There is an increasingly and disturbing ecumenical unity among churches. How can I be upset about unity? Unity is good. We should seek to be unified around the central message of the Gospel. However, the unity I am speaking of is different. Unity without discernment should cause alarm. I hear more and more that churches are doing community programs and worship services with an inclusive nature accepting anyone with any belief who wants to be involved and even participate in bringing the message. And this goes beyond a denominational participation. There are groups who are combining Christian, agnostic, universalist, and other world religions into one assembly. They will have worship services with all Beatles songs or Bob Dylan songs. Who and what are we worshiping with secular music? They will call these assemblies things like “people of faith” and use words like “liturgy” to make it sound spiritual and holy. We must guard the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) from these things.
There are many wolves that seek to destroy what Christ has established. We hear, “Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors…” and “Paul used other writers and religious people of the day to preach to the Athenians…” as excuses to Coexist in exercising a freedom they believe we have.
Let me take each of those biblical accounts and establish a heart of discernment for us all. In the first case, Jesus did indeed eat with sinners and tax collectors. He did it openly and willingly. In fact, the Pharisees were very upset about it. How could he openly be among those people? Jesus took them to task for their hearty uproar. He said,
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Matthew 5:12-13 (ESV)
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Mark 2:17 (ESV)
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” — Luke 5:31-32 (ESV)
Jesus was modeling what he wants each of us to do, teach the Gospel to those who do not know him. He did not merely eat with sinners, but taught them as Luke specifically lays out, to repent of their sin. That is our call. If we are to eat and spend time with the lost, we must also be sharing the Gospel with them. I cannot find a passage in the Bible where Jesus condoned sinful behavior. He would treat people kindly and with gentleness, but then Jesus called sinners to cease sinful behavior and repent.
In the case of Paul’s trip to Athens we are usually taught the part where Paul spoke from poets and philosophers of the day to teach about God. We are told he was inclusive and used culture to prove his point. I want to point out two situations that occur that we tend to overlook. First, in Acts 17:16 it says,
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (NIV)
Paul, with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, was quite upset about a city that had given itself fully to idolatry. Second, when Paul taught, he spoke in reference to the one idol that had implication to the one and only God:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for” ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,” ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” — Acts 17:24-31 (ESV)
Paul did not walk in and accept their idols; did not accept their teachings; did not accept their ways. While pointing out that they had idols for every form of god they could think of, he went among them to proclaim the true God that we should all know and worship. Even in his acknowledgment of the “unknown god,” he proclaimed the command given by God to Moses that they should not have idols before God. There are shades of 1 Kings 18 when Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and their idol. We can hear whispers of Habakkuk 2:18-20 where the prophet asks the rhetorical question, “Of what value is an idol, since man has carved it?” Here Paul stands before these false gods and challenges their ability to solve the Athenian issues of the day.
If we are to spend our time among people in our world, we must take our Great Commission seriously to share Christ and him crucified. If we go among sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors and do not take that opportunity to follow Christ’s command to share the Gospel, we are ignoring our Savior.
I call each and every one of us to learn discernment. Instead of being ecumenical in our approach to the faith, we need to seek to teach truth from Scripture and be Gospel-centered, holy and righteous people; uniting with all those that teach only the true Gospel of Jesus for the sake of the world. You will never successfully evangelize the world by being friends with it (James 4:4). We cannot bring anyone to the biblical Christ by unifying with error and holding hands with those who herald what God says He hates.
We must examine the teachings of those around us. If they do not teach the Jesus Christ of Scripture, we must stand up and teach the truth. Scripture teaches more about false teaching, false prophets, lying, sound doctrine, and teaching the truth than it does anything else. I believe it is because the truth is the most important thing we can value as human beings, especially those that follow Christ. Christ himself said,
“You are right saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” — John 18:37 (NIV)
Jesus came to tell us the truth. We must also seek to speak the truth of the Gospel. For this reason, we must be able to discern what is right and true about Jesus. Which Jesus do other groups teach? If it is not the one we read about in Scripture, it isn’t true.
If we are willing to be ecumenical for the sake of acceptance and making each other feel good, but are not willing to be Gospel-centered, we are exchanging the truth of God with a lie (Romans 1:25).
There are many who have never heard the true message of Jesus and his Gospel before. That is our calling through the Great Commission. Christ’s words that he did not come to call the righteous, but the sick is our key, because we truly all are the sick he speaks of. Some just don’t realize Jesus was talking about them. We must proclaim what it means to be a sinner who has been saved by grace through Jesus.
John MacArthur recently said, ” A church that is just like the world has nothing to offer the world.” May we all be discerning in the truth of God and His Word.