I heard a phrase recently while listening to a podcast.
A pastor was reviewing the spiritual struggles of the churches over the last 150 years. Basically since the Civil War.
He was discussing the movement of seminaries away from solid, biblical authority. Showing the rise of spiritual Modernism and Liberalism in places like Princeton. And how those trained in the seminaries and Christian colleges brought their weak teachings back to the churches. Affecting all denominations.
He also spoke of the formation of Fundamentalism, the creation of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the rise of the New Evangelical movement.
A movement that now deeply influences every church in our modern age.
The incredible significance of New Evangelicalism is due to its spiritual philosophy that saturates virtually every church that calls itself “Evangelical”. And even many that identify as “Fundamental”.
These churches are increasingly following the basic New Evangelical mantra, “Doctrine divides while service unites“.
I was rather shocked when I heard this phrase.
Because it sums up so well a movement that is difficult to clearly identify.
Especially since New Evangelicalism is like an octopus with a thousand tentacles reaching everywhere. Which influences the world by carefully not taking any clear position in its creeds. Leaving a true believer, caught in the NE current, without any real, solid ground to stand upon.
It Came from Beneath
This phrase, “Doctrine divides: service unites“, came into vogue during the formation of the New Evangelical movement back in the early 1900s.
The basic promise of Evangelicalism (before New Evangelicalism took hold) was to be more kind, more thoughtful, and more intellectual than those “nasty, intolerant, and ignorant Fundamentalists”. There was this basic desire to come together with other “Christian” groups that had an agreement on the gospel “essentials”.
With a desire to focus on areas of agreement rather than on disagreement. To avoid negativity. And to present the gospel in a positive way.
To avoid the “legalistic, judgmental, hell-fire-and-brimstone preaching” of the Fundamentalists.
Not a Correction but a Rejection
This movement never intended to take a stand upon doctrine along with the Fundamentalists; while attempting to make any corrections from within; while still maintaining faithfulness with Fundamental doctrinal beliefs.
Nor was it founded to boldly rebuke the apostasy of the mainline Protestant denominations or to identify the false gospel of Catholicism and other nominally Christian denominations.
This was really all about breaking away.
About putting distance between the old movements and establishing something new. And to avoid any possible identification with those who place biblical doctrine and truth first.
This was about embracing the many different denominations that “name the name of Christ”. Who, for the most part, reject the essential truths relating to salvation and biblical authority.
This was really about joining together with groups who loosely held to a belief in the gospel while emphasizing good works and promoting an outward show of unity to the world.
While trying to solve the vast array of social, economic, and moral ills in the culture and the world. And to not be “isolationists” but, instead, to promote cooperation and partnerships.
Negativity was to be avoided. Common areas of belief were to be emphasized. Rebuking of error or heresies were not to be part of this New Way.
(Or a Third Way as more contemporary men like Tim Keller have been espousing.)
Doctrine did not govern or guide this movement. Instead, doctrine was to be blamed as the great cause of negativity and division among Christians.
Which, excuse me for saying so, is the whole reason for the Bible’s continual emphasis on the necessity for and the defense of doctrine and truth. Because doctrine supernaturally divides from Error.
In fact, it is by doctrine, guided by the Holy Spirit and the sword of the Spirit, that we are even able to discern between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1)
Infiltration or Separation?
And so, Evangelicalism morphed into the New Evangelicalism by simply going soft on doctrinal truth. And by choosing infiltration with apostasy instead of separation from it.
By making doctrinal soundness a secondary priority at best. By joining in good works, partnerships, associations, coalitions, and warm fellowships with “Christian” leaders who held to very loose, fluffy and even heretical Christian creeds.
New Evangelicals sought to please the world and avoid controversy by sharing a minimalist gospel. Joining together in good works and even evangelistic campaigns with leaders and groups who openly rejected the essentials of biblical faith.
The open rejection of the gospel essentials has included:
- Denial of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ
- Denial of the sinless life of Christ
- Denial of the verbal, inerrancy of the word of God
- Denial of the Fall of man into sin through Adam
- Denial of physical and spiritual death resulting from the sin of Adam; a single man – specially and immediately created
- Denial of the vicarious atonement of Christ for the sins of men
- Denial of the sole, total sufficiency of Christ and His blood for forgiveness and salvation
- Denial of faith alone, by grace alone as sufficient for salvation
- Denial of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
- Denial of the final judgment of all men by God
along with a host of other doctrines as well.
Nevertheless, all of this seemingly does not matter to most Evangelicals today.
Which is why, to point out this glaring disobedience to scripture is considered controversial and divisive. And against the all-important, outward show of unity among Christians.
Evangelicals have allowed this compromise to increase in scope by focusing on good works done in common cause with other “Christian” groups. Allowing a minimalist gospel, along with good works, to become the basis of this new unity.
Instead of the truth of the word of God which is the ONLY true basis of “the unity of the Spirit“. (Ephesians 4:3)
The Terrible Cost
So, as we listen to our pastors, teachers, and writers speak of how “doctrine divides“, or how our speaking against Liberalism or Modernism or Progressivism is “not helpful”, or how it promotes division and “tribalism”, keep in mind what it actually costs the church when they look the other way.
The cost of confusing the gospel message, giving God-speed to false teachers and false “Christian groups”, and grieving the Lord, our First Love.
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