Charting a Course for the Church
Part XI: Maintaining Wholeness

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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In our time, as in any previous time, God has people who are deeply committed to Him, His Word, and His ways. A weary Elijah, though he had achieved a dramatic, public victory over the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, nevertheless doubted that there were many other than himself who were faithful to God. God brought to Elijah's attention that there were seven thousand who had never worshipped Baal (Romans 11:4, I Kings 19:18). Any criticism of the church must take into account that God has many who are faithful to Him. Indeed, Jesus promised that the gates of hades would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18).

Nevertheless, it is also true that too often, in Israel in ancient times and in the church from the time of the apostles, God's people have departed in significant ways from the clear instruction of God; going their own way and inventing their own religion (Isaiah 53:6, Jeremiah 5). Often the church has not fully rejected the counsel of God, but has become unbalanced in her beliefs and practices. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul pointed out that a human body could not consist of just one part - for instance it could not be just an eye, an ear, or a nose -- but a human body consists of many parts - each in proper proportion as God designed it (I Corinthians 12:14-25). Paul was speaking specifically to the issue of spiritual gifts within the Body of Christ. But the reference to the human body is a metaphor with broader application. The matter of proportionality is ultimately grounded, not in the human body as such, but in God Himself -- Creator of the human body and the Giver of spiritual gifts. Wholeness and balance in God's nature are a part of His unique holiness and perfection, and so part of His creation. It should, therefore, be expected that the members of the church, the Body of Christ, will reflect this wholeness in their beliefs and practices.

Some might describe this as "everything in moderation," but this cannot be our true goal. The object is not to place everything in the middle between two extremes, but to keep everything in its own proper proportion. For instance, the proportion of the brain given to the hand or the eye is greater than for some other parts of the body. But this is to be expected given the greater motor coordination needed for the fingers than, say, for the foot, and the greater amount of brain activity required to understand what our eyes are showing us than what the nerves in the skin on our backs are telling us. In addition, the body is interconnected into a functional whole.

Any part of the Christian message is capable of being distorted in a harmful manner. In Jesus' time, those wishing to be reverent towards God portrayed God as a distant, fearsome Being. Many Jews, even today, will not say the most sacred Name of God, "Yahweh," substituting the word "Adonai" (Lord) instead. While not encouraging any lack of reverence for God, Jesus taught us to understand God as a Father - even calling Him "Abba," a child's name for "father." The apostle John went on to teach that "God is love" (I John 4:7-12). This became a central emphasis of John Wesley's ministry. Based upon his understanding of Scripture, Wesley (who founded the Methodist movement), correctly saw love as central to God's character and holiness, and therefore as central to the Gospel. However, liberal Christians in the late nineteenth century, unlike Wesley, distorted Christian teaching by making a sentimental concept of "love" the center of their teaching without reference to other aspects of God's holiness. This resulted in a watered-down concept of sin. Being "saved" or "becoming a Christian," in the liberal sense, came to mean "recognizing God's love for us" or "accepting God's assistance" but not the salvation of a Holy God from the eternal consequences of sin through Jesus Christ.

Biblically, the love of God is not just "acceptance" or "good will," it is redemptive love. It is a love that cannot ignore evil, but overcomes evil on behalf of the beloved (II Corinthians 5:15, Ephesians 2:1-10, 5:25-27, Romans 5:8). Yet in today's churches, whether liberal or evangelical, the saccharine, liberal concept of God prevails. This has profoundly changed the nature of Christianity in both communities; removing redemption from its central role. Luke 7:39-50 is profoundly relevant to this situation. Here Jesus taught that, "he who is forgiven little, loves little." This is exactly the situation among those who accept a liberal concept of God. Because there is no recognition of the need for salvation from sin in the liberal view, the deep relationship with God based upon gratitude for God's saving grace through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is thoroughly lacking. From the liberal viewpoint, God is approached on our terms, not God's. And salvation becomes simply a matter of psychological adjustment or education. The remedy is to see God as the Scriptures teach Him to be - a Holy God with holy goals for people that can only be achieved as they humble themselves; repenting and placing faith in the sole, true remedy for sin - the blood of Christ shed at Calvary (I Peter 1:17-19).

That such an important part of our understanding of God, that He is love, can become distorted until it changes the entire nature of the Christian faith should act as a caution to all of us. If what seems to be such a clear part of our faith can be so badly misrepresented that it distorts the entire faith, then certainly other parts of our faith can be distorted as well. To oppose the liberal concept of God is to risk the criticism that we do not believe that God is truly love. The true issue, however, is not whether we believe that "God is love" - a point upon which liberals and evangelicals fully agree. The true issue is that once we have accepted that "God is love," we must go on to develop an accurate understanding of Divine love. A simplistic explanation of the love of God stems from either a refusal to do an adequate study of Scripture or, in the case of liberals, from a stubborn refusal to believe in what Scripture teaches; in other words, a lack of faith. The only corrective in both cases is to study the Scriptures from an attitude of faith. It is difficult to understand how any other approach could be considered Christian! Paul's statement given in I Corinthians 13 (the "love chapter" in the New Testament) that when he became a man he gave up childish ways of thinking, is relevant here. The liberal concept of God is a childish one. It is simplistic and ignores the facts. Jesus challenged us to child-like faith -- trust; not childish faith or faith in childish things (Matthew 18:1-4).

In our own time, another challenge to the correct understanding of Christianity has arisen that is driven by a zeal for evangelism and missions. Just as with our understanding of Divine love, this arises from a part of our faith that is sacred and compelling. Here, the manner in which this teaching is distorted reminds us of the distortion and misapplication of Old Testament Law in the time of Christ. Just as the Sadducees and Pharisees used the Law as a lever to change the basic nature of Judaism, a commitment to evangelism and missions is being used as a lever today to change the nature of Christianity.

Jesus condemned the tactics of both the Sadducees and the Pharisees, confronting them with the ways they distorted God's purposes through the Law. It was no easy thing for those who spent their lives differentiating themselves from the predominant pagan culture to be rebuked by Jesus for unfaithfulness to God, His Word, and His Law. But then, it has never been popular for God's prophets to call His people to take an honest look at what they were doing. Such a call to honesty is no less popular in our own time - however, it is much needed.

Certainly we need to recognize the zeal of those who seek to promote Christianity in our time, and there is some outstanding scholarship by Christians deeply devoted to God's Word. Unfortunately, ours is also a time when too many Christians substitute

popularity for orthodoxy,
enthusiasm for spiritual commitment,
good feelings for true humility before God,
holy feelings for humble reverence,
imagination for insight,
gullibility for faith.

In this kind of atmosphere, there is, perhaps, no greater illustration of the manner in which a commitment to evangelism and missions is being used to distort Christianity than the manner in which it is affecting Christian worship. The place of Christian worship as a unique activity of Christians has been exchanged, in both liberal and many "evangelical" churches, for a cooperative enterprise with the world in which non-Christians dictate what takes place. This is not just a matter of customs or styles, which change from place to place and over time. It is a matter of substance. Biblical illiteracy is undermining discernment, and lack of faith is driving many to place confidence in clever tactics rather than in the Divine plan (the Gospel) and the work of the Holy Spirit. And ignorance of Scripture and lack of faith feed upon one another.

Evangelism and missions should not be used as levers to promote compromise. During the temptation of Christ, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and promised that they could belong to Jesus if Jesus worshipped Satan. Some might have reasoned that they could trick Satan -- that once they were the head of all kingdoms, they could then turn against Satan and direct all the people of the world to the true worship of the one, true God. Jesus had the insight and commitment to understand that once He worshipped Satan the game was over. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36). Indeed, what does it profit the church to bring everyone in if it has "lost its soul" to accomplish this?

Non-Christians who are told they can choose what happens in Christian worship soon go on to tell Christians what they can and cannot preach to them. This is not God-honoring or God-serving. Instead, the goal of the church is to produce spiritual wholeness by preaching and teaching, as did the apostle Paul, "the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:17-32).

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume VII, Part 3, March 1999.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.