Progressive Christianity – A Walk Down the Broad Road
Last month, I wrote about how the North American church is becoming more "woke" in my blog titled The Church – Weighed in the Balances and Found Woke. Today we will continue to talk about how "wokeness" in the church has led to a dangerous progressivism in the church.
One day the disciples asked Jesus an interesting question in Luke 13:23: “Lord, will only a few be saved?”
Haven’t we all wondered at some point just how many will be saved and how many will be lost? I must admit this question has been crossing my mind of late. I am deeply concerned as I have witnessed a progressive and “woke” push by so many “Christians” to weaken Jesus’ call to discipleship and to abandon the clear teachings of God’s Word.
It is interesting to note that Jesus never answered the disciples’ question directly. There were no numbers or percentages given on heaven or hell’s occupancy rate. He simply replied:
Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you; I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’ “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. (Luke 13:24-27).
There are some serious conclusions for all of us to consider regarding Christ’s comments:
1. Jesus said, “Many will try to enter the narrow door but will fail.” Why will they fail? It not for the lack of trying. It's was because they were terribly misguided in their efforts.
2. There is a finality that Jesus warns about – a point where the door will be locked, and no amount of pleading will get the door open. Sorry, no second chances will be available.
3. People appear to have had ample opportunity to be with Jesus and to hear his teaching – “we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But familiarity with Jesus wasn't good enough.
4. Jesus’ denunciation – “I don’t know you, or where you come from. Get away from me all you who do evil.”
Clearly, there was no genuine relationship with Jesus; and this was in spite of their assertions that there was one. And whatever they were doing was not only not good enough, but it was evil in nature and caused them to be cast away from the presence of Jesus.
If you think you are a Christian, then this story should cause you to have some serious reflections about the life you are living for Jesus. Why? Because to miss the implications of what Jesus is trying to point out here is of eternal consequence. Imagine being able to see heaven’s occupants like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets, but to find yourself thrown out to a place where there is – “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
This story clearly implies that there is a version of “Christianity” that’s not going to cut it. And no amount of pseudo professions or invoking the word “Christianity” while pursuing progressive unbiblical causes, will secure us a place in heaven.
Some Christians think it’s noble to embrace their culture and to show support for “woke” causes. But if biblical truth is jettisoned or sacrificed in the process, then this should cause alarm bells to ring in every church.
A similar story to Luke 13: 24-27 can be found in Matthew 7: 21-23:
Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
In these verses two things emerge that are similar to the claims found in Luke 13:
1. People claimed to have a “connection” to Jesus – they were doing his “work” in his name.
2. Whatever hope they had of gaining an entrance into heaven was dashed with the words, “I never knew you, get away from me, you who break God’s laws.”
Clearly, the “good” they felt they had done in his name was meaningless. This was because they lacked a relationship with Jesus and willingly broke God’s laws.
Why should we care about these two stories in the Bible? Because church history has repeatedly demonstrated that if obedience to Scripture is abandoned by any theologian, seminary, denomination, or church, the downhill slide in their theology and practice always follows.
Today, there are calls to remake Christianity into a more inclusive religion. Let’s be clear about the word, inclusive. If by inclusive, we mean the gospel should be proclaimed to everyone, then I would agree. If by inclusive, we mean the church should embrace every ideology and cultural practice to make the church’s message more accommodating, then I would disagree.
As far back as the 1930’s, theologians were warning the church that a progressive liberalism was invading the church. Richard Niebuhr, an American theologian, described the west’s theological liberalism of the 1930's as, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” That was ninety years ago! The church was certainly steeped in liberalism then; and sadly, it hasn’t gotten any better.
Since then, there have been widespread efforts to make the narrow door wider and to even affirm the salvation of well-meaning people of other religions. So-called “progressive” and “woke” Christians advance their causes under the banner of love and compassion but often without regard to biblical integrity.
Let me be clear, I’m opposed to a form of judgmental Christianity that holds to truth without compassion and righteousness without humility. I’m opposed to a form of Christianity the judges without listening and sees the faults of others without seeing our own. As a pastor, my heart breaks for those who hurt, who are confused, and who don’t know where to turn for help. Our churches should be sanctuaries for the downtrodden, depressed, and lonely. They should be hospitals for the soul.
But I see much of contemporary Christianity embracing today’s culture, especially in matters of sexuality. The only way to make Christianity appealing, we are told, is to move the markers – to be more inclusive, more affirming.
I fear we are allowing culture to inform our thinking and even raise our children. We have fallen into the trap of thinking that we must accept or acquiesce to culture to redeem it. When this happens, churches become selective about what they talk about, not wanting to offend anyone. The Apostle Paul declared – what all of us should be able to declare in our witness for Jesus – “I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know”
Too often, compassion is used to override our better judgment and to accept ungodly lifestyles as the norm. Jesus had compassion on the women caught in adultery in John 8. But he told her to go and sin no more. He expected a change in her lifestyle. Jesus demonstrated both compassion and a call to repentance.
Today the church wants to be gushy with compassion but silent on repentance. The late Dr. Billy Graham put it like this, "In our quest to reach people for Christ, we must caution ourselves to never compromise the gospel’s standard in order to accommodate those people who are not interested in repentance. We are dangerously near to saying to the prodigal son, ‘It is not necessary to return to your father and home - we can make you comfortable in the pigpen.”
We tell ourselves that we don’t witness about our faith because we fear offending someone; we are silent in the face of political and moral decline because we want to be thought of as nice and not judgmental. Jesus had a word for that – ashamed. He said to his followers, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Progressive Christianity doesn’t want to let people know that the way to heaven is narrow and that there is a cost to following Jesus. So, it directs them down a broader road in search of a lighter cross. The Christian poet Vasily Zhukovsky said it well, “we all have crosses to bear, and we are constantly trying on different ones for a good fit.”
So, why am I writing this blog? I am writing to those who seek to stand for biblical truth and still be loving – to those who are willing to be identified with the cross of Christ – even if that means being subjected to persecution and vitriol. I am writing to all who are convinced that how we are perceived on earth is not as important as how we are perceived in heaven. I am writing to all who believe that the day of casual commitment to the gospel must come to an end.
I would also like to think that I am writing this blog in the same spirt that Jude wrote his epistle. Jude starts off in his epistle by wishing he could have written about the great salvation we all share, but instead he felt compelled to address a far more pressing issue in the church. In verses 3-4 we read, “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
It’s hard to imagine that Jude was facing the same critical problem the church is facing today – “some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives.” It looks like progressive Christianity isn’t new after all. No wonder Jude felt compelled to address the need to “defend the faith that God had entrusted once for all time to his holy people.”
Honestly, I’m skeptical about our willingness to stand against the headwinds we face. We are so much a part of culture that it might be difficult for us to know where to begin in our resolve to remain firm. Albert Mohler, in his book, Culture Shift, mentions how Aristotle once described the challenge of a culture like the problem of a fish in water. Knowing nothing but life in the water, the fish never realizes it is wet. Mohler believes this describes many Christians today—they do not realize that living in this present world they have become wet with the influence and ungodliness of today’s culture. Mohler then further adds, “We are swimming in one of the most complex and challenging contexts ever experienced by the Christian church. Every day brings a confrontation with cultural messages, controversies, and products. We are bombarded with advertisements, entertainments, and the chatter of the culture all around us. We are Aristotle’s fish.”
Perhaps in the chatter all around us, we have lost our capacity to see what sin is, whether it is our own, or the sins of our culture. It is one thing to acknowledge our culture’s deviation from biblical morality, but it’s worse to have to acknowledge that many Canadian churches have already normalized moral depravity. You would think this would be alarming. But no, they assuage their conscience by calling their actions “enlightened” or “progressive”. Jeremiah described these people like this: “They should be ashamed of the terrible way they act, but they are not ashamed at all. They don’t even know how to blush about their sins.” Tragically, church leaders and their people aren’t blushing anymore. They seem to be either unable or unwilling to address this moral decadence – seeing any attempt to do so as antithetical to their progressive version of Christianity.
Far too many church leaders today are fearful of defending the faith as Jude did. Like Jude, they would rather talk only about the great salvation we all share. But unlike Jude, they would rather avoid the critical issues that are facing the church. If we have something to fear it is not the fear of being cancelled. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 that we have only one thing to fear, "Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
It has been said, “In a time of universal deception, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Friends, I would say these are desperate times and we need a truth-telling revolution in every church.
God is not raining on our parade of life by asking us to desire his laws and truth. He is trying to get us to avoid the consequences of our sin and rebellion. This is why we must warn those who disregard God’s laws that the door will be shut to them some day and no amount of pleading with Jesus will get him to open the door.
In both of the stories that Jesus told, the works that people did in his name were considered evil or law breaking. That’s a somber thought! What kind of progressive works and rebellion to God’s laws were really going on? Did these people think they could have a casual or progressive relationship with Jesus, while flaunting his commands and laws? Apparently, they did!
The church’s message today must be one of grace and truth. It cannot affirm or condone the breaking of God’s laws. To do so is neither loving nor Christian. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
When Jesus called their works evil in these two stories, he was speaking directly about the condition of their hearts. The hearts of these people had to be desperately deceived and wicked to think they could have a pseudo relationship to Jesus on the one hand, while breaking God’s laws on the other.
"Christians" that march under the banner of progressive Christianity, but demonstrate a flagrant disregard for biblical morality, will find themselves in the same place as the victims of the two stories Jesus told – outside the door and banging to get in. They will discover that they have been duped by their own progressive understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Let’s not take a trip down the broad road, or try to accommodate the masses by broadening the narrow road. If we do, we will discover that our final destination will not be a pleasant one.
 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, Good Reads Quotes, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/616058-a-god-without-wrath-brought-men-without-sin-into-a Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ac 20:26–27.  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Mk 8:38.  Robert Payne, Life and Death of Lenin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964) 209.  R. Albert Mohler, Culture Shift (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2008), xv.  Ibid.  The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), Je 6:15.  This quote has been attributed to George Orwell, but its origin is unconfirmed and unknown.  David Horowitz, Dark Agenda, The War to Destroy Christian America, (West Palm Beach, FL.: Humanix Books, 2018), 34.  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Mt 15:19.