by Bill Nugent
In this article we’ll take a brief look at liberal Protestantism. Most of the historic mainline denominations are almost thoroughly liberal in doctrine and practice. There are a few conservative congregations that are affiliated with liberal denominations. One such congregation that comes to mind is Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church of Darien Connecticut. It is a church that remains true to the Bible. I’ve visited there many times.
The word “liberal” means “generous.” Liberalism in the religious context can be taken to mean generous toward man but stingy toward God. In liberalism the thoughts, opinions, feelings and needs of human beings are given priority over the thoughts, feelings and opinions of God. In theological liberalism, man’s rationalization is given greater weight than God’s revelation.
Liberal Protestantism traces its intellectual history back to the philosophical “enlightenment” of the mid 1700s. Liberalism owes much to the writings of the famous materialist, empiricist philosopher David Hume (1711 – 1776). The enlightenment gave rise to “deism” in France. Deism is the idea that God created the universe but God is not involved in governing it. It’s the old notion that God created the earth, gave it a spin and then walked away.
Deism allows for the setting aside of God’s moral laws. The early fruit of French deism was social chaos, the French revolution, the reign of terror and the rise of a dictator, Napoleon, who led France on a vain attempt at world conquest.
At the same time in America the founding fathers were largely conservative Christians whose respect for God’s revelation (the Bible) led to the establishment of the United States under the constitution. The constitution divided power into three branches; the executive, legislative and judicial. Power was divided because the founders realized that human beings are basically sinful. This is what the Bible teaches in the doctrine of original sin. The founders believed that a concentration of power in any one branch of government would lead to abuse of power by corrupt individuals. In their writings the founders quoted the Bible more often than they quoted philosophers.
Later generations in the 19th century were influenced by other streams of liberal thought taught by men such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and Washington Gladden.
Philosophical liberalism led to theological liberalism in Protestant churches and also gave rise to the reform movement in Judaism. Liberal Protestants tend to disdain a literal or plain understanding of the Bible. Conservatives reply that if the Bible is not to be taken literally it means that any person can pour any meaning into any passage of the Bible. The Bible would then be practically useless. Liberals also reject divine inspiration of the Bible. If the Bible is not divinely inspired then humankind has no sure word, no firm foundation.
Isn’t it logical to assume that God who created us would also speak to us? And if God spoke to us isn’t it reasonable to assume that someone would write down what God said? Isn’t it also logical that God would prove the truth of His book and this proof would be like God’s signature on His book?
The more than 2,000 instances of prophecy and fulfillment of prophecy contained in the Bible are like God’s signature on His holy book. No other sacred book of any other faith has anything to compare with the Bible’s record of prophecy and fulfillment. Only the Bible is the word of God.
Since liberal Protestantism has denied the literal authority of the Bible they really have no ultimate authority behind anything they say. The Sunday morning sermons are usually broad platitudes and feel good sayings.
Liberal Protestantism can be said to be a religion that you make up as you go along. It’s more like a club than a church. They boldly say that God won’t punish people for their sins. That’s their opinion. It’s the religion they’ve made up in their own imagination. The absurdity of liberalism is obvious and people are leaving the mainline churches in droves.
Let’s stick to the Bible. The Bible is God’s love letter to us and it leads us to forgiveness of our sins through Christ.