Stand fast for authentic evangelicalism 2
By F.J. Harris
The Mission Halls and Churches of former times undoubtedly had their weaknesses as well as their strengths. It was those weaknesses which, in part, made the entry of the various errors of doctrine and practice which have so devastated the church today much easier. I am speaking generally, and thankfully, as with all generalisations, there were exceptions. What were those weaknesses?
1. The preaching, though broadly biblical, tended strongly towards Arminianism and the ministry was largely evangelistic or devotional.
But the whole counsel of God was not preached, there was not a strong doctrinal emphasis, expository preaching was virtually unknown and consequently believers were ill-equipped to face the dangers and errors that were soon to come upon them. Very few evangelical churches had more than a very brief summary of the fundamentals of the truth as a Statement of Faith. And very few, if any, churches in England and Wales would have held to one of the great 17th Century Confessions as their subordinate standard of belief.
2. The kind of sanctification generally taught was rather superficial.
It majored upon a kind of unwritten code of negatives, particularly what were considered to be external manifestations of worldliness – for ladies, make-up and ear-rings were considered worldly and cinema-going and dancing were frowned upon. This tended towards a legalistic and sometimes Pharisaical view of holiness, with heart religion or experimental religion seldom emphasised.
3. Although a reverent and structured service was the norm, this was largely traditional.
It had no real understanding of the biblical reasons for such a form – the majesty and holiness of God, the utter helplessness and sinfulness of the worshippers, a total dependence on the merits of Christ and the need for the help of the Holy Spirit for worship to be acceptable to God. The Regulative Principle was virtually unheard of, and consequently questionable methods were used in evangelism such as films, soloists, choirs, so-called celebrities, crusades and so on.
4. Although Protestantism was upheld there was little understanding among the majority of believers concerning the errors of Rome, and no conception of the Papacy as the Antichrist.
Similarly with the cults; although they were recognised as false, believers were not generally able to answer the well-primed Jehovah’s Witness who would confidently deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and assert that verses like 1 John 5:7 were not in “the oldest and best manuscripts.”
5. Because there were no other Bible translations in use in most churches,
there was an almost total ignorance of the textual issues involved in the translation of the Revised Version and subsequent modern Versions. (The Revised Version was scarcely ever used, and the Revised Standard Version, published in complete form in 1952, was not widely used either). Consequently many ministers, and believers in general, were not able to deal with the various omissions from the text in these Versions and the Footnotes which proclaimed with a totally spurious authority that “the oldest and best manuscripts do not contain these verses.”
6. Another weakness was that there was virtually no understanding of the biblical teaching concerning the need to separate from those who denied fundamental evangelical belief.
The consequence was that, apart from the F.I.E.C., almost all the sound churches remained in doctrinally-mixed denominations. Therefore, many ministers and congregations were exposed to association with liberal churches and would hear the preaching of non-evangelical denominational leaders. Many of the congregations were not equipped to understand the errors which were often propounded with great subtlety. Remarkably, within a couple of generations of C.H. Spurgeon leading the Metropolitan Tabernacle out of the Baptist Union, it had tragically re-joined that Union. Thankfully, that situation was soon rectified when Dr. Peter Masters became the minister.
There were of course churches where the ministries were exceptions to these general weaknesses. I have already mentioned the church where Derek Prime was the Pastor and thankfully there were a number of others.
The most influential of these was undoubtedly Westminster Chapel in London where Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the Minister. It is interesting to note that after the end of the Second World War he began a series of discussion meetings at Westminster Chapel concentrating on the practical issues of the Christian life. As a result of those meetings, so many questions were asked concerning the various doctrines involved that he began a series of Bible Studies on the Major Doctrines of the Bible which was to last 3 years – from 1952 to 1955. This series concluded with 18 lectures on eschatology where many would have heard for the first time a view of the future that was not either pre-millennial or dispensational. Following those lectures the Doctor began his great series of expositions of the Epistle to the Romans which was unfinished when he retired from Westminster in 1968.
But notwithstanding the weaknesses which I have outlined the situation on the whole was very different from what it is today, and the churches generally were in a healthier and sounder state. They were not plagued with the irreverent forms of worship and the multiplicity of errors that subsequently began to come into the church – errors which have accelerated rapidly in recent years bringing with them the disarray, confusion and lawlessness that abounds today, especially within the ranks of those who continue to describe themselves as Evangelicals. That form of Evangelicalism I have outlined I shall refer to as the “Old Evangelicalism,” which sadly is hardly recognisable in what passes for Evangelicalism today.
To use a worldly illustration, most of you will remember that when Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 he immediately began to introduce what became known as “New Labour.” No longer was the Labour Party to be the Party of the Working Class and the Trade Unions – it was going in an entirely new direction and many of the old style Labour politicians were greatly distressed because everything they thought the Labour Party stood for seemed to be vanishing away.
So it is with the new face of Evangelicalism. Is it any wonder that those of us who love the truths which were at the heart of the “Old Evangelicalism” are grieved as we see those blessed truths undermined in so many ways – those truths which exalt God and humble man, truths which safeguard the honour of Christ and His redeeming work, truths which demonstrate unswerving confidence in an infallible Bible?
I am sorry, in a sense, that what I have to relate to you in this article is largely a very sad story. We need, however, to know it, particularly those of you who are younger (and probably many of you who are under 50), if you are to understand how Evangelicalism has fallen from its God-honouring state into the miserable, confused man-centred state that it is in today. Having said that, however, we must not allow ourselves to fall into a depressed – or worse – a despairing state. Our sovereign God reigns and works all things after the counsel of His own will and for the good of those whom He has called according to His purpose.
What were the factors then that contributed to the decline of this comparatively healthy situation? There were several:
1. The rise of what came to be known as “Neo-” or “New Evangelicalism” in the U.S.A.
This resulted in far reaching changes in many areas of the Old Evangelicalism, not only in the States but, not many years afterwards, here in the U.K. When Billy Graham burst upon the British scene in 1954 he was to become not only a world-famous evangelist but the popular face of New Evangelicalism. He was the leader in increasingly close fellowship with many who denied the cardinal doctrines of the Faith, welcoming them onto the platform in his Crusades and speaking of them in glowing terms.
2. There was the vast shift in the attitude of the Evangelicals in the Church of England to Non-Evangelicals, to Liberals and Anglo-Catholics.
This first came at the first National Evangelical Anglican Conference at Keele in 1967 and increased rapidly afterwards.
3. There was the rise of the Charismatic Movement, which influenced all the denominations and greatly accelerated the Ecumenical programme.
This Movement was largely responsible for bringing in first informal, then irreverent styles of worship, seeking after experiences and gifts rather than after grace and godliness. It was in the forefront of introducing worldly standards in conduct and dress and also bringing in a various assortment of musical groups and a kind of evangelism in which virtually anything might be permitted which was considered to attract the outsider without causing any offence. Preaching of any kind, let alone biblical preaching, began to be regarded as a less important part of the service. This, coupled with a very inadequate view of the holiness and majesty of God, introduced an air of levity into the services.
4. A new kind of Antinomianism, which although its proponents like to describe it as “Theoretical Antinomianism,” does in fact produce an unbiblical attitude to the Moral Law comprehended in the Ten Commandments and particularly to the Fourth Commandment respecting the observance of the Sabbath Day.
Consequently we have a new kind of lawlessness which would describe itself as Christian Liberty and would criticise as “legalistic” those who believe in the unchanging standards of God’s Moral Law.
We also need to remember that the Higher Critical Movement in the second half of the 19th century had undermined the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures, but those errors were generally confined to those churches which had embraced liberal theology and the evangelicals were largely untouched by it.
To be continued