Rusty cars and Christian institutions


(Originally published as the May 2018 Update in various countries)
Unchecked, rust only spreads.

We’ve all seen cars in various stages of decay due to rust. If you own a car and ignore rust, not treating it, it spreads like a cancer and eventually consumes the car.

I want to apply this principle to Christian institutions, such as churches, Bible colleges, Christian schools, mission organisations, etc. The ‘rust’ for these institutions is unbelief regarding God’s Word, the Bible. This has a corrosive effect that ends up destroying the institutions.

The establishment of a church or Bible college usually takes a lot of effort and personal sacrifice on behalf of the founders. Thus, the founders of such nearly always have a strong commitment to the Gospel and its biblical foundations—the salvation history from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible. They accept the authority of the Bible and are wholly committed to its life-saving message.

However, successive generations of leaders can lose that commitment and the ‘rust’ starts to corrode the institutions. We can see it everywhere.

Rust ‘just happens’

You don’t have to do anything for rust to develop. It ‘just happens’. It is like that with Christian institutions, because sin is our ‘default’ condition, pride and unbelief are ‘natural’. If those running the institution are not vigilant, and just let things drift along, things will deteriorate. Countless Christian institutions have started well but ended badly. Many of the world’s renowned universities started out with thoroughly Christian objectives, but are now bastions of hedonistic secularism totally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ—Princeton and Harvard, for example.


How does the drift away happen? At theological institutions, teaching staff will be appointed who are not wholeheartedly committed to the founding principles. There are various seemingly good reasons for such appointments. Initially, those doing the appointing know that the person is not really committed to the authority of God’s Word, but the appointment is approved, for example, because the person has a higher degree from a prestigious university such that the college will gain prestige. Or it will make it easier to get or maintain accreditation for granting degrees (often granted by a body authorized by the secular government of the day). The selection committee might think that the college’s strong history and culture of biblical authority will mean that the new appointee will not dilute it. But such is foolish thinking. The rust has started.

Alain Edouard via Wikimedia Commons (CCBY-SA 3.0)john-harvard-statue
Statue of Rev John Harvard, whose bequest founded Harvard University as an institution to train Christian pastors

Concern over funding or keeping up student numbers can also contribute to the drift. By not making a stand on seemingly controversial issues, a college might think it can be ‘All things to all people’ and increase enrolments or donations. We hear statements like, “We teach a range of views on Genesis.” While this might sound like a nice, holistic approach, it actually means ‘Genesis does not mean what is says’ because it can be interpreted different ways. Statements like this show how the rust has taken hold.

In the context of urging the church in Corinth to deal with a wayward brother, the apostle Paul likened the influence of that person to yeast working its way through all the dough: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).

Sin is like that—when we tolerate it, it spreads and increases, both in our own lives and in the organisations that we are involved in.

Preventing rust demands diligence

It is much easier to control rust if we stay on top of it. If we find any, we deal with it. If we sit on our hands and say, ‘It’s not much, so it doesn’t matter’, there will come a time when it matters a lot and it will be very difficult to treat it. Important components of the car’s structural integrity will now be compromised—all for the want of some preventative maintenance that would not have been so difficult earlier on.

Song of Solomon 2:15 says, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” Many commentators have seen a spiritual application in this. Young foxes were known to have a liking for grapes and would ruin the whole crop if not dealt with. This has been applied to sin in our lives; we need to deal with the “little foxes” of sin early on; leaving them will result in a lot of damage later; ‘preventative maintenance’! It will be too late to do something once the little foxes have eaten all the grapes!

Removing rust can be unpleasant work

Taking the rust out of a car is not easy work; it does not happen without some determination and effort. It can be unpleasant, with dirt and dust and toxic chemicals involved. And the longer you leave it before treatment, the harder it gets to remedy.

It’s likewise with Christian institutions. Take Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Kentucky. By the early 1990s, it had been corrupted by modernist thinking, which meant disbelief in the inerrancy (authority) of the Bible, quite contrary to its founding principles. ‘Liberal’ theology had infected the college. As pastor Josef Ton, exiled from what was then Communist Romania for preaching the Gospel, said, “Liberal theology is just evolution applied to the Bible and our faith.”1

Dr Albert Mohler

Many entering the seminary with a zeal for God graduated not knowing what they believed, which meant that they were useless for Gospel work.

In 1993, the Southern Baptist Convention appointed Dr R. Albert Mohler Jr. to get the college back on track. He was only 33 years old, and it was a huge task. Two years after his appointment, the faculty passed a motion of no confidence in him; only four stood with Dr Mohler. Two years later, Dr Mohler had turned the college around.2 But there were tears along the way. Basically, Dr Mohler challenged the academic staff to honour the commitment that they had all signed saying that they would uphold the founding principles of the institution. If they were not willing to do this, then the only honourable course was to move on.

SBTS now turns out graduates who have a fire in their belly for the preaching of the Gospel—I had the privilege in 2010 of speaking in a rural church in South Carolina where a recent graduate was the pastor; my, that was a blessing; that church was alive!

Dr Mohler is now respected as a clear voice for biblical faith in America. He has been recognized by such influential publications as Time as a leader among American evangelicals. Time.com called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” Such is possible when you have a consistently biblical worldview, starting with the historicity of the Genesis account of Creation and the Fall.2

Dr Mohler has said,

“…almost every Christian heresy can be traced in some form to an attempt to separate God the Creator from God the Redeemer. Christianity stands against that. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes no sense unless you put it in the context of the total story of God’s creative and redemptive work, from Genesis to Revelation.”3

If you love your car you will deal with the rust

All this might sound like witch-hunting, or being ‘unloving’. However, if you ‘love’ your car, you will deal with the rust, and if you truly love God, His Word, and His church, you will deal with the rust that corrodes and corrupts the pure Gospel, otherwise generations to come will not have a Gospel witness.

In the name of ‘love’ and ‘unity’, many churches and theological colleges have set themselves on a course to oblivion. For the sake of ‘unity’, nothing is said, and unbelief multiplies; the rust just spreads. All it takes is to do nothing. It is a fake love that settles for the status quo when it is little-by-little destroying the Gospel witness of the church or college. Is it loving to not tell a sinner he needs to repent and be forgiven in Jesus? Such is offensive, so the easy way would be to say nothing.

When CMI approaches church leaders who don’t know about the liberating, Gospel-affirming nature of the creation message, they are often extremely cautious because they are worried about offending some people who ‘take a different view’. Those people are the first signs of rust, and they need to be lovingly but firmly challenged about their unbelief, and their need to repent. If the church leadership lets it ride ‘for the sake of the peace’, the rust will only increase, and the church will lose its clear message.

Jesus said,

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

Let’s work and pray to maintain our saltiness, firstly personally, and then in our Christian institutions! CMI is here to help.

Published: 3 January 2019

References and notes

  1. creation.com/josef-ton-evolution-and-liberal-theology Return to text.
  2. You can see a documentary about the turn-around, titled Recovering a Vision, at: sbts.edu/president. Return to text.
  3. Creation and Redemption: A conversation with Albert Mohler, Creation 33(1):16–18, 2011; creation.com/albert-mohler-interview. Return to text.