Trinity 7 2022
Delivered at Providence Reformed Episcopal Church
Corpus Christi, Texas
…henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love,… grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ… (Eph. 4: 14,15)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Perhaps my favorite comedian growing up was Flip Wilson. Now many of you may not have heard of Flip Wilson — unless you hang with with me, because I still love him — but he was quite successful in the early 70’s. He even had his own TV show for four years, which according to Wikipedia was the first successful TV variety show led by an African American. My mom and I watched it regularly.
Flip Wilson is probably best known for becoming Geraldine, whom the Devil was constantly tormenting and tempting to buy yet another new dress. But another frequent character he played was the Reverend Leroy of The Church of What’s Happening Now.
The Church of What’s Happening Now. I doubt Mr. Wilson was intending to be prophetic, but he was anyway. For a besetting problem of much of the institutional church then and today is an obsession to be relevant, to run with whatever happens to be the current agenda of the world, even to be pleasing to the world, to be The Church of What’s Happening Now.
And this tendency runs across a wide theological spectrum. Theologically liberal churches are of course notorious for trying so hard to be relevant and with it and ending up looking silly in the process. But many evangelical churches are this way as well. And I’ve also been caught up in this tendency in times past. I cannot point fingers at The Church of What’s Happening Now without pointing a finger at myself.
For around the year 2000 I was involved with the Emerging Church movement. My involvement included writing an article or two for emergent publications and being active in Youth Specialties, a ministry equipping group that did a lot of good but was greatly influenced by the Emergents. I saw that the Emergents had a good point that Western culture had become post-modern, especially among youth, and that truth was no longer seen as objective or as “true truth” as Francis Schaeffer has put it. And I agreed with the Emergents that the church needed to adjust their approaches to ministry accordingly.
What I was slow to see is that the leaders of the Emerging Church were for the most part post-modern themselves and straying from the “true truth” of orthodox Christianity. In the years since, it has become obvious that their so-called “generous orthodoxy” was not orthodoxy at all, but instead a trendy flavor of apostasy.
But for a few years, the Emerging Church was influential among Evangelicals. This is the sort of thing St. Paul is talking about when he wrote about being “tossed to and fro and being carried about with every wind of doctrine” that comes along. And I too was “being carried about” until I finally saw it was a foul wind that I needed to get out of.
And some of the Emerging Church leaders did exercise a “cunning craftiness” that Paul warned about, Brian McLaren especially so. He was very coy and slow about revealing his apostasy while pretending to be orthodox. His most famous book was titled A Generous Orthodoxy. Now who would be so odious as to oppose “a generous orthodoxy?” Well, maybe I would. But who among normal decent people would oppose “a generous orthodoxy?” Shouldn’t us orthodox people be generous and winsome? You see how McLaren’s approach was attractive.
But before long, it became clear that McLaren was luring Christians away from actual orthodoxy all while pretending to be this winsome orthodox guy. In St. Paul’s words, he was “lying in wait to deceive.”
Well, that was the rotten fruit of The Church of What’s Happening Now coming under the influence of post-modernism around the year 2000. In recent years, The Church of What’s Happening Now has once again come under the influence of another secular ideology, that of Critical Theory, more commonly known as “wokeness.” (By the way, Critical Theory is a cousin of Post-Modernism, but I will not get into that here.)
Time does not permit me to get much into the weeds of Critical Theory. But Isaiah summarized much of it well when he wrote:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (5:20)
Woke church people talk much about social justice. And they misuse our OT lesson from Micah to do so. They love Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
And they use this verse to push false guilt on you if you disagree with their social justice agenda. The problem is not with this verse, of course, but that the sort of justice they are in league with is not Biblical justice, not the sort of justice the prophet Micah preached, but a twisting of justice derived from Critical Theory. The woke Critical Theory version of justice fires people from jobs for thinking incorrect thoughts or saying the wrong pronouns and requires people to submit to woke indoctrination sessions to keep their jobs. (And there’s a lot of money to be made in running those indoctrination sessions.) The woke version of justice indoctrinates children at public schools; and if you object too strongly, you might get reported to Child Protective Services or even to the Department of Justice. The woke version of justice lets violent criminals out on the streets while making it more difficult for the rest of us to defend ourselves against them. The woke version of justice seeks to overturn the rule of law and Constitutional freedoms. The woke version of justice is gross injustice in these ways and more. They call evil good and good evil.
I know these are not easy words, so I have to interject right here that there are well meaning people who involve themselves in woke groups and causes both in and outside the church. Many of them have good hearts. I know that first hand. But they lack wisdom and are carried about by the false winds of Critical Theory. And even if they are not knowingly supporting the evils I just mentioned, they are in league with and supporting and enabling those evils. Having good motives and even being a committed Christian does not make one immune to falling for and supporting dangerous, evil falsehood. So we need to look to ourselves as well.
In a similar fashion, as they claim to be working for social justice, the current woke version of The Church of What’s Happening Now is much exercised in supposedly opposing racism. Of course we should oppose racism. I for one am thankful that racism against people of color has become much, much less prevalent in this country during my lifetime. And such racism, which has harmed our country and harmed any number of people, has lost most of its influence. I am thankful for that.
But the woke are not so thankful. Instead, they say we are as racist as ever. They do this in part by redefining racism. They even say we are a systemically racist country. Now I will be the first to say America has some serious problems. We certainly have our divisions. But to say America is a systemically racist country at its core is a toxic exaggeration at best and is not helpful in addressing our problems and our divisions. Just the opposite.
But the woke winds of doctrine get even more bizarre than that. They say to be “anti-racist” — that is the term popularized by Ibram X. Kendi — to be truly “anti-racist”, you have to be racist against White people. I’m sorry but there is no nice way to put it.
Oh, they completely deny being racist against White people. You know how they deny it? They teach that, at least in an American context, it is impossible to be racist against Whites. Now isn’t that convenient? So you can be prejudiced and bigoted against White people and advocate for discriminatory policies against them — and they do — but that’s not racism. Instead, it’s “anti-racism”. Calling “evil good and good evil.”
As you can probably tell, I can go on and on about Critical Theory. And believe it or not, I am restraining myself this morning. I’ll just say it has not only poisoned society, it is poisoning and dividing the church. Thank God it has almost no influence in the Reformed Episcopal Church. But it has infiltrated just about every large denomination in this country, including, I am very sad to say, parts of the Anglican Church in North America.
These are the sort of foul winds of doctrine you become vulnerable to if you’re The Church of What’s Happening Now. And, again, it can happen across the religious and political spectrum. Remember some of the bizarre things some Christian leaders have said about Donald Trump in recent years, both for and against? Some were making it sound like he was more than President but almost some sort of Messiah. One even said he was “the last trump” of the Apocalypse – and I think he was serious! I for one think it rather unlikely that Donald Trump plays a significant role in the Book of Revelation.
But a variety of churches and Christian leaders not only got overly political and partisan about Trump, both for and against, they got silly and harmed the credibility of the church and its witness.
So while as the church we should wisely and selectively speak to what’s happening now, we should not become The Church of What’s Happening Now, being blown about by every ideological fad, being blown about by “every wind of doctrine.”
So how do we avoid being “carried about by every wind of doctrine”? St. Paul shows us the remedy right away when he writes: “Speak the truth in love.” Truth! God’s truth is the remedy. And then speak and live out that truth not according to some secular ideology but according to the love of God.
This reminds me of how the Secret Service trains people to spot counterfeit currency. The first thing they do is not to look at a bunch of fake money. The first thing they do in training people to spot fake currency is to make them familiar with real currency. In fact, if you go over to the Secret Service web page and click on “Learn how to spot counterfeit U. S. currency,” you are taken to a big page on the details of real currency. The idea is that if you know the real thing really well, you will spot the fakes.
The best way to avoid being avoid being fooled by the fakes, the best way to avoid being blown about by trendy winds of doctrine is to know the truth of God. Read your Bibles! Study your Bibles!
People might say, “Mark, you sound like a Bible thumper.” I don’t care! Read and read and study and become familiar with the real thing, with the Word of God!
And become familiar with all the Bible. I know that takes time, but become familiar with all the Bible. Don’t be easy prey for those who rip verses out of context and twist them for their own twisted ends, like Micah 6:8 is often misused. Don’t be easy prey for those who put a little Christian dressing on toxic ideologies and then push them on you as Christian teaching.
Now the Secret Service does get around to examining fake currency. And if you want to become familiar with Critical Theory or the like, that’s fine, and I and others can help with that. But I’ll warn you: it can be exhausting!
I will also warn that Satan likes to dress up his lies in new trendy clothes every generation. A hundred years ago, it was Communism and since then various forms of Marxism. About 85 years ago, it was Fascism. About twenty-five years ago, it was post-modernism. Today, it’s Critical Theory and various ideologies derived from it. When that goes out of style — and it might be going out of style already — who knows what the next shiny trendy Big Lie will be. Satan is a loser, and all his lies will be exposed and lose in the end, but in the meantime he is moving target. Satan might be stupid; but he is rather clever.
He is clever enough to get his lies into the institutional church. Take fascism — Nazi Fascism so infiltrated the German church in the 1930’s that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was compelled to leave his church. Marxism — Marxism infiltrated the Latin American church resulting in Liberation Theology, which is still influential today. So Critical Theory in the church might seem new, but it is really isn’t. It is yet another toxic secular ideology infiltrating the church.
It’s funny how often the stuff Satan and the world pushes on us as “new and improved” is really old and decadent. Do you want real newness? Real newness of life? Look to Jesus and, as St. Paul says, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and … be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and … put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Christ makes us a new creation. And among the most wonderful words in Scripture is when, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold I make all things new.” Jesus provides real and everlasting newness.
So if you want to play whack-a-mole with the big deceptions that seem new and progressive that the world and the devil push on church and society, that’s fine. Somebody’s got to do it, and sometimes I do it. But it’s much more important to know and become familiar with the truth, with the Truth of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Scriptures. And then a side benefit of that is that falsehoods just won’t look right to you.
But please don’t try to do that on your own. Don’t have a “me and my Bible” attitude. Read and listen to great interpreters of Scripture like J. I. Packer. Really listen to good sermons, such as the ones Father Ben gives us. If you want to apply Biblical principles to history, society and culture, Francis Schaeffer is one of the best. (And, by the way, we have a group that is watching his film series How Should We Then Live.)
More importantly, please be involved in a church that believes the Bible and teaches the Bible. In Ephesians 4, we see that God provides the church with its apostles and prophets of the past and its teachers and pastors today . . .
. . .for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . .
…speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.
And when Paul said “we”, he meant we! We need each other; we need the church to help us stay on the right path and to grow in truth and love.
Speaking of which, many of you are in a time of life when you are mobile and might be moving from time to time. So you will probably need to find a new local church. Avoid Churches of What’s Happening Now. Instead look for a church that Lancelot Andrewes would like. Lancelot Andrewes, an Anglican giant of the 17th century, said that a good church follows five sources of authority and teaching:
4 Ecumenical Councils, and
5 hundred years, namely the consensus of the Fathers during the first five hundred years of the church.
In other words, a good church follows the authority and teaching of Scripture as interpreted by the Creeds and the consensus of the Church Fathers. Now good churches like that are not always easy to find. You might have to drive a ways to find one. But you need a church like that. And a church like that just might need you.
As I said last time I preached to you, this world bombards us with lies. I’ve picked on Critical Theory this morning, but if it wasn’t that bombarding and infiltrating the church, it would be something else. And there will surely be some other Big Lie trying to get into the church in the next decade if not before. We need God and His Word to stand firm in the midst of these foul winds. And we need each other, we need the faithful church to stand firm in the faith.
For every generation is presented with a choice, a costly choice: do we follow the world? Or do we follow the Word?
Let’s forget about trying to please the world. The mission of the church is NOT to please the world anyway. So let’s not even try to be The Church of What’s Happening Now.
Instead let us please Christ by being the faithful church that “earnestly contends for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) by the Scriptures and by the Apostles and Church Fathers. Then, and only then, we will be able wisely to “speak the truth in love” and to address what’s happening now, instead of being The Church of What’s Happening Now.
Let us pray.
Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
photo: the late Flip Wilson