Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Danger of Unequal Yokes and Interdenominational Alliances

Ecclesiastical and personal separation from false doctrine and worldliness has been an historical characteristic and distinctive of my denomination. And for many years, fundamental Baptist pastors have been careful to warn about and protect their people from unequal yokes and interdenominational alliances.

But that doesn't seem to be very important anymore to this new generation of evangelical church leaders. "Hey! Can’t we just all get along?" seems to be their ecumenical rally cry. "We don’t need to let our denominational differences get in the way of serving God. Doctrine may be necessary to define the distinctives of our churches but it should not become a hindrance to our relationships and good works. After all, we all worship the same God. We need to just 'agree to disagree,' about our doctrinal differences and join our hearts and hands together in warm, fuzzylove as brothers and sisters in the Lord for the sake of unity and service. "

So goes the lame, inane claptrap that attempts to justify our working and worshipping and fellowshipping and serving together in all kinds of faith-based community programs, parachurch outreach ministries, and interdenominational associations. We celebrate where we can agree and we ignore and tolerate where we disagree. NO PROBLEM! We can just all be friends.

Does that stuff really work? You be the judge.

In his book, Faith Undone, Roger Oakland, recounts how the late Robert Webber, an evangelical Protestant, became a supporter of Catholic views (Experiencing The Eucharist, pp 137-8). From his own testimony, Webber explained that his “most memorable encounter with a style of worship” different from his own happened at an ecumenical weekend retreat.

“The group consisted of Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and evangelicals who met monthly to read and discuss Scripture, to pray together, to talk, and to just have fun. When the time came for many of us to graduate and move on to new places, we decided to bring our two-year fellowship to an end with a weekend retreat at a local Catholic conference center. It was there we faced an issue we had never even discussed. Could we take communion together? Could a Catholic priest give the bread and wine to an evangelical? Could an evangelical receive the bread and wine from a Catholic priest?”
Admittedly, the priest shared the same dilemma but decided to break with the church’s tradition of offering the “body and blood of the Lord” to only Catholics. Why? Because in his experience, he believed that all of his new-found friends in the group were true Christians devoted to the Lord. At that point, Webber apparently also began to question his own beliefs about separation and began to think of them as just “prejudices:”

“I considered the spiritually rich times I’d shared with these people…. Those memories said, ‘Go ahead. After all, there is only one Lord, one church, one faith, one baptism, one Holy Communion.’”

“In that moment, God broke through the walls I had allowed to separate me from my brothers and sisters of different denominations. I am convinced the prejudices we hold and the walls we build between ourselves and other communities of Christians actually block our experience of God’s presence in our lives… rejecting a part of God’s church keeps us from experiencing what the creed calls ‘the communion of the Saints.’”

Webber’s participation in that single experience changed him. His emotional attachments and experiences determined his beliefs:

“You might say I was surprised by joy!... I had never had an experience like that in my life. In that Catholic chapel, a new worship experience had bumped up against that old prejudice of mine, and a new attitude was born. I had taken into myself the experience of another tradition, I had been in dialogue with another worship tradition, and I was surely the richer for it.”

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