An “ism” is a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory. Peculiar presumptions and well-defined views are commonly dubbed as “isms.”
Christians are confronted with a wide range of “isms,” and many of these threaten our spiritual welfare. In this article I mention a few of them so that we may guard against them.
There are religious people who suppose that man is wholly material or physical in his nature. They therefore see death as cessation of existence. They are like the ancient Sadducees (Acts 23:8). There is more to man than physical life (Matt. 10:28). Others hold to materialism in a different sense. They know that man has a soul or spirit made in the image of God, but they over emphasize material things. They permit the material to crowd out the spiritual. Jesus taught that temporal things are not the most important (Matt. 6:33; 16:26).
Commercial advertisers, entertainers, movie producers, many book and magazine publishers, TV programmers, many video makers, and others are promoting sensualism. The public is being flooded with pictures, words, and suggestions that develop and encourage lewdness, licentiousness, sexual permissiveness, carnality, fleshly lusts, and wantonness. Moral impurity is flaunted, paraded, and exhibited openly. The Bible includes as works of the lesh “immorality, impurity, sensuality” (Gal. 5:19, NASB), warning that “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The members of the ancient Jewish sect known as the Pharisees were noted for hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and insincerity. A splendid example of their attitude is found in the parable in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus exposed their wickedness in Matthew 23. Many today are given to Pharisaism. They are sanctimonious in their own eyes. They see themselves as righteous and virtually all others as less than righteous. Some of the most severe denunciations delivered by Christ were directed against the pharisaical outlook. It is much easier to see fault in others than to admit one’s own sins.
Some take very broad views politically and socially. The same is true in religious matters. Many indulge in practices which the New Testament does not allow. They throw off the restraints imposed by apostolic authority. Some are so tolerant and unrestricted as to fellowship people who do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, and do not believe that Jesus arose bodily from the grave. Some are not that liberal, but they accept sprinkling and pouring for baptism, think one church is as good as another, and sanction denominationalism. Others take undue liberties with the word of God on such subjects as worship, the organization and work of the church, and women’s role in the church.
A creed is a brief authoritative formula of religious belief or a set of guiding principles. Human creeds have been the occasion of division and discord through the centuries. Pioneer preachers in America spoke and wrote against such creeds, urging that we have no creed but Christ and no guide but the Bible. There is today a subtle tendency among well-meaning brethren to revive creedalism. Questionnaires circulated as tests of faithfulness carry a creedal flavor. There is a danger here that must not be overlooked. The New Testament is all-sufficient as a measure of soundness. The Lord will judge us by his word.
There are people who convince themselves that failure is inevitable. Ten of twelve spies took this attitude in Numbers 13 and 14. God had promised Israel the land of Canaan. The defeatism of the ten spies spread to the whole congregation. God punished them with forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Some Christians constantly focus on difficulties and dangers. They see a mirage and throw on the breaks. They are full of pessimism. Weak faith prompts them to suppose that we are whipped before we ever start, no matter how worthy the undertaking. But victory belongs to God’s people who persevere (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 15:57,58).
Let us not be deterred by “isms” such as those mentioned in this article. <Irvin Himmel>