Category Archives: Fundamentalism

The Greatest Tragedy of Modern Ecumenism

Peter’s warnings in the second chapter of 2 Peter are a potent reminder that false teachers will come from within the Church and turn many away from holy living and pure doctrine. While the warnings are not particularly enjoyable to read, they do serve as necessary warnings against what has happened in the past and will happen in the future. The Old Testament believers and the early Church faced false teachers. Our current generation is also being influenced by false teachers. Because of this, we do well to heed Peter’s warnings and to speak out against false doctrine and those who propagate it.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.1

This morning, I came across this commentary on 2 Peter 2:1-3 by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones which was originally published between 1948 and 1950. He was a Welsh pastor known for his understanding of the Scriptures and his opposition to liberal Christianity. When Lloyd-Jones wrote his commentary on 2 Peter, some were calling for unity without purity of doctrine. With the warnings of 2 Peter 2 in mind, he wrote these warnings about ecumenism.

The whole emphasis at the moment is that we should all be getting together and forming great organizations. The concern is not so much as to the truth of the message, but to gather ourselves together into one great community. The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied reiteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy, as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If we were all brought together and formed into one organization, that is no guarantee that the message preached would be true. There are false teachers; there were in the Old Testament and there are and always have been in the church.2

The modern ecumenical movement leads to a minimizing of doctrinal differences for the alleged greater good of the Church. Sadly, this idea leads instead to a steady decline of doctrinal purity. While we should seek unity amongst our Christian brothers when possible, unity must always proceed from pure doctrine and practice. As Peter points out in his second epistle, there is too much at stake. So, take heed to his warning and guard yourself against the false teaching that has pulled so many people down. Remember what God has done for you (2 Pet. 1:1-4), diligently add godly character to your faith (2 Pet. 1:5-11), and follow the divinely inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:12-21) as you seek to guard yourself from anything that would pull you away from the Lord.


1Scripture quotation of 2 Peter 2:1-3 was taken from the NASB.

2D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, 2 Peter, (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 128-29.

Curse, strike, and pull out their hair!

Most people are familiar with Nehemiah’s leadership in getting the wall of Jerusalem built despite opposition. I have heard a number of sermons about working together, persevering, and standing up against opposition. But when is the last time you heard a sermon about cursing, striking, and pulling out the hair of sinful people in your church from Nehemiah 13?

In the context, Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem to find the people returning to their ungodly ways. He found Tobiah living in the temple, people disregarding the Sabbath, and Jewish people married to Philistines, Ammonites, and Moabites. Nehemiah’s response to the first problem was to throw Tobiah’s belongings out of the temple and demand that the priests cleanse the room and start using it for its intended purpose (13:4-9). The second situation was handled by warning the people, contending with the nobles, and warning the merchants that he would “lay hands on them” if they returned on the Sabbath (13:15-22). (I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinking ordination.)

Up to this point, we all are with Nehemiah. The people needed to be straightened out and he found a way to do that. But what about the way he handled the third problem? When Nehemiah found that certain Israelites had married Philistines, Ammonites, and Moabites, he “contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear” not to do it anymore. Hmm… I think most people would rather overlook what happened here. Wasn’t Nehemiah a bit overzealous? Maybe not.

Are there not some things so important that extreme measures must be taken? In Nehemiah’s case, the answer would be yes. Think context here. The people of Israel and Judah had been sent into captivity under God’s curse because they rejected him and the Law. For seventy years, they had been captive in Babylon because of their sins against God. And now that the people had been given permission to return to the land, they quickly forgot the past. This was a big deal not only to Nehemiah but to God. What were the people thinking? Did they want God’s judgment to fall on them again? This is why Nehemiah’s reaction was so strong.

Should Christians do the same? Should we pronounce a curse on, strike, and pull out the hair of Christians who choose to return to their former sins? No, I don’t think so. But I do think that we should take a greater offense to sin than we normally do. Like Nehemiah we should view sin as a great wickedness against God. And when we see other Christians living in such a way as to anger him and influence others to sin, we should speak out and respond in such a way that shows the offender and those in the Church how serious his sin is. I’m not sure we do much of that anymore. Perhaps our desire to distance ourselves from the fighting fundamentalists of the past has taken the sting out of sin. Perhaps our emphasis on God’s love has led to license. And perhaps we need a few more Nehemiahs to shake things up.

Redefining Fundamentalism?

Several years ago, there was a push to redefine fundamentalism. Some within the movement were unhappy with the direction and character of past generations for a variety of reasons. Past fundamentalists were defined as too separated, too concerned with outward appearances, and too strident. Some of the younger fundamentalists chose to define fundamentalism as those who were willing to do battle royal for the fundamentals. The focus on the fundamentals was a good thing except that it ignored the other battles that had been fought during the 20th century.

Last night during our prayer meeting service, the Lord brought to mind a message preached at an ACCC meeting in Parma, Ohio several years ago. The speaker was Dr. E. Allen Griffith and his message, “The Impact of Contemporary Evangelism on the Faith“, pointed out some of the concerns several of us had about the new direction. Click on the link above and let me know what you think.

The Current Battle in Fundamentalism

A few days ago, Don Johnson posted a thoughtful article about the current battle in fundamentalism. After talking about the past battles against modernism and new evangelicalism, he sums up the current battle with this paragraph:

There is, however, a current battle. The current battle is the battle over culture. Some younger fundamentalists (and the conservative evangelicals) seem to be articulating a position that only battles over theology are legitimate, no one can do battle over non-theological matters. As long as doctrine is orthodox, there is no remaining conflict. Culture, as a neutral object, or at least as an insignificant object, must not become the focus of division. But is this challenge non-theological?

I have been thinking about the current trends in fundamentalism and found his article a refreshing perspective. Read the complete article and his conclusion at www.proclaimanddefend.org/2013/05/29/culture-is-the-battleground.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 3

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.


Click here to read Part 2.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 3
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

Time would fail us to speak of Athanasius and of Augustine and the rest, but they too were God’s instruments in the preservation of the precious salt. Certainly the attack in those days was subtle enough almost to deceive the very elect. Grant the Semi-Arians their one letter in homoiousios, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, and Christ would have been degraded to the level of a creature, mythology would have been substituted for the living God, and the victory of paganism would have been complete. From the human point of view the life of the Church was hanging by a hair. But God was watching over his own; Athanasius stood against the world; and the precious salt was preserved.

Then came the Middle Ages. How long and how dark, in some respects, was the time! It is hard to realize that eleven centuries elapsed between Augustine and Luther, yet such was the case. Never in the interval, indeed, was God altogether without his witnesses; the light still shone from the sacred page; but how dim, in that atmosphere, the light seemed to be! The Gospel might have seemed to be buried forever. Yet in God’s good time it came forth again with new power-the same Gospel that Augustine and Paul had proclaimed. What stronger proof could there be that that Gospel had come from God? Where in the history of religion is there any parallel for such a revival, after such an interval, and with such a purity of faithfulness to what had formerly been believed? A Gospel that survived the Middle Ages will probably, it may well be hoped, never perish from the earth, but will be the word of life unto the end of the world.

Yet in those early years of the sixteenth century how dark was the time! When Luther made his visit to Rome, what did he find-what did he find there in the centre of the Christian world? He found paganism blatant and triumphant and unashamed; he found the glories of ancient Greece come to life in the Italian Renaissance, but with those glories the self-sufficiency and the rebellion against the God and the moral degradation of the natural man. Apparently paganism had at last won its age-long battle; apparently it had made a clean sweep over the people of God; apparently the Church had at last become quite indistinguishable from the world.

But in the midst of the general wreck one thing at least was preserved. Many things were lost, but one thing was still left-the medieval Church had never lost the Word of God. The Bible had indeed become a book with seven seals; it had been buried under a mass of misinterpretation never equaled perhaps until the absurdities indulged in by the Modernism of the present day-a mass of misinterpretation which seemed to hide it from the eyes of men. But at last an Augustinian monk penetrated beneath the mass of error, read the Scriptures with his own eyes, and the Reformation was born. Thus again was the precious salt preserved.

Then came Calvin and the great consistent system which he founded upon the Word of God. How glorious were even the by-products of that system of revealed truth; a great stream of liberty spread from Geneva throughout Europe and to America across the sea. But if the by-products were glorious, more glorious by far was the truth itself, and the life that it caused men to live. How sweet and beautiful a thing was the life of the Protestant Christian home, where the Bible was the sole guide and stay! Have we really devised a substitute for that life in these latter days? I think not, my friends. There was liberty there, and love, and peace with God.

But the Church after the Reformation was not to have any permanent rest, as indeed it is probably not to have rest at any time in this evil world. Still the conflict of the ages went on, and paganism prepared for an assault greater and more insidious perhaps than any that had gone before. At first there was a frontal attack-Voltaire and Rousseau and the Goddess Reason and the terrors of the French Revolution and all that. As will always be the case, such an attack was bound to fail. But the enemy has now changed his method, and the attack is coming, not from without, but in far more dangerous fashion, from within. During the past one hundred years the Protestant churches of the world have gradually been becoming permeated by paganism in its most insidious form.

Click here for Part 4

The Separateness of the Church — Part 4

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.


Click here to read Part 3.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 4
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

Sometimes paganism is blatant, as, for example, in a recent sermon in the First Presbyterian Church of New York, the burden of which was, “I Believe in Man.” That was the very quintessence of the pagan spirit-confidence in human resources substituted for the Christian consciousness of sin. But what was there blatant is found in subtler forms in many places throughout the Church. The Bible, with a complete abandonment of all scientific historical method and of all common sense, is made to say the exact opposite of what it means; no Gnostic, no medieval monk with his fourfold sense of Scripture, ever produced more absurd Biblical interpretation than can be heard every Sun day in the pulpits of New York. Even prayer in many quarters is made a thinly disguised means of propaganda against the truth of the Gospel; men pray that there may be peace, where peace means victory for the enemies of Christ. Thus gradually the Church is being permeated by the spirit of the world; it is becoming what the Auburn Affirmationists call an “inclusive” church; it is becoming salt that has lost its savor and is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

At such a time, what should be done by those who love Christ? I think, my friends, that they should at least face the facts; I do not believe that they should bury their heads like ostriches in the sand; I do not think that they should soothe themselves with the minutes of the General Assembly or the reports of the Boards or the imposing rows of figures which the church papers contain. Last week it was reported that the churches of America increased their membership by 690,000. Are you encouraged by these figures? I for my part am not encouraged a bit. I have indeed my own grounds for encouragement, especially those which are found in the great and precious promises of God. But these figures have no place among them. How many of these 690,000 names do you think are really written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? A small proportion, I fear. Church membership today often means nothing more, as has well been said, than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus; churches in countless communities are little more than Rotary Clubs. One day, as I was walking through a neighboring city, I saw not an altar with an inscription to an unknown god, but something that filled me with far more sorrow than that could have done. I saw a church with a large sign on it, which read somewhat like this: “Not a member? Come and help us make this a better community.” Truly we have wandered far from the day when entrance into the Church involved confession of faith in Christ as the Savior from sin.

The trust is that in these days the ecclesiastical currency has been sadly debased. Church membership, church office, the ministry, no longer mean what they ought to mean. But what shall we do? I think, my friends, that, cost what it may, we ought at least to face the facts. It will be hard; it will seem impious to timid souls; many will be hurt. But in God’s name let us get rid of shams and have reality at last. Let us stop soothing ourselves with columns of statistics, and face the spiritual facts; let us recall this paper currency and get back to a standard of gold.

When we do that, and when we come to God in prayer-with the real facts spread before Him, as Hezekiah spread before him the letter of the enemy-there will be some things to cheer our hearts. God has not left himself altogether without his witnesses. Humble they may often be, and despised by the wisdom of the world; but they are not perhaps altogether without the favor of God. In China, in Great Britain, and in America there have been some who have raised their voices bravely for their Savior and Lord.

True, the forces of unbelief have not yet been checked, and none can say whether our own American Presbyterian church, which we love so dearly, will be preserved. It may be that paganism will finally control and that Christian men and women may have to withdraw from a church that has lost its distinctness from the world. Once in the course of history, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, that method of withdrawal was God’s method of preserving the precious salt. But it may be also that our Church in its corporate capacity, in its historic grandeur, may yet stand for Christ. God grant that it may be so! The future at any rate is in God’s hand, and in some way or other-let us learn that much from history-the salt will be preserved.

What are you going to do, my brothers, in this great time of crisis? What a time it is to be sure! What a time of glorious opportunity! Will you stand with the world? Will you shrink from controversy? Will you witness for Christ only where witnessing costs nothing? Will you pass through these stirring days without coming to any real decision? Or will you learn the lesson of Christian history? Will you penetrate, by your study and your meditation, beneath the surface? Will you recognize in that which prides itself on being modern an enemy that is as old as the hills? Will you hope, and pray, not for a mere continuance of what now is, but for a rediscovery of the Gospel that can make all things new? Will you have recourse to the charter of Christian liberty in the Word of God? God grant that some of you may do that! God grant that some of you, even though you be not now decided, may come to say, as you go forth into the world: “It is hard in these days to be a Christian; the adversaries are strong; I am weak; but thy Word is true and thy Spirit will be with me; here am I, Lord, send me.”

The Separateness of the Church — Part 2

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.


Click here to read Part 1.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 2
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

But after those persecutions, there came in the early Church a time of peace-deadly, menacing, deceptive peace, a peace more dangerous by far than the bitterest war. Many of the sect of the Pharisees came into the Church-false brethren privily brought in. These were not true Christians, because they trusted in their own works for salvation, and no man can be a Christian who does that. They were not even true adherents of the old covenant; for the old covenant, despite the Law, was a preparation for the Saviour’s coming, and the Law was a schoolmaster unto Christ. Yet they were Christians in name, and they tried to dominate the councils of the Church. It was a serious menace; for a moment it looked as though even Peter, true apostle though he was at heart, were being deceived. His principles were right, but by his actions his principles, at Antioch, for one fatal moment, were belied. But it was not God’s will that the Church should perish; and the man of the hour was there. There was one man who would not consider consequences where a great principle was at stake, who put all personal considerations resolutely aside and refused to be come unfaithful to Christ through any fear of “splitting the Church.” “When I saw that they walked not uprightly,” said Paul, “according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all….” Thus was the precious salt preserved.

But from another side also the Church was menaced by the blandishments of the world; it was menaced not only by a false Judaism, which really meant opposition of man’s self-righteousness to the mysterious grace of God, but also by the all-embracing paganism of that day. When the Pauline churches were planted in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world, the battle was not ended but only begun. Would the little spark of new life be kept alive? Certainly it might have seemed to be unlikely in the extreme. The converts were for the most part not men of independent position, but slaves and humble tradesmen; they were bound by a thousand ties to the paganism of their day. How could they possibly avoid being drawn away by the current of the time? The danger certainly was great, and when Paul left an infant church like that at Thessalonica his heart was full of dread.

But God was faithful to his promise, and the first word that came from that infant church was good. The wonder had actually been accomplished; the converts were standing firm; they were in the world but not of the world; their distinctness was kept. In the midst of pagan impurity they were living true Christian lives. But why were they living true Christian lives? That is the really important question. And the answer is plain. They were living Christian lives because they were devoted to Christian truth. “Ye turned to God,” says Paul, “from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” That was the secret of their Christian lives; their Christian lives were founded upon Christian doc trine-upon theism (“the living and true God”), upon Christology (“his Son . . . whom he raised from the dead”), and upon soteriology (“which delivered us from the wrath to come”). They kept the message intact, and hence they lived the life. So it will always be. Lives apparently and superficially Christian can perhaps sometimes be lived by force of habit, without being based upon Christian truth; but that will never do when Christian living, as in pagan Thessalonica, goes against the grain. But in the case of the Thessalonian converts the message was kept intact, and with it the Christian life. Thus again was the precious salt preserved.

The same conflict is observed in more detail in the case of Corinth. What a city Corinth was to be sure, and how unlikely a place for a Christian church! The address of Paul’s first epistle is, as Bengel says, a mighty paradox. “To the Church of God which is at Corinth”-that was a paradox indeed. And in the First Epistle to the Corinthians we have attested in all its fullness the attempt of paganism, not to combat the Church by a frontal attack, but to conquer it by the far deadlier method of merging it gradually and peacefully with the life of the world. Those Corinthian Christians were connected by many ties with the pagan life of their great city. What should they do about clubs and societies; what should they do about invitations to dinners where meat that had been offered to idols was set before the guests? What should they do about marriage and the like? These were practical questions, but they involved the great principle of the distinctness and exclusiveness of the Church. Certainly the danger was very great; the converts were in great danger, from the human point of view, of sinking back into the corrupt life of the world.

But the conflict was not merely in the sphere of conduct. More fundamentally it was in the sphere of thought. Paganism in Corinth was far too astute to think that Christian life could be attacked when Christian doctrine remained. And so pagan practice was promoted by an appeal to pagan theory; the enemy engaged in an attempt to sublimate or explain away the fundamental things of the Christian faith. Somewhat after the manner of the Auburn “Affirmationists” in our day, paganism in the Corinthian church sought to substitute the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul for the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection. But God had his witness; the apostle Paul was not deceived; and in a great passage-the most important words, historically, perhaps, that have ever been penned-he reviewed the sheer factual basis of the Christian faith. “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” There is the foundation of the Christian edifice. Paganism was gnawing away-not yet directly, but by ultimate implication-at that foundation in Corinth, as it has been doing so in one way or another ever since, and particularly in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America just at the present time. But Paul was there, and many of the five hundred witnesses were still alive. The Gospel message was kept distinct, in the Pauline churches, from the wisdom of the world; the precious salt was still preserved.

Then, in the second century, there came another deadly conflict. It was again a conflict not with an enemy without, but with an enemy within. The Gnostics used the name of Christ; they tried to dominate the Church; they appealed to the epistles of Paul. But despite their use of Christian language they were pagan through and through. Modern scholarship, on this point, has tended to confirm the judgment of the great orthodox writers of that day; Gnosticism was at bottom no mere variety of Christian belief, no mere heresy, but paganism masquerading in Christian dress. Many were deceived; the danger was very great. But it was not God’s will that the Church should perish. Irenaeus was there, and Tertullian with his vehement defence. The Church was saved-not by those who cried “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” but by zealous contenders for the faith. Again, out of a great danger, the precious salt was preserved.

Click here to read Part 3

The Separateness of the Church — Part 1

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.


The Separateness of the Church — Part 1
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

Matthew 5:13: Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

In these words our Lord established at the very beginning the distinctness and separateness of the Church. If the sharp distinction is ever broken down between the Church and the world, then the power of the Church is gone. The Church then becomes like salt that has lost its savor, and is fit only to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

It is a great principle, and there never has been a time in all the centuries of Christian history when it has not had to be taken to heart. The really serious attack upon Christianity has not been the attack carried on by fire and sword, by the threat of bonds or death, but it has been the more subtle attack that has been masked by friendly words; it has been not the attack from without but the attack from within. The enemy has done his deadliest work when he has come with words of love and compromise and peace. And how persistent the attack has been! Never in the centuries of the Church’s life has it been altogether relaxed; always there has been the deadly chemical process, by which, if it had been unchecked, the precious salt would have been merged with the insipidity of the world, and would have been henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

The process began at the very beginning, in the days when our Lord still walked the Galilean hills. There were many in those days who heard him gladly; he enjoyed at first the favor of the people. But in that favor he saw a deadly peril; he would have nothing of a half-discipleship that meant the merging of the company of his disciples with the world. How ruthlessly he checked a sentimental enthusiasm! “Let the dead bury their dead,” he told the enthusiast who came eagerly to him but was not willing at once to forsake all. “One thing thou lackest,” he said to the rich young ruler, and the young man went sorrowfully away. Truly Jesus did not make it easy to be a follower of him. “He that is not with me,” he said, “is against me.” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children…, he cannot be my disciple.” How serious a thing it was in those days to stand for Christ!

And it was a serious thing not only in the sphere of conduct but also in the sphere of thought. There could be no greater mistake than to suppose that a man in those days could think as he liked and still be a follower of Jesus. On the contrary the offence lay just as much in the sphere of doctrine as in the sphere of life. There were “hard sayings,” then as now, to be accepted by the disciples of Jesus, as well as hard commands. “I am the bread which came down from heaven,” said Jesus. It was indeed a hard saying. No wonder the Jews murmured at him. “Is not this Jesus,” they said, “the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus did not make the thing easy for these murmurers. “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” At that many even of his disciples were offended. “This is a hard saying,” they said, “who can hear it?” And so they left him. “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him.” Many of them went back-but not all. “Then said Jesus unto the twelve, ‘Will ye also go away?’ Then Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.'” Thus was the precious salt preserved.

Then came the gathering clouds, and finally the Cross. In the hour of his agony they all left him and fled; apparently the movement that he had initiated was hopelessly dead. But such was not the will of God. The disciples were sifted, but there was still something left. Peter was forgiven; the disciples saw the risen Lord; the salt was still preserved.

One hundred and twenty persons were gathered in Jerusalem. It was not a large company; but salt, if it truly have its savor, can permeate the whole lump. The Spirit came in accordance with our Lord’s promise, and Peter preached the first sermon in the Christian Church. It was hardly a concessive sermon. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” How unkind Peter was! But by that merciful unkindness they were pricked in their hearts, and three thousand souls were saved.

So there stood the first Christian Church in the midst of a hostile world. At first sight it might have seemed to be a mere Jewish sect; the disciples continued to attend the temple services and to lead the life of Jews. But in reality that little company was as separate as if it had been shut off by desert wastes or the wide reaches of the sea; an invisible barrier, to be crossed only by the wonder of the new birth, separated the disciples of Jesus from the surrounding world. “Of the rest,” we are told, “durst no man join himself to them.” “And fear came upon every soul.” So it will always be. When the disciples of Jesus are really faithful to their Lord, they inspire fear; even when Christians are despised and persecuted and harried, they have sometimes made their persecutors secretly afraid. It is not so, indeed, when there is compromise in the Christian camp; it is not so when those who minister in the name of Christ have-as was said in praise some time ago in my hearing of a group of ministers in our day-it is not so when those who minister in the name of Christ “have their ears to the ground.” But it will be so whenever Christians have their ears, not to the ground, but open only to the voice of God, and when they say simply, in the face of opposition or flattery, as Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Click here for Part 2

The Separateness of the Church

A pamphlet entitled “The Separateness of the Church” was on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church yesterday. The beginning words immediately caught my attention.

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Matthew 5:13

In these words our Lord established at the very beginning the distinctness and separateness of the Church. If the sharp distinction is ever broken down between the Church and the world, then the power of the Church is gone. The Church then becomes like salt that has lost its savor, and is fit only to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. It is a great principle, and there never has been a time in all the centuries of Christian history when it has not had to be taken to heart.

J. Gresham Machen

Purity and Unity

This was originally published in the OBF Visitor in 2005 while I served as assistant pastor at Bible Community Church.

Our church office is bombarded with invitations to evangelical events. Each advertisement appears to be the greatest event since Pentecost. Many times, evangelism and worship are the unifying principles. Who wouldn’t want to be unified with brothers and sisters in Christ? Unfortunately, many of these events are filled with compromise either in doctrine or practice. This has caused me to wonder. Is it possible to have purity and unity within the greater Body of Christ?

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
—James 3:13-18

James was dealing with some problems in a local church. He pointed out that fighting within the Body of Christ was not to be blamed on God; it was the result of sin. The answer to their problems was to consider the characteristics of true wisdom.

As an assistant pastor, I have been given some interesting responsibilities. One of them is driving a bus for the church and Christian school. One of the things I learned during training was how to handle conflict on a bus. Should a driver grab the crowbar and start banging heads? That might be effective in ending the argument, but it would end any chance of helping the students reconcile the problem. Another way to stop a fight is to separate the fighting students. If they can’t get along, they need to be separated. That might help end the fighting, but it would not get to the root problem. What would be best? The best solution would be to find what caused the argument and seek a recognition and repentance of the wrong done. With time constraints it might not always turn out that way. But that ought to be the desire of a good bus driver. The same is true within a local church. When problems arise, they should be handled biblically. If the sinning brother recognizes his sin and repents of it, there is hope for restoring unity. But until the sin is removed, unity is not possible or desirable.

I recently received a phone call from an intern at a local church. He was excited about getting the area youth together for prayer, worship, and outreach. Not knowing the fellow, I decided to ask a question before we got too far into the conversation. “So, what is your test of fellowship?” The intern did not know how to answer the question that day but called again a few days later. He was basing his fellowship on a list given to him by a certain Bible institute. This gave me somewhat of an idea of where he was coming from. After telling him that our church did not want to be part of Christian rock music and the ecumenical movement, it became apparent that we would not be working together.

How do we determine our “test of fellowship?” Consider three principles from James 3:17.

Some things are more important than others.

In James 3:17, we find that one characteristic of godly wisdom is more important than others. James uses the Greek word which may be defined as “first in time or place, in any succession of things or persons; first in rank, influence, honor, chief, principal.” The idea here is that something is more important than the others. It does not mean that there are no other qualities. Instead, it emphasizes that which is most important.

In the army, should a private be considered equal to a general with thirty years of experience? No, the private is separated from the general by not only years and experience but also by quality of character. A general usually earns his position. When you look at godly wisdom, there is one characteristic that ranks far above all other characteristics. It deserves more respect than all others.

James gives a long list of characteristics to define this godly wisdom. He was attempting to show them how to solve their problems in a way that would be pleasing to God. All of the characteristics listed in verses 17-18 are important. But one of them is considered to be the first, primary, and principal characteristic above all others. How do we apply that importance? One way to apply this is to ask questions. When looking to replace a vehicle, you might write down a list of characteristics that are important to you. You might place a certain price range at the top of the list. You would also determine whether horsepower or gas mileage was more important to you. Starting with the first characteristic, you would move down the list until you were assured that the vehicle met your needs.

When you are confronted with a conflict, God’s way of solving it may be handled in the same way. Starting at the top of the list, you would ask questions about the situation. Because the first characteristic is primary, you would be most concerned about the answer to that question. If the first question be answered with a “no,” you would have to fix that before examining the rest of the situation. So, what is this primary quality of God’s wisdom?

Purity should be our first concern.

What is purity? James uses a Greek word which may be defined as “exciting reverence, venerable, sacred; pure from carnality, chaste, modest (Titus 2:5), an unsullied virgin (2 Cor. 11:2), pure from every fault, immaculate, clean.” The basic idea of purity is a separation from sin. Sin causes problems wherever it is allowed to have any influence. No matter how large or small, sin will devastate those involved with it. With that danger in mind, purity should always be found in a life that desires to be obedient to the commands of the Lord.

But why should we desire purity? The greatest motivation for purity is the holiness of God. As his children, we ought to desire this for ourselves. Consider the following Bible passages:

Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God.
—Lev. 20:7.

But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
—1 Pet. 1:15-16

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James tells us that the primary quality of godly wisdom is not peace, mercy, good works, impartiality, and several other great qualities. It is purity. But why is purity so important? It is important because it is what permeates everything about God. Because he is holy, anything less than perfection will not please him. And as God is the One who controls everything, we must conform ourselves to his ways, not expecting him to be conformed to our ways.

One of the philosophies that permeates Christianity today is pragmatism. Churches are using whatever it takes to reach people. That philosophy has been used to justify the use of sensual music in worship and evangelism. Despite these characteristics, many Christians have chosen to couple it with religious lyrics to accomplish their goals. The goals may be good in themselves, but when the medium contradicts the holiness of God it is wrong.

Purity ought to be the first concern for all Christians. But will purity cause all problems to disappear? No, problems will continue as long as sin is active. But when you recognize sin as a part of each problem you will be more likely to handle the problem correctly. Removing sin from your own life will help to solve at least one part of the problem.

We should also be concerned about unity.

In verse 17, James uses a Greek word which may be defined as something “relating to peace; pacific, loving peace; bring peace with it, peaceful.” This definition describes the qualities of a good vacation. I would like to visit a cabin in the woods and just sleep for two days straight. Imagine a nice pot belly stove during the winter and the smell of wood burning. That is my idea of a good vacation. Rest, peace, and joy.

Why should we desire peace? We should desire peace because God does. Think of the Lord’s prayer for us in the garden. He prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one. The world needs to see a group of believers who love each other and work together for God’s glory and the benefit of mankind.

One of the problems people see in the Church today is the lack of unity. Denominations cannot agree about certain doctrines and so they split. Church members who disagree about a certain issue leave the church they have attended since childhood. The world sees this as a lack of unity and becomes disillusioned by it. But what they and many undiscerning Christians do not realize is that there are some good reasons for unity being disrupted. Peace is something every Christian ought to strive for. We ought to be thinking of ways to work together for God’s glory. And as each of us is living a pure life and is dying to self, we have the possibility to live peaceably with all men. So, what hinders peace?

The problem comes from our own sinfulness. When we allow sin into our lives, whether large or small, trouble will come. When someone in the congregation allows bitterness to become ingrained, that bitterness will hinder the unity of the Body. When someone in the congregation allows worldliness to overcome his life, it will influence others in the congregation toward evil. So, to answer our question, the one thing that hinders peace is sin. When sin is allowed to continue, unity will quickly fade away. That leads us back to the primary characteristic of purity. Without purity, we will never have godly unity.

The same problems that were in the early church are prevalent today. And with the growth of the Body of Christ come other challenges. Not only are we to be concerned with our local church but we should also be concerned about our brothers and sisters in other areas of the country and world. As the number of churches multiply, so do the chances of problems.

Conclusion

Is it possible to have purity and unity in the Body of Christ? Yes, it is possible and both are important. However, godly unity cannot exist in the Body of Christ without purity. We strive for unity, but when purity is lacking, we cannot have that much desired unity. Our first priority must then be to keep the purity of the Body of Christ.

At times it is easier to seek unity. We want to let certain issues slide so that unity can continue. If we allow purity to be compromised one time, it will be easier to let future issues slip as well. God wants us to be unified in the Body of Christ. However, his first concern is that we be holy. Many opportunities will come up in your life. There will be good causes that you will want to join. But when you are asked to be a part of one of these religious causes, make sure that the effort is first pure. Otherwise, you may find yourself unified with error and lacking what God says is most important.