Does Evangelical Theology Stand on A Firm Foundation?

The Stoning of Steven
 

 
 

hat if most of what you have been taught about the Bible is wrong? Could it be true that in many cases you have been taught to believe exactly the opposite of what the Bible really teaches? Asked another way, how do you know that what you have been taught is the truth? Could you pick up a Bible and defend your beliefs? How do you know that you have not been deceived?

These are serious questions that every Christian should ask themselves, but unfortunately ones that most seem afraid to. Those who are members of evangelical churches have been taught to accept that their beliefs represent the final word in what is ‘orthodox’, and many it seems are afraid to step outside that realm for fear of be branded as a ‘cultist’ or a ‘heretic’. This is indeed troubling when you consider that the average Christian today could not begin to explain the Biblical or historical origins of the doctrines which they affirm as true. We have been taught to accept the truth of certain doctrines based only the fact that they are widely accepted, or have always been preached as ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’.

Does evangelical theology really represent ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’? Do the doctrines which are so prominently set forth today really stand on a firm Biblical foundation?
 

ONCE DELIVERED WHEN

There is woeful lack of Bible study among those today who profess to be Christians. Much of what many call ‘Bible Study’ is nothing more than ‘devotionals’ which contain little or no doctrinal depth, or study of what others have written about the Bible instead of Bible study itself. Even in such cases, most of what is written today by evangelical Christian authors is simply a rehash of what others have written in the past.

For example, the recent popularity of the ‘Left Behind’ series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins is little more than the works of John Nelson Darby, C. I. Scofield, and Clarence Larkin rehashed and taken to the point of sensationalism in order to appeal to and attract a 21st century audience. In their time (the late 19th century) these men were serious students of the Bible, and even though I may not ultimately agree with their conclusions, I do not at all doubt their sincerity, love for God’s Word, and earnest desire to find the truth. However, what many fail to realize is that the doctrines these men propounded (the secret rapture of the Church followed by a seven year period of tribulation in which a personal antichrist will reign over the earth) were revolutionary at their time. In fact, the teaching of the secret rapture was almost unknown up until their time and was met with the utmost skepticism to say the least. To assert that a doctrine such as the 'secret rapture ' of the church has always been held by true believers is simply untrue.

Up until the late 19th century, it was also generally accepted among Protestants that the Papacy as a system fulfilled the role of the antichrist. While the works of Darby, Scofield, and Larkin ultimately served to make the concept of the Antichrist as a single future individual popular among evangelicals, many today remain ignorant of the fact that this concept was at first met with loud protest. In fact those who had taken the time to study the subject realized that this ‘new’ teaching was not new at all but had first been set forth in 1558 by a Catholic Jesuit Priest named Ribera as part of the Roman Catholic ‘counter reformation’ in an attempt to ‘take the heat off’ the Papacy.

The issue here is not whether Darby, Scofield and Larkin were correct in their conclusions. The issue is that most Christians today accept these evangelical teachings as divinely sanctioned doctrinal fact without even the most cursory investigation. However this example serves only to indicate a much greater problem, namely that most if not all present-day evangelical teaching is accepted by the overwhelming majority of Christians without even rudimentary study.

As my own personal study of the Bible continued, and as my personal investigation led me further and further away from those doctrines which I had been taught to accept, it did occur to me that others would surely accuse me of having apostatized or abandoned the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’. Even today this seems to concern others with whom I have shared my beliefs. However, the more I studied, the more I could not help but be struck by the fact that the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ when applied to modern-day evangelicalism is nothing more than a tragic fallacy.

The large wealthy denominations of today may hold positions of esteem; they may be popular and exert great influence, but they clearly do NOT represent the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’.  This prideful smug, arrogant attitude that consigns anyone who dares question the teaching of modern evangelical theology to the category of ‘apostate’ completely ignores the fact that this world endured 1000 years where Christian thought and freedom were suppressed to near non-existence by the most cruel methods imaginable. The ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ was forced underground during these ‘dark ages’ and the records of those minute groups who did dare question the Roman Catholic authority during that time, as well as what they believed, are scant to say the least.

Almost all major denominations today have their roots in the protestant reformation that began in approximately 1500 AD. This of course is 1450 years too late to have anything to do with the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’. With the invention of the printing press in 1456 Bibles steadily began to become more available to the common man. As a result of the proliferation of Bibles and a renewed zeal for study, the reformation was born.


But consider for a moment that the very fact and necessity of the reformation necessarily implies that something had gone very wrong in ‘Christendom’. The reformation was supposed to be an attempt to recover the truth that had been lost and buried by centuries of tradition, greed and church abuses. The ‘faith once delivered to the saints’, if it was to be located at all, would only be found through careful and lengthy study of God’s Word, and by the prayers of those who yearned to know the truth at any cost. Clearly though, the truth was in need of a recovery as it did not come through the dark ages completely intact.

However, the greatest problem with the reformation was that it became just that; a reformation of an apostate system that had absolutely nothing to do with the true church and teaching of Jesus Christ to begin with. What was needed was not a re-formation of an apostate system, what was needed was a recovery of the truth! The fact that these same protestant groups which evolved from this ‘re-formation’ today claim to be the true Church of Jesus Christ means nothing whatsoever. Did they at one time represent sincere efforts to recover what had been lost during the dark ages? Yes. Does that mean that they today hold the truth and that anyone who disagrees with them is ‘apostate’? Absolutely NOT! Modern evangelicals may like to pretend that they represent the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’; they may spew their venom and pronounce anathemas on those who dare to disagree with them, but none of that makes what they teach the truth anymore than any other group or individual which has sought to recover the truth following the dark ages.

There are those today who will assert that their particular denomination has a clear unbroken chain of believers all the way back to the times of the apostles. While I certainly believe that there has always been a scattered remnant of true believers on this earth, even during the dark ages, it is rather naive to assume that these small groups of believers believed exactly as the large evangelical denominations today. Baptists in particular like to point out that they were not part of the reformation, but always existed as Baptists even back to the time of the apostles, howbeit under different names; Bogomils, Paulecians, Nazerenes, Waldensens, etc. While I do not doubt that these groups represented many of the true scattered believers down through the ages, I do not agree with the evangelical literature which tries to give the impression that these groups believed exactly those same doctrines which are so widely accepted today. Such reasoning is simply dishonest.

The period following the reformation, fed by the distribution of Bibles, spawned hundreds if not thousands of movements each searching to reclaim the truth. The powerful evangelical denominations of today stand among them, not above them. Nor do they stand above you or I.

We as believers must stand for truth. Many evangelical Christians today are afraid to think differently for fear that they will be branded a heretic. But you cannot abandon the truth unless you first know the truth. You cannot betray convictions unless you first have convictions, and you cannot forsake the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ unless you have that faith to begin with. Faith in a belief system means nothing, and a belief system means nothing unless it is born of serious personal study, and a deep and sincere relationship with God.
 

DOCTRINAL HYPOCRISY

The battle cry among evangelicals is their supposed stand for the verbal inspiration of the scriptures and their conviction that all beliefs must be based solely on them and not man-made tradition.  This of course is a premise in which I stand in perfect agreement.  If the truth is to be known at all, it is to be known only by divine revelation, of which the scriptures are the only current source extant. But does evangelical theology really represent sound Biblical teaching?

Evangelical apologists couch their arguments in language that leads one to believe that their beliefs alone stand on a firm scriptural foundation, while all other groups, which they consign to the category of ‘cult’ or ‘sect’, supposedly arrive at their belief systems only through human ingenuity or a ‘twisting’ of the scriptures.  While this type of language may impress those who are looking for security and for a voice of authority to tell them that what they believe is the truth, thoughtful unprejudiced investigation tells an altogether different story. When the evangelical doctrines of today are examined, it can be shown rather easily that in every way in which they accuse others of ‘twisting the scriptures’, they themselves are equally as guilty, and in many cases, more so. 

Take for example the doctrine of the ‘trinity’, which is considered to be the central doctrine of the ‘Christian Faith’.  This doctrine more than any is used as a spiritual litmus test in determining which groups can be considered ‘evangelical’ and which are ‘cults’.  Not only is there no clear statement of this doctrine in scripture, but there was no formal affirmation of this doctrine until the council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Even then it was only accepted through much controversy and protest. Because the language of the Nicene creed has much more in common with Greek philosophy than anything in the New Testament, it is absolutely na´ve to think that anyone who knew nothing of Christianity, if given only the New Testament to read and study, would formulate this doctrine by himself or herself. Yet to deny this doctrine in evangelical or fundamental circles means to brand one’s self a cultist! 

The Encyclopedia Britannica states: 

Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4)…

The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. Initially, both the requirements of monotheism inherited from the Old Testament and the implications of the need to interpret the biblical teaching to Greco-Roman religions seemed to demand that the divine in Christ as the Word, or Logos, be interpreted as subordinate to the Supreme Being. An alternative solution was to interpret Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three modes of the self-disclosure of the one God but not as distinct within the being of God itself. The first tendency recognized the distinctness among the three, but at the cost of their equality and hence of their unity (subordinationism); the second came to terms with their unity, but at the cost of their distinctness as “persons” (modalism). It was not until the 4th century that the distinctness of the three and their unity were brought together in a single orthodox doctrine of one essence and three persons.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 stated the crucial formula for that doctrine in its confession that the Son is “of the same substance [homoousios] as the Father,” even though it said very little about the Holy Spirit. Over the next half century, Athanasius defended and refined the Nicene formula, and, by the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since. 

It seems to me the height of absurdity to claim that this doctrine which only arose over many centuries and through much controversy should be used as the ultimate test of what is ‘orthodox’ and what is not. But this is precisely what is done in evangelical circles today.  However, should any non-evangelical group advance a doctrine for which no explicit statement exists in scripture, they would be immediately denounced as a dangerous cult. Why most people in evangelical circles seem unconcerned about such blatant hypocrisy is a mystery indeed.

In many other cases, the clearest statements of scripture are explained away when they clash with an accepted evangelical doctrine. Many times these glaring contradictions are brushed off in ways that, to thinking people. border on the ridiculous. Take for example the following verse:

For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. Acts 2:34-35

Our evangelical leaders assure us with the utmost confidence that this statement cannot be taken at face value, and that these words do not at all mean what they so clearly seem to teach. In fact, we are instructed to believe just the opposite; that David is in fact in heaven despite the most emphatic statement that he is not! Evangelicals must resort to their own ingenuity to explain away this clear Biblical statement, even though this is precisely what they accuse the ‘cults’ of doing. Quite often it seems that evangelicals are the ONLY ones who seem to buy some of these explanations. 

The explanation given here is, of course, that David himself ascended into heaven, but that his body is not there yet.  But who would ever deduce such a thing from the text itself unless you approached it first with the pre-conceived idea that David MUST be in heaven because nineteen centuries of 'Christian theology' say he is! 

Yet another example of this same type of reasoning can be found in the following verses: 

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten Eccl 9:5

The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence. Ps 115:17

Again, neither of the above verses is in any way ambiguous, yet we are informed that they do not mean what they explicitly say! Quite to the contrary we are told that the dead are really more alive than ever, and that the faithful dead now praise God day and night in heaven. Consequently these verses must be ‘explained away’. We are informed once again that these verses refer only to dead bodies, although such an explanation reduces these verses to obvious meaninglessness. But, should  non-evangelicals resort to such tactics in order to 'explain away' such explicit passages of scripture they would immediately be accused of twisting the scriptures to suit their own interpretations.

Yet another example will serve to show that many times the evangelical criticisms of ‘cult teachings’ are simply not valid at all. Consider the following verse as it stands in the King James Bible: 

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:39-43

Many students of the Bible have pointed out that they do not agree with the punctuation of the last verse and that it should instead be read as: 

Verily I say unto thee this day, thou shalt be with me in paradise.

Evangelical leaders and apologists howl in protest that those who read this verse in such a way have ‘changed the Bible’ or ‘twisted the scriptures’ to teach what they do not say.  But is this criticism even valid? 

Anyone who is familiar with the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written knows that punctuation did not exist in the original text.  Therefore, those who would read this verse in a different way by changing the punctuation have certainly NOT ‘changed the Bible’ or twisted anything at all!  In fact, because the punctuation was not part of the original inspired text, it would be just as easy to say that it is the evangelicals that are twisting the verse to suit their needs! 

Evangelicals will sometimes point out that there is ‘not one eminent recognized scholar who believes that the punctuation of Luke 23:43, as it stands in the King James text, is in error’.  But once again, this argument means absolutely nothing. Actually there is no shortage of scholars who believe that the comma in Luke 23:43 is in the wrong place (Rotherham, Bullinger, etc.).  What the Evangelicals really mean, is that they do not accept any scholar who happens to disagree with them!

I remember listening to one popular syndicated radio broadcast where the speaker pointed out how a certain 'cult' had 'changed the Bible' by moving the comma at Luke 23:43.  This man was of significant learning and reputation and almost certainly knew that he was not telling his listeners the whole truth. You cannot 'change the Bible' by moving punctuation, because there was no punctuation in the original text.  This speaker was clearly counting on the ignorance of his audience in order to prove his point. Is this honest?  Isn't this exactly what this man was accusing the 'cults' of doing?

In still more instances Evangelicals will freely quote their own erroneous interpretations of the Bible as if they were actually quoting from the Bible itself.  A few of examples of this are: 

“Jesus talked about hell more than heaven” 

“Jesus said that hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth” 

“Paul said ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’” 

“The Bible says that hell is a lake of fire”   

"The rapture precedes the seven year tribulation"

None of the above phrases is correct from a truly Biblical perspective although most evangelicals will swear that they are. All of these statements are derived from certain pre-conceived ideas and assumptions which evangelical theology brings to the Biblical text. But nowhere does the Bible explicitly teach any of these.  This betrays a lack of serious Bible study, but once again, isn’t this precisely what they accuse the 'cults' of? 

So we see from the examples above; the doctrine of the trinity which one must profess to be considered orthodox, clear verses concerning the state of the dead which flatly contradict the current evangelical teaching, the punctuation of Luke 23:43 where the protests of ‘twisting the scriptures’ are simply invalid, and ‘scriptural' statements which are simply not correct, that evangelicals simply do not tell the truth when they state that only their beliefs are based on the Bible. The cases discussed briefly above are by no means isolated examples and such cases could be easily multiplied. 

The sad fact is, that in almost every way the evangelicals today criticize those who do not agree with their teachings, they also indict themselves. They may have convinced themselves and their followers that their teachings are based on sound scholarship, but the facts tell an entirely different story. It is time that Christians begin to wake up and see that in many cases they have been deceived into believing exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches! To abandon these teaching is not to abandon the 'faith once delivered to the saints' but to free oneself from an apostate system which will be held accountable to God for its unbelief and which stands in danger of severe judgment.

Evangelicalism has become the most prominent, visible manifestation of ‘Christianity’ in our time.  It is a system that over the past century has erected an enormous monstrosity of conflicting doctrines whilst all the while vehemently proclaiming it’s self to be ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’.  Is it any wonder that many in our day reject Christianity entirely? 

If, as most evangelicals teach, we are truly living in the last age just prior to the return of Jesus Christ, then each of us should be even more driven to make certain that those things which we have been taught for so long are true.  None of us will be able to plead ignorance before the judgment if we let our Bibles collect dust while simply believing everything we were told.  The Bereans were considered more noble because they searched the scriptures to make sure that what they were being taught was the truth.  Can we say that we have truly done the same thing? The Harvest Herald is simply an invitation and a challenge to all Christians  to dare to think differently, and to have enough courage and faith in God to believe that He can guide you into all truth. If we can be of any help at all in your personal search for Biblical truth, please let us know.