18 June 2020
We have seen that the Christian has to battle against three ‘enemies’ in particular – Satan, the world and the flesh (indwelling sin). Before regeneration, these three are operating intensely in the lives of non-believers; but after regeneration, the believer must still keep these three at bay until Christ comes again.
The devil (Satan) is a formidable enemy and believers tend to underestimate him and his schemes, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because of the lack of vigilance and often because he is an expert in spiritual warfare. We fail to recognise his presence and his manipulation in the background and we may even accept his deceptions and half-truths as that which come from the Lord God. We may not be conscious that he may launch his ‘attacks’ on the mind, the emotion, the pride of life, the lusts of the flesh and the desires of the eyes.
The damage that comes from his onslaught is one major factor that contributes to apostasy, and the devil, the prince of the world, would use the negative influence of the world very effectively in this warfare. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“In their case (the unbelievers), the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
What about the believers?:-
“Even if someone comes and proclaims a different Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Cor. 11:4).
“For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica..”(2 Tim. 4:10).
We see how the enemy can distort the message of the gospel; he may present a different Jesus and impress believers with a different spirit and many believers may not be ‘all the wiser’. Even a matured believer like Demas, a co-worker of Paul, can be led astray and enticed by the world (with the prince of the world definitely involved).
“The assaults of persecution from without have never done half as much harm to the Church as the rise of false doctrines within. False prophets and false teachers within the camp have done far more mischief in Christendom than all the bloody persecutions of the emperors of Rome. The sword of the foe has never done much damage to the cause of truth as the tongue and the pen” (J.C. Ryle, First Bishop of LIverpool).
We must be mindful of the danger of false doctrine, even a little of it, for the beginning of departure from the truth may begin with trifling with a little of wrong teaching. In this quotation, we notice also that the enemy employs persecution against believers to cause many to give up the faith or to deny the Master, right from the beginning of the early Church using the emperors of Rome. However, the number of martyrs in this generation is greater than the total number throughout the history of the Church – the enemy is still using this in an intense manner.
Let us focus now on the ‘attacks’ of the evil one which may not appear to be so obvious to many but they have been going on through history from the ‘days of Rome’ to the current situation and we can be sure that they have caused many to be blinded to the gospel as well as caused believers to be led astray from the purity of God’s revelation in the BIble. Satan was and is involved in all these onslaught.
The persecution by Ancient Rome
Christians were killed because they worshiped Jesus as God and they worshiped the infinite-personal God only. Emperor Augustus became the head of the state religion, urging everyone to worship the “spirit of Rome and the genius of the emperor.” Later this became obligatory for all the people of the empire , and later, the emperors rule as gods. No totalitarian authority or authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. The Christians had that absolute in God’s revelation. Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the beasts.
We see this same ‘principle’ and ‘confrontation’ Christians have to face in subsequent totalitarian states and nations in history. This would be seen again when the eschatological Antichrist comes onto the scene and believers have to choose loyalty to Christ or to him. Always bear in mind that the enemy is constantly working behind the scene in all these persecutions.
Humanistic element entering the Church
After the decline of the Roman empire, the pristine Christianity set forth in the New Testament gradually became distorted. Increasingly, the authority of the church took precedence over the teaching of the Bible. And there was an ever-growing emphasis on salvation as resting on man’s meriting the merit of Christ, instead of on Christ” work alone. These humanistic elements may differ in content with those of the Renaissance, but the concept remained the same – man taking to himself that which belonged to God. Non-Christian learning with Greek and Roman thought forms (principally those of Plato and Aristotle) began to creep into the cracks and chinks of a faith which was less and less founded on the Bible and more and more resting on the authority of church pronouncements. By the thirteenth century, the theologian Aquinas began to open the door to placing revelation and human reason on an equal footing. Thomas Aquinas was the outstanding theologian of the Roman Catholic Church but he had an incomplete view of the Fall. He thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view the will was fallen and corrupted but the intellect was not affected. Thus people could rely on their own human wisdom, and this means that people were free to mix the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of the non-Christian philosophers. This set the stage for the Renaissance.
The Renaissance and humanistic elements
The Renaissance was a ‘rebirth’ of an idea about man. It puts man himself in the centre of all things, and this is expressed particularly in the arts.This idea has less obvious meaning as applied to political, economic and social history at this time but certainly it has an impact in all areas of life. The teachings of Aristotle with its emphasis on individual things (the particulars) set the stage for the humanistic elements of the Renaissance and the basic problem they created. Beginning with man alone and the individual things, the problem is how to find any ultimate and adequate meaning for the individual things, The most important individual thing for man is man himself. Without some ultimate meaning for a person (an individual), what is the use of living and what will be the basis for morals, values, and law? If one starts from individual acts rather than with an absolute, what gives any real certainty concerning what is right and what is wrong about an individual action?
If we pause and ponder, renaissance humanism and the teaching of humanism have found no way to arrive at universals or absolutes which give meaning to existence and morals. These form the “root” which later gives rise to the teaching of ‘existentialism’ (which holds that in the area of reason everything is absurd and one needs to use the will to act in any direction in a purposeless world)’ the teaching of Aldous Huxlely (who proposed drugs as a solution so that man can find truth and experience inside their own heads); the rise of ‘the enlightenment’ (the utopian dream of the idea of the limitless perfectibility of the human species, again emphasising the centrality of man but this time accompanied by deism (God is silent after creating man), leading to humanistic ideals which pursue change, ending up with Revolution which led to anarchy or repression as seen in the French and Russian Revolutions with countless loss of lives; the infiltration of humanistic teachings into the church and even into christian theology.
Renaissance humanism evolved toward modern humanism – a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous and totally independent – recall that sin is rebellion against God, a desire to be totally independent of God and to be ‘god’. Behind this belief is the devil himself who wants to be god himself and he is using man to pursue his ambition.
Humanism has no final way of saying certain things are right and other things are wrong. For the humanist, the final thing which exists – that is, the impersonal universe – is neutral and silent about right and wrong, cruelty and non-cruelty. Humanism has no way to provide absolutes. As a result of its position, humanism in private and political life is left with what is arbitrary. On the biblical basis, there are absolutes, and therefore we can say that certain things are right and certain things are wrong – this leads to outright confrontation with the teachings of humanism.
We see the consequences of the teachings of humanism – existentialism which arose from humanism, for instance, would not brand cruelty to an individual as cruelty from the absolute point of view, for reasoning is absurd and to do a ‘kind thing’ or a ‘cruel thing’ makes no difference in a purposeless world; the teaching of unilateralism, also arising from humanism, advocating that what is useful and ‘profitable’ in the situation for man takes precedence over other values (including moral values); the teaching of rationalism which assumed that man can begin from himself and gather enough particulars to make his own universals but it rejects knowledge outside of man himself, especially any knowledge from God i.e. that with the minds people can come to the conclusion that certain things are true and right and certain things are not true and wrong.
From all these teachings, three shifts came – the shift in science, the shift in philosophy and the shift in theology. All these are relevant to believers today if we seek to understand the thinking of modern man and why they reject the gospel on the basis of what they have come to believe from the influences that have infiltrated their minds and reasons through history from the time of Rome and also history of the church. We will look into these, God willing. But let us not think that there is no place for thinking and reasoning for believers and there is no need to understand what has happened in the history of the world and how it affects our faith.