The False Teaching of Ecumenicalism
THE FALSE TEACHING OF UNIVERSAL UNITY
"Why Ecumenicalism is Unbiblical"
In Christendom over the last 75-80 years, a false teaching has been gaining universal acceptance. This doctrine is called Ecumenicalism and it promotes the idea that God has called for all “Christian” denominations and groups to join together and form one universal Church. The Ecumenical advocate teaches that the original form of the Church was universal and continued as such for the first few centuries AD. However, manmade differences (doctrines) eventually arose resulting in the fragmenting of the Church into many independent groups known usually as “denominations.” These fragment groups traditionally have not only refused to unite but have often competed against each other. Without a reunification of all churches as one, the Church cannot truly fulfill its God given commission to evangelize the world. Ecumenicalism calls for churches to once again dialog which each other and be willing to surrender their doctrinal distinctives for the sake of universal unity.
On the surface this seems like a worthy and biblical endeavor. After all does not the Bible state that when a person becomes a believer they are baptized into the universal body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13-14)? Are not all believers, regardless of their denomination, going to be one universal body when they reach heaven? However, this call for universal unity, though noble in intention violates the clear teaching of the Word of God. Therefore, all present ecumenical efforts do more to destroy the Church then they do to help it. As we will see in this study, though the final form of the church is to be universal, it is not God’s intention for the Church during the Church Age to exist and function in a universal state. This fragmented state is not God’s ultimate design or desire for the church but it is a necessary reality due to the failure of those who claim to be Christians. I think this can be illustrated better by looking at several biblical facts as to why universal unity can never work in the Church Age.
Fact #1: The Call for Unity is Local not Universal. The actual term “unity” is only found associated with the Church in Chapter 4 of Ephesians. Here it is the focus of Paul that the Church of Ephesus, along with all local Churches, should demonstrate an internal unity centered around their Head, Jesus Christ. In other passages, Paul calls for the members of the local church to be “like minded” in all their endeavors putting Jesus Christ first. As you examine these passages I believe you will see that the writer is speaking concerning unity within local congregation not unity between churches.
Phil. 2:1-4, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” NKJV
Ro 12:15-16, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” NKJV
Ro 15:5-6, “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” NKJV
1 Co 1:10-11, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” NKJV
1 Co 1:10-12, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you.” NKJV
2 Cor. 13:11, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. NKJV
1 Pet. 3:8-9, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”NKJV
The latest statics concerning pastors is alarming. On average pastors stay with their congregation no longer than 2½ to 3 years. Of those graduating from Seminary, over 70% will permanently leave the ministry in the first five years of their ministry. Churches looking for pastors in the past usually received no more than a dozen or so resumes but today they receive anywhere from 200-500. One of the pivotal reasons for these alarming statistics is the unbiblical emphasis on creating unity between churches while neglecting unity among the membership of the local congregation. If there is no unity in the local congregation divisions and conflicts become frequent and pastors either burn out or flee to better pastures. Unfortunately, they often step out of one “frying pan” and into another.
Fact #2: The NT Church never demonstrated Universal Unity. If you take a look at the church as described in the New Testament, one finds that each church was established to exist as a self-governing body. This is particularly true from the time Paul comes on the scene. Please note the following.
In the New Testament there is only one council ever mentioned which set the precedence for all churches and that was held in Jerusalem by the Apostles (Acts 15). Its purpose was to determine if the Gentile believers were bound to follow the Jewish customs and traditions (Acts 15). Apart from this one event, in the New Testament there are no other Church counsels mentioned to determine doctrine and leadership over all the churches nor is there any call to have such counsels.
There is no form of church government outside of the local church. The Bible is clear that there are four gifts given to each church; apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11). The apostles and prophets died but their ministry carries on in the form of the written Scriptures. The evangelist is a missionary and the pastor-teacher is the pastor of a local congregation. There is no governing position given in the New Testament that gives anyone authority to rule over a group of churches or the universal church as a whole. In other words there is no hierarchical government mentioned by Scripture that has the authority of God to govern a universal church. This leaves no room for Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, or even a Pope. The order of the local church is God, Christ, male leadership, and finally female leadership (1 Cor. 11:3-4). Likewise, it is the local church’s responsibility to select its own leadership based on the qualifications laid out in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. To make this point even more strongly, the only Head given over the Universal Church is clearly Jesus Christ.
Eph. 1:22-23, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” NKJV
Eph. 4:15-16, “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ” NKJV
Eph. 5:23-24, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”
NKJV Col. 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” NKJV
Fact #3: Doctrine is more important than unity. “Doctrine” is used in the Scriptures to speak of God’s truth as found recorded in the Bible. Since doctrine is Biblical truth, to do away with doctrine is in essence to do away with the Bible and God’s path of Salvation. Even in the time of the New Testament Church, there were false prophets and teachers who sought to bring false, manmade doctrine into the Church. Some of it even altered God’s path of Salvation creating a false gospel that leads to hell.
Gal 1:6-9, “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. 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.” NKJV
Contrary to the view of the Ecumenical advocate, doctrine is not something to be shunned as divisive but rather is to be elevated even to the point of forcing separation between those who call themselves Christians. A look at the New Testament will show how often God calls for Christians to separate from those who hold to false doctrine or refuse to repent of their sin.
Separate from Sinning Believers
1 Corinthians 5:9-11, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person.” NKJV
2 Timothy 3:1-6, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” NKJV
2 Thes. 3:6-7, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” NKJV
Separate from those who teach False Doctrine
Romans 16:17-19, “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.” NKJV
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 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." 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." NKJV
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “And 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. NKJV
1 Timothy 6:3-5, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. NKJV
Titus 3:9-11, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” NKJV
2 John 10-11, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” NKJV
With these passages in mind, we can understand why Christendom is so fragmented today. God called for separation that He might always keep a remnant Church that would reflect and preach the doctrinal truths of His Word. The next time you or your congregation are invited to participate in a community service or other joint endeavors, ask yourself the question. Are we in doing so violating the commands of Christ to separate from those who no longer preach the gospel or hold to the key doctrines of the Bible. Fellowship is meant to be kept between Christians and Churches of like faith and doctrine.