[the second post of a series started here on the “cambridge declaration”]

here is the introduction to the “cambridge declaration”.

Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.

In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word “evangelical.” In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions. Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the “solas” of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.

Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word “evangelical” has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.

keep in mind that this was written over 12 years ago. the assessment of their current situation and their foresight into ours is astounding. in a time when many churches are doing everything- anything, to get people into church, much has been compromised.

i am all for getting people into church, as long as the message of the church is not compromised, diminished, or otherwise denigrated by the manner in which people are invited and then urged to continue coming. the old adage is true, “whatever you do to get them there, you have to do to keep them there”. i would add to that, that as time goes by, you have to do things bigger and better, if they were drawn in to attending under anything other than the gospel.

if the church exists to glorify and worship god, then when we make the entertainment of men the center of how we “do” church, we have lured people in under false pretenses. this doesn’t mean that church has to be dull and boring, but it should be true to its purpose. the following articles of the declaration will spell out how the church has compromised in this area, and how to return to a faithful existence as the bride of christ.

this vision and desire was summed up well by the late james montogomery boice, who was the chairman of the council. in the preface to here we stand: a call from confessing evangelicals for a modern reformation;  he writes of the problem, which the “declaration” addresses.

so what is wrong with evangelicals? the answer is that we have become worldly. we have abandoned the truths of the bible and the historic theology of the church, which expresses those truths, and we are trying to do the work of god by means of the world’s “theology”, wisdom, methods, and agenda instead. does that mean that evangelicals deny the bible or have officially turned their backs on christian doctrine? not necessarily.

it is more often the case that the bible’s theology just does not have meaningful bearing on what we think or do – when we understand it, and most of the time we do not. the polls tell us that the gospel most contemporary evangelicals believe in is essentially “god helping us to help ourselves’. it has a lot to do with self-esteem, good mental attitudes, and worldly success. There is not much preaching about sin, hell, judgment or the wrath of god, not to mention the great doctrines of the cross such as redemption, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, grace, and even faith.[1]

 what boice is saying, is not that we should ignore our culture and context, but that despite changing cultures in context, though the delivery may need to be adjusted, the message never changes. the gospel is that christ died to save sinners. the gospel is not “10 steps to a happier marriage”. is teaching people how to have a better marriage wrong? certainly not. does the bible teach us how to have a better marriage? certainly. but the point is that the primary message of the church is the gospel of jesus christ. other issues may be addressed, but not at the expense, and not more frequently than the message of the gospel and what it means for believers and non-believers.

a simple test to see if your church (and the church is what i, and the alliance are speaking of, not para-church ministries or organizations) is falling prey to the culture is this… “what is your church known for?”

is it known for its ministries? its great programs? is it known for having a visitor friendly environment? great facilities? family friendly?

all of those things are good things, and things that churches can work toward- as long as their primary message is the gospel. what good is it if our churches have 1.000 people on sunday morning, but they do not understand the basics of the gospel? it is great to have a network of small group activities, but the gospel must be the churches primary message.

what the declaration is calling us to move away from is *not* reaching out to the world or effective evangelism, it is simply a warning against compromising the message of the gospel, or packaging it in such a way that the one presented with it never notices the gift for the wrapping paper, like a baby at its first christmas…playing with an empty box, while that which has the value lies unnoticed.

[1] here we stand! a call from confessing evangelicals for a modern reformation; ed. james montogomery boice and benjamin sasse. p&r publishing, 1996. pages 9-10.