The New Reformation Is Liberalism
Liberalism: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)
I also need to add that I lump some of these thoughts into the same category…fair or not. But I attribute the thought process of moral relativism to liberalism…
(Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.)
The effect of this thought process
Sources state that people without any religion affiliation is up to 20%. In 2007 it stood at 13%.
What does that mean?
That one in five adults have NO religious affiliation at all. (source)
Those who would place themselves among those 20% would be in agreement with the idea of moral relativism. Matter of fact over 67% of them do.
Make no mistake about it, a reformation is taking place.
To give you some context, let me explain how this plays out in my own life.
In my mid twenties I gave my life to Christ while serving in a non-denominational fundamental church. It was exactly what I needed at the time. Coming from a gang lifestyle and experiencing the transformation of Christ. I needed some hard-core teaching and training.
I went on to serve in a southern Baptist church plant as a part-time youth pastor, and then a full-time youth pastor at a church called St. Cuthbert It was an Episcopal church.
Talk about living at two ends of the spectrum.
Moving from a Southern Baptist Church to an Episcopal church. One conservative and the other liberal. My senior pastor told me at that time that if I went on to serve at this episcopal church, that I would never make it back into a southern Baptist church. He was right!
Reformation Already In Full Swing
What I failed to realize was that the reformation of liberalism and or moral relativism was in full swing. Now I would had never called it that, but I knew that homosexuality was taking root and about to take the Episcopal denomination by storm.
I was still in my mid twenties, which meant I still believed I could change the world. There was no doubt in mind that I could stop this movement. After all I was called by God.
What I failed to understand was that not everyone thought and believed like I did.
It took me 40 years to come to grips with that. I also failed to understand that this new movement was exactly what the reformation was set up to do. To free people from the religious leaders who held a monopoly on faith.
Now I am not saying that Luther ever dreamed of the movement going this way, but if you take it to its zenith, you quickly realize that anything we hold dear in scripture to be true, can be denied by anyone else who wants to read and decipher it differently.
When I went into ministry this reformation was playing out
In July 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion met in the historic English cathedral city of Canterbury for their traditional Lambeth Conference, held every ten years.
The intention was to address the many challenges and opportunities that Anglicanism faced worldwide—such as the burgeoning growth of the church in Africa and Asia, its slow decline in the West, and the new debates on sexuality.
The bishops gathered every day for prayer and Bible study, a powerful affirmation of the role of the Bible in sustaining Christian unity, guiding the church in turbulent times, and nourishing personal spirituality.
But how was the Bible to be interpreted—for example, on the contentious issue of homosexuality, a major cause of friction within Anglicanism at that moment? Despite the best efforts of the conference organizers, a tempestuous debate erupted over precisely this thorny question in the public sessions of the Conference, reflecting multiple tensions between religious liberals and conservatives, modern and postmodern worldviews, and the very different cultural contexts of the West and the emerging world.
To paraphrase Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester (executed in 1555), everyone meant well—but they certainly did not mean the same thing.1
This meeting was the result of the reformation.
The very movement that allowed these churches to split from the catholic church, is now redefining them and removing them from being a protestant church.
The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves.2
Just as I had the right to take the view of a conservative Christian, so did liberals have the right to interpret scripture in a different understanding and context.
That’s why every culture can redefine what God really meant and what scripture really teaches.
The Reformation Was Designed To Combat Traditions
I find it interesting that the reformation was brought about to combat a changing world. It was needed so that Christianity could face the new culture that was arising. The world was emerging from its grip of feudalism and the Middle Ages. It needed a boost and redirection to face this new world that was emerging.
The questions that arose because of the reformation, were; Who has the authority to define its faith? Institutions or individuals? Who has the right to interpret its foundational document, the Bible?
When you are on the enlightened side of that argument it is exhilarating. When you are on the defending side of that argument, it is terrifying.
Sound familiar…it is the same questions that are being asked today.
I know the easy answer is that we already have a history and tradition answering these questions. That we had the edicts and meetings and fathers of faith approve the scripture that we have now. I mean after all, scripture is pretty clear on subjects such as homosexuality, abortion, same-sex marriages, and the slew of other topics that seem to be debated over and over again.
But, it depends on where you stand, on how clear scripture truly is!
Keep This In Mind
The opponents of the reformation were afraid not only because it broke away from traditions and teachings of the church, but it allowed anyone to say and interpret what the scriptures said and meant to them.
Those who wanted the reformation, Luther and Martin, they wanted to break away from the popes and those in Authority telling them what Scripture meant.
You can fast forward this to todays time. People of moral relativism do not want popes and pastors telling them what scripture is saying.
When you place everything into this context, you can see how freaked out the religious leaders of the day were when Luther proclaimed “priesthood for all believers” bypassing those in the know. Bypassing the authorities, or those who knew the scriptures.
The outbreak of the Peasants’ War in 1525 brought home to Luther that this new approach was dangerous and ultimately uncontrollable. If every individual was able to interpret the Bible as he pleased, the outcome could only be anarchy and radical religious individualism.
Bringing it home
I hope it is not too difficult to make the mental leap from those days onto these days. That our faith is once again facing a reformation. I know we had the age of enlightenment, it perhaps was the beginning. But now, we have a full-blown reformation that has taken hold and is not going away.
Except for this time we find ourselves sitting on the side of the Catholic Church and the new Protestants are those holding true to liberalism and or moral relativism. I think it is no coincidence that the local church has lost so much membership. That it has suffered at the hands of this fight it seems to be losing.
Lets face it. It does not matter if progressive side wins with larger church growth, because it even wins when the unaffiliated rise to over 20%, because they themselves hold to the same doctrine as they. Moral Relativism…
I think this new movement we see in America needs a new name. That those who wish to proclaim religion as valid, yet remove themselves from the historic teachings, need a new name. They need a different claim on faith. Their reformation needs something other than Catholic or Protestant attached to their movement.
But to be fair, it is the conservative churches that continue to grow, while we see deep decline in the more liberal churches.
Not To Worry
As time marches on there is one thing that remains clear. That God is God and we are not. He is in control and His will be done. I can only hold onto the idea of the transformation that took place in my life. That I find my strength and hope in Him, and He has guided and protected me from the start.
Our faith is not dead, but challenged. Our ideas are not outdated. Our understanding of faith, life, and liberty continue on in the hearts of many.
This is nothing new
Moses came off the mount after spending a month on a mountain with God only to find his head priest and people of the exodus worshipping cows. Or how about the churches that Paul planted. He would return a year later only to find out they had already turned from the faith.
But God has been faithful to send out those who proclaim the truth and those impacted by Christ continue to explode in growth all around the world. No doubt that God has a plan and will see it through
Where does that leave us
Stay ready with an answer for your hope. Understand and apply what you read in scripture. And know what you believe. And do not be ashamed.
And to be honest, I am not sure faith was ever meant to be a political thing or state thing or even an organized thing.
Who knows what conservative faith will look like in a hundred years. But as long as we hold tight that Christ came and died for us on the Cross, then I am sure we will always find a way.
- McGrath, Alister (2009-10-13). Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (p. 1). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.