Part 1 of this series surveyed the history of Christian ecumenism from the 1st Century A.D. up until the 1930’s.
“History never really proves anything,” my critics may say. To which, I respond,
Not to know what happened before you were born is to be forever a child. –Deepak Mehta (The Emperor’s Club, 2002)
Moreover, part 1 disclosed the dramatic historical events which altered evangelical missions in 1936, as well as the resultant secular pluralism that has characterized Christian ecumenism ever since.
“Still, you cannot change what has happened,” some readers may respond. To which I would say, “Yes, but until we know the ‘why’ of a matter, we do not possess the truth necessary for restoration.” Evangelicalism’s decision to take the advice of the Baptist laymen (under the direction and funding of John Rockefeller, Jr.) is the “why” to the unscriptural compromise of early 20th Century biblicists, pluralism and all.
Part 2 discussed the current situation of evangelical ecumenism.
Therefore, Part 3 of The Case for a Deliberated Ecumenism will provide analysis and solutions for reclaiming a biblical ecumenism. Unity should not be cast aside when error is the problem. We must save the baby, not the bathwater.
Noting 3 Stages
My Alma Mater, along with all separatist fundamentalist schools, teaches that the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the early 1900’s was “the result of a mood”–that there were some who wished to be more “loving” and “engaging” of culture, while others wanted to deal seriously and contentiously with it. The scenario thus presented is only a half-true oversimplification, given the history which I recount in part 1 of this series. The whole truth is that one is acting irresponsibly with history, unless he sees a 3 stage progression that led to the split and to the subsequent corruption of evangelicalism.
Firstly, As stated earlier, the mid-to-late 19th Century was filled with new scientific data and theories that shook the nominal faith of “generational American Christians.” And, in those days, Christianity was THE religion of the western world. One was either liberal Christian, neo-orthodox Christian, fundamental Christian, or nothing at all. The movement (c. 1890’s – 1920’s) which preceded and fueled the Controversy, was called the Progressive Movement. It’s mantra was the “Social Gospel,” and it originally intended to deal only with aiding the impoverished, oppressed and needy members society while also keeping a vigilant eye on the integrity of governmental officials. On one hand, this was a noble effort, because the industrial revolution had left the ecosystems and middle class of America in nearly abject, squalid conditions. The Great Depression would drive those struggles even deeper. On the other hand, the Progressive Era was begun and led mainly by liberal Christian theologians, politicians and philanthropists–those who denied the basic tenets of biblicist Christianity, even though the liberal theological data & scientific data and theories were new and being newly interpreted.
Secondly, by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, mainline Protestant denominations and seminary leaders of America were responding to liberal German rationalism (ex. Warfield, Torrey, Machen). We should note that among those who rejected liberal theology, there were those who rightly recognized the need for Christians to benefit the needy. This was and is the Christ-like thing to do. Furthermore, among fundamentalists, there were those who wished to report their very studious and credible findings to liberal theologians, in order to:
Hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:9, HCSB)
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter. 3:15, NASB)
Thus, some fundamentalists wished to “Engage (both gainsayers and the needy) without [heretical] Accommodation.” This was not a mood. It was Scripture.
Thirdly, despite those fundamentalists who were for ministry to the poor and apologetics, there were also those among fundamentalists who could not see the reason in engaging either the gainsayers or the needy. This lack of vision was more than likely due to 2 criteria:
- A broad-brush interpretation and/or misinterpretation of the Scriptures which call for rejection of heretics.
- A right fear of cooperation with the governmentally intertwined Progressive Movement.
Whereas the second point of criteria was legitimate, the first aspect was premature.
Dealing Accurately & Maturely with The Scriptures on “Separation”
Many books have been written regarding what the Scriptures have to say regarding Christian separation from heretical doctrine. I will not insult the reader’s intelligence by recounting all of them; I will, however, point out the most pertinent aspects. In short, these aspects will show the reader the contexts for biblical mandates on how to treat heretics and apostates.
From the words of Christ (the Gospels) — If the person is not against you, then he is for you.
49 John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50, NASB)
These verses come to us in the context of discourses on “spiritual greatness.” One of the first statements on ecumenism in the New Testament is a command from Christ to not hinder those who are working in His name. Of course, it was hard to redefine or twist the name of Christ when He was himself physically walking among humanity. But, the everlasting principle one may gather from this statement by Christ is that if someone (who is not in one’s own group) is working the works of Jesus in the [doctrinally conservative, orthodox] name of Jesus, then we ought not hinder that person. By extension, if they are not doing Christ’s works but doing those things in His name, then we ought to hinder them. If they are doing Christ’s works but not in His name (by intentional omission or by redefinition), then we ought to hinder them. On the other hand, if a person is against you for working under the biblically accurate name of Jesus, then remember the appropriate responses mandated in Matthew 5-7. Clearly, they are not for you or Christ.
From the epistles of Peter, John, Paul, the Pastoral Epistles, Jude & Revelation — Deal with Apostates and Heretics Already in Your Own Churches or Trying to Get In.
The New Testament never gives mandates for believers to be morally or doctrinally polemic outside of their own church settings. That is, the Bible never commands a Christian or Christian leader to “start something” with lost souls outside their own group of believers, let alone their governments. However, there are many commands to be ready to give answers to those who ask or attack Christianity. Moreover, there are many commands and guidelines on how to deal with doctrinally divisive and heretical people already within one’s own congregation… or those who ‘have crept in’ (or are trying to creep in) stealthily. The context of all commands to deal with heretics and apostates are letters to churches on how to deal with such persons and situations from within the church.
In every case, God also makes it clear that one should not share the Lord’s Table (communion) with a Christian who lives an unrepentant, sinful life or unswervingly holds to doctrinal compromise. But, it is important to note that God restricts that expectation to those who are “called a brother,” and clarifies through Paul that Christians are not to live separately from the “immoral of this world, because we would then have to leave the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). Isolation from the lost is to be avoided at all costs.
… to be continued