What Is Ecumenism?

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In the Spiritual Sword, July, 1988, Thomas Warren was concerned about the Ecumenical Movement’s influences on the churches of Christ.  What is the Ecumenical Movement?  Why should we be concerned?
A Definition of Ecumenism
The word “ecumenical” is derived from the Greek word oikoumene which means “the whole inhabited world.”  The word was historically used of the Roman Empire.  The ecumenical vision comprises both the search for the visible unity of the Church (Eph. 4:3) and the “whole inhabited earth” (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all Christians.  The word “Christian” is used in a very broad sense of anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is different from the Scriptural use of the word.  The name Christian is always used as a noun in the New Testament.  The word describes a person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26).  It denotes a person who is redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:28) and a person who will suffer persecution for righteousness sake (I Peter 4:16).  A Christian is a person who has obeyed the Gospel (Rom. 10:16-17).  Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, obeys the Lord (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46).
Ecumenism refers to initiatives aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation.  The word is used primarily by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian churches who may be separated by doctrine, history and practice, but who seek to work together despite these differences.  These churches consider themselves to be in fellowship with each other as long as faith in Jesus Christ is expressed.  This distinguishes Ecumenism from interfaith pluralism that embraces all religions and approves of all religions as different pathways to God.
The Ecumenical Movement was initiated among Protestant denominations with the attempt to unify diverse religious bodies.  The World Council of Churches met for the first time in 1948.  The Council took place in Amsterdam.  The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The WCC brings together 349 churches, denominations, and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians (broad sense of the term Christian).  These churches include most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.
Fundamental Errors of Ecumenism
First, Ecumenists practice “unity in diversity.”  They claim to be united in Christ even though they do not believe the same doctrines, have the same history, or practice the same things (practice is driven by doctrine).  One of the main problems is the basic understanding of what is required in obeying the Gospel.  Many Ecumenists believe that one is saved by grace alone through faith alone.  Consequently, they do not teach that baptism into Christ is essential for salvation.  Jesus taught, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-20).  Jesus taught that baptism is essential for salvation because of the design of baptism.  In baptism, a person dies to sin, is buried in water, and raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).  When one is immersed into Christ, his/her sins are washed away (forgiven) (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16).  Most individuals in the Ecumenical Movement do not believe this truth.  The reality emerges that two different “gospels” are proclaimed which of course is an impossibility because there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8-9).
Second, Ecumenists affirm that one church is just as good as another, but this doctrine contradicts the teaching of the apostle Paul that there is one body (Eph. 4:4).  The one body is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).  Jesus built only one church (Matt. 16:18).  He is the head of the body (Eph. 5:23).  He is the savior of the body (Eph. 5:23).  Jesus saves those individuals who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).  He adds these individuals to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).  Modern denominations exist without biblical authority.  They arose as a result of the Reformation Movement and are now 500 years old or less.  The church of the New Testament was begun in the city of Jerusalem in the year 30 A.D.  just ten days after the ascension of Jesus into heaven (Acts 1 and 2).  Anyone can become a part of the New Testament church by obeying the one, true, Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16).
The Ecumenical Movement obscures two important truths concerning the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the true church of Jesus Christ.  On these two grounds, it must be rejected.

What’s Wrong With Digital Decisions?

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A recent article in Christianity Today (March, 2015, p. 17) related the success the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has had with digital decisions.   In 2014, the BGEA shared the gospel with almost 9.5 million people around the world.  Of those, only about 180,000 were in a live audience at a crusade, while 7.5 million were reached through BGEA websites.  Of the 1.6 million people who told the BGEA they prayed “to accept Jesus Christ as (their) Savior” in 2014, less than 15,000 did so in person, while more than 1.5 million did so with the click of a mouse.  Since the BGEA launched its family of evangelistic websites–which include SearchForJesus.net and PeaceWithGod.net–less than 4 years ago, more than 5 million people have indicated a decision for Jesus.
Digital Decisions and the Sinner’s Prayer
The digital decisions referred to in the article in Christianity Today are possible because of the Sinner’s Prayer.  In September, 2012, an article in Christianity Today by David Neff  described the Sinner’s Prayer as a “work of genius” (p. 73).  The Sinner’s Prayer comes in many different forms, but generally, contains two elements:  repentance for sin and trust in Christ’s redemptive work at the Cross for forgiveness.  A sample Sinner’s prayer is:  “Lord Jesus, I need You.  Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins.  I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord.  Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life.  Take control of the throne of my life.  Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”  The prayer consists of three elements: (1) absolute dependence upon God’s grace; (2) trust in Christ’s lordship; and (3) union with Christ.  The majority of Evangelicals accept the Sinner’s Prayer as the gospel message.  Often, whenever someone says that they “got saved” they mean that they have said the Sinner’s Prayer. The basic concept is “grace only through faith only resulting in union with Christ.”
Obedience to the Gospel is Essential For Salvation
The Sinner’s Prayer leaves out an important part of obedience to God.  The grace of God is essential for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).  The personal faith in Jesus Christ of the individual is essential for salvation (Rom. 5:1; Heb. 11:6).  Repentance of sin is essential for salvation (Acts 2:38, 17:30).  Confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God is essential for salvation (Acts 8:37, Rom. 10:9,10). Love for God is essential for salvation (Matt. 22:36-39).  Faith works by love (Gal. 5:6).  No one has ever been saved by faith alone!  The reason is that love for God is the greatest commandment and love for God involves obedience to Jesus Christ (John 14:15).  No person can be saved without loving God and His Son.  The Sinner’s Prayer leaves out baptism.  Baptism is an  essential element of salvation.  Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).  This statement was made as a part of the Great Commission.  In Matthew’s account of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), Jesus teaches that individuals become disciples by being taught the Word of God and being baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Baptism is essential to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Baptism is the new birth (John 3:3-5).  If and only if we are born again (born of water and of the Spirit) will we enter into the kingdom of God.  Jesus taught this to Nicodemus and made it a part of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16).  If we leave out baptism, then there is no entrance into the kingdom of God.  If we leave out baptism, then there is no discipleship.  If we leave out baptism, then there is no remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
What is the gospel?  The gospel is the good news of our salvation from sin through the atoning power of the blood of Jesus Christ.  The gospel is the story of our redemption.  The gospel focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:1-3).  The gospel consists of the facts about Jesus’ life, the commands that He has given through His word, and the promises that God has revealed to us.  There is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8-9).  An anathema (condemnation, judgment from God) is pronounced upon anyone that changes the gospel of Christ.  Paul doubled this statement for emphasis.  Don’t change the gospel!  The Sinner’s Prayer changes the gospel by omitting the command to be baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27).
False Doctrine Produces a False Hope
If the Sinner’s Prayer is really not the gospel of Christ, then it gives a false hope to many who embrace it.  In Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus spoke of individuals who call him Lord, Lord, but that do not obey His commandments.  These individuals claim a relationship with the Lord.  They do many mighty works in his name.  But, he will renounce them with these words, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  Jesus said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).  Disobedience to the teachings of Jesus is a manifestation of lovelessness.  When we do not love the Lord, then we reject His teachings.  Lovelessness produces lawlessness.
The Sinner’s Prayer omits baptism which is commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ.  It perverts the gospel of Christ and it gives a false hope.  As an evangelistic tool, it is a digital deception.

Popologetics

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Ted Turnau has written a book titled, Popologetics.  Turnau develops a method for analyzing our current culture and evaluating it from a Christian Worldview.  He defines popologetics as the “use of the imagination and intellect to critically engage popular culture in order to open a way of worship of the true God.”  Turnau suggests five questions to ask about a piece of popular culture.  The goal is to be able to discern between the good and the evil present in popular culture and to hold to that which is good while rejecting the evil.  Here are the five questions.
What’s the Story?
Popular culture comes to us in many different stories.  What is the overall narrative?  If we were to ask this question about the Bible, we would be able to answer that the Bible is the story of the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ.  Every book in the Bible relates some aspect of this story.  The overall narrative is called a metanarrative.  Politicians attempt to develop  a story or metanarrative about war, climate change, immigration, etc.  Fascination with celebrity lifestyles is driven by our addiction to story.  Movies, television shows, books, songs, etc. tell stories.  The object is the discover the overall story presented in these various forms of popculture.  In order to do this, we must break down the story into its constituent elements.  Summarize the plot.  Isolate the different elements that make up the story:  main characters, major conflicts, and plot points.  Look for the main theme.  Consider the main character.  Does he/she attain his/her goal?  Look for broad themes.  Look at the structure of the story: the setting, the narrator’s point of view, prominent symbols, and repeated motifs. The overall goal is to be able to give a solid interpretation of the story.
Where Am I?
Examine the world of the text.  The worlds depicted by popular culture are ways of seeing reality.  Popcultural texts proposition our imaginations, displaying to the imagination different ways of seeing the world and of seeing ourselves.  We interpret our own lives through the metanarratives that we come to accept.  So, our own worldview is shaped by them.  The story is shaped by style.  Style involves some type of medium: music (gets under your skin and haunts your memory); cinema (embraces us.  We are sucked into the story); novels (embraced in a different way–through imagination–we supply the images); television (intimate worlds and very personal); computer (interactive and immersive).  The story is guided by conventions.  Conventions are time-honored rules and expectations that guide how the story is told.  How fast and lose does the author play with the rules?  You can go against the rules or you can go with the rules.  Here are some questions to ask:  What counts as good or evil in this world?  What is beautiful in this world?  What makes relationships work or fail?  Where is God?  What is worshiped?  What makes life worth living?  We need to pay particular attention to the texture of the worldview.  It is here that our own worldview intersects with the worldview of the popular culture event.  Every experience shapes us in some way.
What is Good and True?
The third question focuses on what is good in the popular culture event.  There will be moments when good and beauty shine forth in popular culture.  Those who make culture also bear the image of God (are created by God in His image).  Some truth will come forth.  In the world of popular culture, there will always be a mixture of good and evil.  We may have to look hard to find what is good.
What is False and Evil?
The fourth question forces us to probe popular culture events and discover what is evil or idolatrous.  Where does popular culture lie about the truth?  A good knowledge of the truth/scriptures is indispensable to discovery of error or evil.  The Christian Worldview is established by God’s Word.  God’s Word gives us an objective means to analyze the different aspects of popular culture.  We must prove all things and hold fast to that which is good.  At the same time, we must abstain from every form of evil (I Thess. 5:21-22).  Satan transforms himself into an “angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14).  Can you detect the “angel of light” that is really Satan in disguise?  Some questions to ask:  What does “salvation” look like in this story?  Is it all about getting the girl?  or, getting rich?  What isn’t portrayed as sin that God says is sin?  Satan is a parasite.  He takes the good and distorts it. He represents the good and then lies about it.  This is the classic bait and switch.  Idolatry sells.  Idolatry seduces and tempts.  Idolatry appeals to the flesh.  Beauty and sex are both gifts from God, but Satan corrupts both through pornography.  Making money into a god that you live for will pierce you through with many sorrows.  Romance and sex without commitment and authentic love (agape) in marriage is another distortion.
How Does the Gospel Apply?
The final question focuses on the gospel.  The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).  A biblical perspective responds to popular culture by providing exposure and giving answers.  True love, reconciliation, contentment, security, justice, family and forgiveness are defined by and found in the gospel.  Popculture may distort these and offer something else (an idol) instead of God.  The Christian Worldview is not a dry set of theological propositions.  It is rooted in the astounding reality of the gospel and touches on our deepest desires–desires for relationship, for truth, for forgiveness, for healing, for peace, for justice and much more.  The gospel is not small.  It is all-encompassing.