It is an often-quoted statement from a cartoon character that appeared decades ago, nevertheless it has proven to be an apt warning to many including fundamental churches today. We have contended with the compromises and defections from fundamental Baptist principles and organizations for nearly ten years now, as a fellowship; but we have been so focused upon what is outside of ourselves, we may fail to honestly appraise our own churches and ministries from within. It ought to be painfully clear that many of our departed brethren were friends who once stood where we are and that the seeds of our own declension threaten us now, if we will permit them to flourish.
Good churches are at risk at any time so long as believers still possess fallen natures. Good churches are not just corrupted by their leadership, they are also brought low by congregations infected with a greater love for the world than they have for Christ. It is the people who heap to themselves the teachers who will tickle their ears, and it is the hireling shepherd that will tell them what they want to hear. There are warning signs that every one of us needs to recognize, and we present here just a few.
One of the more subtle trends that will lead to compromise in good churches is the pursuit of shortcuts. We live in a time when more effort is expended trying to find a way around a problem than solving it head on. It is the eagerness for shortcuts that has brought us to superficial, formulary approaches to try to meet the needs of our people: We borrow from popular religious book culture to adopt Twelve steps to a better spiritual life, Six easy lessons in spiritual empowerment, or Three ways to discover your spiritual gift. The books behind these cure-alls freely employ psychological jargon, and even elements of eastern religion that are more designed to impress people with their sophistication than produce any remaining fruit. Eager to jump on present bandwagons, too many blindly parrot this nonsense without knowing either its origins or present context. It has all the attraction and mindless simplicity of an eastern prayer wheel, but the wills of the people remain unbroken before God, their hearts untouched by His Word and unmoved by His Holy Spirit.
It is also marked by the collecting of religious cliches and slogans that stir more emotion than serious thought. Some of these are now set to music in church-sounding mantras that seem to anesthetize congregations more than express anything of doctrinal significance. There are also the cliches that disassociate ministries from the straw man of Fundamentalism. For example, one of the newer slogans: "We are anti-divisive" may sound good, but it means little. Without context we would not know whether this was an echo of the Apostle Paul's clear teaching in Romans 16:17 or the battle-cry of an ecumenicist. Likewise, we have heard the diatribes of canonizing "personal preferences"into doctrinal precepts, but this is also political double-talk and empty rhetoric. Those who claim to be "..willing and desirous to be a Separatist..." have historically and consistently pushed the envelope towards worldliness and away from holiness, and have simply championed their own preferences over others. Has anyone heard them express any concern over becoming a stumblingblock to others in their demands that we sanction their own preferences? Don't hold your breath.
It is marked in a progressive paralysis in preaching. This is a complex problem, first in the poorer quality of preaching from our pulpits and conformity to a superficial spirituality of our people and, secondly, the decline of English literacy. Look at the declining numbers of programs to prepare men to be pastors in Bible colleges and seminaries. While specialties abound (especially in counseling) schools are failing to prepare men to meet the increasing, real- world demands of local church pastorates. We train good Bible mechanics, we teach young men the formulae and equations that promise to grow a church by applying worldly business practices, we introduce them to extra-Biblical counseling, and we produce men who call themselves "thinking pastors;" but they have neither the heart for God's holiness nor a genuine burden for ministering to His people .
The truth is we have traded prideful ambitions for scholarship and peer recognition in exchange for godly men who can rightly divide the word of truth, message after message, week after week—men who can be used and empowered of God to effectively preach His Word to lost souls and strengthen believers in the faith. It is an embarrassing exchange that makes us look more like egotistical hirelings than the humble servants of Christ. The time has come to ask ourselves whether we have permitted anything else to eclipse the pulpit ministry. Let's listen to ourselves as we preach and see if we recognize the weaving together of Bible cliches or the feel- good shortcuts and easy paths that pacify the spiritually anemic and perpetuate a dependency not unlike that of the people upon their priests through the dark ages.
Our communication needs to be clear and unequivocal in a time when slogans and cliches are regularly used out of context to purposely deceive and confuse godly people into accepting unsound doctrinal changes in their local churches. Failure to define terms, blind trust of leaders who now demonstrate shocking changes, no matter how they stood years before, have already undermined local churches that historically stood as flagships of fundamentalism. The real tragedy, however, is that it happened while sound, Bible-believing members either slept or stood by in silence until it was too late.
This is a call to those within our fellowship to take proper warning and search our own hearts and ministries, lest the leaven from within be overlooked in the scrutiny of corruption from without. While we stoutly defend the front door, the back doors of our hearts and churches are far more vulnerable than we may admit; and we cannot claim consistency for ourselves until we adequately protect both.
Pastor Charles L. Dear