The church in North America is badly infected with MTD and it likely going to get worse in 2018. This spiritual disease is now so rampant and pervasive, that the spiritual health of the church will most likely continue to decline noticeably. Unless things change dramatically in the church, 2018 will not go well for the Body of Christ. While we do not want to be unduly pessimistic, we really need to be realistic.
First, as we think about this matter, we need to remember that the Apostles of the Lord Jesus issued warning after warning about false teachers and their false teaching. And they seemed to indicate that towards the end of the age, such falsehood would gain momentum and not lessen.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.” (2 Peter 2:1-2)
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1)
“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ….These men are those who are like hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves…” (Jude 1:5, 12)
“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears ticked, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in according to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Peter, Jude and Paul communicate several significant points that we ought to be alert to. (1) These distributors of falsehood come into the church subtly and deceptively; (2) they tell people what they want to hear; (3) they will be very popular, with many people buying into their false teachings; (4) the actual origin of these teachings is the Devil and his forces; (5) their teachings are not only harmful but they produce a level of contempt for the Truth, causing people to look with distain on those who proclaim the authentic truth of God; (6) these false teachers bring their errors in alongside of God’s truth, which gives the air of credibility to what they are teaching; and (7) the only antidote to this spiritual poison is the constant, consistent proclaiming of God’s Word.
But, back to MTD. Just what is MTD? It sounds really bad. Some years ago this label was employed to describe (with accuracy, I believe) a growing theological idea spreading in the church. MTD stands for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Quite a mouthful. But essentially it alters one’s view of God, salvation and the purpose of life.
It suggests that there is a good, nice God who created and watches over the world and He is concerned that things go well for us. He wants us to be good and nice to one another, and He says so in the Bible, and also in most other religions. The main goal He has for our lives is that we are happy and that we feel good about ourselves. Our happiness is really the main thing. However, on a daily basis, it is not really necessary that we involve Him in our lives. But He is there if and when we run into problem and difficulties. He is happy (and apparently even obligated) to bail us out. And, because He is nice, we are told that good people will all end up going to heaven. (Such things as sin, the blood of Christ and personal faith in the one and only Savior Jesus, are not points of emphasis). If you listen closely, these ideas are being heralded to tens of thousands each week in churches and over the air waves.
What has brought MTD about is that over the past 60 years there has been a growing departure from solid, biblical teaching of the Word of God. It has not happened overnight, but it has happened. Good theological instruction is not what folks want and they are quite satisfied with the sweet, frothy motivational stuff that regularly passes for biblical preaching. But this should not come as a complete shock to us, as we just noted, that the writers of the New Testament foretold this happening as this church age moved along.
The solution to MTD, of course, is a return to the careful exposition of God’s Word. It is the Word of God when understood and embraced that brings spiritual health and strength to believers. To replace the Word with MTD is to replace the nourishing wheat with the valueless chaff. With MTD, the needs of the audience, not the message, is of primary importance.
Frankly, it does not seem hopeful that 2018 will witness the return to the needed expository preaching of the Scriptures in American churches. The desire and ability seems to be lacking. Os Guiness said, in his book “Dining with the Devil”, that today’s churches are fundamentally interested in “nickels and noses”; that is, in money and attendance. Pastors and church leaders are under pressure to be successful and, above all else, “relevant.” This means that there must be continual growth in numbers and plenty of money coming in. Now it seems apparent that MTD brings in lots of people (just as the Apostles predicted). But, in spite of the declarations by most MTDers that they are seeking to reach people and see them changed, the truth is that only the Word proclaimed can transform people (Rom 12:2). The fact is that these preachers are not “teaching them to obey everything” that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20). The result is that disciples are not being made, which means that churches are not really healthy and growing spiritually in spite of the outward trappings of success.
For the believer who so wants the Word of God taught to them, there are some real challenges in our present religious climate. It could well be that it will not be in the large church that the exposition of the Word is present, so it might be prudent to check carefully some of the smaller churches. The key is the pulpit. Such a smaller church may not be glitzy or glamorous and may not have all the latest in technology or resources. But if the Word is central and is proclaimed faithfully, such a place is probably just what we need. But we will need to look beyond “nickels and noses”. It could be that finding like-minded believers will bring about a move to gather in a “house church.” In either case, it is the Word that builds us up and changes us. And so in 2018, hungry believers need to pray and seek a place where the Word taught is central.