I recently read an article by Ken Chumbley in Focus Magazine that really made me think. I wanted to share it with you. The article is reprinted here with permission by both brother Chumbley and Focus Magazine.
The Threat I Pose
Religiously, I am what is known as a fundamentalist. This term carries a variety of meanings, but in my case it means I hold to certain beliefs generally considered to be the indispensable core in Christianity. I believe, for example, that the Bible is the word of God; I believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ; and I believe in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Further, I view with suspicion any teaching characterized as progressive, modern, or liberal. In my experience, what has been called progressive usually turns out to be transgressive, in that the progressive doctrine commonly progresses beyond the limit of Scripture. “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 John 9). Without question I am a religious conservative, in that I believe in staunchly preserving, as best I can, what I understand New Testament Christianity to be. For the record, the only label I apply to myself is Christian (Acts 11:26); I only aspire to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
But having said all this, I must acknowledge the historical verity that regarding threats to the faith—to paraphrase Pogo—I have met the enemy and he is me. What I mean is this: in the annals of Christianity, the greatest apostasies came not from the religious left, but from the right. The damage caused by heresies such as gnosticism, Marcionism, Manichaeism, monorchianism, Arianism, sacerdotalism, and so on was minimal compared to that which resulted from those who “defended the faith” against the heretics. As John W. Kennedy summarized it in The Torch of the Testimony (Christian Books, 1965), it was the counter-measures adopted by the orthodox, “much more than the heresies themselves, [which] were responsible for the changes which were eventually to lead the assemblies so far away from the simplicity of church life as it was in New Testament times” (60). Even a cursory understanding of ecclesiastical history will sustain this proposition.
And what were the orthodox reactions to heresy that were themselves heretical? Here is a short list.
- Clericalism—which created a spiritual hierarchy of clergy who arrogated to themselves the right to define the faith, interpret the Bible, and identify as heretical all who questioned their conclusions.
- Creedalism—which sought to impose orthodoxy by requiring assent to precise statements of certain truths that excluded contemporary heresies. This trend, however, eventually emphasized confessing the creed to the neglect of weighty matters such as love (e.g., I John 3:16-18) and obedience (e.g., I John 2:3-6).
- Legalism—which placed trust in one’s righteousness rather than in God (Ezk. 33:13; Luke 18:9). Legalism is an insidious heresy wherein faith in one’s obedience is substituted for the obedience of the faith (Romans 1:5; 16:26).
- Dogmatism—(or, if you will, traditionalism) which elevated man’s word over God’s word (Mark 7:1-13; Col. 2:20-23).
I repeat: in ecclesiastical history, these “isms” of the right proved far more lethal to the primitive pattern of Christianity than anything from the left. It was the conservatives (the scribes and Pharisees), not the liberals (the Sadducees), who were most frequently condemned by the Lord during His personal ministry.
The besetting sins of the right are not countered by jumping to the left. True orthodoxy is maintained by charting a course within the parameters of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24), holding belief, love, and obedience in their proper balance. Failing in this, they who consider themselves Christ’s proponents may, in fact, have positioned themselves as His opponents (Matthew 16:22-23).
It is a lesson we conservatives would do well to remember.