Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Atheological Evangelicals, Ecumenism and Ezra

Defending the gospel can be tiring.

If schism has been a dirty word throughout church history, in our tolerant post-doctrinal churches of the 21st century it is positively dripping with steaming manure. The greatest sin in our church today is not introducing works into the doctrine of justification. It is not saying that penal substitutionary atonement is cosmic child abuse. It is not playing fast and loose with the Trinity. It isn't saying that Jesus didn't rise from the dead.

The biggest sin in evangelicalism today is believing something strongly enough to separate from or even merely disagree with "brothers and sisters". Evangelicals you see, are atheological. The gospel is no longer the story of forgiveness and righteousness through the dead, buried and raised Christ. It is now framed in terms of a "personal relationship" with Jesus. The whole thing has been given over to subjectivity to the extent that right belief has been separated totally from right experience.

What we used to call liberalism now passes for orthodoxy. Read this statement from liberal theologian Marcus Borg:

"For me, to believe a set of statements is impossible," Borg says. What is possible, he argues, is to "belove" Jesus and walk in his path.
"For the past 300 years," Borg says, "faith was a matter of believing a list of beliefs about Jesus. The list varied among Christians -- that Jesus was the son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that the tomb was empty on Easter morning.
"But in the pre-modern world, before about 1600, the object of belief was never a statement," he says. "It was always a person. To believe meant to belove a person.
"To belove Jesus means more than simply loving Jesus. It means to love what Jesus loved. That is at the heart of Christianity.

This statement is an outpouring of pure liberalism, but it accurately describes the beating heart of many an evangelical or emergent Christian. "I'm not into a bunch of statements," they cry, "I'm into loving Jesus and following him." To have faith in Jesus, or a spiritual experience with Jesus, or a nebulous love for Jesus, is enough for most evangelical leaders to describe a Christian.

Yet for others who at least try to Scripturally justify their open-arms approach to "Christians" of all creeds and experiences it has been trickier. Ecumenism has been an impulse in search of an exegetical justification. It seems to have found it in various brands of the New Perspective on Paul. By redefining the sin of the Galatian Judaizers as merely erecting fences between Christians and by redefining the self-righteousness of the Pharisees as merely sectarianism, the NPP has given ecumenical initiatives a new lease of life in conservative circles. "You are saved by believing in Jesus, not by believing in justification" is the joyful cry. As I will show, this is pure, naive, seductive and destructive reductionism.

Now I know that according to Romans 10:9, in order to be saved one must confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead. Yet is this all that is required? Just believe in Jesus? To quote the apostle "by no means." It is possible to disqualify yourself from the faith and this through wrong belief!

For example, you can be disqualified by adding worship of any other created thing to the worship of Christ (Colossians 2:9). You can be disqualified by introducing works into justification (Galatians 1:8, 3:1-5, 10). You can be disqualified by tampering with the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) It is only evil spirits who mess with the doctrine of Christ's humanity (1 John 4:2, 3). Furthermore Jesus hates tolerance of false doctrine and will punish those in the church who tolerate and propagate it (Revelation 2:14-16).

So right belief is important, eternally important. That's why Jude wrote his letter reminding his readers to "contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (v3). So loving Christ and his Gospel will cause discomfort. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild came to bring a sword and not peace. The Gospel will even turn families against each other (Matthew 10:34-39).

So Gospel truth is of eternal significance. We can't water it down. We can't tolerate falsehood. We can't cooperate with Mary-worshipping, justification destroying churches. We shouldn't sell heretical, gospel diluting, prosperity advocating books without stamping "health warning" on them. We should never hold joint evangelistic events with churches who do not confess a pure gospel. We should be willing to stand up in committee meetings and veto the invitation of a wishy-washy preacher to our church weekends.

It will get tiring. You'll be the emotionally stunted doctrinaire bigot who is so uptight you could pick up a pound note with your butt cheeks. People will, with eyes closed, shake their heads and pray that God would break into your life with love and grace (because love and grace means tolerating all kinds of evil in their book).

Don't worry, you'll be in good company. Zerubbabel shows us the way. Let's take a leaf out of his book. He was rebuilding the temple and the syncretists asked him, "Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do....But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers' houses in Israel said to them, 'You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God.'" (Ezra 4:2, 3)

Guard the gospel. Did I mention it will get tiring?

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