Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (When the Church "Becomes the Culture")

Continued from What Happened to the History of the Gospels? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Liberalism...)...

An Interlude: What Happened to History, Anyway? (cont’d)

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain bablings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith (1 Ti. 6:20-21).

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (Ja. 1:27).

When the Church “Becomes the Culture”
It was stated above, that the Church “has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man’s great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.”76 Following this, a litany of false teaching, in which some truth and great struggle is evident, was produced to show how the Church has conducted its struggle: from within the context of having “become the culture.”77 In point of fact, the recent history of the Christian Church is littered with the theological ruins of Christian movements which have, in a flailing desperation for the “survival of the church,” become the culture, not realizing, forgetting or rejecting the fact that the World is one of the Christian’s Great Enemies. In the modern West, doing so has meant adopting one of two perspectives: that of rationalistic Empiricism or of mystical Existentialism. In reality, neither perspective is acceptable; both place mankind at the center of truth, and argue to God and for man's relationship with Him from the intellecutal (objective) or experiential (subjective) attributes of man's existence – the historical record of God's Special Revelation of Himself to mankind no longer being relevant for this purpose, by the World's standards.

In response, one option has been the route taken by American Christian Fundamentalism. Recognizing that the church was “becoming the culture,” absorbing or importing its false ideas and anthropocentric priorities, and concerned that the Bible’s teaching would be lost as a result, Fundamentalism began developing among Presbyterian theologians at Princeton in the late 19th Century; and into the early 20th Century it’s influence spread to include Baptists and other Christians. In an attempt to articulate and draw attention to the doctrines of Christianity which were under attack by liberal theology, and to secure continued adherence to Biblical teaching among Christians, a public confession to the “fundamentals of the faith” was secured by those desiring to stand on these teachings and be identified with the fundamentalist movement. Those fundamentals were: biblical inerrancy, the Virgin Birth, substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection of Christ, and the authenticity of the miracles recorded in Scripture. Because of the stark contrast between these “fundamentals” and the liberal consensus in greater Christianity, Christian Fundamentalists in America also began to take on a “separatist” platform over time, which called for not only theological, but, increasingly, social separation from those outside the fundamentalist movement, including separation from non-Christians in society. One well-respected source of separatistic teaching in Minnesota, defends this doctrine and practice in the following way:
    We believe that separation is a doctrine as well as a practice and that the separation principle runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We believe that true spiritual fellowship is the result of a common faith and practice. We believe there are four aspects of Biblical separation:

    1. Political separation - the separation of the church from the state (Lu. 20:25)
    2. Personal separation - the separation of the believer from the world and sin in order to serve God. This involves a separation from acts of sin, the world system, the unbeliever, heretics, and false teachers (Jos. 24:15; 2 Co. 6:14-7:1; Ep. 5:15-18; 1 Jo. 2:15-17; 1 Jo. 4:1; 2 Jo. 10,11).
    3. Ecclesiastical separation - the separation of the church from apostasy. Each local church is independent and autonomous and must be free from interference by any other ecclesiastical authority. We believe we are to reprove apostates rather than recognize them, to rebuke rather than to reason with them, to reject rather than to receive or unite with them. This includes but is not limited to the World and National Council of Churches and the Baptist World Alliance. We believe that loyalty to Christ also demands separation from those groups content to walk with or tolerate religious unbelief such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention (2 Co. 6:14-17; 2 Ti. 4:2-4; 2 Jo. 10-11).
    4. Practical separation - the separation of the believer from an erring brother. We believe that we must separate from those who continue in disobedience to the Word of God. This includes the trouble maker, the disorderly, and the immoral brother (Ro. 16:17; 1 Co. 5:11; 2 Th. 3:6,14-15; Ti. 3:10).78
Though in this doctrine of separatism there are some resemblances to the Lutheran Doctrine of Church Fellowship, the motivation for separatistic practice is Law, not Gospel, and in the second aspect listed above, places restrictions on the Christian’s Vocational and evangelical service to his fellow man that are entirely unsupported by the references cited, which are references to separation in matters of faith.

As a result of sequestering themselves from society in this way, Fundamentalists almost entirely lost their influence among liberal theologians – their separatism being cause for suspicion among liberals on the one hand, while causing a growing ignorance among Fundamentalists regarding relevant categories of thought and modes of expression on the other. Yet, their Christian piety was still a highly potent witness in society. Nevertheless, by the late 1930’s, discontent with separatism had grown sufficiently among Fundamentalists that a counter-movement began to develop from within it: Evangelicalism. This movement initially stressed a healthy involvement in the World – in the context of evangelism and ecumenical dialog. By the close of the 1950’s, however, it was clear that Evangelicals had begun to absorb Worldly perspectives from the liberal Christians they had, in evangelical zeal, endeavored to associate with, Dan Fuller and other leading elements of the Evangelical Movement at Fuller Theological Seminary having introduced neo-orthodox controversies over the inerrancy of the Scriptures (the institution eventually rejected inerrancy in the early 1970’s), while that institution had begun to develop philosophies and techniques for evangelism that were engineered to bring about mass conversion – which was the basis of today's "Church Growth Movement." Once again, the Church in America set itself on the road of “becoming the Culture,” eventually insisting that, for the survival of Christianity, the church must become the culture.

That the Church must “become the culture” is a lie. That it has increasingly “become the culture” is the manifest reason Western Christianity has slowly disintegrated over the past three centuries. Taking on the culture of the World has produced a vacillating imbalance between emphasis on intellect and emotion in the Church, between reason and experience, objectivity and subjectivity – and not just an imbalance, but a thrashing between these emphases that has drawn the attention of the Church away from the saving events and message of the Gospel, away from the centrality of Christ, and instead upon man and the dual fundamental characteristics of his existence. No, Christianity must not “become the culture” any more than it should it cut itself off from society. No, the Church must not abdicate in the face of its great enemy, the World, either by joining it or by running from it. Rather, as an historical institution, with an historical and saving message, it must stand and face the World on the basis of its confession, it must earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), by (a) holding on to the specific and historic truths of Scripture in its doctrine, and (b) defending and proclaiming this truth in its practice.

But are the events of the Gospel defensible at all? Or are we left only with hope – to merely believe the events so that they become true... at least true for us?

More to come...



  1. See the first paragraph of the second posting of this "Interlude" series on Intrepid Lutherans: Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Pietism)
  2. This brief "litany" was produced in the two immediately prior posts in this "Interlude" serie, on Intrepid Lutherans:
  3. Fourth Baptist Church, Plymouth, MN, the site of Central Baptist Seminary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What, no comments? Is anyone reading or are all sleeping? This is brilliant.

"Wake, awake, for night is flying,"
The watchmen on the heights are crying;
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
"Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes, awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
With bridal care Yourselves prepare
To meet the Bridegroom, who is near."

Jim Huwe

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