Near the turn of the century General William Booth of the Salvation Army was credited with this prediction: “The chief danger of the twentieth century will be:

—religion without the Holy Spirit

—Christianity without Christ

—forgiveness without repentance

—salvation without regeneration

—politics without God

—heaven without hell.”

The perverting of Christianity into a religion without eternal value or power is by no means universal within the Church today. But General Booth’s prediction has come true in so many areas within Protestantism that we should all take a close look at our own hearts and endeavors and see whether we might be standing on dangerous ground because, consciously or otherwise, we have substituted a man-made religion for Christianity.

What place does the Holy Spirit have in our lives and work? Ignorance or ignoring of the place of the Holy Spirit in individual salvation and in the life of the Church has rightly been called “The Great Omission.” We glibly repeat the verse in Zechariah, “This is the Word of the Lord …, not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6), and then blithely act as though such things as education, personality, energetic activity, programs, money, and numbers were sufficient in themselves.

We refuse to take to heart a plain lesson from the early Church; there unlearned and ignorant men, men probably unattractive in appearance and personality, men who were forced to say, “Silver and gold have I none”—these men had a personal experience with the risen Lord and an anointing with the Holy Spirit, and because of this they went out and within a few years turned the world upside down through the preaching of the Gospel.

The twentieth-century Church has everything the early disciples had multiplied a thousandfold. But it lacks the evidence of the all-pervading presence and power of the Holy Spirit—not because he is unavailable but because he is ignored and replaced by things of the flesh and mind.

“Christianity without Christ”? Is such a thing possible? This depends on terminology. On every hand we find a form of “Christianity” whose concern is far removed

from the Christ revealed in the New Testament, a “Christianity” that speaks of a “Christ” shorn of his supernatural and miraculous power.

This denial of the Christ of the Bible starts with a rejection of his pre-existence with God and his place in the creation of the world and goes on to deny his virgin birth, his miracles, his death for sinners, his shed blood as the agent of redemption, his physical resurrection, and his certain return in power and great glory.

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We are well aware that some question or reject those attributes of Christ that set him apart from all humanity, and yet claim to love and serve him. Our prayer is that their spiritual eyes may be opened to see the One whom they deny and to let him make all plain to their hearts and minds.

If the Christ of the Holy Scriptures is rejected, all doctrines concerned with that Christ have to be rejected or revised. We here consider the two revisions predicted by General Booth—“forgiveness without repentance” and “salvation without regeneration.”

God sent his Son into the world to establish the way of forgiveness. Although sin has been described in philosophical, psychological, social, and environmental terms, the fact remains that sin is a mortal offense against a holy God. It is a combination of unbelief, disobedience, and pride; all of these separate man from his Maker, and for them man must be forgiven. As a free moral agent man must recognize his actual state before he can ask forgiveness, and he must then ask forgiveness on the basis of the love and mercy inherent in God’s offer of forgiveness in the person and work of his Son.

For his evil heart and the sins which proceed from it man must repent. Forgiveness without repentance would mean the unrepentant sinner was placed in the consuming presence of a holiness for which he was not prepared.

This leads to another question: Can there be “salvation without regeneration”? Some laymen are confused by seemingly obscure theological terms, but there is nothing obscure about regeneration. It simply means being born again, and our Lord tells us that “except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

As for the nature of regeneration, Jesus makes it plain that this is spiritual rebirth: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

This is a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of repentant sinners. There is an ironic note in our Lord’s words to the Pharisees, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:13b). The self-righteous are beyond the pale of redemption, ineligible because of the very thing of which they are most proud. The barrier between them and the Cross is self, not God.

“Politics without God.” The emerging of a completely secular government is a recent phenomenon in America. Slowly we are seeing “freedom of religion” subverted to “freedom from religion.” The present trend of court decisions can lead to the elimination of all reference to God in the official life of our nation—and this despite history, which shows that official recognition of God has been the cornerstone of our institutions.

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“Heaven without hell.” The new religion that is emerging offers men heaven without the fear of hell. The universalism and neo-universalism of our day is cutting the nerve of evangelism and missions wherever it is accepted. And it is doing far more: it is mocking the meaning of the Cross.

On the one hand, it teaches that “God is too good to damn anyone,” forgetting these solemn words: “… he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18b). On the other hand, it broadens the redemptive work of Christ to embrace all. Thus it ignores the words of our Lord, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46), and those of Paul, who, speaking of the unbelieving and disobedient, says, “[They] shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:9).

It is clear, therefore, that a new religion has emerged characterized by a loss of those things that are vital.

What then is the remedy? The Church must return to the source of her message. She must turn again to those things so clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures, to the Christ of eternity and history, the one who is revealed in all his wondrous person and work and who becomes a reality for the individual, for the world, and for the Church through the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is for us to believe even though we cannot understand, to obey even though we do not know what way that obedience will take us.

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