I have shared quite a bit about the fantastic, life-sustaining fellowship I experienced with pastors from other churches and other denominations in Cedar Rapids. Because of the grace God gave in our fellowship, we ended up engaging in several citywide ministries, most of which were also blessed. But one such attempt led me to a Brick Wall moment. I was asked to serve on a “marriage task force” that was working to develop a unified approach to promote marriage in the community. We believed that if we developed common standards to prepare couples for marriage, we might make a dent in the divorce rate.
I went to the first meeting and ended up seated next to the pastor of a large and very liberal church; not a normal participant in the prayer group. Some months before, he had distributed a letter to Cedar Rapids pastors responding to a Cedar Rapids Gazette article about the evangelistic efforts of one of the churches. In his letter, he scoffed at the idea that people with religious backgrounds needed “saving” and specifically derided the idea of being “born again.” He said the people of his church were okay because they were good people, had been baptized and were part of the church. He publicly and forcefully denied the faith. During the meeting, there was a lot of talk about trying to widen the boundaries of the group to include people from non-evangelical Christian groups, groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s witnesses, and people from other faiths (Cedar Rapids has a strong Muslim and Jewish communities).
I did not raise a fuss, but I did inform the leader of the group afterwards that I would no longer be participating. I would not partner with people who denied “The Way, the Truth and the Life” or become unequally yoked in a ministry that might give the perception that I considered these folks brothers and sisters in faith. I was willing to fellowship with Pentecostals, charismatics, independents and people of any denomination that uphold the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when you deny the gospel, you are not part of the Christian world. You are an enemy of my Savior.
Harsh words, I know, and not the kind of words we like to hear in this “we’re all the same”, “don’t worry about doctrine” world in which we live today. I am amazed at Christian people who prefer to group-hug those who deny the faith instead of standing against them. We need some level of theological discernment. Jesus promised us that there would be false christs who claimed to represent God, false apostles who would try to usurp authority to lead people astray, false prophets who would claim new revelation in contradiction to the perfect Word, false teachers who would twist God’s Word for their own purposes and false brethren who would listen to them, even honor them.
It seems to me that Paul’s warning to Timothy has been more than fulfilled today.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
According to 2 Timothy 3:5, this false religion would demonstrate a “form of godliness” while simultaneously “denying the power” that comes through true faith. In other words, they would in every way look like Christians, but would actually deny Christ and miss the power of the gospel to save.
Again, I am amazed at how many Christians stick their head in the sand and act as if these prophecies is really not significant. Folly! Might as well swim in shark-infested waters with a bloody nose!’
Dangers of Discernment
All of us know someone who has taken this principle way too far. Some who engage in discernment ministries, who try to hold the church doctrinally accountable, become rigid, petty, and condemnatory. There are some who seem to derive pleasure from condemning others to the flaming pits or who identify those who disagree with their theological perspective in any way heretics.
A family started attending our church in Cedar Rapids because of the doctrinal compromise they saw at their church. These people became close friends, but I was always a little wary of them. If you did not fall in line with R.C Sproul’s theology in every point, they would drop that h-bomb immediately. They stopped attending Sunday School because they were being taught “heresy.”
To reject theological discernment is folly – a form of ecclesiological suicide. But the judgmentalism, the glee for division, the majoring on minors that is exhibited in some theological discernment ministries is just about as dangerous as the tolerance of false doctrine.
I attended a pastors’ conference at a well-know west coast church in 1993. I heard some great preaching and learned a lot. But I grew increasingly uncomfortable during the week as one Christian leader after another was excoriated publicly and condemned as false. I agree with most of what was said. There are heretics within the visible church, as Jesus, Paul and others promised. But if this well-known pastor was to be believed, there were barely a handful of American pastors who were not heretics!
But, make no mistake about it. We swim in shark-infested spiritual waters. There are enemies of the gospel outside the church, but the most dangerous enemies are those who are inside the church, who seem to be genuine, but are false, who work inside the walls to destroy the faith of the faithful. They must be identified. They must be opposed. Jesus promised there would be wolves among the sheep and he does not lie.
Level 1 Doctrines
So, what are the Level 1 doctrines that require a Brick Wall response? The body of truth at this level is relatively small. Only that doctrine which is necessary to the maintenance of the biblical gospel requires a Brick Wall. There are solid, Christian people who believe in paedo-Baptism. I disagree with them, strongly. But I know that they love Jesus and honor the Word (even if I think their interpretations are wrong!) I need not separate from these fellow-saints. A friendly Picket Fence will do.
There is a basic question that needs to be asked when identifying Brick Wall doctrine. “Does this doctrine affect the gospel of Jesus Christ?” It goes beyond just the two facts of the gospel (Jesus died for our sins and rose again as Lord of all). There are doctrines that are not part of the gospel itself, but form a foundation for that gospel. So, we must identify which doctrine, when compromised, undermines the foundation of our faith. Since we believe that the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” we must fiercely contend for that faith.
There is a time when we cannot play nice, we cannot “go along to get along.” There is a time to stand strong and firm on the fundamental truths of the faith.
Two Important Notes
Please understand that I am not saying that someone who disagrees on any of these doctrines is unsaved. God’s grace is truly amazing. I’m not the final judge, of course, but I have known people who were truly saved who came from churches and denominations that would not know the true gospel if it bit them. The question is not about the individual salvation of people who hold such doctrines.
This is a church issue. What happens to the church (or to a denomination) that compromises this issue? Will it continue to proclaim the gospel with a clear voice even if it does not hold the line on this doctrine? It is my belief that the following truths are essential to fidelity to the gospel of Christ. We cannot tolerate compromise on these doctrines and we cannot partner in ministry with those who do compromise them. They live on the other side of the Brick wall.
Secondly, I am not advocating aggressive or offensive behavior. When I decided not to participate in the marriage initiative in Cedar Rapids, I did not write a letter and tell everyone they were going to hell. I did not make a scene. I just informed my friend that I would not be a part of it and I told him why. I had the opportunity to be involved in televised debates on a Cedar Rapids TV station with the Rabbi, the local Imam, and a representative of the “Jesus Project.” I did not back down a bit on the gospel or the exclusivity of our faith. But I tried to be unfailingly courteous even as I delivered a message they hated.
We believe that which our world hates and live by standards that it has rejected. But fidelity to the gospel does not require offensive interpersonal behavior.
Six Brick Wall Doctrines
I have set forth six Level 1 doctrines – truths around which we must build the Great Wall of Truth. Some of them are compilations of other doctrines into one more general category. We could separate all this into smaller bites and have It would be easy to separate them into many more specific truths. I have boiled it down to these six.
Brick Wall 1: God’s Word is True and Authoritative
“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful…that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Our God speaks truth and he spoke the scriptures. We affirm that the scriptures are true in all the affirm and in every way. Church history has demonstrated that those churches and denominations that compromise the concept of the trustworthiness of scripture soon lose spiritual power and evangelistic commitment.
When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he began by questioning the truthfulness of what God said. God said, “If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die.” Satan countered, “You will not surely die.” He tempted them to believe that what God said was true was not actually true. When Adam and Eve began to doubt the goodness of God and the truth of His Word, sin followed quickly.
The first step on the path of ecclesiological apostasy is compromise of the trustworthiness and authority of God’s Word over our lives. Those who begin to question the Word will soon begin to compromise other key doctrines. Is Jesus the only way to God? Do human beings really stand guilty before God? Did God actually require the death of his Son to pay for our sins? Waffling on these bedrock doctrines usually begins with waffling on inerrancy
The doctrine of inerrancy is a domino doctrine. There are people who have been saved by God’s grace, but have compromised the doctrine of the absolute trustworthiness of God’s Word. They believe that the Bible has scientific, historical, and even perhaps some theological error, yet they still hold to faith in Christ. They still believe in Jesus, but not in the perfection of His Word.
But when this first doctrine is tipped, the rest of the doctrines are soon bound to fall. The gospel is revealed in God’s Word. When we cast doubt on the veracity of that revelation, the hard truths of the gospel also begin to fade away. Soon, every major doctrine falls as well. No church and no denomination will remain faithful to the gospel if it sacrifices the doctrine of inerrancy. Either we have an inerrant Bible or we have no real standard of truth.
My College Experience
I attended a small Baptist college in Florida. The religion professors there were liberal (by SBC standards, at least), teaching that the scriptures had errors. It was a book written by men and contained errors of history and science. I saw the effect this teaching had on the young men and women who came to that school. I saw young men come in to that school with a desire to preach God’s Word and leave cynical and skeptical. Young women came in with a heart for Jesus and left with a heart for radical social causes. This was not the exception; it was the rule.
I realized pretty soon that I stuck out pretty badly in that environment. I made my voice heard in class and in private conversations. Gradually, I became one of the token “fundamentalists” at that college. We debated in class and lobbied outside it. The dean of admissions told me point-blank that I was a trouble maker and should leave the school. I did not leave, but continued to speak what I believed to be the truth and confront what I believed to be error.
Two Life Lessons
Living in a liberal environment was a valuable learning experience for me. First, I learned that there are tragic consequences to undermining faith in the Word of God. When the doctrine of inerrancy is sacrificed, the results are horrifying. I saw firsthand the devastation that skepticism and unbelief wreak. I could name names, but there would be little point in that. You do not know them. But I did. And I watched them slowly march from believing what I believed to adopting a whole new set of values. I saw them buy into skepticism and unbelief in God’s Word. No one can tell me that theological liberalism is spiritually harmless. I saw the damage that it did.
Second, I learned the value of taking a stand against heresy. I know I was obnoxious and aggravating at times. But in my first year, I was just about the only voice being raised against the diabolical doctrine that was being taught. By the second year, I had a small group of friends who stood with me against the tide of disbelief. By my third and final year, there was a strong and active group of students defending orthodoxy at this little Baptist school.
We called ourselves “the Gang Green.” Why? I don’t remember. I think one of the guys watched the Muppets and went around singing “It’s not easy being green” and it just stuck. Through the wonders of Facebook, I have made contact with these guys again after losing touch for many years. One of them is charismatic now. One of them is Episcopalian. But every one of them is still a faithful and committed servant of God. One has been a church planter, another is highly placed at NAMB. But everyone of them is serving Jesus. A gang green reunion would have to include a worship service!
I’m not trying to claim all the credit for this. But I do believe that each of us helped each other to stand strong when all around us were ridiculing us and acting as if we were insane.
Standing against the tide of skepticism is not easy. I remember sitting at my desk and staring up into the eyes of a professor who had both hands planted on may desk and was screaming in my face, “You mean you actually believe that?” But as hard as it was, it was important. Most of the students who came to that school were convinced to reject everything their home churches had taught them. There are several of us who did not. Building a brick wall made a big difference.
We Must Build a Brick Wall around God’s Word
We must erect a brick wall of separation between us and anyone who undermines trust in God’s Word. Does the Bible say God created the world? Then we believe that God created the world. If the Bible says the Red Sea parted, we believe that the Red Sea parted. If it claims that Jesus walked on water, He walked on water. We believe the sun stood still because the Bible says the sun stood still. We do not consign the story of Jonah and the big fish to the realms of fiction. We believe what the Bible says. And when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to Father but by me,” we believe it. And if we believe these truths, we must also stand against those who undermine them.
We must also reject any desire to give equal authority to any other person or code of truth but the Holy Bible. Some groups claim to hold to the Bible as God’s Word, but add other documents to the canon of Scripture – the Book of Mormon, church traditions, or the authority of a particular man or group. Revelation 22:19 tells us that it is just as bad to add to the Word of God as it is to take away from it.
I would make one more observation. Among Southern Baptists, the word inerrancy has become imbued with some political stains, so much so that some reject the word itself. I am not saying that one has to be a supporter of the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence movement to be a true Christian. I am saying we must believe that the Bible is truth without any mixture of error. Use whatever term you want. But believe every word of the Word and submit every thought of your mind, every piece of your reason to its teachings!
Inside the Community of Faith, we believe God’s Word – and only God’s Word – is perfectly true and accept it as our final authority on all matters of faith, practice, or belief. We may disagree on some interpretations of the Word, but we cannot doubt its authority.
Either God has spoken or we are on our own.