SGBC Modesto

Are You Conservative?

April 13, 2024 by

Johnnie Sloan

In recent days I have heard the word “conservative” tossed around in the church world and I think it may help us to clarify it.  First it may be helpful to point out that there are many words like this that when used in the Ecclesiastical realm (church), take on a different nuance than their common usage.  Or, as is usually the case, they take on their more correct meaning in the church world.  One such word is “charismatic”.  Outside the church, it is an adjective describing the exciting or intriguing demeanor of a person.  Inside the church it is a Theology Position stating that the New Testament Apostolic gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy for example are for today (or there is perpetuity).  We don’t hold to that by the way.

Another word is “inspiration”.  Church: God breathed the Scripture… world: an emotion making one feel good or creative… like James Brown sung about.  Very different in the two worlds.  Now, having said that, the word “conservative” has two (or more if we add politics and the like) ideas depending on where it is used as well.  If I were to quiz you and ask, “What does it mean to be a ‘conservative’ church?”, what would your answer be?  Well, I have heard comments that I could interpret into something like – Not crazy or laid back in our worship service… or we don’t have drums… or the Pastor wears a tie.  I think you catch what I am getting at.  Conservative is usually describing style in conversational use.

Now the clarification.  In the church context the word “conservative”… or better put, Conservative has to do with Theology and not style.  In fact it is quite possible to be very “conservative” in style… even to the point of stoic and be completely Liberal in Theology.  Therein lies the clarification.  Conservative stands in opposition to Liberal (another of those words) in the realm of Theology.  Historically the Conservative would hold to things such as the Virgin Birth of Christ, the Inerrancy and Infallibility of Scripture, the Doctrine of the Trinity and even more specific the tenets of Calvinism… or as we Baptists like to say… the Doctrines of Grace.  This is more pointedly the position of holding Scripture in a very high light and interpreting it thusly.

A Non-Conservative or Liberal is not so.  They tend to move on the novel ideas of the day.  The method of interpretation is usually experiential and anthropocentric (man-centered).  Some of the professors of this  type of Theology teach that the Scriptures become the Word of God when the believer experience a sort of enlightenment.  They often teach that specific doctrines need not be held to for the Christian to have a meaningful experience.  They will feel free to dismantle (or attempt to) the essential doctrines found in Scripture.  For example, there is a theory that when Paul states that Christ “emptied Himself” in Philippians 2:7 that He gave up something of His divinity.  This doctrine is heresy and should not be entertained at all!  However as is usually the case, when you have a low view of Scripture you can freely make such claims.  This is seen as a virtue in Liberal Theology.  The more innovative or novel, the better.  And a word of warning:  Be careful what you call Liberal or Heresy.  In times past these accusations sent people to burn at a stake, so move cautiously.  Study a thing fervently before giving it a label.  Modern does not automatically mean Liberal.

Now I ask again, “What does it mean to be a Conservative church?”  Hopefully it means you cling to those essential truths found in the once-for-all delivered faith found in the Scripture which was God-breathed.  It should mean we cling to those at the cost of popularity or growth.  It should mean we take God very seriously and what He has said in His Word.

Even though in some circles things like neckties and drums are the crucial issues at hand, we had better not get so caught up in them we let the real Non-Conservative monster sneak in the back door!