Christless Christianity is not a new phenomenon. The church has been fighting men who have a form of godliness but deny its power since the beginning (2 Tim. 3:5). Even in the first century, false Christs and false prophets appeared and performed great signs and miracles which deceived many, as our Lord foretold (Mt. 24:24). Church history has been nothing if not a protracted struggle against the ceaseless Satanic attempts to do away with Christ and Scripture through contradiction and redefinition. This is why we need our creeds. It's silly to fight from scratch battles long-ago won.
In 1925, J. Gresham Machen confronted a variety of unbelief called Modernism which affirmed the creeds but did not believe them. Machen, often alone at the front, knew that it made "very little difference how much or how little of the creeds" these unbelievers affirmed, "because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true." The Modernist scam employed a twist on Pilate's view of truth. When told by the Messiah King that everyone on the side of truth listened to Him, Pilate sneered, "What is truth?" By this he meant not that truth was unknowable but that it was irrelevant. What mattered to Pilate was power. "Conversion" à la Rome was by sword, not word. What mattered to Modernists was popularity. In Machen's lifetime, people were seeking and gaining ecclesiastical power while desiring, simultaneously, to be spoken well of by the world (cf. Lk. 6:26). Weary of those who retained Christian vocabulary while surreptitiously injecting new, contradictory definitions, Machen wrote, "It would from our point of view be better if the preacher, convinced of the falsity of supernatural religion in the sense of the New Testament and of the creeds, became an apostle with the courage of his convictions, and sought to root out of every one's mind convictions that he holds to be false."
Epistemologically Self-Conscious Apostasy
Unbelievers have been brazenly taking up Machen's challenge ever since and most denominations have simply capitulated to them. Today, unbelief is the de facto faith of that strange amalgam of religious strains which we call Americanity. What was regarded in 1925 as infidelity has become the new touchstone. Unbelief is now the only creed which may be held by those who would have access to the full palette of social opportunities in modern(ist) society. Any conviction which claims status greater than that afforded by "relative truth" is out. "Absolutes not welcome here, absolutely not." "Acceptable" Christianity has no true creed, no Creation, no covenant, no law, no certainty and no living Christ.
Historic Christianity is under open attack in this county like never before. Christless Christianity is fast emerging from the wings to replace it center stage. In every major medium, believing Christianity is effectively marginalized as "fundamentalism," with accompanying rhetoric which cunningly conjures up images of Bible-belt ayatollahs in polyester suits, while Christless Christianity is set forth as the truly respectable version. The New York Times reported on a protest in North Carolina against the public, full-frontal nudity contained in a pro-homosexual play. It portrayed the dispute as a confrontation between bigoted, Bible-believing ignoramuses on the one hand, and reasonable, cultured Christians on the other. The Times daily endorses Christless Christianity as the proper form. This was illustrated in a February, 1996 review of a biography of W. H. Auden: "Six years later, after leaving for the United States, he met and fell in love with Chester Kallman. He returned to his Christian beliefs shortly afterward." For both the biographer and The Times, homosexual "love," far from being inimical to Christianity, can lead to personal Christian renewal. After all, who is Paul, or who is Christ for that matter, to define Christianity?
The same message heralding the normativity of Christless Christianity is found in the major news magazines. Newsweek ran a cover story (8 pages worth) suggesting that the resurrection of Christ is no fact, and Time ran a cover story (9 pages) suggesting Christ Himself is no fact. "What are Christians to believe?," asks the cover. Certainly not the Bible, the feature stories advise. Each story was replete with cathedral-esque illustrations; Time even printed the story on pages designed to look like parchment. How religious.
The Capitulation of the Church
The attack is more open than in 1925, but not necessarily more honest. For one thing, some of the so-called "Christian scholars" who are leading the charge against faith in the Christ of Scripture employ anything but a scholarly method as they sit in judgment on the Word of God. The Time report focused on the self-appointed and self-styled Jesus Seminar, a new Sanhedrin which votes on the "authenticity" of each New Testament Gospel verse by having each member drop a plastic bead in a bucket. It quotes one participant's description: "Red: That's Jesus! Pink: Sure sounds like Jesus. Gray: Well, maybe. Black: There's been some mistake," Real scholarly stuff, this. But how can they possibly know what "sounds like Jesus" when they believe that "only 18% of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels may actually have been spoken by him," and they acknowledge no other reliable source of knowledge? Are Christians to believe them (the "them" including the renowned "theologian" and Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven)? Apparently Time Magazine thinks so. (Incidentally, the religion editor of Time is still a member-in-good-standing of the CRC after being protected by ecclesiocrats four years ago when some sought to have him called to account.)
Christless Christianity embraces sodomy (on what basis would it exclude it?), but sodomy requires the demise of Biblical Christianity. It is not to be wondered at, then, that the RCA minister R. Rhem of Spring Lake, MI (the town where Cornellius Van Til had his only pastorate), both shared his church facility with a sodomite congregation and refused to affirm that "there is no salvation apart from that mediated by Jesus Christ." And it is not surprising that sodomy is gaining acceptance in the Christian (once) Reformed Church just as the number of ministers who express discomfort with Christ's exclusive claims increases. A new religion with similar form and vocabulary, but very different content, is giving the faithful the pink slip.
There are no spiritual vacuums. The fall of the righteous means the rise of the wicked. "Fundies" are out, homos are in. Biblical Christianity and sodomy cannot abide each other in the public square. Lot found that out. One will invariably, necessarily, seek to displace the other. In view of this constitutional antipathy, one has a hard time understanding professing Christians who think they can forestall the homosexual agenda by employing Wall Street Journal-type conservatism. The Journal, in a recent editorial, argued against sodomite marriages on grounds easily defeated: 1) "The state has an interest in encouraging heterosexual marriages as the best environment for raising children"; 2) "if gay marriages become legal, what would be the constitutional bar to other voluntary relationships such as incest, polygamy or polyandry"; and 3) "If we're going to tinker with a definition of marriage that's been around for 6,000 years, let the people decide."
Anyone who thinks this constitutes a compelling argument is bound for discomfiture. In answer to #1 it could be said that the state has not yet tried fostering homo marriages; therefore how can it know what's best in comparison? Further, does the state now require that married couples have children? If childless marriages are at all regarded as legitimate, reason #1 is mooted. #2 is answered simply by saying, that's not the question on the table. And if it was, so what? And #3 is where "conservative" apostate reasoning is most clearly revealed. The whole point we should argue is that God has pre-decided this question and the answer is simply not subject to the revision of man or men or somewhat-men or pseudo-men.
To begin an ethical argument by abdicating God's determinative rights is to lose from the outset. Moses did not alter his message simply because Pharaoh vociferated, "Who is the Lord that I should obey Him?" Modern man is wrong across the board; ontologically, epistemologically and ethically dead in the water. We do not help him by joining him 20,000 leagues below the surface. Rather, we must toss out the lifeline of God's Word, whether he professes faith in it or not. We know how modern man thinks. "If I can be apart from God (as per evolution), and if I can truly know apart from God (as per apostate science), I can certainly determine right and wrong apart from God (as per humanist education and all major media)." This is what is happening in the public square today. And the gravest concern is that we continue to give away the ontological/epistemological store while expecting the new owners to reserve some ethics for us. Har-har-HARDI-har-har!
We must agree with Dabney in his typically prescient analysis of the course feminism would take, and apply it to "homosexual rights" instead of "women's rights" in this quote: "The advocates of these `homosexual rights' may be expected to win the day, because the premises from which they argue their revolution have been irrevocably admitted by the bulk of the people." Egalitarian-style entitlement is now a more precious premise in American public policy than any teaching of Scripture. Mountains are moved to accommodate whacked-out claims to rights. Thus, the "virtual marriages" performed by San Francisco mayor Willie Brown on March 25 will become the legal marriages of tomorrow.
The American church is asleep and not, I fear, soon to wake from its slumber. It has been cut off from its victorious history through ignorance-as-virtue, a by-product of dispensationalism's end-times obsessiveness, cut off from a victorious future hope by pessimistic eschatologies, and rendered impotent by its uncritical addiction to television. In its present condition it is much reminiscent of Dylan's "Mr. Jones" from Ballad of a Thin Man. Confronted by, and eventually victimized by, disgusting sexual behaviors, Mr. Jones simply did not know what to do; his training, like much seminary training today, had been geared toward impressing his peers, not toward waging epistemological and ethical warfare.
Yet, while the church may not soon rouse herself, she will eventually be roused by her Lord. For as we said, this battle has been going on since the beginning. And as He said, "Heaven and earth may pass away, but My words will never pass away. The gates of hell will not prevail against My church." Advocates of sodomite rights may win the day, but not the war. As the Scripture says, "The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed. . . . For surely your enemies, O Lord, surely your enemies will perish" (Ps. 92).
And that's the truth.
- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.