The recent debates in the Church of England concerning, essentially, how we read the Word of God has encouraged me to write this post.
The fundamental question before us is not whether the Church is to be relevant or loving. It isn’t really about thinking “what would Jesus do” in acting out of love and tolerance for one issue, and “in keeping with what we know now” with another. The real question is whether we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, the infallable revelation of the will of God, the supreme judge and rule for all issues of faith and conduct, or whether we believe that we can supplant the teachings of scripture by our reason and “inner light”, reading the word of God through specticles of our own making.
Let me draw your attention to Mark 7:1-13. Please take some time to read the passage before you read the rest of the post.
In this passage, the Pharasees question our Lord as to why the disciples did not obey the “tradition of the elders”.
Now, if the Pharasees were about today, I honestly think we would say: “They meant well”. Why? Because they believed that they were trying hard to obey the Law of God. They believed that the reason for Israel’s predicament was that the nation was no longer keeping the Law. And so they became anal about keeping the Law. They saw what they though the Law said and they decided that, in order to keep it as perfectly as possible, they added extra rules to the Law, so that they stopped themselves before they broke the Law and sinned.
What Jesus points out is that, in trying to keep the Law as they saw it, they ended up breaking the Laws of God. The traditions of the elders which they sought to keep actually prevented the Pharasees from obeying the true Law of God, as set down in the 10 Commandments.
Christ puts it in harsh terms: they obey their traditions “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:13).
Making void the word of God. They used pious excuses, for example the giving away money “to God” in order that you can discharge your duties towards your parents, and in doing so are disobedient to what God says.
I want to argue that this is what the Liberal Church is doing. Behind the cries of “its more important that we just love each other” is simple disobedience.
Can you see the analogy. Liberal Christianity uses the second limb of Great Commandment to ignore the first. The command to “love your neighbour as yourself” is used as a get out clause for ignoring the great corpus of God’s law. You cannot use the love that we are meant to show our neighbours as a get out clause for obediently following other devine commands. We simply cannot. Respect and care for others, of course. But to permit that which God has revealed to us not to be permitted is simply to disobey God, overtly, arrogantly.
There are many other flaws in the movements in Liberal Christianity. An false eschatology, whereby the future hope is not something that will be ushered in with the return of Christ, but something which will only be seen in “the gradual evolution of the kingdom of love” (Horton,The Christian Faith, p929); the denial of God’s judgement and justice which produces ade factouniversalism; a pantheistic view of God, whereby God is everywhere in all things, with multiple ways to commune with him, and man’s life being merely growing in one’s God consciousness; a denial of the full devinity of Christ; a Palagian doctrine of salvation. All these things are prevelant in the tradition of Liberal Christianity since it first began to rear its head in the late 18th Century.
The “gospel” propounded by the Liberal Church is so far removed from the traditional gospel as to almost beggar belief. The cross means nothing other than an illustration of how much God loves people, severed from the satisfaction of the wrath of God (which is now downright denied by others). Repentance is virtually non existant: man merely has to accept Jesus and be nice. Moralism is the word of the day, and the morality propounded is a man made morality based on what man decrees by his reason. People aren’t saved from hell, but are saved from a lack of personal fulfillment. The Bible isn’t the Word of God, through which he speaks to man, but man’s own “inner light” is one’s guide to truth. Salvation is Palagian: men are essentially good and essentially spiritual, they just need a little help to be more fulfilled good people (except for the bad people, those being all those who aren’t Liberals).
But Jesus sees differently. He sees that it is from mans heart that evil proceeds (Mark 7:21). It is from inside man, his own desires and mores, from which man sins. Only a new heart will bring about moral renewal. Even human reason is corrupt and not to be trusted. The Word is to bind man’s conscience, not what one person believes to be right and wrong. “Well, we know better now” has no place in Scriptural interpretation. Man is sinful and corrupt, deserving of damnation. And thence we would be heading but by the grace of God. But we must rid the Church of the idea that all people are essentially good. Yes, we are all made in the image of God, carrying with us the inherent dignity given to us by God in our image bearing capacity, and thus deserving of love and compassion. But Jesus reminds us, if we are not included in the covenant of grace by faith and adopted as God’s children, we are the children of the devil (John 8:44). And this we must bear in mind when dealing with the culture around us, even when we are being radically loving.
How does apply to the situation in the Church in Britian today? It means we must submit to God’s word, stop trying to rationalise away that which we don’t like, and stand up to the prevailing culture which demands that we give way. And we must do all this in love. But we cannot affirm that which God explicitly condemns in his Word. We cannot read the Bible and say “this section doesn’t count because we know better now adays”.