Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Progress in an Egg

Sometimes, I think about my grandfather. He was born in 1890, into a world where electric lights, telephones, indoor plumbing, and automobiles were relatively new and therefore more curiosities than conveniences, let alone necessities. Radio and x-rays were five years off, and it would be another 13 years before the Wright Brothers' historic flight. Bayer hadn't quite started selling aspirin yet, and vitamins were unknown. By the time he passed away in 1985, all these things were commonplace, along with so many other things that we now take for granted: television, computers (although in 1985, most computer use was in academia and the business world; personal computers were more glorified word processors than anything else, and they were properly called "microcomputers" - PC being the product name of IBM's main contribution to home computing), miracle drugs, man walking on the moon...amazing leaps of progress in the fields of science, technology, and medicine. It seems to me that the degree of change was greater during my grandfather's lifetime than it has been in mine, although who knows what sort of changes are in store for us over the next 53 years (assuming I live to be 95 like my grandfather). He's got me beat in the change department, as far as I'm concerned...

...except when it comes to the Church (by which I mean the Church in general, and not any specific, local congregation, or even denomination). I look back to how church was when I was a kid, and compare that to today's average church - wow! what a change. "Progress," some would call it. But I am reminded of a quote from one of the Chronicles of Narnia (it's been too long since I've read them, I'm not sure which character said it, and I'll have to paraphase it to boot): "You call it progress? It's like progress in an egg - where I come from, we call it 'going rotten.' "

True, during my grandfather's lifetime there were controversies in the Church concerning "change," the most notable one being the "fundamentalist/modernist" controversy in the first part of the 20th century. (That's a whole 'nother subject unto itself, perhaps in a future post. If you're interested and you can't wait, read Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.) But I believe that what we are witnessing today is just as significant, if not more so, than the fundamentalist/modernist controversy.

To be certain, there have been great changes in the external trappings of "doing church," the most notable being the contemporary/traditional worship debate, and the whole seeker-sensitive movement. (There is also something called the "emergent/emerging church," which, although its proponents would most likely deny it the official status of a "movement," nonetheless walks and talks like one. I've not researched enough on it yet to comment, but I will be keeping my eye on it.) Although I have labeled these "externals," I do not intend to imply that these issues are insignificant, for I believe that they are indeed highly significant. However, I posit that a far greater change has taken place within the Church, greater not only in terms of scope but also in depth, and it in fact is the basis for the change in the "externals;" namely, a change in the Church's view of Holy Scripture.

How has the Church's view of Scripture changed? That in and of itself is the subject of several posts, so rather than attempt to cover it in detail here, I will for the time being present a synopsis. Historically, the Church has viewed Scripture as being the inerrant (free from error and untruth), infallible (to quote Robert Smith Candlish , "By the infallibility of the Bible, I simply mean that it is the infallible record of an infallible revelation. The infallibiity is purely and simply objective. It is the attribute of the revelation and of the record, viewed altogether apart from the interpretation which each may receive, and the impression which it may make, in the subjective mind with which it comes in contact. The revelation, as given by God, is infallible; it may not be so, as apprehended by men. The record of it, as prompted or superintended by God, is infallible; it may not be so, as read by us.") Word of God. As such, Scripture was the ultimate authority in the Church, and it was recognition of this fact that was one of the driving forces of the Protestant Reformation (Sola Scriptura, "Scripture Alone" was the "formal" principle of the Reformation; the "material" principle of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification by faith alone). The Reformers understood, among other things, that this meant that the Church was to be reformed, and always reforming, according to the Word of God. Any change, any reformation, was to be based upon Scripture, and if there was no Scriptural basis for the change, then no change was necessary. (Luther and Calvin had somewhat different views with regards to the application of this specifically to worship; Luther maintained that in worship, whatever was not forbidden was permitted, while Calvin asserted that in worship, whatever was not prescribed was forbidden. It is from this latter view that we have the Regulative Principle of Worship, which describes the historic Reformed view of worship.) Additionally, the ultimate authority of Scripture meant that the focus of Reformed worship was to be the Word of God, exposited by faithful men of the Church called to that task and entrusted with that responsibility. It was in the exposition of the Word of God that believers were instructed in doctrine, reproof, correction, and righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). It was in the Scripture that true wisdom was found, not in the musings and ramblings of men.

However, this view of Scripture is becoming less and less prevalent; attacks on the authority of Scripture have been present in all generations, but a case can be made that within the past 40 years or so, such attacks have increased in number and in intensity to the point that in the majority of churches, sermons (if they are even called that) are little more than psychological self-help pep talks based on man's wisdom, turning the average worship service into a weekly feel-good group therapy session. Other indications of the denigration of Scripture include churches and denominations caving in to pressure to accept contemporary views such as women pastors, ordination of unrepentant homosexuals, and a woman's "right" to abortion.

There is a famine in the land:
"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it." (Amos 8:11-12, NKJV)

Christians are starving for the Word of God. Unfortunately, most of them are content to be fed spiritual junk food from the pulpit, and don't even recognize their own state of malnourishment.


Flamsmark said...

long entry... sumarise?

wordsmith said...

Tremendous change has taken place in the Church over the past few decades. Not all change is good, however, and the current changes are of necessity negative since they are based upon a denigration if not outright abandonment of Scripture.