Within the church, there exists a fear of a takeover. It is the content, not the manner of the takeover that generates that fear. What is it that incites trepidation in fundamental, Bible-believing churches? Theological liberalism.
For quite some time, theological liberalism has influenced far-reaching reforms within the culture of the church. Therefore, fears are rightly placed. However, the mere label of this movement as theological liberalism has the propensity to certify it as legitimate. Instead, looking at recent events, there is a more appropriate movement that must be feared.
Consider the first of two recent and newsworthy developments. The first is a notice to come out of the Vatican just a couple of weeks ago when it was announced that its stance on the death penalty had changed. Guided by the authority of Pope Francis, the doctrine now states that the death penalty is not acceptable under any circumstance. The Catholic Church has a long history of engagement in social justice projects and under Pope Francis, the church has opened up to a more liberal theology. Some will want to debate that decision, and there is much that can be said. Yet, for the purposes of discussion here it is not the position of the church that captures our attention but the willingness of the church to so quickly change its theological positions. With one announcement, centuries of Catholic theology were changed and the historical church was indirectly condemned (for previously utilizing such punishment and doing so extensively).
Related to this story from the Vatican is an article from The State, the principal newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina (1). It’s a fascinating write-up discussing the status of the church in South Carolina, a state set apart as the clasp that holds together the Bible Belt. There is much to be read, analyzed, and interpreted from the article, but the primary aspect is the rate at which churches are closing and membership is declining. For now, there are two key aspects to note for our purposes here. The first is a reference to the fact that for many, what they saw as the motivation for churches can now be fulfilled through other means and opportunities (this is my generalization and summation). Whether it be to engage in some sort of philanthropic opportunity (feeding the hungry, providing supplies to those without, etc.), find friends, or even moralistic teachings, one can go outside of the church to find the fulfillment that he or she desires. Additionally, others note that a decline exists because so many are resistant to change and instead desire to maintain the traditions of the church. At debate here are the social and functional doctrines of the church, and many find those to be more important than the biblical doctrines that define the social and functional doctrines. In contrast to the Catholic Church which is in danger for changing too frequently but there is a concern here for an unwillingness to transform.
While fearing the incorporation of theological liberalism, the very fact that the movement has been given a label suggests that this movement has legitimate authority. Instead, at the very core of both is a central theme that provides a more accurate label: Theological egocentrism. Both are motivated by the authority to appease self. The authority of deity has been replaced with the authority of humanity. The result is an ever-changing landscape of theological positions, social movements, and manifestations.
Recognizing the central issue takes away the authority of this movement because it rightly identifies the motivation as egocentric. Essentially, this is a self-centered movement that is aligned not with a savior’s sanctification but with personal predilection. There is only one answer to this problem: to be humbled by God, in God, and for God.
(1) You can read the article “Losing Faith: Why South Carolina is abandoning its churches” by clicking here.
Photo “Lacking a Congregation” courtesy of user Andrew Stawarz and Flickr.