Stand fast for authentic evangelicalism: 3
By F.J. Harris
Although we have noted the various factors that contributed to the weakening of Evangelicalism, we need to ask how and what it was that actually began the tremendous lapse from the basically sound, if not strong, situation which characterised evangelical churches in the situation which I first described. Clearly there was something new which caused this – “new” being the significant word.
There is a saying that “when America sneezes, Britain catches a cold” and in the United States the movement was developing which began to be known as “New- or Neo-Evangelicalism” following the first use of that term by Dr. Harold Ockenga in 1948.
I want to mention four ways in which this movement has done such terrible damage:
Firstly, by repudiating the need to separate from error. Secondly, by engaging in theological dialogue with those who are non-evangelicals. Thirdly, by seeking intellectual respect from non-evangelical scholars.
Fourthly, by undermining the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture.
1. Firstly and most significantly, a repudiation of the need to separate from Non-Evangelicals.
The first great spokesman for New Evangelicalism was Harold Ockenga and he wrote in his Foreword to Harold Lindsell’s book, The Battle for the Bible published in 1976, these words: “Neo-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. The ringing call for a repudiation of separatism and the summons to social involvement received a hearty response from many Evangelicals. … It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life.”
No one can deny that the “number one” determination of new evangelicalism is the “repudiation of separatism.” The statement is made twice and is termed, “the ringing call.”
Whereas those known as Fundamentalists in the USA had previously kept apart from Liberals (Modernists) and Roman Catholics, that practice began to be first undermined, then criticized, as unloving and arrogant, and subsequently denounced as the very opposite of the heart of Christianity which was said to be “Love.” Love and unity were exalted above faithfulness to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
In 1957 and frequently afterwards, Billy Graham said, “The one badge of
Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy, but love” (quoted from Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, page 33). Edward Carnell, second president of Fuller Seminary, had already said: “Jesus names love, not defence of doctrine, as the sign of a true disciple.”
I have two brief comments to make:
The first is that those who speak in this manner have no real conception of that love which the Bible teaches. This love is, first, love to God and is therefore jealous of anything that reflects adversely upon His glory. It is, as the Apostle John emphasises, a love for the truth, and as Paul prays for the Philippian church, a love that will abound yet more and more in “knowledge and in all judgment” (Philippians 1:9). The love which is all-embracing and non-discerning, which encourages fellowship with those who deny gospel truth, which dishonours God and which does despite to the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and which puts such fellowship above biblical truth, is a love of which Christ and His Apostles knew nothing.
The second comment is, that separation is not an optional part of Christianity; it is a commandment. Separation is not unloving; it is obedience to God. Concerning false teachers, the scripture says:
• “mark them … avoid them” (Romans 16: 17)
• “Be ye not unequally yoked together with” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
• “Have no fellowship with” (2 Cor. 6: 14)
• “Come out from among” (2 Corinthians 6:17)
• “withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:5)
• “shun” (2 Timothy 2:16)
• “from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5)
• “reject” (Titus 3:10)
• “Receive them not into your house neither bid them Godspeed” (2 John 10)
Separation is a wall of protection against spiritual danger. Failure to separate from error leaves one open to the influence of error (1 Corinthians 15:33).
2. Secondly, dialogue with Non-Evangelicals and a consequent weakening of essential Biblical Truth.
The great danger of this kind of dialogue is that it involves listening to and learning from others, having mutual respect, making concessions to gain an ultimate agreement. The Anglican Church in England, for example, – in all its sections – Evangelical, Liberal and Anglo-Catholic began to say from the 1960s onward that they must remember that they were all Anglicans and, as such, they must learn from each other, respect one another, and recognise that they are all a part of the Body of Christ. They also began to look towards the Church of Rome with increasingly friendly eyes.
The tragic example of this is the formal dialogue which the Church of England conducted with the Roman Catholic Church from 1970- 1981 (known as the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission). The result was that the Church of England capitulated to Roman Catholic doctrine, for “at no point was there any give in Roman doctrine” (Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, page 219).
Five years after the dialogue ended, the General Synod of the Church of England approved the Final Report. It was a further five years before the Vatican responded and then it required that the Roman Catholic teaching – especially on the Mass – be spelt out specifically. It wanted assurance that the Mass was recognised as a “sacrifice” and applicable to the dead as well as the living; and that Christ is present … substantially when “under the forms of bread and wine these earthly realities are changed into the reality of his body and blood, soul and Divinity.” Three years later this confirmation was given from the Anglican side. (Clarification of Certain Aspects of the Agreed Statements on Eucharist and Ministry 1994), (Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, page 220).
Another example of the outcome of dialogue with non-evangelicals – and about the same time as this dialogue with Rome – the Inter Varsity Press published a book titled Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue. The Evangelical was John R.W. Stott and the Liberal was David Edwards, who rejected the Fall of Man and the Atonement and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stott said heretics such as this “do not forfeit the right to be called Christians” (Evangelical Essentials, page 228).
The noted Anglican scholar, Dr. J.I. Packer was at the forefront of these developments, and added to the confusion by the inconsistency of his writings. At times, he wrote about how sharply Evangelicals dissent from Anglo-Catholics, whilst at other times he wrote of the need for mutual trust and recognition between them. On the one hand he wrote strongly in defence of Reformed and Puritan doctrine, yet on the other hand he wrote warmly of agreement with Anglo-Catholic and Liberal teachings. In his book A Kind of Noah’s Ark, in which he sought to justify the comprehensive nature of the Church of England, he wrote: “A happy change has taken place in the convergence of Anglo-Catholicism and evangelicalism,” and Packer saw no problem in recognising an essential, spiritual unity between the two systems even on such an issue as the efficacy of baptism in the matter of salvation.
What did those Evangelicals in the Church of England, who were unhappy with these trends, make of all this? They protested vocally and in writing, but they remained within the Church of England, refusing to acknowledge that by so doing they were “guilty by association” of the errors which many of their fellow Anglicans were embracing. This clearly demonstrates that theological dialogue inevitably results in a blurring of the truth; and it is never the Evangelical who wins over the Heretic, but all too often the reverse is true.
Another factor in theological dialogue is that Heresy, Apostasy and unbelief are not condemned, and the Biblical warnings about judgment are ignored. It is impossible to have dialogue without doing this, but it is contrary to the Scriptures. Indeed it is precisely what the Bible does not do, and what the apostles and prophets did not do, and what we must not do today, even though we be called divisive.
Listen to the apostles: Paul called false teachers “dogs” and “evil workers” (Philippians 3:2). Of those who pervert the gospel he said, “Let them be accursed” (Galatians 1:8,9). He called them “evil men and seducers” (2 Timothy 3:13), “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8), “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Corinthians 11:13). He named the names of false teachers and called their teaching “vain babblings” (2 Timothy 2: 16,17). He warned about “philosophy and vain deceit” (Colossians 2:8). He plainly described their “cunning craftiness.” He warned about false teachers who would come into the churches, calling them “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29) who would teach “perverse things” (Acts 20:30). Those who denied the bodily resurrection are called “fools” (1 Corinthians 15:35-36). He warned about false Christs, false spirits, false gospels (2 Corinthians 11:1-4). He labelled false teaching “doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1).
In the Pastoral Epistles Paul warned of false teachers and compromisers by name ten times, and this is the example that the Spirit of God has left for the churches. Similarly, Peter spoke sternly of the false prophets in his day and those he knew would come at some time in the future. He called their heresies “damnable” and warned of their “swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). He called their ways “pernicious” and their words “feigned” and boldly declared that “their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Peter 2:3). He warned them of eternal punishment (2 Peter 2:4-9) and called them “presumptuous” and “selfwilled” (2 Peter 2:10). He likened them to “natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12). But what about John, the Apostle of Love? He too warned about antichrists (1 John 2:18-19), calling them liars (1 John 2:22) and seducers (1 John 2:26) and deceivers (2 John 7), saying that they denied the Son (1 John 2:23). He stressed testing the spirits (1 John 4: 1-3) and forbade the believers to allow the false teachers into their houses or to bid them God speed (2 John 10,11).
Let me quote here two worthies of the 19th century: “From the Liberality which says that everybody is right; from the Charity which forbids to say that anybody is wrong; from the Peace which is bought at the expense of Truth; may the good Lord deliver us” (J.C. Ryle).
“On all hands we hear cries for unity in this and unity in that; but in our mind the main need of this age is not compromise but conscientiousness. ‘First pure, then peaceable’ says the Scripture. That union which is not based on the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion. Charity by all means: but honesty also. Love of course, but love to God first and love of truth as well as love of union. It is exceedingly difficult in these times to preserve one’s fidelity before God and one’s fraternity among men. Should not the former be preferred to the latter if both cannot be maintained? We think so” (C. H. Spurgeon).
See what dialogue, compromise and co-operation did to Billy Graham. When he first began his ecumenical ventures, he claimed that he wanted to use Ecumenism to get the gospel to more people, because the liberals and Roman Catholics needed the Gospel. After a few decades, he had changed entirely and was saying that the Liberals and Roman Catholics are just fine as they are. In an interview with David Frost in 1997, Billy Graham said: “I feel I belong to all the churches. I’M EQUALLY AT HOME IN AN ANGLICAN OR BAPTIST OR A BRETHREN ASSEMBLY OR A ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH and the bishops and archbishops and the Pope ore our friends” (David Frost, Billy Graham in Conversation, pages 68,143). It was Graham who had been converted by the dialogue process. He admitted, “The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint” (Curtis Mitchell, Billy Graham Saint or Sinner, page 272).
The New Evangelical will preach against error in general terms but rarely will he do it plainly and specifically. When questioned directly by either side, he tends to fudge and dodge. He is not a prophet, but a religious politician. No one has been guiltier of this than Billy Graham has. We can see why he has been called “Mr. Facing Both Ways.” He is for Creation and he is for Evolution, for a Young Earth and on Old Earth, for the Virgin Birth and against it, for the Liberal position end for the Evangelical position. He is for everything – and therefore against nothing. This brought him into all kinds of inconsistencies and contradictions. He said that he loved the Gospel of the Grace of Christ and that he preached it, but he turned his converts over to churches that preached a false gospel.
He said that to become a true Christian, one must be born again, but he fellowshipped closely with Modernists and Roman Catholics, who were not born again and who do not even believe in the New Birth as Graham preached it. Yet he accepted these people as genuine brethren in Christ. He said that he loved the old Doctrines such as the Virgin Birth of Christ and Substitutionary Atonement, but he often praised men who brazenly denied those doctrines. At the preparation for the 1978 Crusade in Toronto, Billy Graham said: “We need to call the churches back to ‘biblical authority,’ but in the same message, he said; “Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics are all members of the body of Christ.” He went on to say, “We communicate the Bible by our unity; I believe in ecumenicity.” It is blatant inconsistency and contradiction to speak of Biblical authority while also accepting Heresy and Heretics as expressions of genuine Christianity.
Here are the same kind of inconsistencies we noted earlier concerning Dr. J. Packer. In his biography of Dr. Packer, Alistair McGrath wrote: Packer’s successful collaboration (with non-evangelicals) was parallel to the co-operative mode of evangelism adopted by Billy Graham which brings together all churches in a given area.” How truly did Charles Woodbridge speak when he said, “New Evangelicalism advocates toleration of error. It then follows the downward path of accommodation to error, co-operation with error, contamination by error, and ultimate capitulation to error.”
As the booklet AFFIRMATION 2010 says, “It is one of the greatest weaknesses of modern evangelicalism that it fails to take a separated stand from apostasy.”
To be continued