Dying Denominations

I went to a funeral today for the mother of a friend of mine. I was, quite frankly, awestruck by the sermon that was preached. This wasn't the first time I've heard this particular pastor. In fact, I listened to him preach at a funeral about 6 weeks ago. In both sermons, Christ was never mentioned. I was shocked (though maybe I shouldn't be), because in my mind, there are fewer times more fitting for a presentation of the Gospel than a funeral, where death is near and you have a captive audience. This pastor apparently disagrees. He spoke in glowing terms about the love that my friend's mother had for her family and friends, and said numerous times that "she loved because she had first been loved by God." But he didn't flesh this out at all. This god he spoke of could have been any god. The question I kept asking myself was, "Okay, great, she was loved by God, but could you tell us more about that love?" Could you tell us more about Jesus? Could you tell us more about the atoning work of Christ on the cross? Could you tell us how that great exchange (whereby we receive Christ's righteousness, and He receives our sin) actually takes place? He mentioned the fact that she was able to bear the weight of cancer towards the end of her life because of the "yoke that is easy," but never mentioned that the easy yoke is Christ's yoke (Matthew 11:25-30). A glaring omission to be sure. He never expounded upon the incredible weight that is lifted from our shoulders when we choose to follow Christ instead of the law (which, by the way, is what that section of scripture is really about).

The conclusion I came to is that this pastor was intentionally skirting around any mention of Christ or the cross. This isn't surprising, considering his denomination has, over the past half century, fully embraced theological liberalism. They've done so in an effort to become "more relevant" to the surrounding culture. But of course, embracing liberal theology does nothing to help struggling denominations. In fact, instead of helping them gain membership, this embrace actually moves them in the opposite direction. When a church refuses to take a positive stand regarding the inerrancy and authority of scripture, the slip begins. It starts there, but it doesn't end there. A refusal to adhere to the doctrine of inerrancy is, at its core, merely a different iteration of the question that the serpent asked Eve in the garden. "Did God actually say...?" (Genesis 3:1). Did Jesus actually say that life was to be found in Him and nowhere else? Did He actually rise from the dead? Did God really have a certain design in mind with regards to sex and marriage? Is Christ really returning to judge the living and the dead? It should come as no surprise to us, then, that this particular denomination now holds blatantly unbiblical positions on everything under the sun, including (but not limited to) the divinity of Jesus, the exclusivity of salvation through Him, penal substitutionary atonement, and human sexuality.

For those of you who wonder, yes, I'm fully aware of the recent discussion among academicians regarding the question of inerrancy. I'm sure its a question that will never be answered to the satisfaction of the more virulent critics out there. However, one thing has been made absolutely clear over the past century. When a church (or denomination) refuses to accept and promulgate the teachings of Jesus (in their entirety), passed down to us through the disciples, it cuts itself off from the very power of Christ (see Matthew 16:13-20). And it is at that point where the decline of a denomination truly begins. We either receive in faith what the New Testament authors transmitted to us, or we don't. There can be no compromise on this issue. When we start picking and choosing what we do or do not accept, we loose ourselves from the very foundation that Christ Himself set.

More than anything, I was deeply saddened by the refusal of this pastor to mention Christ's name. How awful it must be to have the outward appearance of a man committed to the Gospel, and yet live in fear of men who might be offended if you talk about Jesus. To feel that you have to blindly ignore sections of scripture you (or your surrounding culture, or congregation) disagree with. It's no wonder that his denomination has dwindled from over 2 million members to less than 500,000 over the past 50 years. And I have no doubt that it will continue to decline. Jesus once referred to His followers as "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). And he was clear about what happens if salt loses its taste. It is, at that point, good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled. We're watching this very thing take place to formerly Christian denominations who have elevated other authorities (experience, science, etc) over sacred scripture. They have, quite literally, nothing to say that differentiates them from their surrounding culture. They care not for the Gospel, because the Gospel offends. They've lost their taste, and therefore their witness. And at the end of the day, no one cares to be a part of these denominations. Because people can get the same thing (a feeling of belonging, a stroked ego, feel good moments, community) from involvement in a social group, or a local theater, or a book club, or gym. May this be a warning to those of us who still hold the Bible in high regard. May we hold fast to scripture, because it is only through scripture that we know Jesus. And it is only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that God builds His kingdom.
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