The crisis facing the church today
The Holy Scriptures, as given to the church by her Head and Lord, Jesus Christ, is the church’s only and all-sufficient rule of what she is to believe and do. Her mind and practice is to be regulated by the contents of what the prophets and apostles left in writing. Such is the classic Protestant position, which also fully accords with what the Bible affirms about itself.
But this is certainly not the unanimous position of all Christendom, not even among modern-day Evangelicals, who have strangely, to a lesser or greater degree, strayed away from the faith of their fathers.
Five unshakeable pillars
Sola Scriptura was one of the major watchwords of the Reformation era, as the enlightened leaders of the church in the sixteenth century came all to more to see and confess publicly.
It was their rallying cry, together with the other four pillars of Christian theology:
Thus is was necessary and inevitable for them to do, all the more as they struggled against the gross corruptions of Romanism then prevalent in all Europe.
But today, Christians of all persuasions and coming from different denominations, are denying the rich heritage of standing solely and consistently on the Bible, and the Bible alone. This spells trouble, for without biblical authority and discipline, we are not only like a ship without a rudder but we are exposed to every imagination that the human mind is capable of bringing up and conceiving.
The church at large today is facing a crisis of immense proportions, because this issue strikes at the very grassroots of our holy faith. Abandoning the moorings of Scripture can and will in due course spell catastrophe for the faith. For faith is always to be grounded and nourished upon the revealed Word of God, not upon human wisdom which with God is accounted to be foolishness. The warrant of faith is found in Scripture. Other than that faith degenerates into subjectivism, mysticism or some other aberration that cannot maintain the soul in communion with the Creator.
In fighting the fight before us, we are and should be constantly reminded of the promise of our Lord, that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His true disciples.
But this does not necessarily mean that they cannot be deceived or led astray by the spirit of the age. The Christian and the church as a corporate body is exhorted and warned against error, and is to hold fast to the written Word, for only therein is the truth to be found. Pastors and teachers in the church are held responsible to pass on to their generation and the next the undiluted and unadulterated truth of God.
In the past the struggle was mainly against a corrupt form of Christianity, that is, Romanism; today such a struggle continues (for Rome has since then degenerated all the more doctrinally), but added to that is the struggle against new forms of eclecticism: for instance, psychology mixed with the Bible, or charismatic dreams and so-called prophecies being held up to the Christian’s attention together with the Bible. Then it was church tradition, now it is of a more subjective nature, but the danger is there, and it is even more insidious.
A sure foundation
The great objective of the church today is to get back on the right rails, the rails that her Lord has appointed for her, that is, the Holy Scripture, to be faithful to the rich deposit of faith therein revealed (Jude 3). But this is not what is being done. On the agenda of many denominations the first item is that of unity and ecumenism. By this is meant a superficial unity of getting together at the neglect or even denial of the truth of God.
But the kingdom of Christ is not one of darkness. It is a kingdom where truth must prevail. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (John 18:37). Such was the good confession that Christ bore before Pilate. And we, as his disciples, must maintain that cause, not water it down. “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
The bringing together of all churches at any price has become the craze of most of Christendom. Every other issue seems to be forgotten. Doctrinal distinctives, even fundamentals of the faith (such as the resurrection of Christ and His deity, His virgin birth and the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures) are neglected.
The basic concept is that when and as soon as the world sees the visible church all united in one big denomination, then inevitably the world will be impressed and evangelism will be made so much easier. When harmony prevails, rather than strife and doctrinal disagreement, then unbelievers will be attracted to the church.
This vain idea is founded on a corrupt interpretation of a passage in John 17. Churches of liberal persuasion, being bereft of solid Bible truth, were moved to come together, having hardly anything distinctive and worth taking a strong ground for. Eventually this mentality came to form the World Council of Churches.
But sound Bible-believing churches would naturally have little if anything to do with such a movement. Nevertheless, the pressure increasing from every side, today we see even solid fundamental churches getting into the act and joining the band-wagon.
What is an Evangelical?
The evangelical movement itself may be seen as a branch of such a widespread movement. Evangelicals are fast losing what was handed to them by the Reformers. They are quickly letting go of doctrines that were precious to the Reformers and on the other hand adopting others that would shock the same Reformers. For instance, we could mention the dropping or diluting of the five points of Calvinism, and at the same time teaching Arminian or even Pelagian doctrines such as the freedom of the will of the natural man to be converted.
The evangelical movement was also largely responsible for the inter-church relations that has now brought about this sad state of affairs. Today it has become to spawning ground for many unbiblical activities.
It is supposed that in these churches the Bible hold full and uncontested authority in matters of faith and practice, but this is increasingly disregarded.
Uprooting what was planted
What is supplanting the churches, once so solid and sound?
1. Firstly, pragmatism. What seems to work for us we will adopt, irrespective whether it has the sanction and approval of Scripture.
If skits and drama will draw people to the church, we will adopt such means, and at the same time give a minor role to traditional preaching. Pragmatism say, preaching was for a bygone age; today we have television and modern media which are much more effective for the accomplishment of the task.
2. Another mole that is burrowing away at the foundations is pluralism.
Everybody has his story to tell and who are you to criticise him (even though he does not tally with the Word of God)?
3. Inclusivism is the order of the day. Once this principle is adopted, no need for Confessions of Faith is seen any more.
Rather the historic Protestant confessions (the Belgic, the Westminster, the Savoy Declaration, and so on), are considered to be stumbling-blocks for unity. They naturally retire to the very background or are even struck out from the church’s constitution. Fidelity to a Confession of Faith is decried as being divisive.
Thus there remains little room for the remaining faithful Christians who adhere tenaciously to the fundamental truth of Sola Scriptura. Leaders of the groups fast becoming apostate will of course deny this but if we are to examine and evaluate their beliefs in the light of Scripture the conclusion will be obvious.
A semblance of Christianity is requested by these groups, but this is certainly not enough; we need to demand and seek to have pure and sound teaching; and as far as church discipline is concerned we need not shy away from the Scriptural directives.
Thus the faithful remnant may well be wary of using the term ‘evangelical’ as a description of themselves. A number of reasons may be put forward, but only two need to be mentioned.
1. The Evangelical church of today is far removed theologically from the Evangelical church of the sixteenth century. The revivalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, under Finney, Moody and others, have changed the shape and form of the Evangelical church. Many count their ministries as great blessings but in actual truth their novel methodologies (such as the altar-call, and the sinner’s prayer) were unheard of during the Reformation era.
2. The Evangelical church of today embraces many groups and sects that are no longer holding to the truths of the Reformed faith, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists.
A lamp unto my feet
Yet the Bible was and remains the Church’s yard-stick of truth and mankind’s moral guide, both for salvation and for obedience to God.
The Western hemisphere of the world today is in a moral dilemma. Having rejected the moral absolutes of the Bible, it finds no sure ground for what to hold to as truth and what to do, and why.
But the same happens to the church of Christ as soon as it rejects the Bible as its only sure foundation. The Bible is the only authentic record that informs us of our origins, the purpose of our existence, the way we are to conduct ourselves, the way of salvation and our destiny. Man does not have the answers to these seminal questions in himself. God has to provide the answers, and He did: in the Holy Scripture.
The Bible also tells us what God we are to worship: the true and living Triune God, the Sovereign Creator and Preserver of all things, the Redeemer, by whom and through whom and unto whom are all things. It is in Him that we live and move and have our being, but left to our own devices, we remain ignorant of Him, as the philosophers of Athens were, however intellectually bright they might have been (Acts 17).
God alone knows what is best for us and for the world. We therefore cannot afford to neglect to hold fast the healthy doctrine that is preserved for all generations in the Bible.
Setting forth principles
To make things clear:
1. The true Evangelical does not believe that the Bible merely contains the Word of God; the Bible is wholly, really and consistently, the Word of God. Nothing else is.
2. The friends of Christ and of His gospel are those who, among other things, hold fast to the Bible alone as their sure foundation. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father...” (John 14:21).
3. The truly evangelical and Reformed Christian believes that the Bible is wholly inerrant, and therefore trustworthy. Granted that the interpretation is correct, the Bible always leads us into the truth. It is free from fraudulent information, whether it touches on scientific, astronomical, historical or spiritual truth.
4. The Evangelical, consistent to the Scriptures, believes in the sufficiency of Scripture. New and true revelations from God have never been received by the church since the times of the apostles.
Pentecostals and Charismatics and any other groups that lay claim to new revelation are cutting themselves off from mainstream Christianity.
5. If Scripture is sufficient and infallible, then it is the final authority for the church. No appeal to a higher court may be made, for in Scripture God speaks.
Scripture dictates to the obedient Christian what he is to believe and what he is supposed to do: how to worship, how to serve, and so on.
6. The Scriptures are to be interpreted wisely, prayerfully and consistently. The (truly) Evangelical church is the church which may be identified by the centrality of the Word: the Word read, meditated upon, preached, sung, and obeyed.
7. The faithful Christian is also obedient to the Great Commission, to see others confessing the Lordship of Christ and rejoicing in His salvation by grace. Compassion for the lost is prominent in such Christians.
As for the future
“I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all thing, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ...” (1 Timothy 6:13,14).
As the apostolic days were almost over the main concern of Paul was that succeeding generations should maintain the standard, holding fast to the Faith once delivered to the saints. We stand responsible to do just that, for “if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalms 11:3).