Volume 32, Number 3
Beliefs (doctrines) are at the root of everything we do. We may not consciously review our beliefs very often, but they are constantly shaping what we do and how we behave. And so it is important for all of us to think rightly (biblically) about ourselves, our God, our lives, and our relationships.
Many today are living in a kind of fog regarding doctrines. Some are saying that doctrines are not really very important. They associate doctrines with a closed mind, a divisive spirit, and a pat answer. As a result, such persons see nothing clearly; they are not sure they have any fixed set of beliefs; they seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought. They say that accepting diversity is more important than stressing doctrine.
BRF believes that it is of great importance for all of us to be acquainted with the basics of the faith so that we can distinguish the true from the false, and avoid being misled by the deceptions which abound. Furthermore, doctrines determine morals. To fail to accept the essentials of the Christian faith is to open the way to spineless ethics. A recovery of Christian doctrine is fundamental to a recovery of Christian ethics. We believe that at the heart of the restlessness in the Church of the Brethren, is the abandonment of the authority of Scripture and our earlier solid doctrinal standards.
Examples of Doctrinal Violations in the Church
By Harold S. Martin
All human beings have a basis of authority which becomes the foundation for our thinking, our. decisions, and our actions. Sometimes we are not aware of this fact; we don’t consciously think about it; but all of us have some basis of authority which governs our actions in life. Within professing Christendom there are three common bases of authority.
Church tradition–the authority of the church becomes the base for decision-making. It’s what the church says that counts. The edicts of the church councils and the encyclicals of the Pope are the key. (This is the base of authority for the adherents of Roman Catholicism.)
Human reason–the best thoughts of the human mind become the seat of authority. Man’s thoughts about God and about our duties in the world around us are what count. Conclusions are based on the sharing of human opinions. The key word is “share.” You share your ideas and I’ll share mine. Because there are no clear standards, all possibilities are equally valid. (This base is adopted by secular society and by religious liberals.)
The Bible itself–the primary instrument through which God reveals himself are the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is what the Bible says that counts. Those who put a high value on Scripture do not deny the value of church tradition nor the value of human reason–but they submit even those factors to the authority of Scripture. (The Bible as the primary source of authority is recognized by evangelical Christians.) And so when we talk about doctrinal violations, we are talking about departures from clear standards that are set forth in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. The word “doctrinal” has to do with belief–the distinction between correct and incorrect tenets of faith. Doctrinal violations refer to departures from what the Bible calls “sound doctrine.” We read in 2 Timothy 4:3 about a time when many will not put up with sound doctrine.” And in Titus 1:9, the young preacher was instructed to “encourage others by sound doctrine.” And in Titus 2:1, he was told to speak things which are “in accord with sound doctrine.
The term sound doctrine refers to teachings that are wholesome and true and fully in accord with the faithful Word of God. These include the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
Belief in the sovereignty of God–a personal and infinite Being who created and rules the universe.
Belief in the holy Scriptures–as the infallible and authoritative guide for faith and practice.
Belief in the depravity of human beings–along with the denial of the philosophy which says that man is basically good.
Belief in Christ’s death on the Cross as a substitutionary atonement–which is the only way to salvation and heaven.
Belief in the personal and visible return of Christ–as He brings this present age to a close.
Belief in the church’s spiritual mission–the mandate to bring the lost to Christ and to teach holiness in the life of the believer.
Belief in the rites and ordinances as taught in the New Testament symbols designed to remind us of great spiritual principles.
These are nonnegotiable essentials, without which it is not really honest to use the label “Christian.” Yet in our day, seminary professors, church staff persons, and some pastors and teachers are no longer committed to teaching these truths. Instead, they have become activists that feel compelled to speak out on political issues and to lobby for legislative action in order to change society through the power of the government. Many Church of the Brethren Sunday worship services no longer focus on the exposition of the Word of God; instead, the message is often a fifteen or twenty minute homily on current news items, or a little discourse on being nice and doing good.
The root of this very serious problem, as we see it, lies in the realm of ministry training, and in the philosophies embraced by those who serve in leadership capacities in the church.
1. Preachers are taught to accept the historical critical view of interpreting the Scriptures.
Many people who hear the term “historical criticism” think that it is an older and more historic way of studying the Bible–but indeed, the historical-critical method of Bible study is only a recent invention.
The discipline of historical criticism is often praised as a scholarly study of the Bible which looks especially at the date when the text was written, who the writer was, and under what circumstances each book was compiled. The major problem is that the scholars approach the Bible with some dangerous assumptions.
They assume that the Bible is a creation of the human mind.
They assume that specific Bible verses are nothing more than nonbinding human theological utterances.
They assume that miracles and genuine prophecies do not occur.
They assume that the books comprising the Bible have internal contradictions.
They assume that the thoughts and ideas of the various religions are derived from one another, and since all other religions have sacred books, we cannot say that the Bible is somehow unique and superior to those other sacred books.
The “scholars” make an idol out of science and human reason. They say that the Bible contains jewels of religious truth, but these biblical jewels are recorded in an ancient book that is marred. It doesn’t matter if the Bible is accurate or not, they say, just as long as we get the intended religious lessons.
The fundamental belief of the higher critic is that human reason must decide what to accept as truth, and what to discard as impossible. Final authority for determining what is the real truth must come by way of the trained intellect.
And so Bernhard W. Anderson (in a book entitled Rediscovering the Bible) which is on the Recommended Reading List in the Licensed Ministers Reading Course–makes these statements (pages 43-44):
“The method of historical criticism has liberated us from the false notion that [in the Bible) we are dealing with an accurate record of the past. Anderson continues by saying that we are no longer obligated to believe that in Elisha’s time God sent bears to eat up mischievous children, nor to believe that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, nor to believe that God actually revealed himself in a burning bush.”
The supernatural element is often left out of the scholars’ interpretation of the Scriptures:
The accounts in Genesis 1-11 are considered legends.
Isaiah was written by two or three different persons over a long period of time.
The book of Daniel was written in the 2nd Century A.D. and not by the Daniel of six centuries before Christ.
The Synoptic Gospels are basically recollections of the early church leaders, and the words attributed to Jesus may never have been uttered in the way they are recorded.
These concepts are repeated over and over again in seminary classrooms and in literature published by old-line denominational publishing houses. How can anyone trained on a steady diet of this kind of teaching, walk into the pulpits of our churches and preach to the people with a clear Thus saith the Lord”? It can’t be done.
2. Preachers are taught to be relevant, and in this way hope to accommodate the moods of society.
Some will say, “But the preacher’s task is to make the message of the Bible relevant to our day. Actually, such reasoning is sheer nonsense. The Bible is already relevant; God has seen to that.
The task of those who proclaim the Gospel is not to make the Bible relevant. Teachers are to study the Bible and seek to comprehend its message; and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is their duty to set out to declare it—and if they do that, God will take care of the relevancy.
At the WCC meeting in Uppsala, Sweden (back in the 1970s), in one of the film presentations, a Protestant minister totally disrobed; he took off his clothes and stood stark naked before the audience-to teach the lesson of “total honesty.” That’s being relevant, they say!
The cry is for sermons and church programs to be relevant to the needs of society. But what are the great needs of humanity? The basic issues of life are these: What must I do to be saved? How can I have a happy home? For what purpose was I born? What happens when I die?
While some people may try and push off thinking about these things, everyone eventually comes to a crisis in life–and at such times, people will be mighty glad that the church has a spiritual message to give. If the church cannot tell a person how to get right with God–who is going to do it? The Lion’s Club won’t. The schools won’t do it. The government can’t answer those questions. Our message in the church must continue to be “Christ and him crucified.” The Good News is that through the blood of Jesus Christ, the guilt of our sin can be taken away.
3. Preachers are taught to abandon the biblical affirmation that humans are fallen creatures.
Ever since the Fall described in Genesis 3, there has been among human beings, a tendency to go downward. The liberal teaching for many years has been the promise that civilization is progressing in an upward direction. We have some wars once in a while, and there are frequent conflicts between individuals, but there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with humankind. We’re going to work things out if you just give us enough time and enough education. We’ll find our way; we’ll solve our problems; the future is going to be better than the past.
We’ll find a cure for cancer and the common cold.
We’ll end injustices between people, and find solutions for poverty and crime. We’ll clone the good and abort the undesirable. In the end, we’ll build a better world.
Already several decades ago, Messenger articles were making statements like these: “We must keep the dream alive that a new humanity will arise…and we must argue that human nature over the years does change for the better.
Another Messenger article says, There must be a united effort to stop all wars, and to create a new world climate free from the threat of violence. I expect the Church of the Brethren to participate in this future advance toward a peaceful world where war is unknown and where our children can be born and reared with opportunities for rich and fruitful lives.
Liberal churchmen for years have been saying, “Humans are on their way up and are getting better and better; all they need is a boost.” The Bible instead has been saying, “Humans have been created in the image of God, and thus have special worth, but since the Fall, they have been on a downward plunge, and what they need is not a boost but a birth (the new birth).
Only to the extent that people receive Jesus Christ into their hearts–only to that extent will the world become a better place in which to live.
4. Many institutions of learning have been fostering doctrinal ignorance instead or strengthening faith.
Many of the seminary courses in the old-line denominational seminaries require heavy study in the areas of philosophy, historical criticism, comparative religions, and contemporary theologies. Time is spent studying the ideas of the universalists, socialists, radical feminists, and neo-Anabaptists. Courses are offered on Process Theology, Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, and on the latest fad–Creation Spirituality.
The founder of the basic premise which underlies Creation Spirituality is a man named Matthew Fox. Fox has been greatly influenced by the thought of the medieval mystics. His aim is to redefine Christianity to make it more relevant to the modern age. He believes the church is out of touch with the modern world, and his solution lies in what he calls “the Cosmic Christ.”
Matthew Fox’s view of Christ is radically different from the Christ of orthodox Christianity. Fox’s “Cosmic Christ” does live in the historical Jesus, but also ‘in all God’s children, in all [the] prophets of religion everywhere, and in all creatures of the universe” (page 7, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Harper and Row, 1992).
Fox’s religion, in contrast to true Christianity, calls for reverence for everything. The whole creation is sacred. He says on page 8 of the same book, that we are to see “the holy omni-presence of the Divine One in all things.” This includes the concept that Mother Earth is divine, that humans are divine, and that the religious prophets of the various non-Christian religions are part of the divine also. Fox says that God is within us, located in the subconscious mind. (He is not a pantheist; he doesn’t say that everything is God; he is a panentheist; he says that God is in everything, and everything is in God.)
In creation spirituality, Jesus is “a way” to God, but surely not the only way.” For Fox, Jesus is not so much a literal, historical person, as He is a principle of divine potentiality which may be found in every living creature. This principle is what Fox calls “the Cosmic Christ.” It is in this Christ, he declares, that one becomes joined to the universe in a new and meaningful way. Christians are reconnected to the whole universe, not merely to some supreme God, or to fellow human beings, but to the rest of creation (animals, land, and water).
For Fox, sin refers not to the acts of conduct which Scripture has condemned as morally evil. He says that actions such as homosexuality, drug use, astrology, and witchcraft can be potentially helpful spiritual aids. Sin, according to those who embrace creation spirituality, is false thinking about God and His creation. The creation spirituality disciples have a despicable hatred for what they call “worm theology”-you know, “for such a worm as I,” or “who saved a wretch like me.” They say that to speak of the Fall in Eden and of Redemption through Christ’s blood–is idolatry. It is to picture God as a vengeful and sadistic deity. Jesus is not exclusively the only way, truth, and life? For them, to believe that Jesus atoned for humanity’s sins seems to glorify suffering as good? For them, there must be a reverence and a sacredness for [all] creation because it is God.
The teachings of Matthew Fox have been praised by Brethren theologians for more than a decade. He spoke to the Brethren (the first time that I can remember) at Annual Conference in 1985. The first lecture that Fox delivered to the Ministers Association in Phoenix in 1985 was entitled “Creation-centered Spirituality and Our Images of God” (page 8/Conference booklet).
Creation spirituality is a gathering place (a kind of watering hole) for a wide spectrum of people including environmentalists, Native American theologians, ecumenical activists, radical feminist theologians, homosexual and lesbian people, and those who support animal rights.
We are saying that seminaries (and the Bible departments of our colleges) should become Bible Institutes with an emphasis on teaching the central Christian doctrines–and Bible book studies should be taught from a point of view which accepts the Scriptures as being historically accurate. The goal of seminary instruction should be to strengthen faith, rather than to foster ignorance by spending lots of time examining the ideas of Earth and Brunner and Bultmann and Niebuhr and Tillich-and more recently, the theology of Matthew Fox.
We need to restore strong biblical preaching if we expect our churches to grow, and if we hope to win more people to faith in Jesus Christ. And so our appeal to every pastor and every Sunday School teacher and to every parent of growing children is this: Don’t be afraid to proclaim the Word of God; don’t be afraid to stand for the principles set forth in holy Scripture.
Waiter Isenhour tells of an English farmer at work in his fields. He saw a party of horsemen riding about on his farm, and there was one field he was especially concerned about. He didn’t want the horsemen to ride over that field lest they ruin the crop. He sent one of his sons to the field, and explicitly told the boy to shut the gate, to watch carefully, and to absolutely see that the gate is not opened.
The boy went as he was told. And shortly after he was there, the hunters rode up and ordered that the gate be opened.
The boy refused to open the gate.
He told the horsemen about the orders he had received.
They used threats and bribes, but still he refused to open.
Finally, one of the hunters said in a commanding voice:’My boy, you don’t know me, but I’m the Duke of Wellington; and I command you to open that gate so that my friends and I can pass through.”
The boy lifted his cap, and bowed before the honorable Duke, and then answered firmly: “I’m sure the Duke of Wellington would not wish me to disobey orders. I must keep the gate shut, and not allow anyone through–except by my master’s permission.”
The Duke of Wellington was impressed, and that old soldier lifted his own hat and said: “l honor the person who can neither be bribed nor frightened into doing wrong.” He handed the boy a coin, and the horsemen galloped away.
All of us are gatekeepers.
Let’s do our work firmly and kindly and nobly and without apology. Let’s do it well. Don’t be afraid to proclaim the truth, and to daily set out to live by the standards set forth in the New Testament.