A world of unrest! A world of lawlessness! A world of perplexity! A world of sorrow and suffering! What is the real cause of all this? Is there any remedy, and if so, what is it? We face facts, not theories; and we must deal with facts, if we are to find any satisfactory solution of our problem.
Introductory.—Man was created for fellowship with God. This fellowship was lost by rejecting God and His authority, and accepting the philosophy of the god of this world. From that time until now the real issue has been between the worship and service of the true God, manifested in a life of sacrificial devotion to Him, and the worship and service of a false god, manifested in a life of devotion to self. In the passing centuries this issue has assumed a variety of outward forms and manifestations, but the essential principle has been the same. It is only by the light of revelation shining in the word of God that the truth can be perceived and the various forms of error are unveiled. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Ps. 119:105.
Proposition 1.—The fundamental cause of the present world crisis is that men in positions of responsibility, both in the church and in the state, have exalted the creature above the Creator.
When the apostles went forth in the first century to preach the gospel of the grace of God, they were confronted with gross idolatry throughout the Roman Empire. The emperor was the head of the state and the Pontifex Maximus of the pagan religion. Some inscriptions of that period have recently been discovered by archeologists which apply to the emperor the Christian terms "God," "Lord," and "Saviour." In view of this fact there is great significance in these statements of the apostle Paul: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5) ; and, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Rom. 10:9. Christianity, in contrast with the many false religions, was an exclusive religion, and would not acknowledge any other as Lord than Jesus of Nazareth. This attitude brought Christians into direct conflict with the paganism of their day, and resulted in their persecution.
In the epistle to the Romans, in which the apostle Paul deals with the fundamental truth of Christianity, he makes a very discriminating analysis of the religion of the Roman Empire, with which the church at Rome was brought face to face in daily life, and clearly points out the real issue between it and genuine Christianity. Note some of his illuminating utterances:
"Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened." "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." "And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind." Rom. 1:21, 22, 25, 28.
Observe the steps in this experience: 1. They had received a knowledge of God. 2. They did not glorify Him. 3. Consequently they left the path of safe thinking about God, and became fools in the sight of heaven. 4. They accepted a lie in place of the truth, and substituted a god of their own creation for the true God, the Creator. 5. Since they were free moral agents, the inevitable consequence of their own wrong choice was that they became dominated by a worthless mind. The outcome of their rejection of the counsel of God was manifested in twenty-one kinds of evil which are enumerated in verses 29-31. Such is the estimate of the pagan idolatry of which the emperor of Rome was the official head.
It may seem a long way from 50 A. D. to 1934 A. n., and in some minds there may be a serious question whether there is any real relation between the religion of the Roman Empire in the days of Paul and the religion of the world today. The possible objection is worthy of some thoughtful study. It demands that we should go beneath the widely different manifestations of human philosophy, and deal with the vital principle involved. In Rome the deity of the emperor was formally acknowledged, and "gods many and lords many" were at least nominally worshiped. In the civilized world today such expressions of gross idolatry would be regarded as simply unthinkable for a people living in a scientific age and in the full glow of an enlightening philosophy. Very likely. What then? Is that the end of our study of this matter? Far from it. We have merely taken a superficial look at the present situation. We must go further. We must ask, What is the attitude of the professedly Christian world of today toward the Christianity of the first century?
A full answer to this question would take us beyond the limits of my space, and so I can only make some brief suggestions: First, then, speaking generally—although I am glad to say that there are exceptions—the leaders of religious thought have substituted their own thinking in place of the revealed thoughts of God, a human philosophy in place of the divine, and the authority of self-consciousness in place of the authority of the eternal God. Just as in the days of Rome, they have "refused to have God in their knowledge." I do not mean that they have rejected the word "God" from their vocabulary, or that they no longer talk about Christ and Lord and faith and salvation and heaven. Oh, no. That would be too plainly irreligious. Stating it briefly, to be developed more fully later, I mean that they have put such a different content into these words that their Christ is not the Christ of the Scriptures, their Lord is not "the Lord of glory," their faith is not self-surrender to the risen Christ, their salvation is not victory over self, and their heaven is not the dwelling place of the Most High.
In his book, "A Christian Manifesto," Prof. Edwin Lewis, as quoted in the Literary Digest, Sept. 8, 1934, interprets the real meaning of Modernism in one brief statement: "The logic of modern thought is the denial of historical Christianity." But the denial of historical Christianity involves the reversion to idolatry in its most subtle form—the exaltation of human philosophy above revealed truth.
It is not necessary to make a visible image and fall down before it, in order that one should be an idolater. Back of every visible image is the mental image. That mental image is the essence of idolatry. Idolatry reached its highest development in the days before the flood, when "Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Gen. 6:5. In the last analysis, idolatry is the substitution of self for God, the worship of self instead of the worship of God, placing the authority of self above the authority of God, substituting human endeavor for-the work of God.
Such idolatry may assume many different forms of expression. It may quite easily be degraded into the worship of visible idols, and one may "fall down to the stock of a tree." This may be seen today in the so-called heathen lands. I have observed it myself in Japan, China, and other countries. So it was in ancient Babylon, "the proud one," as exhibited by Nebuchadnezzar, who expressed his own claim to deity by demanding worship of the image which he had made, and magnified himself and his works by saying, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" Dan. 4:30.
The same principle of the rejection of the true God and the exaltation of self may be revealed in ways not so offensive to twentieth century culture. A clear illustration of this is found in the views concerning Jesus of Nazareth held by the typical Modernist of today. To Paul, Jesus was God and the Son of God. (See Rom. 9:5; 1:4.) To the Modernist, the same Jesus is only a man, although He is acknowledged to be a superman. To Paul, the central fact concerning Jesus was that His atoning death brought to us deliverance from sin and its power. (See 1 Cor. 15:3; Rom. 7:24, 25.) To the Modernist, Jesus furnishes a striking example of devotion to the ideal which He had accepted, devotion measured only by His death, which ought to stimulate us to heroic endeavor on the upward way. To Paul, the risen Jesus was "the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8), "a life-giving spirit" (15:45), who "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3), and who "ever liveth to make intercession" (7:25). To the Modernist, the same Jesus ended His career when His enemies secured His condemnation and His death by the most ignominious method then practiced. To him, the Jesus of the Scriptures lives only in His memory.
In this connection it may be well to recall that in one of the latest of the Christian documents which authoritatively interpret Jesus Christ to us, He is declared to be "the true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20) ; and then immediately follows the warning, applicable for all time, "My little children, guard yourselves from idols." When the connection is studied, it is clear that any conception of Christ which represents Him as anything else than the true God, is idolatry. Plainly, then, the nominal Christianity of our time, with its false conceptions of Christ, is a paganized Christianity, an idolatrous cult, whose adherents worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.
An extreme and shocking rejection of the Christ of the Scriptures and His teaching is openly professed in Germany by Dr. Alfred Rosenberg, "arrogant right-hand idea-man to the Realmleader," in his "The Myth of the Twentieth Century." To quote:
"The religion of -Jesus was undoubted13-the preaching of love. . . . but the German religious movement, which wishes to develop into a people's church, must declare that it unconditionally subordinates the ideal of neighborly love to the ideal of national honor."—Time. Sept. 3, 1931.
I do not claim that all Protestants have thus openly and emphatically repudiated genuine Christianity, but the situation in England is frankly described by Dr. Joseph Fort Newton of Philadelphia, "a liberal, a nominal Episcopalian," who preached in the well-known City Temple in London last summer:
"Religiously, it is a dry time in England. No great voices are speaking, and there is no stir among the dry leaves of theology. Never have I seen such dearth and deadness. My impression is that the Anglican Church is dead and knows it, and that the free churches are dead and do not know it—but they are finding it out."—Time, Sept. 3, 1934.
A leader in the Anglican Church, Canon Donaldson, is quoted in Advance, June 28, 1934, as declaring:
"Our day is saturated with seven deadly sins: politics without principle; wealth without work ; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; industry without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice."
Such is a brief review of the general situation in the field of religion considered from the standpoint of Protestantism. We must view it also from the standpoint of Roman Catholicism in a succeeding article.
(To be continued)