Berean cogitations

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Unity over doctrine

I've often spoken about how many Christians place unity over Biblical truth. Tonight, I wanted to quote the following comments by John Ankerburg and John Weldon, as stated in their booklet, "The Facts on the Faith Movement." I think their comments sum things up well.

Many Christians believe that the visible unity of the body of Christ before the world is much more important than doctrinal truth. They appeal to Jesus' prayer that Christians "may be one" so that the world will know that the Father has sent Him (John 17:21-23). But can the world see Christian unity apart from true Christianity itself? Isn't Christian unity based upon Christian truth? For example, the world might notice a visible unity among a group of Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons working together to fight abortion—but what will it conclude about the beliefs of Christianity when these religions disagree? In essence, the real nature of their unity is only a social cause, vital as it may be.

In its most important sense, it is basic doctrinal truth which unites God's people. True unity cannot be had with­out it. This is why the Bible commands Christians to stand together in unity against heresy and separate themselves from false teachers on the basis of sound doctrine (2 John 9-11; Romans 6:17, etc.). Christians are to stand "firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Philippians 1:27; cf. Ephesians 4:12-13). Jude 3 tells us we are to "contend earnestly for the faith [body of teachings] which was once for all delivered to the saints."

If biblical doctrine is not the final standard, then where does one draw the line between what is or isn't Christian? In the end, what remains is only a false or shallow compre¬hension of Christianity—and it is this (and wrong theol¬ogy) which promotes! division among Christians.

To the contrary, a deep understanding of doctrine and theology, by their very nature, foster unity among God's people. Further, genuine unity in the body of Christ presup¬poses spiritual maturity. But such maturity can only be had by knowledge of sound doctrine and living in accordance with its precepts (Ephesians 4:3-15; Philippians 2:2).


In fact, those who are committed to maintaining so-called peace and unity in the body of Christ at all costs... are actually the ones being divisive. As John Mac Arthur points out, "In effect, [this attitude] has given charismatic extremists
the freedom to propound fantastic views while imposing a code of silence on those who object. Those who do speak out inevitably are branded divisive, strident or unloving. The legacy of such a position is not unity and peace, but confusion and turmoil. In fact, love apart from truth is nothing more than hypocritical sentimentality. That sentimentality is running rampant in evangelicalism today."

One way that false unity can damage Christianity

On several occasions, I've lamented the false unity that pervades many Christian churches. Believers are often tolerant of false doctrines—even dangerously false ones—for the sake of harmony between churches and believers. While I applaud this desire for unity, I believe that we often carry this to an unhealthy extreme.

An acquaintance of mine occupies some prominent leadership and worship positions within his church. He has spent years in Christian schools, and has called himself a believer for many years. This fellow is fond of saying, "As long as a church teaches the bare essentials of the gospel, I don't really give a flip!" Now, such a statement may sound laudable, but I think it leads to serious doctrinal compromise. After all, false teachings can still be extremely damaging to the church, even when those beliefs do not pertain directly to salvation.

To illustrate this point, consider the following commentary by John Ankerburg and John Weldon regarding the so-called "Faith Movement"—those who preach a false gospel of wealth, health and financial prosperity:

"Operation Caricature" is the method by which the Christian faith and the gospel are ridiculed in front of an unbelieving world. For example, Primetime Live alone has had three scathing exposes of Faith teachers—and plans

But whatever else such TV exposes have done to the reputation of Christianity in the eyes of the world, they have also brought real problems to some Faith teachers. For example, Robert Tilton is now being investigated by four federal agencies and two state agencies, including the IRS, FBI, U.S. Postal Service and Texas State Attorney General. Tilton and others are also being sued by irate customers or their families who were promised healings but remained sick or died. Tilton alone is being sued for half a billion dollars. In one case, the widow of Tom Crowly is suing him for $40 million over a letter she received five months after her husband's death in which Tilton said, "God spoke to me this morning specifically about you, Tom, and He's going to
heal you."

Television preachers have reported, sometimes to national audiences stories such as the following: how God raised a family's pet chicken from the dead; how the bones of the controversial faith healer Aimee Semple McPherson have power to raise dead men to life; a woman, who taught her dog "how to praise the Lord in an unknown bark" ; and that "Holy Spirit ice cream" has no calories when it is specially "blessed" by the Holy Ghost.

(Source: "The Facts on the Faith Movement")

And yet well-meaning Christians are quick to preach unity, even with teachers like these. As a result, the world lumps us all together, and so we open ourselves up to mockery and caricature. When skeptics ridicule the beliefs of people like these — rightfully so, I might add — they mock us in the same breath. And why? Because so many believers insist on promoting harmony and tolerance, even amidst aberrant teachings.

This is one reason why I am so concerned about false teachings within the church. Make no mistake; I agree that certain doctrinal errors are of minor importance. However, there are many doctrinal errors—even on so-called "non-essential" matters—that can severely damage the credibility of the church. It may sound warm and loving when we embrace these erroneous teachings, but the damage that results can be unspeakable.