For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11
Americans are divided over moral issues, but our greater concern is that the church is divided as well. Some Christians have bought into liberalism as well as the progressive politics of Planned Parenthood and now support abortion. There is confusion about marriage as well. Many in our society live as if the Ten Commandments are ten suggestions. Shouldn’t the faith and morality of those within church walls be vastly different from those in culture?
Barna Research revealed that 34% of American adults believe moral truth is absolute, with the lowest percentage of believers being between eighteen and twenty-five years old. The number of Christians who believe in moral absolutes is also decreasing – including those who believe abortion, adultery, homosexuality, and idolatry are sins. We are not so separate from the world after all.
How did the diluting of Scripture, progressivism, and liberalism find its way into the church? For our purposes, we may define liberalism as a philosophy or movement away from traditional religion toward humanism, science, and socialism; emphasis on freedom from authority and fundamentalism, esp. individual freedom; believing the goodness of human beings rather than acknowledging God.
We should not be surprised at the sharp divide in many churches and denominations over the Bible, sound doctrine, and moral absolutes because Liberalism has officially invaded Christianity. Some call it a revival of post modernism, modern theology, liberation theology, social theology, or even neo-orthodoxy; but disciples of these teachings can be found in most churches. The apostle Paul warned about them because some appear to be believers, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:5).
Political liberalism is one thing; we know exactly where leftist, anti-Christian folks stand by the politics they endorse, and they make no claim to know the same God or the same morality you and I do. But religious liberals are dangerous because they generally believe the same thing as leftists and yet claim to be Christian! They often use the same terminology as we do, but have very different interpretations and meanings.
Many religious liberals have assimilated into American Christianity. Some may not even realize the error of their ways while others are emergent leaders having set out to divide and deceive believers.
Specific to our context, a cult is simply a religious individual or group believing or defending doctrines other than the central or essential teachings of Christianity clearly defined in the Bible. Many liberal Christians deny the authority of God’s Word, suggesting the Bible is fallible, but they try to retain or profess many of the values found within the church. Some downplay, ignore, or flat out deny many foundational doctrines of historical, traditional Christianity. Their attack on truth is most concerning as they reject the reliability of the Bible.
Evangelical Christian theologian, pastor, and author, Francis A. Schaeffer wrote:
Any denomination or parachurch group that forsakes inerrancy will end up shipwrecked. It is impossible to prevent the surrender of other important doctrinal teachings of the Word of God when inerrancy is gone.
In the case of liberal church leaders, the New Testament refers to them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. With the departure from sound doctrine, we’ve seen the stage set for believers to accept false teachings and fall away. The good news is this apostasy is prophetic and must occur to usher in the end times. The bad news is it happened so gradually many Christians never saw it coming, so they went along with the modern ideas and teachings…
Emerging churches have merged with secular culture and politics, and have submerged from the solid foundation of biblical teaching.
Immediately after Jesus told His followers the way to life was a narrow one, He cautioned them to beware of false prophets and also said, you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:13-20). He instructs believers to observe what others produce. The result of what we see from today’s emergent church teachings is Christians becoming more like the world. A little yeast can work through an entire batch of dough.
Nearly three decades ago, Dr. Walter Martin declared the liberal church movement an “all-pervading cult that’s loose in the United States right at this moment.”
Growing and maturing in Christ along with sanctification – a purposeful and decisive shift away from the world’s ways – must be part of every believer’s life.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).
Notice the apostle Paul implies here that to have the wisdom of God and the ability to admonish others with psalms and songs, we must first allow the word of Christ to “richly dwell” within us. Believers become prone to fall for false teachings and susceptible to the cult of liberalism when we do not know the Word of God as well as we should.
Pursuing Jesus wholeheartedly and seeking His kingdom first takes discipline and effort, including the study of His Word. It does not take much effort to be like the world, dilute sound doctrine, and tell people what they want to hear. The Emergent Church fits this latter description.
Holding the belief we’re now in a “postmodern” society, the Emergent Church is a rapidly growing network of individual believers and churches who would prefer to be understood as a conversation, friendship, or movement. These folks don’t like structure and they generally do not support traditional Christianity. Those involved mostly agree that their disdain and disillusionment with the organized and institutional church led them to seek something new.
In 2010, I researched and wrote about the Emergent Church after witnessing a few local churches and organizations develop a pattern of compromise on biblical issues. If we operate more like a business, corporation, or concert venue than a ministry, we have a problem. We are naïve to say “but liberalism could never affect my church.”
The Emergent Church favors the use of simple story and narrative rather than reading lots of Scripture … The hallmark of the Emergent Church is the new age aspect including the practice of [emptying the mind as well as] contemplative monastic meditation and prayers. While some emphasize eternal salvation, many in the emerging church emphasize temporary issues such as environmentalism. Much of its doctrine rejects systematic Christian theology, the integrity of Scripture, and gospel exclusivity. They don’t believe Christianity is the [one] true religion and they promote homosexuality. They call for diversity, tolerance, and camaraderie among all religions, and they modify and expand their teachings. It is clearly a war against the Truth.
Liberals also worked their way into the seminaries as instructors as the older, wiser theologians retired, opening the door for the potential grooming of young church leaders with watered down doctrines. The same process took place in the churches as mature pastors retired, and some eager, young, indoctrinated rookies took over pulpits. Many emergents went on to make disciples of liberalism rather than disciples of the Word – Jesus Christ…
In a video presentation, author and speaker, Eric Barger, of Take A Stand Ministries explains:
They gradually reeducated sincere believers into this new form of Christianity based upon feelings instead of sound doctrine. Social programs, community service, and good works have replaced salvation by grace. Once people’s theology becomes corrupted, the gospel is emptied of its power. Liberals have continued to use “the shell of the church” to collect money from the congregants and to gain more power. Liberalism claiming to be Christianity is the most dangerous cult in the world today.
Barger also discussed liberalism’s origins, tracing them back to the so-called “German Enlightenment,” notably through the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who argued human reason is the source of all morality.
Understanding how mainline denominations and theological seminaries in America split over doctrinal issues is helpful. We already discussed the debate in the Presbyterian Church over the inerrancy of Scripture during the 1890s, which eventually led to the famous five (fundamentals) points in the 1920s that fueled the conservative movement. Prior to this, the Azusa Street revival birthed the Pentecostal movement, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit continued for nearly ten years. The World Conference of Christian Fundamentals took place in Philadelphia in 1919 with forty-two states represented.
The end of that decade brought a shift to modernism at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, one of the first seminaries for biblical instruction that began in 1812. Princeton’s modern reorganization and openness to liberal ideas caused the formation of a conservative venue for instruction, Westminster Theological Seminary, founded in 1929 in Philadelphia. Westminster’s motto is “The whole counsel of God.”
Remember J. Gresham Machen and his stand for the Five Fundamentals from chapter two? In a public address he delivered in Pennsylvania in 1921, he said the chief modern rival of Christianity is liberalism, further stating:
An examination of the teachings of liberalism will show that at every point the liberal movement is in opposition to the Christian message.
April 1942 brought about the creation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in St. Louis, Missouri, birthed out of the conference called United Action Among Evangelicals. Pastor Harold Ockenga rallied believers with his keynote address:
Evangelical Christianity has suffered nothing but a series of defeats for decades. In virtually every area of culture, evangelical Christianity has been placed on the defensive. The terrible octopus of liberalism, which spreads itself through our Protestant Church, has dominated innumerable organizations, pulpits, and publications, as well as seminaries and other schools.
…One pastor said that from its inception, new evangelicalism has been determined to impress the world with its intellect. It has craved the respect of academia. Similar to the Fabian Socialists of the 30s and 40s, intellectuals who came to America from Europe to spread socialism here, neo-evangelicals have been dispersed in churches and seminaries.
The notion many leaders have today is Christians must become postmodern in order to reach secular America, but as a result, they have partnered with liberals and conformed to the world. This new evangelical shift includes a definitive move away from belief in absolute truth. Think about it; do liberals ever compromise and become more holy, or do conservatives typically compromise and become more worldly?
As we find with most good things, even the things of God, we can become comfortable and allow a gradual departure from solid doctrinal foundations. By 1957, fundamentalism was fading, and many believers backed out of culture, flinging the door wide open for the 1960s cultural rebellion and sexual revolution – including the marketing of homosexuality.
It bears repeating we are either advancing toward God and spiritual things or we are heading toward man’s idea of order and natural things. For humanists, man is the center of all things. This philosophy is nothing new; it came from the Greeks some 2,000 years ago. It descended from Gnosticism that views the mind of man as the center of reality. Contrast this with the Christian belief that an eternal God created man in His image and He is sovereign over all creation.
The problem with Humanism and liberalism is they both begin with man leaving no room for accountability to Christ.
Similar to the fallout among many Protestant churches in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, we’re seeing a doctrinal divide in many evangelical Christian churches in America today. The authority and integrity of Scripture is not a frequent-enough teaching. In public schools, Humanism is the norm while Christianity has been expelled.
Even in mainstream evangelical churches, these philosophies are becoming more accepted, and the Emergent Church has been progressing in their efforts to influence the body of Christ. The early church was warned by Jesus, the apostle Paul and others; we’ve been warned as well…
*This is an excerpt from the book, The Cost of Our Silence: Consequences of Christian Taking the Path of Least Resistance