A Crisis in Christianity

By Fanning Yater Tant – THE BIBLE BANNER, 1938

Unless the Wave of Doctrinal Inertia and Relaxation Is Checked We Are in
         Danger of Degenerating Rapidly Into “Just Another Denomination.”

 As the stone thrown into the lake will cause waves to reach even the farthest shore, so any idea, attitude, or experience on the part of any of us will to some degree affect all of us. No one is immune to the thoughts and beliefs of his associates. He will undoubtedly feel their influence even if he does not yield to their sway. We have seen with what incredible rapidity political doctrines spread from one nation to another. Two decades ago, there were a score of kings reigning in Europe who are now either dead or in exile. The unrest and dissatisfaction of all the world after the World War proved fertile soil for the growth of political propaganda. Breaking out at first only as a tiny flame, the gospel of revolt swept like a holocaust across the face of the earth.

In one country after another the red flag of revolution was unfurled to the breeze; dynasties which had lasted for a thousand years were put to the sword; bloodshed and violence were the order of the day. No nation was absolutely immune to the epidemic. In some countries, as in America, other and more strongly entrenched ideals counteracted its influence, but every nation on earth felt its pull.

A New Development in Religion

While these changes have been going on in the political realm there has been an equally profound and significant development in the world of religion. No man at all conversant with the trend of modern thought can fail to recognize it. Dating from the time when the misinterpreted speculations of scientists precipitated a terrific fight between orthodox religion and the evolutionary hypothesis, and reaching its climax after the World War, there has developed an appalling apathy in the doctrinal teaching and doctrinal loyalty of every denomination. Until today in practically every denomination the mass of the membership is wholly ignorant of, and totally unconcerned about, the doctrinal tenets around which their church was built, a condition which did not exist a half-century ago.

Side by side with this doctrinal paralysis, indeed, dependent on it, has grown up a strong desire and sentiment toward union. After the rock-like dogmas and convictions of a previous generation had been broken down, the agitation for union swelled into a mighty chorus. And it is beginning to yield fruit. The Methodist Episcopal Church seems certainly headed toward a healing of the division which is now nearly a hundred years old; the Presbyterians are discussing union more strongly than ever before; the Christian Connection and Congregational Churches have already achieved it. And in scores of communities there have sprung up community churches, interdenominational movements, federations of churches and such like. These things could never have been as long as people were honestly divided by convictions, but since there are no longer convictions to divide, church union is not only possible but to be expected.

Effects on the Church of Christ

Inasmuch as the church is composed of human beings who think and feel and act like other human beings, and since we are not immune to the subtle influence of world reactions and world attitudes, it was inevitable that sooner or later the backwash of these two modern religious trends be discernible within the body of Christ. Indeed, the ideal of church unity has ever been a cardinal belief with Christian people. But this unity, earnestly desired by Christ and enjoined by His apostles, is different both in kind and in degree from that which the religious world is now seeking. And it is only within the last few years that there has been found within the church any desire at all for the sort of union the denominational world is seeking, a union which ignores Paul’s injunction that “all speak the same thing, and … be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” but tries rather to achieve a religious synthesis by refusing to talk of the things that divide.

In the church, as in the denominational world, this sentiment is traceable directly to a weakening of doctrinal convictions. There has grown up a generation of people who are members of the church of Christ for precisely the same reason that their friends and acquaintances are members of the Baptist and Methodist churches, because their parents before them were members. They are Christians not because of conviction but by accident of birth, being born into a Christian family rather than into a Methodist or Lutheran family. There is another large, and ever-increasing group who have “joined” (literally) the church under the emotional appeal of an evangelist without having first been taught.

These two groups constitute the most serious threat today to the purity of the church and her loyalty to the teaching of Christ. Because they have no deep rooted convictions, and because they are without doctrinal stamina, they have the typical sectarian and denominational attitude toward the church and her work.

It is these groups who decry “hard preaching,” who would not only permit, but encourage, the local minister to affiliate with the pastors’ alliance, who are so sweet-spirited that they cannot bear to hear error exposed in the pulpit.

The Way Out
That we are facing a crisis in the present life of New Testament Christianity should be evident to all thinking people. Although our position is precarious, it is by no means discouraging. For the evidence is accumulating that the churches are awakening to the situation.

And once awakened. the way to salvation from the present crisis is clearly indicated. It lies along two distinct paths, the first of which is indoctrination. Every member in the church must be taught the “rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God.” The Book of Acts must again be brought into the curriculum of church teaching. The line, and the reason for it, between Christianity and denominationalism must be clearly and decisively drawn. But if our first line of attack against the present danger is indoctrination, our second and equally important line must be evangelization. Church history shows that in periods of intense and fervent evangelism there has always been a corresponding growth in the moral and doctrinal purity of the church. It is only when the church ceases to work that she exposes herself to the insidious influence of false teaching. The religion of Jesus Christ is a thrilling challenge, not a soothing opiate. The church must never lose sight of the fact that she is a fighting army. She has neither time nor inclination for truce or parley. Satan has no compromise which she can accept; and she has nothing to offer him but the cutting blades of a two-edged sword.

The church must be militant and relentless in her opposition to error and sin, tireless and unyielding in her efforts to “make disciples of all the nations.” Indoctrination, evangelization– herein, and herein only, lies our salvation.

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