There is much talk of unity among Christians in our day, and for good reason! We all long for the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17. And we all grieve over the disunity in the churches. Unity is threatened when Christians divide and separate from each other; so we should never separate from other Christians, right?
Unfortunately, many Christians would answer, “Yes,” because that is what the party line of our day says. But Scripture is clear: “I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11). “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Yes, many people separate sinfully. But, as these statements from Scripture make clear, there are times when, to remain obedient to God, you must separate from other believers. I have a hard time imagining another truth from God’s Word that has been more ignored in our day.
Is the Bible our authority? Then we must obey all its commands. We cannot be Scripture snobs, only following the passages that rub us the right way. We can’t dictate to our Lord which of His commands suits us. Who is Lord when we’re the ones dictating?
So how can we have unity when we also must be separate? Unity and separateness seem to contradict each other, don’t they? They don’t have to. God expects us to hold to both of them. But how?
First, Christians must stop separating from other believers over non-essential matters. Christians are very choosy about whom they will fellowship with. And when they decide which church they will attend or not attend, they display the standards by which they choose. ”I like the color of the carpet there.” “That person looked at me funny, so I’m not going there.” “Nobody visited me, so I’m leaving.” “That church uses video equipment, so I’m going there.” “The music is more hip there.” “They serve doughnuts there.”
If we decide where we will attend church with only these kinds of considerations, then we’ve shown how shallow we are. Or if these kinds of considerations are the main factors in our choice, again, we’ve shown how shallow we are. We’ve shown that we choose churches like we choose fast food places: it’s all about pleasing self. How can we learn to “forbear one another in love” when we’ll leave the church over the color of the carpet? How can we learn to strive for the “unity of the Spirit” when we’ll leave the church for doughnuts? What a person will join a church for they’ll leave a church for. We need to stop separating from other believers over petty issues.
Many people might say that they have theological reasons for their choice of which church to attend. That’s good, but we all need to realize that many Christian movements today are centered around important but non-essential teachings. There are movements today all about child-rearing. Others center on home-schooling. Still others are focused on end-time events, the nation Israel, re-discovering our Christian heritage, boosting masculinity, and so on. Obviously, these various things are good or at least tolerable. The problem comes when Christian people start majoring on these things. They start selecting whom they will fellowship with based on whether or not they feel the same way about homeschooling, for example. And sometimes such folks end up fellowshipping with people who may agree with them on homeschooling but who don’t believe in justification by faith alone or who don’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture.
What happens when people choose whom they will fellowship with based on non-essential teachings at the expense of the essential teachings? The end result is a smorgasboard society in which everyone chooses which “flavor” of Christianity they want based on pet issues, on their own likes and dislikes. The meat of the Word gets passed over for junk food. Jesus doesn’t come in flavors, but we treat Him the way our market-driven society has taught us to treat everything. Sad.
Second, we must get aquainted with the essential truths of the Word and major on those. The Pharisees were guilty of majoring on the minors. It’s so easy for us to scoff at them as though we weren’t made of the same flesh! Jesus said to them, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). We need to avoid the Pharisees’ problem by keeping the main thing the main thing. We need to major on the majors.
What are the majors? What are the essential truths, the foundational teachings that deserve our first loyalty? Judgment, mercy, and faith must be important or Jesus wouldn’t have mentioned them. But in addition, essential Christian truths are those that are essential to Christianity. They are truths that, if altered, would make Christianity something different than what the Bible presents. You see, God calls us to earnestly contend for “the faith” (Jude 3), and we shouldn’t tolerate anybody’s attempts to twist it (Galatians 1:9). But what are these essential Christians truths we are to protect from corruption?
There’s inspiration. If the Bible is inspired, that is, breathed out by God, then it is authoritative. It comes from an omniscient and truthful God. It is dependable. You can bank on it. It is error-free. But if you consider its teachings to be laced with human opinion, then it is subjective; it’s ethical and spiritual claims are uncertain. It has no more authority than any other book. But Christianity claims to be absolute: true for everyone whether they believe it or not. The Bible claims full inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Therefore, the inspiration of the Bible is an essential Christian truth. If you deny inspiration, no truth from the Bible can stand as more than someone’s opinion. Never fellowship with a ”believer” who is all out for mercy ministries and giving to the poor, for example, but he denies the Bible is inspired. If you do, you’ve denied that inspiration is a test of fellowship, and essential Christians truths are always tests of fellowship! The guy who gives to the poor but doesn’t respect the Bible has no ultimate basis for giving to the poor.
There’s also Creation. The Bible presents man as having been created by a personal God. We’re not alienated from a vast impersonal universe. We’re made in God’s image. We’re different from the rest of Creation because we’re special and unique. We didn’t evolve from lower forms of life. We were created by a direct act of God. If there’s no Creator who is infinite and personal, then we don’t have a reference point for morals other than people’s opinions: and people’s opinions differ! If one society decides that murdering Jews (as the Nazis did) is the right thing to do, on what basis does any other society judge them wrong? If there is nothing but human opinions, then it is just one society’s opinion against another’s. And thus it is might makes right after all. If there is no ultimate standard of right and wrong, then the Nazis at the Nuremburg trials were right: “You have the right to judge us only because you won.” If we deny Creation by the infinite personal God whose very character is the standard of right and wrong, we’ve lost everything. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist, wrote “without God, all things are permissable.” If we deny Him, we turn ourselves into monsters. Thus, Creation by the infinite, personal God is an essential Christian truth. Never fellowship with a “believer” who may be as serious as you are about corporal punishment, for example, but who nevertheless denies that we were created by a God who makes the rules and cares that we keep them. Don’t allow a major to become a minor.
There’s also sin. If we deny that all people are sinners, condemned by a rightfully angry God, we’ve cut the heart out of the gospel itself. If we’re not sinners under God’s wrath, then why did Jesus die, taking our sins upon Himself (2 Peter 2:24)? Never fellowship with a “believer” who is excited about what is happening in Israel, for example, but who doesn’t believe that people are sinners, condemned by God. By the way, what do you do when you’ve discovered that someone you fellowship with is denying an essential Christian truth? Do you immediately separate? No, Matthew 18:15-17 gives instruction on how to deal with it. You try to talk with him first, and you only separate if he won’t change after a number of attempts to reason with him. Separation is not to be done abruptly and with glee. It is a last resort and a cause for tears.
There’s also salvation by faith alone through grace alone. This is another essential Christian truth that is being denied by people who claim to be Christians. The Bible is clear on this point. “By Grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). People who think they can earn salvation by doing good deeds are terribly mistaken. We are saved from sin by trusting Christ as Savior. If we think we can earn salvation, we’re essentially saying we can put God in our debt. We’re essentially saying we can make God owe us salvation. But “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23)! All we deserve is judgment! ”Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). But even though we’re under a curse, God graciously sent His Son to die in the place of sinners (John 3:16). If we trust Christ to save us from our wretched sins, then we’re saved. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). This is an essential Christian truth because it deals with the question: ”Who are God’s people anyway?” It deals with the question, “What is a Christian?” In a way, this is the most foundational of all the essential Christian truths. Never fellowship with a “brother” who denies this crucial truth, no matter what other areas you happen to agree on.
There’s also holiness of lifestyle. If we as Christians don’t strive to obey Christ’s command to “be holy as I am holy,” then not only are we disobedient but we are contradicting Christ’s whole purpose in saving us. He didn’t save us to leave us to ourselves but to change us into His image. He “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Never fellowship with a person who justifies his sin by saying “Hey, I can do what I want; it is the age of grace!” A person like that is resisting God’s whole purpose in salvation. They turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness” and are condemned (Jude 1:4).
More examples of essential Christian Truths to come.
In conclusion (for now), Cornerstone Baptist Church wants to be a church that finds its unity around the essential Christian truths from the Bible. We want to major on the majors. Though we all will have differing beliefs about less important issues, nevertheless, we won’t make those issues tests of fellowship. On those issues we will strive to show magnanimity, forbearance, tolerance, patience. But on the essentials, on the foundational doctrines, we can show no tolerance to those who seek to change them.
So, is Cornerstone Baptist Church all about negative “heresy hunting”? Do we make defending the faith the most important thing? No. Christ is the most important thing. But “earnestly contending for the faith” is vital (Jude 1:3). If the white blood cells are working in the body, then the rest of the body is protected from all that threatens to infect it. We don’t make the body’s defense system the center–that position belongs to Christ. But we make sure the defense system is there and working properly. Just as having a good immune system is essential to bodily health, discerning and separating from false teaching is essential to the health of Christ’s body. In fact, separation from false teachers and false teaching is an essential Christian truth.
If we’re protecting the essential Christian truths, then the people of God can approach their Bibles as they were meant to: we can safely nourish ourselves on its green pastures. We can find in it the spiritual milk and meat that will feed our souls and make us more like our Lord who loves us so.