frgavin on March 6th, 2012

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

It took me less than five seconds to decide whether or not to keep a flyer I found in my mailbox. The 12-pager came from a local Uniting Church, and was full of descriptions about activities it was offering. This is quite typical of the UC, with an emphasis on everything except biblical Christianity.

But just as I was about to toss it into the bin, I finally saw something actually speaking about the faith. It mentioned an exploration of “Progressive Christianity”. Instantly I knew where this church was coming from, and instantly I knew I had an article on my hands.

The pamphlet itself was full of all the courses and activities this church was involved in. On offer were watercolour painting, yoga and relaxation, cake decorating, tai chi, square dancing, etc. The trouble is of course, when the church seeks to compete with the world in offering worldly activities, the world usually does a much better job of this.

These churches seek to be trendy and relevant by downplaying the gospel and offering everything the world does. But in that case, why even bother? Let the world offer worldly stuff. But this is all par for the course with a denomination which has long ago abandoned biblical orthodoxy.

But the tie in to Progressive Christianity shows us exactly where this church is at. Indeed, a case can be made that whenever one finds the adjective ‘progressive’ prefixed to the word ‘Christianity,’ one should flee to the hills. One might almost say the phrase is a clear-cut oxymoron.

This is because those who champion the phrase invariably mean moving beyond historical, biblical Christianity. They see the orthodox Christian faith as old-fashioned, restrictive, intolerant and repressive. They want to move beyond the faith once delivered to the saints to a new, trendy, and – quite plainly – heterodox version of the faith.

Indeed, biblical Christianity becomes unrecognisable in this new faith. One simply has to look at a few of the many websites devoted to this movement to see that it can no longer be called Christian at all. It is all about rejecting historic Christian creeds and promoting a mushy and content-less religion.

The motto of the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria is “Open Hearts, Open Hands, Open Minds”. Of course the trouble with most open minds is that they need to be closed for repairs. Being open-minded in this context usually means being open to any whacko belief and teaching other than biblical Christianity.

Thus the website of this group proudly proclaims that it is into “Investigating alternatives to traditional religious belief and practice and new ways to understand religious faith”. It is suspicious about, even hostile to, any claims to doctrinal or theological certainty.

Indeed, this is a common theme of such progressives. The Progressive Christian Alliance puts it this way: “Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma.” The Center for Progressive Christianity expresses it this way: “We are opposed to any exclusive dogma that limits the search for truth and free inquiry”.

Of course all this flies in the face of the clear teachings of Scripture. Everywhere in the Bible we find an insistence on holding to sound doctrine and correct teaching. The very thing the progressives detest and want to jettison the biblical writers affirm and champion.

A few passages – of many – can be cited here. Jesus stated quite unequivocally, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (John 14:23-24). No mushy moralising or content-less religion here. Being a disciple of Christ means both knowing and doing what Jesus taught.

The early church also continuously stressed this. We read of the early disciples that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Indeed, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42).

Paul repeatedly hammers home the vital importance of sound doctrine and solid doctrinal boundaries. How anyone can read Galatians 1:6-9 without realising this is beyond me: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

Right doctrine was absolutely essential for Paul. As he says in 1 Timothy 6:3-5, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing”. Or as he reminds us in Titus 2:1, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine”.

And John makes this very strong warning: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him” (2 John 1:9-10).

These and many other related passages are simply ignored or rejected by the progressive. Indeed, there is really nothing new or progressive about this movement. It is really just the old theological liberalism, which in turn is really just the old paganism.

Religious words are used, but they are totally stripped of their biblical content. These folks really do not believe in an inspired and inerrant Scripture. Instead, the Bible is seen as a fallible, human document. And of course the uniqueness of Christ and his work is totally rejected.

The progressives believe that there are all sorts of other ways to God and truth. Other religious traditions are equally valid, and in the end, all mankind will be finally reconciled to God anyway. So this movement has simply undercut the entire rationale for Christ and his coming.

J. Gresham Machen warned back in 1923, “In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called ‘modernism’ or ‘liberalism’.” Today it is called ‘progressivism’.

He also said in his important volume, Christianity and Liberalism, “[D]espite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism is not only a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.” Indeed, this describes Progressive Christianity perfectly.

It is not Christianity at all. It has thoroughly gutted biblical Christianity of its most basic and vital teachings. All that is left is an empty shell in which humanistic, pagan and syncretistic concepts are poured in to fill the void. Indeed, it is the very thing Jesus and the early disciples warned against.

In sum, there is nothing progressive about this outfit. Heresy is always as old as the hills, and so we have nothing new here. But as Peter cautioned, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

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