Churches Together and Ecumenism
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1. The Ideal
At first sight, the Churches Together ideal looks Christ-honouring and Biblical. It seeks the unity that the Lord Jesus himself prayed for as recorded in John 17:20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you ..." See Who we are/whoweare_why_unity_matters.htm
However, in practice any church may join the movement whether they are actually the people Jesus was praying for or not. Even Mormons are members in some areas (and they don't even believe in God really.) The unity expressed by Churches Together is not a unity on the basis of Christianity, but a unity made up of 'Churchianity'.
2. The Non-Biblical Approach
Political parties understand the logic behind strength in numbers. They achieve nothing unless they first achieve unity. All sorts of movements, user groups, clubs etc. can see that "together we stand, divided we fall" - even rock groups (Pink Floyd in this case.) This is what the Apostle Paul calls 'earthly wisdom' II Corinthians 1:12. It is limited, unreliable, and fails to look at things from God's point of view.
3. The Justify-it-from-the-Bible Approach
Recognising that the reasons for uniting with the rest of Churchianity may be happening for worldly reasons, some evangelicals make a beeline for the Bible in an attempt to justify ecumenism. Recently I heard the argument that Paul went into Orthodox Jewish synagogues, therefore we should be prepared to join with liberals, modernists, Romanists etc. in order to share the Gospel. But it should be pointed out that Paul did not engage in an exercise of ecumenism; in no way did he join "Churches Together in Corinth." He went in with all guns blazing:
Acts 13:40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'"
In fact, Paul made himself so unpopular that the local religious groups joined together in an act of surprising unity and tried to kill him: Acts 14:5 There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. Never do we see more unity expressed in the Bible than when people join together to oppose the preaching of the Gospel. If we are faithful to the Gospel, we will invite the criticism of Churches Together, not its friendship.
There is a specific requirement laid upon the leadership of churches that they a) assert the truth of the Gospel, and b) refute anyone who disagrees: Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. This does not mean that we should be rude to people, but if it made the Apostle Paul unpopular, we too should at least expect to be ostracised.
4. The Biblical Approach
The Biblical approach is to seek practical ways of expressing unity with the people whom Jesus was actually praying for in John 17, the ones he accepts as Christians: Rom 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. These are easily recognisable in most cases a) by the fruit they bear and b) by their belief of the true Gospel.
For King Jehoshaphat, the equivalent of joining Churches Together was going to war with King Ahab of the northern kingdom. He narrowly escaped with his life. Ahab did not. Jehoshaphat was roundly condemned for his folly.
II Chronicles 19:1 When Jehoshaphat king of Judah returned safely to his palace in Jerusalem, 2 Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet him and said to the king, "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the wrath of the LORD is upon you.
But the real danger of ecumenism is to those in our churches and towns who are not yet Christians. These are the ones who will be confused by our apparent acceptance of people as Christians who deny the Gospel and ignore the Bible. They will conclude that all churches are the same, that the Gospel is vague or is unimportant, that they do not need to be born again, that they do not need the Bible. Eternal spiritual damage can result. Furthermore, the compromise of the Gospel discourages normal Christians from challenging their friends colleagues and families with the Gospel; it just seems so rude! Surely we must not question whether our Roman Catholic neighbours are true Christians - that would be judgemental, wouldn't it?
Gal 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Well, the Apostle Paul was clearly a very judgemental character, not at all like those nice Churches Together people.
For further reading: Luke 6:26, II John 10, II Corinthians 6:14, Psalm 133.
The FIEC statement on Unity: Gospel Unity (FIEC)
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