Evangelicals And The Word Of God
Why, so often, are believers not ecstatic about the God-breathed writings we know as the Bible? Why do we not read them avidly and expound them enthusiastically? Why is the pulpit frequently dull, dry and mechanical? Why do Christians turn in desperation to hear God speak in less than satisfactory ways?
One of the reasons must surely be that preachers and believers, generally, have lost a sense of wonder that a God, offended and affronted by human sin, would yet give us an utterly trustworthy revelation of himself. God's awesome disclosure of his glory and plan of salvation in Jesus Christ from eternity to eternity has ceased to move us.
The relentless voice of media values and bewitching contemporary fashions of belief often make the Scriptures appear unreasonable, churlish, remote, and overtaken by a superior view of the world. How possibly, then, can they speak with conviction to our generation? And, foolishly, we surrender to such a view.
All Scripture, says the apostle Paul, claiming God-given authority, is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16).
The writers of Scripture are, of course, human. Their styles vary. Their writings spring from the life experiences of their day. However, they reveal a God who speaks and acts into these circumstances.
This God chooses to work out his purposes through human beings. Such is the sovereign rule he exercises that even the evil designs and actions of men serve his own ends. Those who, for example, secure the crucifixion of Jesus Christ do only what God's power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:28). No one, in any way, limits God's sovereign control.
Similarly, God does not allow the chosen writer of Scripture to limit his ability to give us an infallible, authoritative and trustworthy word from heaven through that writer's instrumentality.
Mark this, warns the apostle in 2 Timothy 3, there will be terrible times in the last days. People, he says, will have a form of godliness but deny its power. They will oppose the truth. In Evangelicals and the Word of God, Paul-Andre Dubois will, hopefully, alarm readers to dangers facing the West because of a wantonly careless and dismissive attitude to the Bible.
Crucially, today, Paul's man of God in 2 Timothy 3 must develop a renewed relationship with the Scriptures. Only then will he be able to deliver instruction that is godly, expose error, correct behaviour, and train others in patterns of conduct that please God. How, otherwise, will he preach the Word with the solemnity demanded by the knowledge that the day draws nearer, when Christ Jesus will appear again to judge the living and the dead [2 Tim. 4:1-2)?
* * * *
The author speaks strongly on occasion, but not without justification, given his experience both in Europe and further afield.
With European co-operation becoming more and more relevant, and especially so between Christians, it is important that we should hear what he has to say and that his conclusions should be well digested.
Fellowship of Word and Spirit
EVANGELICALS AND THE WORD OF GOD
I did not myself choose this topic. It was proposed to me by the organisers of the Dijon Pastoral Conference, and at first I had thought of not limiting myself to this theme, considering it an unnecessary constraint. On second thoughts, however, I came to understand both its urgency and its crucial importance.
It’s crucial importance
Indeed, God has made himself known, has revealed himself - as to his being, his attributes, his decrees, his works, his ways, his demands, his judgements - in and through his Word. In consequence, both in our individual and in our collective existence, everything hinges on the position we fake with regard to this Word. which is inseparable from the One who has proclaimed it:
I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psa. 119:11).
The very person of God is either acknowledged or rejected by the attitude we take to the Word which reveals him.
This can already be noted in the third chapter of Genesis. Adam and Eve positioned themselves - alas negatively - with regard to the explicit divine command delivered in Genesis 2:16-17. They thus rejected their Sovereign God, and we know all too well the rest of the story - all that followed this fateful act. Not only are we the constant witnesses of the disastrous effects of the original disobedience, but we live them in our very flesh. The fifth chapter of Romans reminds us clearly of these consequences.
More than any other text of the Bible, the epistle to the Hebrews insists on the solemnity of the fact that God has spoken. This very note is struck from the first verse:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (1:1-2).
- We have here a preliminary and general declaration which embraces both Old and New Testaments. The culminating, the final, point of the entire inspired Word in its development through the centuries, is the revelation of the Son. This revelation coincides with the completion of the canon of the Holy Scriptures. God has spoken in a definitive manner. He has said all that he wanted to say, and today his voice can be heard only in what he has already said.
In the second chapter, the author of Hebrews goes on to urge us to pay more careful attention therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (v.1).
- He refers by these words to the proclamation of 'such a great salvation': first by the Lord himself and then, through the apostles, by the apostolic word - their teaching thus confirming the very words of their Master. Their apostolic word received at the same time the seal of divine approbation through signs, wonders, miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (vv. 2-4).
But throughout this passage the main accent rests on the fact that if the reaction of the law - 'the message spoken by angels' at Sinai, through the mediation of Moses - has systematically and without fail brought about the most grievous consequences, the rejection of the Gospel - of which God the Son in person is the Mediator and, in full fellowship with the apostles, the herald - infallibily exposes us to a far more rigorous judgement:
How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (v 3).
- Chapters three and four take as a dramatic example of God's judgement that first generation of the people of Israel delivered from Egypt - dead in the desert and deprived of the right of entry into the promised land because of unbelief (3:19) - and thus warn us severely against any reaction of hardened resistance on hearing the good news of the redemptive rest in Christ:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert' (3:7-8).
- Chapters six and ten tackle the fearful and terrifying subject of the sin of apostasy, the only sin placed beyond the scope of God's forgiveness. It concerns those who, after having 'tasted the goodness of the word of God' (6:5), reject it consciously, wilfully and finally. This fault represents a point of no return and, without fail, lays open to the divine curse those who commit it (6:6-8). Hebrews 10 insists also on the irremediable consequences of apostasy, underlining their even more appalling character under the economy of grace than under that of the law, within the New Covenant compared with the Old:
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay', and again, 'The Lord will judge his people'. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:28-31).
- To close these introductory remarks on the crucial importance of the subject under consideration - 'Evangelicals and the Word of God' - and before examining the present relevance of our theme, let us pay heed to a final quotation from the epistle to the Hebrews:
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens'. The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (12:25-29).
- Its actuality
Under the New Covenant, just as under the Old, the spiritual condition of 'God's people' - by this I mean all those who, legitimately or not, claim to be his, the Lord himself knowing those who truly belong to him (2 Tim. 2:19) - has always been dependent on their attitude towards the Word of God, both on the level of principle (confession of faith) and practice: that is, as well on that of their theology as on that of their concrete obedience.
In the parable of the two houses, the Lord makes it abundantly clear that the solidity of the building does not simply depend on an attitude of theological orthodoxy with regard to his words, but on their being put into practice, and that only the person 'who does the will of my Father who is in heaven' would enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21, 24-27).
Now it seems to me undeniable that, at the present moment, the evangelicals, or the evangelical tendency within Christendom - those Christians who constitute, as someone has said, a third force between officially institutionalised liberal Protestantism on the one hand, and the Roman Catholic Church on the other - find themselves at an historic turning-point in their attitude towards the Word of God and are thus confronted by a particularly dangerous situation. Unless a fundamental change occurs, they run the risk of drifting ever further from the truth, and of being carried away by insalubrious currents.
But, as usual, several clear distinctions must be made, for it is obviously unreasonable to tar everyone with the same brush. Let us beware of hasty and unjust generalisations! Many excellent things remain in the evangelical world: believers and churches who remain faithful to the Word and to the Lord; people who discern the present corrupting currents and who have the courage to expose and to denounce them. We must also remember to honour those individuals and organisations who strive actively in defence of the Gospel.
In addition, even among those who have already been touched by these noxious influences, not all have been affected to the same degree, and many still retain the essentials of the Faith.
On the other hand, evangelicalism does not present the same face everywhere. It is thus impossible simply to transpose what occurs in one specific geographical area to another part of the world. It would, for example, be quite wrong (in fact absurd) to apply to the evangelicals of French-speaking Europe, Francis Schaeffer's description and denunciation of the errors of the evangelical and neo-evangelical movement in the United States - strictures contained in his last book. The Great Evangelical Disaster, and written in 1984, the very year of his death. 1
A word of warning
With the above reservations in mind, it is nonetheless necessary to remind ourselves of a number of present realities:·
that today's world is small; that this is all the more so when considering the astonishing constant growth of the planetary media network;
- that whatever happens at one point of the globe has ever more rapid repercussions on the inhabitants of the entire planet;
- that theological fashions and currents, even when they take their origin on the other side of the Atlantic - from whence comes both the best and the worst - always end up by reaching the old continent.
- We have thus become more and more exposed to every new current of thought.
Having taken into account the risk of confusing and levelling the issues, nonetheless I turn again to the fact that the French-speaking evangelical world - this may also apply elsewhere - presents today, on a very large scale, disturbing and dangerous tendencies closely related to its attitude towards the Word of God. I fear that today we are standing at an historic parting of the ways.
In the following pages I hope, with God's help, to express what I have to say without grieving the Holy Spirit, who is 'the Spirit of grace' (Heb. 10:29), whilst at the same time clearly expressing my fundamental reoccupation. In doing so I am seeking to be faithful to both the reality of the present situation and the truth of Scripture, convinced as I am that I speak in the name of truly evangelical, that is biblical, convictions.
But I must add that I express myself also as a member of this very evangelical world - a world from which I have received much. In no way do I forget this. I do not, in a Pharisaic spirit, make the pretence of distancing myself from French-speaking evangelicalism nor of loosening my ties with it. If certain of my remarks are critical, let me immediately add that they are also self-critical. Without placing myself above my brethren, I speak as a grieved but loyal member, in the spirit of Nehemiah:
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven (1:4).
- Equally, my remarks have nothing of a purely academic character. I have been in the field, and all that I say reflects what I have experienced directly, and experience still, as an active participant for more than the past twenty years on the evangelical scene in the French-speaking world and particularly in French-speaking Switzerland. It was only in the autumn of 1991 that I ceased to be on the Council of the FREOE (Swiss Federation of French-speaking Evangelical Churches and Organisations), of which I had been an active member for eight years. I am regularly present at the meetings of the Swiss French-speaking Evangelical Pastoral Conference, of which I am still a member.
With no exaggeration I must say that I consider this to be a solemn hour and that, with others, I have the obligation to raise my voice and, as a faithful watchman, to sound the alarm.
EVANGELICALS CONFRONTED WITH THE INTANGIBILITÉ OF THE WORD OF GOD
The intangibilité2 of the Bible
I come from an evangelical milieu very respectful of the Bible, the very Word of God. As from the first quarter of the twentieth century, this movement was engaged in a frontal attack against whatever discredited the Holy Scriptures : biblical criticism, theological rationalism, neo-modernism (the theory that the Bible is not the Word of God, but contains the Word of God) and, of course, ecumenism in company with various other 'isms'!
Those who first taught me were fully convinced of the sacred character and the formidable majesty of Holy Scripture. For in their minds there was not the slightest doubt or hesitation that what the Bible says. God himself says. They would never have dared to lay a profane hand on the slightest portion of Scripture, and their approach to the biblical text can best be described in terms of the attitude required of Moses before the Theophany of the burning bush:
'Do not come any closer,' God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground' (Exod, 3:5).
- They would use this illustration to define the attitude required of human beings placed before the revelation of Scripture. To injure the Word, whether through doubts, critical questions, mental reservations or innuendos, constituted in their eyes an act of recklessness and rebellion which was profoundly profane and highly culpable.
For them, such was nothing less than apostasy.
Convinced of the intangibilité of the Bible, they fought with the greatest energy anything that would challenge it.
The foundation of the concept of intangibilité
It is evident that this concept is based on the orthodox historical doctrine of the church which affirms the inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures.
For my spiritual teachers this doctrine constituted the very basis of the Christian faith. It was a proposition recognised from the start, a fundamental assumption.
To my knowledge - among those evangelicals in the French-speaking Switzerland which I frequent today and with whom I have had fellowship in the past - one cannot at the present time find a formal, public and open challenge to these doctrines, and even less their direct and explicit negation.
As far as I know, we are not here in the situation described by Francis Schaeffer.3 In his ultimate and most moving testament, he denounces with great courage and much suffering the catastrophic accommodation of an important segment of American evangelicalism to the spirit of this world, to our humanist culture, even on the moral plane. And the starting-point of this declension must be laid at the door of a culpable theological devaluation of the Scriptures: that is, the explicit rejection of their plenary inspiration, their infallibility and their inerrancy by many who still called themselves evangelicals. For Schaeffer, large segments of American evangelicalism have joined the positions defended by the neo-orthodox camp: the Bible can only be believed on the 'religious' level, that is with regard to its message of redemption; but this credibility does not extend to the fields of verifiable scientific and historical facts. Even with regard to ethics, the defenders of this viewpoint do not consider Scripture to proclaim any absolutes which are valid for every epoch and all cultures. In other words, the Bible is considered as incapable of speaking with authority on the sociological level.
With regard to the situation in which evangelicalism in French-speaking Switzerland finds itself today, to me it would appear that things have not yet gone this far. Neither do I consider that we can correctly apply to the local situation the following words Wolfgang Bühne addresses to the German situation in his book La
Troisieme Vague (The Third Wave):
The charismatic movement and, unfortunately, a large segment of the evangelicals, sin by their toleration of a liberal theology critical of the Bible.4
Indirect questioning of the Bible's intangibilité
Allow me here to raise a delicate question. Without explicitly rejecting the historic position of the church on Holy Scripture, and while confessing its plenary inspiration on the doctrinal level, is it not nevertheless possible to subvert it indirectly and implicitly through concessions made in favour of certain interpretations or, more simply, by an indifference which tolerates such interpretations?
Let me give some concrete examples of this particular manner of reading the biblical text:
1) Take, for example, the first three chapters of Genesis where, without denying the historical character of the reported facts, creation and fall, some nevertheless raise doubts as to the historical and literal character of the account itself. Is this subtle distinction not indeed the flaw through which unbelief, like a gnawing worm, can penetrate?
2) Classic biblical passages which define the man-woman relationship in the family and in the church are, in a similar manner, read in such a way as to legitimise a new type of marital relationship as well as the headship of women within the church.5
I refer here also to the more and more frequent adoption, in the making of new translations of the Bible, of a principle called dynamic equivalence, purporting to give a new direction to the translator's methodology.
As R. L. Heldenbrand well explains in his excellent book Christianity and New
the task of the translator is viewed [by this new method] as getting the receptor to respond in the same way in which the people to whom the message was originally addressed responded ... According to Nida - Secretary for Translations of the American Bible Society - who 'forged the expression 'dynamic equivalence' (though the concept is itself much older), earlier translators focused on the form of the message (the words of Scripture); he would have the modern translator focus rather on the receptor instead.6
- As a result:
Nida wants the translator to take more liberty with the text and to tailor it according to receptor response. Since, for example, Muslims are offended by the doctrine of the Trinity, Nida argued that words can only describe God's activity, never his essence.7
Nida even goes so far as to affirm that:
The focus of the biblical revelation is the event. God is revealed as one who acts, speaks and performs miracles, but he does not describe his essence.8
- Such affirmations are, of course, in flagrant opposition to an impressive series of biblical texts revealing to us what God /s, starting off with Exodus 3:14, 'I am who I am'.
For Nida, as a nominalist, words are nothing but symbols, and human symbols at that, mere vehicles for ideas. And he establishes a sharp distinction between the words and the message. What must reach the recipient are the ideas contained in the biblical text.
What one touches here is in fact nothing less than a negation of the inspiration of the Scriptures, even if this negation is not explicitly affirmed. This is inevitable, for the Bible itself presupposes that the words and the message are one, that we cannot treat the words inspired by the Holy Spirit himself irreverently without altering the message itself, indeed without changing the very thought of the Spirit:
This is what we speak [those things God has given us through grace, v.12], not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (1Cor. 2:13).
- The Greek here uses logoi (words) where the French Segond version translates 'speech'. Logos (singular), in John 1:1 and 14, designates the eternal 'Word', the second person of the Trinity. The words expressing the divine truth emanate from the sovereign Spirit himself. This implies that the translator who wants to be faithful to the text has no right to bypass the words of the original Scriptures, nor to treat them superficially.
To touch, to reduce in any way, the integrity of the inspired text in the name of the modern 'communication-god' is to fly in the teeth of oft-repeated divine affirmations and warning (Deut. 4:2,12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; Matt. 5:17-19; Rev. 22:18-19).
Even at the risk of appearing unfashionable and of shocking some of our readers, I believe that the adoption and the application of the principle of dynamic equivalence in the translation of the Bible are attitudes incompatible with the faithfulness and respect we imperatively owe to God.
Another way of denying the inspiration of the Scriptures - if not theologically, then practically - is to apply the method of contextualisation to their study. To put this question briefly, this method consists in adapting the biblical message to the culture or to the spirituality of the persons to whom the new translation is addressed. This is done by introducing, into the biblical message, cultural and religious elements which are characteristic of the social 'context' particular to those we wish to evangelise. These elements are, of course, foreign to the scriptural tradition.
For example, the Fourth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in Uppsala in Sweden in 1968, borrowed important elements in its formulations of policy from Marxist socialism. But one can in the same manner borrow from non-christian religions in order to adapt the Gospel to a particular 'context'. According to an expression typical of ecumenical jargon, authentic contextualisation 'results always in a true meeting between God's word and God's world'. In other words, interaction takes place between the ideologies conveyed by profane society and the biblical message. Such an interaction cannot avoid the effect of profoundly distorting the message of the Gospel itself.
It is one thing to adapt oneself pedagogically to a particular cultural and religious context, as did the apostle Paul in Athens (Acts 17:15-34), in order to reach the hearer in the precise situation in which he finds himself, and thus to lead him to understand the truth of the Bible's total message. It is something altogether different to distort the Word of God and thus to reduce it to the level of the culture to which one addresses oneself.
Ecumenicals, as well as certain evangelicals, bear the responsibility of having exchanged the intangible and immutable biblical message for a 'flexible Word'. Here 'adaptation' bears the meaning of 'treason'. This is nothing other than a blatant denial of the biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, the Bible and the unregenerate culture having been placed on the same level.9
EVANGELICALS CONFRONTED WITH THE SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY OF THE WORD OF GOD
The rule of faith and conduct
The simple fact of raising the following question places us in front of an immense and deeply relevant subject. For those who today continue to call themselves 'evangelicals', do the Scriptures still represent the unique and supreme rule of faith and conduct? Do they still recognise its absolutes? Do they still consider the Scriptures as having juridicial force of law on their every thought, on their whole life, on every aspect of their behaviour? Or do they limit the application of the Word of God to clearly determined areas? Do they seek to turn these absolutes and to relativise them? Do they submit themselves to the authority of the Bible, or do they try to submit Scripture to the whims of their convenience?
This is one of the problems that Schaeffer raised.10 To his great regret he was obliged to arrive at the following conclusions: with regard to abortion, divorce, homosexuality, feminism and radical pacifism, a good many Christians who call themselves evangelicals have simply bent the teachings of the Bible to suit their convenience. In this sense, for them the current humanist culture, the needs of man and man's happiness, have become the measure of all things.
The basic principle undergirding preaching
Our question as to whether the Bible really retains its legitimate authority can also be tackled from another angle. I have in mind a particularly sensitive domain in our evangelical churches here in French-speaking Switzerland. For on this - the nature of the preaching of the Word of God - depends nothing less than the spiritual, moral and intellectual health of our congregations.
For, if it is alas true that one can manipulate the Bible in all that concerns our faith and conduct, the same is equally true with regard to our preaching. And here, whatever such an admission may cost us, we must confess that this evil is by no means of recent origin. For a long time many evangelicals - no doubt with a strong dose of unconscious ingenuousness - have in their preaching ill-used the divinely inspired biblical text. They have often made it say what it does not say at all and thus imposed their own subjective meaning on the Bible, rather than striving to render explicit the true meaning of the Word. On this point I must also confess my own failure. Instead of submitting oneself to the objective truth revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Bible (Calvin calls the study of the Scriptures the 'school of the Holy Spirit') by a prudent, correct and scholarly approach to the text, all too often our evangelical preachers have ignored the text before them, or worse, juggled it away by their superficial, irrespectful and reckless procedures. Now, the preacher has the obligation, out of deference for the One who is the inspirer and author of Scripture, to seek out the real sense of the text and then to explain it faithfully.
Paul insists on such exegetical honesty in some of his exhortations to Timothy:
Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and also correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:14-15; see also 1 Tim 4:13-16).
- Instead of being the servants of Scripture in our sermons, we thus manage to make use of God's Holy Word as a convenient springboard from which, in our preaching, we affirm and teach truths, no doubt of spiritual value, but having very little relation to the text chosen and often being quite unsupported by it.
Causes of these deficiencies in our preaching
This frivolous and more or less irresponsible attitude, even among those who in good faith and without mental reservations confess the plenary inspiration, and thus the intangibilité of the Word of God, has a number of causes, both immediate and distant, individual and collective.
To be fair, one must admit that some of these deficiencies can be largely accounted for by the effects of an all too common pietistic mentality and background. In this tradition one often considers that spiritual attitude and convictions of the heart are of greater importance than adequate intellectual qualifications; that spiritual consecration is more vital than scholarly training. From my own experience I can add that in these circles the fear of a dry-bone intellectualism has often led to an equally dangerous anti-intellectualism.
The responsibility for this state of affairs is thus not simply personal. It has a clearly collective dimension.
This relative weakness of preaching in many evangelical churches has evident repercussions on the life of the community, and the spiritual, intellectual and moral tones which find expression there. All too often such congregations are anaemic, undernourished, and deprived of those solid doctrinal foundations and deep convictions without which the attainment of maturity and discernment are impossible.
It would seem to me that amongst the various causes of this fragility one can signal the following:
1) The absence of a healthy hermeneutic
To obtain powerful preaching it is essential to respect and apply sound principles of interpretation.
My aim here is not the establishing of a list of such principles. But I must draw the reader's attention to the fact that in many evangelical churches we resort too easily to a symbolic or allegoric mode of interpretation, a method which results in the neglect of what is of essential and primary importance: the literal, grammatical and historical meanings of the text. Here the constant danger is to pass by the central element of the passage in question and thus to 'transform the text into a pretext' for developing one's own subjective predilections.
Here one may add that although it is true that Christ is the centre and object of both the New and the Old Testaments, one must necessarily go astray if one seeks at all costs to find him on every page of the Old Testament, even when the interpretative keys and the explicit justification of New Testament texts for such a procedure are totally lacking.
Another danger which threatens a sane interpretation of the Bible is to cut up the text of Scripture into sections, this being justified by attributing a very peculiar meaning to the verb dispense or divide (AV), or handle (NIV), which we find in 2 Timothy 2:15.
Even if one must distinguish between the economy of the law and that of grace (John 1:17), it is vitally important to see very clearly the unity of the two Testaments and the continuity between them, while at the same time recognising that revelation comprises progression. This also implies the necessity of taking into consideration the differences and the distinctions between the Old and the New Covenants.
In his commentary on Romans, John Murray makes this wise remark:
We must not, however, discount the differences created by progressive revelation and the historic events of redemptive accomplishment.11
But the general perspective of Scripture is flawed, and one deprives oneself of great riches, when one cuts up the Bible into dispensational slices.
2) The absence of a rigorous and careful exegesis
Those whose vocation it is to preach the Word of God have, before God, the obligation patiently and honestly to search out the true meaning of the text as well as the precise intention of the author. For this task all the scholarly tools at the disposal of the preacher (dictionaries, commentaries, concordances, grammars, etc) must be used. In this respect one must endeavour, with great care, to discover the true content of the original Greek or Hebrew text and not rest satisfied with the consultation of a single translation. I have, to my shame, discovered that one can develop whole sections of a sermon on the detailed explanation of terms that are simply not to be found in the Hebrew or Greek original!
3) The absence of a systematic exposition of Scripture
Recently, eminent men of God have, both by precept and example, restored to a place of honour the ancient practice of expository preaching. In so doing they have encouraged preachers to return to this ancient discipline. By the expression 'expository preaching' we mean the continuous and persistent exposition of a given section of the Bible (a book, an epistle or a group of chapters such as, for example, the Sermon on the Mount). By the use of this method the preacher constrains himself within the bounds of explaining and of bringing to light the precise content of the biblical text and thus, with the passage of time, of confronting his hearers with the complete content of the Scriptures. No other form of preaching is as effective in shaping the minds of the hearers in conformity with the mould of biblical truth, in destroying erroneous conceptions and false interpretations, and in edifying the church.
Without excluding the practice of thematic preaching, or that of preaching sermons on specific subjects, I am convinced of the excellence of this method of systematic exposition of the biblical text. The health, solidity and maturity of our churches depend on a restoration of such biblical exposition.
Personally, if I had to begin my ministry anew, I would practise this type of preaching far more frequently than I have done in the past.
4) The absence of submission to the principle of the analogy of faith
Commentators disagree as to the meaning of the expression found in Romans 12:6: 'according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion [or the analogy] of faith' (AV) or 'let him use it in proportion to his faith' (NIV). Does the word usually translated by 'analogy' mean 'proportion' (as in the AV, NIV and elsewhere) or 'agreement'? Is 'faith' to be understood in a subjective sense (the faith exercised by the believer, cf.NIV) or objectively (the content of biblical revelation, cf.AV)?
Whatever the exact significance of the expression used in this passage, the meaning given to it in common theological usage is well known. The principle of the 'analogy of the faith' requires that a doctrine, or the interpretation of a specific biblical passage, correspond and agree with the overall teaching of Scripture. If this principle is ignored it will inevitably lead to unbalanced teaching or even to the introduction of erroneous and dangerous teachings. This constant reference to teaching the whole content of Scripture acts as a protection from subjective interpretations and works as a regulative influence.
Wolfgang Bühne, in his book La Troisieme Vague, shows clearly that the teachings of Peter Wagner and John Wimber on signs and miracles, standing as they do in direct opposition to the general witness of the Scriptures, clearly violate the principle of the 'analogy of faith.'12
Confronted with the growing importance given by a great many contemporary evangelicals to emotional and generally subjective phenomena, to experiences and sensations rather than to the granitic and immutable objective truth of the Word of God, one cannot but ask oneself whether preachers will not be more and more tempted to turn away from the sovereign demands of the inspired text. If this development persists we can expect the Bible to be treated in a more and more cavalier manner.
For myself I pray that God grant me the grace to be counted amongst those who tremble 'at the words of the God of Israel' (Ezra 9:4; cf.10:3). I speak here of course of that respect, that fear of God, which manifests itself in a spirit of faith and love.
EVANGELICALS CONFRONTED WITH THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD REVEALED IN HIS HOLY WORD
The example of the apostle
'All the counsel of God' - the expression refers to the preaching and teaching of the apostle Paul in Ephesus, that important city of Asia Minor where for three years he proclaimed the 'gospel of God's grace' (Acts 20:24).
In his farewell discourse to the elders of Ephesus, he insists first on the fact that he had 'not hesitated to preach anything' that 'would be helpful' to them (v. 20), and then formulates the same thought positively: 'For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the Evangelicals and the Word of God whole will of God' (v. 27). The apostle no doubt leaves us an example, but at the same time an implicit warning: Do not keep hidden precious and irreplaceable elements of the revelation of God's redemptive purpose!
In so doing we would deprive precious souls entrusted to our care of spiritual benefits rightly theirs, for all that God has thought fit to reveal to his church is useful to us. By such neglect we sin against them and expose them, through the gaps in our teaching, to certain dangers.
Paul, in all good conscience recalling the famous passage from Ezekiel on the role of the watchman (33:1-11), can declare to those of whom he is taking leave:
I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God (Acts 20:26-27).
o The neglect of certain doctrines concerning our salvation
Let us be frank. A number of perfectly biblical doctrines, which were restored to the attention of the church by the Reformation, now seem to be almost completely ignored by innumerable evangelical Christians, if one is to judge from the fact that these doctrines are almost never mentioned in such circles. They are either thought too difficult or too formidable for simple believers - Calvin himself speaks of those 'timid souls' who fear to hear instruction on such subjects" - or they are considered not to constitute the heart of the Gospel and can therefore be ignored without much harm. Here we do not take into consideration those who reject these doctrines (implicity or explicitly) or who, at the very least, hold them in suspicion.
The cross separated from its redemptive purpose
If it is true that the cross of Jesus Christ, where sin has been atoned for, is the very heart of the Gospel (cf. Rom. 3:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:1-11, etc.), then what we must preach above all is 'Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified'.
Thus the work of the Son of God on Calvary is also and at the same time the point of convergence of the wonderful eternal redemptive plan of God. At that exact point in the time and space of human history, the free and sovereign grace of God for the salvation of sinners was manifested:
Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-10).
- And the Cross, that obligatory historical focus through which must necessarily pass the accomplishment of God's promises and his plan of redemption, always sends us back to this eternal plan.
Therefore it is not possible to preach the message of the Cross faithfully if it is separated from:
1) The absolutely free election, before the very foundation of the world, of those whom God, in his sovereign love and mercy, has determined to save (Eph. 1:3-4; Rom. 8:28-29).
2) The predestination of the elect to adoption in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5,11). This means that God, in his almighty power and wisdom, will infallibly bring us to salvation and confer on us, by pure grace, the status of sons (cf. Gal. 4:3-7).
3) The efficacious calling of his predestined people (Rom. 8:30; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Peter 5:10; Jude 1; Rev. 17:14). The Father, by the irresistible action of his Holy Spirit (which in no way annuls the responsibility of man) attracts us to himself and unites us effectively to his Son (John 6:44; 1 Cor. 1:9).
4) The free justification of sinners in response to faith (Rom. 3:23-24, 28-30; 5:1; 8:30). This means our final and irrevocable acquittal and restoration before God, the Judge, and not anything that takes place in us.
5) The glorification of the people of God with Christ at his return (Rom. 8:17-18, 30; Col. 3:1-4; 2 Thess. 1:9-10). This event implies the following:
§ a) God will complete the sanctification of those who are his (1 John 3:1-3).
o b) God will keep those who belong to him to the end, guaranteeing their eternal security (Rom. 8:31-39). From this comes 'the perseverance of the saints'.
o c) God will accomplish 'the redemption of our body' by the resurrection (Rom. 8:23-25; Phil. 3:20-21).
o In other words, and following J. I. Packer's formulation, we must see the work accomplished at Calvary in the light of the absolute sovereignty of God, the only author of our salvation.
Packer summarises Calvinist theology in the pithy formula 'God saves sinners', and goes on to write:
The force of this affirmation must not in any way be diminished by breaking the unity of the work of the Trinity, or in sharing out the work of our salvation between God and man (the latter would then take the decisive part), or in minimising the total incapacity of the sinner so as to make him share with his Saviour in the glory of his own salvation. The specific aspect of Calvinist soteriology which the Five Points seek to express, and which Arminianism rejects, can be formulated thus: sinners have no way by which to save themselves; their salvation has been, is and, in its totality, will be the work of the Lord, to whom is due all glory for ever. Amen.14
o The negative consequences of the partial proclamation of God's counsel
Can we deny that our churches often suffer from spiritual diseases and give signs of chronic distempers, and that these can be traced to an almost total absence of teaching on the sovereignty of God in general and, more particularly, on the sovereignty of his grace in the salvation of sinners?
How many unstable Christians are woefully ill-founded and are in an almost continual state of spiritual imbalance! If the epistle to the Hebrews tells us that it 'is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace' (13:9), the lack of stability, assurance, balance, spiritual health and solidity amongst us arises precisely from the fact that many have not yet understood that salvation comes entirely from God, from the 'God of all grace', as the apostle Peter calls him (1 Peter 5;10). It is striking that this text, where the sovereignty of God in salvation is so clearly affirmed - 'God ... who called you to his eternal glory in Christ' - declares God to be both the cause and the surety of the accomplishment of that good work begun in us, and that such a totally sovereign God will
make [us] strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:10b-11).
o Thus our spiritual growth is closely related to a clear understanding of God's marvellous grace in Jesus Christ.
From a truncated Gospel to defective evangelism
We are well into the Decade of Evangelism but, as a brother mentioned in a recent sermon, if one wants to evangelise - an activity worthy of praise - one should not go about it by any random method, nor by saying just anything that passes through our minds.
It is manifest that much of contemporary evangelism betrays a singular lack of biblical and theological content. It is inevitable that such a reduction of the message to a bare minimum can do nothing but produce the most disappointing fruits. Logically, half truths - or a truth only partially preached - can never produce anything other than fragmentary results, even if God, in his great mercy, uses this diluted truth to draw souls to Christ. He does so in spite of the serious deficiencies of this type of evangelism.
This does not mean that whenever we evangelise we should present all the doctrines which constitute the full counsel of God in a brutal, inappropriate and abrupt manner. Here wisdom and tact are eminently called for.
Calvin himself, following the example set by Augustine, recommends prudence at this point, for one must take care 'as far as it is possible, neither to scandalise', nor to trouble 'simple believers'. 15
It is indeed true that certain ill-advised preachers, in putting an undue weight on the doctrines of election and predestination, have played down the central proclamation of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which are the immediate objects of our faith, thus causing lasting injury to sensitive souls. I have myself witnessed this on the mission field.
What is essential here is that whoever proclaims the Gospel must place an unmistakable emphasis on the sovereignty of the grace of God in the salvation of sinners, that is, on the fact that God is the author of salvation from beginning to end, from past eternity into future glory.
Thus the sinner learns that he is totally incapable of saving himself or of contributing in any way to his own salvation - in the ironic words of J. I. Packer, 'of helping God save him'. Indeed, because of his total depravity - in the eyes of a totally holy God and before the Law - innate to that sinful nature which he inherited from Adam the rebel, he is radically incapable of the slightest motion in God's direction (cf. Rom.3:9-18). In contrast to Adam before the Fall, he can no longer exercise his free will, for 'everyone who sins is a slave [servant] to sin' (John 8:34; see Rom. 6:16-17, 20; 2 Peter 2:19). He thus cannot of himself, as if such a faculty were inherently his, turn towards his Creator and Redeemer, nor can he 'take a decision for Christ'. The true situation is the very opposite. The lost sinner depends entirely on God for his heart to be effectually and decisively turned so as to repent and believe in Christ for his salvation.
Whilst modern evangelism, with its 'decision mania' (a poor substitute for the biblical concept of 'conversion'), appeals to the will of fallen man as if he were free, the Bible shows man that he is dead in his offences and in his sins, and that it belongs to God alone to impart repentance and faith to him through his sovereign grace. This does not exclude the personal responsibility of the sinner to repent and believe.
It is no accident if the apostle, in his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus, mentions grace twice (vv. 24 and 32), together with the proclamation of 'the whole counsel of God', for it is that grace which alone saves. Nor is it surprising that he should name, as an inherent element of his preaching, repentance towards God (v. 21), a doctrine today so often ignored. Nor that he should link repentance to 'faith in our Lord Jesus' (v. 21), showing thereby that there can be no genuine faith without repentance. Nor again that he should designate Jesus Christ as 'our Lord', whilst many today tend to bring him down to the exclusive role of Saviour.
In addition, the centrality of the atoning work of the Cross and its effectiveness take a decisive place:
Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
o As J. I. Packer puts it well:
Christ has not gained a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, simply a possibility of salvation for those who would eventually believe: he has obtained an effective salvation for the people he has chosen.16
o When that grace which saves from A to Z once again is proclaimed, then we shall see true, solid and lasting conversions - and fewer limping Christians in our churches!
EVANGELICALS CONFRONTED WITH THE ENTIRE SUFFICIENCY OF THE WORD OF GOD
A significant slipping away
We touch here on a particularly troubling aspect of the present evangelical drift. Indeed, to give the impression that in Scripture we do not possess that 'treasure' of which the author of Psalm 119 speaks with such warmth, a treasure which affords us everything we need, is to stand in clear opposition to a threefold witness:
1) First, the witness of the Scriptures themselves (2 Tim. 3:16-17). For the entire sufficiency of the Bible (vv. 16b-17) flows from its plenary inspiration (v. 16a).
2) Then, the witness of the universal church:
And inasmuch as it is the rule of all truth containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation, it is not lawful for men, nor even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it.17
o The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.18
o 3) Finally, the witness of believers, founded on the Word and also nourished by that Word in all epochs.
As I have referred to the author of Psalm 119, let us heed his witness:
To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless (v. 96).
o Grievous observations
The present attitude, so widespread in the evangelical world, constitutes in itself at least an implicit negation of the all-sufficiency of Scripture. Sometimes this implicit negation becomes both explicit and formal.
This can be observed in a number of fields:
I will further develop here what I said on this subject earlier. Even if the Word - God be praised! - still plays a certain role in contemporary evangelism to different degrees, its full sufficiency is practically denied by all those additional things which those who evangelise deem fit to put alongside the preaching of God's Word.
Inhibited, soaked up in contemporary culture and totally dominated by it - when we should be governed by the Word of God - Christians no longer put their trust exclusively in the work of that living and permanent Word of God to accomplish efficaciously, today as it did yesterday, God's saving purposes in human hearts.
The human means so commonly adopted to further the task of evangelism all too well show that those who use them seek the efficiency of their action elsewhere than in the only truly divine weapon they possess, 'the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God' (Eph. 6:17). Paul, who refuses to separate the Word from the Spirit, adds in the same passage:
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (vv.19-20).
o The apostle was exclusively concerned to make known, through his preaching and with an assurance coming from God, nothing more or nothing less than the truth revealed from above regarding salvation.
It would in fact seem that today many evangelicals, instead of counting on the all-sufficiency of the Word of God - that incorruptible seed which acts so mysteriously, efficaciously and supernaturally in human hearts (see 1 Peter 1: 22-25) - have withdrawn their trust from the Word and placed it in those media techniques they have been at such pains to concoct. As if the Word of God needed the assistance of the audio-visual media, including stars of music and dance, to find its way into the conscience of its hearers!
All this, with its sketches, its mime, its clowns and the rest, is but a bushel cast on 'a light shining in a dark place' (see 2 Peter 1:19). The light of the Word is thus snuffed out.
In addition, such evangelical shows constitute nothing less than the most blatant psychological manipulation, totally unworthy of those who, more than anyone else, should manifest a real respect for other human beings made in the image of God. We have no right to force such psychological pressure on our neighbours and thus manipulate them.
Paul in Corinth, in spite of all he knew of the local culture where philosophy and human eloquence were so admired, flatly refused to have recourse to what I must call human contrivances: that is, to use means adapted to, and accessible to, purely human calculations. Being himself personally in a state of great weakness, he put his entire trust in the all-sufficiency of the biblical message, that of the Cross, to which the Holy Spirit will always bear witness (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
Faith founded on show-business techniques will inevitably collapse. Only that which rests on the Word and on the power of God will endure. This is our only sufficient foundation.
Up to this point I have limited my analysis to facts corresponding to an implicit negation of the all-sufficiency of God's Word. Let us now take one step forward. In that movement known as 'Third Wave', dating from the early eighties, this all-sufficiency of Scripture is explicitly, openly and theologically rejected.
This problem concerns us directly here on the continent of Europe, since the misguided evangelical leaders at the head of this movement regularly hold their seminars in Switzerland and France and seek thus to rally the 'conservative' wing of our pluralist churches.
The widespread rejection in the evangelical world of the principle dear to the Reformation, sola Scriptura - with its corollary of the entire sufficiency of Scripture - constitutes an historic step on the road to apostasy.
The Bible itself affirms the full efficacy of the Word, written or preached, to convince and to save sinners (see John 5:24, 17:6-8, 20; 20:30-31; Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:17-18, 22-25; Eph. 1:13; James 1:18,21). The book of Acts constantly repeats the phrase 'but the word of God continued to increase and spread' (6:7; 12:24; 19:20), one of these texts adding 'and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith'. By contrast, the promoters of the 'Third Wave' affirm that the preached message is not in itself sufficient. In fact, for them, the message which convinces, which triumphs over opposition, is the manifestation of miraculous power. They even go so far as to give it a pre-eminent position over the Word of God - this in direct opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture, in particular that expressed by such texts as Luke 16:29-31 and John 12:37-38 - declaring that the resistance of the sinner to the Gospel can only be shaken by a 'power encounter', a visible and tangible demonstration of supernatural power.
In this they forget two things:
First, that the generation contemporaneous with Christ had its fill of tangible and visible demonstrations of supernatural power and was in no way converted, but rather hardened, ccording to the text from John 12.
o Secondly, that true converting supernatural power resides in that very Word faithfully preached, the Word to which the Holy Spirit always gives witness.
o This 'demonstration of the Spirit's power' to which Paul refers (in 1 Cor. 2:4) is not, as they think, outside his preached message, nor 'beside it' -for example in the signs, the wonders and the miracles which confirm his apostleship (see 1 Cor. 9:12) - but in the message itself. This is the only interpretation in harmony with the earlier chapter on the preaching of the Cross, where the latter is contrasted and opposed to the Jewish search for miracles and the Greek aspiration to human wisdom (see 1 Cor. 1:17-25).
2) The life of the church
One cannot fail to observe that, in many evangelical churches, more and more frequently the Word of God no longer finds its place at the centre of the service or of the congregation's worship. This fact is of vital importance, even if we recognise that it is legitimate to allow for a certain variety in the style and form of divine service.
The open Bible placed in such prominent view in classical Protestant churches showed clearly the importance that was given to the Word taught and preached to the assembled congregation. The 'main dish' was undoubtedly the sermon delivered to edify believers in the truth which saves.
Today the sermon all too often has a light and anecdotal character and is made up of a string of unconnected thoughts and applications generally unrelated to a true exposition of the text. The dethroned sermon is thus transformed into an 'appetiser' served before the 'main dishes', which are prayer, witnessing, and sharing of experiences. All this is frequently drowned in a flood of music, not always sacred, and by songs seldom capable of drawing the soul to God and preparing it for the serious and meditative hearing of God's Word.
To all this motley fare must be added an inflated dose of rather sentimental and superficial 'praise and worship', which a teacher in one Bible Institute has defined as 'a gluttonous enzyme', and which eats up much of the service.
All these practices fall short of the divine model for worship as it is defined in Colossians 3:16,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
o This text shows us a number of things:
· the central place given to the Word of God;
o the riches it contains and its predominating influence in the life of the Church;
o the fact that every element of the service is related to this Word, the praise and the worship flowing from the revelation, in the hearts of the believers, of the wonderful grace of God manifested in Christ.
o In certain circles today the Word of God is reduced to a point where 'prophecy' or 'a word given under immediate inspiration' is considered as an 'actualisation and a concrete manifestation of what one can find in God's Word'. 19
Where in all this do we find the indispensable mediation of Scripture?
During the Nuremburg Congress on the Revival and the Edification of the Church (7-10 November 1991), attended by Peter Wagner, some went so far as to say that 'the prophetic word expressed by the mouth of a living person was of greater pertinence than the written word itself'. 20
The evangelical world is literally flooded by a groundwave of ostensibly 'Christian' psychological publications. This literature treats psychological trauma and inner healing and uses the concepts, terminology and recipes of humanist psychology to analyse, describe and attempt to treat the disorders of the human soul.
Fortunately in the past few years a healthy reaction has set in, but it is in general forgotten that counselling should be theocentric and not centred on man, for it is God who created us and who knows each one of us perfectly, this knowledge being a manifestation of his omniscience:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise ... you discern my going out... you are familiar with all my ways ... such knowledge is too wonderful for me ... where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psa. 139:1-7; cf Jer. 17:9-10).
§ Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psa. 139:23-24).
§ David, as an excellent theologian in his understanding of God's omniscience and omnipresence, was - with regard to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy - far in advance of our disorientated Christians at the end of the twentieth century!
We also forget that Scripture, in a very condensed passage within the epistle to the Hebrews, indissolubly links God - who knows us in the most hidden corners of our being and in all its depth, to the extent that 'everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account' - with his Word. For the Word of God is capable of searching out our most secret retreats and our most subtle evasions. The Word of God, being living and active, is able to judge and to discern the thoughts of our hearts and our very intentions (see Heb. 4:12-13).
Counselling is effective when practised in the light of, and within the limits imposed by, biblical revelation. The light of the Word and the scalpel of divine truth are the tools we need in this delicate work. The truth which injures has also in its power the ability to heal, for it proceeds from the one who has declared: 'For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal' (Job 5:18).
In this area also, the scene today of such exploitation and abuse, the Word of God is sufficient to deliver - by itself, and alone (see John 8:32,36).
4) The Christian life
That hymn to the Word of God, which in its entirety composes the longest psalm of the Bible (Psa. 119), expresses with great eloquence the conviction and the perfect contentment of a believer for whom only one source of revelation exists (see Psa. 119:18, 97-105, 130, 160). We here find expressed the piety of a saint of the Old Covenant which should put to shame many so-called 'evangelicals', who are in possession of both Testaments, and who are nevertheless not content with such an extraordinary gift!
Indeed the spiritual aberration of some goes so far as to allow the existence of another source of revelation alongside of Scripture.
Peter Wagner, for example, recognises two sources of revelation, 'that is to say the Bible and Christian experience'. This, of course, opens the way for new, extra-biblical revelations. He admits, however, 'that all new revelations should be examined in the light of the Word of God, for the Bible remains the supreme reference'. 21
As for John Wimber, according to the analysis of W. Bühne and in the absence of further information, 'he pretends that the Bible by itself is incapable of protecting us from the power of Satan, for he could then distort our understanding of the Scriptures.' 22 Wimber thus dissociates the believer's faithful walk with the Lord from his attachment to the Bible! On the one hand he insists on the importance of personal fellowship with Christ, but at the same time goes on to teach that this fellowship proceeds from the action of the Holy Spirit, and this independently from the Bible.
According to Wimber, our intimate relation with Jesus is not something which God accomplishes in us when we turn to Christ; neither can fellowship with the Lord (still according to Wimber) take firm root and become deeper simply by regular contact with Scripture. Rather, for him it would seem to be a relationship which grows and takes nourishment from new revelations of God. Wimber teaches that we should pray to have greater passion for Jesus and learn to listen to his voice at all times.23
Here is the verdict of Wolfgang Bühne, a verdict to which I subscribe without the slightest reservation:
The leaders of this movement become false prophets when they affirm that an intimate relationship can be established with Jesus in consequence of 'new revelations' and inspirations from the Holy Spirit given independently of the Word of God. This doctrine leads to a sliding away from the 'Jesus of history and of the Cross', to a 'Jesus of our intuition'; in addition, it leads us to base our spiritual life on the moving sands of our changing moods.
§ In affirming this we are in no way exaggerating. In fact, though John Wimber and his collaborators do read the Bible, their subjective experiences (and not objective thinking) nevertheless play the decisive role in their interpretation of Scripture.
§ The way is thus open for man to shape God in his own image, for the inner voice is a terribly dangerous counsellor. Even Jack Deere, a close collaborator of Wimber, insists on the fact that 'the inner voice' could well be inspired by Satan, by some other person or could simply arise out of our own thoughts.24
§ The idea of a second source of revelation alongside the Bible not only, as Bühne indicates, 'opens the way to Satanic doctrines and practices'25 - no matter whether that second source be tradition or our experience - but, in addition, it clearly falls under the anathemas of Scripture (Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19).
This notion explicitly contradicts what God, who cannot lie, has explicitly and solemnly affirmed, to wit, that in the Old and the New Testaments we have all that he has decided to reveal to us and all that we need. In other words we have here the denial of the unique, complete, finished and all-sufficient character of 'the faith that was once entrusted to the saints' (Jude 3).
EVANGELICALS CONFRONTED WITH THE IMPERATIVE OF OBEDIENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD
I borrow this sub-title from the second chapter of Francis Schaeffer's last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster.
To illustrate his meaning the author takes an example from nature, the watershed. He shows that the Rhone and Rhine rivers take their source in the same mountain range, very close to one another. Nevertheless, in spite of their initial proximity, these rivers finish off in diametrically opposite directions, the one in the Mediterranean, the other in the North Sea.
It goes likewise with our evangelicals. These at first can appear to be very close to one another, without perceptible differences. They can nevertheless discover themselves one day to be at completely opposite poles spiritually.
For Schaeffer, in the final resort the watershed or boundary line is nothing less than the simple principle of obedience, and that at every level, to the Word of God. Where disobedience comes into play, however minor it may seem at first, it will in the long run inevitably lead to dramatic deviations.
The inescapable implications of the truth
The unreserved theological confession of the plenary inspiration, sovereign authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture must necessarily lead, according to 'the logic of obedience', to taking a clear stand on specific issues. This is what occurred with regard to Luther, Calvin, and many others. Their theology did not float in a 'platonic' stratosphere and they themselves refused to remain purely 'irenical'. They entered the fray; they engaged battle. Otherwise there would never have been a Reformation.
Long before our Reformers, however, the apostle Paul had given us the example. Confronted with the errors of Judaism and of Christian Judaisers, he descended into the arena:
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved' This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them (Acts 15:1-2).
§ In the epistle to the Galatians, referring to the very same heresy and to the same heretics, he calls them
false brothers [who] had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves,
§ and adds:
We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you (Gal. 2:4-5).
§ The obligation to defend, maintain and apply the truth led Paul to take a vigorous stand and thus to reject the diktat of the Judaisers. This same obligation forced him to resist Peter, his elder as an apostle, and to rebuke him publicly (see Gal. 2:11-14).
In both cases a confrontation took place. Paul was motivated by the obligation of maintaining the totality of divine truth, not only in its theological aspect but also in its practical and ecclesiastical applications.
It is of vital importance that both individual believers, and the church as a body, walk 'in line with the truth of the gospel'. For we must recognise that the orthodoxy of a Christian walk, the Christian's obedience, is as vital as that of his confession of the truth (see Gal. 2:14).
To choose the path of silence, of neutrality, of a conciliatory attitude and, in the final reckoning, that of compromise, is nothing less than outright disobedience to biblical truth It is to withdraw ourselves from those sovereign rights which biblical truth must exercise over the conscience of the Christian.
Polemics can indeed sometimes be a 'work of the flesh', but the seeking after peace at all costs, even at the expense of what God has revealed once for all, is no less so!
We must remember our lord's declaration: 'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword' (Matt. 10:34).
This in no way contradicts the Gospel of reconciliation, of peace with God and with our neighbour through the work of the Cross (see 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-18; Col. 1: 19-20).
The immediate context of Matthew 10:34 speaks of the public confession of our faith, of our witness to Christ (vv. 32 and 33). We know that this witness, when it is faithful, provokes contradiction (Luke 2:34) and may bring division where it is most painful, within the family itself (Matt. 10:35-39). This division, this contradiction, manifests itself even in the church, particularly in a time of apostasy.
Of course, such a stand in favour of the truth can be very costly. We risk the loss of our personal comfort, our popularity, and often our friendships. But do we wish to preserve all these by paying the price of cowardice and culpable indolence? Compromise in the long term is always more costly than faithfulness, and in addition it is contemptible.
I would here recall Churchill's bitter reproach to the politicians who had capitulated before Hitler at Munich in 1938:
You have attempted to save the peace at the price of dishonour You have the dishonour, and in any case you will have war.
§ I regret to say that, to a great extent, cowardice reigns in evangelical circles as if there no longer existed any fundamental convictions to defend. And silence also, a shameful silence, is the natural accomplice to the spiritual treason that is now being perpetrated.
Evoking the neo-orthodox infiltration amongst American evangelical churches, Schaeffer could not but deplore the silence of the leaders and their passivity at a moment when they should have been mobilised in defence of the Scriptures and of the truth, and remarked that there were only
a few lone voices. There was a great, vast silence,26
§ Likewise, in relation to the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, formally set up on 16 May 1977 in Chicago, he points out that it
still did not have the backing of most of the evangelical leadership, and that there was no rush of the evangelical leaders to this cause.27
§ Loyalty to Christ, the Lord of the church
Obedience to Scripture goes hand in hand with a total faithfulness towards the person of Jesus Christ in response to that complete submission to the Word of God he himself manifested in every circumstance (see Matt. 5:17-18; 26:56; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 10:35).
In evangelical circles much is said about our love towards our beloved Saviour, but mention is hardly ever made of our loyalty to his person, the Lord and the husband of the church. And yet, in any marriage, loyalty is the first aspect of conjugal love! Protestations of love deprived of loyalty are of no value. How can an unfaithful woman protest her love for her husband?
In these evangelical circles one finds a profusion of expressions of 'love for the brethren'. But, may we ask, is this 'brotherly love' that biblical love manifested in the truth so extolled by John (see 2 John 1 and 2, 3 John 1), or that love bound to the confession of the truth of which Paul speaks (see Eph. 4:15) - love that can sometimes lead us to differ from our brothers, and sometimes even to oppose them?
Without indulging in an excessive severity, I think we must confess that in many cases we have to do with a complacent love and a false tolerance - weak, soft, sentimental and unspiritual love which leads to compromise, to misalliances, to surrenders, to betrayals.
But the Bible speaks categorically of loyalty towards Christ and towards the Gospel, and this precisely in a passage where our Lord is designated as the divine husband of the church:
I hope that you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
§ The 'devotion to Christ' (end of verse 3) designates a sincere, faithful attachment, the very opposite of that disloyalty of which Eve rendered herself guilty - under the perfidious insinuations of Satan - towards the Creator and Sovereign God.
This warning is placed in a context which speaks of another gospel, another spirit and another Jesus, and of the presence and the action of the serpent as seducer acting through his instruments: 'false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ'(v. 13).
The consequence of such continual flirting with error, of tolerating and keeping fellowship with those who propagate it and who are its leaders and spokesmen, is that one runs the risk of falling into what the Old Testament calls spiritual adultery and prostitution and thus of betraying our divine husband, Jesus Christ (see Jer. 3:6-10; Hosea 2:4; 4:12-13). If we thus cultivate a spirit of compromise and toleration of error and evil amongst us, what will then become of the biblical principle of the purity of the church (see 2 Cor. 11:2)?
This was the poignant theme treated by Francis Schaeffer in 1972 in his book The Church Before the Watching World.28
The risk of an historical compromise with the ecumenical movement in the name of evangelisation
As it did at Munich in 1938, compromise can today dress up in order to seduce us better.
Today it could well be - and this is indeed a paradox - that in the name of evangelisation - the only common denominator - many evangelicals are prepared to sacrifice the biblical Gospel for 'a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all (see Gal. 1:6-7).
Such an affirmation is not pure speculation - far from it. In 1986 in Amsterdam, Billy Graham, in answer to a question about his collaboration with Roman Catholics and other non-evangelical partners in an ecumenical ministry of evangelism, had this to say:
Evangelism is about the only word on which we can unite ... Our methods differ and there are even sometimes debates as to the message itself, but none disputes the fact that we must evangelise. I think that we have here an ecumenical spirit that can be experienced under no other banner.29
§ To evangelise together, even when there exists a 'debate as to the message' (and therefore the doctrinal content of what is to be preached!), is on the one hand the height of absurdity and on the other hand the giving of a false impression of a unity which simply does not exist.
Furthermore, this desire to evangelise in common will inevitably bring about a betrayal of the very message we intended to proclaim, for the content of this message will now have to be acceptable to all. Certain doctrines which form an integral part of the biblical Gospel will thus be set aside. For example, so as not to shock Roman Catholics one will be forced to avoid speaking of 'salvation by faith alone, without works, sacraments and human merits'. 30
Surely it is disturbing to find an American Roman Catholic priest making the following evaluation:
As regards to the specific dogmatic content of Mr Graham's sermons one can find nothing in them that would put a Roman Catholic ill at ease or arouse his suspicions.31
§ Let us leave the American scene and return to the European continent so as to take careful note of a number of landmarks in the progressive march of evangelicalism towards historic compromise with ecumenism.
The Protestant forums
For a number of years evangelicals here in Switzerland have been little inclined to take up a clear and sharp stand with regard to liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, or the charismatic movement. They have now entered into a perilous dialogue with the ecumenical movement. This ecumenical dialogue is supposed to lead to 'common action' precisely in the field of evangelism.
On the initiative of the State Churches, whose official Protestantism is both ecumenical and pluralist (different theologies of very varied faithfulness to the Bible are tolerated, whilst an exclusive faithfulness to Scripture is intolerable!), two forums were held in Berne in 1988 and 1990 on the theme 'Switzerland, a Mission Field'.
The participants included, together with the National Protestant Church and Swiss Biblical Society (an ecumenical organisation), various representatives of the evangelical world, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, the FREOE (an association of French-speaking Evangelical Churches and Organisations) and its German-speaking counterpart, the VFG, as well as Campus Crusade for Christ.
The recent initiative of our official Protestantism seems to indicate a change in its attitude towards evangelicalism, until then somewhat disdained.
This sudden interest and sympathy is something new and we are justified in enquiring as to its motives. Is official Protestantism (I am speaking here of the ecclesiastical system) undergoing a profound transformation? Is it willing to be judged by that Word of God, the Word on which it has itself for so long sat in judgement - passing the Word of God through the critical faculty of man's fallen reason? Is our official Protestantism in the process of readjusting its doctrinal positions and thus moving closer to 'evangelical theology'? If this were the case I would be the first to shout 'Hallelujah'.
Present personally in an individual capacity at the last of these forums, unfortunately I must confess that what I saw and heard gave me no reason to believe in any kind of genuine change. I was able to observe at first hand an appalling theological cacophony, as well as the almost total absence of any kind of doctrinal consensus.
In spite of this complete absence of true unity, the call to pray together, to work together, to evangelise together, recurred constantly as a leitmotif. Most of the evangelicals present - with a few rare and honourable exceptions - gave the lamentable impression of constituting an amorphous mass, a herd passively following the current.
On the individual level there can be no doubt that many Protestants in the State Churches are particularly preoccupied by the present state of our society, the ravages caused by the dechristianisation of our nation, and the numerical decline of their churches. These individuals are no doubt sincerely concerned by the need to evangelise, to bring the Gospel to our largely paganised society.
However, I fear that, for the Protestant ecclesiastical hierarchy, the theme of a 'common evangelisation' merely serves their long-term strategy, which aims at circumventing the evangelical churches and thus gradually drawing evangelicals ever deeper into the ecumenical fold.
As to the proposition of establishing a collaboration between pluralist Protestants and biblical evangelicals, this rests on the deceptive argument based on a misreading of John 17, according to which the mission of the church is inseparable from the unity of the church. Hence the slogan: 'We must unite in order to evangelise'.
However, on the ecumenical side one never sees the need, or even an attempt to define, by a serious exegesis of John 17,
· who are genuine members of the church;
§ what constitutes the unity of the church; and
§ on what base such unity must rest.
§ After mature reflection I must say that what we have here is nothing less than a shameful and dishonest exploitation of John 17 - and also of plain human stupidity. This ecumenical practice is nothing other than pure pragmatism.
A common document published by representatives of Reformed and evangelical communities in the Vaud Canton in Switzerland
This document was written for the group called COREAME - Committee for Relations with the Evangelical Movement - composed of pastors and laymen from the official Protestant State Church in collaboration with evangelical leaders in the Vaud Canton, the latter including pentecostals, Scripture Union, and representatives of various evangelical churches in French-speaking Switzerland. These churches were represented by two influential leaders, one being a member of the Council of the FREOE.
Others who took part in the formulation of this document include leaders of the Evangelical Apostolic Church (one being the president of the FREOE since November 1992), two representatives of Youth with a Mission, and finally the present director of the local Emmaus Evangelical Bible School. All of these shared in a working session of the committee.
1) As with the forums mentioned above, the members of the liberal and pluralistic State Protestant Church took a leading part in the writing of this document.
2) The document is an ingenious synthesis of points of convergence and disagreement. No antithesis is present. On every point the effort is made to underline the biblical justification for all the positions defended, and for the theological and spiritual complementarity of the different points of view presented.
Thus the impression is given that no unbridgeable gap exists between differing positions and that, in the last resort, a merger is not only possible but highly desirable.
3) Nowhere in this document is the Bible designated as the written, divinely inspired Word of God, the only revealed document where God speaks. We find one brief allusion to 'inspired texts' without any qualification as to the nature of this inspiration.32
We also find the following ambiguous definition (which reeks of casuistry):
We together recognise that the Bible is the chief location where God speaks to us.33
§ the word 'chief implying that God speaks to us elsewhere than in the Bible.
4) The Bible is nowhere spoken of as constituting the only and sovereign authority in matters of faith and conduct, and thus the only decisive reference in cases of disagreement.
5) Neither is faithfulness to Scripture ever mentioned as the touchstone of true piety and the indispensable condition of unity.
All these difficulties are skilfully evaded and removed by the following affirmation, which can easily deceive the unwary reader:
We recognise one another as comprising communities which together share the common heritage of the great movement of the Reformation and have the same will to be faithful to the free and liberating love of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as revealed by the Bible.34
6) The ecumenical and syncretistic theology and ideology appear here and there with considerable clarity:
Many Reformed people, because of their particular relation to the world (openness and contact) and their conception of the church (refusing confessional membership and church discipline) and their understanding of the Gospel (grace precedes faith), are open to the recognition of the action of the Holy Spirit already at work in the world (the positive elements present in current society and culture and even in non-christian religions).
Evangelisation in this perspective consists in the germinating of a salvation already sown (particularly in baptism) and in rendering manifest the Christ of the Gospel already implicitly present in the lives of the preacher's interlocutors.35
Mention is also made of 'traces of the light of Christ outside the church'. 36
7) Traces of universalism under the name of 'inclusive ... soteriology' are also evident in this document.
In conclusion, the fact that 'evangelicals' can have shared in the writing of this document and have approved its contents is an iniquity.37 Such action goes clearly against the commandment we find in Ephesians 5:10-11,
Find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
But such a collaboration is also the dramatic sign of a staggering step taken in the direction of the abandonment of biblical faith.
World conferences on mission and evangelisation
At short intervals in 1989 two important conferences were organised on the theme 'Evangelisation and Mission', one from an ecumenical perspective (San Antonio), the other from an evangelical viewpoint (Manilla). These two conferences were of strategic importance.
Such events, even if they take place far from Europe, nevertheless have decisive effects on the lives of our local communities and thus concern us directly, both on the personal level and in the public battle in which we are engaged in the defence of the Faith. In fact, in a world like ours, geographic distance is no longer of very great importance.
Proof of this is to be found in the fact that, during the Protestant forum held in Berne in November 1990, a session was organised to discuss the meetings held in San Antonio and Manilla. The local implications and effects of such international conferences are thus evident.
1) San Antonio
Let me first make a few remarks about the official report on San Antonio approved by the Reformed Church of France. I draw your attention essentially to the following three predominant orientations:
a) The striking opening up of the Christian faith to include non-christian spiritualities and members of other religions. This is of decisive importance, even if the report speaks of 'the redemptive Lordship of Christ', of the 'decisive presence of God in Christ', and of the fact that 'our salvation is in him'. 38
b) The clear and omnipresent influence of liberation theology. The concept of socio-political 'struggle' appears constantly in this report, and this without in any way excluding the possible recourse to violent action. I quote:
The revolt of those who take a stand against injustice is nothing less than a manifestation of the creative power of God in favour of human beings and indeed of the whole world ...39
§ This suffering and this struggle find their expression in non-violent actions as well as in armed
§ struggles wherever all forms of non-violent resistance have been attempted and repressed, or
§ in some other form of confrontation determined by specific circumstances.40
§ The church should speak publicly of the struggles and of the sufferings of all those who, in different ways, resist injustice and take on the battle for the triumph of justice; she should also directly participate in such struggles.41
§ c) The absolute necessity of unity between all Christians and the reinforcement of already existing bonds, as well as an active engagement in the ecumenical movement:
Foreign missions rest on two essential principles: the promotion of unity amongst all Christians and the strengthening of the bonds between communities on the local level.
§ The engagement in the ecumenical movement is an absolute necessity.
§ What we call for is a great variety of experiences which would strive to put into practice these directing principles and would thus reinforce ecumenical action at all levels: local, national and international.42
§ Our naïve evangelicals must come, once and for all, to understand the following facts: ecumenical overtures and proposals of collaboration have nothing to do with the impulses of spontaneous goodwill. They follow the 'directing principles' carefully elaborated in high places; they are concerted and well planned. If our evangelicals have no idea where they are going, so much cannot be said of the ecumenicals. They follow a clearly defined policy and are perfectly aware of what they are doing.
This danger is all the more real in consequence of the fact that a certain number of evangelicals have already been won over, if not to the ecumenical theses, at the very least to a policy of collaboration with the ecumenical movement. Thus, to close our remarks on San Antonio, the review Hokhma reveals the following:
Let us signal the presence at San Antonio of an important number of 'evangelicals' and that 149 of their number signed a letter inviting the participants of the Manilla Conference to a more open spirit of collaboration.43
§ After this, how can one be surprised that the organisers of the San Antonio conference should express the wish that in future there be not two but only one World Congress on Mission and Evangelisation. They thus evoke the perspective of a junction between the ecumenical and evangelical movements on this ground:
Considering the fact that two world conferences on mission are meeting separately this year in San Antonio and Manilla, we ask the CME [Commission for Mission and Evangelisation] of the WCC and all the churches and organisations represented at the conference to work in future towards the organisation of a common conference.44
§ This plausible but odious perspective was also hopefully acclaimed by the Swiss Federation of Reformed Churches in their most recent forum.
The Second International Congress for World Evangelisation, held in Manilla, was in the direct line and constituted a prolongation of that convened in Lausanne in 1974 by Billy Graham. That is why it has come to be called Lausanne 2.
It had as its theme 'To proclaim Christ until he come: an appeal to the whole church to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world'.
a) The Lausanne Declaration and the Manilla Manifesto
Lausanne 1 became widely known as a result of its final document, the Lausanne Declaration. This text - John Stott played a major role in its formulation - became something of a doctrinal model and a rallying-point for a great number of evangelicals.
Manilla, or Lausanne 2,45 fifteen years later gathered together its affirmations in a Manifesto which undoubtedly contains some excellent things.
For example, the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ - the only way by which to come to the Father - is strongly reaffirmed, thus putting up a barrier on the wide road leading towards syncretism. But when the Manilla Manifesto is compared with the Lausanne Declaration, a number of things can be observed:
· On the one hand, we find in the Manilla Manifesto (which for convenience we will call Lausanne 2) a stronger emphasis on the social and political implications of the Gospel, with a marked accentuation of the problems of the poor and the oppressed, of oppression and injustice, etc.
§ This new emphasis would not appear to be simply a consequence of Lausanne 2 being organised in a developing country. Evangelicals, associating and having fellowship with the advocates of the ecumenical movement, as they do, inevitably adopt certain aspects of their theology.
On the other hand, in Lausanne 2 we find something radically new: a noticeable reference to the supernatural, to the power of the Holy Spirit in the peculiar sense of the manifestation of signs and wonders. This goes to show that the charismatic 'lobby' had considerable pull in the formulation of the Manilla Manifesto.
§ b) The spiritual event specific to Manilla
This latter point corresponds exactly to the decisive historic fact which characterised the conference itself: the fusion in the Lausanne Movement of traditional evangelicals with charismatics. The latter achieved a spectacular breakthrough in Manilla, ceasing to hold the marginal position which up till then had been theirs. Here again classical evangelicals have fallen into a compromise which will leave its mark on the future.
This is the name for the campaign launched by the Redemptorist priest Tom Forrest (USA), with the official support of Pope John-Paul II. Its purpose is to 'prepare, for the 2000th anniversary of Jesus Christ, a world largely evangelised.' But it also has a further aim: to offer to Christ the gift of a more united Christendom. Important efforts are developed in this direction.
Young Roman Catholics are trained in evangelisation techniques by Youth with a Mission.46
According to Wolfgang Bühne, Thomas Wang, former director of the Lausanne movement, together with other well-known evangelicals, has undertaken a similar effort under the title 'AD 2000'.
To return to the Roman Catholic initiative, we must add that John Wimber - and with him the whole Third Wave movement of signs and wonders - supports the Evangelisation 2000 campaign. Wimber has no hesitation in calling the Pope's initiative in making the last decade of the century the 'decade of evangelism', one of the greatest things accomplished in the history of the church'. 47
This decade of evangelism is the pretext for more and more pressing calls for Christian unity, with the result that evangelicals are now encircled by the pincer movement of Protestant ecumenism soliciting their collaboration on the one hand, and Roman Catholic ecumenism militating for the same cause, on the other. Billy Graham's recent campaign aimed at the whole of Europe, from the German town of Essen, served as a catalyst to promote common action embracing Protestants, evangelicals, charismatics and Roman Catholics.
In such 'unnatural' fraternisation, where do we find a place for respecting the practical implications of the truth of the Gospel? The doctrinal boundary lines are simply trodden under foot.
The snare of illicit dialogue
It is clear that every form of dialogue is not wrong. Inasmuch as one remains firmly established on the foundation of the Word of God without ever abandoning this position, and constantly refuses any other common ground, dialogue is perfectly permissible and can be of great use. If we observe this elementary rule, our adversary must inevitably give way.
The most striking example of this fact is to be found in the temptation of our Lord in the desert. In the confrontation between the Lord Jesus Christ (entirely under the control of the Holy Spirit and in line with his Father's will) and the devil, the latter was vanquished, disarmed, put to flight, by the 'it is written' of God's Word (Matt. 4:1-11). Do we not read in verse 11: 'Then the devil left him'? He departs, defeated!
But there exists another very different kind of dialogue - disastrous for the whole of humanity - which was that established between Eve and the serpent. There the ground of the infallible Word of God was abandoned. Eve had entered into the enemy's game, into his dialectic, and in the end she was seduced, drawn from the right path, by the devil's lying stratagem.
We must always remind ourselves that the devil is never neutral, that he constantly harbours a precise plan of damnation and ruin.
The only godly attitude, the biblical position, is that of unshakeable firmness, of intransigence, and of the refusal of all unclear, ambiguous dialogue, the rejection of every kind of compromise.
In this respect we can find in the person of Nehemiah a model of correct action. For Nehemiah, sensing the snare of a dishonest and ambiguous dialogue, four times rejected it in unchanged terms (Neh. 6:1-5):
Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer (v. 4).
§ He rejected an attempt at blackmail (6:5-9) and then thwarted a stratagem of intimidation (6:10-13). This man Nehemiah was decidedly not of an evangelical temper!
As for Ezra and his friends, in the task of rebuilding the Temple, they refused the collaboration of infidels whose language was thoroughly ecumenical (Ezra 4:2-3).
You have no pact with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the King of Persia commanded us (v 3b).
§ So what must we then think of those evangelicals who, in the far more glorious enterprise of the construction of the church of Jesus Christ, are gradually losing all their divine characteristics and distinctive values, weltering in religious sentimentalism, brainwashed by the obsessive and hypnotic repetition of the magical word 'together'? 'Go a little way together, work together, pray together, evangelise together...'
If only our evangelicals could wake up, become aware of the danger which threatens them and, recovering the nerve and the temper of an Ezra, a Nehemiah and of all those who in the history of the church have dared resist, break off the illicit dialogue, and thus escape from the net of compromise in which they have become more and more tightly ensnared!
EVANGELICALS CONFRONTED BY THE GOD WHOM THE WORD REVEALS
This subject really requires a more appropriate, and much more substantial, treatment. Here I shall have to content myself with a brief presentation, indicating in passing various lines of thought for further reflection.
Having started off with the problem of the attitude of evangelicals towards the Word of God, I close by raising the problem of their attitude towards the God of that Word. At the end of the day, what concept of God do they have?
Before going any further, let me say that I do not have in mind those evangelicals still rooted in sound biblical tradition, but the fringe, or rather the deviant and extreme section of evangelicalism. Nonetheless, it is to be feared that, as 'a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump' (Gal. 5:9, AV), this minority will in turn affect the whole mass unless salutary measures are taken. Moreover, formerly faithful communities have been infiltrated by this influence which, it must be recognised, is constantly increasing its ground. The situation is all the more critical as a result of the reluctance of evangelicals to pluck out the evil from their midst by the exercise of a godly discipline. They thus run the risk of rapid contamination on a grand scale.
We know from the apostle John that in the glorious revelation granted by God to Isaiah, 'in the year that King Uzziah died' (approximately 737 BC; see Isaiah 6:1-9), it was Christ himself who appeared to the prophet long before the Incarnation (John 12:37-41). On this occasion two divine attributes appear particularly clearly: God's majesty and his holiness. The revelation was so dazzling, so unbearable in its power and glory, that even the seraphims had to cover their faces and the prophet cried out his distress under the terrible conviction of his own indignity, of his misery as sinful man (v. 5). Happily the Lord's grace, which removes our sin and calls us to his service, here also reveals itself (vv. 6-9).
What is most lacking amongst a large category of evangelicals is a spiritual sense of the majesty and of the holiness of God. They seem to ignore the royal grandeur and the fearful sanctity of the One to whom they address themselves and whose Name they proclaim.
God's sovereignty dethroned
Thus in evangelical circles one can observe certain theologically deranged persons who, completely forgetting that God is sovereign - 'the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted' (Isa. 6:1) - imagine that they have a hold on him, that they can bend his will to satisfy their wishes, and that they can even bring him to change his plans. Thus Brother Andrew recently brought out a book under the impertinent title: And God changed his plans... because his people dared to ask him.48 Indeed, what temerity! Such an affirmation borders on blasphemy.
The techniques of 'visualisation' or 'incubation' practised and encouraged by Paul Yonggi Cho, and that of 'the creative power of the expressed word,'49 both present us with the equivalent of a God who has become the prisoner of man, his servant, and reduced to satisfy man's every beck and call:
Dreams or visions are the foundation used by the Holy Spirit to build something for us ... Dreams and visions are the materials with which the Holy Spirit will work ... The Holy Spirit wishes to dialogue with us, but he cannot do this without our dreams and visions ...50
§ Claim and use the language of certainty, for your words are called to exercise a creative force. God has spoken and the entire world was created. Your word is the matter the Spirit now uses to create. 51
§ Is the sovereign Holy Spirit now dependent upon man? In order to create, does he now need pre-existent matter? This is the very opposite of the order we can observe in Genesis 1 and Psalm 33:6.
It explains why Yonggi Cho permits himself to address the Holy Spirit personally before he enters the pulpit, saying to him in a familiar way: 'Let us go'.
Here is another enlightening quotation:
Jesus is bound by what you proclaim. Just as you can free the power of Jesus by means of the word you pronounce, so you can equally create the presence of Christ. If you do not clearly proclaim the word of faith, Christ cannot be set free ... Remember that Christ depends on you and on your word to free his presence. 52
§ To rob God of the initiative, to remove his sovereignty, to make of him an object of manipulation, is nothing other than substituting oneself for him and taking on the role of a demiurge. 53 This attitude represents a kind of self-deification.
God's holiness derided
In a profoundly dechristianised world - I am thinking of the West, where an appalling neopaganism is everywhere rampant (magic, astrology, spiritism, mother-earth cult, etc.) - is it surprising that we are gradually moving towards a pagan notion of God?
Do we not, even within the church and under the action of secular influences, run the risk of exchanging the God of perfect holiness of the biblical revelation (approach to whom requires reverence and faith) for what I would call 'a carnival god' whom one can treat any way one likes? In fact, if we lose our awareness of the abyss which naturally separates us from him, first because he is the Creator and we are creatures, and secondly because he is absolute, immaculate perfection itself, and we are soiled sinners, then our worship will be marked by an unacceptable familiarity, an offhandedness totally out of place.
The Bible speaks of the 'feasts of the Lord', but these were 'holy convocations' from which solemnity was not absent. Today, amongst evangelicals, we often have to do with what are called 'festivals'.
The report quoted earlier on the San Antonio conference speaks favourably of the dynamism of 'popular religiosity', and also of 'the festive aspect of religion'.
In the spirit of the apostle Paul, the feast, the true and authentic service rendered to God, can in no way be identified with a primitive, anarchical, chaotic spirituality resembling something like delirium, a state of spiritual drunkenness:
For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7b-8).
§ The feast which we celebrate must be compatible with purity and truth. It is celebrated in an atmosphere of crystal-clear spirituality and under the sign of holiness.
We must ask ourselves: What is the source from which these various phenomena and extraordinary manifestations proceed? Today they are almost automatically attributed to the Holy Spirit: explosions of 'miracles', of 'signs', of 'wonders', of 'prophecies', of 'baptisms of power', of 'visions'.
Are we really dealing here with a powerful resurgence of the Holy Spirit? We are apt to forget far too easily that the Spirit of God can neither justify error, for he is 'the Spirit of Truth', nor act in any manner contrary to his attributes. Or are these spectacular phenomena the result of a tidal wave of those dark forces of seduction characteristic of paganism?
This question is raised in a very pertinent way by Francoise Van der Mensbrugghe in her lucid analysis of Le Mouvement Charismatique. 54 Recalling the titles of two books, one The Return of the Spirit by two American charismatics, 55 and the other Le Retour de Dionysos by the remarkable French Protestant philosopher Jean Brun who died in 1994 at the age of 75, 56 she gives her study the subtitle, 'Retour de L'Esprit? Retour de Dionysos?'
Are such manifestations the result of the activity of the God of holiness or that of the 'god' of wine, of drunkenness (every kind of drunkenness!), of entertainment, of laughter, of delirium, of frenzy, of ecstasy, of the Dionysius of the Greeks, and of the Bacchus of the Romans? 57
Without forcing the comparison, 'religious' dancing has its place in certain evangelical charismatic churches and the Spirit is held to be the source of a 'holy laughter' and of an exhilarating joy. 58 And what shall we say of those who fall backwards, 'slain in the Spirit'?
Such disorder cannot proceed from a holy God, for in such manifestations all holiness is flouted.
No doubt a good number of evangelical Christians who have taken the pains to read this analysis will hardly recognise themselves in the description I have given. Perhaps they will attribute to the author a negative bias, a pessimistic point of view, at the same time both obsessive and deforming, and finally a purely subjective approach to the reality of evangelicalism. I would not be surprised to learn that this study is spoken of as a mere caricature.
I do not ask all evangelicals to recognise themselves in the rather sombre picture I have drawn. There is too much diversity in the evangelical movement for every aspect raised to be applied to everyone. It may well be that none of the aspects treated apply to some of us. I remind you that in my introduction I specified that I would be treating currents, trends and tendencies which have arisen in our evangelical circles and which traverse, agitate and influence them.
I would thus simply ask my readers in all honesty carefully to examine the situation as I have described it and see for themselves whether such currents exist or not; and if so, whether or not they represent a dangerous threat for that 'evangelical model' which seeks truly to conform itself to the Word of God.
None of us can wash his hands of this situation. What is happening to the great spiritual family to which we all belong, and which we love, directly concerns each and every one of us.
If the dangers signalled in these often severe pages are real, let us then beg the Lord to intervene and to produce a salutary reaction among us:
Restore us to yourself, 0 Lord, that we may return; renew our days of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure (Lam. 5:21-22).
§ Paul-Andre Dubois is a pastor of the denomination Action Biblique in Switzerland, in which
he has exercised his whole ministry, first as a missionary in Portugal and occasionally in Brazil,
then as a pastor in Lausanne, and finally, until his recent retirement, as director of the Geneva
Bible School. This paper was first read at the Dijon Pastoral Conference in April 1993.
1 F. A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Ilinois 1984.
2 This word has been left in its original French, since it is not easy to find a single English equivalent which will adequately convey the author's meaning of 'too holy to touch'.
3 Schaeffer, op. cit.
4 W. Bühne, La Troisieme Vague. CLV - Maison de la Bible, Geneva 1992, p.121.
5 See the Swiss journal. La Bonne Nouvelle, 1993:2, pp. 342-3.
6 R. L. Heldenbrand, Christianity and New Evangelical Philosophies, Words of Life, Warsaw, Illinois 1989 (2nd ed. 1993), pp. 31-2.
7 ibid., p. 33.
8 ibid., p. 37.
9 ibid., pp. 111-20.
10 Schaeffer, op. cit.
11 J. Murray, Romans, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1977, Vol. I, p.154, commenting on Rom. 4:23.
12 Bühne, op. cit., pp. 91-100.
13 J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. Ill, p. 196 (1978 French edition).
14 J. I. Packer in La Revue Reformée, Vol. XLIII, No. 175,1992:5, p. 7. 'The 'Five Points' (TULIP - Total depravity, Unconditional election. Limited expiation [particular redemption, Ed.], Irresistible grace. Perseverance of the saints) correspond to the Canons of Dordt 1618-19. Arminianism (from Arminius, Dutch minister 1560-1609) is the theology which, in rejecting, amongst other doctrines, those of the unconditional election and the eternal security of the believer, denies the total sovereignty of God's grace. 'For Arminianism, salvation depends in the last resort on man himself; faith being considered, as it were, his work and, as a result, not that of God in him'. Packer, op. cit., p. 4.
15 Calvin, op. cit., p. 432.
16 Packer, op. cit., p.10.
17 La Rochelle Confession of Faith (Reformed) 1559, Article 5, 'The Authority of Scripture', P. Schaff (ed.), The Creeds of Christendom, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1983, Vol. Ill, p. 363.
18 The Westminster Confession (Reformed) 1649, Ch. 1, Article 6; P. Schaff (ed.). The Creeds of Christendom, Baker House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1983, Vol. Ill, p. 603.
19 Bühne, op. cit., p. 172.
20 ibid., loc.cit.
21 ibid., p. 175.
22 ibid., p. 104.
23 ibid., loc. sit. (my emphasis).
24 ibid., pp. 104-5 (my emphasis).
25 ibid. p. 108.
26 Schaeffer, op. cit., p. 58.
27 ibid., p. 186.
28 F. A. Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World, IVP, London 1972.
29 Foundation, Vol. Xlll:2, Mch/Apr. 1992, p.19 (my emphasis).
30 ibid., p. 21.
31 ibid., p. 20 (my emphasis).
32 COREAME document, Lausanne 1992, p.15.
33 ibid., p. 15.
34 ibid., p. 6. Similar Trinitarian formulae are to be found in this document; however, they systematically avoid the word 'Trinity'.
35 ibid., p. 12.
36 ibid., p. 15.
37 ibid., p. 17.
38 San Antonio document, Eglise Reformee de France, 1989, p. 9.
39 ibid., p. 15.
40 ibid., p. 16.
41 ibid., loc.cit.
42 ibid., pp. 45-8.
43 Hokhma, No. 46/47,1991, pp. 7-8.
44 San Antonio, op. cit., 'Unity in Mission and Mission in Unity', p. 11.
45 The conference was, in fact, originally planned to have been held in Lausanne. But the value of the dollar with regard to the Swiss franc made this financially impossible (translator).
46 Bühne, op. cit., pp. 109-10.
47 ibid., pp. 110-11.
48 Brother Andrew, Et Dieu Changes..., Open Doors, Strasbourg 1992.
49 Bühne, op. cit., pp. 57-67.
50 ibid., p. 59.
51 ibid., p. 65.
52 ibid., pp. 65-6.
53 Demiurge: in the philosopy of Plato, the creator of the universe (Concise Oxford Dictionary}.
54 F. Van de Mensbrugghe, Le Mouvement Charismatique, Labor et Fides, Geneva 1981.
55 K. and D. Ranaghan, The Return of the Spirit, USA 1972..
56 J. Brun, Le Retour de Dionysos, Les Bergers et les Mages, Paris 1976.
57 Obviously figurative language as the gods of mythology have no objective existence (1 Cor. 8:5-6). Nevertheless, behind these false gods stand very real powers of darkness (1 Cor. 10:19-21).
58 Bühne op. cit, pp. 43-4,50-1.