“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“Come Get Naked With 5000 of Your Closest Friends Without Taking Off Your Clothes.”
In our post-modern culture where tolerance demands there be no contradictions and no conflicts of coexistence, those who are biblically astute followers of Christ can rather easily forecast the necessary failure of such a notion. There can be no coexistence without truth, and truth, by its very nature, is exclusive. Truth is necessarily intolerant of untruth. Eventually your tolerance runs into my tolerance and the product of our subjectively driven encounter will be a conflagration of intolerance.
Such is the case, for example, when feminism, a godless, humanistic ideology which has long supported the “transgender” movement, finally runs head on into a circumstance bred of tolerance that suddenly becomes intolerable. Consider just one such current circumstance. Men who claim to be women should be allowed, according to the unbreakable tenet of tolerance, to compete in sports traditionally reserved for biological women. When that happens and women-born-as-women lose to the “women” born as men, feminists suddenly face a crisis. To whom must they now show tolerance? If it is given to one group and not the other, they are immediately guilty of the cardinal postmodern sin of intolerance. This dilemma of unbridled tolerance devoid of a standard of absolute truth becomes an example of just how insanely inane human “wisdom” has become.
Yet move that worldly spirit of tolerance and cooperation into the church and you will find the apostle Paul bluntly pointing out its sacrilegious absurdity and vehemently commanding its abandonment by the faithful. As believers, we are not called to be ruthlessly tolerant, but zealously truthful. We are not to seek unity for unity’s sake, but to preserve and protect the unity born of, and built on, truth. We are not to be subjectively cooperative with an “ends justify the means” mentality, but are rather to be objectively and obediently fixed on the propositional truths, commands, and precepts that constitute the “faith once delivered” (Jude 3), a faith delivered by our God who has “declared the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:10).
“A church that looks just like the world has nothing to offer the world.” John MacArthur
To the “abide in my Word” (John 8:31) faithful disciple of Christ who casts his or her gaze across contemporary evangelicalism, they will see a church that looks very much like the world. We could apply any of a number of apt adjectives to describe the visible church today. Likely near – or at the top – of that list of descriptors must be a word Paul eschewed for the church: worldly. And, if we apply Paul’s apostolic logic, we can then apply a synonymous biblical adjective to the worldly church: wicked. The church that is worldly is the church that is wicked. If we take as a precept our Lord’s warnings to the churches of Revelation, wickedness in the church, unrepented of, will result in His judgment.
In recent days wickedness in the church has featured prominently in the dialogue of evangelicalism. It has come courtesy of the Southern Baptist Convention which was notably labelled by one evangelical voice in 2005 as “an unregenerate denomination.” In the lead-up to the SBC’s annual summer convention, a Pastors’ Conference lineup was announced. As Tom Ascol, President of Founders Ministries, has written, that “lineup includes a woman ‘teaching pastor,’ a ‘four square gospel’ pastor, and a Southern Baptist pastor whose church has at least one woman pastor alongside him on staff.” The clear message from the SBC Pastors’ Conference seems to be nothing short of “doctrine doesn’t matter.”
But Ascol continues, “Oh, and the Southern Baptist pastor (David Hughes, of Church by the Glades)” is also an invited speaker. And this pastor “has regularly used sexual themes and innuendo for sermons and evangelistic strategies.” If doctrine doesn’t matter, then the presence of this “pastor” signals that worldliness certainly does matter.
“Consider, for example,” writes Ascol, “some of Pastor Hughes’ sermon series:
‘The World’s Largest Strip Club,’ with the tag line, ‘Come get naked with 5000 of your closest friends without taking off your clothes.’
‘The Bible’s Game of Thrones,’ a riff on a pornographic television series that features abuse of women, violent sex, and rape.
[Sensual invitation cards – see picture] encouraging those ‘looking for help on maximizing RELATIONSHIPS’.”
As Ascol bemoans that such “pastors” might remotely be considered to speak at an SBC Pastors’ Conference, he rightly points out that it is an example of “ways that God is removing the facade that has covered much of Southern Baptist life.” It is “forcing all who refuse to close their eyes to face up to serious, heartbreaking realities.”
“He is angry with you this moment – and always. You go to sleep with an angry God gazing into your face. You wake in the morning, and if your eye were not dim, you would perceive His frowning countenance. He is angry with you even when you are singing His praises, for you mock Him with solemn sounds upon a solemn tongue. He is angry with you on your knees, for you only pretend to pray; you utter words without heart. As long as you are not a believer, He must be angry with you every moment (Ps. 7:11).” Charles Spurgeon
Whether part of the SBC or not, its goings-on as part of the professing visible church demand that no genuine believer “close their eyes.” Much of the New Testament speaks directly to wickedness and false teachers that may “creep in”. In our day, “creeping in” is hardly the problem as Ascol’s reporting reflects. Rather, churches have detached from sound doctrine, diluted the gospel, unhinged their doors, and enticed worldliness to gallop down the aisles and hop onto the stage where pulpits once stood. But the worldly church is no church. To apply a biblical label, such a church might be distinguished as “a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9, 3:9)
Wickedness in the visible church has been a threat since its inception. Paul had to deal decisively with the corruption of the Corinthian church. He had to boldly anathematize the purveyors of a false gospel enticing believers in the churches of Galatia. James had to remind believers what the effect of genuine faith would have in producing lives of wise living and holy obedience. Peter wrote to remind believers of the power of holy lives in thwarting the attacks and onslaught of a hostile, persecuting world. John wrote to reassure believers of the certainty of their faith in the midst of false teaching. And Jude, of course, directly confronted apostasy and urged believers to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3).
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a
Just as the worldly tolerance of “women” born as men is patently absurd, so too is unbridled compromise with the world within the community of believers. There cannot be believing unbelievers. There cannot be lawless righteousness. There is no darkened light, no bright darkness. Where there is Belial, there is not Christ. Where idolatry pervades, the temple is unoccupied by the true and living God. And, as we see the Lord’s active Romans 1 judgment upon the sinners of the world, we cannot but expect the same for the church where judgment begins (1 Pet. 4:17).
Commenting on Paul’s words, John MacArthur writes:
“To infiltrate churches under the guise of tolerance and cooperation is one of Satan’s most cunning ploys. He does not want to fight the church as much as join it. When he comes against the church, it grows stronger; when he joins with the church it grows weaker. Undiscerning believers who join in a common spiritual cause with unbiblical forms of Christianity or other false religions open the door wide to satanic infiltration and forfeit the blessing of God. Further, embracing those heretical systems falsely reassures their followers that all is well between them and God, when actually they are headed for eternal damnation.”
When we worship our sovereign God, we must thank Him not only for the bountiful blessings of His extravagant grace shown to us through the gospel of our Lord, we must also thank Him for the righteous exhibition of His perfect and holy judgment. As we gaze across the wicked landscape that constitutes much of the visible professing church, we readily see His hand in judgment. He is giving many over to the sin of worldliness. He is permitting the wickedness in the midst of countless churches that profess His faith but produce no fruit of that faith. As Martin Luther has said, “God is not hostile to sinners, but only to unbelievers.” His judgment is evidence of the faithlessness of the judged.
But in His judgment another marvelous element of His grace is shining forth. As more and more churches embrace the wickedness of worldliness and are divinely given over to their sin, ever brighter does the glistening glory of the narrow gospel path shine forth. In the severest judgment, the path of grace will be seen for those who have eyes to see. The psalmist wrote, “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me” (Ps. 69:9). Our Lord maintains this zeal for His bride and in judgment upon the visible church, He is clarifying the narrow path for those whom He will sovereignly redeem and place securely in His invisible and true church.
Our Lord is orchestrating all of history according to His perfect purpose. In grace and in judgment, He shows forth His infinite excellencies. And, for the benefit of His elect (Mark 13:20), He will bring history to a close. There will be unfathomable blessing for His chosen faithful and there will be holy and perfect justice to the unbelieving wicked, all to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:12). His active and awesome judgment ought compel us to fervency in proclaiming the gospel of His Son. It ought humble us in reverent worship, incite within us a zeal for holiness, and produce in us repentance that causes us to deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow our Savior (Luke 9:23). May we, like the psalmist, be consumed with a zeal for “Your house” (Ps. 69:9). May that zeal be intolerant of error, of worldliness, of wickedness; may it be a zeal that speaks His uncompromising truth in love (Eph. 4:15) to the church and to the world.