By Joel McGarvey (June 19, 2015)
To some I will sound like a trouble maker, to others perhaps a nut, and still others a breath of fresh air. No matter your take on what I am about to write, I feel compelled to say it nonetheless. Over the years I have written several articles in examination of America and America’s church culture. Let me say right here, I am far more concerned with America’s church culture than I am with the culture of America. I am more concerned with Americans than I am with America. That is not to say that I do not love my country or am less than patriotic. I love America, I love what she has stood for over the years, I love her stand for freedom, free speech, and the freedom to worship. But I must admit at the same time, I do not like what America is fast becoming. I have joined in the chorus with others who have responded to the cry, “God bless America” with “Why should He?” I’m sure that America didn’t get to where we are today overnight. I’m sure that the Supreme Court ruling against prayer and Bible reading in the schools didn’t happen overnight. Neither did the legalization of abortion or the murder of more than a million babies each year. And now we await another ruling from the Supreme Court, this time dealing with the subject of same-sex marriage. I am convinced that years prior to any of these decisions, the seeds of change were being slowly and subtly sown in the hearts and minds of individuals though the writings of liberal authors and the philosophies expressed in the educational systems at all levels. The Apostle Paul wrote warning the Church at Ephesus, “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil” (Eph. 6:11). This system of incrementalism (drip method) made it possible for what would have been normally rejected as being too radical to be slowly accepted. The 60’s and 70’s were marked by a bold rejection of authority and long accepted norms. Freedom was in reality the removal of rules and the institution of anarchy. The Book of Judges closes with the words, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25). These words truly capture the spirit so prevalent in the American culture today. The leadership in place today is those, who for the most part, either shared in the cultural chaos of the 60’s and 70’s, or were raised by those who did. Rules have been replaced with feelings and truth has become relative. How do we have a nation with a longstanding Constitution setting forth the rules by which we are to be governed and yet ignore it with impunity, and more than half of the citizenry willingly looks the other way? There can be only one real answer; to them, it is no longer truth.
But, what about the church in America? What is the culture of the church? Is it really any different from that of the society in which it finds itself? Where is the church, especially in this co-called “Postmodern” world?
Without delving into the details of history, the church has, on many occasions “re-made” itself to align with, or fit into changes in society as well as the church. A friend of mine often says it this way, “The church builds itself around its doctrine, or its doctrine around the church.” Yes, there have been theological shifts in the church over the centuries with the great division between the fundamentalists and the evangelicals taking place in the 50’s. In many ways this division was one of emphasis at the start rather than actual differences over the basic tenets of theology. For the most part, a general agreement remained over the very core issues or beliefs of the church. But, as in any re-making, or “new way of thought,” the chasm grew wider and wider. The new evangelical movement drifted further and further away from a pure stand upon the Word of God. The inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Person of the Holy Spirit all were among some of the core beliefs that began to be questioned by some. The evangelicals would even divide with the emergence of the neo-evangelicals. Francis Schaefer, a philosopher / theologian and one of the founders of the evangelical movement would, near the end of his life, publically admit that the movement he had helped to found had truly drifted astray. (See The Great Evangelical Disaster.)
This drifting, in society and the church, has led to chaos and confusion in both. While we would expect to find the world drifting further and further away from the Lord and His Word, it is sad to witness this taking place in the church. I can speak from experience as Susan and I travel throughout the U.S. each year and deal with young people. Increasingly, we are encountering children who have no idea who Jesus Christ is. Several years ago we even encountered a mother of a VBS child ignorant of Jesus Christ beyond the swear word she used and heard. We sat at a table as a grandfather questioned his college-age grandson concerning his theological beliefs. When his grandson commented that his friend held to a different doctrinal position, he was asked if he ever shared his views with his friend. “No, he has his own truth, and I have mine.” This may sound normal to some (especially if you’re under 30) and strange to everyone else. But it is the natural result of the chaos and confusion that exists in society and church today. Our young people are being educated in a system that encourages them to question everything, including authority. (Remember, the teachers today are the “free thinkers” of the 60s and 70s or their children.)
What is the seed of this great shift in thinking, shift in theology and doctrine? A very simple answer is a departure from the Apostle Paul. Nearing the end of his life the Apostle wrote, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me….” “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world (age) and is departed unto Thessalonica: Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10). Whether these individuals totally departed from any walk with Christ is unknown but what is known is that they departed from Paul and his teaching. But this departing was not new to Paul, he had experienced it before in Galatia. You will recall it was to the church in Galatia that he wrote, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). This church had not so much departed from God or the Lord but had departed from Paul and his message of Grace. The Church of Galatia, in departing from the Grace of Christ, had sought to return to the bondage of the Law (Gal. 5:1-3). Perhaps they still were making the claim to love the Lord and follow Christ but they had indeed departed from the pure Grace found only through the message given by special revelation to the Apostle Paul (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:25-27). The problem in much of Christendom today is the failure to see and understand the unique position that the writings of the Apostle Paul have in the Word of God. To many, Paul represents merely a continuation or expansion of what was already in place and underway. In some ways Paul is nothing more than the “13th Apostle,” or as some would have it the true twelth Apostle as it should have been he who replaced Judas and not Matthias. This failure to recognize Paul’s unique position and message then causes the church to fail to truly heed his instruction of proper Bible study, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
But what is the result of this failure to recognize the unique position and message of Paul? What are the consequences of failing to rightly divide the Word of Truth? I will say this, that in some cases it can be very grave for it causes the follower of another gospel to hold to beliefs that are false, provide a false hope and lead to a Christless eternity in the Lake of Fire. What do we mean by that?
The most important issue anyone will be asked to deal with is their eternal standing before God. What is their hope? How is that hope acquired? What must I do to be saved? The answer to this question is quite simple: believe that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day (1 Cor. 15:1-4). This is purely the Gospel as it was given to the Apostle Paul and it is the Gospel of Grace. That is why he was so bothered by the Galatians who were seeking to move on (or back) “…unto another gospel: Which is not another…” (Gal. 1:6-7). The Greek word translated “another,” in verse 6 is “heteros” and means a different sort of kind, while the word in verse 7 is “allos” meaning different of the same sort or kind. In other words, Paul was telling them that they had departed for a different Gospel that was of a differing kind and, in fact, was not a Gospel (good news).
We see and hear this throughout Christendom today; religions and preachers proclaiming “gospels” that simply are not good news and offer a false hope. The Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses spend countless hours canvassing neighborhoods spreading their supposed good news. But it is built upon a doctrine and belief that denies the true Christ and is, therefore, void of any saving power. It is a “heteros” gospel.
I hear people exclaim “Believe in Jesus.” “Believe that Jesus died for your sins.” “You are saved by faith and meet the grace of God in the waters of baptism.” “Confess your sins.” All of these may sound good, but all of them are a “heteros” Gospel emanating from the very pit of Hell. Again, Paul is very careful in his presentation of the saving Gospel. “…I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you… By which also ye are saved… For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4) The saving Gospel is found only as one comes to God believing in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ as the full and complete payment of sin and the full satisfaction of God’s standard of righteousness. Anything else is a “heteros” gospel and is not a gospel.
Preachers add a myriad of things to the Gospel such as confession of sin, repentance, baptism, sacraments and many more. All sound good, but none are the Gospel. Even in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul emphasizes the death, burial and resurrection as the heart of the Gospel (Rom. 10:9-10).
Now, if one fails to rightly divide the Word of truth, he can find support for his ways of salvation. The Church of Rome teaches that among other things one must confess their sins, eat the wafer and drink from the cup. Is this Scriptural? Yes, read John Chapter 6. Is it dispensationally accurate and applicable to today? NO! Others would teach that one must be baptized in order to be saved. Scriptural? Yes, see Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38. Is it dispensationally accurate and applicable to today? NO! To teach any of these today as the truth of the Gospel is to present a “heteros” gospel, which is not a Gospel and to give a false hope and lead its believers to a Christless eternity in the Lake of Fire. The Apostle’s warning to those who would teach a “heteros” gospel is clear. “But though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9).
Friends, we stand in a day of confusion. Increasingly, the message of Paul is being diluted and diminished or marginalized. Men and churches, who once stood boldly for the unique message of Paul, are now giving way to the philosophies and teachings of the whole. Paul’s message is seen as divisive rather than liberating. I have been told (in a church that would purport to stand with the message of Paul) that, “We don’t emulate Paul here.” Emulate means to seek to lift up and model after, which is exactly what Paul told us we are to do. “Be ye followers of me, even as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner…” (2 Tim. 1:8a). Still others have informed me, before preaching, that I should avoid using “code words” such as “rightly dividing” and “the Mystery” from the pulpit because there would be “too many in the congregation who would have no idea what I was talking about and would find it confusing.”
Then I see churches partnering with other churches for programs that promote Godly principles and yet it is possible that within those other churches there are many unbelievers because they are teaching a “heteros” gospel. Are these churches really uniting “in Christ” or a movement?
Friends, the time is short. I truly believe the Rapture of the Church could take place at any time. With that said, the time for compromise is past; the true church must stand up for the truth of the Word of God rightly divided. If we were really honest with ourselves, we gain little to nothing cooperating in “national days of this and that.” All we really accomplish is giving our stamp of approval to what is taking place and the others involved. My “Statement of Faith” is not written in a three-ring binder easily opened and changed. The Apostle Paul calls upon the church to rise up and stand. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore…” (Eph. 6:13-14a).
I have a great concern for the Church in America and the world, but I have a greater concern for those who claim to love the Word of God rightly divided. Now is not the time to rethink; now is the time to regroup and recharge and stand with a renewed boldness. At the close of our lives, may we be able to say with the Apostle Paul: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6-7).