Last night I was listening to a lecture on the EmergentChurch and the speaker made the comment that of late Christianity Today has been publishing articles commending that particularly corrupting movement. I was glad he said that because I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt that way. The most current edition has an article by Emergent promoter Scot Mcknight taken from his recent lecture at WTS-East (yet another sign of trouble at that particular Seminary) on "Five Emerging Streams".
But promoting the EmergentChurch movement seems to be merely one of many symptoms of the overall decline (or perhaps declension would be a better word) of CT from the evangelical fold. Another sign has been their increasing willingness to push Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology and practice and an almost total failure to acknowledge that the Reformation happened for good reason and began the process of returning Christianity to the simple, biblical faith of the Apostolic church from the morass of symbolism, sacerdotalism, superstition, and worldliness that it had become bogged in. A recent example of this "Back to Mysticism and Tradition" tendency is seen in a recent CTdirect article by Nathan Bierma entitled The Shape of Faith: The sign of the cross is a reminder of whose we are. (Available online here:The Shape of Faith )In it Bierma recommends the superstitious and biblically baseless ritual of crossing oneself as an expression of the faith, and in the process promotes two books, one written from the point of view of Roman Catholic Theology and published by Loyolla and the other written from an Eastern Orthodox point of view and published by Paraclete (publisher of a host of Emergent, Gnostic, and ritualistic nonsense).
In his review Bierma gives almost no attention to the solid reasons that Reformed Protestants rejected this and other unbiblical rituals for and instead dismisses all objections in the following manner:
"Christians of a variety of traditions have begun to discover the beauty and meaning of this ancient act. Protestant objections to the sign of the cross are seldom articulated beyond the vague dismissal, "It's a Catholic thing," but Martin Luther prescribed the sign of the cross in his Small Catechism, and the sign has long been part of Episcopal and Lutheran practice. As both Andreopoulos and Ghezzi show, the sign of the cross is hardly a uniquely Catholic practice; it has deep roots in the early and Eastern churches and clear ties to Scripture."
The reason for his dismissal of objections to crossing oneself becomes clear in the following paragraph. Like many Christians Bierma wasn't and apparently still isn't aware of why Protestants repudiated the sign and instead thinks its a "link" to the past - yet another tradition and experience that can be seemlessly integrated into the postmodern religious buffet of faith:
"After reading these two books, this previously ignorant Protestant, for one, has decided to introduce the sign of the cross into his daily prayer, as a link with the early church, a sign of God's claim on me, and a reminder of the mystery of the Trinity."
It is particularly ironic that Bierma is the communications and research coordinator for Calvin college's "Calvin Institute of Christian Worship" when the namesake of that institution set out to produce a reformation that eliminated useless superstitions like the sign of the cross from true Christian worship. D'Aubigne in his wonderful history of the Reformation points out that the sign of the cross was one of the things that Calvin's friend and predecessor at Geneva, William Farel immediately worked to remove at the inauguration of the Reformation in Switzerland:
"Farel arrived and went into the pulpit. The worship they were about to celebrate was not to be an ordinary service: a religious revolution was about to be accomplished. Ceremonies were the essence of popery. Now Farel was full of the idea that there are no ceremonial laws in Christianity; that an act of worship, discharged according to the rules of the Church, is not on that account pleasing to God and meritorious: that to overburden believers with festivals, bowing of the head, crossing, kneeling before pictures, and ceremonies, is opposed to worship in the spirit; that to fill the churches with images, offerings, relics, and tapers is dealing a blow at justification by faith and the merit of Christ’s death which alone save the sinner. He believed with his whole heart that divine worship, according to the New Testament, does not consist in processions, elevations, salutations, bowings, genuflections before the host, and other superstitious usages; that its essence is faith in the Gospel, the charity which flows from it, patience in bearing the cross, public confession of Jesus Christ, and the living prayer of the heart."
[HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION IN THE TIME OF CALVIN, VOL. 5, by J.H. Merle d’Aubigne]
300 years later, Charles Haddon Spurgeon pointed out what should be obvious, namely that the sign of the cross had no origin in scripture and was simply another superstition as gross as those expressly forbidden in scripture and one that surely would have been condemned by the Apostles had it come into practice in their time:
"You need not to be told, my brethren, that Paul set no store by the material cross, or by the sign of the cross. You know that the making of the sign of the cross, and the paying of religious reverence to that, is as great a superstition as the belief in witches, and perhaps, as men come to be enlightened, they will wonder how it is that some men could have thought that there could be more sanctity about a gross than about a circle or the parallelogram, for really there is no holiness in the sign of the cross, and I sometimes wish that some Christian persons would not countenance that emblem, since it seems to imply a superstitious reverence to that kind of thing. Paul meant no such thing. He would have abandoned in contempt any superstitious use of the cross or the crucifix, and he would do so now if he were, and I hope the result would be that, as at Ephesus they burned their conjuring hosts, so now men would put their chasubles, and their albs, and all their fripperies and upholstery together, and burn them in one glorious pile as the result of the preaching of the true cross of Christ." [Spurgeon, Sermons, No. 3451, "GRAND GLORYING"]
The great Puritan theologian, John Owen described the sign of cross as "an idol, a teacher of lies, invented and set up for no other end but to satisfy the carnal minds of men with a presumptuous supposition, in the neglect of the spiritually laborious exercise of faith" and pointed out expressly that it is true, experimental Christianity that will save us from following after all such empty symbols saying "An experience of the work of faith, in the derivation of all supplies of spiritual life, grace, and strength, with deliverance and supplies, from Jesus Christ, will secure believers from giving heed unto this trifling deceit." [John Owen, "THE CHAMBER OF IMAGERY IN THE CHURCH OF ROME LAID OPEN"]
Sadly though, what one reads in CT seems to be an indication that once again evangelicalism is spinning apart in a manner similar to the decline which occurred in the 19th century. Revelation is once again being discarded for symbolism, true piety for subjective experience and fleeting mystical feelings, and once again every man is set on blazing his own trail to God. It may be some time before we see a return to the Old Paths of scripture and in the meantime it looks like we will be seeing some very weird practices and beliefs in the midst of uber-tolerant, postmodern evangelicalism.
Pastor Andrew Webb
I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian...
Owen shows the futility of "ceremonies, vestments, gestures, ornaments, music, altars, images, paintings and bodily veneration," as proceeding from the will of man, and not God, in His own worship! A real spiritual feast defending biblical (Reformation) worship.