TOO MANY OF OUR RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS are negative. We act not from a positive conviction that something is right, but from a feeling that the opposite is wrong. We become allergic to certain beliefs and practice and react violently away from them. Thus our reactions become actions–we are driven to our positions by the enemy rather than led to them by the truth.
The faulty reasoning that leads to this is the assumption that if a man or woman is wrong on one thing, he or she is wrong on everything–if a liberal or a cultist is known to favor a belief, we shy away from the belief not because we know why it is wrong but because we know who holds it. We are thus always on the defensive. We back into our positions like stubborn horses rather than walking into them face forward like obedient sheep. The way to be right, so we reason, is to watch the enemy, discover what he favors, then choose the opposite.
That many of our hotly defended beliefs are no more than reactions to what we consider false doctrines would not be difficult to prove. The doctrine of justification by works (itself a serious error), for instance, has driven some teachers to espouse the equally damaging error of salvation without works. To many people the thought of "works" is repugnant because of its association with the effete Judaism of the New Testament era and the Catholicism of more recent times. The upshot of the matter is that we have salvation without righteousness and right doctrine without right deeds. Grace is twisted out of its moral context and made the cause of lowered standards of conduct in the church.
Again, the fear of "legalism" has driven some of God's good people to positions so grotesque as to be ridiculous. Some years ago, in a church paper, we came across an example of this negative kind of doctrine. In order to make clear the difference between law and grace, a writer argued that if a murderer came to him and inquired how to be saved, he would not say, "Turn away from your old life, cease to commit murder and believe on Jesus Christ." That, said the writer, would be mixing law and grace. All he could say to be scriptural, he reasoned, would be, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Such unholy teaching could not possibly come directly from the Scriptures–it could only result from the writer's frightened retreat from the error of salvation by works.
We have noticed much the same thing in our standard attitudes toward science, evolution and various current philosophies that we believe to be contrary or unsympathetic to the Christian faith. Our reaction to those enemies is one of blind flight. We use up a lot of ammunition, but we waste it in a rear guard action that can at best only slow up what is too patently a retreat.
It is our firm faith that Christianity can stand on its own legs. Christ does not need our nervous defense. The church must not allow itself to be maneuvered into fighting its enemy's war, letting the unbelieving world decide what it is to believe and where and when it is to act. Just as long as the church does this, it is falling short of its privileges in Christ Jesus.
"You will receive power," said our Lord to His disciples, and "power" means "ability to do." It is God's purpose to give us ample power to carry the fight to the enemy instead of sitting by passively allowing the enemy to carry the fight to us. If anyone is to go on the defensive, it should never be the church. The truth is self-validating and self-renewing–its whole psychology is that of attack. Its own vigorous attack is all the defense it needs.
Could it be that the deep cause behind all this frightened defensive action on the part of evangelicals today is the failure of so many leaders to have a true spiritual experience of their own? It is hard to see how any man or woman who has seen heaven opened and heard the voice of God speaking to his or her own heart can ever be uncertain about the message he or she is to proclaim.