“Fellowship between faith and unbelief must, sooner or later, be fatal – to the former.”
Horatius Bonar (Scottland, 1808-89)
In the latter half of the 19th century, theological liberalism fundamentally redefined what it meant to be a Christian. It had nothing to do, they said, with believing in doctrine. It didn’t matter if you believed in an inerrant Bible; the scholarship of the day had debunked that! It didn’t matter if you believed in the virgin birth and the deity of Christ; modern science disproved that! It didn’t matter if you embraced penal substitutionary atonement; blood sacrifice and a wrathful God are just primitive and obscene, and besides, man is not fundamentally sinful but basically good! What mattered was one’s experience of Christ, and whether we live like Christ. “And we don’t need doctrine to do that!” they said. “Doctrine divides!” Iain Murray wrote of that sentiment, “‘Christianity is life, not doctrine,’ was the great cry. The promise was that Christianity would advance wonderfully if it was no longer shackled by insistence on doctrines and orthodox beliefs” (“Divisive Unity,” 233).
The Emergence of the Social Gospel
The result of this kind of thinking was the social gospel of the early 20th century. If what it means to be a Christian has little to do with creeds and everything to do with deeds, then what makes someone a Christian is whether they’re laboring for the betterment of society—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, working for justice, and so on. And so across denominational lines, professing “Christians” were coming together to promote unity around a common mission, even if they didn’t share a common faith. In 1908, more than 30 denominations representing over 18 million American Protestants set their doctrinal differences aside and met in Philadelphia at what is called the Federal Council of Churches. Their great concern was not the Gospel, but how to address the social issues of the day: race relations, international justice, reducing armaments, education, and regulating the consumption of alcohol. This was the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.
[…] And this is precisely Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, a passage we’ll spend several posts looking into in the weeks to come.
- The Gospel – Timeless Thoughts & Helps
- The Gospel – or not the Gospel?!?
- The Gospel (1) – Ecumenical vs. Evangelical
- The Gospel (2) – Idolatry, Demons & Ecumenism
- The Gospel (3) – Unequally Yoked
- The Gospel (4) – The Radical Difference between Believers and Unbelievers
- The Gospel (5) – Do we have forgotten that the way is narrow?
- The Gospel (6) – Samuel Davies – He preached his own funeral sermon
- The Gospel (7) – John Bunyan – The infernal Dungeon of Hell
- The Gospel (8) – The Great Exchange
- The Gospel (9) – The Heart of the Gospel explained in two Minutes (by John MacArthur)
- The Gospel (10) – Jesus, the Son of God, IS the Gospel – even for Muslim
- The Gospel (11) – The Parable of the Sower and bad Evangelism
- The Gospel (12) – The Non-Negotiable Gospel
- The Gospel (13) – Can Truth survive in a postmodern Society?