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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

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"I Donít Like Broccoli."

George Bush, when president of the United states, created a stir among broccoli growers and gave support to many small children when he announced publicly that he did not care for broccoli. Many believers have the same aversion to sound doctrine. Any attempt to broach doctrinal issues is to many contemporary believers a bore and a bother. Here Leith Anderson (and others of his persuasion) encourage this attitude. Anderson cites various historic differences within the church: Arminianism vs. Calvinism; infant vs. adult baptism; the validity of charismatic gifts; the form of church government; and Reformed vs. dispensational theology. He points out that "there is a fast-growing church population that considers most of these distinctives to be irrelevant. They donít really care about these differences, and they demonstrate their attitudes by easily moving from church to church with differing ideologies."39 Any experienced pastor could certainly confirm the fact that many modern believers seem to have no care for doctrinal differences. One may visit the retirement communities in Florida or Arizona and discover numbers of former members of sound, fundamentalist churches in the North who now attend the most rank New Evangelical congregations and do not seem to realize that there is anything amiss. Anderson continues to shock us as he describes the average churchgoer today and encourages us to cater to their whims. "The differences between Catholicism and Protestantism donít matter very much, if at all, compared to the importance of a Sunday School they and their children like. Sometimes they say, 'When the kids are grown weíll think about going back to the Catholic Church'"40 Real convictions, these! The greater tragedy is that these New Evangelical preachers and congregations will not tell them what is wrong with the Catholic Church. That would be too negative, confrontational, and divisive. "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (I Cor. 14:8). There are far too many "uncertain sounds" in the pulpits of the land.

Broad parameters of fellowship and loose doctrinal convictions are bound to affect the preaching of a pastor. One pastor describes a program his church provides to assist other churches in learning how to grow. "Half a dozen churches participate at one time—often including charismatic and non-charismatic, mainline and independent, young and old. No attempt is made to change doctrinal or denominational distinctives . . . . The day is fast disappearing when people choose churches because of the name of the denomination, the mode of baptism, or the system of theology."41

But questions must be asked. Does the Bible teach both charismatic doctrine and noncharismatic doctrine? Can both baptismal regeneration and salvation by faith alone be supported from the Scriptures? If someone is teaching error, should a pastor or teacher rebuke it and correct it? These serious questions define the very nature of the ministry. John Stott is absolutely right when he says that "theology is far more important than methodology"42 and that preaching must have a solid theological basis.

Donít Be So Dogmatic

Strong convictions are not in fashion these days, particularly in the religious world. "Live and let live" is the motto. This mindset has already been noted in previous discussions. It certainly is affecting the attitudes of many toward the preaching ministry. Barna observes, "By 2000, Americans will be even less interested in absolutes, preferring those perspectives which allow for relative values to gain credence. Casting issues in a black-and-white mode will disgust many people."43 No doubt this observation contains some truth, but should God's messengers be intimidated by this trend and mute their message from God? Should the preacher refrain from seeking to discover the clear meaning of the scriptural text for fear that some will disagree with him? Charles Spurgeon was criticized severely in his day for his public and repeated defense of great doctrines of the faith and yet God mightily blessed his ministry. There was no effort on the part of the Apostle Paul to be less dogmatic. "As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:9). Paul would not have made a good New Evangelical. He was far too abrasive in his dogmatism.

Hanging Loose

In earlier days preachers emphasized to people the importance of membership in a local congregation. In contrast, one current author sees church membership as meaningless. "It is a concept born in another era. In America today, with the values of people changing rapidly and significantly, long-term loyalty and commitment are passe concepts. There are growing numbers of people who, even if they attend a church regularly, and are active participants in the ministry of the Body, refuse to join the church."44

Why would this be true? Why would people not wish to affiliate themselves with a local congregation? "Church membership has negative connotations today. People perceive it to be restrictive and to provide few benefits . . . . In other words, the average adult thinks that belonging to a church is good for other people but represents unnecessary bondage and baggage for himself."45

Another notes that many wish to attend a church but do not wish to join. "They view local churches more as networks than formal organizations.46 In other words, they want to "network" (fellowship and make friends) without making any commitment to the position and ministry of the church itself. The old-fashioned (and we believe, biblical) concept of a church covenant is obsolete. The church covenant is a solemn agreement between the members of the congregation, before the Lord, that they will seek to live godly lives, attend and support the church, and so on. Nowadays the local church is viewed as a convenience for the benefit of people. This is evident in the quotation given previously indicating that people view church membership as "providing few benefits." It is another indication of the inherent selfishness of the age in which we live. "I will support something to the extent that I think it benefits me and my family. If these benefits are not as great as I think they should be, I will go elsewhere." One is reminded of Paul's lament, "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. 2:21).

Contrary to the notions of some, church membership is both biblical and important. The first church was formed by the bonding together of converts who "continued stedfastly in the apostlesí'doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). The language employed indicates a high degree of commitment to the local body. It is vital that believers be accountable to a local church, a vital part of a functioning body, and not merely observers who float in and out at will. Many churches make the mistake of allowing non-members to participate in the ministry of the church without making any definite commitment to its doctrinal position or standards. They view this as a display of Christian love and acceptance, but in reality, they are weakening the position of their church and making church membership virtually meaningless.

True churches that have a desire to be biblical should have some standards for their members. While some today decry this as "legalism," it is both scriptural and wise. A. W. Tozer, a leader years ago in the denomination known as the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had great spiritual discernment and the courage to declare the unpopular. Would that those who are following in his train today had the same spiritual fortitude! He wrote,

Evangelical Christianity is fast becoming the religion of the bourgeois. The well-to-do, the upper-middle classes, the politically prominent, are accepting our religion by the thousands . . . . to the uncontrollable glee of our religious leaders who seem completely blind to the fact that the vast majority of these new patrons of the Lord of glory have not altered their moral habits in the slightest nor given any evidence of true conversion that would have been accepted by the saintly fathers who built the churches.47

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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