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on visiting a liberal church

Earlier this year, because of a family obligation, I attended a service at a mainline denominational church. 

At the front of the church, next to the robed female minister wearing a colorful stole, was a large banner, headed with the words, "Be The Church." Historically, in this denomination the Ten Commandments would have likely been displayed, rather than these ten progressive values (see picture of banner above).

My first thought was, why did they feel the freedom to change and reorient God's commandments? Loving God dropped from #1 to #9. (It appears that even recycling is more important than loving God.) And I'm thinking the word "diversity" on this banner means something different than the biblical view of God's diverse creation. In another point, "forgive often" seems to give us a little more wiggle room than, say, "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12). As helpful as these values might be for consumer or environmental ethics, they play fast and loose with God's holy, immutable law

The service itself was a mashup of Jesus' sayings, none of which would make anyone uncomfortable. There was no mention of judgment, no need for mercy or grace, no mention of the cross and empty tomb, no explanation of saving faith, or what repentance is, or what the work of Christ accomplished on our behalf. The liturgy was a loose string of Bible verses, all positive, designed to comfort but not convict. It was said that eternal life begins at physical birth. There was one mention of "follow Jesus," with no explanation of what that meant.

My conclusion is that liberal Christianity is not really Christianity at all. Augustine wrote, "If you believe what you like in the gospel and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe but yourself." This was a point well demonstrated by J. Gresham Machen in his classic work, Christianity and Liberalism (Macmillan, 1923). (This is one of those books that I think every Christian should read.) Machen, one-time professor at Princeton Seminary, and later founder of Westminster Seminary, wrote, 

“The truth is that the life-purpose of Jesus discovered by modern liberalism is not the life purpose of the real Jesus, but merely represents those elements in the teaching of Jesus--isolated and misinterpreted--which happen to agree with the modern program. It is not Jesus, then, who is the real authority, but the modern principle by which the selection within Jesus' recorded teaching has been made. Certain isolated ethical principles of the Sermon on the Mount are accepted, not at all because they are teachings of Jesus, but because they agree with modern ideas.” (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism)

Machen's conclusion was that liberalism was not a variation of Christianity, like say, Baptists and Presbyterians, who share differing views on baptism or church government. This was more radical -- dethroning the authority of God's revelation, denying our desperate need for salvation, and diminishing the person and work of Jesus as Lord and Savior. In other words, despite the Christian jargon, it's not Christianity at all.  



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