July 1, 2018

Clear and Present Danger #4: Liberalism

Passage: Acts 20:19-32

In March 1887, CH Spurgeon published in his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, an article titled “The Down Grade.” The article declared that some ministers were “denying the proper deity of the Son of God [and] renouncing faith in his atoning death.” They were, the author said, on a slippery slope, or “Down Grade,” moving away from essential biblical doctrines.

In the following month’s Sword and Trowel, Spurgeon wrote, “Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and casting slurs upon justification by faith.”[1]

Spurgeon later wrote:  Our solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward. … A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching.[2]

Spurgeon’s words were prophetic. Since his time, many Christian churches and denominations have slipped down the slope toward liberalism and apostasy. Pulpits that formerly preached the Gospel ceased doing so.

Today we’re considering the fourth installment in our series on clear and present dangers to the church. We’ve been talking about threats to the church from within professing Christianity. Thus far, I’ve discussed weaknesses within the evangelical church and the potential threat of the charismatic movement, Word Faith, and the NAR. Today we’ll be considering another threat from within professing Christianity, that of liberalism and doctrinal compromise.

From the beginning of the Christian church, there has always been a threat that those claiming to be Christians and claiming to preach the Gospel are actually “grievous wolves” who will not spare the flock. Instead, they’ll speak perverse things and draw false disciples after them. This has happened time after time.

As Paul warned about in 2 Timothy 4:3–4    the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

It’s almost as if Paul perfectly understood the threat of liberalism. When we talk about liberalism, we are stepping outside the boundaries of Reformational, evangelical, Gospel Christianity. Liberals generally think of themselves as Christians, but they don’t believe what Christians believe and they often don’t act much like Christians. We might call this nominal Christianity—i.e., Christianity in name only. They claim the Christian name, use Christian words, and attend supposedly Christian churches, but they doubt or even deny the fundamentals of the faith. When you scratch beneath the surface, you find no genuine Christianity.

Theological liberalism remains a threat to the church, so we must understand it and be able to recognize it when we see it.

[1] Mark Hopkins, “The Down-Grade Controversy.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-29/down-grade-controversy.html

[2] Sword and Trowel, Aug, 1887.

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