In the years since this book was written (almost ten), many more people have responded to what is wrong with evangelicalism. Some of this response has been good and some has been bad. As a pastor, I've been struggling with the implications of True Evangelicalism (if I can put it that way) for many years. Even in our relatively conservative, Bible-loving, Reformation theology teaching church, purity in doctrine and life can be a tough thing to pursue. Gospel holiness has implications for worship, Sunday School Curriculum, counseling - everything! Making Gospel connections to every area of life is the work of the church. The lure of compromise for the sake of avoiding conflict and increasing numbers is ever-present, as is the remaining sin of all our members (myself included).
This is what concerns me with the vision of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada. There is no talk of a crisis - no real sense of urgency for reform. Yes, there is a lot of talk of a needed turn-around to get churches on side with plans for growing. However, there appears to be a reductionistic attitude about the Great Commission, as if getting more people into our churches fulfills our Lord's mandate. The most frightening aspect of the crisis in evangelical churches is the false sense of security that many people feel in their decision for Christ when they may not be genuinely converted. This is a legacy of 19th Century revivialism that is a plague in Western evangelicalism (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, check out this article).
As an example that could be multipled thousands of times, let me share a story that I recently heard from a man who grew up in an evangelical church with a big youth group. He said that after youth on Friday, they would head out to the bush parties. He also said that the senior pastor's son was a key source for pot at their high school. Again, it looked big and dynamic on the outside, but inside there was death. This comes from a lack of the fear of God. I am afraid that the fear of God and a biblical understanding of sin are foreign concepts in many churches.
Who am I to say if people are real Christians or not? Don't I just have to take their confession at face value? "Judge not that you be not judged" is probably the best known verse in the Bible today, even though people do not know the reference (Matthew 7:1). This is same chapter where Jesus says:
- "Do not give to dogs what is holy, and do not cast your pearls before swine." Who are the dogs and the pigs? How can we tell?
- "Beware of false prophets" - Doesn't this require making some judgments?
- "By their fruit you will know them" - Isn't this life inspection?
- "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven" - Wouldn't it be better to warn people in the church with God's judgment before they get to the real thing?
I wholly affirm the perseverance of the saints. However, the warning passages in Scripture regarding false Christians are there for a reason. We can't just dismiss Hebrews 6, 10 and 12 or 1 John, or James or the many other warnings to those whom the Puritans called "false professors."
It is hard to confront people when they are bearing bad fruit or gushing forth bitter water. It takes tremendous courage to stand up to people in the church when they promote bad theology or endorse non-biblical practices by their words or deeds. I've often failed here, but if we pastors continue to fail on this front, we've failed in our greatest responsibility. We are under-shepherds and if we don't take care of the sheep, who will? Wolves wear the clothing of sheep, and they rise up from within the church (see Acts 20). We need to warn people with tears (like Paul), but we still need to warn them.
If we are going to cultivate healthy churches, fulfil the Great Commission and reform the Fellowship, we are going to have to make the main things the main things. We can't assume the Gospel - and that includes concepts like God's righteous wrath, sin, eternal hell and the presence of imposters and false teachers in our midst. If we gloss over these things, we will lose the Gospel. This loss might not occur in this generation, but in will happen.If we see a turnaround in the Fellowship and 70% of our churches are growing by at least 5% in 10 years (as opposed to 30% today), who will be the watchmen that are dilligent to promote sound doctrine and moral purity? If we have big churches without integrity in life and doctrine, we will go the same path as the United Church of Canada in the 60s. I will be branded as an extremist because of that last comment, but we need to think about it. We need to sound the alarm regarding new persepectives on justification, emergent churches, open theism and gender confusion. These doctrinal issues must be confronted and refuted. We must also urgently appeal for reform regarding the moral compromise that is becoming commonplace among professing evangelicals.
I believe we do need to help churches turn around, plant new churches (particularly in our cities), and rally together to see this generation won for the Lord. However, we need to talk about the dangers all around us and flee to the cross. We must have uncompromised Gospel theology as our absolute centre; otherwise, we will be the blind leading the blind and we will all fall into the pit of the current evangelical crisis.