A Clarion Call to the Modern Church

More than a decade ago, John MacArthur called modern churches to return to sound doctrine — we need to hear that call again.

Christians historically have understood that their calling is to be in the world but not of the world. As Os Guinness pointed out in a perceptive series of articles on the church-growth movement, traditional evangelicalism not only resisted worldly influences, but also used to stress “cognitive defiance” of the world spirit.

Now, however, “the world has become so powerful, pervasive, and appealing that the traditional stance of cognitive defiance has become rare and almost unthinkable” (“Recycling the Compromise of Liberalism,”  Tabletalk [May 1992], 51.). At some point, evangelicals decided to make friends with the world.

Guinness pointed out that although we are called to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-18), many Christians have reversed the formula, becoming of the world while not really being in the world. They did this by allowing cable television, VCRs, radio, and other forms of communication to infuse worldly values into their thinking, while isolating themselves from any personal involvement with the people in the world who most desperately need the gospel.

“Evangelicals are now outdoing the liberals as the supreme religious modernizers — and compromisers — of today,” Guinness writes (Ibid.). The market-driven philosophy so popular among modern evangelicals is nothing more than “a recycling of the error of classical liberalism” (Ibid.).

The reason most evangelicals were caught unaware by modernism a hundred years ago is that liberals rose from within evangelical ranks, used evangelical vocabulary, and gained acceptance through relentless appeals for peace and tolerance. New church-growth movements are following precisely the same course, and that tactic has taken evangelicals by surprise once again.

Most of the market-driven megachurches insist they would never compromise doctrine. They are attractive to evangelicals precisely because they claimed to be as orthodox in their doctrine as they are unorthodox in their methodology. Multitudes have been sufficiently reassured by such promises and have simply abandoned their critical faculties, thus increasing their vulnerability. Unfortunately, real discernment is in short supply among modern evangelicals.

Like the modernists a century ago, churches in the user-friendly movement have decided that doctrine is divisive — peace is more important than sound teaching. Wanting to appeal to a modern age, they have framed their message as a friendly, agreeable, and relevant dialogue, rather than as a confrontation with the gospel of Christ.

The relevant issues of our modern age–radicalism, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, and other politically charged moral issues  — pose the most obvious threat for user-friendly churches. Their undefined theology and seeker-sensitive philosophy do not permit them to take a firm biblical stance on such matters, because the moment they defy the spirit of the age, they forfeit their marketing appeal. They are therefore forced to keep silent or capitulate. Either way, they compromise the truth.

If a church is not even willing to take a firm stand against abortion, how will it deal with the erosion of crucial doctrine? If a church lacks discernment enough to condemn such overt errors as homosexuality or feminism, how will it handle a subtle attack on doctrinal integrity?

Many evangelical churches have wholly abandoned strong preaching about hell, sin, and the wrath of God. They claim God’s primary attribute is benevolence–one that overrides and supersedes His holiness, justice, wrath, and sovereignty.

Rather than addressing humanity’s greatest need — forgiveness of sins — modern sermons deal with contemporary topics, psychological issues (depression, eating disorders, self-image), personal relationships, motivational themes, and other matters a la mode.

The market-driven philosophy of user-friendly churches does not easily permit them to take firm enough doctrinal positions to oppose false teaching. Their outlook on leadership drives them to hire marketers who can sell rather than biblically qualified pastors who can teach. Their approach to ministry is so undoctrinal that they cannot educate their people against subtle errors. Their avoidance of controversy puts them in a position where they cannot oppose false teaching that masquerades as evangelicalism.

In fact, the new trends in theology seem ideally suited to the user-friendly philosophy. Why would the user-friendly church oppose such doctrines?

But oppose them we must, if we are to remain true to God’s Word and maintain a gospel witness. Pragmatic approaches to ministry do not hold answers to the dangers confronting biblical Christianity today.  Pragmatism promises bigger churches, more people, and a living church, but it is really carnal wisdom — spiritually bankrupt and contrary to the Word of God.

Marketing techniques offer nothing but the promise of popularity and worldly approval. They certainly offer no safeguard against the dangers of the down-grade toward spiritual ruin.

The only hope is a return to Scripture and sound doctrine. We evangelicals desperately need to recover our determination to be biblical, our refusal to comply with the world, our willingness to defend what we believe, and our courage to defy false teaching. Unless we collectively awaken to the current dangers that threaten our faith, the adversary will attack us from within, and we will not be able to withstand.

Yet, surely, there must be some who will fling aside the dastard love of peace, and speak out for our Lord, and for his truth. A craven spirit is upon many, and their tongues are paralyzed. Oh, for an outburst of true faith and holy zeal!

(Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

End Notes

  • Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel, © 1993 by John MacArthur.
  • Grace to You (Wednesday, February 15, 2006)

Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World – Expanded edition © 1993

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C.H. Spurgeon Worldly Preaching – John MacArthur

Last year, I listened to the following video excerpt from a DVD entitled “Does the Truth Matter Anymore?” published by CrossTV, wherein, John MacArthur critiques worldly preaching as he reminds us of the high cost men like Spurgeon were willing to pay to stand up for strong, biblical, Christ-centered teaching – Biblical Truth.

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Worldliness – C.H. Spurgeon

C H Spurgeon

It is clear to every one who is willing to see it that laxity of doctrine is either the parent of worldliness, or is in some other way very near akin to it. The men who give up the old faith are the same persons who plead for latitude as to general conduct. The Puritan is not more notorious for his orthodoxy than for his separateness from the world.

Liberal divines do not always command the respect of the public, but they gain a certain popularity by pandering to prevailing tastes. The ungodly world is so far on their side that it commends them for their liberality, and rails at the orthodox as bigots and kill-joys.

It is a very suspicious circumstance that very often the less a man knows of the inner life, and the less he even cares to speak of it, the more heartily he is for the new theology, the theory of evolution, and the condemnation of all settled doctrine.

Those who would have a blessing from the Lord must avoid all this, and determine to follow the Lord fully. Not only must they quit false doctrine, but they must receive the gospel, not as dogma, but as vital truth. Only as the truth is attended with living faith will it prove its own royal power.

Believers must also sweep the house of the leaven of worldliness, and the frivolities of a giddy generation. The evil which is now current eats as doth a canker, and there is no hope for healthy godliness until it is cut out of the body of the church by her again repenting, and doing her first works.

Those who through divine grace have not defiled their garments must not content themselves with censuring others, but must arouse themselves to seek a fuller baptism of the Spirit of God. Perhaps these evils are permitted that they may act as a sieve upon the heap gathered on the Lord’s threshing-floor. Possibly they are allowed that our apathetic churches may be aroused. We know already of several cases in which true ministers have gone over the foundation truths again with their people, and have preached the saving Word with clearer emphasis. In other cases churches have been summoned to special prayer about this matter.

This is a good beginning: let it be carried out on the widest scale. As one man let us cry mightily unto the Lord our God, that he would arise and plead his own cause. Now, if never before, let those who are loyal to Jesus and his Word be up and doing. A boundless blessing is waiting for the asking. We believe in prayer. LET US PRAY LIKE ELIJAHS.

C.H. Spurgeon - “Restoration of Truth and Revival” (Sword and Trowel – 1887)

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Called To Be Holy

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. (Luke 12:33-36 ESV)

One recurring warning throughout the New Testament is that Christians should live in such a way that they will be ready when their Lord returns. What would that life look like? How should we live in order to be ready when He comes and knocks? I doubt that it would look like the self-indulgent, pop-culture oriented, heavily marketed, so-called Christian lifestyle that waters down the gospel and breeds “Christians” who are both theologically and scripturally ignorant. They follow “another Jesus” whose creators have designed to fit the image that draws the crowd they want. The “followers” of this “other Jesus” resent any call to live lives of repentance before a Holy God who is to be feared. What does the life look like that is prepared for our Lord’s return?

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13 ESV)

…. continues at source: Possessing The Treasure

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