[Update, 02/18/2018: Sam Kean, writer of Lamb’s Harbinger, is an #Exvangelical but maintains this article’s relevance, due to its essential doctrine subject matter]
When Conservative Evangelical Protestants talk about “compromise,” what do they mean? What does Conservative, Evangelical Protestant even mean? What does it matter? Well, all these things matter a great deal, and it all generally centers around protecting/preserving the essentials of the Gospel, as the Apostles would have understood and declared it (1 Cor. 15:1-5).
Particularly, compromise touches on 3 main points:
1. About Orthodoxy and Distinguishing it in “Believers.”
A. Perspective – being that which is historically known to Christendom as Conservative Evangelical Protestantism. Let’s not contest at this point that Baptists come from lines of the Anabaptist faith tradition, and so, are not technically protestants or reformers. For all practical purposes, Baptists are protestant in the categorical sense of the word, and they are evangelical (forth-going with the Gospel). That is, as far as categories of Christian theology go, one who is evangelical and protestant stands in orthodox opposition to covenantal / liturgical Christian traditions of ecclesiasticism (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Catholic).
To further clarify, there is a use of the word “evangelical” which essentially means:
In contrast to the ecclesiastical covenant practice of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Anglican, and even some mainline protestant churches, such as: non-evangelical Methodists, non-evangelical Lutherans or Presbyterians other than free evangelical, which rely on the “grace of a covenant community” and sacramental works (rites)/liturgy to bring the unregenerate to God.
These sort would not call themselves evangelical, and so you see, not all protestants are evangelical with the Gospel. In its most elemental form, these ecclesiastical and sacramental practices stem from either traditional Replacement/Covenant Theology and some branch of “Reformed (Augustinian, Covenant) Theology.” Both rely on an allegorical method of interpretation to some degree or another to arrive at their definitions for the church. The latter (Reformed Theology) was the formulation of doctrinal proposals and theological systems made to the Catholic Church (or representative monarchs) during the Reformation’s beginnings. These proposals were rejected. Thus, the persecutions of the Reformation and Inquisitions. Protestantism became defined by the 5 Solas, and more recently, Analogia Scriptura (“Scripture Interprets Itself”). That was to say, Redemption is “to the glory of God alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, based on the Scriptures alone which are interpreted by a grammatical, historical, literary, normal hermeneutic.”
Furthermore, “evangelical” can designate one as differing from liberal theological thought. Examples are Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, which would be considered unorthodox by any Trinitarian standard. Conservative, Evangelical, Protestant theology also stands in contrast to modern era liberal Christian theology and post-modern Christian theology, which are often associated with German rationalism (Deism/Theism), Neo-orthodoxy, etc.
Rather than all of these faith traditions, a C.E.P. depends on the Gospel (The Scriptures alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) to bring souls to God.
B. As already mentioned, within Protestant Evangelicalism, one can be Conservative (theologically). Such a one finds that without holding certain essential tenants of faith prescribed by the Bible, he cannot possibly claim to be a biblical Christian in the most theologically conservative sense of the words. [ex. “The Fundamentals” by R. A. Torrey, “The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible” by B. B. Warfield].
Therefore, I am an Essentialist Conservative Evangelical Protestant (in the categorical senses of those words) to describe the sort of Christianity I hold. And, it is from that standpoint that one discerns orthodoxy (in the literal theological sense of that word).
With regards to distinguishing whether a believer is “orthodox” from the CEP standpoint, one can only use that believer’s self-description of their personal tenants of faith and practice. And, that can only happen if one is forthcoming and open about his beliefs. Whether he writes about his faith or cares to talk about the points of his belief, or if he simply labels himself as being within a certain faith group, that is up to the individual. But, I am the one which must take him at face value and see how he and I compare/contrast. If he does not hold to essential Conservative Evangelical Protestant articles of faith, then I would be prone to call him “unorthodox.” Truly, in some cases, one who calls himself a believer indeed may not equate a believer, in terms of what I (a C.E.P.) observe the Bible requires for that title.
2. About the Integrity of Evangelicals’ Evangel (Gospel Message)
“Compromise” is not a bad word. It simply means: (Webster)
v. “to find an acceptable arrangement suitable to two parties otherwise in opposition; n. A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions.”
But, in the negative denotation, it could mean: (Webster)
n. “A concession to something detrimental or pejorative; v. To reduce the quality, value, or degree of something; To expose or make liable to danger, suspicion, or disrepute; To weaken or lower.”
The Evangel (Gospel) of a Conservative Evangelical Protestant is (to him) the one thing that should be preserved, protected, valued, and promoted. So, in the mind of a C.E.P., a compromising evangelical is anyone within categorical evangelicalism who exposes the Gospel to disrepute by somehow making a concession about it which is itself detrimental or pejorative to either the essence of the Gospel or integrity of the Bible (upon which the Gospel is founded).
A Conservative Protestant Evangelical considers compromise to be any theological stance which denies, redefines, adds to or omits any tenant of historic Protestant Evangelical theology, AND/OR to be any theological stance which subverts Protestant Evangelicalism.
A. How Protestant Conservative Evangelical Theology can be Compromised in its Essentials: (by liberal theology, etc. — see 1a, 3rd P)
- Skepticism regarding: the Bible, its being Divine Special revelation verbally and plenary inspired in the original manuscripts, and therefore without error and authoritative in all matters to which it speaks… and God’s very Word when faithfully translated.
- Redefinition or denial of the Godhead, Trinity, or full Deity of any Person of the Trinity
- Denial or skepticism that the Pre-existent, eternal Son of God was made completely human in human flesh and untainted human nature, yet remained completely God via the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ through Mary
- Denial or skepticism that every human is peccable (able to sin) in essence/nature, and that, all do indeed sin.
- Denial that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for humans, that he is supremely and exclusively the God and Savior of mankind, discounting all other gods and religion.
- Denial or skepticism that Jesus Christ died physically on the cross as the Chosen substitute for mankind, propitiating the wrath of God against sin and the sinner, providing redemption.
- Denial or skepticism that Jesus Christ arose physically on the third day from death.
- Denial or skepticism that redemption and full pardon from sin as well as reconciliation to God is awarded (as grace) to the one who places faith alone in Christ alone for that purpose.
- Denial or skepticism that Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven bodily and will return bodily to earth.
- Denial or skepticism that Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead at the final resurrection.
B. How Protestant Evangelicalism can be Subverted in its being Protestant and/or Evangelical:
- By any compromise of systematic theology with other theological stances within “Christendom” [please see pt. 1 above] that lowers, lessens, detracts from, or is detrimental to the Evangel of historic Protestant Evangelicalism; thus rendering it no longer a distinctly protestant Evangel (5 Solas – defining the essential elements of the Gospel). [i.e. it has become either liberal in theology, given to covenantal ecclesiastical theology (ex. Roman Catholic), or is reliant on “the grace of a covenantal community” and/or sacraments to expiate sin and bring souls to God — ex. Ordo Salutis and its regeneration before faith; Paedobaptism vs. Credobaptism; Replacement Theology of National Israel with the Church]
- By any compromise of practical theology with other stances within “Christendom” [please see pt. 1 above] that lowers, lessens, detracts from, or is detrimental to the practice of evangelicals to be forth-going with the Gospel; thus rendering it no longer “evangelical.” Ex. Joining in ministerial partnership with churches or organizations that do not uphold the essential tenets of historical, conservative protestant evangelical theology (see 2A above).
- By any ministerial compromise that somehow weakens, reduces the value of, or brings detriment to what it has historically meant to be Evangelical Protestant categorically. [i.e. ministerial partnering together with interfaith groups or any non-evangelical protestant group of ecclesiastical, liberal or neo-orthodox tradition (see above, 1A), as if they define the Gospel, faith, grace, or even the Person of Jesus Christ the same way as an Evangelical Protestant. This however excludes my preaching/teaching to any of these groups or representatives from these groups with the content and manner consistent with C.E.P., seeing that a refusal to do so would be denying a willing soul the chance to hear the Gospel. If they do not impose sanctions on me or my content, then I am free to preach Christ and Him crucified.]
- By any compromise of personal practice of holiness in the Christian life that is against clear Scriptural command; thus bringing suspicion or disrepute to the Christian faith held by the Protestant Evangelical. CEPs purport that a detriment to and compromise of the value of the Gospel is made when a professing believer does not show evidence of his regenerate state by taking part in activities and styles of life clearly forbidden by the NT Scriptures. While this is not an attack on the essentials of the Gospel itself, it is an affront to the effect of the Gospel and Person of the Gospel–Jesus Christ, according to the Scriptures. That being said, many man-made rules/traditions have been equated to the clear commands and principles of Scripture. These are neither fundamentals of the faith, nor a proper definition of biblical holiness, nor a measure of one’s true personal (spiritual, positional) holiness.
3. About The “Problem” of Unorthodox and Compromising C.E.P.s
A. The problem of Unorthodox C.E.P.s arises in that an unorthodox essentialist is by definition impossible. One is either unorthodox, or he holds the essentials of historic C.E.P.s. There is no middle ground.
B. The problem of Compromising C.E.P.s arises in that they make concessions which are detrimental or pejorative to the Gospel [please see 2B above]. And so, in that sense, they are neither essentialist nor evangelical nor protestant, if/when they make such concessions.