In a recent article entitled, “Progressive Christianity Is As Broken As Evangelicalism: Here’s How to Fix It,” Frank Schaeffer highlighted his views on the status of the protestant Church in North America. According to Schaeffer, the Church has become apathetic and impotent, despite attempts at inclusiveness and vulnerability. His list of faults described it as unloving, homophobic, and misogynous. In Frank’s opinion, the broken evangelical and emergent protestant Church has failed to make Christianity interesting and has become weaker.
His article suggested a two-pronged proposal to repair the damaged Church. Schaeffer recommended that it reject faulty evangelicalism. Here, he included the previously listed faults and added doctrinal considerations to them. The Church must also discard the theology of retribution, i.e., the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ. Has Schaefer rejected the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for others? He stated that the elimination of these faults would liberate people to find themselves in others.
Further, he recommended that the Church return to the Eucharistic sacramental tradition of worship with its emphasis upon doing more so than believing. This rediscovery, he said, coupled with its Liturgy, fosters the application of New Testament freedom in people’s lives. Schaeffer said that a gospel of inclusion emerges from this open-mindedness in doctrine. The Church, then, would include leaders from the presently disenfranchised: homosexuals, women, and other minorities. According to Schaeffer, these practices lead to non-judgmental churches.
In fact, many prominent protestant denominations founded their beliefs upon the very same ideas that he suggested. For centuries, they have emphasized deeds not creeds. Other individual churches implement doctrinal inclusiveness and non-judgmental attitudes toward people. Yet, these organizations experience spiritual decline.
In his article, Frank Schaeffer made a fundamental error. He misdiagnosed the nature of the problem, which the evangelical, protestant, emergent Church in North America faces. He does not stand alone in this fallacy. Schaeffer and a multitude of Church critics make the same error. Repeatedly in his article, Mr. Schaeffer stated that the Church needs to concentrate upon doing, not being. He described numerous actions that the Church must take to correct its faults.
Yes, the Church needs a revival, but not one based solely upon a change of outward behavior. Deeds alone cannot replace Biblical doctrine. These mere superficial adjustments indeed bring changes in practice but do not change the hearts of those who adopt them. In fact, without a change of heart no true change occurs.
Jesus Christ taught this truth many times throughout his earthly ministry. For example, Jesus frequently derided the Scribes and the Pharisees of his day for their emphasis upon outward appearance. He called them whited sepulchers. They appeared righteous to others, rigorously following religious liturgies and practices, but hypocrisy and lawlessness filled their hearts. (Matthew 23.27-28)
On another occasion, Jesus went to Samaria to meet a woman there. As she came out from her city to the well for water, Jesus encountered this unnamed woman. As he talked with her, an unheard of practice in that day, Jesus revealed to her the true condition of her life. He identified the sinfulness of her heart. She argued with Jesus and supported her claims with a description of her religious practice. She worshiped at the mountain that her nation had selected as the place to meet with God.
As Jesus reasoned with her, he described not only her sins but also the uselessness of her worship. She needed a change within her life, not merely an alteration in behavior and adherence to proscribed religious practice. Jesus offered her a remedy, living water that He would give to her that would spring up within her unto eternal life. (John 4.1-26)
Jesus identified what defiles humanity and the Church. It begins in the heart. Jesus said that the wickedness of mankind proceeds from within a person, out of the heart. Therefore, all attempts at mere behavior modification will end in failure. (Matthew 15.10-20)
Jesus did not take upon himself human flesh merely to provide a worthy example for humanity to follow. He came to give His life a ransom for sinners like you and me, helpless to change our sinful natures. (Matthew 2.28) In His death on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty that people like you and me deserve to pay. He said plainly that he came to give life to those who come to him in faith. (John 3.16)
Perhaps you, too, follow the error that Frank Schaeffer espoused in his article. Jesus calls us to forsake self-righteousness. Instead, He calls us to trust Him exclusively. Therefore, Jesus Christ urges you and me to turn from self-reliance and trust what He accomplished on the cross as payment to a holy God on behalf of sinners. He will accept all who come to Him in faith. (John 6.35-40)