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“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
– 2 John 1:7 (NIV)
In spite of its vociferousness, the church is contracting rapidly in the United States. George Barna told me that he has never seen such a steep decline of Christians among children and teenagers – 22 percent. Good News Publishers has noted that 50 years ago 70 percent of the children had heard the Gospel and were familiar with the Bible, today only 4 percent have. It appears as if the years of antichrist secular humanism in the schools and media are having an effect on our children, and the U.S. is going down a well-worn path to postmodern paganism.
As in other countries where the church has collapsed, there are many in the believing evangelical church who are grasping at straws and forming alliances with strange non-Christian bedfellows to try to slow the fall. However, in the process, they are abandoning the Truth who is Jesus Christ and who is the only answer to the malaise facing the church and the society.
These nonbelievers are often nice people who preach a legalistic theology of works and even seem conservative. In this regard, I was reviewing a documentary on the German martyr Bonhoeffer submitted to the Annual Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry. It had lengthy footage from Nazi Germany showing the compromise that the church had made with Hitler and his cronies because they were seen as the law and order party. Churches were draped in swastikas, and ministers saluted Adolf Hitler while reciting rewritten Christian creeds to honor him. The telling part in the documentary was when it was noted that many German churchmen had forsaken the hope in the Kingdom of God announced and established by Jesus Christ for a kingdom of law and order established by Adolf Hitler.
The caution comes in the fact that the German church, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation and home to some of the greatest theological thinkers, not only cooperated with National Socialism, but also embraced it. This video makes it clear why. They had lost their faith in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Years of higher criticism and its attempt to abandon the roots of Christianity had produced an anemic and, in the theological sense, liberal faith. When Hitler came, the church even paraphrased the creeds and key statements of faith to extol Hitler instead of Jesus Christ. One of these blasphemous paraphrases proposed that Jesus went through persecution only to die, whereas Hitler went through persecution only to rise up and build the Thousand Year Reich. In effect, the German churches wanted a temporal king, a temporal savior. They put their faith in politics, and at the head of the political system was someone who was all too willing to manipulate the church that had lost sight of the Kingdom of God.
A few Christians in Germany were disturbed by this perversion of the faith, which twisted the symbol of the Cross and embraced Hitler as the Savior. They acknowledged one Savior, who is Jesus Christ, and they tried to warn the Church that it was headed toward self-destruction. They called themselves the Confessing Church and refused to adopt all of the paraphernalia of the Nazi Party. In the crucible of their persecution, they drew closer to the true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In their execution, they triumphed. The Germany of the Third Reich collapsed and what remained was the Truth that the confessing represented, the incorruptible Truth that the church has but one Lord, who is Jesus the Christ.
Listening to the entries in Bonhoeffer’s diaries and books brings one closer to the one true faith of the Apostles. He understands that you cannot strive for success or sainthood, but only follow the resurrected Jesus. He presents this vision in a way that converted people whose hearts had been hardened by their own striving for success.
How does this apply today?
Well, when I was in seminary in the 1970s, it was the politically liberal church that put faith in politics in order to realize a social gospel. In the process, they became irrelevant, and now the National Council of Churches faces bankruptcy – morally, spiritually and financially. Now, it is the conservative churches who are putting all their chips on the big board of politics. Already, there are those who understand that there’s a big difference between faith in God and faith in men. Billy Graham experienced this acutely when he supported President Nixon, only to receive a call early in the morning one day from the president, asking for his forgiveness and telling him when he read the newspaper that day he would be shocked. Billy read the transcript of the Watergate tapes in the news. He stayed in his room all day, deeply hurt by what was revealed. He had thought that the president was a godly man, but printed on the page were words he had never heard being spoken, words that blasphemed God.
All this is not to say that the Church does not have a role to play in politics or media. The Great Commission calls us to make Christian disciples of all nations and to teach these disciples, including our political leaders and media elites, everything that the Word of God teaches us about how to live a righteous life pleasing to God. The Church is called to speak these things in every area of life, but it always must beware that the tail does not wag the dog, that the church doesn’t let the politicians or the media (or any other powerful group) manipulate it and deter it from its true mission, which is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. This mission cuts across political and ethnic boundaries and raises up a standard much higher than cheap grace, easy believism and warm feelings.
Recently, a major evangelical organization went through a defining crisis because its new president wanted to make the preaching of Jesus Christ the main thing. Just before that fiasco, I was invited on a radio program on an evangelical network hosted by one of these nice non-Christian people who are leading many in the Church. Before the program, the producer told me not to talk about Jesus Christ or Christianity. I said that I represented the Christian Film & Television Commission and Jesus was the reason for all that I do in redeeming the values of the mass media of entertainment. Soon thereafter, this non-Christian host was lauded at a largely evangelical event as if his message of legalism and moralism would solve our nation’s ills. This wonderful host has repeatedly been lifted up in Christian circles and repeatedly rejected the claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he says he has clearly heard and understands. If he has heard the Gospel and rejected it repeatedly, the church should clearly recognize that it should not listen anymore to his teachings, many of which sound good until they are evaluated in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, the church should love him, pray for him and try to win him to Jesus Christ, but promoting him as a shepherd of the sheep will lead many astray. The problem is not his, but the church’s, and it is time to wake up so that the very elect will not be deceived.
In a way, these anti-Christian, conservative leaders are consciously, or unconsciously, guarding the adversary’s right flank, just as the anti-Christian liberal leaders were guarding the left flank in the era of the social gospel. Neither lawlessness nor legalism, whether pharisaism, Talibanism or National Socialism, will cure our culture’s ills – only turning to Jesus Christ will.
Christians who are so Christophobic and watered down that they look for salvation elsewhere need to remember their first love, who saved them from sin and death, and return to the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is where the true vine of salvation for them and their society lies.
Naturally, of course, Christians also need to love the non-Christian and the anti-Christian, whether they are conservative or liberal. We shouldn’t follow them, however, in a fruitless and self-destructive attempt to bring the Kingdom in through the back door. Contrary to the secular ideologies of these biblically challenged liberals and conservatives, God works on us and through us from the inside out – not the other way around! In other words, the means of God’s power of grace through the Holy Spirit comes to our fallen world from the bottom up, through redeemed hearts, minds and spirits, not through top-down, broken-down human hierarchies of man-made structures. Such man-made structures are mere Towers of Babel and empty, rotten vessels, especially when they are not rooted in a keen, divinely empowered understanding of the beauty, majesty and wisdom of the Word of God.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1-32, God doesn’t want us to live as the godless pagans do, in the futility and darkness of their thinking. Instead, we must live a worthy life and gently, humbly, patiently, lovingly make every effort to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit through peace. There is to be only one faith, one Lord and one God, who has given each person his measure of divine grace as Jesus the Christ has apportioned it. Jesus prepares God’s people for works of service, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body – joined and held together by every supporting ligament – grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:12-16).
It is not possible to do any of this if we listen to people, no matter how well-intentioned and smart, who do not know Jesus Christ. “Therefore,” Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25 and 5:1,2, “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor. … Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Furthermore, Paul writes in Ephesians 5:6-10, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Do not be partners with such people. For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”
Therefore, do not seek the One True God in the misguided teachings of liberal or conservative do-gooders. Instead, seek God in His Word, the Bible. For “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16,17)