Previously, I wrote on the fact that all real church problems are doctrinal. Doctrine drives behaviour, and your behaviour shows what you really believe. Doctrinal error, whether taught explicitly in word or implicitly in action (applied doctrine) is at the root of all problems in a church.
I also wrote followed up on a comment by Dr Al Mohler about “the third way” with the fact that there is no “third way” on doctrine, that you can’t just go along with serious doctrinal error. When you do, your actions are saying that it isn’t serious, that it doesn’t matter.
In this article, I’d like to look at a real life case study of what can happen when doctrinal purity is abandoned. It can take someone who is “evangelical” to the point where they hardly bat an eye at applied doctrinal error resulting in gross sin.
The Evangelical Alliance and “Christian Today”
The Evangelical Alliance is the foremost evangelical grouping in Britain, claiming to represent the UK’s two million evangelicals:
From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we’re not just connecting Christians within the UK. We are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians, and we work in partnership with Global Connections, the UK evangelical Christian network for world mission.
“Christian Today” is a member of the Evangelical Alliance. Among its Board of Editorial Advisers is Rob James, the head of Evangelical Alliance Wales and a member of the EA-UK National Council. Its parent, CMCI, is a Global Partner of the World Evangelical Alliance, along with World Vision, Wycliffe, and other well-known evangelical groups. Other WEA members include the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the US National Association of Evangelicals, and denominations such as the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.
Writers for “Christian Today” include evangelical Anglicans such as Julian Mann, the new moderator of the Free Church of Scotland David Robertson, and beginning last week, the national director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, John Stevens. The Free Church and the FIEC would rank higher than most on anyone’s list of British evangelicals as far as fidelity to Scripture is concerned, and with each, their current top representative writes for “Christian Today.”
“Christian Today” is right at the heart of British evangelicalism — but “Christian Today” publishes messages that are far from Christian.
I didn’t have any clue who Farrah Abraham was when I encountered an article about her on “Christian Today.” That lack of knowledge hasn’t hindered me in my Christian life — but articles like this could hinder many people.
The title pretty much tells you where it is going. “Farrah Abraham: ‘Whether it’s in a gentleman’s club or church, I know it’s my faith that guides me.”
Farrah Abraham isn’t exactly a conventional Christian, having penned no fewer than three erotic novels and starred in two adult videos.
She’s also performed in gentlemen’s clubs and bars, and is a single mom raising her daughter Sophia to late boyfriend Derek Underwood.
A ‘skirt to the knee’ Christian woman she is not, but the Teen Mom star doesn’t see any contradiction between her unconventional career pursuits and her faith.
That last sentence, the use of the word “unconventional,” is the closest the article comes to actually suggesting there is anything wrong here. It closes with this:
She believes that although the path she is taking now might not be the obvious one to lots of people, she is just following the path God is carving out for her in life.
“No matter where I am, whether it’s in a gentlemen’s club or church, I know my faith is what guides me,” she said.
Doctrinal Error Galore
Some might say, “Well, she’s just sinful, that’s all.” That’s true. But in this article someone is proclaiming multiple heresies, and an evangelical outlet is spreading it without a single word refuting the error. For starters, she denied:
- God’s unchangeable nature by asserting that He would give her a path contrary to His Word.
- His holiness by claiming He would guide her to do sinful things.
- Scripture’s authority by saying she is guided by “faith” to do things contrary to God’s Word.
- The true meaning of faith.
- Repentance is necessary to be a Christian.
- The work of sanctification in the life of the believer, the need for purity and holiness.
“Following the path that God is carving out for her life”? So God wanted her to engage in immorality as a teen, write pornographic novels, and commit fornication in front of the cameras? He wants her to go into “gentlemen’s clubs”?
And “Christian Today” (at the heart of British evangelicalism) simply allowed her to spread this blasphemy with the only disclaimer being to quietly suggest that it is “unconventional.” Apparently, it would be too judgmental to say she is spreading falsehood about what salvation and the Christian faith really is?
This is an evangelical Christian publication?
The Fruit of Doctrinal Corruption
There may be more than one factor bringing a publication to the point that it will publish such statements without demur. But one thing is certain — in a publication where the editors, the editorial board, and the owners care about the purity of doctrine, such an article would never see the light of day.
Editors who cared about truth would say, “No, we won’t allow assertions on our pages that this is the Christian faith — or at the very least, not without a Biblical refutation right in the very article.” If the editors did not care enough about truth to say that, the editorial board should replace them. If the board did not care, the owners should replace them.
But unfortunately, for much of modern evangelicalism, this is normal. Just about anyone who claims to be Christian makes the grade — even those who engage in actual, verbal, and visual fornication like Farrah Abraham.
Too few will say, “That’s not faith, that’s not Christianity, that’s not God’s leading, that’s blasphemy.” In the interests of loving our brothers and sisters, for years evangelicals have been allowing (and affirming) errors in doctrine and practice that have completely changed what it means to be a Christian. One doesn’t have to read “Christian Today” very long to learn that what they will accept as “Christian” is far from Biblical.
A Need to Divide
I began writing this article a week ago, as a follow-up to my “third way” post, disappointed (but unsurprised) in the silence of evangelicals. The middle of last week, encouragingly, David Robertson spoke out on this very article (and some other atrocious ones) in one of his articles for “Christian Today.”
Rev Robertson closed with this from Charles Spurgeon:
The problem is that people bear the Christian name but act like worldlings and love the amusements and follies of the world. It is time for a division in the house of the Lord in which those for Christ go into one camp and those against Christ go into the other camp. We have been mixed together too long.
Whether it be a “third way church” on homosexuality (as mentioned in my previous article), a public fornicator (like Farrah Abraham), one who dabbles in universalism (like Billy Graham), those who call Roman Catholicism a difference to be appreciated (like Rick Warren), someone who errs on the work of Christ (like Steve Chalke), or teachers of a false gospel and a form of modalism (like T.D. Jakes), it is time for a division. These things are not Christian, and even if the person is merely deceived rather than actively seeking to teach error, such teachings have no place in a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those whose teachings are against Christ are unlikely to divide. They have become servants of the father of lies, and it is quite useful to his purposes for them to continue to have the name “Christian” while spreading doctrinal and moral corruption. The division will have to come from those who are for Christ.
Two Camps or Three?
Spurgeon spoke of two camps, but today’s evangelicalism has three, I guess. There is the camp that is for Christ, the camp that is against Him, and there is the “third way” camp. The “third way” camp effectively says that there aren’t really two different camps, that it violates Christian unity to speak of two camps. Therefore, it treats those from the second camp, the Farrah Abrahams and the Steve Chalkes and the TD Jakes, as members of the first camp.
To use Dr Mohler’s words again, “To allow the affirmation is to affirm,” and “there is no third way.” Those who try to bring the two camps together under the name “Christian” are not doing the work of the Father, but of the adversary — they are serving the wrong camp.
The “third way” camp is merely a branch of the second camp. To permit Farrah Abraham’s claims to go under the name “Christian” is to deny the Gospel. There may be Christians involved in “third way” groups (such as “Christian Today” and many others), but the philosophy is not Christian. There are two camps, and many who claim to be Christ’s are not His, many who claim Christian faith are proclaiming lies.
To allow those claims and lies, to treat them as if they are Christian, is sin, a work of darkness. Whether “third way” people are Christians or not, in this matter they serve the second camp — and the result is disastrous.
In this article, I’ve given but one of many examples showing where this “allowing and affirming” leads. It won’t always produce the lie that God approves of pornography, but it always leads to error. Evangelicalism has been rendered a wasteland by those who have allowed and affirmed all manner of error in the name of “love” and “Christian unity.”
It is Time
I Peter 4:17
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
If Spurgeon said, more than 100 years ago, “It is time,” how much more so today? How can we effectively reach those who “obey not the Gospel,” those who are facing the wrath of God, if the house of God is a doctrinal and moral wasteland?
It is time to stop allowing and affirming, time to stop endorsing error, time to draw a line. It is time to stop pretending that everyone is in the same camp, to recognise that pretence as of the devil, a work of the camp which is against Christ. It is time to stop endorsing the pretence’s error, too. It is time to stop pretending that groups like “Christian Today” which repeatedly advocate the “third way” approach are Christian, whatever one may think of the people involved.
I’m thankful David Robertson spoke out — but will he continue to write for a group that publishes the things he condemns? I hope not. Will evangelicals speak out? Will those that do speak out also act, or will they merely speak out, quoting Spurgeon’s call for division (as many evangelicals have done through the years) but not actually dividing? Will they continue to allow themselves to be identified with “third way” groups? Will they continue to support the conferences, the schools, the coalitions, the evangelism campaigns, the websites, that have chosen the “third way” approach?
“We have been mixed together too long.” Thus it will remain as long as Bible-believing evangelicals remain part of “third way” groups that deny there are two camps, lending their names and their implicit support to the darkness of the “third way” error.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
Never having heard of Farrah Abraham before and knowing absolutely nothing about what kind of church background she has, it is a little hard to know which specific doctrinal errors led to her moral lapse. You mentioned several different things that were implied by her actions and comments, but if I understand the thesis of your blog post there must have been a cause-and-effect relationship between a doctrine and her behavior. Might it not be the other way around? She is unconverted, is involved in an sinful lifestyle, and is trying to rationalize her behavior.
I do know of one very commonly held doctrinal error that could conceivably lead to that kind of inconsistency — the “carnal Christian” theory espoused by some Dispensationalists.
I also think, as we have both mentioned before, that in the coming days the surrounding culture will become increasing hostile toward the Christian faith, and professing Christians will have to decide where their priorities lie. It will be interesting to see what happens to the “carnal Christian” theory then!
Hello, Bob. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Farrah Abraham is, if more blatant than most, simply exhibiting in her behaviour the depravity of the unregenerate. Doctrinal error has not caused that.
Her words show evidence of having been coached by someone in the “come to church and feel good about yourself no matter your life” wing of evangelicalism as represented by Robert Schuller (in the past), Joel Osteen, the Emergents, and to a lesser extent Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. She is directly espousing multiple heresies that others have spread, even if the sin she advocates is more perverse than most have done.
But that wouldn’t trigger an article from me. The unregenerate do what the unregenerate do, and false teachers say what false teachers say.
What causes me to write is that major evangelical organisations are willing to give this rubbish a voice, are so desensitised to doctrinal corruption that they won’t stand up and say, “That’s not faith and we aren’t going to print it.” They are willing to let Farrah Abraham call herself Christian with the only disclaimer being that she’s unconventional. They are willing to call swingers “devout Christians” (I’m not giving the link, the Farrah Abraham article is not even the worst) who swap partners as their means of “evangelising.”
And the Evangelical Alliance lets it all pass, and in fact is deeply linked with the organisation that is publishing this.
And theologically conservative evangelicals still write for the organisation that publishes the blasphemy, as if they are in the same camp — a “Christian” one. But there are two camps, and we shouldn’t be pretending there aren’t.
I guess I was a little surprised that a Christian magazine would have an “Entertainment” section, much like a secular journal. Are we really all that interested in goes on in Hollywood or Bollywood or whatever?
I think too that when the inevitable parting of the ways comes in the not too distant future, professing Christians will have to ask the very basic and fundamental question, what is our rule of faith and practice? My only point is that among those who can honestly and in good faith say “the Bible” we should try to forge as much visible unity as possible. Frankly, however, that will exclude a good number of people, including the ones you mentioned in your reply.
Yes, I don’t know why we need an “Entertainment” section, especially when they fill it with garbage. But there are plenty of problems with that publication outside the Entertainment section.
Honestly, the parting of the ways should come now, we don’t have to wait for persecution to see it is needed.
I’m not sure the Bible teaches that “forging visible unity” or at least “as much as possible” is a good thing. The more visible unity you try to forge, the more you are going to be bringing in extra-Biblical structures. Why not just leave it at “love your brothers” and not try to construct things not in Scripture?
But that whole question, to me, is secondary to the main one. The main one is whether evangelicals are going to continue to endorse the false teachers and those who enable them (such as “Christian Today”).
Your “Christian Today” sounds very much like our “Christianity Today” – and could carry the same nickname — “Christian Astray.”
🙂 Except even “Christian Astray” misuses the word “Christian” for much of it.
Well now, that’s a thought I hadn’t thought of! 🙂
” The more visible unity you try to forge, the more you are going to be bringing in extra-Biblical structures.” As I think I mentioned in a previous discussion, at the local level at least ideally there should only be one church embracing the entire Christian community in that locality.
As for the timing of the “parting of the ways,” some of that is a matter of pastoral discernment. Some people can see it sooner than others, yet pastors must look out for all of the sheep. He needs to bring as many of the sheep along with him as he can, and that may require a certain amount of patience on his part.
This was part of the problem during the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy in the U.S. during the 1920’s and ’30’s. J. Gresham Machen, (one of my heroes), was a brilliant seminary professor who had studied in Germany. He could see exactly where things were headed, and could see no reason to dally. But certain pastors in the PCUSA, such as Donald Gray Barnhouse and Clarence McCartney, were more concerned with the pastoral implications, and wanted to wait. When the division came Machen went and Barnhouse and McCartney stayed. Could Machen have exercised a little more patience? Couldn’t Barnhouse and McCartney have seen the handwriting on the wall? Hindsight is clearer than foresight!
I don’t know which Scripture says one large church in a locality is better than smaller churches, where people actually know one another. But you are welcome to your dream! 🙂 In the meantime, purity isn’t optional.
As to the timing of breaking ties, separation is a Biblical mandate. If a pastor does not believe his church is ready to break ties from apostates, false teachers and those who endorse/tolerate them, he should be teaching and leading towards that. I’m sorry, but I don’t see much of that in modern evangelicalism.
Churches learn and develop at different speeds, obviously, but you would expect churches to be dropping out of the NAE and similar associations all the time if this were happening. One church might respond immediately to a pastor’s concerns, another might take a few years. But the stuff we’re talking about has gone on for decades.
Why should Machen have exercised a little more patience? Is that what Scripture tells us to do? It’s pretty explicit on separation, and the corrupting effects of sin and false doctrine. History bore out Machen’s assessment, too. Barnhouse was simply helping to prop up a corrupt edifice, lending credibility by his continued presence to a denomination that had chosen to abandon Scripture.
Actually, what you see in the New Testament are metropolitan churches (the church at Corinth, Thessalonica, etc.) and house churches (“the church that is in their house” – Rom. 16:5). Apparently the pattern is that the entire Christian community within a given locality constitutes a single church, governed by a board of elders (“the elders of the church – Acts 20:17). There was, however, no professionally trained clergy, no choirs and organs, and as far as we know no Sunday schools, youth programs, etc. And it was to the church at Ephesus that Paul wrote that they should be “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
So which is less scriptural, a special synod called to resolve doctrinal differences, or separate denominations which preserve them? Which would Christ prefer to see?
Hello, Bob. If a synod ruled that Presbyterians should only practice credo-baptism and only use Baptist church polity, would you say that Presbyterians should abandon their understanding of what they believe Scripture teaches and obey the synod? If a synod ruled that Baptists should practice infant baptism and adopt Presbyterian polity, would you say Baptist should abandon their understanding of what they believe Scripture teaches and obey the synod?
Unless your answer is “yes” to both questions, the synod idea will solve nothing. And if your answer is “yes” we’ve got bigger problems.
(Your “apparently the pattern” is not apparent to me. But it’s also drifting way off topic, and we’re not going to solve all the questions relating to church polity on this thread, so we’ll leave it for now.)
We should also heed Spurgeon’s warning that “it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept…” http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/holy-living-spurgeon-precepts-war-chritistians/
Most certainly, Michael. Although I would prefer to state it that doctrine which drives out precept is manifestly doctrine which has erred in some way.
In this case, of course, both doctrine and precept have been grossly violated.
The advantage that a special synod called to resolve a doctrinal issue has over each individual deciding for himself is that the individual is subject to his own personal prejudices and limitations, whereas in a synod they would tend to cancel each other out, and the outcome is more likely to reflect what the Bible actually teaches. Synods, obviously, are not infallible, and ultimately each individual would have to decide in his own mind if the outcome really was biblical. But he is duty bound to give the benefit of the doubt to the body of elders meeting collectively, and to be honest in looking at his own personal prejudices. “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God . . .” (Eph. 4:21).
“Synods, obviously, are not infallible, and ultimately each individual would have to decide in his own mind if the outcome really was biblical.”
Ever hear of the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession? 🙂
Seems like this has already been done and people arrived at different conclusions after some pretty serious study. So what’s been solved?
This is not simply a matter of getting together and talking. You have different hermeneutical assumptions and different weightings of hermeneutical factors. You can’t resolve it until you arrive at similar assumptions. In denominational differences, at least in the ones that have been around for a while, those underlying assumptions have been challenged over and over again. Talking about it more is going to change nothing. The books have been written, the discussions have been had. The only thing that will change it is if the Lord opens the eyes of one or both sides as to where their underlying hermeneutic is in error.
But at least the Westminster Divines tried to achieve unity, even if they didn’t succeed. Isn’t that preferable to being indifferent to our Lord’s prayer request in John 17:21?
Bob, you keep going back to our Lord’s prayer. It tells us His desire, which therefore by necessity should be ours as well, but it is the work of the Father to whom He prayed to accomplish it. There can only be this perfect unity when there is love, humility, and doctrinal and moral purity. That requires the work of the Father in hearts. I can’t do it for anyone else, nor impose it on anyone. I can rule as to what will be taught in our church, but even within our church I can’t make anyone believe anything. Our church can discipline those whose actions violate love and humility, but we can’t make anyone love or be humble.
You seem to be looking for external and imposed solutions to that which is essentially a matter of personal accountability before the Lord, and a problem which only He can solve. He’ll have to change hearts, and we’ll have to wait until He does.
I honestly don’t see that we are supposed to DO anything except strive for love, humility, and purity in our own hearts, teach these things in our local church, and hold each other accountable in our local church (which is the only locus of accountability specified in Scripture) to uphold these things.
Synods have been tried, but they simply haven’t worked, and won’t. They are an external solution to a question of the heart and mind. If people were persuadable, the books, conferences, theological schools, sermons, etc, etc, would have persuaded. If people aren’t persuadable, a synod only works if it is given an authority that isn’t in Scripture. No one should follow a synod if they think it isn’t true to Scripture. People have to be persuaded.
For my part, I’m quite content to let the Presbyterians be Presbyterian, the Brethren be Brethren, etc. I can love and appreciate them, pray for them, encourage them where appropriate, without doing anything that compromises what I believe or asks them to compromise what they believe. Anything formal / external / “visible” is likely to end up either in compromising or infighting. Fences make good neighbours. I’d rather continue to be a good neighbour in charity and peace than try to pretend we believe exactly the same when we don’t.
But look, if you want to organise a cross-denominational synod to solve every denominational difference, I’ll certainly read their conclusions and consider whether I’ve missed something in Scripture. Just don’t expect me to grant it any authority. And years later, when denominations still exist, don’t expect me to be surprised. 🙂
Well, I would certainly agree that true spiritual unity is the result of something that God produces in our hearts, and is not the result of some political process in which we get together and vote on some motions.
Paul goes on in Eph. 4 to the dynamic of how unity is to be achieved — Christ has given the church certain gifts — apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers, etc — who then equip the saints for the work of the ministry, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the fulness of Christ” (vv. 11-16).
And there is no real conflict between unity and purity. Let’s say that we have five different denominations who all differ from each other on various points of doctrine and practice. They obviously cannot all be right, and very likely they are all wrong at some point or other. Thus to achieve genuine purity they will achieve genuine unity, although it doesn’t all work the other way around. But in the process of achieving purity and unity there is bound to be some discussion and interaction, and each party has to reckon with the possibility that it could be wrong at some point. And thus a synod of some sort could be a part of the process. But it must be conducted in prayer and a reverent study of God’s Word — asking God to illuminate us and show us the truth.
“There is no real conflict between unity and purity.” Absolutely.
I think we have to accept that this is a differences between you and me that we’re going to have to live with. I see no Biblical mandate to pursue external unity but rather to pursue purity, love, humility, truth. Unity (which is a work of the Spirit) will flow from that, or it will be an artificial unity which is no real unity.
I don’t see that synods have any role to play in that. I’m not saying God could never use a synod, He can and has used a lot of things. But it is not our job to figure out what God might use, but rather to do the things He has commanded.
You obviously see it differently, and I’m content to leave it there.
It is sort of way off topic from the question of whether Christians should be propping up those who publish blasphemy, as “Christian Today” did, or whether they should break ties with them.
Thank you for boldly saying what needs to be said about the apostasy that is rampant within the church today. Praise God many are saying the same thing in word and deed. Since all of the churches in our area, if not apostate, are part of the third way mindset, we don’t attend church in our locality. Having investigated churches out of our locality, and seeing error manifested in its various forms, we have decided to stay at home and read the Bible until the Lord Jesus Christ leads us to do otherwise. This is the way that we can turn from the corrupting influence of those who embrace the lost as genuine believers, and for many believers, this is how they can stay true to the Lord Jesus Christ. The leaven has leavened the whole lump, and it is an abomination to the Lord. This corrupting influence has gone on unchecked for years and so is pervasive throughout the visible church. God’s Word tells us to come out from among her and not share in her sins or in her judgments.
Those who truly belong to Jesus Christ have always been persecuted as attested in Scripture and in history. The worldly church is going to continue to grow and spread its corrupting influence being championed by the world, the devil, and the flesh, while those who are born again through faith in Jesus Christ have and will abandon that counterfeit church and have been and will be persecuted for their faith in Christ and adherence to His Word the Bible. This monstrosity, the counterfeit church, prophesied about in the Scriptures will be used of the devil to usher in the antichrist and those who have been subsumed into this gross perverted lie will take the mark of the beast and so be damned for eternity under God’s just and holy wrath. Therefore, we are commanded by God to come out from among them and not to touch the unclean thing and He will be a Father to us and we will be His children.
For those who are shepherded by God-fearing men, they are blessed beyond measure and must give God praise and thanks for His mercy to them to be led by men who love the Lord Jesus Christ, love His Holy Word and love His Holy people.
Eliza, God gave the church pastors and teachers. If you don’t have one, I would encourage you to at least find one or two on SermonAudio who are faithful and listen to them regularly. We need both to be reading the Word ourselves and to be hearing it from those who have faithfully studied and have God-given skills. It is not as good as being in a church, but it is better than nothing.
May God bless, and may He raise up a church (or purify an existing one) in which you can serve Him.
Amen! I appreciate the ministry of Dr. Paul Elliot and have been greatly edified by his preaching and teaching of God’s Word. More importantly though, I am utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit to teach me God’s Word as I read and study His truth. God bless you:)