June 29, 2007
On my last evening in Geneva, I reflect briefly on various evangelical ecumenisms. I would not be a part of those that we evangelicals usually refer to as the ecumenists–like the World Council of Churches. (Don’t they have offices somewhere here in Geneva?)
There is another kind of togetherness that I have publicly objected to–Evangelicals and Catholic TOGETHER. While I wish all of these men well, and some of them are good friends of mine, I fear that some of them–Protestant and Roman Catholic–have so elevated what they understand to be implications of the Gospel to be of equal importance to, and even to be part of, the Gospel itself. And when that is done, moral agreements may seem to diminish the difference, and at least the significance of the difference, between Rome’s understanding of salvation, and that which we understand the Bible to teach. And in such a situation the cultural periphery is temporarily shored up, while the theological heart sinks into dangerous confusion. Such togetherness is purchased at too high a price.
There is yet another kind of togetherness that I HAVE been involved in–TOGETHER for the Gospel. Here we have come together with NO disagreements over the Gospel, but rather having our disagreements reserved for secondary, though important, issues. In the last few weeks, however, I’ve been asked a couple of interesting questions about T4G that I thought might be of interest to you, dear reader. One dear friend asked me if T4G was a 5-point Calvinst rally. He (a non 5-point Calvinist) asked me this in the best spirit, and I told him honestly that it was a fine question, and that the conference was more a natural outgrowth of friendships. I even had another friend, an Arminian, tell me how much he appreciated T4G and encouraged me to do whatever I could to "reach out" to Bible-believeing Arminians. This friend was, perhaps, calling for a meeting for another kind of TOGETHERNESS–Calvinists and Arminians TOGETHER!
Friends, I will let Al, CJ & Lig explain what they think about cooperation with other evangelicals, but I have always been at least an informal member of Calvinists and Arminians Together! I’m a Southern Baptist! I was involved in Inter-Varsity! I went to Gordon-Conwell! You may look in the recently released What is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007) and find that it is dedicated to 3 pastors. Who are they? Harold Purdy was my pastor growing up at First Baptist Church, Madisonville, KY, and he was a prince of a man and a fine expositional preacher. Wally Thomas was, during my high school years, an equally fine pastor of First United Methodist Church, and a warm preacher of the Gospel and lover of God’s people. And Ed Henegar was my pastor during my college years, pastor of Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church (then PCUS) in Durham, NC. Ed was a wonderful older brother, minister of the Word and pre-marital counsellor. We had the honor of having Ed marry us. I will always appreciate his meditations on the Lord’s Supper, and the confidence I had every time I went to church that I would hear him speak from God’s Word. So, I deliberately dedicated What is a Healthy Church? to a Baptist, a Methodist and a Presbyterian pastor. I didn’t make it explicit, but I thought that right now it might be a small encouragement to help us realize where the real front line is.
The real front line is not between Calvinist evangelicals and Arminian evangelicals. It is between those who are lost in their sins and those who have been saved by God’s sheer grace in Christ. And this is not, of course, a war of flesh and blood, but a loving "assault" of sheep charging the wolves with the Good News of Jesus Christ, sheep who were themselves once at enmity with God. Our "weapons" to use the Biblical metaphor (Eph. 6:10-17), are spiritual. Here, on this real front line of conflicting worldviews and God-views, there is much togetherness in the Gospel by evangelical believers. 500 years ago Rome warned us that we Protestants would continue to split into countless groups, if we split with them over this. Well, 500 years of history have passed, and the verdict is in resoundingly. Rome was wrong. The Gospel is clear. Wherever we may mail our checks for missionary support, a Free Methodist evangelist in Brazil, an Assembly of God pastor in the Philippines, an Bible-believing Lutheran pastor in Ethiopia or a conservative Dutch Reformed Christian in South Africa, an evangelical Church of Scotland grandmother, a conservative Anglican in London, and a Southern Baptist deacon in Dallas, when they sit down next to someone on the bus or the plane, and share the Gospel with them, will all share the same Gospel–the good news about the Holy God who sent his Son to die and be raised for the justification of sinners. And that we experience God’s forgiveness and new life through faith alone in Christ alone. We don’t need a bishop in Rome or anywhere else to tell us this. We don’t need a world-wide organization. We just need the Holy Spirit, the Bible and the faithful teaching of this gospel by any one of thousands of congregations around the globe faithful to this gospel.
The Gospel is the real front line. And the Gospel is what all of us evangelicals are really together for. Whatever conference we may go to.