Anti-Gnosis: The Plight of the Church
“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”
Peter writes that judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4: 17), which means, when salt and light does not pervade a culture where the church is immanent, there is a problem. And the source of that problem stems from within the church. If salt loses its saltiness, of what good is it? And, when light can no longer be distinguished from the darkness around, is it truly light any longer or has its lamp-stand been removed? There is no question that churches are present within communities throughout the United States, most of which proclaim themselves to be Christian. So, where is the salt and light?
It is my fear that three things have taken place. First, many churches that proclaim themselves to be “Christian” are not Christian by any meaningful sense of the term. They have rejected historic Christian Creeds and Confessional statements and have embraced ideas that have been condemned by the Councils of the Christian church going back to the first Century AD. Secondly, many professing Christians are more interested in a promise of heaven than they are interested in what it means to live out an authentic Christian faith. Many assume that they can live however they choose and worship in whatever way they prefer, so long as they have their “Get Out of Hell Free” pass promised by a person who preaches niceties to them on Sunday morning. Third, many Christians have become so busy with life that they presume that knowledge of the things of God is something for pastors and seminary students only. In fact, many are so used to this notion, that they are hostile to the notion that all Christians are commanded to study and learn the things of God.
Psalm 111:2 boldly proclaims, “Great are the works of Yahweh, studied by all who delight in them.” Do you delight in the things that God has done? Then the way you show your delight is by studying them. In fact, it could be argued that you most eagerly study those things in which you most delight. Billy Graham used to say, “If you want to know where a man’s priorities are, just look at his checkbook.” I say, “If you want to know what a man loves, look at those things that most occupy his mind and thought.
Paul writes here in Romans that one of the results of people seeking to worship the creation rather than the creator is that they do not “study to have the knowledge of God.” The Greek word in question here is δοκιμάζω (dokimazo), which conveys the idea of examining something to see whether it is right or true and then drawing conclusions about said things on the basis of what has been tested and examined.
Conceptually, this is a powerful notion. For without such careful and detailed examination, upon what does one base their Christian belief? Too many professing Christians simply claim that faith is enough, but is faith not something that ought to be substantiated? Without examination, how is our faith in God any different than the heathen’s superstitious faith in their totems and idols? Is not faith a conviction (ἕλεγχος — elegchos — the act of presenting evidence as in a court case — Hebrews 11:1) of things that are not seen? Is not the faith that results in praise and glory and honor at the revealing of Christ a faith that is examined (δοκιμάζω — dokimazo — 1 Peter 1:7)? If God tests our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4) shall we also not test every spirit (1 John 4:1) — δοκιμάζω (dokimazo)? How can we make a reasoned defense of the faith if we have first not examined what we believe (ἀπολογία — apologia — 1 Peter 3:15)?
Yet, not only do many (if not most) never bother applying their reason to the faith they possess, many pastors seek to dissuade their flock from doing so. Perhaps they feel as if the reasoned examination will detract from the passion of their worship. Perhaps they do not wish to face such questions themselves. Perhaps they too are blindly following the example of a superstitious faith set for them by others. Worse yet, perhaps they feel intimidated at the idea that someone, upon examination, might discover that the faith and practice inculcated at their church might prove fraudulent and empty.
If this is the state of the American church, then why should we be surprised when the world sees our practice as unintelligent, superstitious, undesirable, and irrelevant to life? They reject the salt and light of the church because the church has lost its saltiness and its light has become so dimmed as to be imperceptible from any other expression of religion or faith? The church in the first centuries did not have a vague witness. They boldly proclaimed Christ’s resurrection from the dead and were happy to have their testimony examined by even the most hostile and critical foes. Shall we not do the same? Yet, we cannot, until we are ready to examine the faith we profess. If we do not do so, then the church will continue to fall into the morass of sin that Paul describes in this passage — indeed, do not many of these sins describe the church of our day (envy, strife, deceit, meanness, slander, gossip, etc…).
How will Christ be pleased with the playacting that many supposed Christian churches practice week in and week out when the faith therein is never tested? On what basis will Christ say, “well done,” if there is no basis for that statement other than one’s personal preferences? Indeed, many will be expecting to hear the words, “well done,” yet will only hear, “I never knew you.” If the church will not repent of its foolishness, then the lamp-stand will be removed and Christ will spit them out of his mouth. To be ignorant in the church is one thing if one is a new believer. To be ignorant in the church, though one has been in the church for years, is lazy. But to be opposed to the careful examination of the things of God is the work of antichrists (1 John 2:18-19) and should be condemned with the strongest language — indeed, they are preaching a gospel of another kind than what is plainly taught in Scripture (Galatians 1:6-10).