Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The new millennium is almost upon us. Soon the 1900s will be no more. It will be the year 2000. It is natural that many in this past year have been reflecting on the old millennium and what has gone before. The world in which we live has changed dramatically as time has progressed. In just the last century man has advanced in knowledge a hundredfold! So much so, in fact, that unbelieving optimists contend that, given this rate of development, man in this new millennium will learn how to control his destiny and that of the planet earth.
The media have used the close of the old millennium to reflect on the events of history. Magazine articles and books have been written about the nations and men of the millennium that will soon be passed. Others are written which boast about the advance of medicine, technology, and the arts. It is a time of reflection.
But it is also a time of eager anticipation! The media have been filled with this kind of hype too — the wonders man is going to perform in the next millennium. Unbelieving man has high hopes for himself. He eagerly anticipates a global economy which will assist in eradicating famine and starvation. He looks forward to world peace, when the nations of this world will cease their aggression and strive for the common good of all mankind. He looks forward to overcoming disease and suffering. In short, fallen man looks forward to the establishment of a kingdom where he can discover his full human potential while continuing on in his sin.
Not only has the world of unbelief become absorbed in the new millennium that is soon to be upon us. So has the church. The church too has taken time to reflect upon the past. Many articles have been written in religious periodicals reflecting on the history of the church. There have been many changes in the church this past 1000 years, from the split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in July of 1054, to the Reformation of the sixteenth century, to the rise of modern theology in the churches of today. It is contended by most in the church world that the church has truly developed for the better. All the old, antiquated doctrines of the past are finally being placed on the bookshelf where they belong. Now we can write new confessions which will impact our society in a much more positive way than the old theology of the church.
Modern Christianity also looks forward to the new millennium. There is a renewed interest in the second coming of Christ and the meaning of the millennium as prophesied in Revelation 20. Some postmillennialists are even optimistic that they can use the total chaos of January 1, 2000 as a time to make large strides in establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Others are ascribing symbolic significance to this coming year, and speculate that it might be the time of the rapture.
So the church world is looking at the future too. In itself, that is not wrong. We too take time to reflect on the past and look to the future. In fact, that is what we are going to do tonight. We are going to take a closer look at the religious development of the past few decades, and in light of this we will consider what must be our standard for the millennium to come.
When I assess the development of the church of our day, the conclusion to which I come is not as favorable as is that of the Reconstructionist. He boasts that the church is becoming more orthodox and is gaining greater power and influence in the world. And although I would agree that the nominal church is of great influence, I deny that this is for the better. My outlook for modern Christianity is rather bleak — no, very bleak!
The one chief characteristic of the church world at the end of this present millennium is appalling ignorance. Men and women who have spent their entire lifetimes within the confines of the church are almost completely ignorant of what the Bible says. They are not able to relate simple Bible history, much less explain the doctrines of the church. They might be able to tell a few Bible stories, but they are unable even to place these within the context of sacred history. The doctrines of Scripture are way beyond their understanding.
Even worse is the notion that one need not know the Bible in order to be a good Christian. Not the amount of objective knowledge makes a solid Christian, it is contended, but whether a person has had a break-through experience with God! If I am able to feel the power of God in my life, if I can feel His great love surrounding me, that is all that is necessary to be a good Christian! It is not that we should throw away our Bibles. It is not that we should not read our Bibles or even study them. But the Bible should be used as nothing more than a handbook to teach me how to live for Christ or learn to love Him more. Ignored is the controversy God had with the nation of Israel which He spoke through the mouth of Hosea in Hosea 4:1, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.”
In large part, this widespread ignorance can be blamed on the church itself. The church institute has failed its sheep. This is true, in the first place, in that the church has failed to instruct her members. Systematic instruction in the doctrines of God’s Word (e.g., Heidelberg Catechism preaching) has been replaced in the pulpit with short moral homilies. Preaching has been minimized to such an extent that little time is given for a faithful explanation of God’s Word.
The children of the covenant have also been sorely neglected in this instruction. Instead of attending the worship services, where they might learn to listen and be instructed under the preaching, they attend kiddies’ classes, where they are taught to play. When a Bible story is taught to them, it is superficial and taken out of the context of sacred history. Sunday school of this sort is the extent of what is taught children in the modern churches of today. When these children grow into their youth, their “instruction” is finished. If there is more instruction given, it is not required by the church. All that is required of youth to become active members in the church is the broad, sweeping statement, “I believe that I am a Christian and that Jesus died for me.” The church has left her children ignorant!
Not only has the church institute of today neglected instruction, but it has actually encouraged its membership in the way of ignorance in the lies that it teaches! The Bible is not totally the Word of God. It is culturally conditioned. It is made up in some parts of the personal opinions of men. Certain parts of Scripture can be discarded. Well, if this is the case, then who really needs the Bible? The Bible is not all that reliable anyway! Certainly, it cannot carry any weight of authority. If this is the case, why learn it? Why memorize it? Why spend so much time with it? I can be a good Christian without knowing the Bible! The result of such reasoning? Abounding ignorance!
With this ignorance comes apostasy. This is the second trend of the church world of our day. Apostasy reigns in the church. Since no one is rooted anymore in the truth, the lie can be taught and no one really knows the difference. “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived,” we read in II Timothy 3:13. We are further informed in II Timothy 4:3, 4, that ignorant people with itching ears will heap unto themselves teachers who will turn their ears away from the truth and unto fables. That is exactly what is happening in the church of today! People are always itching to hear something new and innovative. And there are plenty of false teachers available to give the people exactly what they are looking for. Every kind of heresy one wants to hear is available in the modern church world. All one has to do is look for it. It all goes under the name of Christianity. Within the realm of the church, people are being blown about by every wind of doctrine which men in cunning craftiness teach.
There is one particular heresy that is especially insidious in nature. It is a heresy that seems to unite the majority of Christianity today no matter how divergent these churches might be in other matters. It is also more and more becoming the line of demarcation between true Christianity and apostate Christianity. At the time of Augustine this error was known as Pelagianism. Later in history, when it was opposed in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, it was known as Arminianism. Today it seems to be so much a part of modern Christianity it no longer has a name! It is the error of a universal love of God for every man, and all that goes with it. Christ died for every person, making salvation available for all. Everyone has a chance for salvation, but one must accept Christ and that salvation. Fallen man is not totally depraved but has the ability to accept Christ. God’s election is therefore conditioned on what man does. This heresy which we call Arminianism has pervaded the church world, and it is exactly this lie that is uniting the false church in the world!
And it is uniting the false church with the unbelieving world as well. The apostate church and the unbelieving world are both convinced of the natural ability of man to save himself. They both speak of a God who loves everyone so long as they live a good moral life and are a help to their neighbors. Humanism lies at the heart of both their desires. To the world of unbelief there is nothing offensive in the lies taught by the apostate church. Since everyone is created in the image of God, we all belong to the same brotherhood! We have every reason, therefore, to join hands in the common cause of mankind and make this world a better place! Apostasy is eating away at the church as a canker!
Finally, when we reflect on just the last few decades of the closing millennium we find the trend of the church world toward relativism. Within the church as well as without, there no longer seems to be any objective right and wrong. Everything goes. And everyone is willing to live with that! You believe what you want to believe and I’ll believe what I want to believe and let’s just learn to get along. We are all going to heaven anyway. You probably have some truth to what you teach, but then so do we. There really is no objective standard of truth! Let’s not condemn each other!
As a result of this kind of thinking, everyone seems to be getting along just fine in the church world — everyone, that is, except the true church. That institute which attempts to walk the straight line of God’s Word is frowned on and pushed aside. Everything goes except the truth. No one wants that church institute which insists that its members walk according to the commands of God’s Word and insists on teaching only what God’s Word teaches. That church is judgmental and narrow-minded. The faithful church is too strict. It does not give in enough to others! No one wants that church!
That is where the church world stands today, after all its development in the past 1000 years. It is characterized by ignorance, apostasy, and relativism. As we reflect on the church at the close of this millennium, the picture is not a very pretty one.
… to be continued.