Why I Publish DBO
It is with the utmost joy that I have gathered together these miscellaneous pieces all directly or indirectly concerned with my attitude towards, and beliefs about, the church. All they represent is the effort of one observer to give expression to a deep dissatisfaction with prevailing attitudes and assumptions, and a conviction that there is an alternative – an alternative propounded two thousand years ago by the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.
To say that there is a crisis of credibility in the church today is to dangerously understate the problem. The only credential I can justly claim in holding forth about this crisis is that I am a veteran churchman and theological educator. I have been a Christian for 45 years, a preacher of the Gospel for 37 years, and a professor of New Testament and Greek for 29 years. I have watched the evangelical church in America deteriorate as it was compromised by unbiblical traditions and practices. I have watched our churches embrace a pragmatism that would have been shocking to the earliest Christians in the Book of Acts. I have looked on as the moral and constitutional tenets of our nation’s Founders were trashed by the infiltration of a statist, Constantinian mindset in many of our denominations.
My own attitude toward this problem has been decidedly ambivalent. On the one hand I have taken advantage of every opportunity to hold the modern church up to scrutiny and (when in my opinion it deserved it) criticism; but on the other hand I have continued to be a practicing churchman with, I suppose I may say, some measure of competence. This has proved somewhat baffling to well-wishers and ill-wishers alike. What I can say with truth is that I have never questioned my allegiance to the local church, no matter how distressing and disturbing it has become.
The religion of our age is utopian pragmatism, and with it the whole social structure of America is tumbling down, dethroning its God and undermining all its certainties. I have no doubt that had C. S. Lewis lived long enough he would have devoted another Screwtape Letter to the devilish ways the church has deceived itself into thinking it is following the blueprint of Scripture. Paradoxically, all of this is being done in the name of progress and prosperity. This tragic development should be signalized by wearing black and flying flags at half mast, but instead we have become more and more zealous in our pursuit of false utopias of every kind, whatever their ideology may be. Indeed, ideology – even thinking itself – has become outdated. In 1927, the great New Testament scholar and churchman J. Gresham Machen described the church’s ignorance this way:
If there is one thing in the Church in America, and, if what I read is correct, also in the Church elsewhere in the world – if there is one thing that is characteristic of the Church of the present day, it is the alarming growth of plain stark ignorance. Suppose you are leading a Bible Class that is dealing with the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It may be well to begin with a little review. Suppose you say: “Now let us get this matter straight. Who was the first King of the united Israel?” There will perhaps be an eloquent silence for a little while, and then there will be various suggestions. Solomon, perhaps, will be a prominent candidate for the position. Finally, a grey-haired gentleman, the oldest member of the congregation, product of a better day in education, may suggest that it was Saul. You will say that is correct, and that Saul did not exactly make a go of it. And then you will say that the next one in line was David, and the next Solomon, and then the kingdom was divided. When you get through, they will come up and say: “We never heard anything like it.” Try that method in teaching a class. You may make a great hit! It is an entirely new notion to some people just to get the Bible straight.
The prevailing impression I have of the contemporary scene is of an ever-widening chasm between the church of the New Testament and the modern, purpose-driven fantasy. In his lectures entitled The End of Christendom, Malcolm Muggeridge may have had this chasm in mind when he distinguished between Christianity and Christendom. He wrote: “The founder of Christianity was, of course, Christ. The founder of Christendom I suppose could be named as the Emperor Constantine. I believe … that it is not Christ’s Christianity which is now floundering. You might even say that Christ himself abolished Christendom before it began by stating that his kingdom was not of this world – one of the most far reaching and important of all his statements. Christendom began with the Emperor Constantine.”
I agree. With Muggeridge, I would say that Christendom is over but Christ is not, and in that reality lies the promise of the church. Thanks to the great mercy of God and the marvel of Pentecost, the church can be transformed from the sad parody of Christianity it has become into the glorious Bride that God intends for it to be. We need not despair to be living in a time when we have lost the simplicity and purity of the early church. For it is in the very darkest of times – when the church is drowning in the folly of worldly power, fortune, and success – that Christ’s light shines brightest. It depends entirely on whether the churches remain true to the teaching of Christ, whether they truly expound His Gospel, and whether they truly heed His Word. If they do, then clearly they will thrive once again, even though in many aspects they may have to die to themselves.
It depends entirely on that. Weeping and repentance is the only faithful response to the scandalous infidelity we are witnessing in the Body of Christ today. Nothing else matters unless we are really and truly found doing what our Lord said.
February 25, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.