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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

Broadening the Sawdust Trail


Scriptural Principles Versus Ecumenical Evangelism

There are several principles of Scripture which serve to sit in judgment on the operational philosophy of ecumenical evangelism.

1. We are not to fellowship with liberals in order to win them to Christ.

By "fellowshipping" with liberals is meant a cooperation with them in a religious context for the purposes of achieving spiritual results. "Put your warm arm of love around the liberal and perhaps he will change." This is the approach of many. It is not, however, the approach of God. God is first and foremost concerned about the purity of the church. His holiness and the holiness of His people must be preserved at all costs. God is more concerned about holiness than He is about results. God is not interested in successful evangelism which jeopardizes the holy character of the church. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (I Pet. 1:16). Holiness involves separation from all that is evil. Religious liberalism is evil; therefore, holiness involves separation from it. After describing the awful moral and spiritual degeneration of the last days, especially noting the popularity of hypocritical religion, Paul instructs the believer to "turn away" from such (II Tim. 3:5). The Graham philosophy denies that we should "turn away" (refuse them fellowship) but offers a "better" plan—join with them in religious endeavors.

The Graham philosophy on this point was set many years ago when he wrote a definitive article entitled "Fellowship and Separation." He said, "There can be no escaping the conclusion that the main stress of the New Testament is upon fellowship rather than upon separation. The call is not so much to come out as to come together."46

Let us analyze this succinct statement of Graham's approach to this critical matter. It is true that the New Testament has a great deal to say about fellowship. But it is fellowship among born-again believers, not fellowship among believers and unbelievers. Many of the religious leaders with whom Graham fellowships are rank unbelievers. They reject many of the cardinal doctrines of the Bible. Despite their claims to be Christians, they are not Christians in the biblical sense of that term. But Graham persists in perpetuating the myth that they are Christians who simply have different views on some matters. It is also true that the New Testament teaches both fellowship and separation. The total number of verses on fellowship may be greater in number (I have not counted them) because the epistles of the New Testament were written to be used in the assemblies of God's people where that emphasis is needed. There is no lack of clear teaching, however, on the subject of separation from that which is evil. God, as always, has the proper balance in His Word.

2. We are not to honor false prophets as true Christian leaders.

Illustrations have already been given of Graham's accolades for apostate church leaders. Graham was an honored guest at the installation of James Albert Pike as the Bishop Coadjutor of California for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. Pike was an unbeliever of the first magnitude, an open opponent of precious biblical truths. When Billy first began to push his ecumenical agenda in the 1957 New York crusade, he wrote a letter in which he denied the truth of the criticisms that were being leveled at the crusade, and said, "The sponsoring committee are godly men who are seeking to reach New York's vast population with the testimony of the risen Christ."47 What kind of men were these "godly men" who served? One of them was James Sutherland Bonnell, a leading liberal. Attorney James Bennett, who courageously opposed Graham's New York crusade and lost many friends because of his stand, wrote:

To add more to the confusion, a friend of mine, who telephoned the New York headquarters of the Billy Graham Crusade, was told that they did not classify Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell as a modernist. My friend was surprised because he knew personally that Dr. Bonnell had refused in 1951 to sign a fundamental statement of faith submitted to him by the Billy Graham organization in existence at that time, and on March 23, 1954, he wrote an article published in Look magazine, implying very plainly that he did not believe several of the fundamental Gospel doctrines, including the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus.48

How can men promote the "testimony of a risen Christ" when they do not even believe in a "risen Christ"?

How did Paul handle false prophets who denied the faith? He warned against those who "resist the truth," and called them "men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith" (II Tim. 3:8). Never would Paul have considered placing such men in positions of leadership in an evangelistic campaign. They themselves needed to be evangelized and should not be in charge of evangelizing others. They are lost souls in desperate need of a Savior. Nor was the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah flattering to the false prophets of the day: "Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord . . . . I will visit upon you the evil of your doings" (Jer. 23:1-2). Billy Graham does not make pronouncements like that. For this reason he is popular among the false prophets of the day.

3. We are not to disobey the Scriptures in order to win souls for Christ.

Much modern evangelism seems based upon the premise that God needs all the help He can get in getting people saved; so if we must "fudge" a bit regarding scriptural principles, we are certainly justified in doing so. The end (the salvation of souls) justifies the means (cooperating with unbelievers). Where in Scripture is this principle taught?

I remember years ago when a distinguished pastor, William Ashbrook, and I were called to the West Coast to address gatherings of pastors on the issue of Billy Graham's ecumenical crusades. My friend arose to give his message. His first words were: "The primary business of a Christian is not to win souls." There were gasps and grunts. He waited a few moments before uttering his second sentence. "The primary business of a Christian is to do the will of God." This is true. We are not saying, of course, that Christians ought not to win souls. They must do it, however, within the context of scriptural principles. When Peter and his friends had toiled all the night and failed to catch any fish, the Master Fisherman took charge. Peter, no slouch as a fisherman himself, recognized that a Greater was in the boat, and said, "Master . . . . at thy word I will let down the net" (Luke 5:5). In other words, "In accordance with your will, I will do my fishing." Many fish were caught, and Christ informed them that in the future they would "catch men" and not fish. To catch men requires as much obedience to the Word of Christ as did the task of catching fish. We must do our spiritual fishing in obedience to the revealed principles of Christ. Here is where ecumenical evangelism fails.

Saul learned a hard lesson: You cannot substitute a good thing for the best thing—total obedience to God. The first king of Israel was specifically commanded by God to smite the Amalekites, the heathen enemies of God and His people, and to destroy them and all that they had (I Sam. 15:2-3). Ignoring that command and taking matters into his own hands, Saul spared a portion of the flocks and herds of the Amalekites. When Samuel the prophet reappeared, he enquired whether Saul had completely obeyed the Lord. He discovered that he had not. Saul, however, had a ready defense of his disobedience. He had disobeyed God's instructions about the animals of Amalek so that he could obey God's instructions about the required sacrifices. The animals he had spared were to be used as sacrifices to God. At that point Samuel uttered a monumental statement: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (I Sam. 15:22-23).

Billy Graham and his followers have justified their disobedience to God's prohibitions of cooperation with the apostates with the plea that they are winning souls to Christ and that this overshadows all other considerations. This line of reasoning, however, is obviously contrary to the principle given by Samuel. Sacrifices were good, proper, and scriptural when practiced in accordance with the will of God. When practiced apart from the will of God, they were not acceptable. So it is with evangelism. Evangelism is commanded in Scripture, but so is obedience to God. We cannot evangelize while disobeying God.

The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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