December 18, 2017

An Evangelical Take on Ecumenism

Don Johnson

Mike Riccardi serves on the staff of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles and blogs at thecripplegate.com, a group blog of interest to the more conservative amongst professing believers. The writing at Cripplegate is often outstanding, although there will be key points of difference between their team and those who write here at Proclaim & Defend.

Last Friday, in a post called “Ecumenical vs. Evangelical,” Mike Riccardi outlined the history of ecumenism over the last hundred and twenty years. He begins,

One of the most devastating attacks on the life and health of the church throughout all of church history has been what is known as the ecumenical movement—the downplaying of doctrine in order to foster partnership in ministry between (a) genuine Christians and (b) people who were willing to call themselves Christians but who rejected fundamental Christian doctrines.

The piece is an excellent summary of many key moments in that history and says things fundamentalists have been saying for years. We are glad to see evangelicals stepping up and saying things like:

And though the motive is almost always pure—that is, to influence the enemies of the Gospel to be swayed from their opinions and embrace the Gospel—when you blur the lines between belief and unbelief, it always works in the opposite direction. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” You might think, “Oh, I’m just partnering with them so that I can minister to them and so that they can get saved!” But Paul says, “No, don’t be deceived! Good morals do not reform bad company; bad company corrupts good morals.”

Amen.

The whole post is quite illuminating, and we think it is a good idea for Christians to be reminded of the unfortunate ecumenical failures of history. One would hope that some would read and take care about ecumenical involvement. It never ends well for Biblical Christianity.

Riccardi mentions in the article such ecumenical endeavors as the 1908 gathering of the Federal Council of Churches, the “conflict between the Liberals and the so-called Fundamentalists,” the 1948 World Council of Churches, the Billy Graham compromises of the 1950s [and the subsequent weakening of Graham’s theology], the mid-60s Second Vatican Council and its influence, the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and the 2009 Manhattan Declaration.

All of these events and movements are key moments in the history of ecumenicalism. I think the article is worth your attention, you should read the whole thing. The article concludes with an indication that this theme will be continued in coming days, so it is worth following Cripplegate in order to see what they say.

You should also be aware of a couple of weaknesses I noted in this article.

1. The article is written from an evangelical perspective and is guilty of at least one anachronistic mis-characterization of fundamentalism. Above I quoted the line that referred to the “conflict between the Liberals and the so-called Fundamentalists.” In the article, this follows a description of J. Gresham Machen as an example of those who were “pejoratively labeled Fundamentalists.” The term fundamentalist has become a pejorative, but for most fundamentalists it was a term they coined themselves and embraced – it wasn’t forced on them by their opponents, it was worn as a badge of honor. (It is true that Machen was somewhat reluctant to accept the label, but that was due to other factors too lengthy to go into here.) Riccardi is showing his continuing disdain for fundamentalism by the way he uses the term. As you read the article, a fundamentalist will find agreement in many respects, but Riccardi appears to be writing as an evangelical. His ultimate conclusion/solution to the problem may well not be one that fundamentalists can embrace.

2. In noting recent ecumenical compromises made by evangelicals, i.e. Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) and the Manhattan Declaration, no names are mentioned. Several current evangelical leaders were involved in these efforts. Some appear to have backed away somewhat from these positions, but their confession of error (if any) has been muted at best and not very convincing. Evangelicals need to do more than identify these efforts as ecumenism. They need to call their leadership to account for making these errors, and, if the leaders are unrepentant, they need to jettison the leaders.

3. As the article draws to a close, Riccardi says that the Gospel is at stake – if you lose the Gospel, you’ve lost everthing.

If you lose the Gospel, you have no true unity, because the mission of Christ’s Church is not to exercise dominion over society and culture, but to preach the Gospel to every creature—to proclaim the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins through faith alone in Christ alone—so that we relieve the eternal suffering that sinful men and women are condemned to face as the just penalty for their sins. And any time throughout all of church history when the professing church has forgotten that, and—however well-intentioned—has compromised to partner in ministry with those who do not share a common faith in the one and only Gospel of Jesus Christ—she has ceased to be the church, and has courted the judgment rather than the blessing of God.

Well, yes, we agree with that, but the statement is insufficient in understanding what is at stake. First, the preaching of the Gospel is not the whole mission of the church, it is only the beginning. The mission of the church is to make disciples, not just preach the Gospel. That is why it is more than Gospel unity we need. We need a thoroughly orthodox bibliology, there is no room for ongoing revelation (Charismatism) which often serves as a back door to the ecumenical platform. We need a thoroughly orthodox ecclesiology [doctrine of the church], lest we allow enthusiasm for particular doctrinal opinions to weaken the purity of our churches and church-related institutions.

The statement of loyalty to the Gospel is true, but what is needed is more than loyalty to the Gospel.

All in all, the article is good and worth reading. It will be interesting to see where Riccardi goes with this series and one can hope that he will come to rest in a solution that is something better than evangelicalism has offered for ecumenism so far.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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