The church has faced opposition in every age, and in each age the opposition presents itself in a new form. Sometimes it shows up physically in violence against the people of God, while other times it slyly deteriorates the church from within. Nevertheless, the new opposition is always similar to its predecessors in the sense that it wishes to upend the true gospel and diminish the fellowship of believers.
Since the church faces old opposition in new forms, both a study of history and careful analysis of current trends are needed to identify the opposition the church faces today. Furthermore, demographics matter as well. The opposition of the Western Church will look different than the opposition of the Eastern Church; the opposition of the North American Church will look different than the opposition of the European Church or the Asian Church. In this article, my focus will be on the opposition the North American Church is facing.
Two enemies of the Church have presented themselves in recent times as outright opposition of the gospel and community of believers: (1) liberalism and (2) mysticism.
(1) Liberalism has been an obvious opposer of the true gospel for over 100 years. As a child of the enlightenment, liberalism found fertile ground in post-WWII thought. It had no political party. The socialism of the left and the individualism of the right both had ample space for liberalism to plant its roots. However, it has been the socialism of the left that has historically been more welcoming to liberalism. The individualism of the right, nevertheless, has always had a deal with liberalism - even if it was under the table.
The basic tell-tale sign of liberalism in the Church has been the rejection of the authority of God's Word. For the left, in word and deed, the Scriptures have been subjected to the opinions of man. For the right, their creeds proclaim adherence to God's Word as authority, but every Sunday in many conservative churches, the Scriptures are twisted, squeezed, and manipulated to fit the message of the preacher. Whether in word or deed or both, liberalism rejects God's Word as the supreme authority, and in its place, upholds the ideas of man.
Furthermore, the primacy of God's Word has been disregarded by liberalism. If you walk into a church – any church will do – and look toward the front and center of the sanctuary (or worship center), you will immediately see what the church prizes. By the 16th Century, the pulpit had been moved to the side of the church, and the table for Mass stood front and center. The Reformers, upon adopting the Catholic cathedrals as their houses of worship, would remove the table for Mass to give precedence again to the pulpit. Today, the pulpit has, in many cases, been completely removed from the front of the church, and a stage has been erected in its place. Liberalism has taken the preaching of God's Word and replaced it with entertainment.
Liberalism, in its ideals, promotes the ideas of man above the truth of God. Therefore, it is no surprise socialism and its exaltation of man and his goodness has always been a force for liberalism. Where the individualism of the right goes wrong is that while it questions the goodness of man, it also makes man the savior of himself. No political party ought to be safe in the church – no matter the good the party promotes.
We are to build our lives on the gospel, a message no political party espouses. We are aliens in a foreign land, this world is not our home, and our hope is not found under the sun. Therefore, liberalism must have no place in the church if the gospel is to be upheld. Liberalism uproots the gospel, and in turn, uproots any footing for unity in the church.
(2) Mysticism is a modern enemy of the church (when I say modern, I mean the last five to ten years). There have been pockets of mystics before, but atheism dominated the role as opposition to the church. However, atheism is dying. People want spirituality again and are turning to mystical religions to find relief for their cravings.
Many Christians have followed along, turning the teachings of Scripture into a mystical experience. Their mysticism shows in their interpretation of Scripture. Instead of using a literal, grammatical, and historical interpretation, they use a spiritualized hermeneutic. Everything written in Scripture becomes a personal manifesto. For instance, the story of Noah's Ark would be interpreted by questions like, "Do your circumstances seem like a flood in your life? What, then, is your ark?"
In mysticism, God's Word is not seen as the authority to which we submit our whole beings, but a guidebook for a spiritual life. Commands become practical life lessons, historical accounts (like Noah's Ark) become personal spiritual allegories, doctrine becomes an opinion, and every passage can be used as a prayer to repeat ad nauseam so as to put them in a trance.
Again, in mysticism, Scripture is twisted to mean whatever the individual would like it to mean. However, the outworking of this is not always as blatantly obvious. The spiritualization of Scripture often sounds good, it often sounds like something biblical and pious, but yet its end is to destroy our confidence in the gospel.
Always Reforming to the Word of God
The duty of a Christian is to always fit themselves into the form of God's Word. If God's Word is formed into something else, the form to which it is formed becomes the authority. For Christians, this cannot happen if Christianity is to remain intact. We cannot adhere to man's opinions and ideas over and above the truth of Scripture; we cannot subscribe to the whims and wishes of the heart over and above the truth of Scripture; the Bible is to be our supreme authority.
Liberalism and mysticism are forms into which many Christians try to fit both themselves and Scripture. What is next, I don't know. But whatever it is, it will always have as its greatest endeavor to subdue Scripture and destroy the Church. This should come as no surprise since, from the beginning, Satan's question has been, "Did God really say…"
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:3-5)