Written in the latter years of the apostle’s life, the 1st epistle of John reflects the love of a grandfather for youth who, apart from his letters to the churches of Asia Minor, might know only his name and fame as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Though the energy of his youth had waned, the apostle’s zeal for the LORD and his passion for the Church was undiminished.
John was witnessing the rise of a new generation in the Church, one that was two generations removed from the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ and had not had the privilege of sitting at the feet of Christ’s disciples or hear the passionate preaching of Paul. Living in the midst of a Roman society and its moral debauchery, the church was in danger of becoming infected with youth who were worldly, narcissistic and self-indulgent. Lacking the convictions and spiritual zeal of prior generations and embracing a love for the world (1 John 2:15-17), the new generation was ill-prepared to face the trials and rising tide of persecution that was coming.
Reflecting on church history while observing dangerous trends in our Bible fundamental churches, colleges and seminaries, I am disturbed the movement known as Gnosticism, a blend of paganism, Judaism and pseudo-Christian thought that gained a following in the 1st century Church, is mirrored in today’s churches, college and seminaries. The Gnostics, in my opinion a parallel to some of the teachers and preachers emerging from the “young progressive fundamentalists” of our day, boasted a progressive or emerging view of Christian liberty. Portraying themselves as spiritually enlightened, they accused the elders of the churches of being too narrow and legalistic. No wonder John called the church to holiness and separation from the world (1 John 2:15-16)!
Recognizing the old apostle was writing to churches facing the rise of 3rd generation Christians, I invite you to consider four spiritual failures characteristic of that generation and suggest that they are the present dangers of our Bible fundamental churches, colleges and seminaries. The first spiritual failure of the new generation was they were compromised, spiritually deceived, deluded regarding their own sinfulness. Professing they were walking in harmony with Christ and His teachings; they were in fact living in sin. John writes, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him [Christ], and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). Some of that generation claimed they no longer struggled with sin to which John warns; “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).
The second spiritual failure of the generation was they were calloused toward fellow believers. Like our own generation, they professed a love for Christ’s gospel while living self-indulgent lives that lacked a self-sacrificing love for others. John writes, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9). Herein is an irony; while professing to be enlightened, they failed to manifest a self-sacrificing affection for the brethren and, contrary to their profession, continued in “darkness”.
Do you remember my question, “Whose driving the bus and where are we going?” John’s warning to the church is one we should heed. The third generation was not only spiritually blind, they did not know where they were going (1 John 2:11)!
Carnality, a love for the world and its pleasures at the sacrifice of a “salty”, “light-bearing” testimony (Matthew 5:13-16) is the third failure of this generation. John warns:
1 John 2:15-16 – “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
The third generation Christians were compromised with the world, callous toward the brethren, carnal in their affections, and finally contentious in their spirit. John writes:
1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us [from the fellowship of the church], but they were not of us [i.e. they were never one of the fellowship]; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
Such is the danger our Bible fundamental churches, colleges and seminaries are facing. Like their peers in the latter half of the first century, we are facing an integrity crisis in our leadership that has figuratively gone “out from us”, having rejected the “ancient landmarks” of their elders [i.e. the spiritual precepts and disciplines derived from principles in God’s Word] and are positioned to draw away our youth, churches and institutions in their error.
I will continue this study in my next blog post.
With the heart of a shepherd,
Pastor Travis D. Smith
Copyright 2016 – Travis D. Smith