The #1 Problem Facing the Church Today
The title of this article may strike sonic as presumptuous. it may appear to a Jew that I am suffering from such arrogance that 1 can believe my wisdom is qualified to weigh and conclude for all, flatters of the utmost importance - I assure you, I am no scholar, no selfstyled expert, nor do I labor under any delusion that I am unusually wise. The only wisdom I may demonstrate has come from Gods revelation, and admittedly, I do not always live with it or by it on a daily basis. What I have to say is neither profound nor original. Anyone with the ability to objectively observe the world and culture we live in will probably have already colic to a similar conclusion. That being said, I humbly submit my thoughts.
I recognize that worldliness, materialism, secular humanism various doctrinal errors, etc. arc all formidable and seriously threatening forces that confront the Lords church. While priorities may be subjective and differ, 1 believe the #1 problem facing the church, and this nation for that "latter, is the inability and/or unwillingness of people to definitively state an action as being absolutely right or wrong. To set a standard of right and wrong that does not change is seen as unrealistic, and o suggest that man is obligated to adhere to it is seen as narrow-minded, judgmental, arrogant and almost unforgiveable. To say that something is absolutely right is necessarily to say there are other things that are absolutely wrong, and this is totally unacceptable in todays world. Consequently, moral resolution is the rule of the day. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes.
How did we get to this point in our thinking? While this attitude may have surfaced periodically through history, 1 believe the propulsion of todays problem, is found in the sexual revolution of the 1960s in general, and in two literary works specifically. In 966, Dr. Joseph Fletcher published his book Situation Ethics. This work simply reflected the current and increasingly prevalent thoughts of a "New Morality. His premise as a situationist was basically that love was the only law that could dictate an action in any given situation. Notice:
The situationist follows a moral law or violates it according to loves need only the commandment to lo9ve is categorically good. Everything else without exception, all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love in any situation . . .
In other words, if it is done or said with love, anything and everything is acceptable.
Three years later, Thomas Harris published his immensely popular Im OK, Youre OK. Like Situation Ethics, Harris book reflected the growing permissiveness in society, and actually helped fuel it. Clearly, this was a major move towards universal self-justification.
The "icing on the cake" has come in this past decade via the "New Age" movement. If you are familiar with the various teachings (whose spectrum is as wide and as varied as the colors in the rainbow), you will no doubt be aware that one of the basic tenets is that every individual is God. As God, I determine what is right and wrong for me and my situation. As God, I and only I can rightly judge myself. I cannot judge you because you are God too. As a God, each individual is the exclusive Judge and ruler of his own "universe." In other words, everyone "does his own thing." Sound familiar? "In those days there was no King in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 21:25). Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
The effect this has had upon the Lords church can be seen in the institutional churches of Christ. In the 1960s we began to hear about the call to "preach the man, not the plan." In other places it took the form of "Gospel vs. Doc-trine" (less law and more love). As more emphasis was being placed upon the life of Jesus and less emphasis upon his words, there came an inevitable break from the "book, chapter, and verse" mentality that so distinguished the restoration spirit (actually their ties to a scriptural anchor had been severed in the division over the "sponsoring church" controversy in the early 1950s, and though previously warned, it took a few- years of "drifting" before it was readily apparent to others that the true precedent that had been set).
Now, as our societal "wisdom" is increasingly extolling the virtues of "tolerance," there is tremendous pressure to accept into their fellowship instrumental music and women leadership of the church, among other things. Many are already openly fellowshipping the "mainline Protestant denominations," and when confronted with the scriptural prohibition of such, the cry is being voiced for a "New Hermeneutic."
Waiting to take center stage next is homosexuality. There are some who have already "re-studied" this issue and have now come to the conclusion that promiscuous homosexuality is what is being prohibited in the Scriptures. As long as a "same-sex marriage" is monogamous, this is acceptable and pleasing to God. There can be no mistake about it, the modern preachers of the "new morality" (Phil Donahue, et al.) are having a major impact upon the religious community.
Closer To Home
Has this affected churches of Christ that have taken a stand against "institutionalism"? Alarmingly, there is more and more sympathy in the Lords church for being "tolerant" of peoples circumstances, though they are living openly in sin. Gospel preachers and elders are catching more "heat" because they have the arrogant nerve to stand up and proclaim someones action as sinful. We are being told that abortion, gambling, social drinking, and adulterous marriages, among other things, are matters of personal and private concern, and those who oppose such in other peoples lives are sowing discord and "out of line."
We are told that to stand up and speak out against an individuals sin is "building fences." The fear is that we will alienate the church from the people in the world. In reality, a "fence" has already been "built" by the sinner when he chooses to do that which the New Testament prohibits. The "fence" is not between the church and the world, it is between the sinner and the Saviour. To allow this separation to remain without warning or informing the sinner is indifference and pure selfishness on our part. In a rush to be acceptable and "socially correct," we allow the sinner to remain unacceptable and "spiritually incorrect" with the Lord. Is this being a "light unto the world"?
A few years ago I had a conversation with a woman who had visited our congregation. She stated that it was "un-Christ-like" to condemn and individual. My response: Jesus always loved the individual, it was this very love that he called us to (Jn. 15:9-13). However, no one can read Matthew 15 and conclude that our Lord was "tolerant" of all peoples lives. Jesus indeed made moral judgments and condemned sinners. He called the Pharisees "hypocrites" (15 times), "vain worshippers," and "blind leaders of the blind." In Titus 1.12, 13 the apostle Paul agreed that Cretans were "liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." Stephen told the Jews in Acts 7:51 they were stubborn resisters of the Holy Spirit.
The point is not that we have the right to be condescending and call people ugly names. We do not. The point is that our Lord and his early disciples never shrank from the task of confronting sin in the lives of anyone. If the teaching of the minister or the Bible teacher is not to delve into and address the daily lives of people, then what on earth does the word "walk" in Galatians 5:16-25 mean? If the evangelist is not to bring to light the sin of another, then what, pray tell, is 2 Timothy 4:2-5 talking about?
What brethren must realize is that when we stand for something, we automatically and necessarily stand against the things which are contrary (go back and read John 15:18-25). If we embrace the worlds message of "tolerance" as the true yardstick of love, how are we going to convince our neighbor that faith, repentance and baptism are compulsory? What reason could we give to a weekly observance of the Lords supper as opposed to a yearly observance, other than "we just prefer a weekly observance"?
Although we will continue to battle various issues within and without the body of Christ, I am convinced the force behind most of the present and coming controversies will be the devil-inspired, society-driven philosophy that no one can make any moral judgments. Nothing is absolute, everything is relative ("thats your interpretation"). "Tolerance" is the true mark of a loving disciple, and "subjectivism" is the final authority for each individual.
The next time you hear a defense of someones unscriptural teaching or practice, see if you do not recognize some of these sentiments. As we are now beginning to see in the institutional churches of Christ, the next step in this progression is from "tolerance" to "pluralism." Can that too be far behind for us?
Fletcher, Joseph Situation Ethics, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press (1966), pp. 26, 31.
The term "New Hermeneutics" is somewhat ambiguous, but it is basically a set of interpretive rules arbitrarily composed by the student to allow any and every religious practice desired. For a further look into its nature and effect, I suggest you read The Cultural Church (Nashville: 20th Century Christian, 1992) by F. LaGard Smith.
"Pluralism" is the universal and gratuitous acceptance of all thoughts, beliefs, and actions, sensitivity and accommodation to diversity. The "pluralist" is proud of his ability to please as many as possible.
(Editors Note: This article should have been included in the previous issue of articles written by California preachers at the request of brother Ron Halbrook. Somehow this article became separated from the others. We apologize to brother Marrs for the error.) Gr
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14 p. 6-7