When the 2022 State of Theology Report came out last year, the results were far less than encouraging. For example:
– 43% of US Evangelicals agreed with Statement No. 4: “God learns and adapts to different circumstances.” In other words, for nearly half of US Evangelicals, God it not omniscient or all-knowing.
– 53%, over half of US Evangelicals, agree with Statement No. 16: “The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.”
– 42% of US Evangelicals agree with Statement No. 27: “Gender identity is a matter of choice.”
– 46% of US Evangelicals agree with Statement No. 28: “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
– 56% of US Evangelicals agree with Statement No. 3: “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” (the heretical view called perennialism)
– 43% of US Evangelicals agree with Statement No. 7: “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.”
I suppose we at MCOI should have been surprised by these distressing figures, but we were not. Saddened but not surprised. The reason is fairly simple — in an effort to bring more people into the church; many churches have replaced sound biblical teaching with user-friendly messages. Large segments of the church today, though thankfully not all, are failing to teach the word of God faithfully and discipling their people. As a result, there has been a massive decline in congregational understanding of vital doctrine and even a misunderstanding of the very gospel itself.
Even for churches that are stalwartly teaching the Word of God, it is difficult for pastors and elders to protect their flock. The reason may be the easy access to books (even those sold by so-called “Christian” bookstores and sources) and high-sounding ideas that present an altered view of what Christianity should be and what the true gospel is. These alternative teachings may not deny the faith outright and even may use the name of Christ and sound “Christian” while presenting “another Jesus” and “another gospel” altogether. “New” ideas can be very gratifying to the old nature still lurking in us. We have been culturally flattered with the idea that we can “trust our gut,” but in reality, our human gut can only be truly trusted to act up at the most inopportune times. Your gut does not know what is true; it’s just a gut, but the real truth is readily available to us in scripture. We need to believe the true thing, not the new thing.
Proverbs 14:12 reads:
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
People also fall prey to popular culture, which is decidedly opposed to Christian beliefs and ideals. Most people develop their worldview through osmosis, often not paying close attention to what is being “taught” through popular music, movies, television, and best-selling books. People then often bring these unfiltered and unchallenged thoughts and ideas into the gathering of believers, perhaps without the knowledge of the Pastor and elders, and infect others. It’s like the spread of a virus, and it must be effectively treated before it reaches critical mass and sinks the Bismarck. Since youth are especially susceptible to cultural messages and peer pressure and are being heavily propagandized against the faith in public schools, we are losing the young. We must not lose the next generation to seductive lies. The “new thing” often sounds right and may even be partially true, but leads to false conclusions and beliefs.
George Orwell, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm made an interesting observation on the nature of deception.
All propaganda is a lie, even when it’s telling the truth.
Unless there is a deliberate ongoing Church emphasis on combating the messages of the culture and giving sound refutation to its unbiblical ideas, the downward slide of the church will continue. This trend will persist and perhaps accelerate exponentially if we do not take steps to counter the erroneous ideas the young are being heavily indoctrinated with.
None of this is new. As we read the Hebrew Scriptures, we find a constant thread of God condemning false prophets, correcting false teachings, and calling out bad behavior in His people, Israel. Nearly all of the New Testament letters were written to correct bad behavior and warn the church about false prophets, false teachers, and false teaching.
In the book of Revelation, the Lord directed John the Apostle to write to seven churches. In the messages to two of the seven churches, the churches in Ephesus and Pergamum, a group called the Nicolaitans was named. In a third church, the church in Thyatira, there was a group that was being led by a prophetess who espoused teachings similar to the Nicolaitans.
The heretical doctrine of the Nicolaitans is simple to understand, and, like so many ancient heresies, it is being, to some extent, recycled in the church today. The Nicolaitans strayed from the true faith in the same way that the people of God have typically strayed from the true faith. They did not overtly reject the Christian faith, but instead, they added on whatever pagan teachings tickled their fancy, thus syncretizing pagan beliefs and practices with the true Christian faith. It thus became a “Christian-ish” faith but wasn’t at all the Christian faith and gospel they had once received. The Nicolaitans believed and taught that a person was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, BUT, and this is where the deception begins; it is only the spirit of a person that is saved, so it didn’t really matter how one lived his life in the flesh. They had a different Jesus, a different salvation, and a different understanding of how to live the Christian life. Their gut may have been happy, but the Lord was not.
In practice, the Nicolaitans treated the inspired, inerrant word of God in the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of the Lord and His apostles as little more than inspired wisdom literature. Christ may have been viewed as important, but the Christ of this user-friendly faith was permissive, unconcerned, or even supportive of engaging in a variety of sexually immoral practices. Idolatry was tolerated, and this new faith mix was elevated as equal or perhaps superior to the biblical and apostolic teachings on following Christ.
The three churches in Revelation each responded differently to the same problem.
- The Church in Ephesus would not tolerate this false teaching, BUT they had lost their love for the Lord and the lost.1The church was initially zealous and motivated by love, but that love diminished as time passed. This love could be directed at God or brothers and sisters in the Lord. Their love for unbelievers in the city may have also waned under the heavy hand of persecution; John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Re 2:4
- The Church in Pergamum held firmly to the Lord but was seemingly unaware of the infiltration of false teaching in their midst.
- The Church in Thyatira tolerated a false prophetess in their midst, along with the sexual immorality and idolatry that was being promoted.
The growth and spread of the New Apostolic Reformation and the embracing of the Enneagram, along with pagan Eastern Contemplative practices, are some areas where this heretical syncretism is manifest in our day, and these heresies are changing the theology and understanding of God and morality for many in the church. As we have mentioned above, the 2022 State of Theology Report demonstrates that, like the Nicolaitans, a growing percentage of the church today is compromising with the world in the area of sexual morality.
- 46% of US Evangelicals agree with Statement No. 28 “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.”
That is nearly half of Evangelicalism (it was less than 20 percent in 2004), and the percentage is growing. In our 2007 piece, “The Rise of the Evangelical Left,” we pointed out that Brian McLaren, a celebrity Progressive and very popular rising star of the Emergent Movement, was paving the way to normalize homosexuality within the church:
McLaren has further asserted that we should not be too hasty in thinking or specifically teaching that homosexuality is a sin. After all, Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality. He has stated that we should declare a moratorium on this discussion of homosexuality until the Holy Spirit gives us a consensus on this, perhaps in 5 years or so. Then, if we do not have a unanimous consensus at that time, we should be willing to wait another five years.
In 2012, five years later, the headline was, “Brian McLaren Leads Commitment Ceremony At Son’s Same-Sex Wedding.” In 2020, a popular Christian author, speaker, blogger, and television presenter, Jen Hatmaker, publicly came out as Gay-affirming in support of her daughter. Christian celebrities like Amy Grant, dcTalk, Lauren Daigle, and others are supporting LGBTQA+ or are Gay-affirming.
Also, in 2012, Andy Stanley discussed a situation that arose in his church of a married man having a sexual relationship with another man. The man’s wife divorced him, and the ex-husband subsequently began attending one of Stanley’s satellite churches with his same-gender “partner.” On the first Sunday, the same-gender couple also volunteered for the hospitality ministry. Andy Stanly was fine with that until it came to light that the “partner” was still married to his wife and, therefore, committing adultery. Andy spoke with them and had them step down because of the adultery. OK, so Stanley took issue with adultery while affirming homosexuality. Stanley also teaches “Gay Christians” More Faithful Than Straight Christians, We Must Learn From Them.
Every one of us struggles with sin. We all struggle in different areas, but we do not find anywhere in Scripture that we are to endorse or promote sexual immorality or any other sin. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.” She was not to intentionally and actively engage in sin, and neither are we. To the young pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes:
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)
Pastors indeed have a very difficult job, particularly when celebrity Christians give a thumbs up to false teaching and willful sinful behavior. I wonder what sort of letter the Lord would write to the 43% of the church today that is following the way of the Nicolaitans?
Then, as now, some of God’s people, perhaps many of them, desired to avoid conflict while others simply trusted their emotions (gut) to inform and guide their beliefs and decisions.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus asked the people if He would find true faith when He returns to earth? (Luke 18:8b)
We believe that He surely will. The situation in much of the church today is sad to witness, as it seems that wave upon wave of falsehood and immorality seems to be crashing against the church. But only the Lord has the full picture, and we do not believe the gates of hell shall prevail against His Church. We cannot let what we are watching deter or dishearten us but must each seek the Lord’s help to stand strong in the faith in troubling timesΩ
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|↑1||The church was initially zealous and motivated by love, but that love diminished as time passed. This love could be directed at God or brothers and sisters in the Lord. Their love for unbelievers in the city may have also waned under the heavy hand of persecution; John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Re 2:4|