Social Justice: A Sign of Waning Gospel Fidelity
|The world's issue du jour.|
Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (pp. 875-876) gives this helpful description of liberal Protestant churches:
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) ...Pausing here for a moment is important to our understanding, because we often think of churches "going liberal" in the realm of doctrine. That is, we judge a church as liberal only if they deny some essential doctrine (the exclusivity of Christ, the infallibility of Scripture, etc.). Yet, taking a snapshot of a church's supposed doctrinal commitments at any moment in time may not give an accurate picture of whether the church is going to remain conservative or if it's becoming more liberal.
Most churches don't start with a clear denial of the Bible, and their pastors and leaders will travel a path of compromise and change. While doctrine is an important marker of an individual church's commitment to the truth of God, we must recognize that no group goes from zero to heresy from one Sunday to the next. The road to perdition is full of turns, but it provides a smooth ride.
Like the serpent tempting Eve by getting her to first question the Word of God, distractions and subtle falsehoods call Christians from the path of truth. For instance, Christians know God calls us to "love thy neighbor," but a church may embrace unbiblical methods and methodologies in its pursuit of the command.
Grudem therefore states that doctrine isn't the only indicator of liberalism in action. He continues:
... but also in the 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.Here, we see the subtle and progressive shift in priorities. We start with a biblical imperative, perhaps one of the many "one another" commands of Scripture, or a desire to indeed be "salt and light" to a dark world. However, the language and concerns of church life becomes that of world.
For instance, the media writes about the social stigma homosexuals experience. Churches launch ministries to address healthy sexuality. Pastors and church counselors, who'd been teaching biblical norms and prerogatives, begin to soften and even capitulate on their language while possibly even alleviating the "victims" of their responsibilities before a holy God.
Or, considering the media reports about the alleged racial divide in the United States, a church announces it will become the champion of racial reconciliation. It is not that counseling church members through periods of perceived injustice and rebuking others for hateful actions has ever been outside of the purview of the local church, but now it becomes a virtue to be signaled to the lost world.
To be clear, these churches are not necessarily "liberal," as many of their concerns could arise with a high view of God's Word. However, by making the world's concerns its own, even publicizing that fact, it has inadvertently fallen in love with the world. That will lead the church down a path of increasing compromise.
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.While stating this as a problem may be obvious to the reader, actually identifying your own church at this point of decline will prove to be difficult. The odds are that you will see times of prayer and Bible study as signs of spiritual health, whereas the truth is that there's been a slow decline in these distinctive areas for years. You may see the friendliness of church members as a sign of biblical love in action, forgetting that unbelievers in many walks of life can be friendly and compassionate.
Indeed, on the later point, your church may require more care from you, asking you to either be silent on some issues or to only use certain language. They will police your tone. They may even bring non-Christian sociologists or unbelievers from certain communities into the sanctuary for lectures to "educate" Christians to be more compassionate toward their neighbor. After all, God wants us to be loving, right?
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 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 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.
I appreciate that Grudem shows this as a progression. We can and will debate what concerns God calls us to address and which are simply the unbelieving world's issue du jour. Still, we must tether ourselves to the actual gospel of Scripture and ensure that we stay far from the love of the world, even if that means we're labeled as unkind and out-of-touch.