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Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.

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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Doctrines of Devils - No 1. Modernism/Liberalism

The term 'Doctrines of Devils' is taken from 1 Timothy 4:1 and is a description of those insidious doctrines that creep into the professing church of Jesus Christ and bring about worldliness, coldness, compromise and eventual departure from the faith once delivered to the saints. These notes were part of a three part sermon series preached in Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church in December 2012. The audio can be listened to on our Sermonaudio's webpage

From the mid 1800s onwards the leaven of Liberalism and/or Modernism began to seriously infect mainline Protestant denominations. It is very true that there always has been, down through the history of the professing Church of Jesus Christ, apostasy from the faith once revealed unto the saints. However, beginning from this time, in the mid 1800s, this departure from the faith took a significant leap forward. 

By the term 'Liberalism', we mean that open spirit of criticism and questioning of all theological doctrines, concepts and claims and the throwing off of previous constraints. By the term 'Modernism', we mean that preference for the new ways of doing things and new beliefs over the old historic, orthodox paths of the past. 
Gresham Machen, who battled Liberalism/Modernism in his denomination and in the famous Princeton Seminary at the turn of last century said: … the issue in the Church of the present day is not between two varieties of the same religion, but, at bottom, between two essentially different types of thought and life. There is much interlocking of the branches, but the two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity, spring from different roots.
Liberalism/Modernism is a tare sown in the field of the professing church!

This Liberal/Modernistic movement stressed more and more the social role of Christianity, and preached a 'Social Gospel'. It was characterised by a lack of emphasis on, and oftentimes an outright denial of, the plenary, verbal inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures, and any commitment to doctrinal purity. Prominent Biblical themes such as: repentance from personal moral sin; belief in the doctrine of hell for those who reject Christ; and His blood atonement were all downplayed and often outrightly rejected.

One observer summarised the basis of this movement and the gospel message that it preached as containing: A God without wrath, who brought men, without sin, into a kingdom, without judgment, through the ministrations of a Christ, without a Cross.

We want to consider the features of this particular 'doctrine of devils'. For a devilish doctrine it is. We do so that we might be aware of Satan's devices and therefore be on our guard. This is especially true with respect to our young people. Consider:

I. Liberalism/Modernism is an attack upon an authoritative Bible 
Liberal, modernistic Churchmen and scholars hate the doctrine of a verbally, inspired, inerrant, authoritative Bible. This attack was evident on at least two fronts:
1. By the questioning of Scriptural authority and accuracy. These infidels viewed the Bible as the 'witness of God' rather than the 'Word of God'. It was the record of someone's experience of God. To them it did not necessarily follow that this experience was truth or to be replicated in everyone's life. In fact they would question whether there was such a thing as absolute Truth. The Bible could become the Word of God to some individual. Its wasn't to these purveyors of error, to start with, the infallible, inerrant, divinely inspired word of the living God. They questioned the supernatural aspects of the Scriptures. They denied the miracles and prophecies of the Bible.

2. By the rise of Biblical criticism. Higher Criticism claims to investigate the date, authorship, place and circumstances of composition of the books of the Bible, along with a study of their purpose and nature. However, these higher critics already had rejected the supernatural aspect of the Bible. Therefore, they did not take the opening chapters of Genesis as being literal; Moses did not write the Pentateuch; there were two Isaiahs; Daniel could not have written his prophecies at the time claimed as he could not have known future events. They denied the record of the miracles in both Testaments. In the New Testament they argued that much of Christ life, death, resurrection, ascension was a myth perpetuated by the apostles; that Paul taught a different gospel to Jesus Christ etc.

What you end up with according to the gospel of Liberalism/Modernism is a mutilated Bible that has no authority. There is no: Thus saith the Lord. Wherever this spirit manifests itself itself Liberalism and Modernism is at work. Wherever you hear a questioning of the Bible along these lines beware! 

II. Liberalism/Modernism is an attack upon fundamental doctrines 
Denying the existence of an authoritative Bible then every doctrine is open to question. Those old doctrines that are accepted as part of historic, orthodox Christianity are only the personal, often prejudiced, views of people of their time and open to question and more significantly open to change. A brief summary:
1. The doctrine of God. Liberalism/Modernism denies the transcendence of God. We believe that God is transcendent, He is distinct from and has total sovereign superiority over all creation, intervening supernaturally as and when He decrees.

Liberalism/Modernism does not like this idea of God. It believes in 'Immanence', not 'Transcendence', where God is to be identified as part of the universe. There were not really two realms, the natural and the supernatural, but only one realm. Nor were there therefore any miracles in the sense of God breaking into the natural order; for God was not perceived as being 'outside' needing to break in; rather, all was miraculous for God was in all. God is what a person's experience makes Him to be.

2. A new view of human nature. Coupled with this loss of divine transcendence there was an accompanying elevation of the nature of man. No longer was mankind viewed as being sinfully depraved and separated from God. Rather there was a blending of the distinction between God and man, a blending which emphasised not human sinfulness but human perfectibility. The catch phrase of liberalism was: Every day in every way we are getting better and better. There was a mistaken belief that the world would get better as man developed and evolved.

3. The quest for the historical Jesus. Liberalism/Modernism asserted that the orthodox view of Jesus Christ was really a corrupted view, surrounded by myth and legend. To them Jesus Christ was a man of His times, a good man, the supreme example but never a Godman, never God manifested in flesh as historically believed.

Liberalism/Modernism claimed to rediscover the human Jesus. In doing so they proceeded to deny His deity. Instead of the incarnate Godman, Jesus Christ became the man who has attained divine status because of his perfect piety or god-consciousness. Jesus to Liberals is the supreme example of God indwelling man. There is no qualitative distinction between Jesus and the rest of humanity. The distinction is only quantitative. He is more full of God that other human beings. 

III. Liberalism/Modernism is an attack upon the Gospel of saving grace
With the rise of Liberalism/Modernism there came into existence a re-definition, and a denial, of what the gospel really is. Out went the old and in came the new!

With this new view of man out went any necessity for conversion. Man was no longer a fallen sinner in need of salvation which involved a new nature and conversion. Man did not need saved. Hence the need of conversion was not preached.

Redemption, to a Liberal/Modernist, when they used the term, was to be found in mystical communion with Christ in the community of the church or in the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth. This is the airy, fairy, gospel that is preached in many places today. Salvation is spoken of in terms of being in fellowship with Christ's church, never as personally knowing Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Emphasis upon alleviating social problems. This new gospel focused not on the preaching of Jesus Christ and the need for conversion whereby a sinner is made a new creature and then made capable of obeying God's law. Its new focus was social justice and alleviating social deprivation. Social Justice is actually a term which originated with a Jesuit. It seeks to emphasis the principles of equality, solidarity, human rights, the dignity of every individual. Within theological Liberalism/Modernism it has the idea that this is how you create the kingdom of God on earth by changing social conditions.

Liberalism/Modernism believes in the perfectibility of man's nature. It really boils down to the old idea that improve a person's environment and you will make them a better and more responsible person and wider society will ultimately benefit.

This theology of Liberalism/Modernism is utter theological foolishness. Society's shakers and movers have been trying for decades to improve things and society is getting worse not better. Their proposed solutions is more of the same. More of the same that leads to more of the same outcomes which we witness in every society where the Word of God is denied and rejected. 

You cannot really change a person's situation until you change their nature. It is the gospel of saving, life changing, grace, through Jesus Christ that alone can bring that about. This is to be the church's primary focus. There is a place for helping the poor, the deprived and the socially disadvantaged but it will never work without the belief and necessity of lives being changed by the mighty power of God. That is what changes society as has been shown in times of revival.

Consider what happened in Ephesus, Acts 19:18-20: And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. It was only after they believed that the reformation of their lives took place. This is to be our pattern.


Andrew Stewart said...

This is an interesting piece about quite a diverse movement. Who would you say are some of the key players in liberal theology? Did you have any particular people in mind who exemplify the different aspects you've outlined?

Rev Brian McClung said...


No, I didn't have anyone in mind at the time of preaching. But on second thoughts maybe C S Lewis might fit the bill!

Brian McClung