Issues would be discussed usually with very little reference to the Bible or its principles , a vote would be taken, a majority carried the day, and the moderator would usually declare, "The Holy Spirit has spoken.
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But I also learned that if Christians throw out a transcendent authority, another authority will always come in to take the Bible's place. The world's theology. The mainline churches had also adopted the world's theology. The world's theology is easy to define.
It is the view that human beings are basically good, that no one is really lost, and that belief in Jesus Christ is not necessary for anyone's salvation — though it may be helpful for some people. In adopting this theology the liberal churches did not entirely abandon the traditional biblical terminology, of course. They could hardly have done that and still have pretended to be Christian.
Many of the old biblical terms were retained, but they were given different meanings.
Sin became not rebellion against God and his righteous law, for which we are held accountable, but ignorance or the oppression found in social structures. It was what the young people were shouting about in the s.
The way to overcome was by social change, new laws, or revolution. Jesus became not the incarnate God who died for our salvation but rather a pattern for creative living. We were to look to Jesus as an example, but not as a divine Savior. Some looked to him as a model revolutionary.
Salvation was defined as liberation from oppressive social structures. Faith was becoming aware of oppression and beginning to do something about it. Evangelism did not mean carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ to a perishing world but rather working through or against the world's power centers to over-throw entrenched injustice. The world's agenda. In the liberal churches the words "the world must set the agenda" were quite popular. That had been the theme of the gathering of the World Council of Churches, and it meant that the church's concerns should be the concerns of the world, even to the exclusion of the gospel.
If the world's main priority was world hunger, that should be the church's priority too. Whatever it was, it was to be first in the concerns of Christian people. The world's methods. The final accommodation of the mainline churches to the world was in the realm of methods. The methods God has given for us to do his work are participation, persuasion, and prayer.
But these three methods, particularly persuasion and prayer, were being jettisoned by the mainline churches as hopelessly inadequate, and what was proposed in their place was a gospel of power politics and money. I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker at about that time that I thought got it exactly right. Two Pilgrims were coming over on the Mayflower and one was saying to the other, "Religious freedom is my immediate goal, but my long-range plan is to go into real estate.
I was reminded of that cartoon years later when I heard the Reverend Phillip Jensen, the evangelical senior minister of St. Mathias Anglican Church in Sydney, Australia, say that in his opinion the major denominations are nothing more than real estate holding companies. But here is the important thing. What has hit me like a thunderbolt in recent years is the discovery that what I had been saying about the liberal churches at the end of the s and in the '70s now needs to be said about evangelical churches too.
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Can it be that evangelicals, who have always opposed liberal-ism and its methods, have now also fixed their eyes on a worldly kingdom and have made politics and money their weapons of choice for winning it? I think they have. About ten years ago Martin Marty, always a shrewd observer of the American church, said in a magazine interview that, in his judgment, by the end of the century evangelicals would be "the most worldly people in America.
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Evangelicals fulfilled his prophecy before the turn of the millennium. Evangelicals are not heretics, at least not consciously. If we ask whether the Bible is the authoritative and inerrant Word of God, most will answer affirmatively, at least if the question is asked in traditional ways.
Is the Bible God's Word? Of course! All evangelicals know that. Is it authoritative? Yes, that too. Most evangelicals will affirm inerrancy. But many evangelicals have abandoned the Bible all the same simply because they do not think it is adequate for the challenges we face today. They do not think it is sufficient for winning people to Christ in this age, so they turn to felt-need sermons or entertainment or "signs and wonders" instead. They do not think the Bible is sufficient for achieving Christian growth, so they turn to therapy groups or Christian counseling.
They do not think it is sufficient for making God's will known, so they look for external signs or revelations. They do not think it is adequate for changing our society, so they establish evangelical lobby groups in Washington and work to elect "Christian" congressmen, senators, presidents, and other officials.
They seek change by power politics and money. Like the liberals before us, evangelicals use the Bible's words but give them new meaning, pouring bad secular content into spiritual terminology. But differently, of course. We live in a therapeutic age now. So evangelicals have recast their theology in psychiatric terms. Sin has become dysfunctional behavior. Salvation is self-esteem or wholeness. Jesus is more of an example for right living than our Savior from sin and God's wrath.
Sunday by Sunday people are told how to have happy marriages and raise nice children, but not how to get right with God. The problem here is that sin is not dysfunction, though it may contribute to it.
What we need from God in Christ is not an example for living but an atonement. Even preaching about happy marriages and raising nice children is wrong if it leads people to suppose that, if they succeed in these areas, every-thing is well with them whether or not they have repented of their sin, trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, and are following him as their Lord. The world's major agenda — forget world hunger, racism, or ecology — is to be happy — happiness being understood, as Francis Schaeffer put it in several of his books, as the maximum amount of personal peace and sufficient affluence to enjoy it.
But is that not the bottom line of much evangelical preaching today? To be happy? To be contented? To be satisfied? Some of the worst forms of this particularly Western form of worldliness are seen in the health, wealth, and prosperity preachers, who claim that it is God's desire that his people be rich and feel satisfied.
But it is also seen in preaching that extols the good life as a valid Christian goal while failing to address the sins of those who are living for themselves rather than for others. Far be it from many Christians today to preach a gospel that would expose sin and drive men and women to the Savior — or demand a hard following after Jesus Christ as the only true discipleship.
Evangelicals have become like liberals in this area too. How else are we to explain the emphasis so many place on numerical growth, large physical plants, and money? Or so many bizarre approaches to evangelism? Or that so many pas-tors tone down the hard edges of biblical truth in order to attract greater numbers to their services?
Or that we major in entertainment? Or that so many support a National Association of Evangelicals lobby in Washington?
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Or that we have created social action groups to advance specific legislation? Not long ago I came across a newspaper story about a church that is trying to attract worshipers by imitating radio news pro-grams that promise: "Give us twenty-two minutes, and we'll give you the world.
Sunday service is called "Express Worship," and the hook is that parishioners can come in and be out in twenty- two minutes. In one service described by the newspaper, the pastor began with a greeting and a short prayer, followed by a reading from Luke He then asked the worshipers to write down their thoughts on what constitutes authority in their lives.
The pastor described it as "a restructuring of the way we think of the service. Not one person delivering the truth to you, but a shared experience. Here is another example.