The faith of the early church changed men and revolutionized the social order by the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit.
Every evangelical finds himself confronted with the danger of slipping into the ever-hardening attitude of the Pharisees, and every theological liberal is confronted with the dangers inherent in the “doctrine” of the Sadducees. These dangers, present in all generations, are perhaps greater today than ever before, as the lines between “conservatives” and “modernists” are being drawn more clearly.
Of the Pharisees our Lord said, “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,” (Matthew 15:9, ESV), while to the Sadducees, who were questioning Him about the resurrection of the dead, His reply was, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29, ESV).
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Evangelicals need to be warned of the dangers of pharisaism, with its legalism and negative approach to the Christian faith, but for now I am thinking of the growing evidence that many who hold powerful positions in the major denominations are not far removed from the Sadducees of our Lord’s time.
The chief characteristic of the Sadducees was a religious rationalism that denied the realm of the supernatural with its angels and spirits and wholly rejected the doctrine of the resurrection. As has been said by men such as J. Gresham Machen, “Eliminate the supernatural and miraculous and there is no such thing as Christianity.” How we need to stress this today.
Without the supernatural there is no such thing as the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, the resurrection, or prayer. Eliminate the supernatural and there can be no God, no incarnation of God in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and, of course, no Holy Spirit.
In other words, the minute one begins to tamper with God’s supernatural being and His manifestations in supernatural and miraculous ways, he is tampering with the foundational realities of the Christian faith. Our faith is based, not on man-made dogmas and opinions, but on a divine revelation, supernatural in its nature and miraculous in its effect.
The church began in unlikely soil and was confronted by overwhelming obstacles, but not once did the apostles seek to identify it with the existing social order. It was a supernatural organism existing in a natural world. Its members expected and experienced multiplied evidences of the miraculous character of their faith—faith that changed men and revolutionized the social order, not by secular activism but by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The church—and individual Christians—need to rediscover that we are dealing with a supernatural God. Let Him speak: “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens [He is God!], who formed the earth and made it [He established it; He did not create it empty, He formed it to be inhabited!]: “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:18, ESV). D
L. NELSON BELL (1894-1973), a missionary surgeon to China from 1916-1941, was a leading Presbyterian layman and the father of the late Ruth Bell Graham. This article was adapted from While Men Slept: A Concerned Layman’s View of the Church Today (Doubleday 1970), with reprint permission from East Gates Ministries International. Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
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