When is a Christian not a Christian?
Why do we believe what we believe?
This Saturday at 2:30pm (British Summer Time) I am again a guest , along with Palestinian Christian Dr. Salim Munayer, on the Premier Radio Unbelievable? Programme, discussing the Jewishness of Jesus. You can hear it or download the podcast at www.premierchristianradio.com/unbelievable
Even allowing for Martin Luther's quirkiness over the matters of Israel and the End Times, the Protestant Reformers were in most cases heroes of the battle, fighting mainly under the banner of truth. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and the rest, were their battlecries, with a return to Six Day young Earth Creationism, a more Biblical view of Israel and an insistence of personal responsibility for one's salvation, rather than relying on the sacraments administered by the Church (though many Protestant churches carried on the practices afterwards). Hell was still a place of eternal, conscious punishment; at least that particular doctrine had been held unswervingly (apart from Origen, of course) since the time of Jesus.
Curiously the amillennialism of Augustine was still their preferred view of the Millennium, though post-millennialism made inroads through those uber-Reformers, the Puritans. So, although the Reformers had an agenda of good intentions, with their desire to return to a Biblical faith, there were still some Trojan horses in evidence, particularly their sympathetic view of Augustine and, by implication, the Greek philosophy at the heart of his thinking.
Then it all began to fall apart and the battlefields became places of real carnage, with Biblical truth torn to shreds, the Sword of the Spirit no match for the daggers of rationalism, simply because there were not enough warriors willing to bear arms in the battle. Compromise, tolerance and ecumenicalism were the shields of protection for those who had allowed the timeless truths of the gospel to be diluted and even corrupted by the implications of the ideas of Plato and Aristotle.
Creationism was an easy target, such was the growing strength of scientific rationalism in swaying secular minds to alternative explanations of our World. The majority of Christians accepted the compromise of theistic evolution, as they broadened the narrow gate, as did the early Church Fathers, to allow more into Heaven, regardless of their actual beliefs and, if some slipped through to the other place, Hell had been re-fitted, to make it less uncomfortable. Although many evangelicals had embraced Christian Zionism of one form or another, most were still bound within the subtle grip of anti-semitism and replacement theology. And End Times had become a battle fraught with extra dangers, on account of the minefields of competing doctrines that crossed the battlefields.
Our agendas, as 21st Century Christians, are as varied as they can be and, as we are now living in the "age of individualism", there are possibly as many agendas as there are Christians! We now have to take into account such modern trends as postmodernism, reflected in the emerging Church movement as well as still having to deal with hey, listen to me, I have a new revelation and hey, listen to me, I�ve worked things out intellectually and now it makes sense.
We are complex folk, exposed to such a variety of influences, not least from the media that feeds our minds. Yet, as Christians there are two dominant agendas that define us and inform our beliefs and actions. The primary agenda is always going to be the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctifying us as far as we allow him to, and the secondary agenda is the mindset that supposedly Jesus has rescued us from; the dominant mindset of the Western World of the 21st Century. This is the mindset that undergirds our educational systems, our culture, our media and our communication systems. It is a Greek mindset, fashioned from the rationalism of Aristotle and the dualism of Plato, and is the primary agenda of all who have not been regenerated by the saving faith in Jesus Christ.
It is time for us to think hard of the agendas that we follow. We can see the Greek mindset informing the thinking of Christian teachers from the early Church Fathers onwards. We must decide whether we are going to go with the flow or earnestly seek for Biblical truth, wherever it may be found and wherever it may take me. Should it be enough for us to accept a teaching simply because my pastor / my favourite teacher / my denomination / the pope / Martin Luther / Augustine / the Church Fathers agreed with it? Shouldn't we always follow Jesus firsthand, rather than second-hand through the interpretations of others, some of whom had their own agendas when proclaiming their views?
It is time to go one stage further and analyse these agendas to see what lies at the root of them. This is where it gets difficult, contentious, even judgemental, for some. This is not to judge, however I make no apologies for provoking you. Only God can judge us and ultimately all our interactions with each other, before that awesome day just pale into triviality.
So here we go ... next week.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)