The Weakest Link: Evangelicalism

Back when Thomas Edison was working hard to produce a practical light bulb, his laboratory assistant was exasperated by their long series of failures. Confronting Edison with 100 experiments that utterly failed, Edison reportedly replied to his assistant, "Well, at least we know 100 things that don't work." Having dismissed the failures, he pressed onward to successfully produce the first electric light bulb. Knowing what has failed is as instructive as finding what will produce the right results. Like Edison, however, we have to recognize and agree that there are failures that ought never to be tried again, if we would magnify the Lord by doing His work His ways.

I refer, specifically, to the failure and downfall of Evangelicalism. Regardless of its variations over the past 40 years, it has contributed far more to the advancement of ecumenicism and the corresponding decline of Biblical Christianity than any other religious movement. The bold promises of a Church that was both true to the Word and sensitive to the needs of men lapsed into selling the truth cheaply for the sake of a unity divorced from Biblical principles. That was not the promised result, but it a serious failure that ought never to be imitated or adapted by Fundamentalists as we enter the 21st century.

Almost 20 years ago, Francis Schaeffer suddenly awakened to that fact having invested the majority of his life to its cause. In a desperately late effort, he wrote The Great Evangelical Disaster to try to reverse its plunge into compromise and peace at any price, but he died waiting for a recovery that would never come. In that book he prophetically stated:

It is my firm belief that when we stand before Jesus Christ, we will find that it has been the weakness and accommodation of the evangelical group on the issues of the day that has been largely responsible for the loss of the Christian ethos which has taken place in the area of culture in our own country over the last forty to sixty accommodate to the world spirit about us in our age is nothing less than the most gross form of worldliness...we must say with tears that, with exceptions, the evangelical church is worldly and not faithful to the living Christ.(1)

It is the spirit of accommodation to which Schaeffer refers that has been the key to the downfall of evangelicalism. It has bred expanding inclusivism which has seriously undermined once-hallowed doctrinal distinctives and sapped the holiness in its Churches and people by yielding to a hedonism comparable to the church in Corinth.

More than thirty years ago, Evangelicals tried to persuade Fundamentalists that they could successfully rout liberalism by infiltrating their circles and beating them at their own games of intellectual challenge and scholastic achievement. That experiment has failed miserably. The tragic result is that the heirs of the Modernist-Liberal apostasy have so infested the evangelical movement that they control the schools, they own the conventions and denominational seats of power. As a result of such control, they prevail over most of the churches and pastors who must toe the line at the risk of forfeiting their buildings and pensions.

So also the spirit of accommodation has fostered a quest for unity at the expense of doctrinal purity. In recent political terms, it has been their ambition to raise up a big enough tent to include those with whom fellowship was previously thought impossible. Whether it be the wresting of Scripture from John 17 or extraordinary efforts to demonstrate that love conquers all, clearly the impetus for this unity springs from the ecumenical end of the spectrum, not from Fundamentalism. The rationalization of joining forces for agreeable social causes has not only failed to fulfill the promise of greater political clout to Fundamentalists, but also succeeded in lending our support and credence to apostate churches. It is all part of the "end justifies the means" mind set that has permeated evangelicalism and compounded compromise upon compromise until precious little Biblical doctrine of any significance is left.

Before any doctrine can be disposed of, however, there must first be the groundwork of redefining terms and revision of theological history. Consider, for example, the semantic shell game currently played within the Southern Baptist Convention. No one is a "liberal" Southern Baptist anymore; all that are left are "moderates" and "conservatives." However, if you ask if there are still SBC school board members and faculty that deny inerrancy of Scripture or other cardinal doctrines of Scripture, or ask if women are still serving in SBC pastorates, you would soon realize that protests of innocence and improvement belie the facts. It does give opportunity, however, for them to portray themselves as kind and gentle moderates and conservatives while we are the mean, nasty "legalists." Far from any Scriptural definition, legalist has become the byword for uncharitable, intolerant fundamentalists who have steadfastly resisted the changes that have destroyed evangelical confidence in the authority of the Scriptures.

In similar fashion, we are told by the same sources that the battles of Liberalism and Modernism were so long ago and far away that neither one poses any threat today. Recently, I received a letter from the president of a well-known international ministry wherein he stated that the National and World Council of Churches were not a threat until the 1970's. Beside that error in history, the sad fact is that he still doesn't recognize either one as a serious threat to true Christianity today.

What we need to agree upon is that these experiments wrought in the name of evangelicalism have failed miserably to uphold the authority of Scripture or the exclusive plan of salvation. The evidence is clear: infiltration has fared less than confrontation; relativism has bred contempt for the authority of Scripture and Its objective truthfulness; inclusivism has done far greater harm to the cause of Christ than any form of separation; consensus, whereby nobody is wrong, we just have different opinions, has destroyed Biblical Homiletics and undermined Bible doctrine; scholarly recognition has set a higher premium upon the praise of men and "some new thing;"and conventionism continues to enslave pastors and churches to corrupt ecclesiastical leadership. In short, all the failed experiments have bankrupted the very meaning of the name of evangelicalism. The outcome has spelled bad news rather than good news at every turn where the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ has been replaced. The only question left is why would Fundamentalists, or anyone else who professes to honor the Word, still want to replay their failures?

The struggle for us is to resist any and all forms of counterfeit Christianity, including the casual Christianity born out of religious consumerism. Our comfort has become the guiding principle for all that people seek in the local church. Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things... (Isaiah 30:10) has a familiar ring when professing Christians want to hear enough to ease the conscience but not so much that would convict their souls. If church isn't "fun,"they may as well stay home where they can be better entertained by the TV and computer than the preacher.

The burden of this problem falls upon us as pastors of churches. Will we lead our people down the same path of the evangelicals, knowing how miserably they failed? Do we really think we can do it better without the same result? What arrogance and pride it would be to think we can imitate the supernatural transformations of the hearts of men by the power of the flesh. Furthermore, for those who still struggle with the Scriptural doctrine of separation, what more evidence is necessary to be convinced that compromise and accommodation are doomed to failure than to look at the wreckage left by evangelicalism. Our people deserve better than to endure the rehashed failures of others. They already suffer more than enough of that from the governments and public schools systems, and their spiritual vitalities and eternal destinies are at stake. How much better to return to godly ministries that exalt the "foolishness of preaching" by expounding the whole counsel of God's Word and looking for His hand of blessing.

1. The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis Schaeffer, page 38