Will You Be Found Faithful?: Chapter Nine

The Unfaithful Historical Critics Versus the Faithful Confessing Church

Unfortunately, one of the saddest cases of spiritual adultery occurred in the same place where one of the greatest victories over spiritual adultery occurred–Germany. The Reformation, that great and faithful revival of grace and truth, led by Martin Luther, was birthed out of Germany, and now one of the most destructive movements to ever come against the church would come out of the same place. Something which would come to be known as the historical critical movement started at Tubingen University in Germany.

Before the historical critical movement, Francis Bacon’s scientific method was traditionally applied to the study of the natural world. The empirical pursuit of truth in areas of study such as biology, chemistry, and geology had long been established, but the German intelligentsia thought they could apply the same methodological standards of research to the study of social sciences such as history and sociology. Since science led to the discovery of empirical reality, if scientific methods could be applied to the study of history, for example, the truths of history would be able to be found. Thus, historians such as Leopold von Ranke claimed they were more likely to uncover “history as it really was” in a scientific sense. Archaeology grew in importance, records were combed, and museums were created to house their discoveries.

This method of discovering historical truth would even be applied to theology. Frederich Schliermacher and others would now employ scientific methods to try to determine the truthfulness of the Bible. Instead of believing and trusting in the content of the Bible, the historical critical movement would expose the scriptures to the scrutiny of the new historical methods. This historicist concept of discovering “history as it really was” would now even be applied to the sacred text, each verse being tested in a way that only that which could be proven historically would be accepted as truth. The quest was now on for the “historical Jesus.”

This methodology led to the liberal interpretation of scriptures. No longer was the Bible to be trusted as the truth. Instead, empirical science was the plumb line of truth that the Bible was to be measured against, so if portions of the biblical text couldn’t be proven through archaeology, or confirmed by other ancient texts, for example, then the authenticity of that portion of the Bible would come into question.

Another fruit of the apostasy that was happening in Germany was that Karl Marx rejected Jesus because David F. Strauss, a theology student at Tubingen University, made the claim in his book, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, that humanity created God out of their own desires, dreams, and wishes of what they wanted him to be.

Again, when the church fails to stand on the truthfulness of the scriptures, people are harmed. Strauss’s theory would permeate the Soviet Union and be used as the basis for mocking Christians, putting them in mental institutions, and torturing and persecuting them. According to Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran minister and founder of the Voice of the Martyrs, who served time in a communist prison in Romania, the official over him “began to attack religion. Christ, he said, was a fantasy invented by the Apostles to delude slaves into hopes of freedom in paradise.” [1]

Marx was upset that Christians always looked forward to heaven rather than trying to work to create paradise now. His tombstone is engraved with these words” “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways–the point however is to change it.”

Many American churches embraced the historical critical movement (and would become today’s mainstream churches) while others rejected the movement, broke away, and held fast to the fundamental teachings of Christianity. Alister McGrath, the church historian, explained how the historical critics abandoned the Word:

Liberalism’s program required a significant degree of flexibility in relation to traditional Christian theology. Its leading writers argued that reconstruction of belief was essential if Christianity were to remain a serious intellectual option in the modern world. For this reason, they demanded a degree of freedom in relation to the doctrinal inheritance of Christianity on one hand, and traditional methods of biblical interpretation on the other. Where traditional ways of interpreting Scripture, or traditional beliefs, seemed to be compromised by developments in human knowledge, it was imperative that they should be discarded or reinterpreted to bring them into line with what was known about the world.  (italics added) [3]

The German church had become so compromised by the claims of the historical critics that the Word of God no longer had any authority. It was this void that the leaders of two ideologies, responsible for the deaths of millions (communism and Nazism), would claim to be able to fill.

It’s said that those who don’t stand for Christ and his Word will fall for anything. Marx would reject Christianity completely and offer instead a Utopian ideal based on Left Hegelian philosophy and Darwinian evolution, while Hitler believed in a hodgepodge of racial theory, evolutionary survival of the fittest, social Darwinism, and Right Hegelian philosophy that he hoped to use as the basis for his Utopian Third Reich. Now that the scriptures had been discredited as a source of truth, much of the church would succumb to any ideology which sounded reasonable and intelligent.

And yet there remained a faithful remnant.

In Germany, members of the evangelical Confessing Church hadn’t abandoned the scriptures as the truth (like the liberal church, with their emphasis on historical criticism), so they were still able to hold up a standard. Led by Martin Niemoller (founder of the Pastor’s Emergency League), Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karl Barth, they saw the danger approaching as early as 1934 and proclaimed in the Barmen Declaration:

We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (italics added) [4]

Their source of truth was the scriptures, not Hegelian philosophy of Darwinian evolution. They rejected any other revelation apart from the Word of God. As a result, they led the only internally organized opposition to Nazism. Though they were imprisoned, exiled, and killed, the world looks back in history and see the heroism of these men and women of God.

There are many in the world who equate fundamentalism to Nazism, but nothing could be further from the truth. The main internal opposition to both Nazism and communism was fundamentalist Christianity–those who continued to believe in and trust the scriptures. In fact, nearly every underground movement that has opposed tyranny–from those who refused to bow their knees to Caesar and hid in the catacombs, to the Underground Railroad, to the Confessing Church who hid Jews (such as Corrie ten Boom’s family)–was led by somebody who believed in Jesus and the Bible. 

In communist nations around the world, believers such as Richard Wurmbrand, Watchman Nee, and Georgi Vins became part of the underground churches behind the Iron Curtain. These believers were spied on, tortured, imprisoned, persecuted, and murdered, but they were a faithful and heroic witness for Christ while members of those mainstream churches that went the way of the historical critics would compromise the gospel and join organizations such as the World Council of Churches, which, according to Pastor Wurmbrand, became front groups for the communist movement.

There were two groups of believers in the twentieth century. One group heroically stood fast on the Word of God. The other group corrupted the Word with the latest science and philosophy, unfaithfully lending their support to atheistic or dictatorial regimes, allowing the swastika to be placed on their altars and Mein Kampf to have a place of honor in their churches.

When the historical critics questioned the veracity of the Word, they inadvertently contributed to the birth of Marxist communism and Nazism. Those who trusted the work of the historical critics and questioned whether all of the scriptures were true became double-minded and unstable (James 1:8, 4:8; KJV). They had divided loyalties. Instead of devoting their hearts wholly to God, their hearts were corrupted by another lover, and they became unholy, giving their devotion to Hitler and his adulterous Nazi ideology alongside of their commitment to Christ.

Those mainstream churches who believed in the historical critics ended up supporting communist regimes that were persecuting faithful Christians all around the world. When they doubted the scriptures, they became a source for pure evil. How many millions died in the twentieth century as result of the works of the historical critics?

I hope this journey through history can help Christians to see the importance of remaining faithful to the Word of God. Christian truth cannot be a mere ingredient in a pot of ideologies. It can’t be one part of any system of thought, even if it’s the largest ingredient! We have to love it and give it precedence over all other “truths,” keeping it pure and holy.

Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it. (Psalm 119:140; KJV)

[1] Richard Wurmbrand, In God’s Underground, ed. Charles Foley (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1968), 239.

[2] Francis Wheen. Karl Marx: A Life. (New York: Norton, 2002), Introduction.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 232.

[4] Karl Barth, “The Theological Declaration of Barmen.” Quoted in Cochrane, Arthur C., The Church’s Confession under Hitler. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 237-242.

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7 Comments

  1. “Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.” (Psalm 119:140; KJV) That is just plain sweet.

    I’ve often thought that if I were the Sunday School teacher of young children, I would teach them that the Word of God is THE TRUTH, given to us by God, by which every other idea of man is to be judged. And I would say it so many times that it would haunt them every day of their lives, keeping them strong. The Word of God is the believers Standard of Truth and a very handy reference that settles once and for all any manner of question. I’d teach them that ‘doubting’ the truth may come natural at times, but that it had to be resisted and overcome in order for one to stand strong against the world that so often teaches just the opposite, telling us that God is a liar and what man says is the truth “in (God’s) stead”. We’d have one banner hanging over the door that simply said, “The Word of God is THE TRUTH.” And they would memorize it and repeat it at the beginning of every lesson.

    This chapter was interesting and dug deeper into the historical opposition to truth in the world that proves to bring only misery to so many. Every person who doubts or outright denies God’s truth should be asked…”Then who is your God?” And they should be made to answer, because anyone they say is their God would be laughable, and easily proven to be a liar when compared with God’s…truth.

    The simplicity that is in Christ…the word of God…oh so easy to deny and pervert.

    1. This comment gives my heart such joy! The emergent church tried to make Christianity “relevant” by caving in to the lies of the day and telling young people that rituals and mystical experiences could replace truth. I wish all young people could understand how relevant TRUTH is! If they could just read these few chapters and understand how wonderful God’s Word has been in history, they could be strengthened and they wouldn’t lose their faith….especially during the college years. I want to shout this message from the rooftops!

      1. After the children had it pounded into their hearts and brains that God’s Word is the Truth and can be fully trusted, then it would be fun to teach them how to be detectives, finding out whether or not what a man says is true or false. Their assignment could be to prove a false interpretation of a verse to be a lie. Then after they’re good at discernment, a real challenge might be to get them to try to invent ways to twist and pervert, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) I’m positive it can be done. 🙂

        One of the best things that someone ever told me was, if you’re trying to know whether a dollar bill is real or not, study a real one until you know it like the back of your hand. Then it’ll be EASY to spot a fake!

        The lesson: get to know God’s Word like the back of your hand! ha

      2. You’re right about young people losing their faith during their college years. My mother said that happened with one of her beloved brothers. I never forgot what she said. A young tree really needs ‘tie-downs’ until its grown strong enough to stand by itself without being blown over. A ‘tie-down’ can be continuing to attend church services and fellowshipping with fellow Christians, or reading about or taking classes on how men pervert the Bible (but does anyone ever teach this?), but the best tie-down is probably just knowing the Bible backwards and forwards.

      3. Exactly right. I am part of the old school who had Bible studies based simply on the books of the Bible…not another person’s book. The saints of other generations only had the scriptures and they held on to every truth and it was enough to guide them through the murky lies of each age. Now those who stood strong are looked back upon as the heroes. Heaven will be heaven because its people submit to this precious Word. So sorry to hear about your uncle. I have a son who rejects God. I was inspired by him to do much of my apologetics work for the Lord. Each year I hope…

  2. Diana…I just sent you an email…. I am so sorry to know you have a son that rejects God. I think in order to not despair we must trust that God will answer our prayers for our children in the positive. After all, while so many think that God is so quick to send people to hell, I believe just the opposite, that he’s done and still does EVERYTHING he can to see that they appear with him in heaven! I will include your son in my prayers. And we can just hope… together.

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