Ecumenicism and the Gospel
Some of my brethren have unity-itis! The so-called "ecumenical" spirit of the Catholic and Protestant world has rubbed off! It is possible to hear of brethren willing to compromise principles of the ancient faith in order that we may "get together." We have been harassed so long by the religious world that we are beginning to believe their accusations.
When brethren start accusing each other of the same things of which the world accuses us, then it is obvious that we have come to accept the charges. I have in mind these and similar charges: (l) The Church of Christ is divided into twenty or twenty-five groups. (2) Each group thinks every other group save his is going to hell, and spends its time castigating these groups. (3) The church of Christ lacks love, and its preachers talk too much about obedience to a plan and not enough about the love of God. (4) The members try to proselytize members of other groups (here some include the sects) whose members are perfectly happy where they are. (5) You ought to forget about all the things upon which we (some again include the sects) differ, and work with other Christians for unity.
It is time that we look long and carefully at these accusations. They are, in their various manifestations, all worded so as to arouse prejudice rather than to convey facts. These charges, whether issued by sectarians or "unity-minded" brethren, must be met with Bible facts.
1. The church of Christ is not divided (l Cor. 1:13). Christ's body has never been nor shall ever be divided, for it would then cease to be one (Eph. 4:4). We are taught to expect factions among us (1 Cor. 11:19). This is not unusual. When factions are confronted with the truth, it is not a matter of exalting "our group" above the others, but of exposing error. People in error are not usually known to hire preachers to expose their position as such. That would account for the reason that a man can usually agree with the basic beliefs of the congregation for which he preaches.
2. We will neither be saved nor lost as "groups." We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ as individuals. Read every scripture from Matthew to Revelation referring to the final judgment. This charge is unfair. Individuals will be judged on the basis of their works. He who has been faithful to God will be saved (Matt. 7:21, Rev. 2:10, Heb. 5:9). All disobedient individuals will be condemned (2 Th. 1: 8-9).
3. "Love-minded" brethren often forget what love is. Love for God involves a total commitment: heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). It finds its expression in the keeping of God's commandments (1 Jn. 5:3). I fail to understand how a man who loves God would deliberately avoid teaching men the commandments of God! Let no one forger that Jesus saves the obedient (Heb. 5:9). A gospel preacher must preach all the purpose of God (Acts 20:20, 27). He must, as did Paul, emphasize those aspects of the gospel needed most by his hearers. But he is not at liberty to exclude any part of the truth.
4. There is an effort to convert when we teach the gospel, whether in public assembly or in homes. God designed his word to have a converting effect on honest hearers: Rom. 10:17 (Eph. 2:8, 2 Cor. 5:7), Heb. 4:12, Rom. 1:16, Matt. 13:23. This is an effort to convert men to Christ and his Way . . . not to the church. There is a difference between trying to get men to agree with the Lord and his plan (including his plan for the church), and trying to get them to agree with my brethren and me. The church is not the standard of right. No gospel preacher is. But the purposes of those who teach the gospel are often misconstrued in this regard. However, that should not deter us from the work of bringing the saving gospel of Christ to a lost world. If the kingdom is righteousness, joy) and peace (Rom. 14: 17), then why not take the good news to men entangled in the dark and hopeless confusion of error? Only the truth makes men free (Jno. 8:32). No, I don't have a premium on the truth. The truth is in the word (Jn. 17:17), and we are told to preach that same word (2 Tim. 4:2).
5. All deplore the divided state of the religious world, and the factions in the church as well. But unity is not a matter to be attained at the expense of principles of right. Men are not to unite with one another on the basis of terms worked out at a conference table. Agreement in spiritual matters is not to be attained like men haggle and bargain for a price of meat in the market place! Unity is a matter that results when men have obtained "like precious faith" (2 Pet. 1:1). It is based on mutual belief in the word of the apostles (Jn. 17: 20-21). It is the by- product of jointly walking in the light (1 Jn.1: 7). Rather than worry about unity, let us be concerned about men being righteous in the sight of Almighty God, beginning with us (2 Cor. 5:20). If I am walking in the light of the precious truth of my Lord, I am in fellowship with God (1 Jn. 1:7). And I am "ipso-facto" in fellowship with everyone else on the face of this good earth that is also walking in that light (1 Jn. 1:3).
The solution to the problems that confront us is as old as the New Testament. "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee (1 Tim. 4:16).
Truth Magazine X: 8, pp. 20-21 May 1966