Christendom Astray, Its Effect Upon Us

In his work of the above title, Bro Roberts declares, "That Christendom is astray from the system of doctrine and practice established by the labours of the apostles in the first century, is recognized by men of very different ways of thinking." Indeed, successive generations have so completely recognized popular Christianity's failings that many are comfortable, if not confident, that such a corrupt system offers little enticement or threat to the righteous. However, it may be that Christendom does have an effect on believers even though it is not readily apparent at first glance. Though we have a tendency to identify and repudiate the obvious doctrinal error that characterizes popular Christianity, (i.e., trinity, immortal soul, hell/devil, indwelling holy spirit, etc), it is the moral foundation inherent within Christendom astray that threatens us in its popular attitudes, philosophies and values.

Though we may think we stand apart from popular philosophies and values, their influence is ever present and powerful. As Bro Islip Collyer states in Conviction and Conduct, "It is always difficult to resist fashions, whether in clothes or theology, and when we think we are quite unmoved by the stream, it often only means that we are lagging a little way behind." In its religious and secular aspects, the society in which we live is overwhelmingly humanistic. Humanism holds that the nature, interest and ideals of humanity are self-fulfilling and ethical, without regard or appeal to a higher authority. Although there is lip service given to the existence of a benevolent God, "loving thy neighbor" is more appealing and in harmony with the philosophies and values of men.

We will examine three humanistic philosophies prevalent in popular Christianity that may influence and thereby constitute a threat to our individual members and our community. These philosophies are 1) ecumenism, 2) unconditional forgiveness, and 3) homosexuality. These philosophical values are increasingly pervasive within our society and enjoy both popular support and social enforcement. Their influence surely is among those corrupt beliefs that must be numbered among the thorns which sometimes choke the Word and prevent our final preparation for the kingdom of God.

Ecumenism is a doctrine of popular Christianity promoting cooperation and better understanding among different religious denominations, originally aimed at universal Christian unity. The word literally means, "of or from the whole world", and today we see ecumenism extended to non-Christian religions as well.

Ecumenism is a very recent practice that may be viewed as having begun in 1964 when the Roman Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council issued its Decree on Ecumenism. That decree identified Christians who were not in communication with Rome as "separated brethren" as opposed to the previous decree of "anathema" (cursed, damned, greatly detested). The following year the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches terminated the mutual excommunication of each other's members that had been in effect since 1054AD. As it progressed, the Christian Ecumenical movement has embraced both political and secular humanistic agendas. For example, in 1999 the Ecumenical Charter for Collaboration Among the Churches of Europe presented objectives that included "concern for the environment" and "protecting human rights against inroads by the state", in addition to, "common prayer across denominations, reconciliation, and identifying opportunities for inter-denominational encounters and dialog". Today it is not uncommon to see representative leaders from different religions standing together to declare their universal brotherhood and mutual respect, especially in times of national need or religious based conflict. This "evolution" of religious cooperation and mutual respect is viewed by religious and secular authorities as both desirable and beneficial. Humanistic philosophy has long identified religion as divisive as well as a primary cause of conflict among people and nations. Concentration upon humanistic goals that promote peace, cooperation and good will among men requires a change from those beliefs and attitudes that offend. The push is to diminish or sacrifice those divisive beliefs in order to promote a new unity.

Although we can all appreciate the benefits of peaceful coexistence, James instructs us to, "Submit yourselves therefore to God" and warns us about friendship with the world, "know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." Ecumenism denies and attempts to subvert this admonition, ignoring the intended gulf between the "flesh" and the "spirit". As opposed to seeking reconciliation and harmony with the world, we are instructed, "come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord." Paul entreats us to consider "what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness...what communion hath light with darkness?" It is a natural temptation to seek the friendship and respect of those with whom we live and work. However, as commanded and exemplified by our Lord, fidelity to our Father requires separation and sacrifice lest we become unfit for His service.

Unconditional forgiveness and acceptance promotes harmony among men and may appear to be the loving, Christian thing to do. In April 1999, after two high school students murdered 15 fellow students and staff and then took their own lives, other students announced that they had forgiven the killers for the atrocities committed. Although the willingness to forgive even the most horrid of acts is commendable, does immediate and unconditional forgiveness accomplish anything other than allowing the "forgiver" to feel good? Unconditional forgiveness seems to ignore forgiveness as a process, which has an end in mind that requires the participation of the offender. Current practice also does not address whose place it is to offer forgiveness nor are scriptural examples followed.

Unconditional forgiveness, without the offender's participation or perhaps even their knowledge, reduces the meaning and significance of forgiveness. There is a trivializing aspect in contemporary Christianity's approach to forgiveness, making it an internal matter, a good feeling for one's "inner self". Although there might be recognition that forgiveness should be an element of a process that resolves or transforms situations and relationships, the popular trend pushes unconditional, unrequested forgiveness while labeling as controlling and moralistic those who expect offender remorse and/or participation.

In cases where the offender fails to initiate a request for forgiveness, Matthew 18 offers a guide in the scriptural method of seeking resolution, "go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more; and if he neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church". Conditional forgiveness is demonstrated in scripture. In the same chapter above our Lord provides the parable of the servant who asks his lord to have patience with him and to reconsider the action planned against him due to his debt. In response to that petition, the lord, " moved with compassion...loosed him, and forgave him his debt." Conditional forgiveness is an expectation of our Heavenly Father in His offer through Christ: "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations." (Luke 24:47) If forgiveness is to be granted freely and unconditionally, of what benefit is remorse, and what purpose is served by repentance?

The servant of the Lord must not strive, and we should not be easily offended or hesitant to overlook a minor offence. However, do we not have a responsibility to seek peaceful fellowship with our brethren as opposed to ignoring or trivializing serious error or offence? Unconditional forgiveness is pushed by popular Christianity in accord with their theology of a God who loves and forgives unconditionally; a tolerant, domesticated, safe deity who loves rather than judges us, and does not exhibit wrath. As described by one religious writer, Gene Veith, such a God does not exist, "The God of the Bible, in contrast, is not nice, but righteous; not tolerant, but holy; not kindly looking down, but invading His sinful creation, and offering in Jesus Christ a surprising redemption and forgiveness."

Homosexuality has gained popular acceptance in our society as demonstrated in popular entertainment and public opinion polls. Although much of today's openness has resulted from anti discrimination legislation, court decrees and the Supreme Court's rulings against sodomy laws, these legal enactments have but followed growing social acceptance. Do we not see in this practice over the last 50 years the process of that which is initially abhorred becoming tolerated and finally embraced? Although popular opinion is not yet firmly supportive of homosexual marriage or homosexual clergy, they are tolerated and therefore embracement cannot be far behind. The recent ordination of an openly gay bishop in the American Episcopal Church broke its ties with other church provinces worldwide and caused many of its lifelong members to leave. Yet, there have been a sizable number of new members joining to demonstrate support for the church's stand in favor of homosexuality.

Although it is disturbing and perhaps difficult to envision believers being enticed by the homosexual lifestyle, we are not immune. There have been both converts as well as sympathizers from among our ranks, a clear indication that we must not ignore or drop our guard against this evil. The pervasiveness and social approval for this lifestyle can easily put one on the defense, not wishing to risk the anger or hostility of friends, neighbors and employers.

Acceptance of homosexuality, like other popular practices and values, revolves around the expectation for non-judgmental acceptance of others. We may elect not to openly campaign against this abomination, but we should be prepared to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear". Such confessions glorify our Father while strengthening our hope and our resolve.

Ecumenism, unconditional forgiveness and homosexuality are but three values and philosophies inherent within Christendom astray. These values reflect secular humanism as opposed to the commandments of God. They appeal to those who know not God and seek their own righteousness. Such values do constitute a threat to our walk in the Lord as they are so pervasive and enjoy such popular approval and support. The promise is to "he that overcometh"; "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."

Jim Washeck

St Peters, MO