The sand in the ground in front of me seems to be seeping away as a chasm is forming. There are many people on either side, and there still is time to jump across from one bank to the other; but soon, the distance will be too great.
I’m talking about the dividing line that is solidifying between the two sides of the church—and there are only two sides. People from every denomination of Christianity are represented on each embankment; this is not a schism that is occurring over faith tradition, but one that cuts directly to the core of what we believe.
Everywhere it seems, people are adopting positions that fly in the face of traditional Christian practice. Just a few days ago, Vicky Beeching announced to the world that she is a lesbian; she is now, among Matthew Vines and many others, promoting the idea that God approves of a homosexual lifestyle. Michael Gungnor recently blasted every Christian who accepts a literal interpretation of Genesis by saying “…NO REASONABLE PERSON…” can take it literally. Ann Coulter called Ken Brantly “idiotic” and a narcissist for choosing to minister in Liberia, where he contracted the ebola virus. The Presbyterian Church USA voted to participate in the BDS boycott of Israel, while many other denominations have recently reasserted supersessionism (the belief that the church has replaced Israel) and have virulently opposed Israel’s right to defend itself in the recent conflict in Gaza. The overwhelming message of many churches today, through both music and teaching, is one of self-help and self-service, reflected in teachings like those of Joel Osteen; his book, Your Best Life Now, says it all. And of course, nearly everyone remembers the controversy created when Rob Bell declared there was no hell.
Accompanied by these sentiments is the idea that Christians should keep silent about virtually everything related to doctrine and morality: I read an article recently—I believe it was written by Charlie Peacock*–that said something like, “the world wants a Christianity that shouts less at them from the mountaintop.” In all corners of the world, both churched and unchurched persons alike are crowing the ‘virtues’ of passivism. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of, “Well, you know, theology has its place, but when it boils down, beliefs don’t matter. Love does.” Anyone who dares to question whether an idea is headed in the ‘right’ direction is labeled divisive, critical, judgmental, a hater (or various names associated with hate), uneducated, or even stupid. A recent statistic showed that only 10% of pastors are preaching what they know to be Biblical values because they fear this will alienate those who disagree. A good summary of these feelings is pictured in an opinion piece that Rachel Held Evans wrote for CNN which described the reasons why Millennials are leaving the church; though it’s not just Millennials who feel these things: the ideas of which I’ve spoken are pervasive among all age groups.
These talking points are certainly not new, nor are they news to anyone; the only thing recent about these debates is the increase in their frequency. What may be news to some is that when analyzed at a basic level, the positions people choose in these disputes suggest an overarching, bottom-dollar question that is at the heart of everything we are: Who do you worship?
Logically speaking, we are held to whatever standard meets our response to this question; most of us reading this article would immediately reply saying, “the God of the Bible.” If we say something different, of course, then our foundation of truth can take a variety of forms based upon whatever we worship; but if we claim that we worship the God of the Bible, we have to consider the implications of what that means.
First of all, if we worship the God of the Bible, we of necessity must believe that the Bible is true. Either the Bible is true and its God is who He says He is, or the Bible is false and the god we worship is something of our own making or discovery. The Bible claims there is only one God—obviously the one described in the Bible; so from a Judeo-Christian standpoint, anything worshipped other than the God revealed in its pages is really a creation or projection of the self—which in turn is actually self-worship. One cannot worship two masters: either one worships God or oneself; one cannot do both at the same time. To reject part of the Bible is to claim that God is partially lying to us and is not worthy of worship, so such a rejection is a de facto act of self-worship.
Secondly, we must understand who God is. The God of the Bible is revealed as YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). This was confirmed through the patriarchs, through Moses, through the nation of Israel, and if one accepts the New Covenant as Christians do, ultimately through Jesus Christ. While the Bible clearly states in both the First Covenant (‘Old’ Testament) and the New Covenant (‘New’ Testament) that anyone can come to God and worship Him, He is known forever as the Jewish God. Nowhere does the Bible de-Judaize Him. Even in the New Covenant Scriptures, where the Apostle Paul goes to great lengths showing that Jewish religious practices will not save you, nowhere does the Bible claim that the definitive concept of God has changed. Instead, it was the Romanized church who de-Judaized Christianity over a period of several hundred years under the influence of Emperor Constantine and his successors, ‘Christianizing’ the various European pagan religious systems and tried to apply the Bible to them.
The Reformers attempted to undo some of the damage, but did not begin with the right context: God remains conceptually Jewish, and if we worship the God of the Bible, we must do so with that understanding. He is the King of the Universe, but He is not a universal god. Any Biblical thoughts Christians have had about God were experienced by Jews before them; any attempt to take God out of His Jewish context results in the creation of a god of our own making. He is not Zeus, Ra, Osiris, Ba’al, Odin the Allfather, Allah, Vishnu, Nirvana, Paramatma, the Great Spirit, the universe, nature, or spiritual energy. He is always and forever YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This deviation from a Biblical understanding of God is a key part of understanding why we are experiencing the massive schism that is tearing the church in two. There are certainly other factors which are influencing the timing, methods, and issues surrounding this schism, but one thing is certain: those involved in re-making the Biblical God into something He is not are simply ‘Christianizing’ paganism all over again.
So a dividing line has been formed: will we worship the God of the Bible, or one of our own making? It is my firm belief that God is calling His people back to a Biblical concept of Himself, and a Biblical practice of faith; this central question runs deeper than the vast majority of us realize, and massive adjustments will need to be made in order to keep in step with what God is doing. A failure to do so may mean one suddenly finds themselves on the wrong side of the chasm with great difficulty in getting back… The world would love a Christianity that does not shout at them from the mountaintop, which does not challenge them to worship the God of the Bible; but this is not what the world needs. We need to stand boldly. My prayer is that we will assess where we stand today.
*I searched all over to find the article I read and failed to find the article. Great apologies to Charlie Peacock if he did not indeed say this...