The Purity of the Church

I am currently studying Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church) for an upcoming series of sermons and came across this interesting quote:

“But we must realize that not all churches will respond well to influences that would bring them to greater purity. Sometimes, in spite of a few faithful Christians within a church, its dominant direction will be set by others who are determined to lead it on another course. Unless God graciously intervenes to bring reformation, some of these churches will become cults, and others will just die and close their doors. But more commonly these churches will simply drift into liberal Protestantism.

“It is helpful at this point to remember that classical liberal Protestantism is humanistic, and its approaches are primarily man-centered rather than God-centered. When a church begins to stray from faithfulness to Christ, this will be evident not only in the shift to impure doctrine (which can sometimes be concealed from church members by the use of evasive language) but also in the daily life of the church: its activities, its preaching, its counseling, and even the casual conversations among members will tend to become more and more man-centered and less and less God-centered. There will tend to be a repeated emphasis on the typical kinds of self-help advice given in popular journals and by secular psychologists. There will be a horizontal orientation as opposed to a vertical or God-centered orientation, there will be fewer and fewer extended times of prayer and less and less emphasis on the direct application of Scripture to daily situations, but more emphasis on simply being a caring and sensitive person, and on affirming others and acting in love toward them. The conversation and activities of the church will have very little genuine spiritual content—little emphasis on the need for daily prayer for individual concerns and for forgiveness of sins, little emphasis on daily personal reading of Scripture, and little emphasis on moment-by-moment trust in Christ and knowing the reality of his presence in our lives. Where there are admonitions to moral reformation, these will often be viewed as human deficiencies that people can correct by their own discipline and effort, and perhaps encouragement from others, but these moral aspects of life will not primarily be viewed as sin against a holy God, sin which can only effectively be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit working within. When such humanistic emphases become dominant in a church, it has moved far toward the ‘less-pure’ end of the scale in many of the areas listed above, and it is moving in the direction of becoming a false church”
(Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 876, emphasis added).

 

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2 thoughts on “The Purity of the Church

  1. Aaron,

    Thanks for the extended quote. Just excellent. I would only like to build slightly on what Grudem says (and likely he does just this in the greater context…).

    As I listen to liberal protestants I still do hear a lot of ‘God’ talk. And this is where I think it is confusing for a many. God is still talked about. Unfortunately, God is doing very little and most of the conversation is focussed on me and what I am doing. This is ‘man-centered’ talk wrapped in God-clothing.

    Yet still God does very little. And even more important to the traditions of the Reformation, God talk is rarely focussed on Jesus and what the Father has done through the son, is doing now, and will still accomplish.

    1. Thanks for the comment! And that is an excellent point, David! I love the “man-centered talk in God clothing” imagery. It seems as though one of the tenets of Protestant liberalism is to rescue Christianity from itself; i.e. poor Christianity is so out-dated that it needed to be revised [dare I say, “repainted”?] for the “modern man.” In other words, liberalism is compelled to jettison doctrines while at the same time feeling obligated to maintain Christian language and terminology. The average Christian or church-attender hears pastors-teachers use terms like Jesus, salvation, incarnation, inspiration, heaven, hell, etc. without recognizing that the liberal preacher is intentionally not using them with the same meaning that the congregation would understand them. So, yes, in that sense it is terribly confusing to people who think their pastors are talking about the same things when in fact they are not. This might be what is behind Grudem’s line that changes in doctrines by church leaders “can sometimes be concealed from church members by the use of evasive language.” So true.
      More on this in a new post next week titled, “The Abrogation of Common Honesty”. Be looking for it! 😉

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