Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
It is sad but true that increasingly there are those within the churches who insist that the “Good News” is that God is pleased to save by means of most or even all of the differing religions. (Is He not the God of love—love for all men?) The “Good News” is that the cross of Christ is not really necessary for salvation. The “Good News” is that the churches need not use money and manpower to proclaim the cross and seek repentance among the heathen.
I discovered an old newspaper article (about two years old) that treats of this growing evil. The article is from the Rocky Mountain News, October 28, 2000 (thanks to a Standard Bearer reader in Loveland who sent it). The writer is Terry Mattingly. The article was found in the paper’s religion section.
Every summer, lots of religious people sit in lots of national conventions and hear lots of leaders with impressive titles deliver lots of long speeches about complicated theological issues.
After a few weeks, people forget 99 percent of what’s said during this siege.
But people are still talking about the Rev. Dirk Ficca’s “Uncommon Ground” sermon at the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference in Orange, Calif. It has sparked something unusual: a hot mainline Protestant story that isn’t about sex.
The sound bite was a stunner: “What’s the big deal about Jesus?”
Why do so many Christians, asked Ficca, think they need to convert people in other religions to Christianity? Don’t they believe their God is powerful enough to work however he sees fit, even through other faiths? Don’t they believe in the “sovereignty of God”?
“God’s ability to work in our life is not determined by being a Christian,” said Ficca, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister who directs the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. “OK … if God is at work in our lives whether we’re Christian or not, what’s the big deal about Jesus?”
Ficca has seen traditional Christian missionary work and he rejects it, outright. Members of other faiths, he said, testify “that when Christians approach them with the sole purpose of converting them to Christianity, it feels like … a kind of ethnic cleansing. What (missionaries) are saying is: Your religious identity is not acceptable and my job is to eliminate it from the face of the earth.”
Presbyterian evangelicals are crying “foul”—early and often.
The result has been a clash between traditionalists and leaders of the denomination’s progressive establishment. Much of the heat is in cyberspace, but there have been flare-ups in public meetings. Many documents linked to the July 29 sermon can be found through the “Jesus Debate” link at the http://www.presbyweb.com news site.
Conservatives are quoting centuries of doctrine and catechisms, such as the Scots Confession, which proclaims: “…For there is neither life nor salvation without Christ Jesus; so shall none have part therein but those whom the Father has given unto his Son Jesus Christ, and those who in time come to him, avow his doctrine, and believe in him.” And, of course, they are quoting the Gospel of John: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
Ficca reads those passages differently. He dedicated much of his address to undermining what he called the “instrumental view” of Jesus and salvation.
It teaches that “Jesus is the sole and only instrument of God’s salvation—through one person at a certain point in history, who lived and died in a certain way, only through this person does God’s salvation come into the world,” he said. “Here the Gospel is about Jesus; Jesus, himself, is the Good News. …And if Jesus is the sole instrument of God—if it is only through Jesus that salvation comes—then the only way for the world to be saved is for everyone to become a Christian.”
In place of this view, Ficca advocated a “revelatory view.” It teaches that the “Good News is not the good news so much about Jesus, but the good news of Jesus: The Good News that Jesus preached. What this view says is that Jesus reveals how God has been at work in all times in all places throughout history in all people to bring about salvation.”
Thus, Christians no longer have to engage in “proselytizing … for the purpose of converting people to Christianity.” God offers believers many religious paths to reach one eternal destination, said Ficca.
Presbyterian evangelicals are urging their denomination to publicly reject this approach—doctrinally and financially—as soon as possible….
It’s amazing that within the Presbyterian Church USA there would be such a great stir about the views of Ficca—but evidently this created some unrest and disagreement. But little has changed since Ficca made his public statement.
One can also recognize this as the ultimate and logical conclusion from two prior errors. The first is that commonly proclaimed statement that God loves all men without exception, head-for-head. If He loves all, then surely God will see that all or most will be saved—by whatever means. Would God cast into hell the heathen who never heard God’s Word—but who worship “god” in their own native religion?
The second basic error producing the above fruit is that Scripture is not infallible nor inspired. The Scriptures are clear about the only way of salvation. The only way to maintain what Ficca teaches would be on the basis that Scripture is not true when it speaks of Jesus as the only way of salvation.
And the fruit of Ficca’s teaching is that the church need not do mission work. If it nevertheless does, it is insulting to those of other religions. Heresy has its consequences—and the consequences are devastating in the life and duties of the “church.”
Turmoil in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Some 25 years ago the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) went through a sort of reformation. At that time, as a consequence of their highest ruling body’s decision, many left to form a new (liberal) seminary (Seminex) and a new denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Synod). At that time this event was cited as the first real instance of a denomination reforming itself. Usually those who leave, or are forced to leave, do so in order to establish a continuing faithful church. It seemed that the LCMS would retain its character of a conservative (possibly most conservative) Lutheran denomination. It opposed evolutionism and maintained a literal, six-day creation. It opposed women serving as pastors—and presumably still does.
But all was not well. Herman Otten, pastor of a LCMS congregation (though to the present date the LCMS refuses to accept him as a pastor on its denominational roster of pastors), edits a paper we have quoted before, The Christian News. He has been reporting sad things taking place in the LCMS. Though many left some 25 years ago, he claims that an equal number of liberals remained in the LCMS. Now these appear to be gaining some control in the denomination. He reports of pastors who deny the deity of Christ; deny His physical resurrection; and deny the bodily resurrection of the children of God. Two of these have been either suspended or resigned recently after being charged with false doctrine.
The latest uproar came when a district president, (Rev.) David Benke, participated in a multi-religion memorial service at Yankee Stadium after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. After protests against this action, the Rev. Wallace Schulz, radio minister on the weekly Lutheran Hour, was instrumental in suspending Benke. That created a stir which resulted in Schulz being relieved of his position as radio pastor. World in its October 5, 2002 issue reports:
It’s final: Rev. Wallace Schulz won’t be returning to the microphone as speaker on the popular weekly Lutheran Hour radio broadcast. The radio ministry is affiliated with the discord-ridden Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), which Rev. Schulz serves as second vice president. His dismissal last month ratcheted up the tension over theological and polity issues in the largely conservative LCMS….
He “would not agree to stipulations deemed necessary for his return to service,” said Rodger Hebermehl, executive director of Lutheran Hour Ministries. He declined to describe the nature of the stipulations or discuss Rev. Schulz’s severance package. It is generally believed the stipulations would have isolated Rev. Schulz from some of his duties and prerogatives as an elected officer of the LCMS. Reached by WORLD, Rev. Schulz politely declined comment.
Rev. Schulz rejected a Lutheran Hour request last February to recluse himself from voting on dis
cipline charges against LCMS district president David Benke for his participation in a multi-religion memorial service at Yankee Stadium following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. When Rev. Schulz suspended Rev. Benke last June, he “polarized” and “negatively affected” the Lutheran Hour ministry, Mr. Hebermehl claimed. In turn, the ministry suspended Rev. Schulz as broadcast speaker, but offered to reinstate him provided he agreed to the stipulations.
In a letter to the editor in the magazine mentioned above, it was stated, “Rev. Benke said at the event, following prayers from leaders from other religions, that ‘the strength we have is the power of love. And the power of love you have received is from God, for God is love. So take the hand of one next to you now and join me in prayer on this “field of dreams” turned into God’s house of prayer.'”
The Christian News, October 7, 2002, reports also on a resolution of the Council of the City of New York:
The Council of the City of New York passed this resolution on September 25, 2002: “Resolved, that the Council of the City of New York supports Reverend David Benke, president of the Atlantic District, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Brooklyn, who was recently suspended from his denomination’s clergy roster for participating in the patriotic civic event at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001.
The “civic event” was also referred to as a “prayer service” when it first took place. It was both. Benke prayed with Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians. He gave the impression that all religions worship the same God. While he as a Christian prays in the name of Jesus the prayers of those who pray to other gods are also heard and answered by the truth (sic) God was the message he gave at Yankee Stadium. The Council of the City of New York appreciates such a message.”
So Dr. Schulz is severed from his position as radio minister for the Lutheran Hour. The governing body of the Lutheran Hour radio ministry would allow him to continue only after he would sign some seemingly impossible stipulations. It will be of great interest to see what now develops in what was once a conservative Lutheran denomination.