Online Text Sermon - Ecumenism and the Reformation
|Preacher||Rev. Dr. Wayne Pearce, Lairg|
|Sermon Title||Ecumenism and the Reformation (Scottish Reformation Society Meeting)|
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My subject is Ecumenism and the Reformation. I wish to begin my address this evening by quoting to you the Word of God as found firstly at Amos 3, 3: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" And secondly: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6, 14-18). I would ask you to retain these texts in the forefront of your mind as we consider the subject of Ecumenism and the Reformation.
It is not very often that the two words Ecumenism and Reformation are spoken of in the same sentence and indeed it will be my contention here that the modern day ecumenical movement is in many ways an attempt to undermine, negate and nullify the Reformation and the fruits thereof. For this reason I suspect that the very word 'ecumenism' conjures up a whole host of negative associations and connotations among you and indeed among all Reformed Bible-believing Christians, but it need not. The word 'ecumenical' is derived from the Greek oikoumene, which in turn comes from oikeo, which means to inhabit. It is translated by the word 'world' in our English Bible referring to the inhabited world or a part thereof or even that which is to come. Hence: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come (Matthew 24, 14); "But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world (Romans 10, 18); "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17, 6b); "For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak" (Hebrews 2, 5). We are speaking therefore of a place or locality!
The ecumenical movement therefore has reference to a regional or worldwide movement whose raison d'etre is to promote and foster church unity. The foundational text for the supporters of ecumenism is to be found in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who prayed to His heavenly Father: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17, 21). Therefore there is nothing wrong with ecumenism per se and indeed it should be the aspiration, conviction and determination of all true believers to promote biblical ecumenism thereby giving true expression to the unity and oneness that Christians have as members together in the body of Christ, the household and family of God. God's people have been called out of the world: they are in the world but no longer of the world but they do have a mission to the world. The Lord Jesus prays: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John 17, 16-18).The objective or goal then is not to create some sort of monolithic organisational superstructure stretching to all four points of the compass but instead that God's children might give true expression to that unity and oneness that is already a spiritual reality for the elect of God. It is already a reality for all those who are born again from on high, who are made new creatures in Christ Jesus having been saved by grace alone, though faith alone in Jesus Christ, who are thus incorporated into the church of Christ and who therefore must abide in the doctrine of Christ. "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
The Reformation Fathers understood this and truly sought to promote and practice biblical ecumenism within the visible church as we shall see and it is my intention to conclude this evening by urging us all to follow their godly example. However, before we turn to the Reformation and our Reformed heritage and the lessons thereof let me first say something about the modern ecumenical movement which is the antithesis and reversal of the ecumenism fostered by the reformers on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ and His Word.
1. THE MODERN ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT: ITS ORIGINS AND PURPOSE
The origins of the modern ecumenical movement are ostensibly to be traced to a meeting of the World Missionary Conference which was held in Edinburgh in the year 1910. Under the chairmanship and guidance of the American Methodist, John R Mott, the conference closed with a new resolution and determination to pursue church unity in the interests of reaching the world with the gospel. Charles Clayton Morrison, a reporter who was present at the conference wrote: 'The theme of Christian unity is running through the whole conference like a subterranean stream. It breaks through the ground of any subject the conference may be considering, and bubbles on the surface for a time. It is almost the exception for a speaker to sit down without deploring our divisions. The missionaries are literally plaintive in their appeal that the church of Christ re-establish her long lost unity.' As a result in 1921, after the dust of the First World War had settled, the World Missionary Council met again in New York and resolved to bring about greater collaboration between various Protestant missionary agencies.
I want to suggest to you that there are two strands to modern ecumenism of which evangelical ecumenism is the first and it proved the catalyst for the second. This has been increasingly evident over the last 60 years or so. Evangelistic campaigns and events like those associated with Billy Graham and Luis Palau have united evangelicals and non-evangelicals together and therefore have only helped to blur the distinction between truth and error. That is not to say however that the desire and plea of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference was not a worthy one, and it is one which is increasingly heard among evangelicals today throughout our land. Nevertheless, the question must be asked, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3, 3). In order to answer this question we must ask ourselves: Is it enough and is it right to unite and work around the common label evangelical? What does the term mean today - even among professing evangelicals there appears to be little consensus? Thus we must ask ourselves what constitutes the true evangel - the biblical gospel? Should Calvinists labour with Arminians, Pelagians and others in seeking to win souls to Christ? We cannot all be preaching the same gospel? Is salvation monergistic or synergistic - is it all of sovereign grace or is it the fruit of God and man co-operating together with man ultimately choosing his own destiny? Does it matter? Moreover is it right that the church should delegate her Christ-given responsibility to preach the gospel to various parachurch organisations which has been the norm now since the 19th century? For it is not merely conversions that we are to be seeking but we are to be making disciples; and this is brought about within the context and confines of the church where new and old Christians alike are fed, nurtured, supported and cared for! We are specifically taught at Acts 2, 42 that those who repented, believed and were baptised in response to the preaching of Christ and Him crucified were incorporated into the church: "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." This rarely happens in modern evangelism where so many make a so-called decision for Christ and are rarely ever seen again crossing the thresholds of church buildings after professing faith in Him!
Additionally we must ask: Are modern day evangelical methodologies biblical? They are increasingly entertainment driven and orientated. Charles Spurgeon warned the church in the 19th century that she was entertaining goats rather than feeding sheep! What the prince of preachers would make of the situation in our land today one can but conjecture. We have moved into the era of the so-called seeker friendly approach, but the Bible says there are none that seek after God - that is, of their own volition! While in the New Testament the church turned the world upside down, today the world is turning the church upside down! The church is foolishly ever chasing after the latest fad or fashion in order to appear relevant and modern to those whom God's Word declares to be spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins. When I was called to my first pastorate in Dundee I was invited by the city centre evangelical church leaders to take part in an outdoor evangelistic event in Dundee city centre on an Easter Sunday. One minister present said that if they were to have any preaching it should be limited to 10 minutes maximum as people today cannot abide to listen to preachers; another said that a praise band would be essential to the success of the enterprise and yet another suggested contacting a Christian clown from the largest charismatic church in the city in order to grab and keep the people's attention! Is this what evangelicalism has degenerated into? Does this glorify God and honour His holy name? Moreover what are we to make of popular, itinerant evangelists who nowadays rarely preach on the heinousness of sin and its grave consequences and of the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? Is it acceptable that certain evangelical leaders and preachers court fellowship with liberal unbelievers and the Church of Rome instead of seeking their conversion? What does God's Word say about evangelism? Is God glorified by our willingness to compromise and prostitute the truth for appearance's sake? Are results and success more important than faithfulness to the Lord and His Word? These are just some of the questions that need to be raised when assessing modern evangelical ecumenism. And I raise these issues here in anticipation of our discussion later. While many, possibly a majority of evangelicals today believe expediency must be our guide our Reformed forebears said otherwise.
Returning to the history however, the 1920s witnessed a growing commitment to ecumenism and saw the establishment of two organisations whose goal it was to promote greater church unity through co-operation in various spheres of activity. These developments lead to the second and most influential strand and model for contemporary ecumenism. In 1925, the Life and Work Movement was inaugurated in Stockholm, Sweden, whose motto would come to encapsulate the modern ecumenical movement's disdain and disinterest in sound doctrine. It simply stated: 'not credo but amo' - meaning of course not creed or doctrine but love. Thus we must note that from its very inception the modern ecumenical movement was determined to promote and pursue church unity on the basis of pragmatism and perceived needs rather than on the solid foundation of the word of God. This is disobedience and rebellion against the Lord and cannot bear the type of fruit that is pleasing to God.
God's word makes crystal clear that credo and amo are not antithetical but instead they are integral to and foundational to the church's spiritual welfare, work and witness. The Lord Jesus says if you love Me keep my commandments. The word of God is unequivocal in teaching that truth and love must always be together. Christians are begotten by the Word of truth and must ever remain faithful to it if they are to grow thereby and show forth their love to God and the brethren. We must hear it and heed it in order to love the Lord our God and our neighbour. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The apostle Peter writes: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Peter 1, 22). The apostle John says: "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 John 3, 18). "The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth" ((2 John 1); "Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love" (2 John 3). Truth and love are inseparable. Like certain Siamese twins they cannot survive apart. Truth without love becomes cold, critical and heartless and churches lacking this chief grace are as warm and inviting as a mortuary slab. However, love without truth is mere sentimentality and emotionalism. It is devoid of substance and tragically today there are far too many churches which fall into this category. The Bible says: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11, 1). Such churches have not only lost their first love but they have degenerated into synagogues of Satan! Christ has removed the candlestick and they are no longer churches in the biblical sense!
Therefore let us note that the Life and Work Movement started out on the wrong footing by attempting to steer clear of doctrine and theology. Like so many in our day they started out from the false premise that because doctrine is often a source of contention, division and strife in the churches it is better ignored and put aside. Doctrine however is not the cause of the church's problems and deep-seated spiritual malaise. Instead, it is disobedience to and wilful rejection of sound doctrine (of the biblical revelation); that is the true cause of animosity, division and strife within the visible church. It is man's sinful disobedience to special revelation that lies at the root of all our problems! Since the beginning man has been ever ready to listen to the Evil One who constantly is ready to whisper in our ears, "Hath God said?" (Genesis 3, 1). Instead of looking to God and His word The Life and Work Movement sought to bring the churches together on the basis of making common cause in economic, social and political matters of mutual concern and interest. It was of course the era of the social gospel. Higher criticism, it was claimed and foolishly believed, had discredited the Bible by articulating the view that it was merely the work of gullible and superstitious men. Accordingly it was full of error and was an unreliable guide for the church in the modern age. Empiricism and human reason were elevated above the Word and infinite wisdom of God in the search for an ecclesiastical and worldly utopia. This view is still the prevailing one among contemporary ecumenicists.
A few years back I attended an annual lecture in Dundee University given by a professor of theology from the University of St Andrews. I do not recall his name but he was introduced to the audience as an Episcopalian clergy-person. His job was to teach theology to prospective ministers for the Church of Scotland and other denominations throughout our nation and further afield. In his address he described Christianity as a religion by way of a power point presentation. He had God up there and man down here and an arrow pointing from man to God - this he said was religion; this he said was Christianity. He was half right, for this is the religion that man has been pursuing since the Fall in his disobedience, rebellion and hostility to the one, true and living God. This is the type of Christianity that is represented among the enthusiasts of the modern ecumenical movement but this is not true Christianity. In order to understand true Christianity the professor would have had to turn the arrow the other way around - because Christianity is founded and grounded in revelation - natural revelation which leaves man without excuse but more crucially and vitally special revelation which God has graciously given in His Word and supremely in the Word incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. As John Calvin made clear at the outset of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion fallen man can never truly come to know himself until he comes to know God and this can only come about by God revealing Himself to man. Man in his natural state is at enmity with God. He is dead to God and the things of God: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2, 14). Man must be born again; he must receive the Spirit of illumination that he might see, hear and comprehend aright.
Recognising the obvious inadequacy of the Life and Work Movement's approach, remedy was sought in 1927, when the Faith and Order Movement was launched in Lausanne, Switzerland. It sought to provide and promulgate a theological basis for church unity. Unfortunately however it sought to find a solution in the opinions and traditions of the churches rather than trusting to the sole headship of Christ and the supreme authority and sufficiency of His Word, which is alone the perfect rule for all matters pertaining to faith and practice. Over 400 delegates met, representing 127 Orthodox, Anglican, Reformed and Free churches, under the chairmanship of Charles H Brent to (and I quote) 'to register the apparent level of fundamental agreements within the conference and the grave points of disagreement remaining'. In 1937, the Life and Work Movement and the Faith and Order Movement agreed to unite. However, the implementation of their union was deferred by the outbreak of the Second World War until August 1948, when representatives of 147 churches assembled in Amsterdam to constitute the World Council of Churches.
The World Council of Churches is by far the largest ecumenical body in the world and it characterises what the modern ecumenical movement truly embodies. Let me quote you what they have to say about themselves from their own official website: 'The World Council of Churches (WCC) is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity. The WCC brings together 347 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians. As members of this fellowship, WCC member churches: are called to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship; promote their common witness in work for mission and evangelism; engage in Christian service by serving human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation; and foster renewal in unity, worship, mission and service. WCC member churches today include nearly all the world's Orthodox churches, scores of denominations from such historic traditions of the Protestant Reformation as Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed, and a broad representation of united and independent churches. The world's largest Christian body, the Roman Catholic Church, is not a member of the WCC, but has worked closely with the Council for more than four decades and sends representatives to all major WCC conferences as well as to its Central Committee meetings and the assemblies. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity appoints 12 representatives to the WCC's Faith and Order Commission and cooperates with the WCC to prepare resource materials for local congregations and parishes to use during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.'
With this in mind let me give you an example of how Rome influences and guides ecumenical thought and endeavour here in Scotland at present. The supporters of the modern ecumenical movement are represented by ACTS - Action of Churches Together in Scotland. ACTS comprises the Church of Scotland, the Church of Rome, the Episcopal Church in Scotland, the Congregational Union and Federation, the Methodist Church, the Quakers, the Salvation Army, the United Free Church and the United Reformed Church. They make available through their website resources for member churches and for all who share in their vision. One of the items which they are currently urging churches to make use as an aid to promote greater church unity of is a series of reflections developed from 'A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism' by Cardinal Walter Kasper. In reflection number three which is on the subject of Baptism it is stated that 'Baptism is the primary sacrament of salvation, through which people become Christians, incorporated into Christ and into His church...' I can't help but see a connection with the grave heresy of baptismal regeneration and the popular terminology that liberals and other unbelievers use in referring to baptism as a 'christening'! While the historic Protestant churches that are part of the modern ecumenical movement are ever ready to compromise, ignore and jettison their glorious biblical heritage in pursuit of visible church unity, it is worth noting that they are coming increasingly under the influence and sway of the Church of Rome whose claim is that she is semper eadem - always the same! Not even the recent decree of Pope Benedict XVI issued on 10 July 2007 in which he stipulated that 'Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the 16th century cannot be called Churches in the proper sense' has done little to dampen liberal enthusiasm for a reunified Christendom here in the West and throughout the world - even if that necessitates having the Pope as its sovereign head! And some of these denominations still refer to themselves as Reformed!
Let us note therefore the great danger posed by this unholy alliance. At a cursory glance some of the aims of the WCC appear to be good and commendable in and of themselves. Nevertheless, while the WCC speaks of THE faith, they oppose it in word and practice and cannot even agree as to what it is. WCC churches reject the biblical gospel and the doctrines of grace and yet they use terminology like 'mission' and 'evangelism' that might suggest otherwise to the gullible, uninformed and biblically illiterate. There have been documented cases of members of WCC affiliate churches actually persecuting Bible-believing Christians in their home countries. In conclusion I would suggest to you that the modern ecumenical movement is somewhat akin to that wicked amalgam of Pharisees, Scribes, Herodians and Sadducees who found it expedient to unite in their opposition to the crown rights of the Redeemer. They would not have this Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, to rule over them, and collectively they sought to discredit His testimony and destroy Him. Thus today in the WCC and associated movements we find an unholy cabal of sacerdotalists, sacramentarians, legalists, antinomians and liberal and licentious unbelievers. They cannot even agree over the meaning of their minimalist confessional or creedal statement which reads: 'The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of Churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.' This creedal affirmation is rarely invoked as there is no common understanding or agreement as to what it even means.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? The answer is yes, if the parties concerned are prepared to ignore and turn a blind eye to the Word of God - that Word which makes a man wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3, 16-17). The glue that binds such groups together is not the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of truth but their opposition to the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture and sound doctrine! What unites such people is their animosity towards the biblical gospel that salvation is not of man but is rather of sovereign grace! What unites such is their hatred of the doctrine of the sole Headship of Jesus Christ in and over His church! Let us beware of the dangers posed to the interests of Christ and His church and heed the Word of God which says: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? (2 Corinthians 6, 14-16).
2. THE REFORMATION AND THE PROMOTION AND PRACTICE OF BIBLICAL ECUMENISM
Let us now turn to the Reformation and to the promotion and practice of biblical ecumenism. For both in doctrine and in deed the reformers sought to cultivate true church unity on a local, national and international scale. And they did so, not like the modern ecumenicists on the basis of expediency or perceived needs or the claims of any church or worldly head but, on the only sure and solid foundation of God's infallible and inerrant Word. In other words the reformers sought to reform the church on a purely biblical template realising that true ecumenism, that is, Christian fellowship, is in love and truth. Moreover they understood as the writers of the preface to the Westminster Confession of Faith did that, 'The two great pillars upon which the kingdom of Satan is erected, and by which it is upheld, are ignorance and error.' Thus John Calvin noted: 'A holy unity exists amongst us, when, consenting in pure doctrine, we are united in Christ alone.' On commenting on the words, "and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10, 16), Calvin further commented: 'That is, that all the children of God may be gathered and united into one body; as we acknowledge that there is one holy universal Church, and there must be one body with one head.(Ephesians 4, 4-5). Though this flock appears to be divided into different folds, yet they are kept within enclosures which are common to all believers who are scattered throughout the whole world; because the same word is preached to all, they use the same sacraments, they have the same order of prayer, and everything that belongs to the profession of faith.' The Reformation teaches us that true church unity is only to be had in faith and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and His word. Thus in reply to the question, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" the reformers formulated a confessional basis for church unity and fellowship based solely on the pure teaching of God's authoritative Word. The Reformation fathers did not seek to erect a monolithic ecclesiastical structure but instead they sought to publicise and give true expression to the catholicity of the church and the communion of saints on the basis of our common faith and practice. While the Reformed churches in various parts of Europe formulated their own creedal statements it should not surprise us that there was doctrinal uniformity and a similarly high degree of practice among them. For convenience sake permit me to read you article 16 of the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560 which provides a fairly lucid, comprehensive and yet succinct account of the doctrine of church which provided the platform for promoting and practising biblical ecumenism. Article 16 is headed 'Of the Kirk' and it reads: ''As we believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; so do we most constantly believe that from the beginning there has been, now is, and to the end of the world shall be, a kirk: that is to say, a company and multitude of men chosen of God, who rightly worship and embrace him, by true faith in Christ Jesus, who is the only Head of the same kirk, which also is the body and spouse of Christ Jesus; which kirk is Catholic that is, universal because it contains the elect of all ages, all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews, or be they of the Gentiles; who have communion and society with God the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of his Holy Spirit; and therefore it is called the communion, not of profane persons, but of saints, who, as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, have the fruition of the most inestimable benefits: to wit, of one God, one Lord Jesus, one faith, and of one baptism; out of the which kirk there is neither life, nor eternal felicity. And therefore we utterly abhor the blasphemy of them that affirm that men which live according to equity and justice shall be saved, what religion that ever they have professed. For as without Christ Jesus there is neither life nor salvation, so shall there none be participant thereof, but such as the Father has given unto his Son Christ Jesus, and those [that] in time come unto him, avow his doctrine, and believe into him (we comprehend the children with the faithful parents). This kirk is invisible, known only to God, who alone knows whom he has chosen, and comprehends as well (as said is) the elect that are departed (commonly called the kirk triumphant), as those that yet live and fight against sin and Satan as shall live hereafter. ' Let us note firstly then that the church is not a building nor is it simply a worldly institution, as all too many people are still apt to think. Instead the reformers make clear that it comprises those who are recipients of and dependents on sovereign grace. The true church is a company and multitude of men chosen of God, who rightly worship and embrace Him, by true faith in Christ Jesus. Understanding this is vital to any ecumenical activity. It is Christ's church for He redeemed all those that collectively comprise its ranks through His active and passive obedience and they must therefore remain ever faithful and obedient to Him. God's people are called and equipped to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The reformers rightly expressed the truth that the church has an invisible aspect for God alone truly knows those who are His. However it is also called to visibly manifest itself in this fallen world. God's people are called to be saints, they are called to be holy, they are called to be salt and light, they are called to be a city upon a hill. Like Simeon God's children are called to be just and devout.
While justification and sanctification describe quite different things they always accompany one another in the true believer. Therefore the church 'is called the communion, not of profane persons but of saints, who, as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, have the fruition of the most inestimable benefits, to wit, of one God, one Lord Jesus, one faith, and of one baptism; out of the which Kirk there is neither life, nor eternal felicity.' The reformers rightly understood that saving faith must manifest itself in a holy life. Scripture says, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12, 14). God's people are to be a holy people: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6, 9-11). Is it is not for this reason that the visible church should only receive into membership those who have repented of their sin and who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ along with their seed. Moreover the visible church must exercise biblical discipline in order to safeguard her testimony and witness to the world.
The reformation fathers also rightly proclaimed that salvation is by sovereign grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. They preached the gospel to every creature but sought fellowship among those who believed the biblical gospel. God alone is the author, worker and finisher of His people's redemption. The Christian is not saved by his good works as the modern ecumenicist believes but as the Confession declares he is saved in order to do God-glorifying good works: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2, 10). This great truth was confirmed in the strongest possible terms in the Scots Confession which stipulates: 'we utterly abhor the blasphemy of them that affirm that men which live according to equity and justice shall be saved, what religion that ever they have professed. For as without Christ Jesus there is neither life nor salvation, so shall there none be participant thereof, but such as the Father has given unto his Son Christ Jesus, and those [that] in time come unto him, avow his doctrine, and believe into him (we comprehend the children with the faithful parents).' The modern ecumenical movement would do well to remind itself that there is only one way of salvation and One Saviour of sinners who is the Way, the Truth and the Life! The exclusivity of the true faith leaves the modern ecumenicist uncomfortable for this is not popular in our relativistic and pluralistic world but we must follow the example of the reformers and take our stand upon it!
The Scots Confession was also unequivocal in stating that Christ is the only Head of the church, which is also the body and spouse of Christ Jesus. One of the great strengths of the Church in Scotland during the Reformation period and in subsequent times, and the true source of her power and blessing, surely lay in her commitment to the Headship of Jesus Christ. The Covenanters contended for Christ's crown and covenant; the Disruption fathers for the Crown rights of the Redeemer! What about us? God's Word declares that Christ purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20, 28): "He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence" (Colossians 1, 18). The apostle Paul assures us in his first epistle to the Corinthians that the head of every man is Christ (1 Corinthians 11, 3). John Calvin wisely and rightly reminds us that 'Christ is the Church's sole master'. No Pope or Patriarch or any earthly ruler can be head of Christ's church. The willingness of the modern ecumenical movement to court and curry favour with the Church of Rome in particular testifies to their ignorance and disobedience in this area.
Moreover, the growing influence of dispensationalist teachings among some in modern evangelical ecumenist circles has fostered the aberrant doctrine that a person can receive Christ to be their Saviour without having to accept His Lordship in and over our lives! Again this is a plain denial of our glorious Reformed and Biblical heritage! Here in Scotland, John Knox during his notable and powerful scriptural refutation of the Roman Catholic Mass in 1550 was adamant that Christ is King and Head of His Church. As such, Knox correctly contended that believers were not only subject to the guidance, rule and protection of Christ's kingly rule but as His subjects they had also to be attentive to and obey His commands. Knox rightly insisted that 'it becomes the kirk of Jesus Christ to advert what he speaks, to receive and embrace his laws; and where he makes end of speaking or law-giving, here to rest; so that all the power of the kirk is subject to God's word.' This is foundational to biblical ecumenism but sorely lacking in the modern ecumenical movement.
Finally the Reformers rightly emphasised that true catholicity of the church. The Confession states that the church 'is Catholic, that is, universal, because it contains the elect of all ages, all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews, or be they of the Gentiles, who have communion and society with God the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of his Holy Spirit.' Note this is already a reality! The word 'catholic' simply means universal. The Apostles Creed declares: 'I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.' The Reformation fathers were in no doubt that the Holy Catholic or Universal Church comprises the elect of all ages, all realms, nations, and tongues whom Christ purchased to Himself through His vicarious and sacrificial life, death and resurrection. It appears to escape most people's - and indeed most Christians' - notice today that the term 'Roman Catholic' is a contradiction in terms! We need to reclaim and spread abroad the Reformed teaching on catholicity for this alone has the support and warrant of the Word of God. The church of God truly transcends all national, cultural and social barriers. It transcends denominational barriers. It is not confined or defined by space or time but contains all those who are truly united to Jesus Christ through faith by the mere grace, love and mercy of God. It is a communion of saints. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1, 3). The church of the Reformation sought not only to promote biblical ecumenism but they sought to practice it through mutual support, encouragement, fellowship and prayer. And we need to do the same in our day.
True biblical ecumenism is something we must seek to give expression to and work at within our own congregations, within our denominations and between churches and denominations as Bible-believing Confessional Christians. The Lord Jesus specifically says: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13, 35). It is hardly surprising that our witness is so often ineffectual today and even potentially damaging! What does the world see when she looks at the church? God's Word leaves us in no doubt that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand! By contrast the Bible lays great emphasis on the unity, the oneness, the togetherness of Christ's church: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4, 32-33).
The early church practised true ecumenism and their unity in the faith was expressed and blessed by God with great power and grace. This was emulated by our Reformation Fathers and I believe that it is time for us to follow their example that all the glory would be to God alone. Let me conclude by echoing the words of J.C. Ryle who once said that if the hedges around our denominations cannot be removed then let them be kept low enough that we can shake hands over them!
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