The following message was delivered by Pastor John E. Ashbrook at the 57th annual convention of the American Council of Christian Churches in Monett, Missouri, October 27-29, 1998. This is the second of three installments of his message (Part 1 is here).
The Protection of Separation
In the second place, consider the historical protection of separation. In this section I want to give a brief historical comparison of two organizations and two positions.
The two organizations are The American Council of Christian Churches and The National Association of Evangelicals. Both were formed by Bible-believers. Both were formed to combat the godless influence of the Federal Council of Churches.
The American Council of Christian Churches began September 17, 1941 in New York City. Initially it was a joint effort of the Bible Presbyterian Church and the Bible Protestant Church. In succeeding years it attracted the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the separatist Methodist groups and a number of smaller fellowships.
The National Association of Evangelicals was born April 7–9, 1942, in St. Louis. One hundred forty seven Christian leaders gathered to form it. In that group were many good men—Charles Woodbridge, David Otis Fuller, Bob Jones, Sr., William McCarrell, Harry Ironside and R.G. Lee.
At their founding there was one major difference between the two organizations. That is the subject of my sermon—separation. The American Council of Christian Churches required all of its members to take the step of separation from the denominations of the Federal Council of Churches. The National Association of Evangelicals required member denominations to take that step but allowed individuals and churches to have dual membership. Thus, compromising men and churches could maintain their prestige, positions, and pensions in the apostate denominations and their spiritual fellowship in the National Association of Evangelicals.
The Bunny and The Circle
What has been the result of the violation of the doctrine of separation? I am sure that some of you folks in southeast Missouri have hunted rabbits with a beagle hound. In that pursuit the dog flushes a rabbit, gives chase, and bays after the bunny. The hunters stand still and talk a while for they know that the rabbit will make a circle and come right back to where it started. That is what happens when separation is neglected. The group makes a circle and returns to fellowship with the very thing they were born to protest.
Let me quote from my local paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, for Friday, November 15, 1996:
“in the historic moment when evangelical leader Don Argue addressed the National Council of Churches General Assembly in Chicago Wednesday, the first words out of his mouth were a prayer for a dying Catholic archbishop.”
“The appearance of Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, marked the first time an official of the theologically conservative association has addressed the NCC assembly, which tends to be more theologically liberal.”
“…Argue’s presence at the gathering of mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christians was viewed as an indication that the nature of ecumenism, mostly the domain of mainline Protestants in the United States may be changing.”
“…Both Argue and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the NCC, said shared issues—from racism to pornography—have prompted new communication between their groups.”
So, for lack of the doctrine of separation, the bunny has made the circle from the protest of apostasy to cooperation with it. That is what the years will bring to any organization which proposes to abandon the doctrine of biblical separation.
In contrast to that circle of change, the American Council of Christian Churches still stands where it began. It is not as large as you might wish. There have been some heart-rending divisions over the years. Satan’s opposition has been obvious. But, it has not changed its doctrine. It is still opposed to the National Council of Churches. Its president has not spoken for the NCC. It has not changed its doctrine. The American Council of Christian Churches still has a flag worth flying.
I said earlier that I wished to contrast two organizations and two positions. The two positions to which I refer are the positions of fundamentalism and new evangelicalism. Most of you are familiar with Dr. Harold John Ockenga’s famous statement in delineating the difference between these two positions. Speaking as the founder and spokesman for new evangelicalism he said:
“It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day.”
It is very clear that the basic difference between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism is the doctrine of separation. Fundamentalism espouses the doctrine. New evangelicalism repudiates it. What has been the historical result of that?
Quoting the Enemies of the Truth
In ignoring separation, and dialoging with liberalism, new evangelicalism has developed a tremendous toleration of, and respect for, unbelief. The pioneers of fundamentalism hated liberalism. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Charles Buttrick, and G. Bromley Oxnam were names spoken in contempt because of their hatred of the truth. Christianity Today is the flagship magazine of new evangelicalism. During the past year, in the columns of that magazine, I have read favorable quotes and citations from Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolph Bultman, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoffer. Those men share one thing in common with Fosdick, Buttrick and Oxnam. They were all unbelievers who rejected Bible truth. Why should believers quote the enemies of truth?
Perhaps that is not as serious as a second charge. New evangelicalism has begun to quietly change its doctrine. When Dr. Ockenga made his first statement about new evangelicalism he said that it would retain the doctrinal basis of fundamentalism. Today, that is not true. Fellowship with unbelief has begun to show in changing belief.
Millard J. Erickson, a self-confessed new evangelical theologian, recently wrote a revealing book, The Evangelical Left, with the subtitle, “Encountering Post-Conservative Evangelical Theology.” The purpose of the book is to show how far new evangelical theologians such as Bernard Ramm, Clack Pinnock, Stanley Grenz and James McClendon have gone.
Erickson first deals with the doctrine of Scripture and shows that, with clever words, the new theologians have abandoned the inerrancy of the Bible. I need not point out to you that, when we abandon an inerrant Bible, we are adrift in a sea of doubt.
God Doesn’t Know?
Erickson goes on to deal with the doctrine of God. He discusses what these new evangelical theologians call, “the open view of God.” Basically, this is conceding God’s sovereignty to human freedom. Erickson explains by saying:
“As we proceed through the discussion of the open view of God, we shall see that this same assumption of human freedom lies at the center of much of the discussion. Not only the control of human behavior, but even the knowledge of the future human actions would militate against humans being truly free. Consequently, those doctrines, as held in classical theism, must be modified.” (p. 93)
Erickson goes on to state:
“In contrast, their view of God is that of a loving, caring parent. He experiences the world, interacts with his children, and feels emotions. He takes risks and, in response to developments in the world, changes his mind and his actions. He does not arbitrarily and unilaterally control the world. He shares that control with humans.” (p. 93)
In other words, God is eagerly watching the world to see what happens. That is not the God of the Bible.
The third realm with which Erickson deals is the area of salvation. The new evangelical theologians have come to believe that many more people may be saved than previously thought. Let Erickson tell it:
“A final challenge to the traditional view is inclusivism. This is the idea that Christianity is the true religion, and that salvation is only through the work of Jesus Christ, but that more persons may be included in these benefits than had traditionally been thought. It may be that some are saved by Christ’s work but without consciously believing in Christ.” (112)
You say, “That is way out, surely no one believes that except some of these radical theologians!” Dr. Mark Sidwell, in his book on biblical separation titled The Dividing Line quotes evangelist Billy Graham as saying in a 1997 television interview that God is
“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 nonbelieving 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.” (pp. 122,123)
Here is new evangelicalism’s most famous evangelist parroting the dangerous thinking of new evangelicalism’s most radical theologians. Did these men get this new theology from the Bible? No! They got it by dialoging with the unbelievers. Separation does matter.
I recall hearing Dr. Harry Ironside tell a story from his youth. He found a nest of baby sparrows and decided to put them in the cage with the family canary so that the sparrows could learn to sing like the canary. At the end of the experiment the sparrows still chirped like sparrows—and so did the canary. It is the same in the world of men.