Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

I was born in 1950. This was a time of economic austerity and technological advance. Scottish society was divided along quite rigid social class lines and the church played a major role in holding the nation together, providing a set of moral and spiritual certainties which most people understood and supported.

Today things are different. Social class, while it still exists has been eroded to the extent that it no longer plays a powerful role in determining an individual’s life chances. The huge post-war expansion of education provided the majority of people with the tools for economic and social advancement. It also gave individuals and groups the confidence and the skills to begin to question previously accepted values and power structures.  

The church was unfortunately caught ‘flat footed’.  It failed miserably to adapt its modus operandi to the changing world, remaining firmly rooted in the nineteenth century. As a result, its membership and therefore its role and influence in Scottish society declined.   In the evangelical sector today, many churches continue to struggle in the post-modern environment and find it difficult to make an impact on their communities.

I have no doubt that post-modernism has brought moral and spiritual uncertainty to Scotland. The BBC, which for decades used its power and influence to promote post-modernism, defines this world view as one in which: “there are no universal religious or ethical laws, everything is shaped by the cultural context of a particular time and place and community. In a postmodern world individuals work with their religious impulses, by selecting the bits of various spiritualities that 'speak to them' and create their own internal spiritual world. The 'theology of the pub' becomes as valid as that of the priest. The inevitable conclusion is that religion is an entirely human-made phenomenon.”

Large swathes of the church, particularly in the Church of Scotland have not only caved in to post-modernism, but have adopted post-modernist attitudes and values. The prime motivation here has been to preserve the organisation’s power and influence in society. The Gospel of Christ, as preached from many Church of Scotland pulpits bears little resemblance to that which is contained in the Bible.

The evangelical sector is under similar pressure from post-modernism. Many of Scotland’s evangelical/independent churches and fellowships have looked to the USA, importing the music, the entrepreneurial culture and some of the spiritual practices from mainstream evangelicalism.

Sadly a growing number of these churches have also imported a ‘sanitised Gospel’ in which the elements of sin, repentance, salvation and holiness have been quietly edited out in order to make it more appealing to the potential consumers in 21st century Scotland.

Writing in the Christian Post this week, Shane Idleman lamented, “It's no secret that there is a significant shift in the church today to avoid the topics of sin and repentance. God's Word says to confront, confess, and turn from sin, whereas many encourage us to ignore, overlook, and continue in it. One popular TV preacher actually said, "I don't talk about sin," and was proud of it.

Silence about sin minimizes the cross and makes it less offensive. But the cross only makes sense in light of the consequences of sin: ‘to convince the world of the truth of Christianity, it must first be convinced of sin. It is only sin that renders Christ intelligible’. (Andrew Murray; 1794-1866).”

It must be fifteen years since I last heard the issues of sin, repentance, salvation and holiness preached with any conviction. It would appear that in the face of post-modernism, some evangelicals are going to great lengths to rethink, redefine, and rename difficult truths like sin, repentance and salvation.

For me, sticking to the Gospel as outlined in the Bible is a ‘red line.  This timeless message: that Jesus came into the world to save sinners really is an insult to the world. Jesus himself said that his message of salvation would be offensive.

Shane Idleman rightly contends that dilution of the Gospel is not an option…..“how can we discuss God's love, mercy, and grace without mentioning his justice, righteousness, and holiness? How can we discuss heaven but not hell; relationship but not repentance; a Saviour but not sin?”

The answer to any preacher considering watering down the truth…..we can't!

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