The apostle Paul’s great claim was that he never falsified the Word of God. Yet many do. How?
Firstly, by psychological manipulation or ‘brain washing’. You can change people’s attitudes to religion by taking them out of their familiar environment, by loosening their ties with their families, by hours of singing and rhythmic music, by building up a dependence upon the leaders, by depriving them of sleep, by stirring up their emotions, by threatening them with terrible judgements if they ever forsake the group, by forcing a daily and weekly regimen of study, devotions and street-witnessing upon them.
So much of the programme degrades and insults people. No Christian, believing the biblical truth that men and women are made in the image of God, would want to come within a million miles of that.
Not for sale
Secondly, by marketing techniques. We live in a consumer society where advertising tells people that what they admire and want is being offered to them right here and now.
The church can pick this up and begin to major in offering people help in handling relationships or loneliness, advising them how to become successful, or how to recover from addiction or depression, etc.
But that is not the Christian message and can never become it. God, who is our Creator and our Judge, has given us his own message. The Bible is not for sale, and so it does not need effective salesmen.
The Bible is not seeking patrons. There can be no price-cutting, no special offers whereby sinners can get something at a price they like.
The gospel is always free, but was bought for us at terrible cost by the Lord Christ. It has no need of a middleman.
The Bible does not compete with other commodities being offered to consumers on the bargain-counter of life. The gospel is not here to be sold at any price to the highest bidder.
The world has difficulty in getting men up to its price, while we have difficulty getting men down to God’s: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling’.
Thirdly, by modernist unbelief. Dr Eta Linnemann was once a German university academic. She was a student under Rudolf Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs and belonged to the same anti-supernatural school of philosophy as them.
She had entered upon a career as an author and professor of theology in West Germany, and her basic approach to both Old Testament and New Testament was this: ‘Whatever the text itself says cannot be true. So you continually find difficulties in the text of the Bible and then ingeniously solve them’.
Falsification is the essence of modernism, and it almost destroyed Dr Eta Linnemann. Then she met some vibrant Christians who knew Jesus personally as their Lord and Saviour.
She writes: ‘God took my life into his saving grip and began to transform it radically. My destructive addictions were replaced by a hunger for his Word and for fellowship with Christians
‘Suddenly it was clear to me that my teaching was a case of the blind leading the blind. I repented of the way I had misled my students. About a month after this, alone in my room and quite apart from any input from others around me, I found myself faced with a momentous decision.
‘Would I continue to control the Bible by my intellect, or would I allow my thinking to be transformed by the Holy Spirit? John 3:16 shed light on this decision, for I had experienced the truth of this verse. My life now consisted of what God had done for me’ (Historical Criticism of the Bible, pp. 18-19).
Deaf to God’s voice
Dr Linnemann labelled her former teaching ‘poison’, destroyed her published writings, and became a missionary in Indonesia. That is exactly in the spirit of what the apostle says in 2 Corinthians 4:2: ‘we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God’.
Liberals ceased to seek wisdom from God through the Scriptures and became deaf to the reforming voice of God in the church. Undermined by rationalism, they were no longer able to receive the Bible as God’s Word to man, only as man’s word about God.
They believed that human beings are basically good, that no one is really lost and that belief in Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation, though it is helpful for some people.
Liberal churches could not abandon biblical terminology and still pretended to be Christian. But biblical terms were given different meanings.
‘Sin’ became ignorance or the neglect of certain social structures. ‘Jesus’ became a pattern for creative living — an example or a revolutionary. ‘Salvation’ became liberation from oppression.
‘Faith’ became awareness of oppression and the willingness to do something about it. ‘Evangelism’ meant working to overthrow entrenched injustice.
The theme of the 1964 World Council of Churches was: ‘the world must set the agenda’. Liberals believed that the church’s concerns should be the same as the world’s, even to the exclusion of the gospel.
Hunger, racism, ecology, ageing — whatever issue was crucial to the world was to be of first concern to Christian people. But God has given us not only a Word to preach but methods to do his work: participation, persuasion and prayer.
But mainline churches have jettisoned these methods in favour of power, politics and money.
Is the Bible adequate?
Evangelicals are not consciously heretical. Is the Bible God’s Word? Of course! Is it authoritative? Yes, that too. Inerrant? Most Evangelicals will affirm inerrancy.
But many do not think the Bible adequate to meet today’s challenges, or sufficient for winning people to Christ. They have turned to ‘felt-need’ sermons, entertainment or ‘signs and wonders’.
The Bible (they say) is insufficient for achieving Christian growth; so they turn to therapy groups or Christian counselling. It is insufficient for making God’s will known; so they look for external signs or revelations.
It is inadequate for changing our society; so they establish evangelical lobby groups in Washington and work to elect ‘Christian’ congressmen, senators, presidents and other officials. They seek change by power politics and money.
Like the liberals, some who claim to be Evangelicals are giving new meaning to the Bible’s words, pouring secular, therapeutic content into spiritual terminology.
Sin has become dysfunctional behaviour; salvation has become self-esteem or wholeness; and Jesus, an example for right living. And this is the message Sunday by Sunday.
So the Word of God is being falsified again. But Christianity thrives, not by trying to offer people what they already have, but by offering them what they desperately lack — namely, the Word of God and salvation through Jesus Christ.