Monday, May 28, 2012


What is worse than having bats in the belfry?  It's having cowbirds in the belfry.  Every church, every denomination, every Christian group, every congregation has them to one extent or another. Virtually none of the groups know the parasites are there and if they were told, not only would they deny it, they would get fighting mad even over the very suggestion of such a thing.  "Go and talk to those people over there; they're the birdbrains, not us."

Cumulative effect of over 2000 years of humanistic thinking in the church

Did human society evolve in complexity during the time between Noah and Nehemiah?  Was there an increase in the spiritual depth of how God dealt with His people during that time -- in the expectations that God made of His people -- in the extent of revelation of Himself that He could give to the people -- in the leadership and organization of His people?  Yes, these things certainly changed, and since that's the definition of evolve, evolution happened. There was a purposeful increase in complexity as people were able to handle God's revelation with reasonable expectations of responsibility and outcome.  What was the goal of this evolutionary process?  Holiness.  "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, 'Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.'"  Lev. 19:2 (also Lev. 11:44-45 and 1 Pet 1:16).

God completed the revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ.  Since Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) we fulfill our created destiny (Eph. 4:24) by being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).  This is done individually as the church, the body of Christ, builds itself up in love as, in unity, it grows into the full knowledge and maturity of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:12-16).  To empower that process, God dwells in the church by His Spirit (Eph. 2:21-22).

So, although the revelation of God had been completed by Jesus and recorded by the Holy Spirit, our human understanding of God was certainly not complete.  Some have interpreted "when the perfect shall come" in 1 Cor. 13:10 as the perfect revelation of God in the word (New Testament), but that verse refers to perfection or maturity in the love of Christ.   Anyone who thinks the church has arrived at that point is kidding themselves.  So, what revelation of the mind of God has the church allowed the Spirit of God to do in the last 2000 years?  Has the church evolved more into the fullness of Christ?  Has the church come closer to being fulfilling the prayer of Jesus for unity in John 17?  Has the church filled the earth with its obedience to the command of Jesus, "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-25)?  Or, has humanistic thinking been slowly seeping into the church over 2000 years, either unbeknownst to the members of the body or sometimes invited in by them?  Inviting in the behavior of the world is not a very safe thing to do, since we have an example of what the Holy Spirit thinks of people who try to bring humanistic standards of conduct into the church in Acts 5:1-11 -- Ananias and Sapphira.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a human to totally get his(her) own limitations out of the way so as to see only Jesus.  That is one of many reasons why we need one another in the church to help cover our own deficiencies so that together we can have a clearer perspective of Jesus than we would have individually.  Sometimes a particularly outstanding and gifted person comes onto the scene.  To have the teaching of a spiritually prominent theologian can produce great gains and insights into our understanding of the will of God and the interpretation of the scriptures.  However, that blessing is also a double edged sword, because there may not be anyone who can, or will, cover the flaws, errors, and omissions that are inevitable in any human thinking, irrespective of the extent of their gifting.  

Humanistic thinking comes into the church

There are a number of ways humanistic thinking has come into the church since AD33.  These have happened at various times, and often at the same time, over the 2000 years, and all could happen today.  As this thinking becomes familiar and accepted over time, it becomes part of the group's traditional doctrine.  Often changes in the church came as a response to environmental circumstances or as a reaction to the unscriptural nature of existing doctrine. 

[1] The church adapts the ideas, thinking, organization, and measures of the worldly environment in which it is found -- government, social, business, contemporary worldview.  
[2] The church adapts the thinking of, or in heavily influenced by, a prominent theologian, or politician, of the time, who himself is a product of his environment.
[3] (combination of 1 and 2)  The church follows the thinking of a prominent theologian who is reacting specifically to unbiblical teachings and who forms a new doctrine that is primarily a reaction to teachings perceived as erroneous.  

There are many examples of the above general categories.  Even toward the end of the first century, the church had begun to develop an organization of increased centralization patterned after the Roman government, which over the next centuries evolved into the Roman Catholic Church.  This became accepted and enforced, and then it was the doctrine.  The Roman emperor became the head of the church, as well as state, so development of other competing governments involved forming new state churches, with many church doctrinal errors preserved and others added.  At the time of the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and others specifically reacted to certain doctrinal errors of the Catholic Church, and the groups they formed addressed these errors in a particular way.  The solution in many cases was reactionary, overcompensating for the error, and forming a new extreme.  These prominent theologians held considerable sway in promoting their views, and the writings of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and others are used as doctrinal standards today.    Calvinism, for instance, is known by particular facets or points of interpretation of grace, works, salvation, and safety of salvation. Pioneers of the Restoration Movement of the early 1800’s wanted to throw out the traditional doctrines, which, again, were thought to be biblically erroneous, break down denominational barriers, and have unity based on the Bible only.  This movement started well but was soon corrupted by developing legalisms that became an unwritten, but enforced, creed.  Today the American church is influenced organizationally by capitalism and business, and in many churches the governance resembles that of a corporation.  The church today is also heavily influenced by the dominant postmodern worldview and by the same patterns of human moral behavior that divide Americans politically. 

There are a number of characteristics that are common in the development during and following the patterns described above, particularly on movements within the last 400 years affecting most Christian groups in America today.  

[1] A reaction to entrenched errors in doctrine of the dominant church at the time, often with an overcompensation to the problem and developing another doctrinal extreme or with such a focus on the problem under consideration that others errors are not addressed but still accepted.
[2] Proliferation of membership around the teaching of the dominant theologian who started the movement.  Acceptance of the group's views.  Gather a following around the views.
[3] Adopt the views and form tribes among those people who are pre-filtered by pledging agreement with the views.  These incomplete views become doctrine and the search done by the pioneers of the group is accepted as truth.
[4] Views become traditionally accepted and then become doctrine.  Views are written down and become creeds and statements of faith.
[5] Doctrine becomes defining for the group.  The name of the group reflects the name of the pioneer(s).  
[6] The doctrine becomes truth, those who disagree are excluded.
[7] Opposing groups are vilified and demonized, must be competition between groups for survival; must defend the faith (of the pioneer).
[8] Further develop scriptural proof of the group doctrine; publish some doctrine-friendly translations of the Bible.  Continue to divide and separate from groups who do not agree. Sharpen differences between groups.

There are many denominational and other groups in the US today that are the outcome of such incomplete searches.  The original search was limited in scope and was not continued by those who followed, who rather dug the foxholes and protected the doctrine.  So, for the most part, this dig, bury, and define strategy has not produced any further advances toward the truth.  Instead of combining strengths between groups as weaknesses are covered, the groups continue to compete with one another over their incomplete doctrinal interpretations.

[This is one person's analysis]
(1) The church was established in the unity of the Spirit, and it was charged with maintaining that unity in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).  (2) By the end of the first century, the church was beginning to develop the organizational patterns of the Roman government, (3) which over hundreds more years, evolved into the Roman Catholic Church, combining government with state religion. (4) Because of doctrinal deviations from N.T. teachings that were so sacralized they would not change, other groups formed in a reaction to these errors.  During the Reformation Movement, groups led by eminent theologians formed that addressed specific errors in Catholic doctrine.  Many parts of Catholic doctrine were not challenged and were brought over into the new groups.  Old errors were maintained and new errors introduced, but the error profile wasn't the same between all the groups.  (5a) This would have been an opportunity to bring the different groups into unity to learn from the strengths each group brought to the table.  (5) However, the groups separated and rallied around their own doctrine, found justification for it and reasons to defend it.  (6) Frustrated by all the inflexible rules of denominations, the Restoration Movement began with the intent of going back to the Bible as the only authority for church doctrine.  (7) However, divisions among groups occurred because people's interpretations became sacalrized as representing Biblical truth.  (8) For a movement to be founded on unity, the resulting divisions were probably more bitter and acrimonious than any before. (9) Today there are many different groups, each with its defining doctrine making itself unique, separated from other parts of the body of Christ, often judging and condemning one another.

It seems that church history is full of instances when a group or a person was dissatisfied with the accuracy of the Biblical interpretation or the spiritual condition of the church at that time, so they started on a new search of the scriptures.  They made new discoveries from the scriptures, but they were concentrated primarily in the doctrinal areas with which they most disagreed.  Instead of continuing the search for new or deeper truth, people in subsequent generations circled the wagons around the doctrine previously discovered and protected it against contamination from the outside. 

There are many denominations and other groups in the US today that are the outcome of such incomplete searches.  The original search was limited in scope and an active search was not continued by those who followed; they rather layered more and more justification for what had been discovered and defended the doctrine as it had been passed down.  Very few groups have continued a search for truth, challenging and re-challenging their doctrinal interpretations in light of what God might freshly reveal to them through the Holy Spirit.  This approach is counterproductive to making deeper searches for the truth revealed in scripture.  Instead of a sense of unity in the Spirit, allowing a combining of the strengths of groups, they continue to compete over their incomplete doctrinal interpretations.

We have been asking the question why the church doesn’t have more influence over human society today.  Why is there less and less respect shown toward Christians and Christian teachings?  Why does there seem to be a direct relation between how many years (centuries) a particular church has been in existence and the degree of calcification of its doctrine?  Look at Christianity in most European countries and compare both the organizations and the people’s attitude toward them with the same in the US.  America is still called “a Christian nation” today, depending on the poll taken and who interprets the results.  But, the organized church in the US is headed in the same direction as the European churches are now.  (Not headed for a combination of church and state, but the lack of relevance the church has on people’s conduct and behavior).   And, what about the relevance on behavior in American society?  Why is there a seeming degeneration in the behavior of those in the political arena, which has gotten bad enough that non-Christians are also asking “Why?” 

Isn’t the population of the world increasing faster than the membership in the body of Christ?  The church should have been growing spiritually during the last 2000 years of operation of the Holy Spirit.  Has the influence of the church at least kept up with the increase in human population on the earth?  Or, has the increase in the human population resulted in an increase in the pressure of humanism coming into the church?  Is the church increasing the assault on the gates of hell as the world increases in population? 

It seems that when new scriptural insights have been discovered by those in the church, so that an opportunity is presented to come closer to the meaning of the scripture, some type of humanistic thinking has been introduced into the universal body of Christ at the same time.  At each plateau of the church’s growing into an understanding of the mind of Christ, another dose of the mind of man is also included.   A new group is formed that then stops searching and starts protecting and defending.  This group behavior is exactly like that described by Jonathan Haidt as being a human natural behavior derived from a successful evolutionary survival.  Christians have embraced new spiritual truths, but have then have responded as a group in the natural, in the flesh, in the sinful nature, in the nature of Adam.  Too many of these truths have been codified into doctrine which has been raised up in magnified importance like the serpent in the wilderness was later raised up by the Israelites as an idol. (Num. 21:6-8; 2 Kings 18:4).

Humanism in the church -- traveling alongside the gospel of Christ – enjoying the same benefits of “thus sayeth the Lord” as genuine spiritual truths.  It is humanism, masquerading as truth.

Are there cowbirds in the belfry?

The invasion of humanism in the church is like a cowbird, a brood parasitic bird  that plants its eggs in the nests of other species of birds.  The other “host” birds are fooled and think the eggs, and the hatchlings, are their own.  They raise the cowbird chicks and feed them.  Often the cowbird chicks are larger, louder, and more demanding than those of the other species.  They eat more and dominate the resources at the expense of the “genuine species,” so that the alien cowbirds may be the only ones to survive.  The cowbirds proliferate and form new generations.

Raising cowbirds in the church nest is bad enough, but are there more problems that the church invites for itself?  The cowbird retaliates.  Some bird species will recognize the foreign cowbird egg and physically eject the egg from the nest.  However, cowbirds often check on their egg deposits, and they have several retaliatory reactions – “mafia behavior” or “farming behavior” – in which cowbirds ransack the host nest or completely destroy it, forcing the host birds to rebuild.  Will the host birds be left alone now?  No, the cowbirds infest that newly built nest with their eggs, as well. Cowbirds exploit other birds.  Cowbirds don't thank anybody, they are opportunistic and selfish and entitled to taking over.  And, unless you prevent them, they'll come back and do you harm.  Give them a little and they want more.  And "more" is not enough, either.

Humanism is like cowbirds placing their eggs in other bird's nests.  Humanism plants its seeds in the church. and the church incorporates it into its doctrine and protects it, just like host birds raising the young of the parasite birds.  Like yeast leavens the whole batch of dough (Gal. 5:9; 1 Cor. 5:6), humanistic eggs hatch.  Humanism grows and corrupts the nest and chokes out the truth and the offspring of the church.  The churches let it grow and even feeds it and adopt it as sanctified doctrine.  No exceptions.

Who is to blame for this?

Do we have cowbirds in the church?  Are there elements of humanism embedded in our own doctrines?  How could this be recognized?  Is it Jesus Christ that separates different Christian groups, or is it the “PLUS” part our “Jesus plus” doctrine?  Yes, Jesus is the Door, but we built the salvation steps that go up to the front porch and hold the key to the gate into the yard?
Do I claim that this a problem for everyone else except my group?  Like ... I have the truth and they have the cowbirds?  I once thought that; then God showed me that I had at least as much humanistic thinking as anyone, but mine was transparent to me.

The log and the toothpick analogy applies here (Matt. 7:3-5).  If I were to remove the humanistic thinking from my eye, I would see more clearly to help others recognize and get rid of their humanism.  My log, once revealed, may be many logs, even a forest.

Or, we could continue to choose to believe a classic lie.  “You will not surely die,” the serpent said (Gen. 3:7).   "You will not surely have cowbirds.  Snakes like cowbirds, you know.  I'll take care of them for you.  They call me the 'Terminator' -- just trus-s-s-t me!"

Sometimes, the world can recognize cowbirds better than do Christians, who tend to be more in denial about themselves.  Maybe that's when there are also bats in the belfry.  And maybe also a sneaky reptile?

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