Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 21, 1951

Modernism -- A Present Threat

Rufus Clifford, Old Hickory, Tennessee

Most members of the church have heard of this thing called "Modernism.' What is now known as "modernism" is nothing new in the earth. It is simply the disposition to disregard the Word of God. This disposition is even older than man, for the scriptures teach that Satan was once in heaven, but he was cast out because of his attitude toward the will of God. And Satan's disposition has characterized the race of men almost from the beginning. Adam and Eve were 'turned out of the garden of Eden because they disregarded the word of God. The antediluvians, save Noah and his family, were destroyed because their cup of iniquity was full through rebellion against God. The Gentile world of Paul's day had sunk beneath the level of the brute creation "because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful,' but forgot Him and became idolaters. The Jews of Jesus' day had made void the word of God by their traditions.

This same tendency to disregard and set aside the word of God is common today. Modernism is an attitude toward Bible teaching. It is disbelief in the elementary teachings of Christianity. Since modernism is an attitude toward divine truth, it must follow that there are different shades and degrees of that attitude. The infidel, the skeptic, the agnostic, and the atheist are all modernists, but they do not all hold the same degree of denial of God's word. Modernism actually denies the inspiration of the Bible at the very same time it is setting forth theories of inspiration. There is a contempt from all the supernatural. Modernists are opposed to the idea of a virgin birth for Christ; they disbelieve the miracles; discount the merits of Christ's shed blood; deny the resurrection and the ascension of the Lord. They deny the most vital claims of the word of God.

An Interesting Questionnaire

Probably most of you have studied the results of the questionnaire of 56 questions which was sent a few years ago to 1309 ministers and students of five large theological seminaries. You will recall that answers were received from 500 preachers from twenty of the largest denominations in the country, and from 200 students in the five schools. Note the answers given to some of the major questions:

Ministers Students

1. The existence of an actual 'devil? 40% "No' 82% "No"

2. The Genesis account of creation? 47% "Yes' 5% "Yes"

3. Is the Bible a final Revelation? 66% "Yes' 18% "Yes'

4. Belief in the Virgin Birth of Christ? 71% "Yes' 25% "Yes'

5. Death of Christ for sins? 70% "Yes' 29% "Yes"

6. The resurrection of Christ? 84% "Yes' 42% "Yes'

7. The existence of heaven? 57% "Yes' 1% "Yes'

8. The existence of hell? 53% "Yes' 1% "Yes'

9. A bodily resurrection for man? 62% "Yes' 18% "Yes'

10.The final judgment of man? 60% "Yes" 17% "Yes'

11. The second coming of Christ? 40% "Yes' 8%" Yes'

The attitude toward the word of God among these preachers and students revealed that nearly fifty percent of them did not believe that God had manifested himself as recorded in the Bible. The poll showed wide differences of belief concerning the place Jesus Christ occupies in Christianity. Many of those answering did not even claim to believe the Bible. Their answers reveal that they did not believe alike on most of the most basic principles of Christian truth. Replies from ministerial students showed a higher degree of doubt, uncertainty, and disbelief among the students than among the older preachers. The whole survey shows the deplorable religious state among the denominations; it gives evidence that the denominational churches are reaping the terrible fruit of their modernistic trends through the past years.

Modernism In The Church

The church of Christ has not escaped the baneful influence of this curse. Even today the church is threatened by it. Twenty years ago, it would have been almost impossible to find a preacher or member of Christ's body with modernistic views; but today they are becoming common. Modernism is growing in popularity. The reasons for this are fairly clear, and we shall set them forth.

In recent years large numbers of young men in the church have had a desire for "higher education,' for graduate work in Biblical studies; and this desire is commendable. They have gone to modernistic universities and theological seminaries to pursue their studies. Many have come away from these institutions unharmed, and have made great contributions to the Cause we all love. Others however, not rooted and grounded in the faith, and unprepared mentally and emotionally to cope with the terrific pressures of modernistic influences, have come away from these schools with their faith shaken, questioning the very fundamentals of the word of God. Some of those thus crippled in their faith have gotten positions in certain schools, where they have, in turn, shaken the faith of young preachers who came under their influence. And these preachers have in their turn influenced the churches. The number of such men is increasing rapidly, and there is cause for a lot of alarm.

My own experience as a preacher is limited, and I have not traveled as widely as some among us, but even in my restricted contacts I have seen and heard enough to realize that the growing menace of modernism constitutes a grave and serious challenge to the church. It is my purpose to set forth such traits and characteristics of modernism as will enable elders, deacons, and members to recognize it when they see it, and to know who it is that is promoting it. By "modernism" I mean the attitudes, beliefs, and tendencies which are eating at the foundation of the structure of Truth—attitudes toward the Bible and the church; attitudes of softness, worldliness, and refusal to take a stand against error. It is my desire to point out plain marks by which the modernist in the church may be known.

Mark Of Modernism

First, I would list intellectual snobbery as a distinguishing mark of the modernist. He feels superior to the average preacher in the church. He looks with disdain upon those who do not have college and university degrees. He will speak disparagingly of faithful preachers who have no degrees, but who are preaching for some of the larger churches; he is certain they were invited to these places through "pull," and not because of their knowledge of God's word and their ability to teach it. One modernist among us refers to those preachers without degrees as "corn-field preachers." It is common to hear them say that the church has not had any educated men in it. A modernist preacher of a good congregation to whom I was talking said to me, "I need a church in a college town where I will be appreciated.' This same brother let me read an article he had written, and after reading it carefully several times, I began to ask him what he meant by this statement and that statement, etc. After explaining and explaining and explaining, he would finally get back to Bible ground; and then I would say to him, "Why did you say that in the first place, if that's what you meant?' After we had gone over the article sentence by sentence in this manner, he lost patience and said, "Oh, you wouldn't understand. This article is written in theological language."

A second mark of the modernist is that he is being continually "misunderstood' and "misrepresented.' And he thinks this is the case because preachers are jealous of his superior learning! He will make some rank statement and if it is not challenged, will let it stand. But if his statement is challenged, and the fallacy of it is pointed out, he begins at once to explain, and explain what he meant by what he said. After an hour or so of "explaining" he will probably get back close to Bible ground, and then, alas! you just "misunderstood" him—that's what he meant all along! He resents the very idea of being called upon to explain his positions or to defend them.

In the next article we will deal with further "marks of the modernist.'