The Truth About Truth: Part 2 – The Postmodern Impact Upon the Church

Sadly when objective truth and the biblical standard are replaced by opinion and personal desires despite what the text says, churches will fall to such a demise as they have already today.

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As a direct result of the postmodern pressures to deny objective truth, Christian churches have been impacted in several ways. Changes and division over organization, doctrine, and even belief in God’s word as an infallible source of truth are common place in today’s churches. Sadly when objective truth and the biblical standard are replaced by opinion and personal desires despite what the text says, churches will fall to such a demise as they have already today. The occurrence that will be examined is what I have entitled “IES,” that is “itchy ear syndrome.” The thought behind this title is taken from the apostle Paul’s words to a young evangelist Timothy as recorded in 2 Timothy 4:3-4. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away from the truth and will turn aside into myths.” Paul describes a people that reject the truth of the Scriptures because they desire to hear what they want to hear. These people want to be told they are right, to not feel condemned and allow their desires to dictate what is truth. What Paul describes is exactly what postmodernism has influenced many in the church to do.

one way walking man sign on a crosswalk

Joe Aldrich of the Multnomah Bible College has this to say regarding the Christian and truth, “Being truth involves at least three things: 1) walking blamelessly 2) doing what is right, and 3) speaking truth from the heart.”[1] If one knows the truth of the Scriptures, yet turns away to hear what they now want, they are no longer as Aldrich says “being truth.” No longer looking to God as the standard for right and wrong but one’s own desire then eliminates one from being able to honestly walk in truth. Where there is no authoritative standard, then there is only what man deems useful and helpful in religion. Consider the following statement: “There is no authoritative proclamation of the being and will of God… ‘God’ becomes an ‘expression’ of what we find convincing or helpful.”[2] If there is no authoritative standard, then God and religion only become another vehicle for attaining the things that we want or find useful. The sad reality is that this is happening in “Christian churches” all across America.

In using the church as a vehicle for pleasure, “Christians” have turned churches into a glorified YMCA. Worship now consists of nearly all entertainment, particularly for the youth. Communion has been replaced with Starbucks. Classes have been replaced with ping-pong and christian comedy. Hymns have been replaced with rock concerts (the last time I personally attended such a service, the drummer rose up into a glass case while fog machines poured into a mosh pit of “worshipers”), and sermons have been replaced by short and shallow devotions. There is no longer any reverence or respect for worship of God, only a desire to be further entertained and make “worship”  about one’s self. These great social gatherings are intended to draw as many people, and their money, to the church as possible. The youth especially are drawn to this type of worship, but never are converted to Christ. Because worship has become merely a social event, its level of importance is minimal and therefore increasingly more youth leave the church. What keeps a young person grounded in their faith is truth and the gospel, not coffee and loud music. As the proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).

However it is not only in worship that postmodernism has impacted Christian churches, but also in theology and doctrine. The postmodernist claims that the moral standards of the Bible for right and wrong are abusive to a new and improved understanding of morality. The following excerpt is taken from The Postmodern Bible:

“But to read the Bible in the traditional scholarly manner has all too often meant reading it, whether deliberately or not, in ways that reify and ratify the status quo – providing warrant for the subjugation of women (whether in the church, the academy, or society at large), justifying colonialism and enslavement, rationalizing homophobia, or otherwise legitimizing the power of hegemonic classes of people.”[3]

The postmodern view of traditional scholarship of the Bible is that it is “out of date.” Those who want to read the Bible now must do it through a postmodern lens, though the claims that such a statement makes regarding issues such as the mistreatment of women etc. are preposterous. However as a result, many churches have opened their arms to accepting and promoting homosexuality, improper leadership roles for the sake of “equality,” and nearly throwing away all moral standards simply to keep with the times. The culture has been allowed to define the church, not the other way around. Such occurrences are often and rampant among churches in America.

What can be done about this? Some have gone to the other extreme to combat this. In order to avoid moral degradation in the church, some congregations demand that those who worship there must agree upon every doctrinal position, and be unified in every Biblical issue. In attempting to not fall into the same trap of discarding truth, much division has been the result. This mentality is not only an over reaction (in the sense of taking it too far) but also impossible. No two people can ever come to agreement on every single spiritual issue, but can they come to agreement on the important ones if they love the truth? This has been attempted many times before, yet still resulted in simply more division. What then is the answer? Both moral degradation and division are to be avoided by the church, so what can a congregation do? Using the Restoration movement and the Anabaptist movement as a case study, I will argue that a determination to return to a biblical standard while maintaining a love for God and man is the only answer when the church is threatened by moral degradation.

The Anabaptist movement took place during the Reformation of the sixteen hundreds. They too were fighting for reform of a moral degrading church. Not only did they want reformation, but also restoration to the New Testament church. “More radically in any other party for church reformation the Anabaptists strove to follow the footsteps of the church of the first century and to renew unadulterated original Christianity.”[4] In like manner to their predecessors, those of the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement aimed to accomplish the same thing. They followed the same pattern as the Anabaptists in combating corrupt religion through a return to the Scriptures. Their basic foundational principles “point to the common pattern for Reformed, Lutheran, and Anabaptist traditions, namely the rejection of stale or corrupt religious institutions, based on appeals to Scripture and on the exaltation of God above institutions.”[5] Both movements, though separated by several hundred years, had this one thing in common: to return to the authority of the Scriptures alone as the source of truth. However, it is not enough to merely refute false doctrine within a church (such as postmodern tendencies within modern churches), but also to live the truth of the Scriptures. Part of this is being willing to love your brother and work through issues. Though there is a time for division from those who refuse to turn away from falsity, it seems like far too often we are too comfortable with it. This is what separated the Stone-Campbell movement and the Anabaptist movement. In the end, the Stone-Campbell movement ended in division.

“The chief scandal of the movement is that it has failed so often in one of its chief projects, Christian unity. In trying to restore the primitive church, some leaders have restored its fractiousness without restoring its peacemaking ability. In the “Declaration and Address,” Thomas Campbell (1809) called for unanimity on essentials but tolerance on nonessentials.”[6]

Though Campbell had good intentions and was correct in his assessment. However the problem lies in that one person’s essentials are not another person’s essentials. Even in some cases, especially in a postmodern influenced church, others believe there are no essential things to be held in common. How do we come to agreement upon the elements of worship and doctrine in order to have fellowship? This is an important question in an era which the church is fighting from within over issues such as homosexuality and objective truth. Though many of these questions are above me, perhaps the answer is found in striving to uphold the greatest commandments Scripture offer; that is to love God with your all, and love your neighbor as yourself. Where the Restoration movement ended in divison (much like many churches fighting different issues are today), the Anabaptist movement lead to unity and a return to a biblical standard despite persecution. This was because of their desire to walk right, love God and man, and truly be truth in their lives, not just argue over it.

“First and fundamental in the Anabaptist vision was the conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship. It was a concept which meant the transformation of the entire way of life of the individual believer and of society so that it should be fashioned after the teachings and example of Christ.”[7] True Christianity meant to be truth, to live truth in its fullest by walking in the steps of Christ despite what the culture around them was doing. In doing so, it made the Anabaptist stand out from the rest of the world around them. In 1536, the state church theologians of the duchy of Wurttemberg had this to say about the Anabaptists:

“The majority of those who unite with them do not err from maliciousness but from pure simplicity and commendable zeal which they have toward God, since they see the beautiful appearance of the life of the Anabaptist and also, on the other hand, among the great multitude of our people they see a very wild, shameless, infamous life.”[8]

What is the point of all this? Remembering our foundational problem, some have gone to the other extreme of demanding agreement upon all spiritual truths to avoid denying truth as some on the other extreme have. Naturally such a demand breeds division, which is just as necessary to avoid as moral degradation. When we continue to argue the “issues” of truth, sometimes we can overlook the most important aspect of also being truth. This is not to say that one should not take a stand on what they believe to be true with clear, definitive lines; but it is to say we must be patient with our brothers and first and foremost be truth. The Anabaptist movement did both. They determined to adhere to God’s word, but also determined to love God and man. They lived righteous lives and became attractive for their lack of hypocrisy. In order to combat moral degradation within the church, the first answer is not to divide, but continue to live holy lives and strive to serve your erring brother. Such principles should be applied to the postmodern crisis in the church today. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26 Paul encourages his fellow worker Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

These words in some ways capture the essence of the old expression, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Perhaps if the church spent much more time showing patience and love to their brothers struggling with the postmodern pressures, they would be able to bring them back to a knowledge of the truth rather than a denial of it. The answer is not found in compromise, or in division, but in following the steps of Jesus. Speaking of the church, Bobby Graham of Truth Magazine asks:

“How can it survive in its unpolluted condition? We must understand and view the teaching and practice which Jesus sanctioned as the way of salvation and life as He did, nothing more and nothing less. We must adopt the attitude of Jesus toward it! Away with the suggestions of some that Christianity can survive without the Bible and the God of its past, and that we should modify and compromise to survive.”[9]

[1] Aldrich, Joe. Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those around You. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1993. 33.
[2] Thiselton, Anthony C. Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self: On Meaning, Manipulation, and Promise. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1995. 104.
[3] Aichele, George, Fred W. Burnett, Robert M. Fowler, David Jobling, Tina Pippin, and Wilhelm Wuellner. The Postmodern Bible: The Bible and Culture Collective. Edited by Elizabeth A. Castelli, Stephen D. Moore, Gary A. Phillips, and Regina M. Schwartz. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1995. 4.
[4] Bender, Harold Stauffer. "Conrad Grebel, the founder of Swiss Anabaptism." Church History 7, no. 2 (June 1, 1938): 10.
[5] Willerton, Chris. "Honors education and Stone-Campbell heritage." Journal Of Education & Christian Belief 14, no. 2 (September 1, 2010): 35.
[6] Ibid., 42.
[7] Bender “Anabaptist Vision” 14.
[8] Horsch, John. "The character of the evangelical Anabaptists as reported by contemporary Reformation writers." Mennonite Quarterly Review 8, no. 3 (July 1, 1934): 131.
[9] Willis, Mike, ed. Can Christianity Survive in America? Bowling Green: Guardian of Truth Foundation, 2011.

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