As one considers the plethora of "Promise Keeper" rallies there have been in the past few years, as well as all of the unity forums and ecumenical efforts, one simply must wonder how there could be any religious division left in America. How many "lovefests" have occurred in which it has been announced that the sounds the people gathered together were hearing were those old "denominational walls" tumbling down. How many times has Max Lucado oozed forth his false teaching on unity to the delight of emotionally-guided sycophants?
YET THERE'S NO UNITY! First, people left the Southern Baptists because in their conventions some thought they ought to stand for something. When they did, some suggested an exodus to a more moderate, tolerant (translate "spineless") group. No matter what the cause, the idea of standing for what the Bible teaches is viewed as a "risky scheme" by many. Oh, it is easy enough to formulate a statement that harmonizes with the Scriptures and vote on it. But then the news media jumps in, all aghast, and, rather than make a defense, some prefer sidle off the stage of controversy.
Now the Presbyterians are the focus of controversy, and who can predict what havoc their two current conferences will wreak? So far, three issues have arisen. The Dallas Morning News reported on June 9th concerning the first one with this headline: "Some Presbyterians Fear Splintering Over Ordination of Gays" (1G). Just about every different viewpoint has been reported. One "interim pastor" from Austin said: "There's no consensus--no single mind in Christ on these issues" (5G). He advocates "an incomplete resolution."
What is that supposed to mean? "We are resolved that people should either agree or disagree with ordaining homosexuals." Say, there is a middle-of-the-road proposition! The authoritative Word clearly teaches that a person cannot become a child of God if he or she is a practicing homosexual, let alone attempt to teach Christianity to others. It is a sin which must be repented of (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
"I wish we could disagree and still be able to love one another," one delegate said (5G). Love has nothing to do with it. People ought to love as God does--He does not quit loving us when we are wrong. Love and fellowship, however, are two different things. If someone begins to teach the devil's doctrine, God still loves him, but He will no longer fellowship him. Instead, He will call on him to repent. Imagine Paul saying, "Lord, I have decided to quit preaching against sin. I'm going to tell people that fornication, homosexuality, and divorce for every cause are all right." How long would Paul have remained an apostle? When God speaks on a subject, that ends the discussion and any future debate.
Another "pastor" commented: "If they let each presbytery decide whether to ordain gays and lesbians, then what's not to stop them from letting each presbytery decide its own theology?" (5G). Of course, control over all their members is the basis for a denomination in the first place. All of them began with a specific doctrine. Now they have annual conventions to decide what that doctrine is. Of course, if they relied on the Scriptures in the first place, they would neither be a denomination nor have an annual convention.
God never designed the church to decide doctrine. Jesus is the head over the church, and he ordained elders to lead each congregation in the Truth. Men have no authority to invent their own teachings. Those who love God continue even to this day "in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42).
The June 16th headline in The Dallas Morning News was "Delegates Vote To End Presbyterians' Ban on Gay Ministers" (1A). The assembly voted to give each of the 173 presbyteries an opportunity to ratify the proposal during this next year. If the majority does so, their ministers can be openly homosexual. The head of the Presbyterians for Renewal said: "What has crept into the Presbyterian Church is not just a difference of opinion, but unbelief."
He is right. This decision is a rejection of what the Bible teaches. But so is denominationalism itself. One wonders when was the last time that he or other denominational officials were called upon to defend their existence. What passage speaks of the Presbyterian Church? Who were Presbyterians in the Bible? In what passage did Jesus decide to build His church and divide it into various branches? May those who see this General Assembly decision as an assault on faith and the integrity of the Scriptures use it as a springboard to re-examine ALL their practices! May this defeat serve as a catalyst to cause them to return to the Scriptures in all things!
The moderator of the General Assembly "asked the assembly to pause for prayer four times during debate. After the votes were tallied, he asked for silence and another moment of prayer" (20). Is prayer supposed to sanctify the decision? Will prayer somehow take corruption and turn it into purity? Will prayer take error and transform it into truth? Too often people assume that, once they have prayed about something, their decision must have been prompted by the very wisdom of God. No wonder foolishness reigns!
One would think that the General Assembly of Presbyterians would have been worn out over the decision on ordaining homosexuals, but no--they also decided to tackle an even more controversial topic: whether or not to believe John 14:6. Of course, that was not the way they put it. Rather, they voted on "Is Jesus the only way to salvation?" Having already voted down Romans 1 and Jude 7, guess what they decided? According to a June 15th article in The Dallas Morning News, a majority of more than 500 delegates voted against a proposal "that said Jesus is the lone vehicle of salvation" (4A). As one person put it, if salvation does not come through Jesus alone, "who are the other deities we are talking about?" Also, what does John 14:6 mean?
"One side called for tolerance of non-Christian faiths." So what did the other side call for--shooting them? People misunderstand tolerance. Christians can be civil and non-threatening to anyone who is not a Christian: atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc. Tolerance, however, does not mean refusing to tell them that these religions are wrong and that they will be lost in their sins unless they come to God through Jesus. Since when has it been a matter of: "Agree with me, or I'll kill you"? Did the apostles and Christians in the first century go forth with swords to convert the world? No, they were armed with the Gospel. If people cannot be converted with reason and evidence, they will just have to remain part of the majority (Matt. 7:13-14).
One delegate commented: "I don't have the right to say that other people can't find God in other ways." Why not? Jesus said it. People are afraid to speak the truth because of the way the "politically correct" will pillory them. At least when Peter denied the Lord, he feared for his life (he still sinned in so doing), but this individual and others like him are perpetually spineless. Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and for the remainder of his life. He was not ashamed to tell the Jews that they were wrong in crucifying Jesus (which was not a lack of love on his part), nor did he hesitate in saying, "There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). But those who are afraid to say the same thing today demonstrate continual cowardice.
Either Jesus is THE way, or He is not. He is not A way, implying that other "Saviors" may also get people to Heaven. If He is not THE way; then He is NO way. Jesus told people that they were either for Him or against Him (Matt. 12:30). No Scripture says, "I am sort of the way, kind of the truth, and perhaps the life (for some)." Denominations have been insisting, in response to criticism of their existence, "We are all just trying to get to Heaven. We're just traveling different roads." They should not be surprised that some are now willing to let some of those other roads belong to various "world religions." Pluralism is making great headway. Even the columnist acknowledged this fact and said that once a question such as this one would have been a "no-brainer."
One "Senior Pastor" here in Dallas commented on this decision. He accused the General Assembly of exercising "creative unbelief." (The Dallas Morning News, June 23, 28A). After stating that Jesus is the only path to salvation, he commented: "Every once in a while we have a General Assembly that, unhooked from its Biblical/theological moorings, kicks against the goads...." He concludes by saying that "it truly is a sad day in the life of the Presbyterian Church USA." Unbelief is an appropriate designation for doctrines that oppose the Scriptures. Again, the very concept of denominationalism unhooks people from their Biblical moorings.
Heretofore we have been discussing recent events occurring in the Presbyterian Church USA. Meeting the week following this group was the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). According to The Dallas Morning News, the "more conservative PCA is the smaller of the country's two main Presbyterian denominations" (June 16, 5G). The PCA is slightly more than 10% of the PCUSA. For those who are wondering about the difference, the smaller group would not currently even consider ordaining homosexuals; they also do not believe in ordaining women as "pastors."
They follow the Westminster Confession of Faith which states: "It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost...in the beginning to create...the world...in the space of six days; and all was very good.Ó This smaller group is now debating whether the days of Genesis are literal or not. Theoretically, they must also be debating whether or not their Confession of Faith also meant six literal days.
Last year their General Assembly decided that there were four possible interpretations to the means by which God created the world. The article does not state what they are, beyond mentioning the literal and the figurative. Presumably there is a "gap" theory in there somewhere and perhaps even a "modified gap" theory. None of these, except the literal, is correct. The rest came into being to try to accommodate evolution, which some mistakenly thought had been proved. Yet after 142 years since Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species, evolution remains an unsubstantiated theory, and the numbers in Genesis are still literal.
A day may stand for more than a twenty-four hour period of time in the Bible, but not when it is preceded by words such as first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. Day is not used figuratively when it has an evening and a morning, either. Exodus 20:11 is not the least ambiguous as it explains the reason for the fourth commandment, keeping the Sabbath day holy: "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."
There is not one reason ever given in the Biblical text to doubt that these were six literal days. If someone wanted to convey the idea that these were six literal days, what more could have been written toward that end? How many Israelites ever doubted that it was six literal days? Only when evolution demanded eons of time did anyone ever consider any other explanation. But all alternate explanations are vain because this truth is so well established in the Scriptures. It is strange that a "conservative" group that believes the Bible is inspired would question this teaching.
So what have we seen about unity? Unity can exist in one of two ways: 1) By regarding the Bible as it is in truth--the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), or 2) By disregarding the Bible and any doctrine whatsoever. This last method is advanced by Rubel Shelly, Max Lucado and others. Forget any specific Bible teaching; let's just affirm our love for each other. Hugs can hide a multitude of instructions.
The problem with unity rallies is that they only last so long as people do not attend worship anywhere on a regular basis. Sooner or later, somebody is going to insist that the Bible be studied, and then there will be disunity. There are already two large groups of Presbyterians. Members of the denomination cannot get along with each other: hence, two groups. But they cannot get along with each other, either. The larger group just resolved to ordain homosexuals; some will rebel against that. They refused to uphold that Jesus is THE way to eternal life, and some are upset about that. The more conservative group is debating the literalness of Genesis 1. If there are four interpretations, and all of them are equally acceptable, that is tantamount to saying that we cannot know the Truth.
See what a problem doctrine is? No wonder unity meetings are about feeling good. Thinking would kill them. No wonder shallow messages are gaining in popularity and people prefer entertainment to reason and analysis. The minute something of substance is taught, disagreement erupts.
How did Jesus deal with this problem? He chose substance. What about when people disagreed with Him? He showed them where they were wrong and what the Truth was (Matt. 22). "But He didn't unite all of them," someone observes. Sure He did. He united them against Himself and His disciples. Unity is desirable, but Truth is paramount. Jesus would have united all of Israel if He could have; it was His devout wish (Matt. 23:37). But Truth (doctrine) is more important--even if disunity results and prevails.
Only a few will choose to walk in Truth. The rest will reject it--because of tradition (Matt. 15:1-9), immorality (2 Peter 2), the desire to have their own following (Acts 20:30), peer pressure (Matt. 26:69-75), lukewarmness (Rev. 3:15-16), or because they have lost their first love (Rev. 2:4). All of them will have to live eternally with their decision.
So long as doctrine thrives, there will be division among God's people. Even man-made denominations cannot avoid it. It is simply a fact of spiritual life. We do not rejoice in division, but we do rejoice in the Truth and in the God who revealed it to us. Only those who love Him will experience true unity forever.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "HOW DOCTRINE DISRUPTS UNITY (7/8/01)."