Thursday, November 15, 2012

A PERSPECTIVE ON THE STATE OF MODERN DAY EVANGELICALISM

Introduction

Inevitably categorizing Christians invites a certain spirit of divisiveness among the immature and contempt among those caught up in the spirit of anti-judgmentalism. Nonetheless, whatever is true is also edifying among those who value the truth. I offer a certain perspective in my limited dealings with the Evangelical community these last 20 some years in the US both among American and Chinese Christian communities. I offer a perspective of an ordinary lay Christian. Though having been involved in teaching and at times even preaching in institutional churches, I am not a professional minister. I've never gotten paid and never taken a seminary course. I'm just an ordinary Christian. Historically there have been observations where Evangelical thought has deviated from Biblical theology. Anabaptists have for example pointed out a number of ways reformed theology had deviated, and many were killed for doing so. Though there is a great diversity of belief among modern evangelicals, yet there is also a trend or sort of evangelical culture having traits which appear to be derived from the world in accordance with the popular culture rather than from the Bible. Though I'm not speaking of every particular Christian, nor every particular institutional church or denomination, yet just as Jesus made generalization of the religious elite of his day, so also I am speaking in general.

Easy-Believism

Although the theology of "easy-believism" so prevalent in Modern Evangelicalism might be viewed as an effect of the ecumenical philosophy, more likely it is a cause of much of the ways in which Christians deviate from Biblical Christianity. The idea behind easy-believism is that the quality of faith that God requires for one to be qualified to the have the atoning work of Christ reckoned to them for the forgiveness of their sins is a trivial thing.

The Trivialization of Saving Faith - Obsession over Techniques
 
For example, regardless whether one actually believes, one prays a prayer in a sort of experimental fashion to "receive Christ" and is presumed to be "saved". This is not Biblical Christianity. It is not through techniques - like prayer or baptism - that one is saved. It is through faith. And the quality of faith that qualifies one for salvation is not a trivial thing, but on the level of a conviction. Yes, it is appropriate to pray and get baptized if one believes. And even if one doesn't believe, praying in an experimental fashion for revelation and conviction is helpful. But a person is not saved at that point. Deciding to follow Christ may make one a "seeker", but not yet a "son of God."

The Order of Salvation
 
Inherent in the false ideas of easy-believism is often the misconception concerning the order of salvation. Let's be clear about this: Being born of God occurs after one believes. One does not even receive the right to become a child of God until after one believes. "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." John 1:12 And one is not included in Christ nor  receives the Holy Spirit until after hearing and believing the gospel message. "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." Eph 1:13 A person cannot be born of God if they do not know about Christ as He is defined in the Bible. A person cannot accept Him as Lord and Savior, if they do not know what these mean. They cannot simply ask some hypothetical Jesus whom they construct in their own minds according to their own image to come into their hearts and then be consider legitmately "born of God". And there is nothing magical about the name "Jesus Christ" of itself. Calling on the name of the Lord means accepting Christ as he is described in the Bible. For there are many false "Christs" that people make up in their own minds.

The Trivialization of the Word of God
 
Many modern Evangelicals casually use the term "Word of God" to refer to their opinions rather than to the Bible or to Jesus Christ. At church you may hear announcements like, "the pastor will now give us a word from God", and he may go on simply to give his particular opinion, or an interpretation or application of the Bible. But the Bible alone is the Word of God. Everything else is opinion. Not that opinions are not necessary in living the Christian lives, and not that opinions are not derived through the Holy Spirit's guidance as one applys the Bible to life, but they certainly cannot be added on to the Bible. The Bible is complete with respect to the essential principles of the Christian life. We add applications which are particular to our circumstances.
Often I find that the Bible is replaced as the Word of God by opinions. I often hear sermons spoken confidently, but taking very little substance from the Bible. Often Christians will take some historical detail and through allegory use it to say whatever one wants to say - without keeping to basic hermeneutical principles. (principles of interpretation) And then they claim their opinion is proved to be Biblical. The Bible should not be simply used as a jumping off point to air one's own opinions.

The Trivialization of Christ's Lordship
 
Contrary to the manner in which Jesus presents himself, many Modern Evangelicals tend to "lead people to Christ" by revealing him only as Savior. They don't consider accepting Christ as Lord as necessary for salvation. This, of course, has led to what classically is known as "antinominanism" (Lawlessness or Licentiousness within the visible church). It is a yeast that has cause the visible church to become bloated with nominalism. People are glad to accept Christ as Savior as long as it doesn't cost them anything - as long as Christ doesn't tell them to do anything. They are like the seed that feel on rocky ground which didn't take root and so died, even though initially they may have received the word with joy. But when trials come, they demonstrate that they have a non-application oriented faith. They built their house on the sand. What I propose is to simply present the gospel the way Jesus does and the way Paul does - as in Romans. The gospel of easy-believism is a false gospel, leaving nominal Christians with false expectations.

Evangelical Feminism - An example Licentiousness
 
One of the effects (or perhaps causes) of devaluing the Lordship of Christ is to misapply the concept of "freedom in Christ." "Submission" tends to be viewed equally with an oppressive form of slavery. Nothing shows this more clearly than the tendency of modern Evangelicals to reject the gender-specific commands in the New Testament. The role relationships that God has established in the society particularly between men and women conflict with the world's point of view as well as that of many modern Christians. Such people whether consciously or unconsciously mishandle the Word of God, reading into it inappropriate interpretations. Else they outright reject some of the writings - as Paul's commands, or dismiss them with a "that was then, this is now" type of theology. But the attitude among such people tends simply to be "I'm going to do what I damn well please, regardless of what the Bible says." Such is the practice of licentiousness.
"We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us." 1John 4:6 "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command." 1Cor 14:37
I've noticed also that for some reason - not doubt cultural - Chinese Churches tend to be more feminist that Western Churches. Isaiah writes, "Youths oppress my people, women rule over them." Is 3:12 Paul writes, "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."1Tim 3:11,12 as well as , "women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says."1Cor 14:34 These kind of things are what I call "Third Rail Doctrines". That is, the third rail on a subway is deadly because it's electified. Touch these and you die. When I've touch on these in almost any forum whether speaking to "ordinary" Christians or to church leaders, I'm most often responded to with a great deal of hostility as if these issues are not allowed to be discussed, which is again evidence that indeed such Christians have not submitted it to the Lordship of Christ.

Anti-Judgmentalism - Another example of Licentiousness
 
Easy-Believism implies the accepting of the sinner along with his sinful tendencies. Licentiousness is the rejection of Biblical standards of behavior. So how can "Christians" get along if you are to mix the nominal licentious Christians with those submitted to the Lordship of Christ? One way I've observed Evangelical churches do this is by introducing a policy of Anti-Judgmentalism.
This is somewhat of a misnomer in that while no one is allowed to criticize anyone else, anyone who does is judged as sinning. But those who judge them who criticize others are surprisingly not reckoned as hypocrites. For they are themselves judging others. It's like - "don't judge us, but if you do, we'll judge you." For example, many would consider my criticism of Modern Evangelicalism as being sinful of itself simply because it is criticism.
A common basis that such people use for their anti-judgmental position is Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." But Jesus is speaking proverbially meaning that if you judge others, they will judge you.It is not that you shouldn't judge others, but that you shouldn't be a hypocrite. But it is the Christians responsibility to judge others in the church as Paul writes:
 "But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." 1Cor 5:11-13
The false gospel is that if people simply don't have an moral standards, they can be saved if they simply do not judge others.  It is simply a misinterpretation of what Jesus is saying. If Jesus were to come to the church disguised as an "ordinary" Christian and he were to say the kind of things he did in the Bible, criticizing the religious leaders, pointing out sin in individuals and groups, humiliating many, he would be reckoned a sinner. Don't believe everything you hear. Listen to sermons and to what other Christians say with a critical ear. Don't be gullible. Because there are many in the "visible" Church who whether consciously or unconsciously teach false things. This is essentially a paraphrase of 1John 4:1 "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." But many Christians don't take it to heart, being discourage from doing so by the spirit of anti-judgmentalism propagated in the Modern Evangelical movement, which is essentially "anti-discernment".
Those who promote this idea claim a Biblical basis in "unity" and being against divisiveness and quarrels. But their particular applications of such verses are contrary to the examples we see in the ministry of Jesus and Paul. Taking verses out of context, it would be easy enough to prove that Jesus and Paul were divisive argumentative type of people always inviting quarrels though their controversial teachings.
And what should be the basis of "unity in Christ"? Let's say you have two people A and B who disagree on a matter. Person A says that person B is being divisive because he doesn't agree with him. And person B says that person A is being divisive because he doesn't agree with him. There are two improper ways in which Modern Evangelicalism has tried to solved this problem.
    1. The teachings of institutional leaders cannot be questioned. Everyone must be united with them or considered divisive. OR2. Issues which people disagree on are not allowed to be taught or discussed.
These are rather self-defeating in that they create an artificial sense of "unity" while suppressing the maturity of the individual by not allowing them to think nor teaching them properly concerning controversial issues. But it is the maturity of the Christians which would bring true unity. Christians should be allowed to think and to discuss and to grow in maturity in their thinking as they integrate the Bible itself into their lives both on a personal and corporate level, developing their own ministry and practicing their spiritual gifts. But this maturity is a threat both to those institutional leaders who would rather keep the congregation chained to its seats so they can take the credit for everything, and to those lazy immature Christians who would feel uncomfortable if their brethen were serving the Lord in a greater capacity than themselves, and to those lawless Christians who would rather that Christians around them not talk about sin and commitment.

Christ is How You Feel

Historically there's been tension concerning what is our relationship with Christ between the Charismatic emphasis on experience and feelings and the Conservative emphasis on  position in Christ and the Biblical revelation of Christ . One would focus on the "Christ" living in us. The other would focus on the Christ of the Bible. Both of these are aspects of our relationship with Christ. What Christ do we believe in? What is the definition of Christ? It is the historical Biblical Christ who is the focus of our faith. But this same Christ also comes to dwell in the believers (that is, metaphorically speaking, in the form of the Holy Spirit). And thus walking in Christ and getting to know Christ goes beyond just Biblical Knowledge. HOWEVER, as of late it seems to me that increasingly in the Evangelical community there is a trend away from defining Christ according to the Bible in favor of defining Christ simply subjectively according to one's own feelings. Christ lives in me and therefore however I feel is a legitimate experience and expression of Christ. Whatever I think is a legitimate truth from Christ. Whatever I say is the Word of God. It is Christ speaking in me.
As a result the "Christ" such people build up in their own minds can look quite different than the Christ of the Bible. And inevitably they find that such a Christ wants them to do whatever it is they wanted to do anyhow and to be the kind of person they had intended to be anyhow. In fact their Christ tends to look just like them - what a coincidence! And since they're so in tuned to their "Christ", they feel really spiritual. It's "feel-good Christianity". They look around at others and find that others are not as in tuned to their "Christ" as they are, so they feel superior.
This attitude has gone hand in hand with the elitist attitude in the Charismatic community of being special based upon experiences. We're baptized in the Holy Spirit - you're not. We've been completely sanctified - you haven't. These kind of attitudes. Honestly I can't imagine how even John Wesley can speak of complete sanctification in this lifetime without redefining Christ so as to make Him conform more to image of sinful man, so that the concept of Christlike behavior conveniently matches however these "holiness" types decide to live. (See Legalistic Arminianism) This attitude is spreading throughout the Evangelical community. Time to get back to the Bible!

Populism

How many people have you prayed a prayer with to received Christ? How many people go to your church? How many people stood up when the "invitation" was given? These are the kind of issues that many modern Evangelicals consider to be essential as a measure of spiritual superiority. There's been an obsession over numbers. On the surface some think that these are signficant, but they're not. Jesus was not obsessed over numbers. When he did miracles, such as the multiplying of the loaves, he attracted great crowds. But in John 6, for example, he called into question their motivation for following him, humilating them and telling them hard things. Many fell away as a result. Jesus was more concerned about the quality of his fruit rather than the quantity. There are many with a "whatever works" mentality. I've met a pastor who boasts of his statisical analysis of various methods of evangelism and through sheer numbers he claims one can optimize the work of evangelism. But such people often fail to consider what they are measuring, since their priority is numbers. As I think I mentioned elsewhere, indvidual worth tends to be devalued  in modern Evangelicalism, which has led to the neglect of personal discipleship. Compared to the past, there are fewer and fewer individuals who stand out as great of men of God and a number of those who are reckoned as such today are not particularly impressive neither in life nor in doctrine in my opinion. Doctrine itself tends to be conformed to a "Whatever is popular" type of philosophy. Whatever is popular is read into the Bible rather than reading out of it whatever is true.

Conclusion

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.
A man reaps what he sows." Ga 6:7
As sin leads to more sin, it is difficult to distinguish between the cause and the effect of the deviation of modern Evangelicalism from Bible truth and practice, but its fruitfulness is revealed in the quality of Christians it produces. But what is the solution?
Paul writes, "The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." Gal 6:8 So I exhort modern Evangelicals to sow to their spirit, but do so with the perspective to serve.

1. Personal Edification
    Do not rely on professional Christians to do Bible study for you. Do not gullibly presume that everything they say is correct. Do not rely on them for deriving applications. Yes, listen to their opinions and advice, but take it only as such. Study the Bible for yourself. Derive your own applications. Ask yourself whether your understanding and practice of the Christian life is reflected in the Bible. And whether the "Christ" you believe is the same as the Biblical Christ described by the apostles.
2. Edification of the Church
    "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Eph 4:11-13As Christians, our role in life is to serve Christ. "He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15 If you're in a church you would consider unhealthy, having practices and teachings which you consider deviant from Biblical norms, but not significant enough to be considered a cult, what do you do? Most Christians would simply leave. But I say FIX IT. Fix the church that you're in. That may be a reason God put you there. Use your spiritual gifts in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to straighten those areas that are deviant, to bring light and truth where there is darkness and falsehood, to bring life where there's death. Bring your applications to life there and make disciples. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Do doctors run away from sick people to look for healthy ones? So perhaps you should not look for a healthy church but a sick one, so that you may serve.
    And this advice I give to those relatively mature in Christ. Of course many purposely remain immature or feign immaturity so as to excuse themselves from serving. But I know that most of the Christians I have met do desire to serve but they just need to take some initiative. I say, do not expect to get support nor encouragement from institutional leaders for your ministry. You may even end up being seen as a threat to them. You need to learn to behave in a Christlike manner in the midst of hostility, for your enemies will be the members of your own houseshold.

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