Scripture and the Church

Is Pluralism the Way Forward for the Church?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The inevitable outcome of postmodernism is pluralism, the notion that a single standard of truth is unthinkable.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

In response to our recent series on dealing with apostasy in the church, readers have asked, "What has caused the problems we're seeing today?" In contemporary terms we can put the answer into three words: postmodernism, pluralism, and privatization. Our last article dealt with philosophy of postmodernism, and today we address the poison of pluralism.

How Postmodernism Breeds Pluralism

As we saw in our last article, the philosophy of postmodernism now pervades 21st-century Western society. Postmodernism says that society must reject concepts of transcendent rules and individual accountability in favor of a community without rules, where experience is the driving force. Feelings, not facts or logic, have become the standard of thinking and behavior in society.

The inevitable outcome of postmodern thinking is pluralism, the notion that it is unfair to think that there is a single view of reality, a single standard of truth, that can explain all of life and the universe. Pluralism is poisoning churches today. Many churches that formerly took their stand on the rock-solid foundation of the sole authority of God's Word, and preached Jesus Christ as the only Way to eternal life, now stand for little or nothing except "unity" resting on the quicksand of good feelings.

The Pluralistic Mindset

The pluralistic mindset says that because there is no objective standard of truth, all religions and worldviews are equally valid. That is the postmodern definition of "tolerance". Therefore, intolerance is the only intolerable thing. Therefore, unity in diversity becomes the highest good.

But this "diversity" is not the Biblical diversity of authentic Christianity, the power of the Gospel to save sinners out of every nation, tongue, and tribe and conform them all to the image of Christ without erasing ethnicity or personality. It is a "diversity" based on the notion that no religion can be viewed as the one true way to eternal life (if, many postmodernists would say, there even is such a thing). And therefore, no religion can be permitted to gain the "upper hand" in society.

How Pluralism Poisons Society at Large

The pluralistic mindset says that no religion or worldview is inferior or superior to any other. Therefore, no religion or worldview can be permitted to become dominant in society. Therefore, says the pluralist, if you as an individual or your "faith community" as a body do not consider all religions and worldviews equally valid, that fact all by itself is conclusive evidence that you are guilty of bigotry. To avoid "religious bigotry," all disagreements about religion and worldviews must be suppressed for the sake of the greater goals of "community" and "diversity" as the postmodernist defines those terms.

How Pluralism Undermines Christian Scholarship

As postmodern thinking has crept into many Christian colleges and seminaries over the past three generations, pluralistic thinking has come with it. Professors teach their students that they must give a "fair hearing" to divergent doctrinal points of view - even ones that are clearly un-Biblical. We must suppress discussion of points on which we disagree - even when the truth is at stake - for the sake of "unity". We must broaden the Biblical definition of who is and is not a Christian.

How Pluralism Subverts Churches

As a result, in many Evangelical churches today, congregations are told that they must not be intolerant of those whose doctrinal views are clearly un-Biblical - people the Word of God calls false teachers who bring in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1), wolves who devour the sheep (Acts 20:29), and ministers of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Evangelical pluralists accuse Christians who oppose false teaching of intolerance, because they are not willing to give the heretics a "fair hearing." Christians who stand for the truth are labeled as disturbers of church peace and unity, when in fact it is the false teachers and their pluralistic enablers who destroy true, Biblical peace and unity in a church by destroying its doctrinal purity.

The postmodern world says, "How can it be wrong when it feels so right?" The postmodern Evangelical church takes this to its logical ends: "How can it be wrong when it draws a crowd? Why worry about things like doctrine? Doctrine only divides. Gospel preaching only makes people feel bad. Above all, let's not offend anyone. Our goal is for un-churched visitors to leave our church feeling better about themselves than they did when they came in. That's what will bring them back. That's what will build our church." The postmodern Evangelical church's measurement of success uses feelings, not Biblical truth, as its yardstick.

The Verdict on Pluralism

But the verdict is in: Evangelical pluralism is, in terms of what truly matters to Christ the Head of the Church, an abysmal failure. Pluralistic thinking driven by postmodernism has produced a generation of Evangelicals in which 37% do not believe the Bible is totally accurate, 45% do not believe Jesus Christ is sinless, and 57% do not believe that He is the only Way to eternal life.

The downstream generational result is even worse: Nearly 70% of Evangelical church young people are simply leaving the church when they reach adulthood. Many of them, according to reliable surveys, move into the rapidly-growing "no religion" category. And what is their main stated reason for leaving the church? - "I no longer believe the Bible is true, and the church has done little or nothing to answer my doubts."

Clearly, Evangelical educators and church leaders who assert that pluralism is "the way forward for the church" are absolutely wrong.

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

Authentic, Bible-believing Christians must, by example, set the standard for the church. It is the standard of the apostles and prophets - absolute, reasoned reliance upon the authority and truth of Scripture. It is only on this firm foundation that we can refute the teachings of the heretics. It is only by this imperative that we can preach the Gospel in its fullness to the lost. It is only on this solid ground that the church can stand in true unity. And it is only as we stand on Biblical facts, not fluctuating feelings, that we can answer our young peoples' doubts with authority and certainty.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron... (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. Now godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-6)

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5)

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:14-18)


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