Few Christians disagree that the visible church is corrupt. It’s pretty much impossible to ignore the moral compromises infecting all denominations, as well as independent churches as scandals proliferate. Social media only makes matters worse. Some “discernment blogs” (particularly Pulpit & Pen) absolutely delight in reporting every negative tidbit they can find. To be honest, scandal sells.
Admittedly, sometimes we need to name names. I have boldly written about Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Sarah Young, Matthew Vines and others who inject false teaching into evangelical circles and thereby distort the Gospel. Additionally I have addressed popular trends like Holy Yoga, direct revelation, seeker-sensitive churches and the Social Justice Movement many times on this blog. I will continue doing so when I believe situations warrant such articles.
The visible church is unquestionably a mess.
We often forget, however, that the visible church has always been a mess. Paul wrote most of his epistles for the express purpose of confronting false doctrines and sinful practices within the First Century churches. As Roman Catholicism developed its system of justification by works, few professing Christians understood the Gospel of salvation by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
The Protestant Reformation restored the Bible to common people, although many Christians died as martyrs. Catholic authorities accused these men and women of heresy because they accepted Scripture’s authority over that of the pope.
All too soon after the Reformation, Enlightenment philosophers attracted the attention of the Puritans, enticing them to integrate rationalism into theology. From there, liberalism and psychology easily blended into churches, always at the expense of doctrinal purity.
A friend of mine once scoffed at my blog posts about church history, explaining that she cares more about the mess the church is in now. Actually, I share her concern. That’s precisely why I blog so frequently about people and trends that assault the authority, inerrancy and sufficiency of God’s Word.
But in combating the current mess in the visible church, it can help to go back in time. Certainly, our ultimate stop must be the First Century, as we stand unwaveringly on the Word of God. We must study, interpret and apply it in context. That’s why Michelle Lesley and I write regular Bible Studies in our blogs that lead you through large portions of Scripture, showing you the progression of thought propelling each verse.
Church history can aid our application of Scripture by showing us how Christians before us dealt with messes in the visible church. We can learn from the things they did right, but also from the things they did wrong. They can teach us how to identify false teaching, and consequently how to correct it with Scripture.
The visible church most assuredly is in a mess now. Church history testifies that it’s pretty much always in a mess. If we really want to restore the church to purity, why not trust church history to teach us how to apply God’s Word?