Question:My concern is to avoid a polluted and compromised gospel that turns people away from Christ or worse, inoculates them against the true gospel with cheap grace. Your letter most likely triggered a reaction in me because I am right now driven to seek God for answers about some disturbing things around me in church and my own life. I'll try and articulate it a bit if you can see what I feel distressed by.
Out there in the world of church and Christianity, there seems to be two camps. The first camp are those in the grace camp. Many of their ideas are biblical in that its true that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ. However, it seems to take on several disturbing shapes beyond that. It begins in the Spirit perhaps but somehow ends up in the flesh. Folks in this camp may tend to regard anyone who insists on actually doing the Bible as sadly bound by legalism and not enjoying freedom in Christ, especially in the thornier areas like submission and about restrictions of women's roles and the husband's leadership. Women nowadays, even in the church, wear the pants and are just as lacking in discretion as worldly women are. Perhaps the most obvious thing I've noted that worries me is that there is no discernment. As the emphasis on freedom, grace and the gifts of the Spirit increase, this seems to translate into selective obedience and wholesale acceptance of any spiritual experience or supernatural experience being of God. Some of what people describe as hearing from God sounds like having a spirit guide. I firmly believe His sheep hear His voice, but there are many deceiving spirits too. There are exceptions of course, in that there are grace oriented, charismatic churches with genuine gifts, but there are also many who water down the gospel, de-emphasize the seriousness of sin, cheapen repentance, using gimmicks instead trust the Holy Spirit to do His convicting work.
The other camp I'd describe as those who are taking a back to the Bible, insistence on pure theology approach. These are the ones hanging on tightly to the purest doctrine they can find, perhaps as a desperate reaction against the infiltration of impurity and deception into the church. The only way they know to stay safe from deception is to refuse to compromise on what they believe to be solid doctrine (with good reason too). They are fed up with how the banner of grace has been used like a Trojan horse to usher in all kinds of compromise and falsehood, doctrinal error, etc. and they have had it with that whole kettle of fish! They seem to gravitate toward the old fashioned church where all the men wear suits and ties and all the women hats, dresses and gloves and conformity is taken to be unity. Many of these have seriously valid concerns and points. Where is righteousness? If one is genuinely saved, why is there no holiness and no distinction from the world? At the same time, one wonders if the way they are going about trying to correct the problem is of God, why is there so little love and so little power included in the package? Many of the folks I've known who are part of this life are rigid, severe and not very joyful. They know how to correct, punish and rebuke, how to rip off other people's masks but not how to love, how to bear long, or how to show uncommon grace and mercy. They are determined to hold the fort against the world and not get dragged along into deception and hell with it. Hmm. The thing is, society worked well when the boundaries were clear and everyone knew their place in it. And the flesh is enmity to God and the things of God. Do we react negatively to this because it is, as some say, legalism, oppression, a religious spirit, or is it because we are so comfortable in the flesh that we don't recognize that this may be where our distaste for clear order is coming from? Perhaps this is why strong doctrine is offensive?
Perhaps you can sense my confusion as I seek to find the truth amidst all the stuff going on; it is really at times, depressing. I fear that a counterfeit gospel has invaded the church and slowly unravelled its solid underpinnings. My reading of church history indicates that repentance was a work of the Holy Spirt that produced measurable change in a person's life. Else the word wouldn't say that we could test ourselves and see if we be in the faith. I find it interesting that now in church, one may merely put up their hand and 'receive Christ as your personal Lord and Savior," while in times past, people tarried before the Lord, while seeking salvation and afterward, there wasn't a whole lot of doubting about whether or not one was saved. I'm also familiar with the expression "Picking green fruit" and have experienced a similar version to the race to the finish line brand of getting folks saved in my own introduction to Christianity. Some folks seem to be spiritual scalp collectors and want that validation of their faith and witness so bad that they violate the work of the Holy Spirit in the person's life by rushing ahead of God and trying to manipulate, bribe or even coerce a person into making a premature declaration of faith. (I have my own name for it; I call it "Cattle Ramp Evangelism" - who cares how they get there, just herd them in the right direction by any means fair or foul) Our pastor wants to bring in a martial arts program as an outreach. To me this is a radical departure from truth. Martial arts is a pagan practice rooted in Zen Buddhism among other things. He thinks we can just do the exercises and that will be fine. Since when do we need pagan practices as outreach? What of the Holy Spirit? Wasn't that His job?
I believe I understand your concerns. If you wouldn't mind taking the time, let me recommend the articles "Jesus: Intolerant, Confrontational, and Exclusionary" and "Legalism: The Un-Sin." What happens is that people over time tend to simplify their views. They focus on just one aspect of Christianity to the point they lose sight of what Christianity really is. Then there is the drive to bring as many into the church as possible. Again it becomes a nearly exclusive focus, so that truth is ignored if someone won't come because it is there.
Though you are trying hard not to fall in that trap, it does color your thinking. For example, you mentioned that salvation is by grace alone through faith. Do you realize that isn't stated in the Bible? In fact, the statement is self-contradictory. How can salvation be by grace alone if it must be accompanied by faith? The verse that it is roughly based on (Ephesians 2:8) does not include the word "alone." And if you sat down with your Bible and wrote down everything God connects to salvation, you will find that salvation is by no one thing alone. Take a look at: "What Saves a Person?"
Another problem I've noticed is that people tend to confuse the showiness of emotional displays for love. But when you read the description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-8 there is nothing showy or overly emotional in the description. Here are two more articles to consider: "Who is Closer to God?" and "The Deceitful Heart." The question is who is in the driver seat. Does the emotions drive the worship or does the worship drive the emotions?