing so. I have been led to understand that I am loved by God just as I am. That is not to say I am perfect, but it is my belief that my orientation is value-neutral. It is what I do with my relationship that God really cares about….We worship a living God, not one locked up in the Scripture of 2,000 years ago.”
There is in this last quote, as in most of the above quotes, an insidious, intentional mixture of truth and falsehood, which is the ploy of Satan. Yes, this man is loved by God just as he is. Correct, he is not perfect. Clearly, we worship a living God. Yet these truths are deliberately positioned in a testimony that attempts to defend the speaker’s homosexual expressions, and his effort leads to blatantly false conclusions. Indeed, truth is misused to excuse sin and self-will. Such reasoning is very old. As mentioned earlier, Satan tried to use this tactic against Jesus, but to no avail (Lk.4:1-12). The simple statements of Scripture, taken at face value as the Word of God, categorically condemn a homosexual lifestyle: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Lev.18:22); “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act” (Lev.20:13); “Men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” (Rm.1:27). These select passages are anything but unclear.
Scripture provides a sobering reminder of the power and piercing ability of God’s holy Word to expose the true objective and heart of a person. There are no exceptions, regardless of sexual orientation: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb.4:12-13). A person can fool others, even him or herself, but not God. It behooves conservative Christianity to again stand firmly on the sure Word of God, and not become seduced by contemporary, “enlightened” rationalizations on this crucial issue.
Several mainline, liberal denominations have formally taken a pro-choice stance in regard to abortions. These groups have often affiliated themselves with aggressive, secular, pro-choice (pro-abortion) organizations. One denomination’s official position statement actually defends the morality of abortions: “The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required decision.” Another denomination goes even further, declaring, “The ________ Church express[es] its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state, or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.” It adds that their official role is “educating the public to make clear that abortion can be a moral, ethical, and religiously responsible decision.” Please understand here that the hierarchy of this particular movement asserts that apart from any moral or ethical elements, a pro-abortion decision to take the life of an unborn child can be a spiritually appropriate decision!
Yet another denomination has supported pro-abortion rights since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. It even joined a friend-of-the-court brief this decade in trying to overturn the federal ban on partial-birth abortions (the Supreme Court allowed the law to stand). It is extremely sobering to realize that in respect to this aspect of the abortion controversy, the federal government is more conservative (righteous?) than a liberal denomination in the Christian Church. Additionally, in aligning themselves with independent, “Christian,” pro-choice organizations, liberal Christianity has endorsed official statements such as, “Don’t let anybody tell you that religious people don’t support choice. You not only have a constitutional right for abortion, but you have a God-given right.” Note the regression in the above quotes – abortions can be a viable moral choice, abortions can be a legitimate religious alternative, and abortions are a right given to women by God Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of human life.
The tolerant positions on abortion in many liberal, mainline denominations, however, show a serious inconsistency as to what constitutes a viable abortion. One denomination qualifies its stance: “The church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion. These are the threat to a woman’s physical life; when pregnancy has resulted from rape, incest or sexual violence; and fetal abnormalities incompatible with life.” Nevertheless, this group opposes legal restrictions on abortion and provides health-care benefits to its employees that cover elective abortions. There is also a serious inconsistency among pro-abortion denominations as to how late in gestation these elective abortions should be permitted. For example, some argue that elective abortions should be restricted after “fetal viability”; some place the time limit at about 26 weeks, when the “fetal brain’s higher functions” are initiated; some would allow “pregnancy termination” at any time up to childbirth. A further inconsistency, and one that is often overlooked, is that it is generally the denominational leaders, and not the people in the pews, who are aligning their sects with the strident, pro-abortion movement. The Orthodox Church must keep these disparities in mind when they respond to the liberal-wing’s endorsement of the killing of unborn human beings as a solution to social, economic, and environmental problems.
Conservative Christianity, while not perfectly unified on this hugely important issue, is nonetheless standing shoulder to shoulder in its defense of the sanctity of life, which includes the unborn child in the womb. The Orthodox Church rejects the modern, liberal seductions of autonomous individualism, rights without responsibility, and sexual freedom rather than marital sanctity. It defends the biblical concept of human life beginning at conception, and that a fully human life is killed when an abortion occurs. Indeed, Scripture indicates that the unborn life can actually be influenced by the Spirit of God while in the womb: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘…when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy’” (Lk.1:41,44).
As with the different issues already considered in the previous subsections, the orthodox, pro-life stance versus the liberal, pro-abortion stance essentially boils down to how Scripture is approached. If the Bible is not entirely God-breathed; if it does not have anything divine to say about the sanctity of all human life; if it does not tell us to bless rather than curse, rescue rather than destroy, and defend rather than attack, then the stance by liberal Christianity might be permissible. But if the Bible is entirely God-breathed, if it is replete with references to the sanctity of all human life, if it forbids murder, if it advocates the protection of the powerless, if it asks us to give up our own lives and not the lives of others for the sake of Christ, if it charges us to help the weak and defend the orphan, then the taking of a life, no matter what its stage in life, is utterly impermissible. Unmistakably, the charismatic and non-charismatic groupings within the Orthodox Church vehemently argue for this latter interpretation.
The Person and Work of Jesus Christ
Attacks on the unique divine/human personhood of Jesus Christ and His matchless substitutionary atonement for the sins of humankind have plagued the Christian Church from its inception. Liberal Christianity today has merely brought to the forefront, once again, the multitudinous and nefarious aberrations launched upon the deity, humanity, and mission of the Lord Jesus. Before exposing some of these heresies, an extremely short overview of Christian orthodoxy surrounding the person and work of Jesus Christ is necessary.
The most fundamental beliefs in Christianity are Jesus Christ’s incarnation, sinlessness, crucifixion, death, resurrection, atonement, ascension, and intercession to redeem humankind from sin and death. Orthodox Christians believe that these events are the basis of God’s work to reconcile humanity with Himself. The most uniform and broadly accepted tradition of doctrine with the longest continuous representation, repeatedly reaffirmed by official Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant definitions (although not without dissent), asserts that specific beliefs are essential to Christianity, including, but not limited to:
·God is a Trinity; a single eternal being existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
· While on earth, Jesus was both fully God and fully Man, having two “natures” in one person.
· Mary, the mother of Jesus, bore in her womb and gave birth to the Son of God, who, although eternally existent, was formed in her womb by the Spirit of God without human sexual intercourse. From her humanity He received in His person a human intellect and will, and all else that a child would naturally receive from its mother.
· Jesus is the Messiah hoped for by the Jewish people, the promised heir to the throne of David. He now reigns at the right hand of God the Father with all authority and power. He is the hope of all humankind, their advocate and judge. Until He returns at the end of the age, the true Orthodox Church of Jesus Christ has the authority and obligation to preach the gospel as specifically outlined in Scripture, and to gather and make new disciples.
· Jesus was innocent of any sin. Through His death, all truly redeemed believers in Christ are forgiven their sins and reconciled to God the Father. They are also baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Through faith, they live in the promise of resurrection from death unto everlasting life through Jesus Christ.
· Jesus Christ will return personally and bodily to receive to Himself His faithful children, the true Church, that they can live forever with Him in the Kingdom of God.
Liberal denominations, liberal groups within mainline and minor denominations, and liberal individuals within these denominations differ in respect to precisely who and what Jesus Christ represented Himself to be. Even so, most all of them believe He is the Messiah (on some level) and that He has spiritual or religious importance, some calling him a god or God, others claiming He was simply a wise man. Furthermore, present-day, liberal “Christians” do not define Christianity as necessarily including belief in the eternal deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the Trinity, miracles, the resurrection, the ascension of Christ, or the personality or deity of the Holy Spirit. Liberals may or may not recommend belief in such things, but differentiate themselves from conservative, orthodox Christians who explain their views or teachings principally by appeal to the biblical references to and statements of Jesus. Understandably, none of these liberal groups or individuals are considered part of orthodox Christianity by those who hold the traditional tenets of the Christian faith provided in the paragraph above.
A few direct quotes from these liberal groups and individuals may prove instructive as to the seriousness of these heresies. One mainline, liberal cleric contributed to a denominational webpage a liturgy for the Stations of the Cross that denies substitutionary atonement and the bodily resurrection of Christ. This gross inconsistency might be considered ludicrous if it were not for the utterly blasphemous and profane intentions behind this effort. The chief prelate in one denomination actually relegates the mission of Jesus to a pious example rather than to the salvation of humankind, stating, “We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? – Jesus as life, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar.” As quoted earlier in the subsection entitled Scripture, a prominent cleric rejects the biblical assertion that Jesus is the only mediator between the divine and mortal, saying, “I simply refuse to hold the doctrine that there is no access to God except through Jesus.” Such theological positions clearly reveal that the Jesus they recognize and the mission that He undertook and fulfilled is not the Jesus of conservative, traditional Christianity and the mission He submitted Himself to and completed. Although the name “Christian” is attached to these liberal sects and people, they are no more Christian before God Almighty than Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims. They worship a different god.
The Social Gospel
The roots of the “social gospel” within the Church today run very deep. At the core of this liberal movement is the idea that Christians are to work to establish a kingdom of God on earth with social justice for all. This position is fleshed out on several levels: economic justice, social equality, environmental protectionism, global peace, and prosperity. Yet rather than loving one’s neighbor through sharing the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to a dying world, as well as coming to their immediate aid, the focus now is bringing relief to the suffering and justice to the oppressed solely in this life, plus protection over the earth. Instead of emphasizing the spiritual Kingdom of God as advocated by the Orthodox Church, liberal Christianity focuses on a temporal, earthly kingdom.
Limiting our thoughts to the one example of environmental protectionism, we see that many liberal churches are promoting activities such as “carbon fasting,” observing religious seasons such as “carbon lent,” and striving to make the church relevant to secular, environmental organizations that promote Earth Day. Certain groups on the Christian left are even working to bring a “Green Gospel” into churches. A presiding prelate over one denomination went so far as to twist the biblical meaning of “Christ’s body” in order to advocate for this vastly lesser gospel: “Christians talk about the body of Christ. A theologian named Sally McFague talks about the body of God as being all of creation. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. That’s an essential piece of Paul’s theology. If we’re not caring adequately for the other parts of the body, we are not only destroying ourselves, but we’re destroying our neighbors here and across the world. The fact is that, you know, how I use carbon might have some impact on a poor person in China.” Although conservative Christians are instructed by God to exercise vigilant stewardship over His creation (Gen.1:26,28), doing so properly is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but merely a godly response to His saving grace.
Loving one’s neighbor by means of the social gospel has a fatal flaw. Scripture states that true love for our neighbor is only possible when we have the love of God within us (I Jn.4:7,19). The social gospel, however, circumvents this truth and, in so doing, denies the total depravity of man. While unredeemed humanity can love, sacrifice, give, and care for others, it cannot do so as a channel of God’s love. Hence, although the social gospel calls for the highest compassion and concern that humans have to offer, nevertheless it is wholly distinct from Christ’s gospel which calls for the love of God to flow unhindered through true believers. Whereas both may accomplish the same good on the temporal level of human need, one is carried out to the glory of humanity, while the other is carried out to the glory of God.
The liberal wing of the Church is increasingly promoting interfaith dialogue and worship. Behind this push is the belief that religion as a whole is the means of relating with God, and that most all religious expressions are equally valid for achieving this end. Christianity is thus to understand itself simply as one of many spiritual methodologies among the religious systems of the world. Liberal Christianity, however, is unwittingly furthering the globalist agenda, for by promoting an approach to God through the mingling of religions and spiritual expressions, it is laying the groundwork for the future one-world religion mentioned in Revelation chapters 13 and 17.
Varieties of statements on the parity of religions and the enrichment of the pursuit of God through interfaith syncretism come from renowned clerics, prelates, and scholars. The crux of their argument centers on the many equally legitimate and meaningful spiritual journeys to intimacy with God. Consider one liberal scholar’s comment, “I don’t think God cares if we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and so forth. What matters is a deepening relationship with God.” It follows, in the liberal mind, that the means to experience God does not need to come through His Son, Jesus Christ. This very point was made by the presiding prelate of a liberal denomination: “For Christians, we say that our route to God is through Jesus. That doesn’t mean that a Hindu doesn’t experience God except through Jesus. It says that Hindus and people of other faith traditions approach God through their own cultural contexts. They relate to God, they experience God in human relationships as well as ones that transcend human relationships, and Christians would say those are our experiences of Jesus; of God through the experience of Jesus.” For true, conservative Christians, this is blasphemy, pure and simple.
From the pulpit of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC came the following remarks on interfaith cooperation toward the same goal. The message was essentially a call for a single, global, religious community that would work together to make this temporal world a better place.
And what was God thinking…when the angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the Law to Moses? And what was God thinking…when the angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the sacred Quran to the prophet Muhammad? And what was God thinking…when the angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Were these just random acts of association and coincidence or was the angel Gabriel who appears as the named messenger of God in the Jewish Old Testament, the Christian New Testament Gospels, and the Quran of Islam, really the same miraculous messenger of God who proclaimed to a then emerging religious, global community and to us this morning that we are ALL children of the living God? And as such, we are called to acknowledge that as Christians, Jews, and Muslims, we share a common God and the same divine messenger. And that as children of the same God, we are now called to cooperatively work together to make the world a haven for harmony, peace, equality, and justice for the greatest and least among us.
This statement cleverly mixes interfaith thinking and globalist propaganda. Not only do all religions share the same God, but in being offspring of the same God, humankind is collectively to strive for heaven on earth. This is a mockery of orthodox Christianity. Again, elements of truth are used to make faulty conclusions. We all are children of the same God, but from a creative, not spiritual, standpoint. God made each of us, but He has not breathed His life-giving salvation into everyone. As His creatures, we are to pursue peace and justice with each other rather than conflict and unrighteousness. But those who are His spiritually saved and redeemed children through the atoning work of Jesus Christ – the true, Orthodox Church; the bride of Christ – are to facilitate peace and harmony on earth by first, and primarily, preaching the Gospel. The distinction here is of utmost importance when defining the rift between liberal and conservative Christianity.
Because interfaith efforts within the liberal faction of the Church are widespread, a handful of examples must suffice. One liberal cleric claimed to be a practicing Muslim, and her colleague accepted this syncretism and found “the interfaith possibilities exciting.” A liberal seminary held a workshop entitled, “Love and Wisdom – Buddhist Meditations to Illumine Christian Understanding,” led by a professor who was a Tibetan Buddhist Lama. Even the sacrament of baptism has been infiltrated by interfaith experiments. One New England pastor presided over the interfaith baptism of twin boys in which a rabbinical student and an Islamic scholar participated by offering Jewish and Muslim prayers during the service. A liberal church offered a workshop entitled, “Movement as Prayer,” which included opportunities to “whirl with the Sufis” (Sufi dance is one of the methods used to reach religious ecstasy by practitioners of this form of mystical Islam). Another liberal church presented a three-session course entitled, “They Followed a Star: Astrology and Christianity as Allies on the Journey.” This course was taught by a licensed counselor and astrologer in private practice. He described the course as one in which participants “explore the connections between astrology and Christianity, and look at how astrology can support and deepen our journeys as men and women seeking meaning and purposes for our lives.”
It is imperative to understand that when conservative Christian doctrines and practices are comingled with false religious beliefs and rites, a new, insipid, pseudo-religion is forged that cannot save the souls of men and women. Something other than true Christianity is born in the human heart, for such religious expressions do not lead a person to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Conservative, Non-charismatic Orientations
As liberal attacks against Christian orthodoxy increase, the conservative, non-charismatic Church has often not only become increasingly vigilant against heresy, but also increasingly rigid and judgmental toward conservative, charismatic Christians. This is extremely unfortunate. The battle against heresy should never be conflated with disagreement inside the orthodox Christian ranks. Charismatic and non-charismatic Christians worship the same God, cling to the same Savior, and yield to the same Spirit. Their differences do not define separate religions, but simply mark out distinct expressions of the same faith. Because heresy is not the issue here, bitter accusations and harsh criticisms are out of order. Rather, a prevailing attitude that embraces unity within diversity should guide all interactions between these two conservative groups.
Regrettably, the fight against liberalism in the Orthodox Church has often made the non-charismatic party all the more intolerant toward liberal and charismatic views not in line with their own. While non-charismatic Christians have generally opposed the exercising of the gifts of the Holy Spirit since the close of the apostolic age, their current resistance has intensified as they defend and define their particular orientation within conservative Christianity. Thus, for example, speaking in tongues is often no longer an eccentricity or aberration in Christian expression, but a threat against correct biblical interpretation – i.e., biblical truth. This, in principle, is the very threat they face with liberal Christianity. So, as conservative, non-charismatic Christians are obligated to attack the heretical teachings of liberal Christianity, they likewise feel obliged to attack the faulty beliefs and practices of charismatic Christianity. In their minds, biblical truth is at stake and, consequently, they must stridently raise a standard against all falsehood, both inside and outside of Christ’s true Church.
This orientation to God’s Word goes much farther than condemning charismatic beliefs on speaking in tongues. Prophecy is also rejected, not simply because of the conviction that all spiritual gifts were limited to the apostolic age, but because prophecy may downgrade or challenge the authority of Scripture. Charismatically induced miracles and healings undergo the same dismissal, as do the charismatic practices of inner healing and deliverance. The hesitation to be completely vulnerable before God and the unpredictable nature of His Spirit can also reach to other areas in non-charismatic thinking and practice. Teaching the Word of God is often exclusively emphasized, for Scripture is a known, objective commodity with clear instructions. Waiting on the presence of God’s Spirit is avoided, for such subjective experiences may lead a child of God astray (stated inversely, the only sure guidance a Christian has is the Bible). Indeed, following the Spirit’s promptings may become more important than simply obeying the clear words of Scripture. In the same sense, dismissing revivals or great outpourings of the Holy Spirit may appear appropriate, even proper, to conservative Christians who are oriented to relegating God’s presence solely to holy Writ, and the deep truths it conveys. Fresh infillings of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Acts 4:8, 13:9) are primarily for deeper biblical understanding or more effective evangelization, and seldom, if ever, for deeper intimacy with God or charismatic empowerment.
Something more than a non-charismatic interpretation of Scripture is involved in all this. Unbeknownst to or admitted by many non-charismatic Christians is the issue of vulnerability. In an age when the essential tenets of orthodox Christianity are being strongly renounced by the left wing of the Church, unqualified openness to the living, sovereign, charismatic hand of God exerting supernatural power over His children may seem intimidating. To avoid such defenselessness before God’s Spirit, it can appear safer and more secure to cling solely to the objective, known words of Scripture. Charismatic Christianity maintains that there is not a predictable, simple, logical, biblical answer for every exigency (i.e., God said it in His Word, so do it). Rather, the Spirit of God is free, and although He will never contradict His Word, He is creative and dynamic in how He works through, as well as apart from, Scripture. Now, the redeemed human heart must not simply and pedantically obey biblical injunctions, but also surrender quite vulnerably to a living God who continues to move supernaturally in and upon His faithful children. It appears that the issue here centers on two different emphases: personal relationships and vulnerability versus biblical knowledge and accuracy.
This charismatic orientation to Christianity is often threatening to the non-charismatic child of God because the movement of the Spirit of God is not as predictable as the imperatives in the Word of God. Even so, non-charismatic Christians generally accept the contemporary use of the spiritual gifts of administration, exhortation, faith, helps, giving, teaching, pastoring, and the word of wisdom (Rm.12:7-8; I Cor.12:8-9,28-29). This is because these gifts appear to have a semblance of human control over them, e.g., a Christian can supposedly administrate, give, or exhort with or without the help of the Holy Spirit, but he or she cannot heal a person or do miracles except by the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit. The former gifts are frequently seen as something supplemental for human productivity and effectiveness, while the latter gifts are effectively exercised totally apart from innate human ability and, thus, are threatening to a person’s very identity and will.
Possibly the best way to address this intra-Church conflict is to promote ongoing dialogue, even debate, between these two parties, and to discourage hostile allegations. Jesus provided an appropriate example to follow. His disciples had attempted to prevent a man from casting out demons in the Lord’s name since he was not personally following Jesus and His team. Rather than agree to their restrictive intentions, Jesus commended rather than condemned the person who was carrying out His Kingdom work (Mk.9:38-40). Christ’s conclusion is as appropriate now as it was then, “Do not hinder him…For he who is not against us is for us.” So may it be between non-charismatic and charismatic Christians.
Conservative Christians are to use two approaches when defending the orthodox faith. One is to resist firmly the liberal encroachments against conservative Christianity that come from the supposed auspices of the Christian Church. The other is to show tolerance toward fellow conservative Christians who have different views concerning contemporary charismatic expressions and practices. These approaches must not influence the other, for the groupings they address are entirely dissimilar.
Temptations abound here for conservative Christians. Downplaying the absolute authority and inspiration of Scripture may improve communication with liberalists, but it gravely compromises personal commitment to, and faith in, God’s holy Word. Engaging in foreign religious practices and embracing non-Christian religious views in the name of global ecumenism may appear progressive, but such efforts are strategically different than becoming more familiar with opposing religions in order to defend knowledgeably orthodox Christian doctrine, and to expose flawed religious thinking. Essentially, the first effort is compromise and leads to blasphemy, while the second effort is formative and leads to wisdom. Finally, insisting that fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord are misled or deceived about how the Holy Spirit moves upon and empowers His children is destructive. Without qualifications, God’s redeemed children are to love one another first and foremost, and not critique and condemn each other.
Remaining at the fulcrum between firmness and tolerance, and moving in one direction or the other when necessary, requires a humbled, surrendered spirit that is guided by prayer. Human passion and good intentions will not suffice here – not that they ever did – as the Lord’s return approaches and the boundaries between good and evil become more pronounced. Orthodox Christianity must stand firmly against heresy by trusting solely in the enabling grace and power of God: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor.10:3-5). A challenge highlighted in this article is that while rejecting heresy, conservative Christianity must at the same time love and accept those who relate differently to the contemporary workings of the Holy Spirit. Both charismatic and non-charismatic parties might apply Paul’s admonition to themselves: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Rm.14:1). Without attempting to establish which Christian position is correct, such an attitude would foster love and greater harmony within the body of Christ, the very thing that Jesus said was seminal to His teaching: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn.13:34; see also Jn.15:12,17). Love truly is the antidote to the poison of intolerance within Christ’s body: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal.5:14-15). May God Almighty give each of us the grace to be as “shrewd as serpents” with liberal Christians and as “innocent as doves” with our orthodox Christian brethren (Mt.10:16).
Charles A. Metteer