Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Loving Our Neighbor, Neglecting Our God—Tolerance Over Truth

Part II: When loving neighbor promotes tolerance over truth...
(See also Introduction and Part I)

Scripture says, "let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." We know from this passage in 1 John that love is intrinsically gospel-centered because the next verses state: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." And in light of this, the subsequent verses exhort us into action: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us." To love others, then, is a necessary outworking of our faith—it is an extension of God's unconditional and gospel-centered love for us. (1 John 4:7-12).

In more and more churches today, however, the biblical concept of loving one's neighbor is becoming twisted into something entirely different from the self-sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross. "Loving" others has instead been reduced to a flimsy paper-chain of feel-good human relationships that flutter and tear in the winds of emotion and circumstance—these relationships aren't rooted in Godly love, but are tied together by a frail substitute.

In keeping with the politically correct mantra de jour, Emergent[1] or liberalizing Christians tout tolerance as an authentic expression of Jesus' love. Inclusivity is prized over the "who's in, who's out" mentality seen to prevail within traditional evangelicalism; "loving neighbor" is, in application, to embrace—not alienate—those outside of the Christian faith. Yet while this might lead us appropriately away from the machine-gun evangelism and the fire-and-brimstone preaching of yesteryear, Emergents have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction (as reactionary movements tend to do). In other words, Emergents go far beyond our calling to be outreach-minded. Rather, they have become all-inclusive—even to the point of promoting an inclusivist soteriology (in which salvation is universal) in an increasing number of cases.

The Emergent emphasis on tolerance and acceptance distinctly echoes the religiously pluralistic mandates of our secular culture, and accordingly demonstrates an unflinching disregard for God's Word. Loving our neighbor by "accepting"—not "condemning" others—as well-intended as it may be, is tantamount to enabling sinners to continue walking in darkness. Exercising tolerance of evil is not an expression of God-honoring love that rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6). As Paul urged the Roman believers: "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good." (Rom 12:9). Encouraging others to be comfortable "being themselves," and remaining unchanged, fails to point them to a new life in Christ. And so "love" when expressed in the form of tolerance actually undermines the gospel rather than being an outworking of it.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:24-25). And He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 5:23). For "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Gal 5:24).

If we truly loved others as ourselves, would we gloss over the seriousness of sin in order to make everyone feel more comfortable or more "accepted"? Or would we be motivated to share with them their need for a Savior and the life-changing truth of the gospel? Would we want our neighbors to experience a new life in Christ? Would we be motivated to sacrifice ourselves—perhaps our comfort level, our popularity, our social standing, or even our personal safety—to stand for Jesus in a world that has either rejected Him or recreated Him in its own image?

It seems that the unspoken, yet implicit, answer among a growing number of Christian leaders today is...perhaps not.

For the trend of promoting tolerance over truth in the name of love, unity, and diversity is not isolated to Emergent or liberal believers alone. Mainstream and prominent evangelical pastors are displaying varying degrees of the trend's influence. The tendency to remain silent on polarizing issues of right and wrong in our culture or to refrain from confronting false teaching in the Church for the sake of peace and unity, for example, is increasingly common. Often, this behavior is promoted under the "love" banner—and, consequently, those who uphold truth can appear hateful and rigid in contrast.

It's true that Christians should strive for unity in the Church, but not at the expense of the truth of God's Word on fundamental doctrinal matters. While we are urged to live in peace with everyone as far as it depends on us (Rom 12:18), we are also called be guardians of the faith (1 Cor 16:13; 2 Cor 10:5). For what unifies us as believers is not brushing core truths under the carpet to keep the peace, but upholding the gospel of Christ in our churches and uniting together in the name of Jesuswho is the truth (John 4:6). It is He who unites the Body of Christ with a love that endures forever. Tolerance may promote some semblance of unity for a time, but unity achieved in human strength cannot last.

And so, we are called to speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect when the truth of gospel is being undermined or when false teaching has entered into the Church. Doing so may sadly cause conflict and disunity. But to value unity at the expense of the gospel is to put human relationships before Godfriendship before faithwhich is an unbiblical approach to loving our neighbor. It's important, then, to unite with other believers in a way that honors God first and foremost.

Loving God above all else, then, will lead us to rebuke liberal or straying churches that fail to make Christ their Lord and His Word central. It will lead us to stand firmly against false teaching with no compromise. And if the motivation for doing so is our love of God as well as our neighbor, then prayerfully seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit before we speak or act is a must. Otherwise, we are in danger of falling into the trap of prideful legalism and unmerciful judgmentalism. In other words, we might be tempted to act out of anger, not love.

Yet, sadly, there are many leading evangelicals in the West who are losing sight of the need to love our neighbor in a way that honors our God. They are giving into false teaching and worldly influences inch by inch, often under the banners of diversity, love, and tolerance, for fear of being judgmental or rigid.

Think of how many respectable evangelical leaders have appeared on Glenn Beck's show, for example, with no public mention of the false teaching he promotes. Beck has repeatedly made the false claim that Mormonism is a Christian denomination. Yet many evangelical leaders are unwittingly fueling this lie, giving Beck and his cultic faith credibility by joining with him on his prominent stage to teach others and promote their books. In doing so, they appear as if they are of the same mind, even though they are not—a false impression that Beck certainly likes to perpetuate.

I'm not suggesting here that Christians should have nothing to do with Mormons and should shun them as opposed to reaching out to them in Christlike love. But it's the motivation for doing so that needs to be considered, as well as the nature of the outreach.

Beck's celebrity status and impressive viewership should ultimately be a non-factor in any decision to appear on his show, as should his bold conservatism and love of libertyboth of which he articulates masterfully, it is true. His charismatic leadership of the Right and well-reasoned conservative voice may be music to the evangelical ear, but this should not distract us from the gravity of his insidious claims about the Mormon faith.

And so it was revealing—and alarmingly refreshing—recently when an unnamed "big evangelical" actually refused to go on Beck's show unless he was able to address the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. Beck was outraged by this, as demonstrated by his reaction when he spoke of the incident on his show. Beck said,
I had a conversation off-air with a big evangelical recently. And he said “you know, if I’m going to come on your show, it’s important for me to point out the differences between our religions." And quite honesty I almost hung up the phone. I was like…. but I didn’t. And the reason why I almost hung up the phone was because I thought: Are you really this small? Are you really this small? Do you see what’s happening to us right now? Nobody cares what my religion is. Nobody really cares what your religion is. What they want [is] are you putting your principles in action right now? [Do] what demonstrates [to] medon’t talk to me. Don’t preach to me, demonstrate to me. Who are you? What do you believe? What are you doing about it right now? Do you know why 20-something’s don’t go to church anymore? Because church doesn’t do anything. You gonna sit here and talk about it, are you gonna talk about the things that change lives, or you gonna do the things that changes lives. Don’t talk to me about theology. Talk to me about God in practice. How can I be a better man. How can I survive today?
Beck's outrage and confusion are understandable; there's a reason why he thinks "nobody cares what my religion is." For he's been encouraged by so many prominent Christiansinadvertently albeitto think that what he actually believes doesn't really matter to them! One can only infer from Beck's reaction that the countless Christian guests who've appeared congenially on his show have made no mention to him of the fact that he's in a cult. If they had, why would he be taken so evidently off guard when one Christian leader refuses to go along with it all? Beck was shocked, confused, and incensed at this. And rightly so. If so many Christians have complied thus far, why wouldn't he expect them all to do so?

My heart aches for Beck, whom I believe to be a well-intentioned, sincere, and certainly a likeable man. His false religious views have been tolerated by so many influential Christians, which is almost like tying a weight around his neck and dropping him into the ocean. It gives him a false sense of security in a false faith, not to mention the fact that it sends a confusing message to his viewership, many of whom think he's a Christian or think Mormonism is a Christian denomination.

The groundwork for Beck's false impression that his faith holds some level of legitimacy among evangelicals was perhaps cemented when leading evangelical school, Liberty University, gave him an honorary doctorate and—several times now—their own stage from which to preach his false gospel.

In April 2014, for example, he preached tearfully on campus about the importance of reading God's Word. Flanked by top university administrators and evangelical heavy-hitters, he gushed on stage about the atoning power of Jesus Christ, which was followed by rousing applause from the audience. He bemoaned how little the Bible is actually read and urged his audience to study it. But, what is easily forgotten when listening to his resonating words, is that Scripture for Beck is an entirely different thing from what it is for Christians; He believes the Bible has been corrupted and the revised Joseph Smith Translation to have restored lost truths, which is on a par with the Book of Mormon and other holy Scriptures of the Latter-Day Saints. What is conveniently ignored is that the actual meaning underlying Beck's Christianese isn't really Christian at all. What is glossed over is that the atonement he speaks of is ultimately a path to self-deification as per Mormon theology. And what is brushed under the rug is that the Jesus he follows is a false Christ, the spirit brother of Satan, who bares little resemblance to the true Son of God.

During his delivery of what one Liberty student described as "a more biblical-sounding speech than most Christians I've heard," Beck launched into an unwavering LDS apologetic before a captive audience of young evangelicals, making syncretistic statements like, "I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ." He gave a stirring exposĂ© of founding Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith’s death, describing Smith as a martyr of the faith. (According to Beck, a Sheriff falsely accused Smith of owing a debt for stealing a stove).

This was not the first time a Mormon has spoken at Liberty. Mitt Romney, delivered the school's commencement address in 2012. So, why are Mormons given a platform at a long-established evangelical school? Spokesperson Johnnie Moore explained to the Christian Post that such addresses are part of the school's attempts to expose their students to a broad array of political, theological, and cultural ideas and affiliations: "Diversity is important to us...a convocation invitation doesn't necessarily mean that Liberty agrees with everything speaker says...The best convocations aren't those that tell students what to believe, but those that leave the campus all abuzz in conversation."

Okay—to the extent that we're dealing with a school here, not a church, this may be arguable in the sense that it's vitally important to expose Christian students to other religious perspectives and secular ideologies. If they are stuck in an ideological bubble they will be ill-equipped and unprepared to defend their faith in a hostile world when the time comes. And it is true that inviting Beck to speak doesn't mean LU agrees with everything he says. But Beck wasn't invited to participate in a panel discussion or debate. He wasn't giving an honest overview of Mormon beliefs. He was essentially given a prominent platform from which to preach a syncretistic and insidiously false gospel, unchallenged and uncorrected. This runs directly counter to the words of the Apostle John:
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. (2 John 1:9-10).
As a Mormon, Beck does not have both the Father and the Son, because he doesn't believe in the Trinity. So, why are LU administrators welcoming him to preach? You have to stop and question the true motives behind the university's invitations to the likes of Beck and Romney. They are certainly big names who will generate "buzz" as the university's spokeswoman unabashedly pointed out. But is that where we are now as Christians? Is generating buzz more important than guarding the gospel?

Generating buzz will certainly get the world's attention, that's for sure. We mustn't lose sight, however, of the end goal. Any student can go online and view one of Beck's rants on Mormonism. In fact, they should be encouraged to do so. Christian students simply must be well-informed of popular and influential views that counter the biblical perspective. But this doesn't mean Beck needs to be given the opportunity to preach a false gospel in form of a compellingalmost memorizingspeech at an evangelical school, without immediate rebuttal. Otherwise, quite frankly, the school is guilty of sharing in his wicked work—if we're going to go by what the Bible says, that is. Certainly, for the immature or undiscerning believer, LU's showcasing of Beck's speech was like serving them a deadly cocktail of partial truths mixed with insidious lies. Unfortunately, Beck is a wolf in sheep's clothing who should be exposed, not promoted.

So what? The fact is, there has been of late a great effort from within the LDS Church to be reclassified as a Christian denomination—which is likely why their more blatantly heretical theology was removed from the LDS website prior to the 2012 presidential election in which practicing Mormon Mitt Romney sought the evangelical vote[2]. Yet despite deal-breaking, fundamental differences between biblical and Mormon Christology, there is a push from within the LDS Church to emphasize the “Christ”-centeredness of Mormonism. Their relatively new emphasis on grace and atonement, has led some Christians, like former Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw, to argue that Mormonism is not a cult after all and to perceive the religion as close to Christianity, if not qualifying to be a denominational part of it. Christians need to be aware of, and guard against, this as a very real, demonic threat.

As Beck's own words above demonstrate, the false notion that "loving neighbor" is all about forgetting your dogma, your theology. Just be my friend and don't question my beliefs (ie tolerating sin and false teaching) is alive and well. Sadly, however, as appealing as this sentiment may be, it places tolerance of falsehood over truth for the sake of friendship and unity. Simply put, it is loving our neighbor while neglecting a God who cannot be separated from truth.

Let's not forget that the truth of the gospel is the purest expression of loveeverAs believers who are called to love Mormons as ourselves, we should point them to the true Christ, even if this means sacrificing a powerful political alliance with them.

Does this sound like stating the obvious? Sadly, it is not obvious to some of our leading evangelical pastors. This is because there has been a push over recent years in some of our biggest evangelical churches to put our friendships before our faith. In the hearts and minds of more and more believers, love is becoming separated from truth in order to keep friendships intact. Concerning examples of this are on the rise. The following article addresses some big ones.

< part III: friendship before faith >

Coming soon!


1. The Emerging Church movement is a broad, yet controversial, movement that seeks to use culturally sensitive approaches to reach the postmodern, un-churched population with the Christian message. Emerging churches often promote a feelings- and experience-based relationship with God, while downplaying the need for doctrinal understanding. In this context, the gospel can be diluted in a sea of emotion and a church culture is created that caters to human needs first, which sadly results in promoting self-indulgence while de-emphasizing the Lordship of Christ.

2. After perusing the LDS website thoroughly a couple of years ago, I was horrified to find later that much of the more descriptive information on Mormon theology I had previously seen was removed altogether prior to the presidential election of 2012 in which practicing Mormon, Mitt Romney, endeavored to win the evangelical vote.

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