“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…”
2 Timothy 4:3
Please share your insights by commenting below this post.
Author’s Note: Below this post is a link to ‘Her Faith Inspires’ podcast hosted by Shanda Fulbright on this topic. We go a little deeper. After reading, head to the link below!
A pastor doesn’t wake up one morning and decide to be a heretic or stray from orthodoxy.
A church doesn’t have to hoist a giant BLM or LGBTQ+ flag to be considered liberal… Although, I’d definitely recommend avoiding churches that do so.
Liberal theology elevates human reason as authoritative while the Bible is seen as erroneous, possessing little to no authority. In reality, liberalization of a church is death by a thousand cuts. In other words, straying occurs slowly and incrementally over time. One must take in consideration a church’s theological commitments, doctrinal positions, and preaching over a span of years. History and trajectory are important.
I will share a few warning signs.
If church leadership begins to avoid controversial issues, this is one indication of that church going liberal. Excuses range from the “seeker-sensitive” mindset where leaders try to convince the congregation that preaching about controversial topics “gets in the way of the Gospel” to labeling all controversial issues as “political.” Both excuses in all their various forms are copouts. Avoiding controversy is a cover for the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) and cowardice (Revelation 21:8). Both lead to sin.
In a church, compromise is an attempt to morally relocate the difference between good and evil, and right and wrong somewhere in the middle. Compromise is usually packaged as something new and it’s never good. It is a theological and doctrinal reorientation around worldly culture rather than the Word of God. A little compromise here and there becomes normative. (Compromise is largely a function of the philosophy of pragmatism – more on pragmatism later).
Liberal theology takes on many forms and can be hard to recognize. Theological and doctrinal compromise rarely begin in the pulpit (unless the pastor has begun to privately compromise the truth). Actually, compromise typically begins in smaller communities within the larger church community – in small groups, classes, and/or church committees. From these smaller enclaves, compromise works its way into the wider church community.
Progressive Christianity is a current trend of dangerous theological and doctrinal compromise making its way through churches. If a teacher is promoting a “new and different interpretative approach to Scripture” or “deconstructing power and privilege in the Bible“, you are seeing compromise and false teaching. The teacher may be a nice guy with a seminary degree, but Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” too (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Eventually, compromise leads to a total rejection of biblical inerrancy and authority. Again, this occurs very slowly.
If you observe a leader isolating and insulating themselves against criticism or feedback they don’t like, it can indicate a trend toward liberalism. No one enjoys criticism or critique because it grates against our pride, sensibilities, and emotions. However, we can learn from criticism and feedback, even when it’s way off base because it contains some kernel of truth. When criticism, critique, or feedback comes from people who’ve supported and been committed to a fellowship for years, it’s probably a good idea to listen and humbly acknowledge there’s something to learn.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). This is not just aimed at the congregation. Pastors and teachers are to be taught, reproved, and trained by the Word as well.
When a church member critiques or challenges a leader, it’s a great opportunity to meet, open bibles, and discuss (reason together). However, when barriers to access are raised, its time for concern – because the leaders don’t want to listen. If they don’t listen, they don’t learn. If they amplify positive affirmations but don’t listen to the congregation, they lose connection with reality.
When a church is going liberal, it begins to alter or subtly back away from long held convictions. This is closely related to compromise. For instance, if your church has been committed to protecting and promoting the sanctity of human life for many years only to begin avoiding discussion about the sin of abortion, it’s backing away from a conviction. When ‘hot button’ issues like surgical mutilation of children, sterilization, or Marxist indoctrination of children in schools, or public promotion of drag shows for kids are avoided or ignored, there is a problem.
The Bible has something to say about all of these issues – the Bible calls them ‘evil.’ When Christians remain silent in the face of evil being foisted upon our neighbors who we’re commanded to love and children we are to defend, we are seconding evil’s motion.
Compromise and backing away from convictions lead to backsliding individually and liberalism theologically.
When sermons and teaching sound more like therapy sessions, there is a problem.
When messages are devoid of conviction and a call to humble repentance only to be replaced with ways to improve your life or become a better person, your discernment radar should kick in. Don’t be fooled when biblical narratives and feigned exposition are used as backdrops for moralism or the therapeutic. They are not preaching the Bible, they are using it as a prop for a watered down gospel.
It is important to note that the Moralistic Therapeutic is extremely difficult to spot because the language and tone lulls the congregation to sleep. Why? Because in reality, God created us as emotional beings with needs. In addition, Christians desire to be godly and good. A moralistic TED-talk sermon manipulates those desires. Furthermore, everyone struggles with depression, grief, joylessness, trauma, etc to some degree. So, a therapeutic message appeals to people’s emotions. However, when the clear admonition, conviction, and edification of God’s Word is twisted to sound like a TED-talk or self-help book, liberal theology is just below the surface. No one should feel good about their sin.
Nickels and Noses
When church growth, attendance, and giving become primary drivers of decision-making, the door is wide open for liberal theology.
When entertaining the goats is more important than the feeding the sheep, there is a problem.
When church resources are diverted away from serving people to funding operations that are geared toward entertainment and marketing strategies, mission drift is occurring. Furthermore, Big Data is big business in the church world today. Christians are being treated like consumers. Who’s responsible for growing Christ’s Church? Man or Jesus Christ?
The congregation is no longer viewed through a theological lens. Instead, the congregation is viewed through an economic and marketing lens. There has been a paradigm shift away from the mission of the church toward pragmatism and franchise-styled thinking. This leads to empire-building, marketing gimmicks, and protecting the institution in order to keep the people and money rolling in. Does this sound like a biblical description of the Body of Christ?
Many pastors don’t speak truth boldly because their customers (I mean) congregations may be offended and leave the church (taking their tithes with them). In these pastors’ minds, it’s better to sooth the congregation’s consciences, tone-down convictions, compromise with the world, avoid controversy and criticism to keep the lukewarm congregation coming back. This results in churches focusing efforts and resources on keeping their customers happy, comfortable, and entertained. The faithful members who are committed to the truth and obeying God’s Word are pushed out for speaking up (labeled as divisive, disloyal, trouble-makers, and distrusting of leadership). Little do these fearful pastors know they are sawing off the branch on which they sit. (See Proverbs 26:27)
I could ramble on, you get the point.
Driving toward solutions – What are we to do?
– Praise God for the Church – the body of Christ.
– Repent of our self-centered idolatry and compromises with the world.
– Return to our first love – Jesus Christ and his holy Word – obey his commands.
– Recover the mission of the church – a community committed to truth (John 8:46-47), a community of love (John 17), and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
– Restore a full-orbed Kingdom vision for our place in God’s world for his glory! (Ephesians 2:10)
– Pray again (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. – Titus 2:1
What about you? What ways do you observe churches ‘going liberal’?
Please share your insights by commenting below this post.
Want to dive deeper? Listen to my interview on ‘Her Faith Inspires’ podcast with Shanda Fulbright. Go to the podcast homepage here…
1. Article: What is liberal Christian theology?
2. Book: Another Gospel by Alisa Childers
3. Book: No Place For Truth – David Wells
4. Blog: Fear as cover for False Teaching
5. Podcast: The Elephant in the Room: Has the Church Become Too Much Show and Not Enough Truth
6. Resource (Definition): Pragmatism
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