When people consider the concept of the Brick Wall, questions arise as they attempt to identify which groups are inside the brick wall and which are on the outside looking in. The rubric I am using divides everyone into two groups – genuine Christian groups and those that have compromised the gospel. There are always a few groups that seem to defy easy placement, testing the limits of doctrinal compromise. Any metaphor, such as the one I am using here, has its limits. Many of these groups defy easy categorization.
Privacy Fence Doctrine?
I do not want to get too cute with the metaphor, but perhaps there are some in-between groups – not quite outside the Brick Wall but also not quite meriting a friendly Picket fence. Maybe we should call them “Privacy Fence” groups. They are not quite orthodox yet have not fully denied the gospel. All doctrinal compromise is not created equal.
It seems that the questions often revolve around several categories. Is this person inside or outside the Brick Wall? What about this church? What about people who hold to this doctrine? Obviously, no metaphor is perfect. I will attempt here to deal with some representative issues. We cannot examine every specific question, but perhaps the way we deal with these will help you as you consider specific situations you encounter as you do doctrinal triage.
Are People Who Approve of Homosexuality Real Christians?
I have received questions from people who are part of churches or denominations that approve of that which the Bible condemns. If my denomination approves of homosexuality, is it outside the Brick Wall? If my church waffles on abortion, is it really Christian?
Questions like these are becoming more common, as groups that once honored the moral standards of God’s Word have bowed to the world’s views and compromised on social issues. How do we handle this? The answer is subtle.
First, while the Bible makes it absolutely clear that homosexuality is a sin, the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is hardly fundamental to salvation. God does nto require that we get our moral and social views in order before he saves us. A person may have completely mistaken convictions about homosexuality or abortion and still find a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
However, I think it is safe to say that when you find compromise on such bedrock moral issues as homosexuality or abortion, you are likely to also find some compromise on fundamental gospel doctrine. God’s Word is pretty clear about homosexuality. If you simply open the Bible and ask the question, “What does the Bible say about same-sex relationships, you will get a pretty clear idea. Only those who come to the scriptures with the determination to find justification for homosexuality will miss that clear message. Those who honor the Bible as the basis for truth will affirm that God intended sex to be between a man and his wife, and never between people of the same sex.
So, is the approval of homosexuality put someone outside the Brick Wall? Perhaps not. But it is probably a symptom that someone has, in fact, embraced serious doctrinal compromise. You have not seen many denominations that have held fast on the Brick Wall doctrines that have approved of the homosexual lifestyle.
Compromise on homosexuality may not be a Brick Wall problem, but it is symptomatic of one.
Is Catholicism Christian?
This is one of the first questions that comes to mind when the Brick Wall concept is taught. Is Catholicism simply a variant of Christianity or is it a false religion. In the churches I grew up in, there was little question on this issue. The Catholic Church was the Great Harlot of Revelation which would try to destroy the true church. In recent years, dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals has become much more common – raising great controversy. Some Christians have trumpeted that interfaith dialogue as a sign of progress toward unity. Others see it as the beginnings of an ecumenical movement that will ultimate cause the compromise of the gospel. To
Who is right? Well, all I can give is an opinion – again, one that is shaded. I have known Catholic people who gave every evidence of being genuinely saved. In fact, my dad sat in his seat on a major airline next to a nun. During the flight, she began to witness to him. He was shocked. She was sharing the unvarnished gospel of Christ with a long-time Baptist preacher, and they shared some wonderful fellowship together. Every one of us knows a Catholic person we believe has genuinely been saved.
But I believe that Catholic people are saved in spite of Catholicism, not because of it. I lay no claim to expertise in Catholic doctrine or practice, but I do have some familiarity. I understand that there is often a disconnect between official church doctrine and the beliefs and practices of individual Catholics.
When I lived in Cedar Rapids, I got interested in watching EWTN – the Catholic Cable channel. I’d never been to Catholic mass. I’d never attended catechism classes. But I began to watch them on TV. As I watched the masses, as I listened to the discussions, to the “Bible studies” that were presented, I came to a strong conclusion. Catholicism is not gospel Christianity. It is not the faith that was revealed to the Apostles. It is an aberration, a perversion of that faith.
I know, that is harsh and hurtful to some. It is my strong conviction. From my observances, the problem with Catholicism is not subtraction, but addition. Liberal groups deny the core doctrines of the faith. Catholics do not. They add to them. They believe in the authority of the Bible, but add the authoritative interpretations of Church tradition. They affirm the Trinity and the deity of Christ, but add the veneration of Mary in a way that is contrary to scripture. There is still a lot of discussion within Catholicism about the exact role of Mary as mediatrix or co-redemptrix. Either way, Mary is given an almost divine role – one directly contrary to biblical evidence. Catholics believe in faith, but poison that faith with works, with sacraments – rendering it ineffective and empty.
So, I accept that there are many within the Catholic Church who have, in spite of the serious false doctrine promoted by the Vatican, found a genuine saving faith in Christ. But the fact that a few people have found faith in Christ within Catholicism does not negate the fact that the teachings of the Catholic church are not biblical, orthodox Christianity.
What about Open Theism?
I have also received questions about “Open Theism.” Open Theists do not accept the classic formulation of the sovereignty of God. They do not believe that God has ordained a plan which He is working out in this world. They believe that He gives humans absolute free will, and adjusts His plan based on the choices we make. It is, I believe, a deeply flawed doctrine, clearly contrary to the biblical view of God’s sovereignty. And yet, the proponents of Open Theism generally accept the biblical doctrine of salvation. At this time, I am not sure where to place the proponents of this doctrine. The proponents seem to be orthodox believers in other respects, but this is no minor doctrinal deviation. They are a perfect example of the need for a privacy fence. I will accept that they are believers, but I will publicly identify their doctrine as false and dangerous. I will not partner with them in any significant way, other than the most basic of fellowship.
There are many doctrinal innovations in our modern Christian world that require a similar treatment. There are people who still affirm faith in Christ, but hold aberrant views of the atonement or the nature of God. Many of the Emergent churches have wander down doctrinal allies that make evangelicals nervous – and rightly so. NT Wright and William Paul Young, who would both claim to be saved by grace through faith (I think) advocate views that I find contrary to scriptures. These would be what I would call Privacy Fence doctrines. They may not be blatantly heretical, but neither are they genuinely Christian.
There will always be issues like this as we try to apply this concept. The Brick Walls and Picket Fences metaphor can be helpful, but no metaphor is perfect. But the principle, and the practice of theological triage arestill valid, even if we cannot dot every “i” or cross every “t” in the process.
Next time we will begin the discussion of “Picket Fence” Doctrine.