For Lord’s Day, November 26, 2022
As I have just entered the 13th year of ministry with you this month and very recently began reading through a book historically important to my second ministry employer, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, entitled, Here We Stand! A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation, I found reviewing its “Cambridge Declaration” (produced in 1996 during a gathering on the campus of Harvard University) within the preface of the book profoundly current.
Considering the flow of “evangelicalism” (hear, “Reformed”) we have observed in broad and immediate ways over more than a decade serving together, I wonder if these excerpts do not resonate with you as they do with me in a sobering “Amen”.
From the Preface:
“So what was wrong with evangelicalism? That answer is that we had become worldly.
“The polls told us that the gospel most contemporary evangelicals believed in was essentially God helping us to help ourselves. It had a lot to do with self-esteem, good mental attitudes, and worldly success.
“There was not much preaching about sin, hell, judgment, or the wrath of God, not to mention the great doctrines of the cross such as redemption, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, grace, and even faith …
“Lacking a sound, biblical, and well-understood theology, evangelicals have fallen prey to the pragmatism and consumerism of our times.
“A therapeutic worldview has replaced classical Christian categories such as sin and repentance, and many leaders have identified the gospel with such modern idols as sociology, a particular political philosophy, and psychological views of humanity.
“… evangelicalism has diminished to become a movement that is shaped only by popular whim and sentimentality … To stand in awe of God once again, evangelicals must recognize these idols as idols and confess how much we have been taken captive by them.
“The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals believes that chief among the truths evangelicals need to recover are the five great fundamental Reformation principles of Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. These principles … are explained in greater detail in the text of [the] Cambridge Declaration …
“We need another Reformation.
” … evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith demonstrated through the creeds and confessions.”
From the Cambridge Declaration:
(Under “Sola Scriptura”)
“In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word evangelical [and/or Reformed] … Historic evangelicalism [and Reformed theology and practice] was confessional.
“… the word evangelical [and Reformed] has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning.
“In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions, and what it offers, than does the Word of God.
“Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the Law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth.
“Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, clichés, promises, and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God’s truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God’s provision for our need.
“The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture.
“The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.”
(Under “Solus Christus)
“As evangelical faith has become secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. [emphasis, GVL]
“The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform … being good into feeling good about ourselves. [emphasis, GVL]
“We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs … Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.
“… self-improvement, self-esteem, or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.”
(Under “A Call to Repentance and Reformation”)
“The faithfulness of the evangelical [Reformed] church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present.
“We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the ‘gospels’ of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure adequately to tell others about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.”
Dearly beloved, while I won’t go on to quote from the rest of the chapters of the book (partly as I haven’t gotten to them yet 😉 ), these thoughts by David F. Wells in his opening chapter of the book, “Our Dying Culture,” are sadly striking and a sign of the life of the modern church (keeping in mind the bigger churches in the letters to Asia in The Revelation were the ones that Christ said were dying):
“What may be the clearest indicator of the disappearance of a moral texture to society is the loss of shame.
” … we have … lost our understanding of ourselves as moral beings.
“Among the real moral majority today it is not hard to discern pagan motifs.
“… Christ … has become simply a mold into which modern therapeutic content is poured.”
In my 13 years as a minister, this refrain of “modern therapeutic content” most jumps out to me as the problem of how many approach our church and its ministry with expectations that are more “Sola Self” as to the source of authority and object of glory.
Beloved brethren for whom I long, as the book again is called Here We Stand!, may we remain stedfast and stand in unity together as we just heard in these recent sermons: Philippians 3:17-21 with a call to be careful not to follow so-called Christians in disguised worldliness unto destruction, the messages being, “Be Careful Who You Follow”; and, Philippians 4:1 with a resounding resolve to continue on the narrow way of Christlikeness that leads unto life though few find it, and thus “Stand Firm Together in Christian Love.”
You can read the entire (and brief) Cambridge Declaration as it works through the Five Solas (as well as view a short video of James Montgomery Boice going through the Five Solas) here.
If you’d like to support the important work of the Alliance, this coming week is a great time to do so because Tuesday, November 29, is “Giving Tuesday” during which your gifts would be matched dollar for dollar up to $25,000. If you’re interested to learn more, click here.