Five Observations of the Modern-Day Downgrade
Believers in Christ’s atonement are now in declared religious union with those who make light of it; believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration; those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the fall a fable, who deny the personality of the Holy Ghost, who call justification by faith immoral, and hold that there is another probation after death, and a future restitution for the lost. Yes, we have before us the wretched spectacle of professedly orthodox Christians publicly avowing their union with those who deny the faith, and scarcely concealing their contempt for those who cannot be guilty of such gross disloyalty to Christ.
One of the greatest Reformed theologians and preachers of all time, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was caught in the middle of a controversy during his time, known as the Downgrade Controversy. Spurgeon noticed a phenomenon taking place within the professing Evangelical Church, and many during his time hated him for it. He saw theological and moral compromise overtaking churches, and he was very outspoken about it. It turns out that what he saw taking place back then has now morphed into all out apostasy in today’s Church. Below are five (of many) observations of the modern day downgrade that are associated with compromise in the Evangelical Church.
Liberalism. There is no doubt the Church has become theologically weak. Historically, a multitude of Protestant Christian denominations held to a set of beliefs, often contradictory beliefs. Presbyterians hold a separate set of beliefs regarding baptism than do Baptists. Lutherans held to the belief of the real presence in communion. But one thing they all had in common was the belief in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, Scriptural authority…and that the Roman Catholic institution was the enemy.
It was their strong adherence to sound, conservative doctrine in the essentials that united them as one in the body of Christ. Doctrine used to be important to the Church. And even though the Reformers didn’t have everything figured out, they all agreed that Scripture was the final authority on matters of faith and practice. To undermine this was to undermine Christ’s authority (2 Tim 3:16-17).
While, historically, the majority of the non-Catholic professing Church believed this, in many churches, strict adherence to biblical doctrine is now seen as taboo. The typical modern church now holds to an “anything goes” ideology, which makes nearly any kind of behavior acceptable. The doctrine of repentance has been completely stripped from the teachings in many churches, and easy-believism has taken over. This is why churches can allow sodomites to serve in leadership positions, and so-called pastors can claim expository preaching is “dangerous.” Liberalism has run amuck, and one only has to profess a belief in Jesus to be considered a Christian.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! – James 2:19
Charismania. It’s easy to point to people like Benny Hinn, Mike Bickle, Todd Bentley and Cindy Jacobs, and recognize them as frauds, and expose the evil they’ve brought into the Church. But it’s more difficult when the charismatic garbage they espouse creeps into the practice and teachings of once-thought-solid churches and teachers. Many solid Bible teachers toy with charismatic ideas like direct, divine revelation, and apostolic gifts of the Spirit. But it’s rather clear that before many churches or leaders fall into sin, they have become open to charismania.
It’s difficult to state exactly whether charismania is a cause or a symptom of the downgrade. It’s likely both. Charismania is a result of liberal theology–a denial of Scriptural authority. Even when it’s subtle, it’s evil. Even those who claim that Scripture is the final authority, yet still hold to charismatic beliefs, tend to compromise in many areas theologically, and even morally. Even slight charismatic influence leads to a theological “openness” that ultimately leads to corruption. If the line isn’t drawn from the beginning, at the beginning, then the line can be drawn anywhere, and moved around as one pleases.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son – Hebrews 1:1-2
Politics. Politics has taken a top priority in the Church. Even in the most solid of denominations, political ideology has taken precedence in many pulpits. Political influence has crept into our theology and masquerades as Gospel truth for many. Preachers will often put their reputation on the line to endorse political candidates, and promote political ideologies. Political correctness has become the new doctrine of reconciliation, and political ideology has become the new Gospel of salvation. National salvation trumps spiritual salvation for many.
For some Christians, political leaders have been looked at as Messianic, yet failing to bring the promised “salvation.” Some believed Barack Obama would bring racial reconciliation to the nation. Others even have political candidates preach sermons at their churches. Still others will go as far as making Christ-deniers out to be Christians simply to advance a political agenda.
Yet, politics is simply another false Gospel. It has no power to save, no power to reconcile, and no power to overcome sin. While Christians have a duty to honor and glorify Jesus in their practice of politics, regardless of who becomes president, Christ will still reign as King of Kings.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ – Philippians 3:20
Unity. This one we hear all the time, “the Church must be united.” In fact, it’s becoming clear that the Evangelical Church’s focus is becoming centered around unity. The call to unity in the Bible is very clear and repeated often. 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8, and Philippians 2:2 make it clear that unity among believers is essential–but around what?
So many churches today have watered down the truth so much so that there is little truth left in what they preach. They have once again set aside sound doctrine so not to offend people. Yet it is this watered down system of piety, often focused on “love,” “tolerance,” and “acceptance” of everyone that this unity abounds. Sound doctrine has lost precedence, and unity has become the central theme. Many solid churches are even falling into lockstep with this movement. Churches standing in ecumenical unity with Rome for political and cultural advancement has become the norm.
But the illusion of unity among these religious systems is false, and dangerous. It is not sound doctrine that causes divisions and destroys unity, as many have been led to believe. False doctrine creates divisions, as there can be many false doctrines, all contrary to each other, but there can only be one truth. The true Church is united around God’s truth, not error. There can be no true unity around error. Truth has no accord with error, and error must be exposed to the light of truth in Jesus Christ.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. – Romans 16:17
Tolerance. Finally, perhaps the gravest of these observations is tolerance. Sin can only flourish if it’s tolerated. So many will overlook sin and compromise, believing that by doing so will somehow uphold the unity of the body of Christ. Let’s be clear, however, that God has no tolerance for sin or compromise in any way. For if he did, there would be no need for his Son to die.
Yet, sin and compromise have become acceptable in the Church. One can unite with heretics, sharing a platform with them, so long as they are united around some central tenet. Evangelicals can tolerate Catholics so long as they can unite around abortion or marriage issues. Solid preachers can tolerate charismatics, Egalitarians, Emergents and false teachers, so long as they’re offered a platform for self-promotion. And churches can tolerate unrepentant sinners in their congregations, so long as they are contributing financially to the programs.
In Scripture, though, we are exhorted to expose false teachers, not affirm them. We are not to yoke with unbelievers to accomplish any spiritual task (2 Corinthians 6:14). We are not to tolerate sin in any way. If the Gospel is the only solution to sin, we cannot join hands with those who deny it to try to defeat it. What fellowship has light with darkness?
Jesus Christ has already defeated sin, and this is the only truth we need to tolerate in the Church.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:10-11
[Contributed by Jeff Maples]