The Love of God in the Warning

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 13:5-6, 23
Full Text: Jeremiah 27; Mark 13

Liberal | Ross Douthat (NYT) recently wrote,  “[The Episcopal Church] is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular causes. Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace … In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase” [1]. This is not, however, merely an Episcopal problem: “Practically every denomination – Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian – that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge.”

Warning | Adaption to contemporary liberal values, however, is not always detrimental. At the Jerusalem Council, for example, Paul and Peter were the “liberal” theologians, arguing against the circumcision of new Gentile converts [2]. Yet as the church contextualizes the gospel in changing cultures, Christ lovingly warns us in advance that things may be misleading: “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray’ … But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” [3].

Steadfast | How are we to handle these times? N.T. Wright writes, “We are the people called neither to take up arms and force the kingdom upon an unwilling world nor to run away into a private spirituality … We are the people called … into prayer and fasting, into betrayal and suffering, into the ambiguous and agonizing position of wrestling with the purposes of God, into knowing that we might have got it wrong, into wondering in anguish if maybe there’s a different way after all, into being misunderstood by friends and family, into fightings without and fears within … [We are called] to be alert, to see what the issues are and what stand must be taken, to do business with the one Jesus called Abba, Father, even if voices all around us, and even within us, tell us we might be getting it horribly wrong” [4].

Prayer | Lord, We long to be a church that welcomes all people into your presence, even as we stay committed to the truth of the gospel in our changing times. Teach us how to do this and guard us against teachings that may lead us astray. For the sake of your name. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Ross Douthat. “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?” The New York Times. 14 July 2012.  |  [2] See Acts 15:1-35 (Paul and Peter argued against circumcision of the new Gentile converts in order to maintain the centrality of the gospel, i.e., salvation by faith alone). Also not that even Douthat acknowledges that liberals should be credited for teaching “that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion.”  |  [3] Mark 13:5-6, 23 ESV  |  [4] Mr. N.T. Wright. The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today (p. 87). Kindle Edition.

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One Comment to “The Love of God in the Warning”

  1. Good post. Struggling to get it right is a constant battle. How to distinguish biblical truth from cultural norms is an ever present question. We can stand against change for fear of liberalism or we can hold on to the past thinking that went before was always correct and be wrong on both accounts. We must be lead by the Spirit in all things trust God with bold faith, willing to make mistakes while always seeking a relevant faith that is true to the word of God.

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