Never let it be said that CE’s weren’t gracious hosts, when they set their superior minds to sacrificing the very best. The menu, for a few years now, has been their own recipe for Sacred Cow; and they have become experts at gnawing/stripping the meat off the bones, leaving the bare skeletons of doctrines and practices that were once precious to Fundamentalists. Certainly not Sacred Cows in the historic sense, from the Far East, but doctrines and practices that embarrassed them in front of their Evangelical and New Evangelical friends, and whose demise they would gladly celebrate with those friends by writing them off as mere “non-essentials.” Therefore, they gladly invite anyone across the theological spectrum, from Fundamentalists to Evangelicals, to dine with them and share in the sport of destroying the distinctions and landmarks that once clearly staked out the different positions across that portion of the spectrum of theology. Since CE’s see no useful purpose in such distinctions, they want all of us to be content with piles of anonymous bones of bygone distinctives, now being carelessly discarded across the theological landscape to the accompaniment of their whine of contempt and loathing.
The expression, Sacred Cows, has come a long way from the creatures respected as gods in the Far East. In broader theological usage, it has been used to describe the principles, positions, values and practices that over time have come to have a life of their own, now somewhat remote from their origins and authors with the passage of time. They were often thought to be both the cause, as well as the effect, of their own existence but only among those who are ignorant of their history—a point to be noted, since CE’s seem to have little use for modern church history, particularly if it hasn’t yet been revised.
Sacred Cow would have been a welcome pejorative back in the days of the Modernism/Liberalism vs Fundamentalism controversy. If doctrines like the Virgin Birth or the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ were being upheld, they were but a few of the many Sacred Cows of Fundamentalism, according to the Modernists, considered no longer necessary and relegated to the scrap heap of non-essentials by those who introduced the Social Gospel in the 1920's. In fact, the doctrinal struggle of that time could be summarized as the differences between what was defined as either essential or non-essential. The nothing-essential Modernist-Liberals fought for greater latitude with fewer absolutes in doctrine and practice and more subjective and relativist applications of Scripture.
Perhaps some of the most significant events where that could be seen, were in the early controversies within the Northern Baptist Convention. When our Fundamentalist Baptist forefathers of the early 20th century were doing battle inside the Northern Baptist Convention, they fought for clear cut, unequivocal statements of belief that upheld such biblical principles as Jesus’ Virgin Birth, Substitutionary Atonement, Bodily Resurrection, Ascension, etcetera. One of those statements they recommended to the Convention was the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, which was read aloud at a Convention business meeting. Its adoption, however, was defeated in favor of a cleverly worded substitute motion:
The Northern Baptist Convention affirms that the New Testament is the all-sufficient ground of our faith and practice, and we need no other statement. (A History of the Bible Baptist Union, Robert Delnay, 1974, p34, emphasis added)Where we customarily read “the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice...,” the substitute word “ground” conveniently made the Scriptures little more than a beginning point from which they felt free to digress and redefine essential truths as they pleased. The latitude of this statement, quickly approved by the Convention, wittingly undermined any retention of the fundamental doctrines of the “faith which was once delivered to the saints.” Those who perpetrated the substitute motion would later gloat over their success in putting one over on the Fundamentalists in the Northern Baptist Convention.
While many consider all that long ago and far away, there are other Sacred Cows of doctrine and practice that are at risk of becoming an endangered species in schools, churches and agencies now, in the 21st century. Some are doctrines, others applications of biblical principles, such as: secondary separation, platform-sharing ethics, inter-church ethics, Bible versions, evolution vs creation, contemporary forms of worship (some now including dance), acceptance of psychological counseling as church ministry, proper attire for worship, modest dress in general for both men and women, feminism, social drinking, entertainment issues such as dancing and movies, gambling, freemasonry, just to name a few. If we simply ask whether we have been better off without worldly methods in our churches, and similar compromises in our homes and family life, versus the concessions already granted, the answer is resoundingly yes! Perhaps we should reexamine the Apostle Paul’s teaching:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1 Corinthians 6:12Doesn’t this teach that even those things some consider debatable, should nevertheless be expendable, either because they fail to contribute to my walk with the Lord or are a stumblingblock to others? We need to be careful, lest we raise up idols in becoming obsessed with and covetous of those “forbidden fruits” that have proven to be the downfall of others in the past. From passages like this, written by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, no one can accuse him of pushing the envelope of tolerance towards questionable doctrine and practice. How remarkably different from those preoccupied today with skewering the Sacred Cows, one by one.
Perhaps, we should compare the changes today with available history and ask some questions that may accurately predict the outcome of redefining the essentials. First, we must recognize both the source as well as the process begun, whereby they isolate, marginalize and then cut off ( in the words of Saul Alinsky) what were once sincerely held doctrines and applications of biblical principles. Secondly, consider where this has led before and to what end it will most assuredly bring us? During the early 20th century, the Modernist-Liberals completely undermined any reliance upon the absolute authority of Scripture. Once the process began, the whittling away of the applications of biblical principles was only the beginning, not an end unto itself. The momentum and heady success of demolishing the applications was merely a prelude to further destruction of the principles and the doctrines themselves, as they too became the objects of ridicule, isolation, then elimination and ultimately unbelief. First sold as setting aside non-essentials for the sake of fellowship, the fact was the “ravening wolves” would not be content until all biblical authority was first tokenized and then destroyed and replaced with a man-made Social Gospel.
Now, in the 21st century, we witness a new wave of similar efforts to do away with all those Sacred Cows so long irritating to those who have hungered for a broader fellowship, a wider audience and popularity, a bigger, more diverse student body, and so joined forces to suppress anything standing in the way of their success. The question we must ask, however, is even after they have taken out the Sacred Cows of “non-essentials” in doctrinal application, will they be satisfied? Will there be a clear line drawn at the frontier of “enough,” or will they simply continue, as their predecessors did, redefining essentials into non-essentials in preparation for the disposal of distinctive doctrines? History says once the process is begun, the fires will burn until everything of any historic spiritual value and sensibility has been consumed.
Perhaps Conservative Evangelicals should be asking themselves what will be left once all the Sacred Cows have been eliminated? In their rush to deny and/or rewrite history, the rationale for making unwanted practices and doctrines “non-essentials” has a genesis worth considering. First, it is dishonest to impugn the character of pastors and leaders now gone, who taught believers how to live apart from the unbelieving world and in obedience to God’s Word. It has been remarkable to read diatribes against a separated life, written by personalities currently leading the CE movement. In both their style and content, we are taken back to the serpent in the Garden, telling us that we are being deprived of some elite knowledge or experience to which we are otherwise entitled and dare not miss in our humble lives. What some in the past used to call Christian Liberty has proven to be little more than license to be conformed to this world, contrary to Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, by those who yet call themselves Fundamentalist Christians.
If we would honestly evaluate both the direction and destination of such movements in the light of Scripture, we can hardly expect anything more than a powerless form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5) with a Church under the wisdom and headship of men, whose worship hearkens back to the days of the golden calf and whose people possess a bankrupt testimony with no tangible difference from a world that hates God and His Word. It is rank arrogance to presume that anyone can make the outcome any different, when we follow the same steps that have brought the downfall of others in the past.
Dr. Charles L. Dear, Editor, The REVIEW, May 2012.
The Review is a publication of the Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America (IBFNA). Additional articles by Dr. Charles Dear will be appearing at IDOTG on a regular basis. Dr. Dear is among the newest of our regular contributors.
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