Churches for People Who Dislike God

I have friends and family members who attend liberal churches.  I know a little about these institutions and have even attended their services once or twice.  Strictly speaking, I don't think they can be accurately called "Christian" churches. Their authoritative standard is not the biblical Christ, but a pastiche of all-too-human ideas.

Historical Christianity isn't a collection of warm, fuzzy feelings.  It encompasses many things, but at its heart, it makes bold and substantial claims about the way the universe is organized. God is God – the maker of all things, the cause that underpins all mere effects.  Man, although loved by God, is merely a creature.  The universe does not revolve around how we humans happen to feel about it.  Liberal "Christianity" has turned this basic relationship on its head.  Liberal Christians believe, typically, that God created the universe and man by an evolutionary process we ourselves can fully understand.  Now, they would have you think, God serves us like a kind of rich uncle who whispers helpful advice now and then and rigs the odds a little in our favor.

For two thousand years, real Christians have turned to the Bible as the authoritative word of God, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences.  Odd though this may seem to the secular mind, belief in the Bible's authority is an entirely coherent belief.  We believe that God exists and that He spoke by the prophets and the apostles, creating an authoritative written text.  The unstated "doctrine" of liberal churches is far less coherent.  They believe that the Bible is subject to a kind of literary analysis (the so-called "higher critical method"), which implicitly assumes that the Scriptures themselves are faulty – requiring not merely insightful interpretation, but substantial correction by a purely human means.  In other words, they believe that academics can legitimately rewrite the Bible to explain what it would have said but for the errors of its human authors – if not the errors of God himself.

The higher critical method itself was really only the beginning.  Having wrested scriptural authority away from God and put it in the eager hands of fallible men, liberal churches have helped themselves to a host of unsupported (or very weakly supported) innovations.  For example, largely on a basis of two verses in 1 Timothy ("This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."), they have established the doctrine of universalism, by which all people are saved, irrespective of their beliefs.  Those passages in the Bible that inconveniently negate this view can, by the human authority of false teachers, be whittled away as antiquated human error.  Somehow, liberal churches manage not to see the irony in this.  They are unable to see it because they believe that the centuries have made humanity wiser, not merely in technological terms, but in moral terms as well.

The inevitability of human progress is not a Christian belief, but an entirely secular one – a tacit assumption we've held over from the Enlightenment.  It is not an accident that what is left after this sort of scriptural "correction" is little more than the latest postmodern social mores with a vestige of ecclesiastical authority grafted awkwardly on top.  Should we wonder about the ordination of gay clergy?  Not when the ultimate authority behind the church has been hijacked by human beings.  Vaguely comforting to its adherents this new religion may well be – but it isn't Christianity.

This shift to the secular moral standards will be the eventual death of those mainline churches that have gone along with it.  It is as though the 2nd-century bishop Polycarp, instead of refusing to make a worship offering to Caesar, had shrugged and bowed to the norms of his day.  It is though the Apostle Paul had self-edited verses 24 through 27 of Romans 1 because he didn't want to offend any Roman homosexuals by pointing out their sins.  In the short run, it is far easier to fill pews with congregants who are confident they'll get an encouraging pep talk rather than be chastised with dire warnings – but in the end, the encouraging pep talk is inherently self-defeating.  Eventually, even stupid people realize that if everyone goes to Heaven, Christian or not, giving up a Sunday morning is a waste of time.  One might as well watch Star Wars and believe in "the Force."  Liberal Christianity is just an intermediate step to atheism for people who dislike God but like the comfort of a pseudo-Christian group identity.

It is ironic that when atheists laugh at the pitiable credulity of Christians, they are often laughing at the credulity of the watered down churches secularism has itself produced.  The default assumption of many atheists is that Christians are faint-hearted morons who have a psychological need for the irrational promise of an afterlife in Heaven.  The irony is that real Christianity is in no way profligate with that guarantee.  It is only the more liberal churches with their universalist view of salvation that dole out the promise of Heaven as though it were Social Security writ large.  The theologian R.C. Sproul characterized universalism succinctly as "justification by death."

The way in which Christianity has been bifurcated into the devout on one hand and the childish on the other becomes apparent every time we have a national election.  Functionally, polling data tend to identify real Christians as "evangelicals" – regardless of the actual meaning of the word.  Next time you hear the term in a political context, substitute the phrase "people who actually believe in God," and you will understand what I mean.  On the other hand, news and polling institutions have no word for liberal "Christians" because they are too amorphous a blob of humanity to constitute a coherent polity.  To be a member of one of their churches, one need not believe in anything in particular – or ultimately in anything at all.

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