|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
This article continues our answer to the question, "Is the doctrine of creation a litmus test of a church's attitude toward the Bible?" [Previous article]
In the decades after Darwin, even some of the church's most godly preachers and teachers abandoned the doctrine of recent creation in six literal days. They embraced compromise positions - in some cases invented them - because they mistakenly thought they had to. This sad but unintended legacy continues to plague the church today.1
Seeking the Praise of Men Instead of God
In our time, many reputedly conservative seminaries, churches, and pastors deny the doctrine of recent creation in six literal days. Instead, they embrace one of the popular compromise positions - the day-age view, the analogical days view, the framework hypothesis, gap theories, and others. They offer varied defenses of such positions, and some may seem plausible on the surface. But strip away all else, and a common core remains: All such views are efforts to reconcile the truth of the Genesis account with the lie of Darwinian evolution.
Behind these efforts is a fear of the ridicule of academics, media elitists, and other secular opinion leaders - unbelievers who are steeped in the culture of Darwinian thinking and have no tolerance for Biblical Christianity. These men and institutions are, in reality, seeking the approval of man rather than God.
It was the same during Jesus' days on earth. Many reputed theological conservatives sought praise in the wrong places. "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42-43).
A Legacy of Misguided Compromise
Today's men and institutions are continuing a legacy of misguided compromise that began in the decades after Darwin. Many post-Darwinian preachers and teachers of the past, although conservative in their theology generally, embraced perspectives on the doctrine of creation that abandoned the grammatical-historical view of the early chapters of Genesis. They embraced the idea of an old earth - not because the Bible said it, but because they thought that geological "evidences" (since disproved) meant that they had to.
The list of godly men who entered this swamp of compromise includes such leading figures as Charles Hodge, Charles Spurgeon, Benjamin B. Warfield, C. I. Scofield, J. Gresham Machen, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Arthur W. Pink, and Donald Gray Barnhouse. We must frankly face the fact that this compromise and its subsequent results are part of the legacy of such great men to the church, along with so much that is praiseworthy.
In this particular area of their theology, they placed the word of man above the Word of God, rather than validating all things by the standard of Scripture. They faced an apparent conflict between what evolutionary geologists were telling them about the age of the earth and how world came into being, and a grammatical-historical interpretation of Genesis based on the plain sense of its words. What the evolutionary geologists were telling them was unproved then and is clearly disproved now, but these men placed this faulty interpretation of God's general revelation of Himself in nature in authority over the clear teachings of God's special revelation in His Word. Since the evolutionary geologists said that the data showed the earth to be millions (later billions) of years old, many post-Darwinian theologians adopted the position that a plain-sense interpretation of Genesis must be wrong.
A Single Accommodation Opens the Floodgates
This single accommodation, well-meaning though it may have been, opened what became a flood of compromise on the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. In the eyes of growing numbers of theologians from the late 1800s onward, no doctrine was safe from revisionism, especially those that required belief in the supernatural or a single way of salvation. We see this in major historical documents from the Auburn Affirmation of the 1920s to the Manhattan Declaration of 2009, and in a multitude of doctrinal deviancies in colleges, seminaries, denominations, local churches, and individual Christians' lives in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Two Recent Sell-Outs
The pace of the compromise in attitudes toward the Bible in purportedly conservative churches has accelerated dramatically in recent decades. Denial of the doctrine of six-literal-day creation is a major contributing factor in that acceleration. Here we shall mention just two examples. The Presbyterian Church in America (in 2000) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (in 2004) both released study reports stating that Christians (and their spiritual leaders) can believe virtually whatever they want about the doctrine of creation.2 These reports were prepared by committees composed of leading pastors and theologians of these denominations. Here we shall focus on the OPC report, because it succinctly states the position of both of these reputedly conservative denominations.
In 2004, the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church approved and commended to its churches a 140-page document titled the Report of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation. The title itself says a great deal about the church's approach to the question. It is a study of the conflicting views of men, not a study of the doctrine of creation in Scripture.
After a three-year effort, the committee that produced the Report drew no definite conclusion about the meaning of the word "day" in the Genesis creation account. This result was not surprising given the makeup of the committee, which included advocates of a literal day, days of unspecified length, the day-age view, the framework view, and the analogical view. According to this spectrum of opinion, the Genesis day may have been twenty-four hours long or it may have been billions of years. While this result was not surprising, it is deeply disturbing. The committee not only abandoned sound principles for the interpretation of Scripture, but embraced a radically revisionist, postmodernist hermeneutic instead.
The Report states that widely divergent teachings on the nature and length of the days of creation in Genesis chapter one all fall into the category of "literal" and "historical" interpretations. It said that a "literal" and "historical" day can be virtually anything one wishes it to be - an ordinary day, an ambiguous literary figure, or a day-age comprising billions of years. The Report further said that, despite the unmistakable order in the text, Genesis chapter one "need not be [viewed as] chronological" in order to be viewed as "historical."
The OPC committee said that a wide range of views are acceptable, because what is important is not the word "day" in the book of Genesis but the doctrine of creation "in the space of six days" in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 4, part 1). "Rightly understood," the Report asserted, "Confessions encourage theological creativity by establishing the conditions under which exegetical and theological investigation can take place." Therefore, the committee said, "we believe that the doctrine of six-day creation can be preserved through different permissible understandings of the word, 'day'.... It is the judgment of the Committee that none of the five different views expressed in this report necessarily entails a denial of the integrity of the system of doctrine of our standards." There was no acknowledgement of the fact that only one interpretation can possibly be right.
Note carefully the principle of Biblical interpretation that this official committee of the OPC (and likewise the PCA committee) has endorsed: Men of the church can all be said to embrace the same "doctrine," even if they differ radically on the meaning of its words, even if they differ radically on the principles and methods of interpretation used to arrive at the meaning of those words, and even if they arrive at conclusions that are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, no one has the right to say that the position he holds is the truth, to the exclusion of all others. Men holding widely varying views about the meaning of the words of Scripture - even diametrically opposing views - can all fit under the same "big tent" as long as they can all disingenuously recite the words of a man-made doctrinal statement together. The PCA's 2000 Report of the Creation Study Committee took an identical position.
These purportedly conservative denominations have judged that stretching the tent to cover every position short of atheistic evolution, in order to keep peace and avoid secular ridicule, is more important than faithful, accurate interpretation of Scripture.
No Doctrine Is Safe
Once the snowball of theological compromise begins to roll, it grows into an avalanche far faster than most people would imagine. If Christians apply the same no-rules method of interpretation to the Bible as a whole - and why shouldn't they when reputedly conservative seminary professors and ministers lead the way? - then no doctrine is safe from radical revision. The entire system of Christian doctrine can - and does - come under attack.
We see this, for example, in the PCA today. The PCA's downward slide is accelerating at breathtaking speed. The PCA has officially repudiated the requirement for strict subscription to doctrinal standards. One of the PCA's most popular preachers is a theistic evolutionist. The Federal Vision heresy of justification by faith plus works is openly taught and tolerated, and efforts to stem the tide (much less reverse it) are failing. Anything goes in worship, from Romish formalism to MTV-style entertainment. Women are being given positions of authority and ministry in the PCA that the Scriptures clearly reserve for men.
In the 20th century other denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), went down the same path, and denial of the Genesis creation account was a common starting point. Along the way, both introduced all of the compromises that the PCA has now also embraced. Today, both denominations tolerate and even defend homosexuality, and the PCUSA permits the worship of pagan deities in its churches. Without the solid anchor of uncompromising belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, any abomination is possible, given enough time - and often in a very short time.
Next - The doctrine of creation is a litmus test.
1. Much of the material in this article is adapted from Christianity and Neo-Liberalism (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2004) by TeachingTheWord president Paul M. Elliott.
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