Monday, July 07, 2014

Back into history: An Evangelicalism that at least looks biblical

At the heart, then, of the eighteenth-century awakening was the question of what a Christian is. The evangelicals ('Methodists') believed that the clergy at large fell under the same condemnation as the false prophets of whom God said, 'You have strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that he does not turn from his wicked way to save his life' (Ezek. 13:22). Their opponents replied: 'Their doctrine is too strict; they make the way to heaven too narrow.' On which words, [John] Wesley made the all-important observation: 'And this is in truth the original objection (as it was almost the only one for some time), and is secretly at the bottom of a thousand more, which appear in various forms.'

It was certainly 'at the bottom' of the charge that the evangelicals were no true 'churchmen' They were said to be 'undermining, if not openly destroying the Church.' They were 'dividing the Church.' Their duty, they were told, was 'to have a greater regard to the rules and orders of the Church.' Such complaints were commonplace and to them all the evangelicals replied by asserting that an understanding of the church was not possible without first understanding what a Christian is. The real problem of their accusers was that they were wrong on that fundamental question. The Bishop of London, [George] Whitefield warned, was treating nominal Christians as being in 'a very imperfect state,' whereas the truth was that they were 'in no state of Christianity at all.' 'Church or no Church,' said Wesley, 'we must attend to the work of saving souls.' And when challenged about his allowance of lay-preachers, he replied: 'Soul-damning clergymen lay me under more difficulties than soul-saving laymen.' [Iain H Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 164]

In a denomination [Church of England] which, by [J.I.] Packer's admission was in 'doctrinal disarray,' the question which non-evangelical and ecumenical churchmen wanted evangelicals to answer [in the 1960s] was whether or not they stood by their old exclusiveness. To that question [the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at] Keele had given an emphatic answer in 1967, and if it had not done so it would have never have satisfied the non-evangelicals as it did. But what Keele left unexplained was how evangelicals could hold to the uniqueness of their gospel message and yet profess brotherhood with those whose teachings subvert that Gospel. As I have said, the new policy had to mean that evangelicals would be forced to deny in practice what they taught in theory. ... (Ibid., 117-8)

[David] Edwards, in due course Provost of Southwark and himself a liberal, was to demonstrate the existence of evangelical change in a book he co-authored with John Stott in 1988 entitled, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue. Edwards rejected most of the essentials of the Christian faith, including the fall of man, the need for atonement by a divine redeemer and Christ's physical resurrection. Yet in this dialogue Dr. Stott held to the new inclusivenes. Those who deny the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ, he affirmed, do not 'forfeit the right to be called Christians.' This he underlined by a gratuitous reference to David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham, who had made headlines with his denial of the physical resurrection of Christ. ... Yet there was room, John Stott supposed, for evangelicals to agree even with Jenkins:

A year or two ago Bishop David Jenkins kindly spent a couple of hours with five of us Evangelicals who wanted to engage in questioning and discussion with him.... He was willing to concede that the bodily resurrection of Christ, although in his view 'historically unverifiable' (because the story of the empty tomb was probably not written until twenty years or more after the event), could nevertheless be termed 'theologically appropriate.' There I think, was a man speaking out of his catholic tradition, but we Evangelicals endorsed it.

(Ibid., 119-20)

Evangelicalism as a movement began with the Wesleys, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in the First Great Awakening. This old Evangelicalism however was actually decent despite its pietistic and revivalistic background. The whole premise behind preaching for conversions in a supposedly "Christian" country in the 18th century is that being a church member or even a church leader does not save you. It means that, even if someone claims to be a Christian, one does not necessarily treat him or her as one, but inquire whether the person has put their trust in Christ alone.

Fast forward to the 1960s, as the situation had developed in both America and England. In America, Fuller Seminary was busy leading the way towards compromise, the turning of the guard towards "inclusivity" coming with the appointment of Daniel Fuller as Chief Academic Officer and David Hubbard as president in 1962-3. In England, that happened when the evangelical party of the Church of England voted themselves out of existence in the 1967 National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) at Keele, by "repenting" of sins against Christian unity. Soon, "Evangelicals" became just one more sect among many in the multitudes of groups that calls itself Christianity. The tragedy of the "evangelicals" left over is illustrated by John Stott's comment on counting liberals who are evidently non-Christians fellow brethren. I for one do not wish to be in Stott's shoes when he faces the accusatory gazes of liberals like David Edwards and David Jenkins on the Last Day, along with many others.

The saddest thing is not that evangelicals have capitulated. The saddest thing is that evangelicals think that to be evangelical means that one must affirm anyone who claims to be a believer, and the line of division is now ethics and not doctrine. To question the profession of someone who denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone is being uncharitable, but to question the profession of someone who endorses homosexuality is perfectly alright. That is the default setting among evangelicals in many places around the world. Case in point: The current bleeding of the PCUSA churches into EPC and ECO denominations. When Liberalism infected the PCUSA, many conservatives refused to join Machen in forming a true church. But when the PCUSA started to endorse homosexuality, howls of betrayal from the conservatives break loose. So denying orthodoxy is ok, but affirming homosexuality is not?

Closer to the Singapore context, there was the recent co-belligerency campaign among Muslims and Christians to wear white as a protest against the homosexual activist event "Pink Dot." Now, there is nothing wrong with participating in social clauses in one's personal capacity, but when it is supported by a Christian group, a psuedo-denoination called "Love Singapore," then we have a major problem. The president of Love Singapore is "Apostle" Lawrence Khong, who promotes the G12 shepherding error and is at least supportive of the heretical New Apostolic Reformation. What then does this say about "evangelicalism"? Those who promote false teaching are lauded as good Christian leaders, while any hint of homosexuality is condemned. Now, I am not for homosexuality, but can we have some balance here? Is homosexuality a worse sin than heresy? If anything, it is the other way round! There is more hope for a homosexual who repents than a straight heretic who doesn't! That's why I don't have a high regard for the "Love Singapore" movement, a movement that is leavened throughout with all manner of false teachings that are heterodox at best.

Before the advent of the New Evangelicalism, the Old Evangelicalism, while certainly flawed, at least does not have the problem of confusing the essentials of the faith. Now, anything goes, and one wonders why Christianity is not making an impact on the world. The Wesleys and Whitefield transformed much of Britain because they actually denied the profession of others who claim to be Christians. In a deconfessional era, the second best to a functional confessional Reformed church is better than nothing.

[PS: In Reformed circles, we do not question the profession of those who make a credible confession of faith, but we do of those who don't. The problem with Whitefield, and of pietism in general, is that a credible confession of faith to them must include a conversion experience. In the Reformed churches, it is verbal confession of faith, a desire to be baptized and attending to the other means of grace, and trusting Christ for salvation which is expressed as fruits of godliness. A conversion experience is not necessary in the Reformed churches.]

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