By 1750, a few lone rebels had begun to question the authority of the Pentateuch. Over the next century, Satan’s league grew. Its criticisms were admirably and fully answered by a host of pastors and theologians. Still, the church began reeling under these critical assaults against Moses. Six-day, ex nihilo creation has always been a favorite target of the evil one; it reminds him too much of his futile rebellion, and of his doom. He knows that the gospel of Jesus Christ and a reliable Scripture stand or fall upon a supernatural view of the origins of man and of the world. Upon these foundations, supernatural, monergistic redemption depends. Filled with Satan’s own malice, critics extended their assaults to the entirety of the Old Testament, then to the New, the divine-human Christ, and substitutionary atonement itself. By 1900, the Bible, if measured by worldly standards, was gutted of authority, intelligibility and respect. This is not because the church lost the intellectual battle for the Bible, or failed to answer the scientific and literary challenges. Her defenders won this battle hands down. She lost her courage. She feared an increasingly hostile world’s ridicule. She grew unwilling to bear the offense of the cross.
While some portions of the church simply ignored these attacks and retreated into the woods to hide until the storm passed, many vigorously defended the faith once for all given to the saints. Their writings are a wonder of the ages, for they were given an increased measure of the Spirit to harness time, ability, thought, and reverence for God into such an engine of power that every claim made by even the most ridiculous critic of Scripture was ably answered.
Their unified voice did not prevail. Slowly, then with increasing speed, concessions were made. In addition to the insult done to Scripture and therefore to the majesty of God, the church’s ancient creeds and Reformation-era confessions were gutted and revised, usually by clever redefinition, to suit critical, anti-supernatural, evolutionary views of history. Mainline men desperately wished to be thought orthodox; they wished to retain their ministerial credentials and church property. Progressives held nothing sacred: not Moses and the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Virgin Birth, the Divine-Human Christ, the cross. Everything was subject to redefinition, to humanization, to naturalization.
The older, orthodox faith survived, but it was marginalized and then completely ignored by the world, especially after J. Gresham Machen’s “trial” in the early 1930’s, and the subsequent split of the old Presbyterian Church into two, then three, and now a plethora of smaller denominations. Of course, conservatism herself has now fallen on harder, or perhaps sillier times, as many Presbyterian and Independent churches are now in the grip of an identity crisis, vying for who can be the most relevant, hold the best show, and seem the most cutting edge. Again, God’s word is the loser.
The point of all this is simple. Concessions to unbelief do not work. God will not let them work. He will have his truth hold such sway among us that we are willing to lose worldly respect, credentials, pensions, and buildings, even to die in order to hold fast to it. When we make concessions to unbelievers pretending to be theologians or scientists pretending to “follow the evidence,” we lose. God will not fight for compromisers. And now, when the church needs a unified voice on social issues, for example, it is not to be found. How can it be? We jettisoned the Old Testament long ago as having any normative influence over human governments. We howl plenty against strident tyranny, but we have forsaken the hammer that smashes God’s enemies to rubble (Jer. 23:29). Or, when conservative denominations need to stand for six-day creationism, we find that it is a losing battle. We long ago gave up “Thus saith the Lord” – no questions, no speculation, but “by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made by things that do appear” (Heb. 11:3). All we have left is “Thus saith the scientist,” or the preachers with the largest churches, or the theologians with the most prestigious degrees. Some sins cast long shadows. Forsaking God’s truth casts the longest and blackest of all.
What is the point of rehearsing this sad story? First, the main crisis in the West today is not political or financial or demographic. These are all the bitter fruits of the theological apostasy of many branches of the Christian church. It was the church – or better, wolves in her midst – that first taught men that politics is secular, kings are not under the obligation to kiss the Son, and faith is a private affair with no or few public obligations. It was theologians who taught men to be skeptical of God’s word and to think that it should be interpreted according to the unbelieving spirit of the times. These are the siege engines of the wicked one. Think through what this has meant for the world. No longer were human governments seen as being under the King of kings or deriving their authority from him, but from the people. This was good Locke, and in its worst forms, good French Revolution, but bad Bible and clear apostasy from the West’s former Christian commitments. And since faith is now relegated to the private affairs of the heart, then the church is left with an unreal spiritual realm. In other words, the Bible, the Gospel, and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ are irrelevant for the real world of men.
But if this is the case, they are also irrelevant for the church, for the church is made up of men who live in the real world. This is the reason that the present-day church scurries around like children looking for relevance, but in all the wrong ways and places. Our chief relevance lies in being the “pillar and ground of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:15), defending the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the heart and over history, which includes science, politics, finance, and academia. The church, therefore, has not preserved herself or her credibility by retreating within her comfortable cloisters and leaving God’s public honor to be trampled in the dust. She has diluted her divine message, calling, and prophetic ministry in the world. She has made herself ridiculous. Trying to save herself from persecution and shunning the trouble and labor of defending God’s truth against infidelity, she has lost both her glory and her relevance.
As a side-note, this also explains the plethora of spiritual psychoses that seem to have infected the church. Virtually all Christian literature today is focused on the spiritual “problems” of believers. Why is this? Yes, we have many sins and problems, and these should be addressed. But at a fundamental level, spiritual diseases grow when we become self-absorbed and are chastened by the Lord for not defending his truth. Stare at your face in the mirror long enough, and you will find plenty of imperfections and reasons to worry about advancing age. If you are serving the Lord and going about his business, you can live with your face and not worry so much about the outward man perishing because you are more concerned with his honor in your family, congregation, and community.
Here we are, however, watching western nations collapse under the weight of debt, the total vacuum of competent leadership, population decline, moral disintegration, and family fragmentation. Many are calling for us to do something, to get involved. This is good and necessary, but we must, absolutely must remember something critical. More than a century ago, the West apostatized from its former public commitments to God and his word. The only way to save the West, if God intends for this to occur, is for the church herself to return to her former commitments. This takes time. Even more, it requires repentance, and generations of believers who are carefully taught the whole counsel of God. It is patience that we need at the hour, or we shall only intensify the problem by making concessions: pragmatism, “morality” instead of God’s law, relevance instead of bearing the cross. This has all been tried before, and we are living in the inferno created by fear and unbelief. These breed revolution against God, so we should not be surprised that civil leaders are revolutionaries, and that the church herself is now torn by the revolutionary spirit to throw off the past, confessions, biblical worship, and sound doctrine. This is what comes of making concessions, of thinking that we are wiser than God.
But we are not, and he is reigning. He is showing us what happens to men and nations, denominations and believers, when we choose the path of compromise and concessions. He is patient and may choose to teach this hard lesson for some time to come. As we watch him drive his enemies mad, to attempt even greater heights of rebellion, our only safety lies in holding fast to his word. He is dealing with them. He is also dealing with us, and we must humble ourselves before him. He is calling us back to love his word, to defend his public honor, and speak of the only King, his Son, Jesus Christ. He will save us. He will uphold his truth. So must we, for he has committed its defense to us. In these old paths are our salvation and relevance. Let us walk in them, and after the darkness, there will be light.