All Around Us

Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

"...And Shall Deceive Many."

So Christ declared several times in His final instruction to His disciples before His death on the cross. In Matthew 24:5 He declared, "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." And again in verse 11 He states, "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many."

That time has come. Though throughout the ages these false prophets and false Christs have appeared, never has that Word been fulfilled more than in the present day. 

Earlier we have called attention to the apostasy evident in the United Church of Canada. Additional information appears in Macleans' magazine, December 15, 1997. I quote parts of that article to indicate the extremes to which apostasy has gone.

In the translucent glow of a stained-glass window, Jesus hovers, larger-than-life, behind the pulpit where Rev. Bill Phipps prepares to address his congregation on the first Sunday of Advent. The dark-stained oak pews are full. And the 300 members of Scarboro United Church in Calgary wait with more than their usual anticipation to hear what their minister has to say. Only a few weeks earlier, Phipps—the newly elected moderator of the United Church of Canada—caused an uproar when he denied that Jesus is God and that he physically rose from the dead. "Some say I am a heretic," the genial pastor tells his flock. "And I've even got the wrong stole on for Advent," he confesses, pointing to his unseasonably green vestment. Purple is the proper color for Advent and for penance. But Phipps is unrepentant. In a 20-minute sermon, titled "I Believe," the moderator, with well-measured passion, explains his controversial beliefs. "The truly remarkable thing," he declares, "is that there are literally thousands of conversations taking place—at the dinner table, in the workplace, wherever people gather—about Jesus."

The article goes on to state:

North Americans have been wearing their spiritually needy hearts on their sleeves for decades. And many, even nominal Christians, are favoring more worldly, less demanding gurus than Jesus. Promises of peace, energy and enlightenment have, for some, more appeal than life everlasting and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, long associated with strict commandments, may have an image problem—but there are signs of a make-over in the works. "There are accusations of a watering down of dogma," says Thomas Bandy, head of the United Church's evangelization ministry. "But everybody is trying to make Christianity more relevant to contemporary culture."

...In fact, for more than a century, scholars and thinkers have been exploring Jesus' humanity. Christology—the study of the nature and meaning of Jesus—now embraces such issues as feminism, liberation theology, the black freedom movement, the environment and even New Age philosophy. "Every age has to answer the question Jesus posed to Peter in the gospels, 'Who do you say that I am?' " says the Vancouver-based theologian Sallie McFague.... "That means reframing the question in terms of the most pressing

issues of the day. Is Jesus Christ important for the planet or just for human beings?" For some, Christ's gender has proved to be a barrier. But call it the Christian mystique: in the eyes of many devout feminists, Jesus is a modern, sensitive kind of god, as considerate of women as men.

...Theologians and scholars are amazed by the fierce response to Phipps' sentiments, first aired in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board on Oct. 23. Says Bater, a retired United Church minister: "Many previous moderators and many in my profession have said similar things for decades." Michael Steinhouser, professor of New Testament studies at the Toronto School of Theology, agrees. "The virgin birth and the Resurrection are theological beliefs expressed in narrative form," states the Roman Catholic.... No scripture scholar, he says, would say they are accurate accounts of what happened. As Phipps told Macleans': "The body dying and coming back and walking around the earth and then ascending into heaven in a three-storey universe—if I have to put the Resurrection in those terms it loses its power because it's not credible to me."

And what is the reaction to Phipps and his heretical views?

"I might be a little more traditional," says Ken Hodgert, 69. "But I'm very happy with what he's doing for our church. Rev. Phipps has woken people from their comfortable pews."

...But many ministers strongly disagree with the moderator's stance. "I hope Phipps will do what Jimmy Bakker did and write a book entitled I Was Wrong," says Rev. Graham Scott, a minister in Wainfleet, Ont., and president of Church Alive, an orthodox United Church theological association. "My only question now is, 'Why, if Jesus is not God, should we pay any attention to him?'" Many who disapprove are reluctant to openly criticize Phipps. "We try to be as inclusive as possible," says Rev. James Crighton, pastor of Ottawa's Westboro United. "Nobody wants to see a witch-hunt. The Christian thing to do would be to pray for his conversion."

But in late November, the executive of the general council, the governing body of the United Church, voted to support Phipps' right to express his beliefs. "Our strength is our diversity and the freedom that we give people," says Peter Wyatt, general secretary for theology, faith and ecumenism. "But the shadow side of that is that people wonder whether there are any boundaries? In point of fact, we have doctrinal standards. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of the faithful. But we don't use those doctrinal standards to exclude people."

It seems that the devil himself would qualify for membership in these churches—and, in fact, serve also as their very head. If it is true that these churches do not "use those doctrinal standards to exclude people," if even the "conservatives" insist that "we try to be as inclusive as possible," why, then, anyone can be member: atheist, agnostic, mystic, even Hindu and Muslim. And the devil!

"And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many."

"And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many."

But none, it seems will listen—and certainly not to One whom these same false prophets declare to be no more than mere man lying still in some grave in Judea.

Apostasy has taken long and shocking steps in the past few years.

Now: Interfaith Couples

How rapidly the church scene changes became evident again in a feature article in Newsweek magazine of December 15, 1997. The article, titled "A Matter of Faith," had a sub-heading, "The all-American holiday in this age of intermarriage: Mom's in church, Dad's in temple. What do they teach the kids?"

The article points out that increasingly there are couples of differing religions joined in marriage. This is not just Protestant who marries a Roman Catholic, but "Christians" marrying Jews or Hindus or Muslims. For these there is the weighty question: what must the children of such mixed marriages be taught? The answer of many is: teach them both religions—that of father and of mother. The idea is expressed this way:

"There are many paths to God," Ricci's Catholic mother complacently observed last month after participating in her granddaughter Jocelyn's bat mitzvah. But for most of the last 2,000 years, most people lived in villages where those paths almost never intersected, and if they did, the outcome might as easily have been a holy war as a wedding. Their religious traditions did not prepare them for a society in which the handsome boy next door might be any of three different kinds of Catholic, let alone a Shiite. 

We have always been a nation of seekers, and now not one bound by the religious fault lines of the past. The proportion of Jews who married Gentiles, around one in 10 for the first half of the century, according to the American Jewish Committee, doubled by 1960, doubled again by the early 1970s, and in this decade has leveled off at just over 50 percent. To put it another way, by some estimates one out of three American Jews lives in an interfaith household and faces some version of Ricci's dilemma.... The comparable figure for Catholics, according to a 1990 survey cited by psychologist Joel Crohn, an authority on mixed marriages, is 21 percent; for Mormons, 30 percent, and for Muslims, 40 percent....

And as these families raise their children, they are creating, in effect, a new form of religious identification in America, analogous to the "mixed race" category that some people want to add to census forms....

By the time they're in college, a Hindu-Catholic child will hardly be a novelty in this country. Perhaps one of them might even marry Rabia Asghar, the 3-year-old daughter of Cynthia and Tariq Asghar of Chicago, who is being raised in both her mother's Methodism and the Islam of her Pakistani-born father. Or Karenna Meredith, 2, who is learning about God from the perspective of her Mormon mother, Christine, and her Catholic father, Tony, with a little "free-form" prayer adopted from both faiths thrown in each morning....

You sense what kind of generation is arising. On the one hand, the public schools are not supposed to teach religion at all. On the other hand, the homes (where religious instruction is presumably given) are teaching a hodge-podge of different religions. The present generation claims that there are many ways to God. The next generation will possess the "best" of all religions—which must assuredly ultimately be the religion of the antichrist. The moral law of God is tossed aside. The religions of the heathen are incorporated into "Christianity." There is no more room for Christ and His atonement. And soon, there will be no room for the church, the body of Christ.