The Doctrines That Shook Up the World in 1517
The Reformation began in 1517 when a German priest nailed his “95 Theses” or protests against abuses in the church to the church door. His disciples printed them and sent hundreds of copies all over Europe. That priest was Martin Luther, and he meant to reform the church, but it started an earth shaking movement that resulted in the Protestant Churches. I have been reading WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GOSPEL OF GRACE? by James Montgomery Boice, and he makes some clear similarities to today’s church movements. The great doctrines of Augustine, circa 400 A.D. were reestablished in the Reformation, and in particular “Sola Deo Gloria, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fidei”. That was Latin for “Only Glory to God, Only Grace, Only Scripture, Only Faith”. By this Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the other leaders of the Reformation were saying that only God gets the glory and our worship, we are saved only by God’s grace—not the sacraments. Our source of revelation and truth is only the Scriptures—not church tradition. We receive justification and God’s righteousness only by faith not by works. Boice believes that today’s Mega-Church movements may be heading in the same direction as the church before the reformation. Back in the 1980s, a huge church movement began which has been called the “seeker sensitive” approach to instant church growth. An obvious example is the Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. They determined to reach the unchurched “seekers” through popular music, multimedia, and non-biblical sermons referencing popular culture. They even changed the look of the church buildings removing crosses and the traditional church appearance. The idea was that non-believers would come to be entertained and be “loved on”. As far as church growth was concerned the seeker sensitive method caught on big time and we witnessed the birth of the Mega Churches and satellite churches. There was a de-emphasis on Bible study and preaching from the Word of God. Studying and preaching were out, and relevance was in. Churches hired professional consultants who charged hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up needs based programs, entertainment centers, and slick marketing. Doctrine no longer mattered as much as innovation, and the size of the crowd. Everything had to be “cutting edge” and consumer friendly. Preaching on sin, hell, and sanctification were out, being replaced by “love and sensitivity”. Any churches not embracing this new model were thought to be doomed traditionalists unwilling to change with the times. After all, thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn’t be wrong.
In the 1990s, I belonged to a traditional evangelical Bible Church that emphasized Bible study and Sunday School participation. All the sermons were straight out of the Bible, and the Sunday School classes were basically Bible studies. Most of the people in my class were well taught in the Bible and could be considered mature growing Christians. One Sunday the leaders of the church delivered a manual to our class about the Willow Creek model of a “seeker sensitive” church with statistics about church growth. I’ll never forget there were about 4 pages of new terms that were to be used instead of the old Biblical terms, which were deemed obsolete. Instead of unbelievers or pagans, they were seekers. Speakers were never to use biblical terms like sin, judgment, hell, or anything negative. Instead of being saved, they were self-fulfilled. Literally every biblical term and theological doctrine common to the traditional church was to be changed to a politically correct term that would not offend. Sunday classes that studied the Bible were to be phased out in favor of fellowship groups that met in homes during the week where seekers could share and talk cultural issues. The Sanctuary was to be altered into a theater style look with theater seats. All crosses, pulpits, and choir lofts were to be removed. I could go on and on, but you get the point. This became what is known as the Mega Church movement with the best known massive churches being Willow Creek and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston. Again, the experts said the large crowds and the big money proved that this was the way to go.
“Reveal: Where Are You?” a Research Book by Pastor Greg Hawkins
One of the pastors at Willow Creek actually did a four year research effort to prove the effect of the church on spiritual growth and Biblical knowledge. The study was broad-based and well done to their credit. Their findings were that the majority of the church was spiritually immature, and biblically illiterate—what a surprise! Many people didn’t even know what they believed! My question then is “Doesn’t your faith have to be based on the truth? Isn’t the object of your faith all important?” It appears to me that most of the people are just there for a social gathering and entertainment. Willow Creek is attempting to correct the problem by offering midweek classes on theology and the Bible. Recently Bill Hybels resigned as Pastor of Willow Creek due to a sex scandal. Could all of the consultants and experts on church growth be completely wrong? I remember when we were having babies we read Benjamin Spock books. Literally everyone considered him an “expert”. He said don’t discipline your children, but allow them to express themselves. Many years later Spock changed his opinion based on facts saying, “We have raised a generation of brats, we were wrong, parents should discipline their kids”. Oops, my bad, never mind! The church reality is that if you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results, but if you want mature sincere knowledgeable believers, emphasize Bible study and good Bible based preaching. After all, “the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12), meaning that the Word of God is literally alive and works in our hearts and minds. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us the importance of the Scriptures, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction. For training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” This tells us God has provided His Word and we need to be taught God’s word for the purpose of discerning the truth and for correcting error. It convicts us of our sin, and puts us on the right path; and don’t miss that we are NOT adequate without it. People want to do good works, but the Word of God determines what good works are, and the Word motivates us to do good works.
Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?
James Montgomery Boice makes a lot of relevant points in his above book-from which I will attempt to give a synopsis. In the late 20th century churches in America we witnessed the shift away from the traditional churches to a more worldly model that is more entertaining and inviting to worldly people. What does he mean by “worldly”? The world’s view is basically humanism, relativism, materialism, and pragmatism. This is what Paul is warning against in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The world’s massive weight of peer pressure wants us to conform, but only God’s Word can transform us by the renewing of our mind. Humanism looks at man as the center of everything. We can solve all problems, and everything revolves around us and is for man’s glory. Logically, humanitarian efforts are a good thing, but the philosophy of humanism values people apart from God. Instead of looking at people as made in the image of God to serve and glorify God, they see the service of mankind as the purpose of life. Humanism leads to a deification of self. The worldly church sees its purpose as being in the service of mankind only.
The predominant view in America today is that truth is relative. If there is no absolute truth then studying the Bible is de-emphasized. Worldly relativism says there is no God and therefore no absolutes, and everyone has the right to believe in the truth that works for them. Many churches today teach that you can be saved by any world religion, and discount Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “no one comes to the Father but through Me”, or Acts 4:12 “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name (but Jesus) under heaven by which we must be saved”. Relativism allows church members to carry out any life style they choose and then just make that their truth. Materialism is the most obvious and easily proved of the worldly values. Many of the Mega-churches make this the center of their teaching that God wants you to be successful, wealthy, and able to afford all the worldly goods. But just think how different Christ was. He was born poor, born in a barn, lived in a dumpy town, and He never owned anything.
Pragmatism may be the greatest lie in the world, because almost everyone buys into, “Do whatever works, just get it done!” The mantra “It works for me!” seems true but is a self-destructive lie. When people claim that it works for them, they can justify any belief or lifestyle, and this puts them at odds with what is biblical. Humanistic churches today make the service of mankind the substance of their message. Typical sermons are “felt need” sermons in which the audience is taught how to overcome their problems, and can meet their own needs. It becomes a congregation asking “What’s in it for me?” or “What have you done for me lately?” The preachers are selling a social Gospel in which Jesus is all about giving me what I want and fixing all the problems of society. The “seeker sensitive” churches are literally selling the Gospel. Preachers are taught to package the Gospel in an attractive and appealing way to lure the masses in and entertain them without offending them with the truth.
Return to the Solas
Instead of the worldly humanistic doctrines, the church needs to return to Sola Deo Gloria, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fidei. Only God gets the glory, all worship and praise go to Him exclusively. Our purpose in life is to glorify God. Only God’s Word in the Bible has absolute truth. No church can make up its own truth or add tradition to the Word of God. Tradition is only valuable to the extent it enhances our relationship with Christ, but tradition is not revelation from God. Therefore Bible study and Bible application is all important. The Bible alone is sufficient for the Christian’s salvation, spiritual growth, lifestyle, and evangelism.
Since the new church puts such importance on what we do, or what we want to be true, or our good works; they are in danger of importing a works based salvation message without even knowing it. Sola Gratia or Only Grace means that the means of salvation is strictly grace alone. It is not grace plus baptism, not grace plus tradition, not grace plus works. God’s grace is the free gift of the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and nothing else. Faith alone means how we make it our own—by faith we receive God’s grace. John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 add no conditions other than faith or belief. In 1996 the “Alliance of Evangelicals” published the “Cambridge Declaration”, which said, “Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. Human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable of regeneration without God’s grace. We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work.” I know you are wondering about the relationship of faith and works. When Christ becomes our Savior by faith, the result is a changed life that includes works done for God (not man). Works are the result of faith. Faith produces good works acceptable to God. We as sinners (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) have no claim on God at all. God owes us nothing, but He saves us in spite of our sin. Most of the salvation passages end with something like “not as a result of works so that no one may boast” (Eph.2:9).
Karl Menninger, of the well known Menninger Clinic wrote a book, WHATEVER BECAME OF SIN? In which he said that we have changed our concept of sin. Today our culture seems to think of sin as a crime committed by a criminal, but the Bible presents sin as any disobedience to God’s Word or any rebellion against God, and includes deceitful thoughts and intentions. Therefore in God’s view He has given us His perfect holy standard and all of us have failed to live up to it. Thus it is true that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore everyone needs Jesus, Who alone can atone for our sin!