The Imperative Need of Absoluteness in Preaching & Teaching
A Look at the Preaching and Teaching of the Contemporary Church
We live in a day of the war against absoluteness in the preaching and teaching of the church. In an analysis of leading contemporary churches today, I looked at the common characteristics of the top 15 biggest megachurches in the United States. In a survey of church goers by the Harvard Institute of Religion Research, they found that six million who took the survey, said they attended churches with over 2,000 attendees. Some of the attractions that church goers were looking for were, a “lobby, welcome desk, cafe, people at tables having snacks and soft drinks, and a staff of friendly team members smiling and opening doors.” (Deseret News National.com, 15 biggest megachurches in America)
It felt like opening night at the movies. The dim sanctuary doesn’t even have an altar, but rather a stage with two large projection screens flanking the band. The rows of pews were the only thing that came close to suggesting ‘church’. (Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller, on attending a megachurch for the first time.)
In my observations I found several common characteristics for these churches(ranging from charismatic, liberal and neo-evangelical churches):
- Most were non-denominational.
- All would bring in professional and mainstream artists to entertain their audience
- A key focus was on getting people involved in social activities
- Strong social media presence
- Counseling teams
- Active in joint community events with other social organizations
- Boast of the diversity of special guest speakers and membership
- Appeal to a younger demographic
What is conspicuously absent speaks volumes. Any form of the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is obsolete and has been replaced with messages of counseling and self-help-based pep talks.
The megachurch example is the extreme of the pendulum for the modern church today. They exemplify the existential gospel and the postmodern spirit which characterize the emerging church of our century. However, the characteristics listed above have become key components for churches flying the fundamentalist banner as well.
We need to take a look at several steps in the progression of this war against absoluteness; the history of absoluteness in the historic NT Christian Church, and a call to absoluteness in our preaching and teaching in the end time.
The War On The Absoluteness of Scripture
One of the fundamentals of our faith as Remnant believers is the absolute authority of the Word of God. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, every jot and title is the very Word of God. A book with absolute authority will possess principles and truths that are absolute. But what is an absolute?
An absolute is something that exists without being dependent on anything else for its existence. It is independent and complete in itself. This is the Webster Dictionary definition for “absoluteness” from the 1828 edition. When we apply this definition to Scripture, we understand that the truth of the Word of God exists independent of man or institution of man and is complete in itself. The Bible is its own interpreter.
In the Gospels, Jesus Christ establishes the first principles for the New Testament Church. In the Gospel of John, one of those essential principles is the deity of Christ. John 1:1-4,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All thing were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
This passage establishes the relationship of Jesus to the Godhead and to the universe. Matthew 1:1-17, connects the incarnate Word with David and with Abraham. The genealogy of Luke 3:23-38 goes beyond Abraham and connects Christ with Adam and with God. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, is the founder of the New Testament Church.
Christ gave to his Church several essentials for its existence:
- The preaching of the Word of God. Christ, Himself is the Word.
- The absolute authority of the Word
- Direct access to the Father by the individual believer through prayer
- Salvation through Christ alone
- The Sacrament of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
- The Church leaders, Apostles, had a special call and training
- The gift of the Holy Spirit for guidance
- The authority and power to exercise church discipline
The Apostle Paul would say in I Corinthians 3:11, “for other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
After the founding of the Church and the absolutes on which it would grow, the Devil began an immediate attack for its overthrow. This attack was two-fold, first, by means of direct persecution of its leader and members; and second, by diluting and poisoning it with false doctrine and apostasy.
The following are examples of the weapons/attacks of Satan in his war on absoluteness of the Scriptures:
1. The Roman Catholic Church: Change The Absolutes
The war against the absolutes of the Church, waged by the Roman Catholic Church was not a denial of the essential Christ had established as much as an “adding too” and perverting of what was absolute to salvation and a relationship with God.
To the essential, the Church would add multiple, unscriptural sacraments; the necessity of the priest for access to salvation; the co-authority of church traditions and writings of the church fathers to Scripture; the exclusive interpretation of Scriptures is by the Church, not the Holy Spirit; and the constant uncertainty of true salvation.
The providence of God will bring the Protestant Reformation to combat these extraneous absolutes. The Reformers will call the Church back to the true absolutes of the Holy Scriptures as taught by its founder, Jesus Christ. The Reformation message once again established the Biblical principles by which the Church should function. As an example, here is a summary of Martin Luther’s convictions in 1517:
- Man is justified by faith in Christ without any merits of good works or saved by faith in Christ without any merits of good works. Justification is a single act of God, following conversion and preceding sanctification, while justification according to the Catholic Church is a gradual process conditioned by faith and good works.
- Every Christian has direct access to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Personal communion with God and the forgiveness of sins are not conditioned by the mediation of a priest, but by faith in Christ alone. Hence there is a general priesthood of all believers.
- The Bible is the sole normal authority for faith and life. Tradition has value only in so far as it is based on Scripture.
- God asserts His actual and full presence in the Holy Ghost. The Bible can not be understood from human speculation but must be interpreted, by the illumination and aid of the Holy Spirit, from the context according to the laws of language.
- The essence of God is love. Religion is not based on a legal contract between God and man, but on God’s gift of grace, or God’s love to the sinner. This grace is free for all to receive and know.
- It is the blessed privilege of every Christian to have full certainty of his or her personal salvation in Christ Jesus.
2. Relativism: Truth Is Always Subject To Change
The definition of absolute truth is, whatever is true at one time and at one place is true at all times and at all places. Further, what is true for one person is true for all persons. Truth is true whether on individual or individuals believes it to be or not. Truth is discovered or it is revealed and is not invented by a culture of people or by religious organizations.
The belief that relative truth is the exact opposite to absolute truth. Relative truth states that truth is true at only one time and at one place. It can be true to some people, but not to others. It can be true now but it may not have been true in the past and it may not be again in the future. Relative truth is always subject to change and is also subject to the perspective of people.
There are absolutes, and reality is the great proof of this. The Biblical world view is consistent with reality. There is Truth and there is Falsehood. You cannot know if you are ever wrong unless you have a standard to judge by. The Scriptures teach an objective truth, for which God Himself is the standard. For the believer, God determines what is true and right. He has revealed that in His Holy Scriptures. Man cannot be this determining factor because he will change as he wills.
Relativism is the enemy of absolute truth because claims of relativism depend on the observer and his vantage point. If you’re standing in front of something, your perspective will be different than when you’re standing behind it. If relativism were true, then contradictory conditions in the universe would both be the truth. Opposites cannot both be absolutely true. For example, if relativism is true than to an atheist God does not exist, but to a believer, he also does exist.
3. Existentialism: The Rejection Of Absolutes
While Europe was experiencing the Enlightenment in the 1800s, German Protestantism birthed one of the most influential movements to come to the Church. This movement that would take western Christianity by storm, would be called Liberalism.
Liberalism is an anti-God movement that was birthed within the Church. It would come to the forefront openly,
- denying the literality of the Bible
- rejecting the cardinal doctrines of Historic Christianity
- denying the miracles of the Bible
- strongly denying the historicity of Jesus
This open attack on the absoluteness of the Holy Scriptures opened a pandora’s box for radical interpretations of the Bible.
… the Liberals needed a hermeneutical principle to interpret these so-called mythical Scriptures. This principle was called Modernism.
This new Christianity based on Modernism would deny the spiritual and promote the social. activities of man. Liberalism and Modernism would open the door for a new philosophy called Existentialism. Now that the infallibility of the Scriptures had been denied under Liberalism, Existentialism would now deny any absolutes existed at all.
Under existentialism, a man could choose anything he wanted to believe as truth. Belief no longer required the foundation of absolutes to support it. What you now believed did not have to be verified, but was true simply because you chose to believe it was true.
Existentialism essentially denounced the linear logic of Western civilization, which was based upon clear, contrasting terms such as light and darkness, truth and error, and God and the Devil.
Existentialism now created a world where absolutes were unnecessary. Whatever man wanted to believe, he could believe, without any burden of proof. It was Kierkegaard’s ‘leap of faith’. This philosophy became the new method for the interpretation of the Scriptures through Liberalism and Modernism. Although Liberalism denied a historical Christ and all His miracles as a myth, one could believe in them through the existential leap of faith. Christ, the miracles, the Bible, could all be “real” for the present moment of belief. Without absolutes, mankind no longer had limitations or boundaries. Man’s imagination becomes king.
4. Postmodernism: The Imperative Need of Absoluteness
To say that the need for absoluteness in preaching and teaching has reached an imperative need today, we need to analyze what events have transpired to produce such urgency.
These events are individuals and ideologies which have shaped the growing apostasy and culminated in the philosophy known as postmodernism.
Postmodernism is a reaction to the failure of reason and logic to answer the social needs of the human race. The postmodernist views the history of mankind as a series of failures. Man’s religion, morality, government, and his self have all resulted in bankruptcy.
Defining Postmodernism: The Destruction Of Absolutes
The postmodern historian looks at history in three different movements,
- Premodernism – Premodernism represents the period in the history of the rule of authority in the world. For example, the Middle Ages was a period when the known world was dominated by the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. For the individual, from birth to death, they were dominated by a relationship with their church.
- Modernism – Modernism represents the enlightened man who rejected the traditional authorities and pursued reason and natural science as an individual. This was the age of the humanist. The rise of linear thought, where reason and logic are championed.
- Postmodernism – Postmodernism is the rejection of the reason and order of the individual under modernism. Order, under postmodernism, now comes out of anarchy. This means, there are no longer any controlling rules or principles governing mankind.
The Journal of Postmodern Culture (PMC) is a publication whose goal is to give a platform for the open discussion of postmodernism to a wide audience with the hope of promoting its application to academic writing. The PMC defines postmodernism as,
A rejection of the sovereign autonomous individual with an emphasis upon anarchic collective, anonymous experience. Collage, diversity, the mystically unrepresentable. Dionysian passion is the focus of attention. Most importantly we see the dissolution of distinctions, the merging of subject and object, self and other. This is a sarcastic playful parody of western modernity and the “John Wayne” individual and a radical, anarchist rejection of all attempts to define, reify or represent the human subject. (Journal of Postmodern Culture, Christopher Keep, 1990)
Based on the philosophy of evolution, postmodernism believes we are evolving to a state where absolutes are unnecessary for religion, politics, education, medicine, law, science, etc. The current world order believes its agenda is to speed up this evolutionary process until all absolutes are gone.
The Rule of Faith
The necessity of absoluteness in the church is not exclusive to our present generation. We can trace this battle all the way back to the first century, as Christianity grew into a global religion. With its growth came the necessity for clarity of doctrine and belief. This clarity manifested itself in the Rule of Faith.
Post-Apostolic Era (100 – 170 AD)
During the early Church period of 100 – 170 AD, known as the Post-Apostolic era, there arose the necessity of a rule of faith. A statement of both doctrinal and moral instruction.
The constant conflict with heresies and the need for a consistent public confession for candidates of baptism, lead the Church leadership to formulate a rule of faith, a confession. These confessions were of a simple design. They were to be brief for easy memorization, and the content easily explains the essentials of the Christian faith.
This simple confession became known as the Rule of Faith, the Rule of Truth, and the Rule of the Church. The elements of the confession were always present since its founding and by its founder, Jesus Christ, in the Gospels and book of Acts.
- Matthew 3:17; This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. (Matt. 17:5; John 12:28)
- John the Baptist in John 1:29; Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.
- Peter stated, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matt. 16:16)
- John 20:31, …that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ.
- In Matthew 28:19, Christ commands the disciples to baptize into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
- Epistles: multiple references connecting one’s faith, baptism, and confession.
The most ancient form of the Apostles Creed is an old Roman symbol which reads:
I believe in God the Father Almighty; and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried; the third day He rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, being seated at the right hand of the Father, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, holy church, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the flesh.
The historians, Irenaeus (d.202) and Tertullian (A.D.160-220) both concur that this confession was commonly used in the Church since the time of the Apostles. Seeberg supports this when he states, “this most ancient form still preserved and others similar to it were in common use at the beginning of the second and at the end of the first century.” (Seeberg; Text-Book of the History of Doctrines, Vol. I, p. 84)
There are two main reasons the use of a Rule of Faith became common in the early Church:
- The Rule of Faith was a sign of recognition for orthodox Christians. As evidenced on the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, the Gospel was preached to a multitude of nationalities. The Christian faith would spread, by way of the Roman Empire to the far corners of the known world. The Rule of Faith became a method of recognition and identification for orthodox believers.
- The Rule of Faith became a useful tool as a Standard of Truth against heretical teaching. This additional help to combat heresy became necessary, due to the fact that many heresies claimed to possess exclusive keys to interpret the Scriptures, declaring the teachings of orthodox teachers as false. The summarizing of orthodox doctrine in a convenient confession gave the lay Christian a confident defense of his faith. It also aided in the detection of a deviation from the Bible.
Examples of early heresies that plagued the Church:
The Ebionites – The Ebionites, (taken from the Hebrew word ebion meaning poor, humble, oppressed) professed to be the genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Their general doctrine was that the Law of Moses was binding to all Christians, and therefore salvation was dependent upon one’s observation of ceremonial law. Because of this, the Apostle Paul was considered a heretic, and his epistles not apart of the canon of Scripture.
The Elkesaites -(220-222 AD) Alcibiades, a Syrian, was in possession of a book called the “Book of Elchasai”, meaning ‘hidden power’. The book was believed to have fallen from heaven in 101 AD. It contained a mixture of pagan, Judaistic and Christian doctrines. Christ was an angel who been incarnated on many occasions and taught a new baptism that was necessary for one’s salvation. A very pragmatic faith, making provisions to renounce your faith in times of persecution. (The views of the Elkesaites contributed to the origin of Mohammedanism.)
The Gnostics – During the first three or four centuries of the Church, the gnostics were a group of people identified by their claim of salvation by knowledge, as opposed to the Christian proclamation of salvation by faith. Gnosticism is often presented as a heathen or Gentile perversion of the Gospel, the “Hellenizing of Christianity”.
Gnosticism, for the most part, emphasized two questions or thoughts: first, the origin of the universe; and second, God and his mode of governing the world. Its influence on Christianity was significant, as it cloaked itself in the terminology of the Christian faith.
- Gnosticism used the Christian forms of thought.
- Borrowed its terminology.
- Acknowledged Christ as the Savior of the world.
- Simulated the Christian sacraments.
- Claimed an exclusive revelation of Christ.
- Produced apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelations.
Although gnosticism was utterly the opposite of Christianity, it was so well camouflaged by this borrowed garb that it appeared to the unwary as a modification or refinement of Christianity. In fact, it soon claimed to be the only true form of Christianity, set part for the elect, unfit for the vulgar crowd. (Qualben, A History of the Christian Church, 1942, p.78)
Due to the growing influence of Gnosticism and confusion it created in the early Church, the Church took the following steps in combating this heresy:
- The Church set up certain standards to be acknowledged by anyone claiming to be a Christian. These standards included the Apostles’ Creed and the formation of the New Testament Canon.
- For the defense of the Christian faith, the Church formed Christian dogmas to correctly express its terminology.
The Post-Nicene Era (325 – 590 A.D.)
The Post-Nicene Era is known for its theological controversies and doctrinal formations. There were three contributing factors to this:
- Christianity was now a worldwide influence, but under the constant persecution of Rome had little time for organizing and formulating doctrine.
- When the period of persecutions ended, many within the Church began to insist that reason be applied to revelation. There arose differing views on the cardinal truths of Christianity, which resulted in controversies.
- Constantine and the emperors who followed him looked to the Church to unify the Roman empire. To keep this unifying factor, they were quick to do all they could in keeping that unity. This lead to a series of General or Ecumenical Councils, for the purpose of defining doctrine and stamping out heresy.
The Controversy of Arianism:
The Arian controversy centered around the question, “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” Arianism takes its name from Arius of Alexandria, who claimed that Jesus Christ was neither true God nor true man. According to Arius, the Christ of the Bible was a demi-god, between man and the Father.
Christ was different from and unlike the substance and peculiar nature of the Father in all respects. – Arius
In 325 AD, the first Ecumenical or General Council was called in Nicea to deal with this controversy brought to the Church by Arius. The great opponent of Arius was Athanasius, who we now refer to as the Father of Orthodoxy. It was Athanasius who proclaimed,
Jesus Christ is very God of very God, of one substance with the Father and begotten of the Father from Eternity.
The Athanasian Creed became a significant influence in the Church and the defense of the Deity of Christ and Trinitarian doctrine for centuries to follow.
…That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal…
From the Athanasian Creed, we can clearly see, the need for absoluteness for the Church has been a concern from its very beginning. The constant threat of heresy necessitated a rule of faith for the simple definition of fundamental faith and belief.
Absoluteness In The End Time
In the last decade, the decline in Christian Fundamentalism has accelerated to a breakneck speed. With little distinction, today between a Fundamentalist church and the Neo-Evangelical church, the most notable decline for Fundamentalism is in the pulpit.
The decline of the pulpit is in direct correlation with the decline of the Bible colleges and Universities. In the founding years of the United States of America, there was a burden for the training of ministers to fill American pulpits. Universities like Yale and Harvard were built upon standards of Biblical principles. The rise of Unitarianism destroyed these universities by renouncing the belief in the deity of Jesus Christ and in turn produced generations of clergy void of the absoluteness of the Scriptures in their life and message.
This has once again become the strategy of the Devil. To destroy the founding principles of Bible institutions and produce a new generation of church leadership void of Biblical absolutes. The acceptance of students from the Neo-Christian camps has influenced the changes from the historically fundamental universities in order to maintain their student body numbers and cultural acceptance. As the “evolution” of this falling away has progressed, the existential gospel has been wholeheartedly embraced.
What does this mean for the Christian Remnant? It is an imperative need for the Christian Remnant to ground their preaching and teaching directly in the absolutes of the Word of God. Just as we observed from the days of the first Church, heretical teaching succeeds by using Biblical terminology. Their definitions and interpretations are unbiblical, but the subversive message causes many with a lack of discernment to fall away.
Preaching and teaching based in the absolutes of the Scriptures will always have a clarity unmistakable to the discerning heart that is longing for truth.
One who possesses the characteristic of Biblical absoluteness in their preaching and teaching will also exemplify a heart for God. When a message based on Biblical absoluteness is preached, those with longing hearts will be drawn to the Word. These are remnant believer hearts. They may not even know what they are longing for in the beginning but the truth of the Word will draw them as they discern its heavenly origin.
In this end time, filled with ignorance and confusion, it is imperative that the pulpits and classrooms strive for Biblical clarity in their message.