‘MY TRUTH’? OR ‘THE TRUTH’?

By Stephen Green

First Published in Christian Voice November 2012

Mark 12:32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he…

We try to keep abreast of what is going on in our nation in the Christian Voice office and also to keep a look-out for trends, good and bad, in the church.  We do make a point of not criticising churches or dignitaries, having been on the receiving end of less than pleasant comments ourselves from time to time.  On top of that, the internet age has made too many intra-church squabbles public and it just doesn’t appear to me to be edifying for the enemies of Christ to read about our differences.

Having said that, a number of movements today are challenging traditional Christian doctrine and it might be a good thing to take a critical look at them.  Given what I have said above, we shall try in this brief discussion to be as generous as possible to those we are investigating: the Inclusive Church, the Modern Church and the Progressive Church.

Inclusive Church

The ‘Inclusive Church’ and their friends the ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ seem to be everywhere today.  So what do ‘include’ and ‘accept’ actually mean?  Well, they boil down to nothing more than including and accepting homosexuals.  Quite a few otherwise normal churches adhere to the ideas of ‘acceptance’ and ‘inclusivity’ but they are taken to their logical limit in the Metropolitan Community Church, the so-called ‘gay church’.

It seems on the face of it peculiar to found a church with the express intention of denying that a particular activity which the church has consistently held to be sinful for the best part of two thousand years isn’t sinful after all.  The reason is that the MCC founders desperately wanted to be Christian and even more desperately wanted to cling on to their homosexuality.  That is probably why they have regularly been accused of being gay first and Christian a long way second.

For the ‘inclusives’, and they probably won’t agree with this, scripture is filtered through personal experience, or to be blunt, through personal prejudice.  Any texts which do not accord with one’s fallible human viewpoint are explained away.

Peter Greensmith, who posted his testimony of release from homosexuality on our youth website, ‘Soldiers of Christ’, says: ‘The MCC spoke of the God of love, yet never mentioned sin and judgement.’  It is uncomfortable to realise that there are quite a few churches like that today, and I am not sure they do their congregations much of a favour.

However, to be fair, at least such churches and their leaders are trying to make their doctrines fit into a Christian grid, however odd the results might look.  The fact that they so desperately want to put a different slant on Leviticus 18:22 or the story of Sodom, or Romans 1, or the meaning of ‘arsenokoitai’ shows paradoxically a respect for scripture, rather than a disrespect.

The ‘InclusiveChurch’ and the ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ so want to be scriptural.  And although they claim to be ‘accepting’ they really want to be accepted by the church at large and of course to convince the church of their point of view.

And therein lies the danger.  Without going into the theology, which I have done elsewhere, any degree of success for the ‘Inclusives’ and their fashionable heresy would mean a dilution of the whole of Christian doctrine, whether that would be intended or not.  So although I have time for people who respect scripture to the extent that the ‘Inclusives’ do, and concede that genuine Christians seeking the Lord Jesus Christ are found within their ranks, I still have to oppose their revisionism.

The Modern Church movement

The ‘Modern Church’ began at the end of the 19th century as part of a movement to defend what they saw as new scientific findings and liberal biblical scholarship against what they saw as ‘fundamentalism’.  There is much common ground between the modernists and the ‘inclusive’ and ‘accepting’ folk.

Then again, there is some common ground between Modern Church and those of us of a traditional, Biblical Christian disposition.  They say: ‘We take an open‑minded and thoughtful approach to Christian faith.’  So do we.

 

They expect their theology to be ‘public: talking the language of ordinary people, not that of a religious club’ and ‘relevant: engaging with what is going on in society, informing our faith and how we live’.  So do we.

They venture to say: ‘It is possible to think and talk about God in ways that make sense in our time and culture’.  Indeed it is, in fact God always makes sense in every time and culture.  They like ‘Critical scholarship: keeping up to date with good research, examining the implications of new insights and discoveries.’  Who doesn’t, unless the scholarship is criticising the Bible itself?

The Modern Church also encourage ‘Open discussion: freedom to explore ideas, ask questions and change our minds without fear of disapproval’.  We are all for that.  They also have a ‘Willingness to change: so that what we believe now can be expressed in the things our churches do and say.’  I am not sure what that means, but we should all be willing to change and be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Syncretism

However, the ModernChurch inclines also to syncretism, when they ‘understand’ that ‘Genuine faith is committed to the search for truth, wherever it comes from.’  Wherever it comes from?  and they ‘expect (their) theology to be  respectful: willing to learn from others, within and outside Christianity, since we accept that we don’t have all the answers.’

Now hang on a minute.  We may not have all the answers, but God has all the answers in Christ through the Holy Spirit and Scripture conveys the mind of God in Christ, who is the incarnate Word.  In a masterpiece of self-parody, the Modern Church website says: ‘We never have absolute certainty.’  Are they absolutely certain of that?

In being open to ideas ‘outside Christianity’ and searching for truth ‘wherever it comes from’, Modern Church is embarking, as I suggested, on syncretism, which we can define as ‘the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.’

The different religions in the world hold different and indeed opposing beliefs.  A pagan or an Animist is polytheistic, worshipping aspects of creation, rivers, the sea, death, fertility, for example.  A Buddhist or a Sikh is pantheistic, believing in an impersonal god existing in everything.  A Christian or a Jew believes in a personal and approachable God, distinct from his creation.  Only one can be right, even at an entry-level.

Progressive Christianity

The Progressive Christianity Network goes a few steps further, indeed, a few steps too far.  It also has a nod towards inclusivity, inviting ‘all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable’.  This includes, but is ‘not limited to’ ‘believers and agnostics, conventional Christians and questioning sceptics’ and rather strangely, ‘those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope’.

PCN also ‘find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty, more value in questioning than in absolutes.’  On Planet PCN is better to travel than to arrive.  Like the Modern Church, they so have to avoid those absolutes.  Absolutes are absolutely forbidden in PCN.

Their website says they are a place ‘where contemporary thought and understanding matter as much as scripture and tradition’, which is really to say the former trump the latter.  If you are going, right at the outset, to set ‘contemporary thought and understanding’, or to put it another way, ‘early-twenty-first-century opinions’, over the eternal word of God, you open yourself up to every wrong-headed idea going.

 

So it is that if ModernChurch verges on the syncretistic, the Progressive Christianity Network goes the whole Postmodern hog.  In Progressive Christianity what is true for you is true, for you.  What is true for me, is also true, for me, that is.  There are many ‘stories’, and many ‘truths’.

This is said explicitly in something called ‘the Eight Points first formulated by the Center for Progressive Christianity in America’.  The ‘8 points’ are valued by PCN ‘not as a creed or a statement of faith’, (of course not) ‘but as an expression of how we live as Christians.’

PCN claim to be ‘Christians who…

‘1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.’  They mustn’t be too dogmatic.  They have not found ‘the way’ to the Father in Jesus Christ.  They have only found  ‘an approach’.

It gets worse.  The Progressive Christianity Network:

‘2. Recognise the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the gateway to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.’

Are Postmodern Progressive ‘Christians’ Christians?

So are the PCN Christians at all or are they just pretending?  Acts 11:26 tells us that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch, after the persecution which arose about Stephen.  And in that persecution, Saul had sought out those who were of ‘this way’ (Acts 9:2).  And ‘the way’ which was being persecuted, first by the Jewish leaders, and then by the Romans, did not merely claim that Jesus was just one ‘gateway’ to God among many.

Rather, the Apostle Peter told the masses:

Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

He went even further in front of the Sanhedrin, when examined about the miraculous healing of the lame man:

Acts 4:10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. 11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12  Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

There is not the slightest scope for a Postmodern interpretation of that passage.  There is no other gateway to God apart from that found in Christ Jesus.  Is everyone saved by his own truth?  What did the Lord himself say, and what was the imperative for the Apostles?

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

That is a far cry from recognising the ‘faithfulness’ of those who are not members of the body of Christ.  Those who do not choose the narrow path of Christ are damned, in his own words. The Apostle Paul agreed, adding the necessity to add verbal confession to heart belief:

Rom 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

And whatever is going on their hearts, that outward confession seems beyond the ‘Progressive Christians’.

 

 All things under his feet

The Roman persecution arose because the Christians refused to acknowledge that worshipping Caesar was true even for those who worshipped Caesar.  They insisted that there was one higher than Caesar, indeed, one higher than every earthly and spiritual power.  As Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus, God the Father has exalted the Lord Jesus by his power:

Eph 1:20  Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21  Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22  And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23  Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

No Christian can admit there are other ways to God, when Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has told Timothy:

1Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

The scribe with whom we opened told Jesus he had spoken ‘the truth’, not ‘truth for me’.

The Apostle Thomas wanted to know ‘the way’ Jesus was going to heaven.  And he received his famous and dramatic answer:

John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Christ Jesus himself is ‘the way’, not ‘a way’.  On top of that he is ‘the truth’, not ‘a truth’, or ‘truth for Thomas’, but the objective truth.  If other people’s ways are not ‘the way’ which is Christ, they are not the way to God.  And if their ‘truth’ is not Jesus Christ, their ‘truth’ is not true even for them.

A limit to tolerance

The website christianity.co.nz says this:

‘Tolerance of other views is one of the pillars of Postmodernism. However, there is one group of people to whom this tolerance is not extended, those who believe truth to be important! This intolerance is especially directed to those who think others might be wrong. Postmodern analyst Frederick Turner, for instance, in “The Future of the Gods: Notes Towards a Postmodern Religion”, calls for tolerance and syncretism. Yet, in the same article he calls evangelical Christianity a “junk religion”!’

The Lord Jesus had a fascinating philosophical discussion with Pilate, which concluded with our Lord speaking about ‘the truth’, an expression, by the way, which occurs 88 times in the Bible, 68 of them in the New Testament:

John 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

But Pilate, just like those in the Progressive Christianity Network, simply did not get it:

John 18:38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?

 

Perhaps Pilate was the first Postmodernist.  But he was also presiding, or attempting to preside, over a court of law.  In a court of law the truth matters.  Now it may be that the accused has completely convinced himself that he did not do the break-in of which he is accused.  But it does not matter a jot that this  belief is ‘true for him’ if the whole street saw him smash the window and climb in.  The court must find out the truth of the matter, not ‘a truth’.  In practical life, Postmodernism fails the test.  The court of law is where the rubber hits the road and the Postmodernism of PCN has no grip on the road of reality.

Conclusion

In a final twist, the ‘Progressive Christians’ ‘Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus’ name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God’s feast for all peoples.’

Well, if they understand it like that, they have a different feast from the one which the Lord actually instituted, which was a Passover feast, not the tabernacles feast for all nations, but a communion with the Lord’s body and blood (1Cor 10:16), a remembrance of his passion and sacrifice (Luke 22:19), which shows the Lord’s death until he returns (1 Cor 11:26)..

Without communion, and without confessing Jesus Christ as the living expression of the truth from an objective viewpoint, it is impossible to acknowledge those Postmodernists who claim to be Christians as Christians at all.  If everyone’s ‘truth’ is equally valid, there is no need for evangelism, or to pray for labourers to be sent into the harvest field.  As the Lord’s disciples are those who keep his words and do them, no Postmodernist can qualify.  Anyone can say they are a Christian.  It is rather convenient on occasions to do so.  But a tree is known by its fruits, and there just wouldn’t be enough evidence to convict any Postmodernist of being a part of the Body of Christ.  We must pray that those sucked unwittingly into this anti-Christian movement will repent and find salvation in that name which is above every name, and believe and confess the Lord Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life.

 

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