There are numerous dangers for the church today, but I believe that many of them boil down to two basic problems: liberalism and antiism. I believe all followers of Christ need to be informed about these dangers to avoid unknowingly falling prey to them. These are dangers that have been around since before Jesus' day. These are dangers that will never be very far away from any congregation of God's people--no matter how doctrinally sound, united, or loving they may be. These dangers are always lurking around the corner, waiting to take advantage of Christians.
Well Stephen, you've got my attention, but what exactly do you mean by these terms? Liberalism and antiism are opposite ends of the spectrum religiously. More specifically, liberalism is seen in an attitude that seeks to go beyond that which is written in God's word. Antiism, on the other hand, is manifested in a disposition to make laws (religiously) for God. Liberalism shows a lack of respect for the authority of God's word. Antiism shows a failure to understand the liberty and expediency involved in carrying out God's will.
These two extremes have constantly plagued the Lord's people. The way of righteousness and truth is found in neither liberalism nor antiism. Let us be careful not to go beyond that which is written, but, at the same time, let us never condemn that which the Lord permits today.
The church of Christ has forcefully pleaded (and must continue to plead) for a complete restoration of New Testament Christianity. A fundamental point in this restoration relates to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. The Bible is our authority because it is from God and is infallible. The Bible is sufficient because we need no other revelations or documents to guide us spiritually (cf. II Tim. 3:16,17; II Pet. 1:3). It is certainly true that in order to be pleasing in the sight of God, everything that we do must be done "in the name of the Lord" (Col. 3:17). That is, everything we do must be authorized by the Lord.
We must understand how the Bible authorizes to fully comprehend the difference between opinion and doctrine. We have attempted to lay the necessary foundational information on this subject in some of our prior lessons--the three feature lessons on authority contained on our archives page from August 6th (Authority in Religion), 13th (Ascertaining Bible Authority, Part 1), & 20th (Ascertaining Bible Authority, Part 2), 2005. Those lessons, which we encourage you to review, focus on the fact that God's word is our standard of authority. Emphasis is then given to the ways the Bible authorizes: direct statement, accounts of approved actions (i.e., examples), and implication. Attention is also given to how expediency authorizes certain actions once an obligation is established.
A solid understanding of the principles of Bible authority is necessary to properly comprehend the danger of liberalism and antiism. At this time, let's consider an illustration that I believe adequately shows the difference between liberalism and antiism.
A farmer wants his three cows staked out in a field so that they will be able to eat within a particular area. He doesn't want them to eat beyond it, but neither does he want them to be tied so short that they cannot go all the way out to it. There are many valuable plants that they need to eat within this particular area. On the other hand, he doesn't want them to go beyond the limit he has set because there are some poisonous things out there he doesn't want them to consume. So, the farmer, who has three sons, calls his boys and gives them each a long rope. He tells them how far he wants the cows to be able to graze in the field. He tells them specifically: "When you stake out the cows, be sure you use a length of 100 feet."
Well, the first boy goes out and decides he will take the liberty of making it 110 feet. He doesn't see what harm could come from allowing his cow a little wider area to graze than his father had instructed. He doesn't realize this means that the cow can eat some things the farmer doesn't want her to eat. The second boy goes out, and he decides that he will be cautious and stake his cow out at only 90 feet. He doesn't see what harm could come from restricting the cow even more than his father had instructed. This means there are many things that the farmer wants this cow to eat that she isn't going to be able to get to. Finally, the third boy went out and staked his cow the exact length the father wanted to be used, 100 feet, simply because that's what the father instructed. This cow could eat everything the farmer wanted her to eat, and yet she was unable to eat the things that could be detrimental to her.
Friends, if we make application of this illustration, the third boy's rope is rightly called the truth rope. This rope represents the truth of what is authorized. The "liberal" rope (boy #1) is different from this. It conveys the improper attitude that we are not confined to what the Scriptures authorize. This attitude proclaims that it is acceptable to go beyond the word. This attitude is condemned in II John 9 - "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son." Those who are doctrinally liberal are those who treat matters of doctrine as if they were matters of opinion. They loose the truth rope, but God has not given them the right to do such! They believe that we can teach and practice certain things that the New Testament does not authorize. They "push the envelope," so to speak, despite the Heavenly Father's instructions. The "anti" rope (boy #2) is also different from the truth rope. Those who are doctrinally anti are those who treat matters of opinion as if they were matters of doctrine. They bind the truth rope, but God has not given them the right to do such! They believe that we cannot teach or practice certain things that the New Testament does in fact authorize. They are overly restrictive upon others who seek to simply follow the Father's instructions.
The cow on the liberal rope will likely get sick or die because she's allowed to go too far! Yet, the cow on the anti rope won't be as healthy as she should be because she's not allowed to go far enough! They all need the truth rope! The Father always knows best, regardless of whether we understand the rationale behind His instructions or agree with them.
Liberalism is seen in men who do not respect the law of Christ, but antiism is found in men who seek to make laws where God hasn't. The role that a Christian should occupy is the middle ground--the position between the two extremes. Our duty is not to ignore laws or make laws; our duty is to obey God's laws!
For the world today, Jesus Christ is the one and only law giver! We can do with God's approval only those things that are authorized in the New Testament, but we are free to do those things that are authorized! The church has always been faced with men and women who would loosen where God has bound and others who would bind what God has loosed.
The Greek text for Matthew 16:19 is interesting on this point. Jesus essentially said to His apostles: "Whatever you bind on Earth has already been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth has already been loosed in heaven." The teaching and practices of Jesus and His apostles show us what God wants bound and what He wants loosed. It's our responsibility to be diligent students so we can know the difference. May we never bind our human opinions and may we never loose New Testament doctrine. Both extremes are dangerous!
It is okay to have opinions about things that are truly in the realm of that which is indifferent (e.g., Romans 14), but it is so easy to elevate our opinions (in our own minds) to the level of Scripture if we are not careful. It is quite possible, in one's desire to avoid liberalism, that a spirit of antiism be adopted. And, in contrast, in an effort to flee a disposition of antiism, sometimes liberalism is embraced.
Historically, the tendency of man is to react from one extreme to the opposite extreme. I can understand why Martin Luther, for example, in opposing the doctrine in his day of salvation by works only, reacted to the opposite extreme of salvation by faith only. Nevertheless, the truth is between those extremes. Men are justified by faith when their faith leads them to obey the instructions of God (cf. James 2:14ff).
For the sake of illustration, let us suppose that you are on a mountain which is flat on top. A man comes to you and says: "I want to warn you of the terrible rocks that are down below. If you fall over here (as he gestures in front of you), you will be killed. Just look over the edge and imagine what would happen if you should fall over there." You look over the edge and become frightened. You begin to back up, and, before you know it, you have backed off the other side of the cliff!
Friends, God's word teaches that neither liberalism nor antiism is pleasing to Him. Neither extreme is to be preferred, since both are dangerous to one's soul! Contemplate Revelation 22:18,19 - "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Liberalism adds to God's word; antiism takes away from it. It is just as important that the church avoid a spirit of liberalism as it is that she avoid a spirit of antiism. The dangers of liberalism and antiism are never far away from any congregation.
Paul said in II Corinthians 5:7 that we should walk by faith, not by sight. In Romans 10:17, he taught that faith comes by hearing the word of God. In other words, to walk by faith is to live by the word of God! If we live by the word of God, we will please the Lord. If we add to it or take away from it, we will be lost.
Truly, these are dangers that face the church in any generation and in any location (they were problems in the early church; e.g., I Tim. 4:1-3; Acts 15; Gal. 1:6-9). May we guard our minds and attitudes against these two extremes. May we love the Lord and His church with every fiber of our being, never adding to or taking away from His inspired word! The Heavenly Father always knows best.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.