As the age approaches its inevitable doom the evangelical finds himself increasingly involved in a downward spiral of false remedies and dubious experiments.
These spring inevitably from the haziness with which we evangelicals view our own history. We fail to see how much of our evangelicalism has lost touch with its own roots in the great Reformation.
The Reformation came about through the recovery and the radical restatement of the Bible teaching on God, man, grace, redemption and faith: our evangelical world today, however, no longer speaks (for the most part) quite the same language as the Reformers or their great successors in the following two centuries.
A growing emphasis on the Sovereignty of Man has developed in our preaching, with a consequent obscuring of the idea of a sovereign and all-wise Creator, and (the very latest phase) there is a subtle swing towards a critical view of Holy Scripture. Evangelicalism is, at last becoming infected by the very thing it has fought against for several generations— the modifying of the doctrine of a fully-inspired Bible. The rot is detected in our evangelical press, in its tolerant reviews of dangerous and subversive books, and the increasing tendency to tamper with the ecumenical heresy. We are living, in fact, in the days of EVANGELICAL REVISIONISM, and even some of our Bible Colleges have contracted the contagion. The man-cent red evangelism which is not the vogue, exalts the salvation of the sinner to a place of primacy in the scale of values in such a manner as to cloud over the glory if God, in his divine prerogatives and authority, and His all-wise unchangeable and unchallengeable purposes. These recede into the wings while the stage is increasingly dominated by an evangelism which has little use for solid exposition. In the Race for Results, everything else is jettisoned.
All methods are bent to the one great end of accumulating decisions. Hence there is a rising tide of new and ever more daring techniques — the dazzling lights, the spotlight on personality, the delayed entrance as the great man comes on last of all, the high-powered, streamlined organization geared up behind the facade at enormous expense. Then there is the last and latest development, the dawning of the age of 'Pop-evangelism’ of 'Beat-session decisionism,’ and the avalanche of erotic religious lyrics setting out the Most Holy in sensual language scarcely distinguishable from the suggestive lines of the latest LP - set to music which is steadily grossing wilder and more savage, in deliberate imitation of the rhythms which are cosseting whole generations of young people to the confines of hell.
The situation is getting out of hand, and it is time for someone to call a halt, and for evangelicals everywhere to stop, think, and consider.
Not unexpectedly there has been induced by these conditions on appetite for the sensational and the pseudo-supernatural. The recrudescence of so-called ‘Charismatic’ gifts is not the least of the alarming portents.
With the decline in the sense of the divine a cult of revivalism has become endemic, even amongst the more staid of evangelicals.
In a word, EVANGELICALISM IS SICK
In the search for a solution, let us begin by discarding false remedies.
1.EVANGELICAL CAMPAIGNISM IS NO REMEDY
Since the end of the last war this form of evangelical enterprise has been developed enormously and has earned the support of very many excellent men who sincerely expect that by this means the evangelical problem will best be met.
There has, however, been time enough during the last 20 years and particularly during the last ten years, to determine the value of this method. No one can honestly say that it has even begun to touch our real problems. Whatever good may incidentally have been done, the great glacier of spiritual death continues to slither down the slope of the English-speaking world, with gathering momentum. Even in the United States the tide of Church attendance, so high ten years ago, has begun to recede rapidly, despite the sweeping (numerical) successes of campaigns organised by different individuals, on various lines, some of which are claimed to have had a million or more conversions. These efforts are offering only barriers of sand to the modernistic rationalistic and agnostic tides.
It is to be feared that so far from arresting the process of doubt and intellectual revisionism now gnawing at the vitals of the evangelical body itself, campaignism is having diversionary tendency, by creating a false hope and turning attention away from the real remedy. The position, it is to be feared, is now growing worse than that. The latest phase of these efforts is the mobilisation of immature youngsters in a sort of combined operations. Untried and untaught in the saving doctrines of God’s Word, they disperse on a semi-holiday basis for the evangelisation of the continent! Celluloid evangelism has also come to stay. The talkie film, with its dramatic plot, its “stars”, its heroes and heroines, and its thrilling situations, has made its appearance. We now have the era of the Conversion-thriller, the power-packed drama of cine-camera salvation, calculated to throw into the shade all the one-track methods which the Holy Spirit has been pleased to use during the last two-thousand years of the church’s history.
2.THE CHARISMATIC REVIVAL IS NO REMEDY
The idea is spreading that gifts of tongues, miracle healings, and even hints of raising the dead, are going to transform the scene and give us the answer.
This movement, however sincerely based, is really the consequence of the decline of Reformation doctrine, and the rise of superficial Bible teaching. It should be clearly observed that the supernatural manifestations of New Testament times were the Holy Spirit’s endorsement of the apostolic testimony to the Resurrection of Christ. They demonstrated the passing of the Old Covenant and the inauguration of the New. Charismatic gifts were transmitted only through direct apostolic agency. There is nothing in Holy Scripture to suggest that these gifts were to be transmitted, and nothing in history to show that they were in fact transmitted to the successors of the apostles. There can be no resuscitation of apostolic gifts apart from apostolic hands. There are no apostles; therefore there are no supernatural gifts.
The appetite for the recovery and exercise of these gifts today, is, to put it at its mildest, unhealthy. It may well prove a snare and an obstruction to real progress. The world was never conquered, and never will be, by the miraculous. The miracles performed by the Saviour led to His rejection and crucifixion. The miraculous element which pervaded the apostolic days did not conquer the world. It was part of the establishment of the Kingdom of God; the conquering power lay in the spoken word of truth. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The enthusiasm of good people, who look for the transformation of the evangelical scene by recourse to supernatural gifts, is a pathetic clutching at straws. The result will be bitter disillusionment—if not something worse.
3. REVIVALISM IS NO REMEDY
All our lifetime the accent has been on a great Revival. A flurry here and there sends many earnest people hurrying to see or to spread the excitement. The all-night prayer meeting re-appears, in the belief that this is the grand specific for revival. The centenary of some 19th century movement is duly and enthusiastically observed, as though the Holy Spirit has a special regard for the calendar. All in vain! There is no revival.
Unfortunately what most people have in mind in this much overworked word “revival” is a period of evangelical excitement and success on the grand scale, comparable with the great evangelical experiences of the “Revival century”—that period of exactly one hundred years which extended, curiously enough, from the termination of the Napoleonic wars at Waterloo in 1815, to the expiry of the old world in the mud and blood of Flanders in 1914. The spontaneous evangelical awakenings which were common in that long century of world peace were the last flowering of the Reformation, Puritan and Methodist periods when the evangelical cause was still living on the unexpended capital of the 16th and 17th centuries. After that the bank broke. The mistake most of us evangelicals have been making is in thinking that there can be a revival of a like order today, regardless of the fact that the comparative soundness of the churches upon which the ‘revival century’ fed, now no longer exists. Christendom at large has moved over to unbelief on the one hand, and papal superstition on the other and the evangelical voice has become dumb between the two extremes. The conditions no longer exist for revival after the expected pattern, hence all the well meant and earnest strivings of good people for a recurrence of the experience, have ended disappointingly in shoal water. There has been no depth to float the ship— mighty preaching founded upon faithfulness to the inspired Word, and wedded to an exegetical knowledge adequate to the presentation of divine truth, no longer exists on a sufficient scale.
4.THE REMEDY LIES IN THE FORGOTTEN FACTOR
The forgotten factor is the treasure of deep evangelical truth bequeathed at the Reformation, but now more or less overlaid by an evangelicalism given more and more to an emphasis on man rather than upon God. No one strove for revival or planned it in the 16th century. The Reformation was prepared by God over at least two earlier centuries. It was preceded by the awakening of the human mind at the time of the Italian Renaissance, Science, art, and religion prepared themselves to throw off the shackles of a thousand years of darkness. The Reformation itself came, not as the work of one man or any group of men, but as the consummation of God’s purpose through generations of movement in the human mind. The invention of printing shortly before the birth of Luther was a factor of incalculable importance in the divine plan for the emancipation of the soul of man.
Now, the very fires which fed the Reformation have devoured its child. Infidel philosophy, art, and science, have flourished with the emancipation of man, and have at last succeeded in well-nigh overthrowing organised Christianity, by polluting the streams from which the church’s intellectual and spiritual life proceed. The Holy Scriptures have been discredited. An infidel scientific theory has banished God from Creation. The way is opened up for the last Satanic assault upon the soul of man. Only the evangelical holds the key to the present disaster. But the one weapon he seems incapable of drawing from the scabbard, or, having drawn it, being skilled to wield the same, is the very weapon without which he cannot win—the weapon of the Word of God.
It was by this Word alone that in the days of Luther kings were overthrown, history changed, and the world filled with light. But with the Reformers the Word was something more than a message about conversion, slickly presented and garnished with entertaining story and humour. To a man, the reformers were scholars. They laboured year by year, sometimes with the assassin at the door, to understand the Word and grapple with its mysteries. They brought up from the deepest depths, water from the well of Bethlehem. They saw God in His Word as the sovereign Creator who in awful majesty and unsearchable wisdom, laid the foundations of His redemptive work in the eternal counsels of His Godhead. to be worked out in time according to the incomprehensible pattern of His own foreknowledge and foreordination. “God foreknows because He predestinates” thundered Luther when destroying the sophistries of Erasmus, the greatest scholar of the age. “The doctrine of God’s predestination is so necessary to the church of God that without the same faith can neither be truly taught nor surely established,” declared John Knox, the greatest figure in Scottish history.
As God is sovereign, so is His grace, these men declared. Their evangelical exhortations, just as free and far more searching and effective than anything heard nowadays in the evangelical pulpit, took a sombre hue. Men knew themselves to be but men, under this sort of preaching. Conversion was a solemn and awful thing, not to be lightly and easily professed. Sinners found themselves in the hand of an angry God and fled for refuge to Christ. The Holy Spirit was His own Counsellor and the wind of grace blew where He listed. Sanctification became the outcome of earnest and patient discipline under the hand of God, not a sudden bound over the altar of consecration, bye-passing the problems of sin within.
In a word, God used, as He always has used, mighty preaching based on adequate knowledge of His Word, and commensurate skill in the presentation of the fullness of Divine Truth.
Where do those conditions obtain today? How may they be recovered? Have those ancient skills gone for ever, or is there a means for their restoration? What must an earnest young man do about entering on such a ministry as this? Is there sufficient help for him, and where is it to be found? Is there hope in the present situation, and has God a special message for today?
These are the questions which are fundamental to the present situation.
All talk of revival is irrelevant unless these issues are faced and given the priority. The situation is far more serious than most of us suppose — and already it is later than most of us think.
WHY DO EVANGELICALS REFUSE TO COME TOGETHER TO CONTEND EARNESTLY FOR THE FAITH?
1.FAILURE TO REALISE THEIR INVOLVEMENT AND RESPONSIBILITY
During the years immediately preceding the last great World War there appeared a cartoon depicting the “escapism” or “wishful thinking” which characterised the national policy of the great nations while Hitler was annexing the smaller nations one by one. A large boat labelled “Europe” was wallowing in a stormy sea called “Nazism”. The stern with figures in it called “Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland” was under water but the prow crowded with representations of Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Russia etc. was tipped up above the waves and these nations were saying “We are all right; our end of the boat, is not sinking.” There are a few evangelical churches in this country who are seeing a successful spiritual work, numbers attending their services are good and conversions are seen. The attitude of some seems to be — “We are not greatly concerned with this ecumenical, theological controversy. We are engrossed with our evangelism, saving souls. Our end of the Evangelical Protestant boat is not sinking.”
Evangelical Christianity is fighting the greatest battle since the Reformation. Victory or defeat will seriously affect the life of this country for generations. But we are like an army with a number of small units making some progress on their own little sectors blissfully ignoring the fact that the main body is being wooed and captured, and joining the enemy. Some day they will, if alive, see that the battle has been lost by default and their work isolated and engulfed. The battle we are fighting is not idle discussion. It concerns the attack from without and from within evangelicalism, on the Word of God, the Scriptures of Truth and on the great scriptural doctrines of Salvation and the Church, the basic truths of revelation. Under the banner of Unity, confusion is spreading. Thousands of people from former evangelical Churches are drifting into modernism, agnosticism and forms of religious hysteria. Take your place with those who are reasserting and seeking to obey the doctrines and truths of God’s Word reaffirmed at the Reformation.
Refuse and refute perversions or deviations from this whether from traditionalism, sacerdotalism, or sectarianism and modern movements.
This will be positive Christianity.
2.AN UNSCRIPTURAL AND SENTIMENTAL VIEW OF CHRISTIAN LOVE
There is a minority of ministers and Christian leaders who are standing in the breach! resisting the infiltration of unbelief and refusing to be wooed by the coquetry of the ecumenicalists and Romanists. They are regarded by so many of their evangelical brethren as malcontents, fanatics and unloving. Constant exhortations are given to them from the ecclesiastical touchline to “contend in love” and “love suffereth long”. etc. etc. Any kind of a protest which goes beyond a harmless squeak is bitterly assailed by the other “separated brethren”, as “unkind”, “wrong method”, “it would have been better to have prayed about it,” etc. One ecclesiastical official of the Anglican Communion recently pronounced that “God hated our old fashioned boycott”. Thank God for men in our past history who would not yield on questions of basic Biblical doctrine. Must we not hate fiercely the heresies and religious systems which have duped millions into thinking that they are accepted of God? We shall, if we truly love Christ and men. An evangelicalism in this country which becomes simply pietistic and spiritually pacifistic can land us in the position of the German Protestant Church in the 1930’s, as the late Canon Hammond showed in his now forgotten book, “Fading Light.”
3.THE IDEA THAT ROMANISM AND MODERNISM WILL CHANGE IF EVANGELICALS CO.OPERATE IN INTER.CHURCR WORSHIP AND ACTIVITY
Romanism is advancing in England. Churches and schools for the propagating of the R.C. teachings are steadily opening. This religious system has been responsible for centuries of ignorance, superstition, cruelty, massacre and the exile and extinction of populations and nations. Will it change and believe and obey the New Testament? If it did it would have to liquidate itself. If Romanism or a “World Church” becomes dominant in Britain again, the soft pedaling will cease. New generations will have to accept the dictates of a totalitarian religious organization, a colossal travesty of the Church of Christ. For over one hundred years modernism and unbelief have infiltrated through the theological colleges to the common people and we are reaping the awful fruits in a rapidly deteriorating society.
Will collaboration with those who deny the truths more precious than life to us alter the situation? Another famous cartoon of the War was a picture of Gandhi, a small wizened figure, standing on the lip of Vesuvius in eruption, clutching his robes with one hand and in the other a little watering can trying to extinguish the titanic fires of a World War with the water of his advice.
We are warring against “principalities and powers” of Hell. To stand on one side might be regarded by our Great Judge as complicity. “Curse ye Meroz saith the angel of the Lord, because they came not to the help of the Lord against the mighty”. “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me; I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.”
ARE YOU INTERESTED?ARE YOU CONCERNED?
ARE YOU DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT?
“If we enter the city we shall die there; if we sit still here we die also. Let us fall unto the hosts of the Syrians ……………… we can but die ………………………….” —The Four Leprous Men of Samaria.