Monday, 11 August 2008

The Liberal Shorter Catechism.

(With apologies to the Westminster Shorter Catechism.)

Q 1. What is the chief end of religion?
A. To glorify man and make him feel good forever.

I was reflecting the other day on the fact that a number of churches and/or religious organizations have changed the words to Amazing Grace from, "...saved a wretch like me" to, "... saved a soul like me." If I am not mistaken, these organizations include the United Church of Canada and the Unitarian Universalists (although, thankfully, not the Anglicans, [yet]). I wouldn't be surprised that other 'liberal' denominations have made the change as well. The reason behind the change, they will say, is that it is hurtful to be referred to as a wretch. The fear is that such a term will be off-putting to potential church recruits. I would have said, "non-believers," but to these liberal churches, the term is meaningless. Believing anything is irrelevant. Such religions are designed (or distorted) to be, "one size fits all," which really means, in the world of liberal religion and panty hose, "one size fits none."

But what does this change show? It reveals an attitude that discounts the fall, that tells people we are all basically good and therefore there is nothing from which we need to be saved. It completely denies the obvious fact that we cannot measure up to God's standards. It eliminates the need for grace and therefore, in effect, the whole reason for singing the hymn in the first place, except that it's a nice tune, inspriational at funerals, and gives us a certain spiritual buzz, in an, "I'm OK, you're OK, we're all OK" kind of way.

Those who know the reality of God's grace, and actually know they have indeed been saved by it, through no merit of their own, know why John Newton used the term "wretch." But rather than see such a term as lowering our self-esteem, we can rejoice that God saw us as worthy of being saved at all. The more wretched we see our condition, the higher will be our realization of God's grace toward us, and the greater our love and gratitude.

Liberal religion may not completely ignore that there is such a thing as sin, but they see it predominately on a horizontal level, against other people. So they will say that we must both seek and give forgiveness, but the focus is forgiveness of and from each other. They do not acknowledge that sin is first and foremost against God. Jerry Bridges, in, "The Pursuit of Holiness" quotes W,S. Plumer,
"We never see sin aright until we see it as against God... Pharoah and Balaam, Saul and Judas each, said, 'I have sinned," but the returning prodigal said, 'I have sinned against heaven and before you,' and David said, 'against You only have I sinned.'"

We can truly appreciate just how amazing God's grace really is only when we realize how wretched is our position apart from it.

Take Care


Warren said...

John, have you ever read the Semi-Pelagian Narrower Catechism? If not, Google it. It should make you smile.

I think some people think that the right answer to question 1 for me would be "To glorify God and irritate people forever" (my wife probably thinks that sometime).

Scott said...

Great post, John.

It's ironic that the United Church and the Unitarians made that change because "wretch" comes from the Old English "wrecca", meaning "a person pitied for his or her misfortune".

God took pity on our misfortune, even though it's self-inflicted! John Newton knew exactly what he was doing when he chose that word. I will never sing "Amazing Grace" without it.

John K said...

Thanks Warren. It is funny. Here is a link for anyone who wants to check it out (Pastor Terry, I think you will get a kick out of it).

Scott, thanks, you are a fount of information. I hope you don't mind me saying (with a smile) that the first part of your comment reminded me of Cliff on Cheers. The second part is a wonderful gem of truth.

stauf46 said...

Yes, John, I was amused by that link - even though a part of our bipolar congregation really wouldn't get it!

Good post!