For entirely too long church leaders ignored the growing unrest within the churches. Often it seemed they were trying to sweep the fact under the rug of frenetic programs and activity. Usually they blamed the unrest on those who protested its causes.
No longer can this unrest be ignored. There are now too many dedicated Christians raising their voices in protest. They see through the pleas for “relevancy” to a subtle change in basic emphases they cannot accept. They know something of what the Church should stand for and what it should do, and have the courage to stand up and speak against what they honestly feel to be a perversion of the Church, both in message and in activity.
This unrest is now noted by secular publications. The March Ladies Home Journal carries a survey of what 1,000 women had to say about the Church under the startling heading, “You Can’t Find God in the Church Anymore!”
To this, however, I should like to be the first to reply that obviously these women, and several million more unfortunates like them, have been going to the wrong churches. There are tens of thousands of churches where God is to be found, where his Son and his Gospel are believed and preached, and where the Written Word of God is given top priority, in matters of faith and of daily living.
But it is tragically true that most of the major denominations are now dominated by men who have shifted the emphasis of the Church and, in so doing, are neglecting the message of belief in Christ as man’s Saviour from sin—the first step toward a right relationship with God.
The scientific approach to problem-solving is to go back and find the source of the problem and then try to remedy it. What is the source of unrest in the Church? Besides the almost inevitable clashes of personalities, what lies at the root of this problem that is tearing the churches apart?
I write as one layman who has been concerned with this matter for many years, not with the feeling that I know all the answers, but with the assurance that the things I am trying to point out have much to do with the problem.
The mainstream of Protestantism has been polluted by theologians who have willfully rejected faith in the complete integrity and authority of the Word of God. This lies at the source of all that has followed.
Part of the problem is “scholarship”—not genuine scholarship with its reverent search for truth, but an arrogant intellectualism against which the Apostle Paul warned Timothy (“Avoid the godless mixture of contradictory notions which is falsely known as ‘knowledge’—some have followed it and lost their faith,” 1 Tim. 6:20, 21, Phillips). This attitude gives the opinions of men precedence over the divine revelation. It has dominated the majority of the theological seminaries of Europe and America until today a new religion has emerged that is humanism, not Christianity.
The evidences of theological laxity are all about us. Christ is portrayed as a good man who did the work of an idealistic humanitarian. As for the Bible, many of its records are regarded as the accounts of overly enthusiastic followers of our Lord. The Old Testament, together with much of the New, is considered outmoded and no longer relevant for our sophisticated age.
Out of this rejection of the Scriptures have grown some devastating theories. One is that there are no longer absolutes; everything is relative. (This statement is itself expressed as an absolute, of course.) How can the holiness of God be relative? He is pure and good. Can his truth be subordinated to man’s sinful outlook?
This does not deter some modern church leaders from making morality relative, to the point where fornication and adultery are judged, not by God’s holy law, but according to the “love” and immediate circumstances of the two persons involved. I am convinced that the new morality, or situation ethics, fits into Paul’s warning, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:1, 2).
The average person attends church to hear messages that speak to his spirit. He may be frustrated and uncertain, longing for spiritual light. Tragically, he may hear no more than a sociological discourse, an appeal to “go out and do something,” with no reference to the One who came and died and rose again so that men might truly live.
There is unrest in the Church, not only because of the changed view of Jesus Christ, but also because of the new approach to the problems of man. The emphasis is not on man’s sin and his need of a Saviour; it is on his physical, political, and economic environment. Thank God many Christians are refusing to take this lying down.
The social implications of Christianity are very real, and the Christian is to be his brother’s keeper. But the Church, as such, is not an organization for social engineering. Its primary concern is not with the social order but with the individual souls that need Christ.
Unrest in the Church? Thank God for it! When a patient is insensitive to pain he is in a critical condition. The healthy human body will usually reject poison; a sick one may permit it to do its deadly work without reacting. The current discontent is a sign that there are thousands of Christians who know the difference between true Christianity and a deadening substitute.
Perhaps it is natural that many who control the machinery of the Church blame “dissidents” for the situation, and that, where they can, they work to silence these dissenting voices. (And we might add that they are sometimes ruthless in their efforts to suppress and punish.)
What is the solution? Perhaps above all else we need a renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit, a realization that without his presence and power, all work of the Church is futile. Where he is given his rightful place, there is a spiritual awakening and revival, and a new appreciation of the Word of God as the Sword of the Spirit. When it is acknowledged that, far from being obsolete or irrelevant, the Bible is the most relevant book of all, then the Christ portrayed therein and the Gospel concerning him are preached with conviction and power.
Unrest in the Church? Thank God for this evidence of life! Thank God that people are taking heed to the warning: “Hear, O earth; behold I am bringing evil upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it” (Jer. 6:19).
L. NELSON BELL
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