“They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.” (Jude 12b)
When I learnt to walk across the road as a young child, like all parents, mine taught me to look both right and left. It’s one thing to look right, but what if there’s a truck hurtling down the road from my left? Or, I might notice the truck to my left and be oblivious to the SUV that’s roaring toward me on my right. In this current season threats to Christian orthodoxy and life are coming to us from the left and the right.
‘Everyone did as they saw fit’ has become the Christian mantra for today. But of course, the book of Judges wasn’t offering us an invitation to change the Christian message, it was the stark assessment of God’s people who hard hardened their hearts.
Take for example, Christian Nationalism. This is a dangerous and anti-Christian movement. Christian nationalism has found many expressions in history, and many of us probably assumed that with the close of the 20th Century, such appalling abuse of the Gospel would have ceased. Sadly, that is not the case. Christian Nationalism attempts to fuse the Christian message and hope with the political and cultural ambitions of a particular nation or people group. In the end, the Gospel becomes a tool of nationalism, serving not to proclaim the Lordship of Christ to the nations but to preserve a way of life draped in Stars and Stripes (or whichever country it happens to be).
The rise of Christian Nationalism has produced a new product which is now being marketed across the USA. A ‘new’ Bible was been launched: the God Bless the USA Bible. What makes this edition blasphemous is not changes made to the actual words of Scripture (I’m not aware of any such alterations), but the name given to the Bible and the compendium that is added. The name, God Bless the USA Bible is a dead give away; it is unequivocally nationalist is meaning and tone. The Stars and Stripes motif that covers the book is another indicator that something is seriously wrong. There’s more, when the book is opened not only can you read God’s Holy Word, but included is a handwritten chorus to God Bless The USA , The US Constitution, The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and The Pledge of Allegiance.
This publication is blasphemous and offensive to Christians across the world. I hope you also find this troubling and problematic. This abduction is an attack on the message, nature and sufficiency of Scripture. Indeed, it is an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ which does not belong to any single nation or culture. It’s interesting to observe that while friends on the left may see the follow of this attempt to nationalise the Bible, they too are guilty of similar offense. So much of the discourse surrounding ‘redeeming society’ and ‘saving the world’ has the effect of minimising things like conversion and the central purpose of the Church, and instead encourages things like cultural engagement through social and political means.
If the Bible you use cannot cross borders without losing its significance, then you should probably change the Bible you are reading. Indeed, the God Bless the USA Bible is proving divisive even within the United States.
In another story, a bishop from the Lutheran denomination in the United States has announced that they are changing the teaching of the Nicean Council so that it conforms to transgender ideology. The Nicene Creed is one the most important documents written in the history of the Church, and it remains foundational in explaining and summarising essential Christian doctrines to this day. Many of our churches probably recite the Nicene Creed (if not, perhaps we should).
The new elected bishop, Megan Rohrer, identifies as transgender. This alone should ring alarm bells for a Christian Church, but sadly adherence to the latest versions of the sexual revolution is often deemed more important than fidelity to Scripture.
“The first council of Nicaea’s first action was to try to limit the leadership roles of trans pastors and bishops. I’m grateful the Lutherans of the @sps_elca are beginning to dismantle this and some of the the other hurdles BIPOC and LGBTQ pastor’s encounter.”
In other words, Christian teaching that doesn’t fit with personal identity or agenda needs either revising or removal.
You may be familiar with old saying, ‘the stinking rich’. The stench from those wealthy people buried beneath ecclesiastical buildings is nothing compared to the smell of dying people listening to the putrescine odour expiring from the mouths of these ‘progressive’ preachers. But of course, these things are not only happening across the Pacific Ocean, but such thinking and attitudes are taking shape here among Christian denominations in Australia. These conversations are difficult and we want to be mindful of individuals who are genuinely struggling with their sexuality and gender; the Gospel is a big enough stumbling block without us making more. However, I take it that when Jude urged his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people,” he really meant it. Too often, I suspect we’ve replaced Jude’s urging with a screwed up sloganing of Judge’s assessment.
The examples that I’ve mentioned are but two of what is becoming a crowded space. Here’s are some further examples,
The State of Victoria has banned Bible conversations and prayers on a range of anthropological topics (ie. sex and gender).
The Chinese Communist Government published their own version of the Bible which has removed all the bits that might be interpreted as unfavourable toward the State.
I remember the former principal of Whitley College giving an address in 2016 where he bemoaned the language of God as Father. To know and call God Father is the greatest of privileges and graces. This is the Divine invitation made possible through Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father’. Instead, this baptist academic encouraged his listeners to use feminine pronouns for God. He asserted,
“We have gone backwards on gender inclusive language in many of our official events. These elements include a resurgence of emphasis on God as Father, without any balancing awareness of other ways of naming God.”
His point was not that we cannot speak of God as Father, but that such language is biased and ‘narrow’. This was an exercise for justifying a feminist critique of Christianity and criticising what he saw as a return to normal and biblical speech about God.
When our language of God sounds like it’s inspired by the Shack or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the alarm is ringing and someone needs turn off the microphone. Instead, too often we quietly let these thoughts simmer away without correction, which of course means that they later on become part of the vocabulary in our churches.
Attacks on biblical orthodoxy are wide and coming from many different directions. Despite their differences they do share this in common: they cast doubt on and even deny the truthfulness, goodness, and sufficiency of Scripture. They find God revealed in Scripture as objectionable and needing to be recast in the image of their particular inclinations and agendas.
If your church takes a lackadaisical approach to theology, don’t be surprised when all manner of weird and whacky ideas jump out from the pulpit. We need our eyes and ears alert to influences and ideas coming from all directions, whether it’s left or right. It seems pretty clear that the Apostle Paul didn’t want Timothy to be caught napping,
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:1-4)
This task is important for all believers, and especially it is a responsibility given to entrusted in overseeing the local Church. Paul said to the Ephesian Elders,
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)
That’s serious advice. At the end of the day however, the foremost issue isn’t left or right, it’s internal. Maybe you are higher up on the holy scale than me, but I reckon we have a propensity to latch onto new ideas because they validate a priori affections which are lurking around inside us. We need to guard our pulpits, doctrinal statement and leadership qualifications, but we must also tend to the heart.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Such careful evaluation requires a posture of humility, a confidence in Scripture, and also the gentle and loving community of the local church.
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col 3:16)
This internal examination requires us to soak our lives with the Gospel and as Colossians 3:16 explains, this is only made more beneficial when done in community, with the church together teaching and admonishing.
Let’s be watchful of what’s coming toward us from left and right, and above all, let us be mindful of the dangers that arise from our own hearts.
The original version included a reference to the Bible Society which was incorrect and I have subsequently corrected it