Ed Stetzer, the Executive Director of Gospel Compromise and Ecumenical Outreach … no, wait, he’s the Executive Director of LifeWay Research. What was I thinking? Oh, I know, I was thinking about his behavior rather than his proclamation. Forgive me.
It’s an easy enough mistake that anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention could make, really. I mean, there is no one, it seems, with whom Ed Stetzer won’t hold hands with. From Catholics to Muslims, Ed’s eager to jump on any effort that promotes “ecumenical unity.” How nice. And how unbiblical. (Plus, if any of them hits the Powerball lottery, Ed’s offering plates are open!) For more on Ed, see HERE or HERE.
While it would have been moderately jocular had it been posted on April fools day, Stetzer posted an article in Christianity Today, Unity In The Body and Working Relationships Beyond in which he posits noble notions of interfaith alliances to achieve some agenda or other.
Let’s take a small supply of digital ink to survey Stetzer’s musings.
From the outset, Stetzer sets the stage by referencing Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17. I’d argue that our Lord’s prayer, providentially recorded for us, is the singular greatest source of spiritual assurance for the authentic believer. It presents us with a prayer that only Christ could utter. And the core of it is Christ interceding for the authentic believer.
Ecumenical Ed, though, suggests this presumed point from Christ’s prayer:
“Jesus said that the manner in which believers unite with one another would prove to the world that He is God.”
When Jesus, in this prayer, says “they have believed that you have sent me”, the “they” wasn’t in reference to “the world”, as Ed suggests. Jesus was referring to “the people whom you gave me out of the world.” Jesus was referring to believers, not the world.
Actually, Jesus Himself responded once about providing a sign, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Well, there you go. That’s the sign God Almighty has provided to the world, and yet they do not believe. Methinks a unified group of heretics and a lone Baptist on the dais of faux unity will hardly serve as a powerful witness to the world “that He is God.” Instead, it makes us merely another flavor of religion. Sacrifice of the Gospel? Strike one.
“We can see unity on the denominational level. Though not perfect, many denominations began for the singular purpose of unity.”
Yep, that’s true. But, you need to know this. They started for the singular purpose of unity, not for the sake of unity in and of itself, but for the sake of …. Trigger alert! Un-Baptist Word Coming Up …. Doctrinal integrity. It was doctrine upon which denominations were distinguished. By the way, it was doctrine that caused a rather substantial ecumenical conflagration 499 years ago … the Reformation.
“Unfortunately, many know my denomination more for its squabbles and arguments than for its unity. Often those disagreements are over secondary or tertiary issues, not things of primary importance.”
That’s true, too, Ed, but for me, and many brethren I know, it is a thing of “primary importance” for which I believe another Reformation, one within the SBC, is desperately needed – restoration of and obedience to the AUTHORITY and SUFFICIENCY of Scripture. (That’s a doctrine, by the way. You can look it up in the Baptist Faith and Message.) It’s one of those doctrinal things, I know, but hardly a secondary or tertiary issue. Stetzer’s article itself is evidence of our disregard for our own doctrine.
“If we can’t agree and unite in one denomination, how do we even think about unity with other denominations? How do Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals relate? What about Lutherans and Methodists? Are they in unity? If so, what is the unifying principle?”
Gee, I’d ask a different question. Why do we even want unity with those of staggeringly different doctrinal stances? To make the world a better place? Nah, the world is actually under a curse already. Go look way back in Genesis. And the future of the world? Not looking good either.
Peter tells us “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Then, of course, there is that Apostolic warning, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15. Those verses kinda sting … well, for all those unbelievers with whom Stetzer wants to unite it does.
“For example, how does an evangelical church relate to those in an Eastern Orthodox church or to Roman Catholics? Or, taken a step further, how we might work with people outside the broad Christian tradition, such as Mormons?”
Well, if we’ve given up doctrine for the sake of faux unity, I’d suggest Stetzer have a conversation with other of the SBC intelligentsia. Perhaps Ronnie Floyd could provide guidance on how to relate to modern day apostles, like his buddies from IHOP and the NAR. Or he could chat with Russell Moore about how to waltz down the DC mall linked arm in arm with Roman apostates. Or he could seek some guidance from Rick Warren or Robert Jeffress about how to buddy up and backslap with Roman bishops. He might even get an audience with Francis, if, like saying the “sinner’s prayer”, he’s sincere enough.
“I am comfortable cooperating, unifying on different levels, depending on what the focus of our cooperation is.”
Of course, he is comfortable with it. Many Baptists already know Ed’s comfort level with heresies. When you sacrifice our fundamental, historic allegiance to Scripture, to the Gospel, it’s amazing the things you’ll find comforting. However, most of those things rightfully would require repentance, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry here! We need unity! Surely God will understand.
To his credit, Stetzer asks the necessary question:
“But should we cooperate with those who don’t agree that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone? That the Holy Spirit arrives in the believer sometime after salvation?”
The correct answer is NO. For Ecumenical Ed’s answer, though, read on …
“It depends on the purpose and point of the cooperation.”
What? Let’s play that old time Baptist game. Chapter and verse. Exactly where in Scripture are we told to conditionally gauge our alliances with the world based on “the purpose and point of the cooperation.”
(Take a few seconds and let the theme music from Jeopardy play in your head.)
There is no chapter and verse that encourages, allows, tolerates, or leaves unjudged our sacrifice of the Gospel for ANY reason. When the Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:16, says “be imitators of me”, we presume that entreaty also includes Paul’s stance on the Gospel from earlier in his epistle, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul didn’t seek philosophical alliances with the rampant heresies in Corinth. Perhaps we shouldn’t either.
“In the coming years people of faith who hold similar views around certain cultural issues—though they have divergent belief around essential theological issues—will end up working together more. We’re going to see in the next few years more evangelicals working with those outside our evangelical faith tradition— Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even Mormons. On some issues I imagine this will include devout people of other faiths.”
You know, just like the sincerity with which you utter an unbiblical prayer is thoroughly unrelated to your actual regeneration, so too is the import of how “devout people of other faiths” are in working together for the promotion of “similar views.” It is not doubted that, as Stetzer says, such “devout” people “will end up working together more.” But the premise for doing so is one unfounded in Scripture, at least for an old school, Bible-believing Baptist.
The wrongful presumption is that we can make the world a better place by unifying for commonly held agendas. But, as the Apostle John warned above, and as Peter predicted, this world is NOT going to get any better. The devoutness of those people in the pursuit of even noble agendas will not give them escape from the ultimate demise of this earth, nor of the coming judgment of their eternal souls. Only the Gospel will do that. But instead of standing firmly and boldly on that unique Truth, the SBC wants to create alliances with those heading to hell. Shame.
Stetzer, again in his article, brushes up against the actual problem from seeking this faux unity on the basis of desired moral behavior:
“Since we are working together, some will want to affirm that all people of faith are the same.”
What Ed fails to appreciate is that THIS is the precise reason why Baptists have always trusted the power of God through His Gospel to achieve His ends, to build His church, and to direct our faith and life. The Gospel defines us, our doctrine, and distinction within the world. To align with that world is to place us exactly as also-rans in the eyes of an on-looking world. We look no different than the others because our alignment with them tacitly endorses them, while diluting our own message, the Gospel. The Gospel becomes more diluted to a dying world, not more distinct to it when we hold hands with heresy.
Our unity won’t. as Stetzer mused, prove the existence of God; it will merely add credence to the rampant post-modernist mindset: there are many paths to God.
Stetzer closes his appeal for kum-ba-ya-ism with these words.
“Then, let’s work together with people of others faiths (or even no faith) who share our values around key issues. The end result will be step toward the unity for which Jesus prayed without losing the gospel for which Jesus died.”
“Let’s work together” is not the appeal of Jesus in His high priestly prayer. Rather, His appeal was for the Father to keep as one “those whom you have given me.” Like a typical Scripture-ignoring Southern Baptist Stetzer disregards another important part of our Lord’s prayer …
“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9
Jesus didn’t pray for the world. He prayed for His believers. And he told us to “preach the Gospel to every creature.” So why then does the SBC presume to pursue cultural agendas by hand-holding in unholy alliances? There can only be one reason. Disregard of Scripture.
It’s why, on the pending 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we need another one.
Like Jesus, don’t pray for the world. Witness to it … and pray for a reformation within the SBC.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]