Beware of the Liberal Church II

Title: Beware of the Liberal Church II

Text: Acts 20:28-31, 1 Corinthians 5:1-12

Time: May 21st, 2010

Acts 20:28-31, “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.”  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). Last time I talked about the dangers of the liberal church from recent events such as the ordination of an openly, active lesbian bishop in California. This time I’d like to talk more about the problem in the liberal church with heretical false teachings in addition to the ethical and moral corruption taking place. There is a bishop in the U.S. Episcopal church named John Shelby Spong who basically denies every single important and essential historic Christian doctrine as found in the Creeds and Confessions of Faith of the church – and the Episcopal church did nothing to stop him! For years, for decades, this leader in the Episcopal church, this pastor-of-pastors, this bishop, was permitted to spread his false doctrines and destructive heresies in an established, historic Christian denomination and nobody from within the church stopped him; nobody outside of the church could stop him. Through countless books, interviews and presentations Bishop Spong promoted every kind of apostasy imaginable from within the Christian church. The Apostle Paul warned, “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 way disciples after them,” Acts 20:29-30.  He couldn’t have described John Shelby Spong any better. This bishop-heretic denied the existence of God; he wrote a book that explained why the theistic God of Christianity must be abandoned in favor of worshiping the “Ground of All Being.” He also denies the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; he doesn’t believe in immortality of the soul, but sees the resurrection as only a symbol of hope in this life. He denies the Virgin Birth; he claims it’s biologically impossible. He doesn’t believe in supernatural miracles because they contradict the laws of nature. He denies the Bible is God’s Word; he sees it as merely the product of human religious inspiration; he claims it’s full of myths and legends, although he admits some parts are inspiring yet not inspired by God. I could go on describing this man’s heresy. My point in bringing this up is to do what the Apostle Paul did in ancient times – warn us of the dangers of the liberal church. Let me try to put this in perspective by pointing out three things.

First, heresy and apostasy breed more heresy and apostasy. Acts 20:28-31, “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.” Why was the Apostle Paul so passionate about warning the early church about false teachers and leaders? Because he knew that once inside the church false teachings and false practices would multiply. Just like a virus in the body that multiplies its destructive DNA everywhere, so too heresy and apostasy spread through the Body of Christ, the Christian church, in the same way. The virus of false teaching and false practice has spread into most of the main-line denominational churches over the last one hundred years to the point today it’s not that unusual to hear of a Presbyterian or Methodist or Baptist or Congregational or Lutheran or Episcopal church leader deny essential Christian doctrines. In the church I was raised in, the United Methodist church, I found out that the pastor didn’t believe in the Virgin Birth, even though this doctrine is in Apostle’s Creed that the pastor led the church to recite on Sunday! In another case, a local Presbyterian pastor from the church down the street told his congregation during a Good Friday service that it wasn’t important whether we believe in the literal resurrection of Christ or not, but it’s really the powerful symbol of life that counts. It may shock a lot of church members to realize that their pastor may not even believe in the historic teachings of the church, but if they investigate a little they may find indeed he doesn’t. Tragically, many of these same pastors and denominational leaders who now don’t believe probably started out as believers yet during college and seminary might have first began to doubt and then later came to outright deny essential Christian doctrine. This shows how heresy and apostasy breed more heresy and apostasy. The college and seminary professors who doubt and deny orthodox, historic Christian doctrine passed along their doubts and denials to their students. These students who became pastors and denominational leaders pass along their doubts and denials of basic Christian doctrine and practice to their congregations and church members. And so the spiritual corruption spreads. So we must beware of this creeping heresy and apostasy – and fight its spread every way we can – for our own sake and for the sake of the whole church.

Second, heresy and apostasy spread through lack of church discipline. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” In this passage in particular, and the entire passage 5:1-12 generally, Paul is dealing with the whole problem of church discipline. How does heresy and apostasy spread in the Christian church? These spread through a lack of church discipline. Here, the Apostle is trying to deal with a situation of immorality within the early church. Evidently the Corinthian church was willing to tolerate the whole situation as long as it didn’t lead to division. The church people were willing to put up with one of its members living in immorality so as long as it didn’t split the church or cause disunity among Christians. But Paul found the situation unacceptable! Evidently the Corinthians were actually proud of the fact they could be open-minded enough to allow for diverse opinions and practices within the church and not be judgmental concerning these things. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what the U.S. Episcopal church and other liberal main-line denominations think. Read their publications and listen to their spokesmen – you’ll hear the same response taken by the Corinthians church: “We’re big enough to tolerate a plurality of opinions and behaviors within our community. We’re inclusive, not exclusive. We’re tolerant, not closed-minded.” How do denominations today permit outright heretical and false teachers to spread their spiritual poison within the church? Because they aren’t willing to discipline heretics and apostates within their own ranks. But the Apostle Paul teaches that Christians must be willing to remove false teachers and discipline immoral Christians for the sake of the long-term health of the church: “Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” 1 Corinthians 5:2. Paul advocates “putting out of fellowship” – or excommunicating — anyone and everyone who fails to repent of their sins of heresy or immorality. Now the problem today with denominations and churches is that for so long hardly any church discipline has ever been practiced. Error has been allowed to multiply. Immorality for so long has been tolerated that to do anything about it now would seem overly harsh or severe for most Christians. But at some point something has to change. We need to return to basic church discipline. If we don’t, all our churches will go the way of liberal churches such as the Episcopal church.

Third, church discipline can stop most forms of heresy and apostasy within the church. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you.” Once the Christian church returns to a healthy form of church discipline there probably won’t need to be much actual “expelling” or “excommunicating” taking place. Why? Because once people understand that the standards of true belief and true behavior will be enforced within the church they won’t challenge the boundaries because they know what will happen if they do. According to the Apostle Paul, churches not only should “judge” Christian members but churches must “judge” them based on what they believe and how they behave. The basic Christian doctrines are easy enough to understand – and each person who wants to profess Christianity must be willing to believe these basic teachings. It’s the same way with the basic Christian practices. These are clear enough and easy enough to follow if one is committed to the Lord and willing to practice a little self-discipline. When a Christian falls into sin, if it’s a sin that is clearly a sin, they are expected to confess their sin and repent of it. If they don’t repent and rededicate themselves to following after the Lord’s teachings and moral precepts, then they will be confronted by their brothers and sisters in the church. If they still refuse to repent and give up their sin, they are confronted by church leaders and ultimately the whole church. If they still won’t repent and rededicate themselves back to the Lord’s will, they are then disciplined by the church in some form. They may be prohibited from taking the Lord’s Supper at Communion. They may be prohibited from taking part in certain church activities and functions. Ultimately, if they don’t repent of their sin and rededicate themselves back to God and the church, they are removed from church fellowship. If they are church members, they are removed from membership. They may even be asked not to attend services. Church members may be asked not to fellowship with them at all until they repent. “You must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat,” 1 Corinthians 5:11. This is severe but it’s only meant to be a temporary situation until the person repents; in fact, the severity of it is meant to motivate the person to repent and return to fellowship with God and the church. This form of “tough love” is completely biblical and was successfully used in the early church. We need to rediscover this healthy process in dealing with false doctrine and immoral behavior within the church today.

How dare we apply such church discipline in the church today? Because it’s a biblical teaching. As Bible-believing Christians we need to follow the whole counsel of God and not just pick and choose which parts we follow and apply. If we were to faithfully follow the Apostle Paul’s instructions in dealing with false teachings and false practices within the church, we wouldn’t have nearly as much of it to deal with today. But because Christians have largely ignored practicing church discipline our churches are full of false teachings and immorality. This is especially true in liberal denominations and churches but it’s also true in more conservative evangelical – so-called Bible-believing churches. How many churches do we know that are willing to discipline church members when they fall into sin and error? How many churches even have a process whereby errant Christians can be led back to true doctrine and practice? Very few. So where do we start in this process? The best place to begin is in the church membership class. There should be a basic set of Christian doctrines that everyone is expected to believe by faith. It isn’t necessary to understand everything one believes. It’s also ok to have doubts about some things, but on basic doctrines we must not have enough doubts to keep us from believing them. So everyone who becomes a church member must believe basic Christian doctrine. Then, members must also be asked to commit to living within the basic Christian moral and ethical teachings. They must also be taught that if they slip or fall away from the moral standards of God that they profess, there is a way to repent and recommit to God. No church member should be disciplined or removed for falling into error or sin if they sincerely repent and rededicate themselves back to God and the church. It’s only if they willfully and stubbornly refuse to confess their error or sin, if they refuse to repent and refuse to return to the way of God, then they are disciplined. Now the discipline the church administers will differ depending on the offense. In the case of heresy or false belief, it’s probably a matter of discussing and teaching a person the biblical position and then challenging them to conform to the teaching of God’s Word. Remember, this is for basic and essential doctrine, not just any point of doctrine. Christians differ on minor points – and that’s ok. But on the essentials, we must all agree. Now in respect to living the Christian life and morality, the church leaders would meet with the person and challenge him or her to give up their sinful practice. Hopefully, the person would agree to do so for conscience’s sake. But if they refuse to repent, or if they take a prideful, stubborn attitude, then they are disciplined in the appropriate way depending on the sin. If after a while they still refuse, then they are removed from church fellowship. Members must know all this ahead of time, so they can decide whether or not they want to be a member – or whether they are ready to be a member of the church. In addition, members are expected to maintain their Christian doctrine and practice. If at any time they depart from it, they may be warned and disciplined accordingly. If the church would only maintain this simple and biblical process we wouldn’t see the liberal church corruption we see today.

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2 Responses to “Beware of the Liberal Church II”

  1. anonymous Says:

    It is difficult to read this and be capable of following what is being said because the specifics are omitted. Define Basic Christian Beliefs, and then I may be able to follow this a little more clearly.

    It is almost as though to avoid arguments that these rather key details were left out.

    Without the details on what beliefs are reinforceable by the church, I will say that there is a very very strong argument against fully enforcing everything this article suggests within the local church. An individual’s connection with God and personal growth process is at stake. If you start trying to enforce that everything about a person’s life and decisioms need to be filtered through their church body and leadership, a lot of bad things will come of that.

    That said, I am fully in agreeance with the concept that we should all be of one mind and stive towards perfection in our Christian walk. An important factor h

  2. jeffshort Says:

    anonymous says, “Define Basic Christian Beliefs, and then I may be able to follow this a little more clearly.” Ok, let’s start with something as basic as the Apostle’s Creed. Liberal Anglican “bishop” Spong would have a problem almost everything in it. Or, let’s get specific, the resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth of Christ, for example. Most liberal churches would deny either one or both these basic Christian beliefs. Not officially, as in a statement that says, “We deny basic and historic Christian doctrine,” but in reality the pastor probably either denies these doctrines or doubts them; the same for many of the people of the church. That’s why on Easter Sunday morning at a Liberal church you might hear something like this coming from the pastor’s sermon, “So, it really doesn’t matter if the literal, physical body of Jesus rose from the dead, just as long as we keep Christ in our hearts. That’s what really counts.” If you look into it, you’ll see that my message is backed up with reality. It’s sad, but true. Thanks for the comment.

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