In an age of ecumenicalism, where religious people are arguing that we are to be known by our love and not our doctrinal purity, and religious and secular people are arguing that we need to come together around a common agenda so as to maximize our ability to achieve it, serious believers are confronted with a serious set of questions. To what degree do we enter the "social" and "political" scene in order to cooperate with unbelievers to achieve our objectives for our nation and society? To what degree do we enter the "religious" scene in all of its plurality of religious persuasions in order to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ? To what degree do we import the culture in order to gain a hearing from those caught in it? This paper will be an attempt to draw some boundaries around the answers to these and related questions.
In dealing with the issue of "answers to questions", the first consideration to which we must turn our minds is the question of authority. Who has a sufficiently demonstrated expertise in wisdom to give us confidence that if we go with his/her answers, we will not be embarking upon a course that will eventually be proven to be so hopeless that we must jump ship and hope for a rescue from the cold dark waters of the reality in which we find ourselves?
When a marksman sets up his rifle to take aim at a far distant target, one of the factors that he must take into consideration is the direction and force of the wind. The further his target is from the muzzle of his gun, the further from dead center on his target will his bullet be if he ignores the wind.
A better example is what we know from space exploration. In this area, distances are so great that an exceedingly small error in aim at the beginning will result in an enormously significant error at the end. A hairbreadth error at the point of takeoff will result in countless miles of error at the point of the final objective. Men have shown their inadequacies in the demands of this reality to the point that they almost invariably build their rockets with engines on board that can be fired in route to make corrections to stay on a course that will bring them to their destination.
My point is simply this: when men clamor to be heard for their "wisdom" so that they may be the ones who decide the course that will be adopted to achieve the objective, the question needs to be raised as to whether they have a demonstrated track record that is long enough to determine the trajectory that their decisions will establish. The sad fact is that the further we go in American Christianity, the more voices we are hearing and the further from true wisdom we are getting.
No one has the kind of wisdom that is necessary unless they get it from the God of wisdom. And no one gets this wisdom by ignoring both sides of His counsel. He has counseled love and long suffering and patience and diligence in the pursuit of unity. But He has also counseled discipline and limits to tolerance and clear-cut rejection and deliberate separation. The rather typical approach that has made great, though illegitimate, strides in our days is the approach that pits one set of the principles of counsel against the other set. Many of those who are for unity quote all of the unity passages and try to imply that anyone who sounds a cautionary note is simply an obstructionist. And many of those who are for separation quote all of the separatist passages and try to imply that anyone who appeals for tolerance is simply an emotionalist. There is only one way to arrive at the God-pleasing practice of the Truth and that is to bring our practice into harmony with both sides of the divine counsel...not an easy ideal to achieve, but an essential one toward which to strive.
It is also true that, not only does no one have the kind of wisdom we need except those who get it from God, neither does anyone get the kind of wisdom God has to share unless they get it by His Spirit from His Word. We live in days of rampant and unbridled mysticism where people are constantly claiming that the voices in their head are the voices of God's Spirit. Many of these same people bemoan the insensitivity of their brethren to the Spirit as they are "led" to do whatever it is that they are led to do that their brethren are not led to do. The sad thing about this mysticism is that it is being used to denigrate the Word of God and to compromise the authority of an objective revelation. Not only does it lead to clear violations of the Biblical instruction, it gives the violators an immunity from guilt in their disobedience because they are "hearing the voice" of God in their heads. What is true of the issue of separation/unity is also true of the issue of mysticism/objective revelation: there are two sides to the issue. There is the issue of the indwelling of the Spirit and the issue of the objective and unchangeable revelation of the written Word. If we get into the "Word" so heavily that we remove our sensitivities from the "Spirit", we will be off target in our conclusions; but, by the same token, if we get into the "Spirit" so far that we remove our minds from the "Word", we will be off target in our conclusions.
The wisdom we need will come by the Spirit through the Word. This means that the First Boundary is going to be the objective revelation coupled with the indwelling Illuminator. If we draw legitimate conclusions about unity and separation, they will have the stamp of the Spirit's Love and the Word's Truth. If we allow a distorted compassion to move us beyond the Spirit's love we will be in disobedience to the Word's Truth. If we allow our distorted intellect to move us beyond the Word's Truth we will be in violation of the Spirit's Love.
The bottom line at the point of this boundary is that we must obey what is authoritatively written and spiritually illumined.
Next, when we go to the Word and seek to be illumined by the Spirit, one of the first issues that arises is the fact that a very major difference arose in God's dealings with humanity at the time when Christ departed from the world and sent His Spirit to take His place as the divine Paraclete.
The first aspect of this major difference was the divine departure from the theocratic nationalism which He had instilled into Israel for a millennium and a half. This departure was signaled at the Spirit's descent by the phenomenon of men of a common language, which separated them from other nations and cultures, suddenly speaking, by the Spirit, the languages of the other nations and cultures [Acts 2].
This was a divine signal that what had happened at Babel was being reversed by the proclamation of the Gospel. At Babel God had separated men into distinctive units according to linguistic abilities, but with the coming of the Spirit-imparted Gospel, men were to be melded into a cohesive unity in Christ where there would no longer be a legitimate basis for disunity on the basis of language, culture, gender, or economic diversity.
One of the immediate consequences of this divine departure was the cessation of a legitimate application of theocratic principles to an international brotherhood in Christ. In other words, a vast portion of the authoritative, objective Revelation which God had formerly given to a national theocracy was no longer immediately relevant to an international Body of Christ which had no national borders, no intended geographical land, and no vested interest in attempting to create an earthly kingdom. The Church was born with a non-theocratic agenda.
This meant that God had moved the kettle of theocratic soup to the back burner. He is not currently interested in attempting to set up, or maintain, an earthly nation of holy people who would be a national example to other nations and peoples. He is now primarily interested in bringing together a spiritual Body of holy sons and daughters from every kindred, nation, tongue, and tribe and schooling them for their positions of service in His eternal kingdom.
The significance of this is that we now have the Second Boundary: Christians are not supposed to be primarily investing in attempting to make their nation a "godly nation". This reality undercuts an enormous amount of the striving of so-called biblical people who are erroneously calling Second Chronicles 7:14 a divine promise to the people of God in this age. This reality also undercuts an enormous number of the calls for "unity around a common secular agenda" which abound particularly in the United States, but have no essential reality in the vast majority of the rest of the world. It is not Christian if it will only work in the United States. True Christianity will work in any place and at any time in the world that men of faith are willing to walk by the Spirit and the Word. But, true Christianity cannot work where the spirit of compromise for a common secular agenda stifles the willingness and ability of the people of God to tell their neighbors the Truth.
The point is this: God has told us to tell our lost friends and neighbors that they are lost and that He will save them. If we are too committed to unity around a secular goal, we will tend very strongly to make light of differences in beliefs in order to keep the unity going. This effectively shuts down the witness of the Gospel in the name of "unity". It is true that if we "harp" on sin and salvation, those who refuse to hear it will not want to cooperate with us at any level and our so-called "unity" will be undercut. It is also true that God has called us to harp on sin and salvation because even if we make our society better and better but its people plunge into Hell as their experience of it comes to an end we will not have truly helped them.
Some have said that this approach makes us "so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good." However the truth is that if we are not this heavenly minded about the true needs of our friends and neighbors, we are no earthly good. Instead of being so heavenly minded we are no earthly good, we have become so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly good.
The Second Boundary stands: we have no biblical or Spirit-based foundations for the improvement of this world as a primary agenda. We have only an agenda to build the Church of Jesus Christ through effective evangelism and fruitful edification in all the nations of the world. That this will have a beneficial side-effect on the cultures and the nations is granted if the number of believers grows sufficiently, but that is not our calling nor our primary interest.
Very recently [June 14, 1999] a publication of "The Gospel of Jesus Christ" has been undertaken by a leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today]. The authors of this particular slant on the Gospel have attempted to say both what is and is not the Gospel. In their attempt they have established that they believe that there is a Gospel that has a specific identity and they have claimed that their understanding of that Gospel is the only understanding that will enable men and women and children to come into possession of God's gift of eternal life. This is an example of the Third Boundary: a common understanding of our theological roots.
Truth is. It has a specific identity with specific boundaries and precepts. Anything outside of its precepts and boundaries is false.
Lies kill. Faith in falsehood leads us down paths that are determined for our destruction. The Objective Revelation of God calls such falsehoods "doctrines of demons". It is not unloving to call them what they are. Just because men propagate them with apparent sincerity and visible compassion does not remove them from their God-given characterization of being demon inspired.
Those who are unwilling to buy into a certain specificity to Truth are simply acknowledging that they cannot achieve their agenda by drawing specific lines between themselves and others. It should be clear that this constitutes an elevation of their agenda above God's. That is demonic. It is not unloving to call it that. The loving Spirit of the loving God called it that.
Since Truth is and lies kill, it ought to follow that the progress of the Truth is hindered when it is weighed down with the burden of association with lies. If the wagon is loaded with one truth and four hundred lies, no one will be able to find the truth when the wagon is off-loaded. On the other hand if the wagon is loaded with four hundred truths and one lie, the single lie, depending upon how well it has inserted itself into the package and depending upon how crucial it is to the makeup of the package, may not do a lot of damage. But its presence is much like a computer virus that has its orders to replicate and invade and destroy. That is the essential agenda of a lie. This fact on its own ought to make us unwilling to compromise any truth that we know to be true.
In our generation we have seen the liberal association of the Gospel with multiple lies in the name of ecumenical unity. As a consequence, it now appears to be necessary to print a clear statement of the Gospel so that people can sign on or off to it. This should never have happened. The very fact that such a printed statement has at last been deemed necessary is an indictment of the leaders of the people of God who have allowed enough drift to set in that people are actually confused as to the true content of the Gospel that saves us from our sins. This drift has been caused by accommodation to the lies of the culture and the conversion of our God given agenda into the American Christian Dream of success in terms of nickels and noses. In the American Perversion, it is inconceivable to those at the highest levels of agenda-influence that true Christianity might be so unpopular to the culture that the true Gospel will not attract enough nickels and noses to make a significant statement about success. No one seems to take notice of the obvious: Jesus died in disgrace and without a large following; and Paul had to write, at the end of his ministry, "all have abandoned me". How is it that we think that we have a superior method to that of Jesus or Paul? Why is it that we strive to be recognized in the culture when Jesus plainly said the world would hate any who are faithful to the Truth?
But in spite of all of this, the Third Boundary is real: we cannot hope to associate with lies and keep the Truth from being corrupted and, therefore, inaccessible to the lost around us. The need to print a statement of the Gospel at this late date should stand as obvious evidence that we have ignored this third boundary for far too long.
In the wisdom of God, He has deemed it necessary that each individual grow in wisdom and understanding rather than simply being made instantly perfect in wisdom at the point of conversion.
Though it is the wisdom of God, it has not made our task easy. The plain fact is that no two people on the planet see eye to eye on everything and, further, no two people on the planet are ever going to see eye to eye in everything in this life. All of us are deeply committed to both some truths and some lies that we think are true. None of us has done the "Eureka! I've Found It!" thing in theology or in any other discipline of true knowledge. We are all in process. This makes for a great deal of tension between us. We are pulled toward each other by truth and we are pushed away from each other by lies and we often do not know which is which. So we batter each other a great deal. This is inescapable reality.
But as a Fourth Boundary, it calls on us to do two very difficult things simultaneously: we are to believe firmly in what we see as truth; and we are to strive to be willing to listen to those whose views seem to us to be obvious lies. It is hard to listen when we are already convinced! But it is our calling because we are all in-process and, if the truth be known, we are all currently believing some lies as though they were truth. The humility of a convinced listener is a desperately needed quality. Why do not more of us have it? Probably because we have lost the sense of the depravity of our neighbor and ourselves.
At any rate, this Fourth Boundary requires that we not be too aggressive in drawing lines. Some hard and fast lines are absolutely necessary, but some extraordinary tolerance and patience are also absolutely necessary.
Our Objective Revelation is adamant about our separation from any so-called brother or sister who is living contrary to the basic morality that is emphasized in It. It tells us in plain words to rebuke a brother or sister who sins and excommunicate from our fellowship any brother or sister who refuses to repent once he has been rebuked and taken through the process of a fair hearing by the Church.
There is very little wiggle room in the words. We must do it or become disobedient ourselves. Bad company corrupts good morals and willing acceptance of morally corrupt practice in the name of tolerance has already corrupted much of visible Christianity to the point that we probably cannot extricate ourselves at this late date without deciding to walk a very lonesome path. But then we have to answer the question of whether we would rather be relatively lonesome and faithful to God or relatively popular and unfaithful.
These are not the only boundaries that can be used to draw legitimate lines around the Truth in order to make it clear enough that the lost can understand the difference, but they are critical ones. We have an Authority before which every serious disciple of the Truth must learn to yield. We have an Agenda that cares not one whit for all of our striving to have the good life at the expense of God's program. We have a Gospel that does not need to be soft pedaled so that we can retain our enemy's good graces. We are in process so that we need to give one another some space, but we do not need to grant so much space that the Truth can no longer be discerned by reason of our tolerance. And we have a basic biblical morality that true disciples will enforce within the Church in spite of the lawsuits and other kinds of intimidating screeching that the culture and false brethren will mount. There is no excuse for where we have come, but there might actually be a way back to where we left the path.