The church throughout history has been troubled by continual eruptions of heresy. A new religious movement led by a false teacher may undermine the church in one of three ways. It may sweep away some adherents of the true church and gather them in a cult that survives on the fringes of religious history. Examples fitting this pattern include Mormonism and Seventh-Day Adventism. Or the movement may attempt to engulf the church through armed conquest, perhaps with the result that it gains totalitarian control of certain regions of the world. Islam and Communism (essentially a religion in its offer of a comprehensive worldview and in its demand for total allegiance) fall in this category. Or the movement may alter the existing church by gradually filling it with currents of apostasy.
Altogether, there have been four great apostatizing heresies in the last two thousand years. These are Romanism in the early church, formalism in the Reformation church, liberalism (and its offshoot neo-orthodoxy) in the last century, and—in our day—neo-evangelicalism. Classifying neo-evangelicalism with the other three will seem harsh to neo-evangelicals themselves or to anyone reluctant to sever ties with neo-evangelicals. We cannot deny that the leaders of neo-evangelicalism appear to be men of great accomplishment in God's Kingdom. But in general, the leaders of apostasy have always been plausible men, else God would not have a good cutting edge for pruning the church.
I have a particular grievance against neo-evangelicalism, because I have seen it ruin many dear friends. I went to college with supposedly the "flower" of the Christian world. Yet very few of my schoolmates still attend a Bible-believing church. Indeed, many attend no church at all. What has happened to them is typical of the generation reared in good churches forty to fifty years ago. I have in my lifetime watched many of these people wander away from solid truth.
Loss of vital faith usually followed exposure to a Christian environment that today would be called neo-evangelical—an environment in which our duty to live and teach the whole counsel of God is de-emphasized, denied, or even derided. The faith of a young person is rarely a blaze strong enough to withstand chilling winds from the preachers he admires and the peers he wishes to impress. So, he gradually cools down to the temperature around him. What begins as a mild questioning of minor points in accepted belief and practice ends up as an attitude of proud skepticism, feeding itself on all kinds of superficial and trivial objections to fundamental Christianity.
Erroneous Doctrine of Faith
The deadening touch of neo-evangelicalism proceeds from a core weakness in basic doctrine, primarily the doctrine of faith. Although this new system avoids the legalism taught by the older heresies of Catholicism and liberalism, and although it recognizes that faith, not works, is the only avenue of salvation, its definition of faith is inadequate. Neo-evangelicalism denies—perhaps not in so many words, but certainly in the daily practice of Christianity—that genuine faith involves the desire and intent to live in full submission to God. Full submission is submission of heart to the viewpoint of eternity, submission of behavior to God's standards of holiness, and submission of mind to the unbreakable truth of Scripture. In this life, full submission is unattainable, for we never succeed in shedding our sin nature, but faith always longs to be free from sin. Faith with no intent to obey God, or with deliberate intent not to obey, is not faith at all, and to the extent that neo-evangelicals are preaching a counterfeit faith without saving efficacy, they are striking at the heart of redemptive truth. It is because they go wrong on the supreme question of how men are saved that their schismatic movement in the church deserves to be called heresy.
In its intellectual dimension, genuine faith produces assent to anything God says.
Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.
Since all Scripture is God's Word, faith is not compatible with a take-it-or-leave-it view of particular teachings (a view taken, in some degree, by all neo-evangelicals).
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
In its behavioral dimension, genuine faith produces a holy life, rich in good works.
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
In its attitudinal dimension, genuine faith understands that all ambition is vain unless it is seeking treasure in heaven.
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
2 Corinthians 5:7-11
All three components of faith are clearly set forth in Hebrews 11, usually called the "faith chapter" because it explains and illustrates faith more thoroughly than any other passage in Scripture. True faith according to Hebrews 11 is a believing faith.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.
It is also a working faith.
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
And it is a faith with a spiritual attitude, looking
for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Just recently, neo-evangelicalism has become a stopping place for churches moving in a conservative direction away from previous moorings in neo-orthodoxy and liberalism. But the older and more significant movement has been in the other direction. Innumerable churches with a strong fundamental heritage have been inching toward a new identity within the camp of neo-evangelicalism. The transition generally occurs in three stages, yielding successive repudiation of the attitudinal, behavioral, and intellectual aspects of genuine faith.
Churches that have completed all three stages still fondly refer to faith as the essence of belonging to Christ. The word remains in their vocabulary and decorates their conversation, but the concept is an empty shell, with all its meaning extracted by indifference and unbelief. Conceptually vacant, the word is useful for stroking religious instincts but worthless for changing sinful hearts.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.