In their efforts to save mainline Protestantism, the fundamentalists back in the 20s ("fightin fundies," as they were sometimes called) revived the spirit, if not always the knowledge, of classical orthodoxy in its defense of the Faith against heresy: Athanasius against Arius, Augustine against Pelagius, Luther against Erasmus. The fundamentalists stood boldly against apostasy in the mainline denominations; and though most were eventually expelled or left of their own volition, their testimony to Biblical fidelity stands as a memorial to the Faith in the current of historic orthodoxy.
Today, even the most conservative churches can scarcely be inconvenienced by trifles like defending the Christian Faith against assaults from without and betrayal from within. A leading "conservative" Reformed denomination has decided individual churches may ordain women. World magazine creditably exposed a popular evangelical publisher intending to issue a "new" gender-neutral (read: feminist) New International Version (the publisher has since reneged), and included a comment from a prof at a chicken-little college parading under the evangelical banner to the effect that in 100 years, ordination of women in conservative circles will be the name of the game, with "patriarchalists" pushed to the "lunatic fringe." We learn too in the article that the prime "seeker-sensitive" (read: procedurally Pelagian) church in the country (prominently evangelical, of course) excludes from membership any who refuse to condone women instructing men in the church. More and more evangelicals deny the eternality of hell, and a few deny God's omniscience (perhaps they hope he's not aware of their apostasy). A world-renowned conservative evangelist pontificates that "God's hand is on" a decadent and polluted political administration, and several evangelical weenies (at least one of whom has no compunctions about condoning live-in celibate homosexuality) fawns fulsomely over the same
administration. Most dispensationalists espouse the novel anti-"Lordship salvation" (read: antinomian gospel) . . . and the actions of their congregations show it. Some ostensibly Reformed Christians rabidly devour "consistent preterism" (read: consistent heresy) repudiating the physical second Advent of Christ and the physical resurrection of the Christian—it's the new wave in the Reformed world, somewhat akin to Rap music and body-piercing among modern pagans. The Anglican church caves in on the ordination of women issue, and several hundred priests promptly join Rome, though the latter is not without its own severe theological erosion: The Pope conspicuously tips his hat toward Darwinism, thus accelerating the post-Vatican II rot.
Similarly, the bankruptcy of modern political conservatism was perhaps most recently and pervasively exposed in a U. S. News and World Report cover story (David Whitman, "Was It Good For Us?", May 19, 1997, 57f.) relating the injurious social consequences of, and hypocritically diffident attitude toward, pre-marital sex in modern culture. The author observes:
Conservatives, quick to decry sex between unwed teens and outspoken on many other sexual issues, turn suddenly shy when asked about adult premarital liaisons. Among those who declined to be interviewed for this article were William Bennett, editor of the anthology The Book of Virtues; Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council and a former aide to Ronald Reagan; John Podhoretz, a one-time speech writer for George Bush and deputy editor of the Weekly Standard ("he's not really comfortable talking about the subject," said Podhoretz's assistant); and Laura Ingraham, a CBS News analyst who was featured in a 1995 New York Times Magazine cover story on young conservatives.
Long ago conservatives (let alone libertarians, that is, antinomians with a vengeance) abandoned any semblance of Biblical fidelity, cheerleading rather for "natural law" and its modern insipid stepchild, "traditional values," than which few substitutes for Biblical law could be more ineffectual. Exodus 22:16, 17 and Hebrews 13:4 conservatives find irrelevant and inconvenient. Their cultural action is forever rearguard, reaction, lacking any moral absolutes or revelational rudder by which to navigate the sea of (im)morality in the modern world, content instead to toddle along fifteen years behind the "progressives" (read: God-hating covenant-breakers). In a few years, if the trend continues, conservatives—both political and theological—will silently drop vocal objections to extramarital heterosexuality while castigating homosexuality, then a few years more will jettison any public opposition to the latter, while castigating bestiality. When in the next century they no longer decry bestiality, we will have observed the utter evisceration of the conservative movement, slain on the altar of moral pragmatism, willing victim of a refusal to maintain explicit Biblical fidelity.
If, therefore, somebody today concludes that modern "conservatism" is nothing more than undeveloped liberalism, he may be forgiven for his galling perceptiveness.
There have, of course, been gratifying exceptions: in the 70s a substantial Lutheran denomination turned back apostasy in its midst (notably heavy doses of historical-critical agnosticism in its seminaries), and the largest Baptist denomination in the world, just a decade ago honeycombed with liberalism in its upper echelons and academic settings, has incrementally purged the apostasy and stands poised to recover its roots in historic, confessional Baptist Calvinism (all historic, Biblical Baptists are Calvinists). A few Reformed and Presbyterian denominations have remained true to the Faith and their heritage, though it is worth noting that they are almost always the smallest denominations. Gratifyingly, whole flocks of charismatic churches are tapping the root of historic orthodoxy, shedding the objectionable aspects of their formerly primitivist religion, and many are coming into the Christian Reconstructionist fold. Moreover, numerous independent churches—not to mention the burgeoning home churches—enraged by the betrayal among the larger alleged conservative denominations, have gone their own way in seeking a vibrant Biblical religion. These latter are not without the hazards which always confront independency, but they are increasingly preferring the hazards of traditional independency to the betrayal of modern denominationalism (Steve Schlissel in a series in the Chalcedon Report is furnishing a decentralized denominational alternative that is catching on among the Reformed faithful).
But exceptions are just that, and by and large, conservatism in the main is undermining orthodox Christian religion. Under the banner of "relevance" (read: compromise) and "charitableness" (read: cowardice) the modern conservative church sprints headlong into apostasy.
The chicken-little conservatives wail, "But this is the modern world; we must be like 'em to win 'em." Not only does it not occur to the chicken-littles that today's modernity is tomorrow's obsolescence (as though pragmatism, like hula hoops, will survive); they also apparently don't recognize (or they refuse to acknowledge) that it is precisely Christianity's refusal to accommodate to modern ideology and mores that preserves its life-giving distinctiveness. It was old covenant Israel's countercultural that ensured its virility; it was the new covenant church's distinctiveness that guaranteed its success in the old Roman Empire. Chicken-littles' pine for "relevance" usually masks a lust for worldly respectability, but when the church accommodates worldly culture, it deserves both the internal decay and external contempt it suffers. By contrast, the faithful church challenges the premises of modern, apostate culture at every point, as Blamires notes in his classic, The Tyranny of Time:
The supra-temporal stability of the Christian Church is a part of its essential character. The Christian is never one for whom Christian belief stands perpetually in the dock, under judgement, over against the accepted values of contemporary fashion. Rather the Christian is one for whom contemporary values and criteria, notions, and attitudes, stand perpetually in the dock, under judgement, over against the supra-temporal stability of the Christian Faith.
Chicken-littles excuse their treason on the grounds of groundless acrimony among the faithful: "The Calvinists and Christian Reconstructionists are forever fighting among themselves, so let's be 'Christ-like' by ordaining women and homosexuals, eschewing six-day creation, and avoiding Biblical law" (impeccable logic: "Nixon tapped phones, so let's become Maoists"). Few allurements to apostasy have been more lethally persuasive in the modern church than this: let us maintain charity, avoid controversy. Charity, indeed, is essential, the mark of the believer (Jn. 13:35); there is no genuine Christianity without it. But maintaining a Christianity within which to practice charity in the first place requires a vigilance about its central truth claims, what Jude 3 calls "contending for the faith," including the recognition of the Bible's role in reshaping sinful culture—not the other way around.
The chicken-littles opine, "No creed but Christ" (read: "We want to embrace heresy while looking like good Christians"), or "Winning souls is more important than doctrine" (read: "People are more important than God"), or, "The heart, not the head, is what counts" (read: "My narcissistic godly goose pimples and warm Jesus fuzzies, not sound doctrine, are what counts"). The chicken littles get their sentimental, nonconfrontational— and effete—religion served up piping hot in most modern conservative seminaries, filter it down into the "seeker-sensitive" churches, and thereby pervade all areas of modern conservatism with their ineffectual pabulum.
Ethelbert Stauffer observes in his sadly overlooked but potently perceptive work Christ and the Caesars, that the factor of early Christianity to which we must attribute the vanquishing of the tyrannical Roman Empire was not its teaching of the incarnation of the Son of God, or gracious salvation by a sovereign God, vital though these teachings are, but rather the truth of Christianity amid a collapse of outworn, false religions, and the hypocrisy of a strictly enforced empire worship. It was
the truth of the Faith, of the Scriptures, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that gripped the early disciples and brought the mighty Roman empire to its knees. It is the truth of historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity that will today grip Christ's disciples and bring the mighty secular (and Islamic) empires to their knees.
It just so happens, however, that the chicken littles are not especially interested in the claims of truth.
What Brian Abshire terms the Greater Reformation must therefore originate elsewhere.
And that is what Chalcedon is all about.
- P. Andrew Sandlin
P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author. He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation. He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).