Fundamentalist Response to Ecumenism

Scott Williquette

A1988 publication of One World, the magazine published by the World Council of Churches (WCC), listed a “commitment list” drafted by WCC council members at a meeting held in Spain in 1987. Two of the statements reflect the overwhelming desire of the council members to bypass all doctrinal division and bring all churches to unity: “We commit ourselves to promote the holisitic mission of the church instead of disrupting and dividing by responding to one part. . . . We commit ourselves to overcome all barriers between different faiths and ideologies which divide the human family.” The official report of the seventh assembly of the WCC is replete with references to unity regardless of doctrine. One statement reads,

Our witness is one of mission and dialogue. All tongues, nations, races, sexes, all kindreds, tribes, and peoples are God’s. They should be free. We must strive for their freedom. This is our ministry in the Holy Spirit, always and everywhere. Our dialogue with other religions and ideologies has the same basis. Our goal is the unity of the world. Such unity is not alien to the work of the Holy Spirit and the church.[1]

The WCC is an organization consisting of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. Its desire is to unite all the churches of the world. To accomplish this, doctrine must be sacrificed. Their battle cry is “Christ unifies, doctrine divides.” The implication is that if we are going to serve Christ, we must jettison doctrine.

Ecumenism is the pursuit of unity. Unity of all peoples and religions is seen as that which will best honor God. Thus whatever it takes to unify all men should be done. Ecumenism is not just found in organizations like the WCC, it is spreading rapidly throughout Christianity. True Bible doctrine is being sacrificed and compromised in the name of unity. Men who at one time stood unswervingly for truth have taken the position that doctrine is not as important as church unification. Jack Van Impe is one example. Billy Graham is another. At one time both these men stood for truth and Biblical doctrine. Today they are ecumenical to the core.[2] Note the following examples of ecumenicity in Billy Graham’s ministry:

In 1962 São Paulo Crusade, a Roman Catholic Bishop blessed converts as they came forward. At the benediction of a meeting in Yugoslavia in 1967, a Roman Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister, two Orthodox priests, and a Presbyterian held hands on the platform and sang “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.” In his 1973 St. Louis Crusade, 50 nuns served as counselors. Graham’s crusade in the Philippines in 1977 was sponsored in part by the liberal National Council of Churches of the Philippines. In the 1983 Orlando Crusade, Graham’s staff gave about 600 decision cards to Catholic churches for follow-up. In the 1987 Denver Crusade, 80 Catholic counselors were used. A crusade counselor supervisor stated that Catholics have trouble with the expression “born again,” and he tries to work at the crusade “to help Catholics express their new and renewed faith in their mother church.”

Graham once said, “I have found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of Orthodox Roman Catholics.”[3] On November 21, 1967, as he was receiving an honorary doctorate from Belmont Abbey, a Roman Catholic college in North Carolina, he addressed the crowd of Catholic students, priests, and nuns, saying, “One good thing has come out of this religious shaking. We can meet and talk together as Christian brothers. . . . Finally, the way of salvation has not changed. I know how the ending of the book will be. The gospel that built this school and the gospel that brings me here tonight is still the way of salvation.”[4]

The purpose of this article is to call Christians to a militant stand for truth in a religious climate of compromise and ecumenicity. Bible doctrine is not an optional part of Christianity. It is the heart of it. Christianity is a system of beliefs, an organized, cohesive system of truth. Ecumenism blatantly denies the importance of Biblical doctrine. In short, ecumenists believe that unity around the name of Jesus is all that is important.

Biblical doctrine is so important that the bulk of the New Testament was written in its defense. The book of Galatians was written in defense of the doctrine of salvation. The Thessalonian letters were written in defense of the doctrine of Christ’s future coming. The fifteenth chapter of the first letter to the church at Corinth defends the doctrine of the resurrection, while chapter five defends the necessity of purity in the body of Christ. To deny the importance of doctrine is to deny the value of the Bible and the wisdom of its Author, the eternal God. Genuine Christian unity is based upon the mutual knowledge and defense of the doctrines of the Word of God.

Believers are commanded to separate over doctrinal deviance. (Gal. 2:11–16; Rom. 16:17)

In the Galatians passage Paul confronts Peter because of his un-Biblical action and because of the doctrine that Peter was following. Whereas at one time Peter treated bother Jew and Gentile alike, after the visit of some from Jerusalem, he separated from the Gentiles. According to verse 14, by so doing Peter communicated to the Gentiles that they needed to become Jews in order to be acceptable to God. This is what the false teachers were teaching— that Christ was not enough. They taught that salvation was secured by faith in Christ and the keeping of the Mosaic Law. So how did Paul respond to Peter’s error? Paul confronted him to his face and exposed it publicly. He did not, for the sake of unity, say, “Just let this slide.” Paul was more concerned about truth and doctrine than he was about unity and friendship.

Believers are commanded to reject those who teach false doctrine (Titus 1:9–14; 3:10; 2 John 10, 11).

Notice how Paul described the false teachers in Titus 1:9–14: rebellious and unruly, vain talkers, deceivers, those who subvert and ruin whole households, and teachers of things they ought not to teach. How should we respond to these kinds of men? How should we relate to those who teach false doctrine and subvert Christian households? Are we called upon by God to set aside our doctrinal differences and join hands with these men in Christian love, unity, and friendship? No, we are commanded to do all we can to shut their mouths. The word “stopped” in verse 11 literally means “to put something in the mouth.” It was often used of the muzzling of an animal. God does not want us to shake hands with the false teacher. He wants us to muzzle him. How do I do that? You don’t allow him to teach in your church. You expose his error and thus discourage others from following him. You diligently teach the truth so that people develop discerning minds.

Believers are commanded to warn and then remove themselves from false teachers (Titus 3:9–11).

The word “heretic” means a “divisive person” or a person “who causes division.” Taking into account verse nine, it is clear that this man is causing division by teaching false doctrine. Understand the implication of that. Apparently only true doctrine engenders unity. We are commanded to warn and remove ourselves from the man who continually disrupts the church with false doctrine. Should we welcome those who cause division and say something like, “What they are teaching doesn’t really matter,” or, “That doctrine is not that important as long as we love each other and use the name Jesus Christ”? No, we are commanded to admonish them twice (note the limit), and then if they refuse to stop teaching falsehood, we are commanded to remove ourselves from them. The word “reject” means to “dismiss, discharge, or drive out.” It probably refers to church discipline.

Believers are commanded not to support or encourage false teachers (2 John 9–11)

Here John is dealing with those who are denying cardinal doctrines of Christ and salvation. According to verse nine, because they deny Christ and His gospel, they “have not God.” In other words, they are outside the family of God. How should we respond to these false teachers? Should we welcome them with open arms? No, again, we should avoid any form of support or encouragement. In John’s day believers would lodge and support traveling preachers. When John states that we should not “receive them into our house,” he is referring to not letting them speak but also to not let them live with you or support them. If we support false teachers, we are helping them spread the evil of their teaching.

Believers are commanded to persevere in the face of false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:1–3, 13–16).

In light of the fact that the end times are filled with false teachers, and those who teach the doctrine of demons, Paul commands Timothy to give attention to doctrine. He is commanded in verse sixteen to consider carefully his doctrine. There are so many saying that in light of all the different religions, denominations and systems of thought, we should simply ignore doctrine and concentrate on being unified. “After all,” they say, “what God wants is the unity of all denominations.” Yet in Titus and Timothy Paul has said the exact opposite. He encourages us to persevere in the truth in spite of the pluralism of the day. Determine to hold fast and persevere in true Bible doctrine.

What will Fundamental Baptist churches do in a religious climate where there is encouragement from every side to jettison doctrine for the sake of getting along? We have no choice. If we desire to honor and obey God in our personal lives and the life of our church, we must learn, obey, stand for, and defend the doctrines of the Bible. Unity, both personally and professionally, is the byproduct of doctrinal and philosophical harmony. God is honored by unity only when it is founded upon doctrinal purity.

Scott Williquette is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Michael Kinnamon, Signs of the Spirit, Official Report of the Seventh Assembly (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 36. []
  2. For an excellent description of Graham’s ministry and history of his compromise see Earnest Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise, pp. 49–76; and John Ashbrook, New Neutralism II, pp. 28–41. []
  3. Berean Call, September 1994. []
  4. Ashbrook, 28–39. []