Maintaining the Distinctiveness of the Gospel
in a Pluralistic Age
Why Word of Life Baptist Church Does Not Support
the Billy Graham Crusade
by Fred G. Zaspel
Word of Life Baptist Church
In June of this year the Billy Graham Crusade comes to Pottsville, and for so many of our area churches this is the event of the decade. It is an opportunity to express unity with fellow churches in the evangelism of the lost.
These are worthy goals, to be sure, and so it is with considerable confusion that some wonder why Word of Life Baptist Church is not participating. And the question is a fair one. After all, we share the same desires to express our unity with fellow believers and to evangelize the lost. These are high Biblical priorities.
Moreover, in some ways I feel a kind of affiliation with Billy Graham. My father was a student at Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis in the late 1940's when Billy Graham was president; Graham's signature is on my father's diploma. My mother received Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in St. Paul, after first hearing the gospel from my father (then her boyfriend). Cliff Barrows, Graham's long time song leader, was my father's youth pastor back in the mid 40's at Temple Baptist Church in St. Paul. I have heard many stories, affectionately told, of the Billy Graham of years gone by. Billy Graham, in some significant ways, had a real influence in my family.
And so as anyone can understand, it would only be for good reason that we have decided not to participate in this popular event. Indeed, our reasons are Biblical reasons which I will explain here. I'll begin with the larger picture.
The Only Gospel
(6) I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, (7) which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (10) For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10).
The gospel which Paul preached the gospel, he so often explains, which he learned from Jesus Himself is indeed "good news." It proclaims an all-sufficient Savior and, in Him, a completely finished work of salvation. "He gave Himself for our sins" (Galatians 1:4)! That is to say, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ was a payment for the sins of all of His people. He died in a representative capacity; He was a penal substitute. The judgment of our sins fell upon Him, and He willingly took it. He "gave Himself" for this very purpose. Those who look to Christ in faith find a complete salvation, because in Him they have all that God requires of them. They have His righteousness, and they have in Him the full payment of their sin. This is good news, that Christ is an all-sufficient Savior. We may have salvation freely, in Him.
This is what makes the Christian gospel unique. It alone of all other religious messages faces honestly all the hard questions. All other theologies, all other religions, all religious theories, are forced to pretend at very critical points. They must pretend, because they all imagine some quite unimaginable things. All of the world's "gospels," except for the gospel according to Jesus and the Biblical writers, assume either that our sin is not too terribly serious or that somehow we can accomplish or at least contribute to our own salvation. "Do your best," we are told, "and God will accept you." "Keep the ten commandments, and heaven will be yours!" "If you are only sincere, God will surely have you." "Surely God doesn't expect you to be perfect!" And so on the world's gospels go. They contain a message of self-help and of a god who is really not so righteous as to demand punishment for sin.
And the God of these other gospels is really quite different from the God of the Biblical gospel. These other gospels do not have a God whose righteousness is such that He must punish sin and Who cannot declare a guilty man righteous. What we all would deplore of a human judge, these gospels and their preachers assume to be true of God; they imagine that somehow God is less righteous, that He really can declare a sinner to be righteous, that He can acquit the guilty. "He understands!" these preachers assure us. The god of these preachers is a god who side-steps justice in order to save. He is a merciful god, but not a perfectly just god.
Briefly put, these other gospels never really face that dilemma: How can a holy God forgive sin or justify a sinner? Paul's gospel, the gospel of the Bible, is unique at this very important point. It faces this question head on, and offers the perfect solution. It proclaims a Savior who is entirely qualified and able and willing to save sinners. This Savior, Jesus Christ, God the Son, came and "gave Himself for our sins." That sinner who comes to Jesus Christ in faith God pronounces righteous not because God pretends that the man has not sinned, and not because God decides to side-step the demands of His perfect justice. No. God declares the believing sinner righteous because that sinner is joined to Jesus Christ in Whom all of God's demands are met.
This is why it is "good news." There is no good news in a gospel of self-help how could we ever do enough? And how could we ever know it? Nor is there any good news in a gospel whose god is not true to Himself. But in the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ there is good news indeed! Here, and only here, we learn of the God who is true to Himself and Who in grace saves sinners by giving His own Son to die in their place. In this gospel we have a Savior who does for us everything that God requires of us. The call of the Christian gospel is not, "Do!" but "Done!" Christ has done exactly everything that need be done, and we need only to trust Him. Joined to Him by faith, resting in Him and what He has done, God will take us not by side-stepping justice, but on the ground of the full satisfaction of His justice in Jesus Christ. In His death the Lord Jesus paid in full the penalty of sin, and God's righteous demands are thereby satisfied. We may be saved freely, by the work of God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the gospel Paul learned from the risen Christ. It is a gospel that faces honestly all the hard questions and answers them honestly. And so, this gospel is not only unique it works! By this gospel men and women really can be saved. They needn't pretend any longer. They needn't hope that perhaps somehow they will do well enough. They needn't hope that God will just decide to overlook their sins. No. They can have confidence that their salvation rests on firm ground the person and work of Jesus Christ "who gave Himself for our sins."
Paul is very careful about this. This is the only gospel that saves; and because this is the only gospel which saves, we dare not change it! And we need not change it. It works! It proclaims a real Savior Who satisfies the true God and in Whose death the penalty of our sin is paid in full. With Him, nothing else is needed.
The gospel is unique. It proclaims a finished salvation in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Any alteration of this message, any alteration at all, will change it and make it something other than what it is. And that must never be done, for only this message saves.
But change the gospel is exactly what some in Galatia had done. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7)
Paul's problem here was false teachers who are called "Judaizers." These were "converts" from Judaism who attempted to carry the works of the law over into the gospel. They taught that a man must be circumcised in order to be saved. There must be this much human involvement.
But this, for Paul, was a startling thing! "I marvel at it," he said. Why would anyone ever dream of changing this gospel? This gospel proclaims a finished work of salvation that is given freely to the believing sinner! Why would anyone ever want to add anything to that? That would be unthinkable! It would be foolish. In fact, in Galatians 3:1 he says that in order for these Galatians to entertain such a thought, someone must have "bewitched" them! Surely, says Paul, for you to entertain such a notion, someone has cast a spell on you! Someone has tricked you! Why else would you turn from the gospel of grace to a gospel of works?
We wonder this today. We witness the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and people reject it in favor of a gospel of works, a gospel of self-help. For some strange reason people would rather believe that they must do something, as impossible as that is, rather than believe that salvation is something done for them. It is a startling thing. To reject the "good news" for this "other gospel" is an incredibly foolish thing. But it happens. People went for a different gospel in Paul's day, and they do it in our own day. Amazing.
What about Those Other Gospels?
But notice how Paul characterizes this other gospel. He calls it "a different gospel" and a "perverted" gospel (vv. 6-7). That is to say, if it is not this gospel of grace through Jesus Christ, it is a perversion of the real thing. There is only one gospel.
Now think again what this "other gospel" teaches. In his letter to Galatia Paul leaves no hint that the changes which the Judaizers made to this gospel were of what most would call "major" proportions. There is no indication that they disagreed with Paul on any of the primary matters of, say, Christ's deity, substitutionary death, resurrection, Messiahship, faith, etc. The assumption is that they agreed with Paul on all these things. What then was the problem? The problem was that their gospel was "perverted" by the insertion of only one little word: "and." They taught that a man was saved by grace through faith and circumcision. And that one addition, Paul says, changes the gospel completely. It perverts it into another gospel entirely. It is then no longer the gospel that saves. That one little difference makes all the difference in the world, for it is no longer a gospel of grace but of works.
But of course, as Paul emphasizes throughout his ministry, God will not have you on those terms. He will not receive a man who comes to Him claiming to have done something to make himself acceptable. No! We must come confessing that we have only our sin but that in Jesus Christ we have One Who has met all of God's demands. We come with our faith directed to Him. Come with some thoughts of personal merit, and you will not be saved. Indeed, even those who teach such things are "accursed" (vv. 8-9).
In other words, the gospel is not just unique; it is exclusive. It allows no other. Peter preached like this also: "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Nor is there any question as to where Peter and Paul got this "exclusivistic" notion they learned it from Jesus! "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6).
And this is a claim Paul is not ashamed to make. In fact, it is a necessary claim. It is a claim we must make in order for the gospel to be rightly understood. If Christ is the only Savior qualified and able to save, then our message must make that very clear. Indeed, the very worst thing you could do when preaching it is to leave the assumption that there may be other hopes! To leave men and women with other hopes is to leave them with no hope at all. And all through the history of the church, from the apostles on, this has been the offensive edge of Christian evangelism. But it is simply the facts of the matter. Christ is the only Savior. No other gospel will work.
In other words, the gospel is more than unique, and it is more than exclusive. It is intolerant.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9).
Put plainly, all other gospels are not only different: they are heresy. And not only are they heresy, they are a damnable heresy. This is no minor point. Eternal souls are at stake. And all who think that they contribute to their own salvation, in whatever way, and all who preach such, will be "accursed." This is a most serious issue.
Nor does it matter who it is who says otherwise. Paul says, "Even if I myself come back and preach differently, let me be accursed. Indeed, if even an angel from heaven says otherwise, let him be accursed also."
(1) Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly and indeed you do bear with me. (2) For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (3) But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (4) For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted you may well put up with it! (13) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. (14) And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. (15) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:1-4, 13-15).
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul handles false teachers in this very same way. Again, the indication is that there were vast areas of agreement. But evidently some notion of personal merit through law-keeping had crept in. And this change, says Paul, is "a different gospel," indeed, "another Jesus" entirely.
This is serious. Paul says that we have been promised, or "betrothed," to Christ. The picture is a beautiful one. We are waiting to be united to Him at His coming, and our wait is a faithful one. We must not be caught flirting with any "other Jesus" who comes along. We must remain faithful to Him, the only true Savior.
In other words, we must not be so naive as to think that just because a man speaks highly of Jesus that he is preaching the gospel. There is Jesus, and there is that "other Jesus"; the real Jesus, Paul says, saves all by Himself. Any Jesus who saves with your help is not the same Jesus, however similar he may seem otherwise. Again, there is the Gospel, and then there is that "different gospel." The true gospel proclaims a completely finished salvation, a gift of grace to the believing sinner. Any other message is a different gospel entirely, not the one which saves.
Ministers of Satan
Nor are those who preach this other gospel merely good, well intentioned, harmless men. No, Paul says, they are "false apostles, deceitful workers, and ministers of Satan." These are not very flattering terms, to be sure! These are "deceivers," yes, "ministers of Satan," Paul says. But how else can we honestly describe those who pervert the gospel which saves and exchange the real Jesus for another? They are not only wrong, Paul says; they are "deceitful." Even their motives are evil and pernicious. If their motives were good, if they intended by their work to help men and women, Paul says, they would preach this gospel which I preach and no other.
Do not be so naive as to think that those who preach this other Jesus are "good" or "kind" people. No, "like Satan who deceived Eve" they seek to "corrupt you away from the simplicity that is in Christ."
Moreover, consider the final end of these false teachers. "Their end will be according to their works." This is the seriousness of their error. They are not harmless. This other Jesus which they preach is one which will lead a man to perdition.
Paul, an Ecumenist?
You see, you needn't read far in Paul to see that he just does not fit very well in today's "ecumenical" scene. Today's ecumenical leaders assure us that "doctrine does not matter." No? Since when? Who says? The gospel of Christ is not a message of toleration or respect for other views. There is no other view. God is not taking a vote on the way of salvation. If the gospel that is preached is not this gospel of grace through Jesus Christ alone, it will not work. All other gospels are not only wrong; they are destructively wrong. And if this gospel is not the gospel that is preached, Paul tells us, we do not offer them our respect.
It is on this ground that Paul issues such unpopular commands regarding separation from false teachers and false teaching.
(14) Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (15) And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? (16) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." (17) Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." (18) "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty." (1) Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).
(17) Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. (18) For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17-18).
These commands mean something; they were not given for nothing. They were given to be obeyed, and yet they are far from the situation today. If plain words have meaning, and if these words are given to us from God, then clearly God requires us to separate from unbelief. Christ and Satan have nothing in common.
By contrast, today, we have crusades and religious gatherings of all kinds, and in them all supposed ministers of Christ join up with ministers of Satan. In the same "gospel" meeting will be non-Christian teachers who deny our Lord altogether. There will be "ministers" who dare to call themselves "priest," taking to themselves a title that belongs only to our Lord. There will be "ministers" who instruct their people that when they sin they must report to him for confession and receive from him a work of penance suited to pay for the sin and on the ground of which "absolution" for the sin will be granted. There will be "ministers" who tell their people that by their baptism their original sin is washed away or that by it they are brought into the body of Christ. There will be "ministers" who deny the deity of our Lord, His virgin birth, His substitutionary death as payment for sin, redemption by His blood, His resurrection, His second coming. There will be "ministers" who assure their people that if they try hard, or if they are sincere, or if they are good, or if they are good citizens, they may be assured of heaven and that by these things they will be saved. These, Paul says, are ministers of Satan. And now we are supposed to join hands with them as though we were in common cause? No. We do not have common cause! They preach another Jesus, a different gospel altogether. Theirs is a gospel of deceit. Like Satan who corrupted Eve they corrupt men's minds with false notions of salvation and thereby make them twice the children of hell. They are "enemies of the cross."
Can anyone, even in his wildest dreams, imagine this same apostle who used such language as this, cooperating in any way or supporting a "gospel" enterprise with such people? Can anyone imagine this same apostle standing on a platform next to such men and praying, "God, bless our efforts..."? No, we know Paul's prayer: "Let him be accursed."
Please understand. This is not selfish party spirit. This is the position given us from the inspired apostle Paul, the great spokesman for our Lord. It is no "narrower" than he. It is nothing more than "contending for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints" as the apostle Jude demanded of us (Jude 3). If these false teachers were befallen by some human tragedy, we would gladly help. We would take no delight in their misery. But we will not support or in any way give approval of their ministry. What they preach is blasphemy, a denial of the gospel of Christ. And we will not take part in any confusion on this score. We disapprove of a proud, party spirit. But neither can we allow ourselves to be taken in to a situation which would muddy the waters of the gospel. Misunderstood as it may be, we will not link up, for gospel enterprise, with those who preach another gospel. The distinctiveness of the gospel must be maintained.
Paul evidently felt the pressure of taking this kind of a stand, for in Galatians 1:10 he affirms that this seemingly harsh language and seemingly narrow stand is a necessary one to pleasing Christ. "Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ." That is, this is but one of those times when the "narrow gate" and the "narrow way" will be seen as such. But the "broad way" is not the way of Christ. We choose to go with Him, "outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Hebrews 13:13).
Will the Real Billy Graham Please Stand Up?
So far, we have explained our decision not to participate in the Billy Graham crusade on the grounds of separation from "ministers of Satan" who are also in cooperation. This is enough. But there is more.
There was a time when Billy Graham preached this same kind of message. As I mentioned at the outset, I have heard many first hand accounts of it. But anyone who has watched Billy Graham knows there have been drastic changes. Here is some sampling of the record. We'll trace it from the beginning in order to what he was and what he became. The change began decades ago; it is nothing new.
Billy Graham comes from a fundamentalist background; his appointment to the presidency of Northwestern Bible college is proof enough. The school's founder, W. B. Riley, was perhaps the most noted fundamentalist leader of the north. Riley had appointed Billy himself, and had him take over even before his death. During that time (1949) came Billy's famous Los Angeles crusade, the crusade that catapulted him into the limelight. The newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, ordered his papers to "puff Graham." Other newspapers followed suit, and Billy Graham was a star. Before leaving for this crusade Billy Graham preached in chapel to his ministerial students and mentioned how important it was to him that "only evangelical" churches were involved and that it would be very wrong to have such a meeting sponsored by unbelieving churches. This was Graham then.
In a 1958 Eternity Magazine interview Graham was asked: "What should be done with deniers of the deity of Christ?" His answer: "If a man blatantly denies the deity of Christ or that Christ has come in the flesh, we are not to even bid him Godspeed. Thus, the Scriptures teach that we are to be separated from those who deny the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . No doubt there are some men in the church today who deny the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. If I know that a man denies His deity, I am not to commend him or to have spiritual fellowship with him, but I am to treat him as an antichrist and an enemy of the cross."
But it is interesting to compare this with some later incidents. Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike (Bishop of the Diocese of California) an infidel who denied many of the central teachings of the Scriptures regarding Christ and the Trinity, one who experimented with the occult and claimed ghostly contacts with his suicide son wrote: "The Bible seems to indicate that no one is saved except through Christ . . . . To say no one is saved except through the earthly Jesus Christ would be impossible." "The Biblical evidence and the theological implications seem to be in favor of assuming that Joseph was the human father of Jesus." The man was a noted infidel. Yet at the 1958 Cow Palace Crusade (San Francisco) Graham praised the man publicly from the platform and before nationwide TV audience and had Pike come to read prayer. Later (1960), at Pike's invitation, Billy Graham delivered the address to the National Council of Churches (a notoriously unbelieving organization) meeting in Pike's Grace Cathedral. While there Graham offered lavish praise and spoke of the "honor" it was to be in such a place: "I have never thought I would have this opportunity to speak in this great Cathedral." No, neither would his old friends have thought it. Then, in his closing prayer he offered "special petition for the success of the current assembly of the National Council" an organization which from the beginning was noted for its opposition to the Biblical gospel.
Our point here is simply to show Billy's change of attitude toward unbelief. The record continues.
In 1963 Billy named Bishop Gerald Kennedy to be general chairman of the Los Angeles crusade. Kennedy, in his book, God's Good News, wrote, "I believe that the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the doctrine of the deity of Jesus." Yet this man was appointed chairman. The trend has not changed.
In 1963 Billy Graham reported that in his crusade in San Paulo, Brazil, he had a Roman Catholic bishop stand beside him and bless the converts as they came forward.
In 1965 Graham was quoted as saying, "Communist China is the most dangerous enemy of freedom in the world." In 1966 was his first World Congress on Evangelism, which included "Communist Christian leaders"(!). One minister who had been tortured by the Communists before fleeing to freedom, sought to represent the persecuted believers behind the Iron Curtain. He was refused admission because "no delegate is allowed to speak against Communism." In 1970 he was asked about Communism. His reply: "I cannot go around the world and say who is right and who is not right." In 1973, while touring Japan, Graham told an American reporter of a Tokyo paper, "I think communism's appeal to youth is its structure and promise of a future utopia. Mao Tse-Tung's eight precepts are basically the same as the Ten Commandments. In fact, if we can't have the Ten Commandments read in our schools, I'll settle for Mao's precepts." Billy Graham seems to be willing to tolerate anything in order to be accepted by everyone.
In 1948 Graham said: "The three gravest menaces faced by orthodox Christianity are communism, Roman Catholicism, and Mohammedanism." Yet in 1963 he spoke at Belmont Abbey College, a North Carolina Catholic school. And on Nov.21, 1967, he returned to Belmont Abbey to receive an honorary degree. At that time he said that he "knew of no greater honor" than the receiving of this degree. Then, in a statement that startled everyone, he said: "The gospel that built this school and the gospel that brings me here tonight is still the way to salvation." This is more than toleration; it is identification.
On October 21, 1973 Graham reported, "This past week I preached in a great Catholic Cathedral, a funeral sermon for a close friend of mine who was a Catholic, and they had several bishops and archbishops that had come from all over the country to participate, and as I sat there going through the funeral mass, that was a very beautiful thing. And certainly straight and clear in the gospel that I believe, as far as the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Malcom Muggeridge, a famous British television personality and author, wrote in his book Jesus Rediscovered, "To imagine this deity [i.e., God] having a son in any particular sense, and this son to have been born of a virgin, and to have lived on earth for 30 years or so as a man; then to have died and to have risen from the dead is, as far as I am concerned, beyond credibility." Elsewhere in the book he asserted that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary. The resurrection of Christ, "if it happened," he said, is of no importance, and the trinity is "without significance." And there was more. Yet in 1974 Billy Graham invited this man to speak at his World Congress on Evangelism where his views were greeted so enthusiastically that he was given a standing ovation. We can only wonder why Graham would invite such a man to speak at a seminar on gospel evangelism a man who has no gospel to preach. Again, this goes beyond toleration. This is endorsement, and presumably, identification.
In a January, 1978, interview with McCalls Graham said, "I am far more tolerant of other kinds of Christians than I once was. . . . I've found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics, for instance. They believe in the virgin birth, and so do I. They believe in the blood atonement of the cross, and so do I. They believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the coming judgment of God, and so do I. We only differ on some matters of later church tradition." Later in the same article, he wrote, "I used to play God, but I can't do that any more. I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost were going to hell if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God through nature, for instance and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying "yes" to God."
Graham's Downward slide has not slowed up. In 1948 the World Council of Churches was to meet (organize officially) in Amsterdam, and Graham was going as an official observer. He was asked, "What do you expect the World Council to do in August?" Graham's answer: "I believe they are going to nominate the Antichrist." But ever since the late 50's, he has been a regular speaker, and that with words of praise for that apostate organization.
And then there is Graham's preaching what he says and what he does not say. Graham is famous for exhorting people to "commit to Christ," but precious little is said regarding "repentance" over sin. It is a much easier gospel than what Jesus preached. And there is precious little said of atonement through the blood of Christ. Perhaps this helps explain: in a letter dated Feb. 29, 1968, Rev. W. H. Martindale, Spiritual Counselor of Graham's home office, wrote: "Mr. Graham believes that we are saved through the blood of Christ; however, this aspect of Christian doctrine he does not emphasize in his messages. This is the duty and prerogative of pastors." If Graham does not emphasize "salvation through the blood of Christ," then we can only ask which Jesus he is preaching. It plainly is not the Jesus of the gospel.
More recently, Billy Graham was interviewed on television by Robert Schuller, a noted infidel widely recognized for his alteration of historic Christian doctrine. Part 1 was an approximately 7-minute-long broadcast in Southern California on Saturday, May 31, 1997. The following is an exact transcript of an excerpt close to the end of this broadcast.
SCHULLER: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?
GRAHAM: Well, Christianity and being a true believer you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven.
SCHULLER: What, what I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying!
GRAHAM: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they've believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.
SCHULLER: (his face beaming) I'm so thrilled to hear you say this! There's a wideness in God's mercy.
GRAHAM: There is. There definitely is.
Television Interview of Dr. Graham by Dr. Schuller continued: Part II was broadcast on Sunday, June 8.
SCHULLER: You knew . . . Fulton Sheen. You knew these men. Your comments on both of these men (Fulton Sheen and Norman V. Peale).
GRAHAM: The primary way of communicating is to live the life, let people see that you're living what you proclaim...(comments on his friendship and conversations with Fulton Sheen) I lost a very dear friend, and since that time, the whole relationship between me and my work, and you and your work, and the Roman Catholic Church has changed. They open their arms to welcome us and we have the support of the Catholic Church almost everywhere we go. And I think that we must come to the place where we keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, not on what denomination or what church or what group we belong to.
Then only very recently Billy Graham excused President Clinton's sexual misconduct, saying in an interview on the Today Show that "he (Clinton) has such a tremendous personality that I think the ladies just go wild over him." One cannot help but see the contrast with John the Baptist, who lost his head for preaching against a King's immorality. Not only has Billy Graham lost the distinctive message of the gospel, he even has little voice left for common morality.
This has long been the legacy of Billy Graham. From a firmly Biblical stance to one of toleration and endorsement and even identification with unbelief. He has sold out to the enemies of the cross, ministers of Satan, for the sake of popularity. So far has he gone, that one cannot even be sure when Graham speaks which Jesus will be preached. In short, perhaps no man in history done more to muddy the distinctiveness of gospel than Billy Graham.
And now the same is scheduled to continue here in Pottsville. Belief joined with unbelief a sinful practice itself, and one which serves to further confuse the clarity and simplicity of the only gospel. And for these reasons we will not be a part of it. Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association are not above the commands of Scripture to separate from unbelief. Nor are we required to surrender just because his organization is coming to town. We are not sure what Jesus will be preached, and we will not support any other Jesus in the process.
Strangely, some churches who are participating would agree with all this in principle. That is, in their evangelistic efforts they honestly seek to rescue men and women from the unbelief of other churches and ministers with whom they are now joined for this crusade. They may even warn their people against such dangerous "gospels," yet now they link up with them as though they were in common cause. These people are our brethren, and we love them. But they are being made a part of the promotion of confusion, and in this they are unwittingly leading, and being led, astray.
But if it is right to link up with unbelievers, men who preach another gospel, then we must ask why Paul wrote as he did to the Galatians. Why did he go to such pains to warn against false teachers? Why the commands to separate from them? Why the Protestant Reformation? Indeed, why evangelism?
It is all self-contradictory and confusing unless the distinctiveness of the gospel and separation from unbelief be maintained.
Some Historical Perspectives
Unbelief in the Church
By the dawn of the 20th century, Satan had much in place that would alter the entire Christian landscape forever. There was, for instance, the Darwinian theory of evolution that man evolved from some primordial ooze and did not originate from the hand of God. The theory is well known to us today, but at the turn of our century it had finally taken firm root in much of higher education. Such an idea had devastating implications for Biblical Christianity. What now do we think about God? Is He? Is He relevant? What does He do? If we are not His creation, then does "He" matter? And what about the Bible? What good is it? Does it have any authority at all? Can it be a word from "God"? That secular academics would entertain the notion was bad enough, but by the early 1900's even Christian men were willing to "accommodate" the Bible to the "new findings of science."
There was also what is known as higher criticism, a new approach to Scripture which viewed much of the Bible as merely a collection of ancient legends. A "redactor" (editor) somewhere along the line gathered together old religious tales and assembled them in the order we now find in our Bible. These "stories" did not actually occur; they are merely the record of the expressions of the faith of an ancient people. The creation account, the patriarchal narratives, the exodus (it was claimed) are camp fire tales of religious importance only because they reveal to us the faith of a people who lived long ago. It did not matter whether the stories were true or who wrote them; it is what they reveal about the community which told these stories that is significant.
Nor had this approach to the Scriptures escaped the influence of evolutionary thinking. What these new scholars "discovered" was that religion has evolved along with man also from the simple, primitive faith of ancient Israel to the highly ethical religion of Jesus, from the "cruel" god of the Old Testament to the loving god of the New Testament."
Of course with all of that came the complete undermining of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Soon Christians were being told that there were "obvious errors" in the Bible, but only of a historical or scientific kind; after all, we cannot expect them to have known what we know today! But very soon they were being told that the Bible was untrustworthy in matters of faith also. The Bible teaches us of "their" faith and "their" expressions of that faith, and that is valuable to us but not in terms of facts. For example, when they were said to have "seen the risen Christ," we are not to understand that literally. It merely means that after being so shaken and shattered at the death of Jesus and after feeling such great despair, they suddenly realized how significant Jesus really was. They "saw" him in a new light and suddenly gained a new appreciation of the life and teaching of the man Jesus. Of course He was dead, but He was still very significant. And in this sense He lives on. Or when they spoke in terms of Jesus' incarnation, it reflected a notion that is true of all of us but ideally true in Jesus. God is in us all, and Jesus first brought this to light for us, they taught. For teaching us this, we owe Him a great debt.
Then also the whole idea of supernaturalism was completely rejected. "Naturalism" had come to dominate thinking everything that is can be explained in naturalistic terms (another outgrowth of evolutionary thinking). There is no "supernatural." Whatever is has evolved naturally, and whatever happens can be explained naturalistically.
The implications of this kind of teaching are obvious. For example, what about the miracles of Jesus? Well, "People believed in that kind of thing back then," it was recklessly claimed as though it were true. But still, the miracle stories needed explanation, and the explanations offered were ingenious. For example, the feeding of the 5000 was said not to have occurred as it is presented to us in the Gospels. No, when the little boy stepped forward with his lunch others were finally shamed into admitting that they had food also food which they had previously hidden for fear it would have to be shared. Some preferred an explanation of fraud: actually the food had been stashed away by Jesus and the disciples and out of the sight of the people. When it came time for lunch the food was "miraculously" provided. The people were tricked, but it was a good trick, because they learned important things by it. Even the resurrection of Jesus was explained in terms of a plot. Jesus did not really die. He knew the oriental art of swooning appearing as though He was dead and then reviving later. Or perhaps it was His disciples that revived Him. But He did not really die and rise again that just doesn't happen. And if it doesn't happen, it can't happen. And if it can't happen, it didn't happen. For these men, it did not matter that there were no miracles, no resurrection, no virgin birth, no atonement; it didn't matter. Man's problem is a social kind of problem. Man is capable of growing into experience with God, and "salvation" is nothing more than developing "Christian" character. It would be a "cruel god" who would demand punishment for sin, they argued. And besides, true religion has to do with character and social responsibility. Nor is Jesus "God" in any absolute sense. In fact, God Himself is now up for rediscovery and redefinition. If there is no supernatural, what is God? Whatever He is, He is not personal, and is not involved. He is "a part of us," a very important part perhaps, a part of us which helps us as we seek to achieve moral progress in ourselves and in society.
And so everything "Christian" was being turned on its head and redefined into something entirely different. There was for these "modernists" no more Christian gospel. Indeed, there was no more Christ.
By the early 20th century, these views had taken firm root in the major denominational seminaries. Men were clamoring for "doctrinal freedom"; they did not want to be "confined" to "old forms or expressions" of our faith. The inspiration of the Scriptures, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, resurrection, supernaturalness the Christian Church just had to be willing to adjust its teaching on such things if it was to "survive" in the modern world. And so the Bible was stripped of all authority and made to fit the notions of modern man.
Harry Emerson Fosdick represents this attitude: "I do not believe in the virgin birth or in that old fashioned doctrine of the atonement, and I do not know of any intelligent person who does." Another, H. N. Wieman of the (Baptist) University of Chicago wrote, "I fear that my religion has never been religious . . . whatever God is, he is not a personality." In 1923 modernist in the Presbyterian Church submitted the Auburn Affirmation, a protest against making belief in historic Christian doctrines a requirement for Christian ministers, and by 1924 it held the signatures of some 1,300 Presbyterian ministers.
In 1923 J. Gresham Machen published his Christianity and Liberalism, a brilliant defense of the faith which demonstrated that this new liberalism in the church was such a severe alteration of the Christian faith that it constituted a new and different religion altogether.
A remarkably frank editorial in the Christian Century of January 3, 1924, agreed: "Christianity according to Fundamentalism is one religion. Christianity according to Modernism is another religion. Which is the true religion is the question that is to be settled in all probability by our generation for further generations. There is a clash here as profound and as grim as between Christianity and Confucianism. Amiable words cannot hide the differences. 'Blest be the Tie' may be sung till doomsday but it cannot bind these worlds together. The God of the fundamentalist is one God; the God of the modernist is another. The Christ of the fundamentalist is one Christ; the Christ of the modernist is another. The Bible of Fundamentalism is one Bible; the Bible of Modernism is another. The church, the kingdom, the consummation of all things -- these are one thing to the fundamentalists and another thing to modernists. Which God is the Christian God, which Christ is the Christian Christ, which Bible is the Christian Bible, which church, which kingdom, which salvation, which consummation are the Christian church, the Christian kingdom, the Christian salvation, the Christian consummation? The future will tell."
From all this there arose various theories of the gospel which explained it in social terms. The social gospel taught that Jesus obviously did not die under wrath that would be to say that God is cruel, a "dirty bully." And the significance of Jesus' death, therefore, was not that it was a substitutional payment for sin. The importance of Jesus is His virtue and His teaching. And so missions and evangelism should be explained accordingly. In 1919, Shailer Mathews wrote, "The mission of the church is to establish a civilization, Christian in spirit and in passion, throughout the world." This statement, and others like it, sparked the "fundamentalist controversy" in the Northern (now American) Baptist Convention. Convinced of and driven by the Biblical command to "contend for the faith," pastors and laymen alike, both within denominations and from across denominational lines, joined forces to reaffirm and seek to reestablish the Christian faith in their churches and seminaries.
Something had to be done to try to turn back this rising tide of unbelief. In 1909 two businessmen in California provided the funds to publish and distribute a series of papers, authored by various men from an array of backgrounds, reaffirming the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, resurrection, and return. Primary attention was given to the issues surrounding the person and work of Christ. Given their aim to reaffirm these fundamental doctrines, these papers came to be known as The Fundamentals and eventually amounted to several volumes of work. It is from this that the term "Fundamentalism" arose (1920). Authors were men such as James Orr of Scotland, Presbyterian B. B. Warfield, Anglican bishop H. C. G. Moule, dispensationalist Scofield, evangelist R. A. Torrey, Chicago Moody Church pastor A. C. Dixon, and the Southern Baptist scholar E. Y. Mullins. These papers were sent "to every pastor, evangelist, missionary, theological student, Sunday School superintendent, YMCA and YWCA secretary whose address could be obtained." The total copies distributed came to three million.
There was also the Bible Conference movement and the Bible College movement. During the late 19th and early 20th century many new schools arose to offer alternatives for Christian men studying for the Christian ministry. Missions organizations also arose, since modernism had gained such a strength in various denominational mission boards.
By the 1920's fights of the greatest proportions were raging in all the major denominations, but it was evident that so far as denominational control was concerned, modernism had won. At first, the fundamentalists were not ready to sever ties or pull out altogether. Year after year there were fights and various maneuvers brought to the convention floor attempting to win back severe losses. But they were out-maneuvered at every turn. The fundamentalists produced some great writings unanswerable demonstrations of the unchanging truth of the Scriptures. But unanswerable as they were, it didn't seem to matter. The downgrade continued. Heresy trials were conducted in the major denominational seminaries, and although there were some dismissals the cause had been lost. The convicted "heretics" only went elsewhere to find a platform for their teachings. The relatively young Northern Baptist Convention proposed to state as their "mission and objective in world" purely social agenda (cf. Shailer Mathews, above). The Norther Presbyterian Church was all but completely in the control of modernists. In 1928 a series running in the Christian Century under the general title "What Salvation Can the Church Offer Today?" articles by outstanding liberal figures argued that "the church must concentrate on social problems and offer a social salvation" a "salvation" that was very fitting to their "savior" who was little more than an ethical teacher. The arguments were couched in very "Christian" language and seemingly very pious, but they rested on the acceptance of "another Jesus" and "a different gospel" (2 Cor. 11:3).
And so the historic doctrines of the Christian faith, doctrines essential to Christianity itself, and in particular the old Calvinistic doctrines of grace, were denied and ridiculed as a vestige of an out-dated religion a religion which had no place or use in our modern world and no attraction for the mind of modern man. To survive, the church was told, it had to adapt. "Sermons" came to consist in book reviews, philosophical addresses, and moral and ethical homilies, essentially what is heard in these churches still today. Nothing of the central message or central Figure of Christianity remained, certainly nothing resembling the apostle's "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
The Fight was long and hard, but finally good men began to realize that it was lost, so far as denominational control was concerned. The vast majority of church members (some estimates of up to 95%) knew nothing of controversies and/or were not in sympathy with these ways. But since control of seminaries had fallen to modernism, it was only a matter of time before churches fell also. Today only the elderly in the mainline Protestant denominational churches can recall hearing the gospel of Christ preached there.
Led by men such as J. Gresham Machen in 1929, a split began in the Presbyterian Church, resulting in the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In a 1936 sermon entitled "The Church of God" Machen argued that it was completely unjustifiable for a Christian to remain in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. "If a man remains in the Presbyterian Church U. S. A. he must support the propaganda furthered by the boards. That propaganda is in part a plainly modernist propaganda quite hostile to the gospel." The Episcopalians actually had fought and split just prior to turn of century, resulting in the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church. In 1939 the Southern Methodist Church was formed in opposition to modernism. And by the 1930's and 40's Baptists were leaving the Northern Baptist Convention in droves, forming various conventions and associations such as the General Association of Regular Baptists (GARBC), the Baptist Bible Union, the Conservative Baptist Association, and the Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship. Many good men had to leave churches and start all over, giving up pulpits and properties and salaries and pensions. Since the properties often belonged to the denominations, Churches loyal to the faith were forced to start all over from scratch which explains why it is difficult today to find a believing church that is very old.
The separation of these men from unbelief was a separation well grounded in Scripture. In various passages of Scripture, such as Rom. 16:17-18, 1 Cor. 10:14-22, and 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, we are commanded to separate ourselves from unbelief. To associate with an unbelieving religion is to associate ourselves with demons (1 Cor. 10:20). These unbelieving ministers are "ministers of Satan" (2 Cor. 11:13-15) and serve his evil objective to blind men and women from the truth of the gospel. Their "smooth and flattering words" (Rom. 16:17-18) may hide but they do not change the fact that they are deceitful and corrupting (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Cor. 11:3) and destructive (2 Cor. 11:15).
The command of God to separate from association with all such unbelief is one grounded in an exclusive loyalty to the gospel of Christ which alone can save men from their sin. We dare not blur the distinctiveness of that message in the minds of men. There is one gospel message, and those who preach any other gospel have nothing in common with us; they have caused divisions (Rom. 16:17), and we must not be so naive as to think otherwise.
Charles H. Spurgeon, who separated from the unbelief of his own denomination a hundred years ago, summarized the matter well.
For Christians to be linked in association with ministers who do not preach the gospel of Christ is to incur moral guilt. A union which can continue irrespective of whether its member churches belong to a common faith is not fulfilling any scriptural function. The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline heretics cannot be justified on the grounds of the preservation of 'Christian unity.' It is error which breaks the unity of the churches, and to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support schism.
Joining Again with Unbelief
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple (Rom. 16:17-18).
The apostle Paul is not naive; he recognizes very clearly where the fault lies for this division. Those who separate themselves from unbelief are not to blame. Those who separate from unbelief are but recognizing a rift which was caused by those who had turned from the apostolic teaching. They are the divisive people. It has always been their deceptive tactic to hurl accusations of "divisiveness" against those who separate from them, and "simple" people are taken in by it. But the truth is that it is their presumptuous rejection of the apostolic testimony which made the breech and the offense.
Accordingly, Paul says, "mark them and avoid them." Take special note of who and what they really are, and do not be taken in by them. More, do not cooperate with them; do not associate with them. Theirs is "another gospel" (2 Cor. 11:3).
Now it's not that the apostle's words are difficult to understand. They are not at all difficult to understand. It's just that they are so contrary to the confused thinking created by these deceptive teachers. But if words have any meaning at all, and if these words are inspired of God, then clearly, we must never associate ourselves with doctrine that is contrary to the apostles' teaching. This, and nothing less, is the divine command. There is simply no other way to read it. It is not a matter of "interpretation" but of obedience.
Paul wrote like this to the Thessalonians also. In dealing with the specific issues that troubled the church there, he says broadly, "If anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thes. 3:14-15). That is to say again, the apostolic tradition is binding (cf. 2 Thes. 2:15). And even if a "brother" should reject it, he is to be avoided and not received into "company."
We have seen how that early in our century men, following this exhortation, saw the need to separate themselves from unbelieving organizations. They followed Christ "outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13). In obedience to the Scriptures they "came out from among them" and broke the "unequal yoke" of satanic religion.
It would be nice to say that the story ends there that although they had lost the fight in the denominations, what remains now is a clear distinction between faith and unbelief. It would be good if we could say that now there are two clear camps: those who believe the Bible and those who do not. But sadly, this is not the case.
The fundamentalist movement came to many to be seen as reactionary, negative, and anti-intellectual. This opinion was due partly to the fact that some of the leaders were, in fact, reactionary, negative and anti-intellectual. There was among some of them a degree of belligerence and flamboyance, and this was repugnant to many others. The perception was that some could fight liberals much better than they could expound the Scriptures. But this was by no means the rule; it was the exception; one need look no further than Reformed J. Gresham Machen or Dispensationalist Harry A. Ironside to demonstrate the quality of spokesmen on the side of truth. But nonetheless, some were ashamed to be associated with "radicals."
It is not being overly judgmental to observe from the record that many became uncomfortable with the fundamentalist position simply because they felt lonely "outside the camp." They were not accepted by the religious establishment, and they felt ashamed. And so many, chafing under the pressure of their peers, began to exchange the reproach of Christ for the esteem of unbelievers. Reproach and isolation were too great a price, and so they began to moderate.
That of course is always the temptation, on whatever level. To take our stand with Christ, whether in the classroom or in the church or in the academic community will bring the world's reproach, and so we are tempted to give in and seek to make our position more respectable to unbelievers. Whereas the reproach of Christ should be considered a badge of honor (Acts 5:41), is too often despised.
In 1948, Harold Okenga, Pastor of the famous Park Street Church in Boston, speaking at a Convocation at Fuller Seminary (established 1947), gave a stern repudiation of fundamentalism. Claiming a basic agreement with fundamentalists, he called for a different approach: not one of separation but one of "infiltration" which would engage in theological dialogue with modernism, an exchange of ideas in which the two sides could learn from each other. This, he said, is the "New Evangelicalism." The approach was not one of insistence on "Thus saith the Lord" but one of accommodation. And so where their fathers wanted out, these "new" evangelicals wanted back in.
An example of this is seen in an interview of Denver Conservative Baptist Vernon Grounds in the Los Angeles Times of May 5, 1963. May 5, 1963 in Los Angeles Times. Grounds was in Pasadena to deliver a series of addresses at Fuller Seminary. In the course of the interview Grounds said of Soren Kierkegaard (a man regarded by many as the father of Neo-Orthodoxy, largely a dressed up version of modernism), "It is high time for us to claim him as a champion of our faith." Amazingly, he claimed that Soren Kierkegaard stands "within the mainstream of Evangelicalism."
It was this kind of talk which made many suspicious that this new course of "infiltration" was an infiltration working in reverse!
This "new Evangelicalism" quickly became a well organized effort. To further its agenda it needed an organizational structure, a theological seminary, a recognized spokesman and a popular journal. These all were realized, respectively, in the National Association of Evangelicals (1943), Fuller Theological Seminary (1947), Billy Graham, and Christianity Today (1956) a magazine sponsored by Billy Graham and placed under the leadership of Carl Henry and with Harold Okenga as chairman of the board. Articles in two early issues, entitled, "Beyond the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy" and "Dare We Renew the Controversy?" argued that we should no longer spend our time and energy in fighting those old battles against modernism; we should move on to more positive efforts.
Throughout the following decades this new philosophy infiltrated virtually every part of the evangelical world. It was attractive, not so costly, not so lonely, and not so reproachful. It made its way into the new denominational structures, publishing houses, Bible conferences, evangelistic crusades. Denominations previously separated by unbelief reunited, and this new friendly attitude toward unbelief was well under way.
The point man for all this, of course, was Billy Graham. In his crusades Graham, formerly a recognized fundamentalist, now began to prefer the sponsorship of liberals even to the point of declining the invitation of evangelicals in favor of modernists. Whereas his original crusade policy was to have only the sponsorship of evangelicals, his new policy became to never conduct a crusade with only the sponsorship of evangelicals. Indeed, he would not only to allow unbelievers to sponsor, but he would place them in charge as chairmen, committee chairmen, men in charge of converts, etc.
In 1956 Christian Life carried a descriptive article on the New Evangelicalism. Contributors were men such as Vernon Grounds (Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary), Kenneth Kantzer (Wheaton College), Bernard Ramm (Baylor University), Harold Kuhn (Asbury Theological Seminary), Warren Young (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary), Carl Henry and Wilber Smith, Edward J. Carnell (Fuller Seminary), Cornelius VanTil and Paul Wooley (Westminster Theological Seminary). The major features highlighted were, a friendly attitude toward science, a willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of Holy Spirit, a new emphasis on social problems, a reopening of the subject of Biblical Inspiration, and a growing willingness of evangelical theologians to converse with liberal theologians. Again, the new Evangelicalism did not appear to be an infiltration but a retreat. The very issues which caused their fathers to fight they were reconsidering. Where their Fathers wanted out, they wanted back in.
For example, Grounds wrote: "An evangelical can be organizationally separated from all Christ-denying fellowship and yet profitably engage in an exchange of ideas with men who are not evangelicals." In reply, Alva McClain perceptively replied, "Does anyone really think we might 'profitably engage in an exchange of ideas' with blasphemers who suggest that our only Lord and Master was begotten in the womb of a fallen mother by a German mercenary and that the God of the Old Testament is a dirty bully? We must never for one instant forget that they are deadly enemies with whom there can be neither truce nor compromise" (King's Business, January 3, 1957). Which of these two spoke for the apostle Paul is obvious. The new "infiltration" was an infiltration in reverse.
Through it all these new evangelicals achieved their goal of gaining the prestige and esteem of liberals. But they also succeeded in violating the command to "mark them and avoid them" and to "come out from among them and be separate." It was a betrayal of the faith which would negatively affect the church forever. It was a selling out. Whereas their fathers repudiated and separated themselves from unbelief, they now became friendly with it.
And so, in effect, it was really the same fight all over again: where is the distinctiveness of Gospel? What of the authority of the Scriptures?
The Fruit of Compromise
The outcome of all this was predictable. Today's second and third generation of new evangelicals has continued the downward trend. Finding among them a clear loyalty to the inspiration and authority and inerrancy of the Bible can sometimes be a difficult thing. In my own library I sometimes marvel at the unbelief accepted by "evangelical" theologians. All too often, professedly evangelical commentaries and theological journals are marked by accommodations to higher critical conclusions, and books of theology woefully lack the moorings of a firm commitment to Scripture. Friendliness with unbelief has resulted in a reverse infiltration.
The Southern Baptist Convention provides a good example. Thankfully, and remarkably, the SBC has made strides back to truth in recent years, but for a generation or more outright liberals in the seminaries, such as Nels F. S. Ferrev, were openly advocating unbelief; some remains still today. The downward trend of Billy Graham, highlighted above, provides another example of the fruit of compromise with unbelief. He has gone from fundamentalism to a new kind of "Evangelicalism" which cooperates with, approves, and even identifies with various kinds of unbelief. The perception which Graham has fostered is that the evangelical gospel is more or less the same as the gospel of Roman Catholicism and liberal Protestantism. He has succeeded in "muddying" the gospel of Christ.
In short, the original claim to infiltrate (i.e., for the purpose of evangelism) has been proven a lie. Much of today's new evangelicals are part and parcel of the unbelief from which their grandfathers separated and with which their fathers "exchanged ideas." The fruit of compromise with unbelief has proven the need of the Apostolic command against it.
And so in today's scene the evangelicals are considered by most to be the mainline Christianity; they have won that much respect. But we are not sure how much value this kind of Evangelicalism is. They did not fight the battles their grandfathers fought, and it seems that Biblical Christian distinctives are not so important to them.
Evidence abounds. Some members of our can church give testimony to the fact that while they grew up in "evangelical" churches which on paper held to all the fundamentals of the faith, still in all their time there they never heard the gospel preached; never were they pressed with the claims of Christ. Various evangelical and charismatic spokesmen today emphasize a kind of gospel of "letting Jesus in your heart," or of "committing to Jesus," but it is so often difficult to learn from them what all that means. With so many of them the emphasis is not on the person and work of Christ but on experiences of various kinds. They will openly announce that "doctrine does not matter" and that we should be willing to "get together" with those of various faiths. Television personalities are notorious for various new and heretical teachings regarding sin, man, Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, experience, the Trinity, and so on. The evangelical establishment gives itself to social causes to such extent that the gospel is seldom heard. Ministerial associations and prayer breakfasts and various organizations and crusades find men and women of every theological persuasion joining together, some not even with a label that is Christian of any kind. Evangelical spokesmen today embrace such things as non-Christian ways of salvation and theistic evolution; many of them deny the eternality of hell and the inerrancy of Scripture. Advertisements in "evangelical" magazines promote schools and writings which openly advocate outright unbelief. The last chapter of Richard Quebedeaux's The Worldly Evangelicals is ominously entitled, "Today's Evangelicals, Tomorrow's Liberals?" Sadly, history would suggest that the answer will be "yes."
Association with unbelief has left the world without the clear message of the Christian gospel. Confusion confusion regarding essentials abounds. The fruit of compromise has been disastrous.
Where Do We Draw the Line?
One rather ugly part of the religious scene today is that some who wish to follow this command to separate from unbelief do not seem to know where to stop. Some fundamentalist groups have separated themselves into complete isolation and irrelevance. With many of them separation itself has become the standard of separation! This is clearly wrong.
But then where do we draw the line? It is difficult to make a single broad statement that fits all; each case must be handled individually. But the bottom line is that we must never allow ourselves to be in a position where we aid or encourage or condone unbelief or otherwise blur the gospel. In fact, as we saw, Paul commands separation even from brethren who do not obey him (2 Thes. 3:14).
Whatever excesses there may be among fundamentalists today, the danger is really not with those who take separation too far so much as it is those who ignore it altogether and leave no clear picture of the gospel. Without the firm commitment to truth by faithful men of the past, we can only wonder where Christianity in the United States would be today. And following today's trend of reuniting with unbelief, we can only wonder where it will be tomorrow.
We are obliged to present the world with the clear message of the gospel of Christ. In our own century in America, association with unbelief has resulted in a real loss and confusion of that gospel. We will not and must not become a part of such a travesty.
Summary Remarks A Personal Note
Dear Christian reader, I am sure that you understand, along with every Christian, that there is no savior from sin but the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He is qualified and able to save. He is the only one who has never sinned. He is the only one who could pay the penalty of sin for others. And only He is of such value that that payment could avail for so many others. Jesus is the only savior.
Moreover, I know that we rejoice together that He is a savior who really can save. Trusting Him we do not need to pretend, as does modern religion, that God will somehow just let bygones be bygones and make as though our sin were not that serious a matter. No, that is not the gospel. The good news is that God saves sinners not by sidestepping justice but on the ground of a full satisfaction of justice by the work of Jesus Christ. The penalty of our sin was paid by Him, and satisfied with His Son, God graciously accepts all who are joined to Him by faith.
And so we do not pretend that we are good enough to be saved. Not at all. In fact, we came confessing that we were not good enough. We harbor no feelings of self help or self worth in this matter. We are glad to say that we are saved only by the work which Christ has done for us. Salvation is by grace and not of works (Eph. 2:8-9).
With all this I am sure you agree. And so when other conditions are added to the gospel baptism, penance, good works, sincerity, or whatever and someone suggests that by these things we have merited or in any way contributed to our standing with God, you and I along with every true Christian cry, "No!" And if the one adding these conditions calls himself "Christian" or even a "Christian minister," we recall the apostle's warning, "If any preach any other gospel, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8-9). Similarly, if a man denies the deity of Christ or other Biblical truths essential to the gospel, or if he is one who pronounces a man "saved" no matter what his faith, we again say "No!" We must neither deny those truths essential to the gospel nor minimize the need of faith in Jesus Christ. These matters are too important to be confused.
And so we all can understand very well why the Biblical writers command us to "come out and be separate" from unbelief (2 Cor. 6:17) and to "mark and avoid" all who teach contrary to this apostolic faith (Rom. 16:17-18). We understand this well simply because we too are jealous for the gospel! We want very much to maintain a clear testimony of how a man or woman is saved; we will not have this matter confused.
Indeed, when you witness to a friend with a desire to see him or her saved, you recognize that those who are trusting in their baptism or church membership or whatever, are lost and this is why you witness to them. You understand that they have been taken in by a false gospel, and a gospel that cannot save.
Now then, these people have learned this from their pastors or priests. They have been assured that sins were washed away in the waters of baptism, or that because of their faithfulness and sincerity they have a sure standing with God, or that because they have done works of penance they have "made satisfaction" for their sins. Then you come along with your Bible and show them otherwise, that a man is saved by faith alone.
You can imagine, then, how confusing it will be for them when they see your pastor along side their pastor in the same "gospel" meeting! Perhaps your gospel is not all that different after all! And perhaps it is not all that urgent! Evidently (they may assume) all churches are more or less the same, with only minor differences! I can sympathize with their confusion, and it is made all the worse by well-intentioned but undiscerning Christians and churches who join up with unbelief as though they were in common cause. The confusion is inevitable.
And it is for these reasons at least that the Biblical writers command us not to associate with unbelief. Perhaps you were not aware that the crusade is so inclusive, and you are surprised. Or perhaps you were not aware of the Biblical commands to separate from unbelief. But now, at least, I trust you can understand our position. We want very much to see this area reached for Christ; this is the great commission! But evangelization by means of disobedience is not an option which our Lord gives us. Please understand, we are not saying that all the churches involved in the crusade preach another gospel than the Biblical gospel. No, but there are some. And that being the case, our duty is clear.
(17) Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. (18) For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
(14) Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (15) And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? (16) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." (17) Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." (18) "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty." (7:1) Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
(8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.