In part 1 of this series, Lamb’s Harbinger reviewed the history of Christian ecumenism. In the early 1930’s, evangelicalism appeared to have rescued itself from a very disengaged, isolationist fundamentalism. But, the evangelicalism of the mid-to-late 1930’s was not the evangelicalism hoped for. Something happened in those initial 6-10 years which corrupted the “engagement without accommodation” mantra of those who split from the fundamentalists. “A group of Baptist laymen at the request of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. concluded that it was time for a serious re-evaluation of the effectiveness of foreign missions.”
Consequently, a secularist pluralism crept into Machen’s evangelicalism that instantly affected 7 major denominations. The Social Gospel of these early 20th Century evangelicals had become socio-political activism which set aside (even denied) the Gospel; and soon evangelicals would partner with anyone from any branch of “Christendom” in a parachurch organization setting. The only thing that mattered was the advancement of Judeo-Christian values in society. Nothing could be more Covenant Theology in essence.
Where We are Today
20 years after ETC, we see the universal failure of that effort, which I believe is due to its unbiblical compromise and a wrong view of the Kingdom of Heaven and Its Keys. ETC neither curbed the morality of our societies, nor cleared up any matter of essential doctrine. In fact, quite the opposite is true. But, in the true style of insanity, everyone keeps hitting the same ecumenical, social action dialogue button while expecting different results. But has that worked before? No. Yet, none are willing to concede that Socio-political Conservatism is NOT Christianity.
Evangelical “leaders” are rather bent on continuing the broken tradition of “engagement without accommodation.” This month, Rick Warren (among other notable evangelicals) sat front row at an ecumenical council on sexuality and the family at the Vatican. In an article titled, Pope Francis Learns What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage, Christianity Today writes:
The Pope has increasingly been interacting with a number of notable Protestants, including Geoff Tunnicliffe and Brian Stiller of the World Evangelical Alliance, pastor Joel Osteen, televangelists Kenneth Copeland and James Robison, members of the Green family (founders of Hobby Lobby), and Westmont College president Gayle Beebe. “We are brothers,” Francis told a gathering of Pentecostal leaders at a Copeland conference…
In July, a “near totality” of Italian evangelicals warned U.S. evangelicals against getting too cozy with the Catholic Church. “What appear to be similarities with the Evangelical faith and spirituality of sectors of Roman Catholicism are not in themselves reasons for hope in a true change,” wrote leaders for the Italian Evangelical Alliance (IEA), the Federation of Pentecostal Churches, and the Assemblies of God in Italy. (bold mine)
The Italians get it! Tooting the socio-political, Judeo-Christian moré horn together will not bring “true change.” The Italian evangelicals see that, on the other side of the curtain, the RCC has also been advancing its ecumenical efforts with non-Christian religions.
Rick Warren, Russell Moore, and N. T. Wright all seem fine with disregarding the wise warning of Italian evangelicals. And hey, if one doesn’t heed the warning of Italians, you know he’s in trouble! But all joking aside, this sort of unabashed capitulation from U.S. evangelicals is nothing new… and is completely justifiable, if one is selling out Christ to the Other Master anyway–something so commonplace in our present time that no one bats the proverbial eye at multi-millionaire preachers like Rick Warren or Tim Keller. When did, “not controlled by love of money” cease to be a qualification for biblicist Christianity?
What is more, there are no bounds to the socio-political partnerships evangelicals will seek just to “represent” the societal agendas of the “moral right.” Earlier this year, the Southern Baptists joined in an amicus brief with Mormons, Lutherans and Catholics for the “fight” against new expressions of non-Judeo-Christian values. Mormons? Really?
Pulling the Common Thread
More recently, the Roman Catholic Church has been consolidating the covenant community by acquiring the Anglican Communion, Orthodox faiths, and other sects that hold a Covenant Reformed tradition (ex. mainline and evangelical Presbyterians , Baptists, Dutch Reformed). Christian apologetics is at the forefront of this acquisition effort, since all biblicists with an evangelistic heart wish to show the validity of the Christian worldview and morality in this postmodern world. But, let’s not be coy. Friendship with historic Catholic doctrine, even in its reformed version, is in every thorough-going Calvinist institution of theological learning. The common thread of all contemporary ecumenism (evangelical or not) is Covenant Reformed Theology (CRT) with its emphasis on expanding the influence of the covenant community through socio-political activism, a.k.a theonomy.
Thankfully, some evangelical leaders like R. C. Sproul and other “conservative evangelicals” have seen the ills of this covenantal-driven ecumenical mania and have refused to sign documents like the Manhattan Declaration of 2009. Others like Robert Saucy of ETS and Biola University have also expressed concern for the growing movement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, citing the Pope’s view that Monotheistic religions are all the same… among other serious problems.
But, admittedly, the R. C. Sproul crowd and also the John Piper crowd hold to the same revised Augustinian Covenant Theology that has been the back door for all of the other compromise since Augustine’s City of God. And, men like Clay Jones of Biola University seem blissfully unaware of the Catholic theology (Ex. Replacement Theology, Absolute Monarchy, Divine Right of Rule, State Religion) which drove historic atrocities like the Crusades. Sadly, every apologetics guru out there, from Apologetics 315 to Ratio Christi, prints and reprints the blindness.
Of course, the historic separatist fundamentalists see it; but in their overly contentious style, they are so splintered that they don’t agree with each other on worship music, how to dress or which Bible translation to read, let alone how best to get the Gospel out. And, over the past 3-4 years, they’ve had their own scandals to reconcile.
Within evangelicalism, however, a new hope has been being placed in the New Calvinism. But the movement cannot deny its roots, if it is to be authentic. J. Todd Billings of Westminster Theological Seminary writes:
[the New Calvinists] “tend to obscure the fact that the Reformed tradition has a deeply catholic heritage, a Christ-centered sacramental practice and a wide-lens, [postmillennial] kingdom vision for the Christian’s vocation in the world.” (brackets & underscore mine)
Other sources like The Metropolitan Tabernacle warn that the New Calvinism is a slip-shod revival in CRT, which denies the essence of puritan sanctification… separation from “worldliness.” But the Metropolitan Tabernacle (clearly separatist fundamentalists) have missed Dr. Billing’s point. Covenant Reformed Theology does not have its roots in puritanism. Rather, CRT, like puritanism, comes directly from historically attempted purifications of Catholic doctrine, which has its foundations firmly in Augustine’s poor methods of interpretation.
Robert Thomas points out the problem most accurately in his book Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus The Old. Inevitably, Augustinian elements of Bible interpretation lead to ecclesiasticism, sacramental practice, infant baptism, regeneration before faith, postmillennialism, amillennialism, partial preterism, replacement theology, and/or religiously driven socio-political activism. One cannot purify or reform something that is corrupt to its core; and the New Calvinists will do nothing but continue to obscure the issue until it theologically turns to bite them. Perhaps the bite has been felt already.
… to be continued, Part 3