Beware of the Liberal Church

Title: Beware of the Liberal Church

Text: Acts 20:28-31

Time: May 20th, 2010

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears,” Acts 20:28-31.  The Apostle Paul warns the early Christian church to beware of “savage wolves” that will tear the church apart after he leaves. He’s talking about corrupt church leaders who from within the church will threaten to ruin it through heresy (false teachings) and apostasy (false practices). That classic warning is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago, because Christianity is facing the same threat from corrupt leaders within the church today as it did long ago. On May 15th, 2010 the Episcopal dioceses of Los Angeles ordained an openly lesbian bishop, Mary Douglas Glasspool. The U.S. Episcopal Church had already ordained its first practicing homosexual bishop in 2003 with V. Gene Robinson. This is a perfect example of what has become known as in the United States as the liberal church – or liberal Christianity, using the word “Christianity” very loose and generally. The liberal church is a form of Christianity that follows neither the main teachings of the historic Christian faith nor the main practices of the classic church either. This movement arose during the early part of the 20th century in response to the rise of modernism or modern intellectual thinking. In an effort to remain relevant in the modern culture this movement within the Christian church sought to make peace with the contemporary world by essentially reinterpreting the biblical faith to fit with modern times. The Bible was reinterpreted to either deny or downplay all miracles. Historic church doctrines such as the Trinity and the virgin birth of Christ were also questioned because they contradicted modern scholarship and science. While liberal churches still used the signs and symbols of historic Christianity, more and more these were also reinterpreted to represent spiritual truths rather than literal truths. For example, it’s very common for liberal church pastors to either question or doubt outright such key doctrines as the resurrection of Christ, creation of the world by God’s direction intervention, the inspiration of the Bible, Christ’s literal second coming – to name just a few. So in the context of liberalism and its historical development within Christianity, it really isn’t surprising that we see a large, main-line denomination ordain openly gay pastors and bishops. The process has been leading up to it. The real question is, “Where will this corruption of Christianity end?” Let’s look at how the liberal church got to the point of ordaining openly gay pastors and church leaders. Then, I’ll offer some guesses as to where all of this will end up.

First, it all starts when churches began to depart from a straightforward belief in the Bible. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears,” Acts 20:28-31. Liberalism in the Christian church actually began in the colleges, universities and seminaries of Germany in the 19th century. Scholars in Germany and other European nations began to question the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible. They began to pick apart the biblical books and accounts, particularly the miracles and supernatural teachings first; then, they began to question and actually deny specific teachings generally. Pastors and church leaders carried these doubts and denials of the Bible back into the churches of Europe and later into the United States – and as a result, many churches turned away from the historic, classic Christian doctrines and practices. About the only thing left were the ethical and moral teachings of the Bible – and many of these reinterpreted to fit the modern times. What the Apostle Paul warned the ancient church came about just as he predicted. Pastors and leaders from within the church began to lead the people astray by advocating teachings and practices that contradict the Bible. According to the Apostle Paul, these “savage wolves” – the name he gives to these corrupt leaders – would slowly but surely spread their doubts and denials within the larger church community to the point that eventually it would be hard to distinguish the Christian church from the sinful world. Well, we’re almost to that tragic point today in some denominations within Christianity; certainly the U.S. Episcopal church is reaching this point, but they aren’t the only ones. Other denominations are fast approaching the same level of heresy and apostasy we see in the Episcopal church. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also now ordains openly gay clergy. Many other denominations do the same, or are fast approaching it. Why? Because the one common thread that unites all these corrupt churches and denominations is this – a lowered view of the Bible. The Bible today, in many churches, isn’t seen as the Word of God, but only words of men, the religious writings of men that may be inspiring but not inspired by God. So, in the words of the Apostle Paul, beware of any church or church leader with a low view of the Bible. It leads to the corruption of liberalism.

Second, when the Bible is doubted or disbelieved spiritual and moral corruption will follow. Acts 20:29-30, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” Mary Douglas Glasspool is just the logical fulfillment of a corrupting process that has been going on for many decades within the main-line denominational church. Way back in the early days of the 20th century when churches and church leaders began to doubt and deny the Bible there wasn’t much noticeable difference in doctrine and practice within these churches. Sure, there were some flamboyant liberal pastors who received all the press reports for their shocking and outrageous denials of key Christian doctrines, but for the most part even liberal church leaders didn’t call attention to themselves. It was possible for individual church members to attend week-after-week and not hear anything outright offensive, heretical or corrupt from the pulpit. While pastors and denominational church leaders might doubt or deny essential Christian doctrine, for the most part the people in the pews on Sunday morning never heard such outright heresy or apostasy. But gradually, the liberal pastors and leaders began to expose their congregations to more and more of their doubts and denials of classic historic Christian doctrines and practices to the point where a large segment of individual Christians and church members eventually left these churches and formed new conservative denominations that maintained the historic Christian faith and practice. Other Christians stayed in churches even though they were drifting liberal. But the reality was, there were two types of churches functioning in a parallel manner for most of the 20th century in the United States – the old, main-line liberal churches that had departed from historic Christianity, and the newer conservative churches that maintained belief in the Bible and basic Christian doctrine and practice. The Episcopal church has been liberal for many years. It long ago gave up belief in the Bible. We shouldn’t be so shocked that an openly lesbian bishop was recently ordained, because the church had long ago departed from treating the Bible as an infallible source of authority for faith and practice. For example, the Episcopal church has been ordaining women pastors for many decades now in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” For nearly two thousand years Christians have always recognized this verse as God’s prohibition, for whatever reason, against women teaching and leading the church – as in the leadership of a pastor or elder. But since liberal churches and church leaders don’t pay attention to the Bible as God’s Word and as an authority in the church, they went ahead and ordained women to positions of teaching and leading within the church; they ordained women pastors and elders. But this isn’t where it ends.

Third, finally, when the Bible is ignored any corruption is possible. Acts 20:29-30, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” Once the truth is distorted, that is, once God’s Word is distorted, any corruption is possible. We see this in the case of the U.S Episcopal church. In order to start ordaining women into pastoral ministry, the Bible had to be distorted. Paul is very clear – “I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man,” 1 Timothy 2:12. But in order to get around this apostolic command liberals need to dismiss the Apostle; they do so by claiming that he’s just giving his own opinion or that he’s writing only to a specific situation not to the universal church or that God’s will has changed and the New Testament doesn’t reflect God’s new view – or some other excuse. The bottom line is they find a way to rationalize a command of Scripture in order to go ahead and do what it forbids! But once this process is started anything can be justified whether Scripture forbids it or not. We see this now in the ordination of practicing lesbians as pastors and bishops in the Episcopal church and other liberal denominations. The same logic that allows you to dismiss the prohibition against ordaining women to the pastoral ministry allows you to dismiss prohibitions against same sex relationships, and then once that is allowed then what’s to stop a practicing homosexual from the pastoral ministry or even the office of pastor-of-pastors, the bishop? Liberals rationalize same-sex relationships by saying that when the Apostle Paul speaks against homosexuality he’s not addressing loving, monogamous same-sex relationships, for example in Romans 1:26-27, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Anyway, they reason, Paul doesn’t know as much about sexuality as we moderns do. One’s sexuality isn’t a choice, they say. Science now shows that there may be a biological basis for one’s sexual preference, so we can’t treat homosexuals the way the ancients did, according to the liberals. The net result is God’s Word is essentially set aside or it is ignored or worse yet, it is repudiated entirely. That’s how a once orthodox historical denomination can so fall away from the truth that it now sets up unrepentant sinners as the chief leaders and role models. Homosexuals now lead and govern in the Episcopal church.

Where will corruption end? Where will this heresy and apostasy lead the Christian community in the future? Unless there is a genuine revival and turning back to the Bible, faith and obedience, we’ll see more and more corruption spreading to other Christian communities and denominations. We’re already seeing that today. Historically solid denominational fellowships that once held soundly to the Bible, now are turning from it in order to keep up with the modern times. For example, the Baptist General Conference, which once held to a strong Bible stand, now ordains women into pastoral ministry. It now permits women to serve as senior pastor in a BGC church. Now in order to do that denominational leaders must reinterpret the Bible, passages like the one we just examined, and they must also follow the same type of logic that liberal churches like the U.S. Episcopal church used twenty to thirty years before to justify itself. But here’s the trap – the same logic that justifies women into pastoral ministry, the same logic that helps the BGC get around the Apostle Paul’s prohibition against women pastors, that same logic can be used to justify the practice of homosexuality and finally to serve as justification to ultimately ordaining a homosexual pastor or denominational leader. Now thankfully, at the present moment, the evangelical BGC hasn’t followed the logic of its scripture twisting to its ultimate conclusion; it hasn’t worked out the full implications of treating biblical interpretations in such a loose and casual way. But whose to say years or decades in the future even solidly evangelical BGC couldn’t one day see itself ordaining a practicing homosexual for many of the same reasons the Episcopal church does today. Liberalism spread gradually, in increments, not large leaps. It’s the old “frog in the kettle” syndrome. It’s a proven fact that if we place a frog in a pot of boiling water, he’ll immediately jump out. But it we place that same frog in warm water and then increase the temperature slowly to a full boil, the frog won’t jump out, but instead will permit itself to be boiled alive. Why? Because it never sensed any great increase in temperature, it never noticed anything more than just a little more than before. So slowly but surely it kept itself in the pot and died. That’s the same thing that happens to churches that go corrupt and liberal. From year to year there doesn’t seem to be any sudden or dramatic shift in either doctrine or practice over the previous year. There always seems to be precedent for whatever is now being offered. For example, in the recent Episcopal ordination of the open lesbian bishop, there was precedent for the ordination of an open homosexual bishop in V. Gene Robinson seven years ago. So who could object to an openly lesbian bishop? Precedent had already been set. And so on and so on. That’s how liberal heresy and apostasy spreads. That’s also why the Apostle Paul warns us to beware! It’s a lot easier to stop at the beginning before it spreads further than it is after it’s spread. Eventually it reaches a point where only the direct intervention of God can stop the spread of corruption. Our prayer should be, “Lord stop it before it ruins the whole church!”

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6 Responses to “Beware of the Liberal Church”

  1. homietheclown Says:

    First.

  2. Steve Caldwell Says:

    Hi there,

    I’m a 25 year old youth pastor from Belfast in N.Ireland. Thank-you for your thoughts, they have provided great encouragement to me this morning as I read.

    Our God is for us (Rom 8:31)

    Steve

  3. Joan Says:

    Pastor Jeff,
    What are your thoughts on divorce. I think that there are scriptures that do support leaving a spouse, not just for infidelity, but also for cases of physical, mental and emotional abuse. I would appreciate some study on this.

    Thanks!

  4. jeffshort Says:

    Joan, hi, thanks for writing. You are right, there are other grounds for divorce. I’ve got four sermons on divorce in my message collection, and I give more detail on the subject. I hope you can find them on this web site. Let me know what you think.

    Jeff

    • Joan Says:

      Where are theY? And food for thought: what do you think of the Anullment process the Catholic Church requires for people who would like to get married again within the Catholic Chruch. The process appears to be just like legal, lawful divorce, except the Catholic Chruch would like to decide if people can separate forever before remarrying. Is this just more control by the Catholic Church or something valid for Catholic/Christian believers?

  5. jeffshort Says:

    hi joan, my sermons on divorce should be here. the catholic church grants annulments under certain circumstances, but it’s more of a technical and legalistic way of softening the catholic view against all divorce. there’s no biblical justification for annulment of marriage the way the RC church does it. as a protestant, I don’t believe in annulment, but i do believe in divorce under a few strict circumstances, like the Bible permits.

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