Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Heresy Is the New Orthodoxy

First Council of Nicaea
Christianity Today recently published the findings of a disturbing survey showing the abysmal condition of American evangelicalism.  While discerning Christians realize that CT regularly allows opinions from writers on the fringes of Christendom advocating questionable doctrine (thereby earning snarky publication names like Christianity Astray and Paganism Today), they do provide an outlet for trending data.
Reprising their ground-breaking study from two years ago, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries released an update today on the state of American theology in 2016.  Researchers surveyed 3,000 adults to measure their agreement with a set of 47 statements about Christian theology—everything from the divinity of Christ to the nature of salvation to the importance of regular church attendance.
The article is worth reading.  To summarize, those claiming to be evangelical are as likely to follow heresy in different areas of doctrine as to historic orthodoxy.  That is disturbing.  We have a problem.  I do understand the scholarly feedback in the article that said much of the ignorance is due to new Christians not fully understanding the faith, but that should be a minority of the population surveyed, not 75%.

Based on what I have seen, the primary issue is that Christians are not being taught Christianity.  People are challenged to believe that Jesus can deal with their situation—even recognizing their own sin—but after being brought into the church, these same people are never pushed to understand what the faith they purport to follow entails.  Leaders of churches, publishing houses, and parachurch organizations openly promote moralism and mysticism instead of doctrine.  Why?  Because people want a way to feel good about their relationship with God and others, so pastors and publishers give that to them.  The emphasis has turned from spiritual growth to behavioral modification and emotional salve, and if people want to aid the organization financially, so much the better.

There was a day (and still is in some sectors) when people were catechized between one and three years, depending on the assembly, before being allowed into full communion.  Now, we might attend a new member class for a couple hours (if at all), then give an affirmation of a mission statement in order to gain all the rights and responsibilities of membership.  Afterward, all the teaching they receive is a steady diet of euphemisms.  Shame on us for allowing that to happen.  Can this trend be reversed?  Yes, but do we want to?  As long as there are pastors and teachers drawing people to themselves instead of to Christ, the emphasis will remain centered on tactics to entice people to whichever personality best promotes the image desired.

We have the divine mandate and the tools to turn the tide, so there is no excuse.  What we lack is the will.  Pastors are to lead the flock to good pasture.  Teachers are to teach.  We are not called to make Scripture palatable.  We are to deliver a divinely delivered curriculum—all that Jesus commanded us.  Anything less will not do.

[Prepublication update] After I scheduled this to post, Matthew Block posted his own thoughts on the same survey at First Things.  He has mentioned the need to recognize how God worked the historic faith in creeds, confessions, and dedication to Scripture.  I recommend that you read his thoughts as well.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I've been saying this for decades -- teach the people, pastors!!!! Expose false teachers/teachings from the pulpit!!!! I'm sick of these men in the pulpits who are afraid of stepping on toes.

John Wiers said...

Steve, reposted your post on FB with a few comments of my own. I first learned about these results a week or so ago and was really bothered, just as you were. Hopefully if this gets passed around enough it will raise some issues, but I know that when doctrinal study is suggested fpr adult ed in most evangelical churches, there is a sudden quietness in the room.