Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Take Off the Surplice!"

I've been re-reading Dr. Harold Lindsell's classic "The Battle for the Bible," first published in the mid-1970s. For those unfamiliar with the book, it documents how heresy, doctrinal compromise and false teaching rots churches and theological institutions from within, and over time. Sadly, it's a pattern that seems to repeat itself over and over again. That is why Lindsell's book will never be outdated, should the Lord tarry in His coming.

The pattern is fairly predictable. A movement begins within a segment of the church, desirous of reform, returning the church to its biblical, historic moorings in God's Word and sound doctrine. A new fellowship begins, new seminaries and Bible schools are opened to accompany the fellowship and provide leadership for the churches. Things go swimmingly for a while, and then sooner or later, things begin to drift. People—laypeople, teachers or pastors—come in with different ideas than the founding principles or doctrines. Or through being influenced by outside sources, folks within the fellowship begin to drift, fulfilling the Apostle Peter's warning . . . But false prophets also arose among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves (2 Peter 2:1). And then there arises a period where the remnant recognizes the danger, and either manages to pull their fellowships back from the brink, or they end up having to leave and begin anew again. It's hard to watch. It grieves the heart, and most certainly grieves the Master.

In one of the chapters of "The Battle for the Bible," Dr. Lindsell discusses the sad case of Episcopalian Bishop James A. Pike. Over time, Bishop Pike denied "his belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Of course, he denied biblical inerrancy. He was so blatant in his views that the Episcopal Church was forced to act in his case." Lindsell goes on . . .

The Roman Catholic magazine, Triumph, had this to say: "The Episcopalians appointed an Advisory Committee on Theological Freedom and Social Responsibilities with instructions to study 'the theological situation faced by the Episcopal Church,' and concretely, to answer the question: 'What is heresy?' How should the church define, detect, and deal with it." The Committee's verdict was that the word 'heresy' should be abandoned. 'It too often conjures up a picture of a static fortress of propositional theology that requires to be, and can be defended by appeal to the letter of a theological statement. It presumes to a measure of theological pre-judgment (that is a belief that the Bible is true and can prejudge doctrinal views) which is inappropriate to the mature Christian community. It too often implies a set of theological categories unconditioned by their historical and cultural period'"—in other words, such an approach refuses to use and apply the historical-critical methodology that always ends up denigrating Scripture.

As recorded by Dr. Lindsell, the writers of the Triumph article noted a meeting of 90 Episcopal priests at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where they stated that homosexuality is neither right nor wrong. The article followed up with a devastating and accurate observation: "These two incidents in the recent history of the Episcopal Church unavoidably raise the question of whether the body is tending toward an official position of neutrality on matters of faith and morals—whether, that is, Episcopalians are capable of loving Truth sufficiently to recognize its opposite."

Having quoted this lengthy passage from "The Battle for the Bible," it must be noted that the theological issues being addressed hit way beyond the Episcopal Church. Rome has its agitators. Baptists have their agitators. Evangelical Free Churches have their agitators. As Dr. Lindsell demonstrated recounting changes at Fuller Theological Seminary (of which he was a founding professor), there would be professors who would officially sign the doctrinal statement of the school while laughing up their sleeve—they really didn't agree with all of the doctrinal statement that they were signing. That's a Christian integrity issue if you ask me. How many pastors out there from whatever fellowship affirm the official doctrine of their churches on paper, but then work quietly to systematically destruct them from the pulpit over time?

I have to agree with what Anglican C.S. Lewis said in 1963, during his interview with Sherwood Wirt. It would turn out to be Lewis' last published interview:

"A great deal of what is being published by writers in the religious tradition is a scandal and is actually turning people away from the church. The liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel are responsible. I cannot understand how a man can appear in print claiming to disbelieve everything he presupposes when he puts on the surplice. I feel it is a form of prostitution."


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