DEVELOPMENT OF LIBERALISM
1. There are not many in the church who claim to be liberal or publicly admit liberalism, simply because the basic idea of such involves one in a looser view of the Scriptures than that approved by God.
2. Many protest the use of labels like "liberal" or "conservative" in the church in spite of the existence of diverse attitudes toward the Word of God and its authority.
3. In this lesson we explore the entire range of thought involved in liberalism, from an example of it in the OT to its definition and origin, some symptoms of it, and the course that it takes in the affairs of brethren.
I. Example of Liberalism
A. Jereboam was a liberal in the time of the Divided Kingdom, because he loosed the restraints imposed by God in the Law of Moses.
B. In 1 Kings 12:25-33 he established a different mode of worship-calf worship, place of worship-Bethel and Dan, time of worship-8th month, 15th day like Feast of Tabernacles in Judah, altar for sacrifice, and priesthood officiating in worship-some besides those of tribe of Levi.
II. Definition of Liberalism
A. In matters of government and politics, it is common to refer to liberals and conservatives, because of their different approaches to the basic constitutional law upon which our government is established. By this same principle, there are religious liberals and conservatives.
B. Liberalism refers to an attitude giving wide leeway for interpreting doctrine and latitude as to methods of church government and congregational organization (Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary, International Edition). The liberal spirit emphasizes broad principles, good intentions, and tolerance over strict adherence to detailed instructions.
C. In contrast, a conservative is a person who favors traditional views and Values and opposes change in these. In religion he adheres to the authority of God's Word, both in its broad principles and its detailed instructions, where applicable. Deut. 4:2 and Mt. 4:4 depict desirable attitudes.
D. Classical liberalism (modernism) began to manifest itself over 100 years ago in denial of God's personal existence, the Bible's inspiration and authority, Jesus' deity, and man's creation by God. Liberalism in the church came about on a large scale about that same time, with acceptance of missionary societies for the work of evangelism and the instrument of music in worship. In this century the march toward liberalism has continued with modern changes in the church's organization, worship, and work.
III. Origin of Liberalism
A. Liberalism in every segment of life originates in the attitude one has toward established norms or standards, like the constitution or the Bible.
B. The following attitudes toward Bible authority portray how liberalism begins in one person and in each generation. Its contagion spreads.
1. We don't have to have authority for all we do.
2. When the Scriptures are silent on a matter, we are free to act.
3. Modern times demand modern modes of thought and action.
4. We have done it that way before; we intend to continue.
5. Whatever is expedient is allowable in the functioning of the church.
6. The Bible was never intended to set forth a detailed pattern, only some general guidelines.
C. In all of these approaches the tendency is to depart from the standard of God's Word. In an ancient display of liberalism, Jereboam departed from God's standard of worship under the Law when he substituted human devices/innovations for the divine way. Another king-Josiah-- conservatively led the way of restoring God's way to its primary place in Israel's worship and life (2 Chron. 34).
IV. Symptoms of Liberalism
A. The early signs of liberalism can be detected and should serve as warning signals to benefit the person manifesting them and others. Attitudes can be changed when healthy attitudes prevail-reverence for God and respect for His Word.
B. The following questions serve as tests for the beginning of liberalism (a looser view of the Scriptures and their application to life).
1. Do you believe the Bible is verbally inspired? 1 Cor. 2:12,13; Acts 2:4.
2. Do you believe God speaks to people today in any way except through the Bible? Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 Pet. 1:3.
3. Do you think subjective emotional experiences are as authoritative as objective revelation is? Same passages as # 2.
4. Is knowledge gained through subjective emotional experiences more relevant than knowledge gained through a study of the Bible?
5. Do you think one who has had a subjective emotional experience is more spiritual and heavenly minded than one can become just by a study of the Bible? 1 Pet. 2:2; Heb. 5:12-14; Gal. 2:14 (one with Spirit guidance failed to walk uprightly); 1 Cor. 14 (prophets at Corinth misused their gifts). Spirituality is measured by how one conforms to God's revealed way, not by some special gift of the Spirit.
6. Do you believe God accepts acts of worship for which there is no Scriptural authority? Mt. 15:1-9, Jesus' treatment of human traditions as acts of worship.
7. Do you think people can walk by faith while doing things not taught in the Bible? Rom. 10:17; 2 Thes. 3:6,14.
8. Do you believe teachers of false doctrine should be denied the fellowship of the local church? Gal. 1:8;Tit. 1:11;Rom. 16:17;Heb. 13:17.
C. It is imperative that all saints, especially elders and teachers of the Word, be alert and vigilant for the development of such attitudes.
V. Course of Liberalism in the Church
A. In the 1800's those promoting the missionary society, Ladies' Aid Societies, and other organizations in the work of the church turned in many cases to a denial of the Bible's inspiration and authority. In this century basically the same ones have converted the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ into a denomination seeking merger/fellowship with other denominations.
B. In the church of the 20th century, many of those protesting our insistence on Bible authority have gone far beyond the centralization of work that they first craved, pursuing next the social-gospel emphasis on ministering to the whole man, changes in worship-instrumental music, solos and group singers, praise teams, dramas, and hand clapping, an expanded role for women in public worship/organization of church, and efforts to establish fellowship with the denominations.
C. Just as a looser view of the need for Biblical authority pushed the boundaries of practice further, so the view of the Scriptures themselves and the need to teach them has likewise degenerated. Now brethren are calling for more tolerance toward those "not of our fellowship/tradition," a new hermeneutic that will further loosen the constraints of Biblical teaching, and less militant/more irenic spirit in the preaching of the Biblical message.
D. On two occasions since the beginning of this year a brother (Dick Chittam, Feb. 6 and May 28/June 4, 2000), for all intents and purposes, asserted the denominational nature of the Lord's church, the existence of saved people in the sects, and the origin of the church in the 19th -century Restoration Movement. He also taught that love for God was the sole demand made by Christ, that the Law given by Moses is still in operation, and that no pattern exists for our observance today. In doing all of this he was pleading for unity among the "Christians in all of the denominations."
E. This is the course that liberalism takes, when its initial attitudes have begun to manifest themselves in our teaching and practice. It is fair to say that liberalism will adopt whatever practices exist in the religious world, particularly those lacking Biblical authority.
VI. Liberalism in You and Me
A. I trust that you and I have been scrutinizing our own attitudes toward the Bible and its relevance/application to our lives. If we detect any trace of liberalism, we must stamp it out lest it eventually overtake and consume us. It never advances on a broader scale (as in a congregation or the church in a certain region) until it has influenced the thinking of individuals.
B. Satan is warring to pull us all down, and he will employ whatever tactics appeal to us-selfishness in all of its forms (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Selfishness embraces sinful conduct and then seeks justification by a twisting of Scriptures, resulting in a more relaxed view of Biblical teaching. Sometimes this happens when one becomes involved in immorality, rationalizes his behavior-even with an abuse of the Bible, and eventually views the Bible as archaic and his own conduct as acceptable by present-day standards. The only weapon that will conquer the Devil is the sword provided by the Lord (Word of God), combined with the faith that it produces (Eph. 6:10-18).
1. Let us all exercise our faith in God to stay close to Him and to follow Christ in all things (Mt. 28:20).
2. If we will do this, liberalism will never gain a foothold in out thinking.
By Bobby Graham
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