Discernment Newsletter

ďÖhow is it that ye do not discern this time?Ē  Luke 12:56

SPECIAL REPORTS

PUBLISHED JULY 2005

 

By Dr. Opal L. Reddin

 

 

Dr. Reddin has been an ordained Assemblies of God minister since 1946. Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Central Bible College, she served as Chair of the Biblical Education Division. In 1999, Central Bible College established the "Opal Reddin Chair of Pentecostal Truth." Now retired from Central Bible College, she continues to be a voice for Truth

 

 

I.     A DEFINING MOMENT in the GENERAL COUNCIL of the ASSEMBLIES OF

       GOD                                                                                                      page 2

II.    BIBLICAL CHURCH UNITY                                                                 page 9

 

III. GODíS ECUMENICAL MANDATE  VERSUS THE MODERN ECUMENICAL

        MOVEMENT                                                                                      page 14

 

 

 

 

I.

A DEFINING MOMENT in the GENERAL COUNCIL of the ASSEMBLIES OF GOD

Assemblies of God ministers have received packets in preparation for the 51st General Council of the Assemblies of God to convene in Denver, Colorado, August 2-5, 2005. Included are an 84-page document containing "Proposed Revisions" and a 16-page document, the proposed new "Organizational Manual." The title page of the 84-page missive lists: "Constitution and Bylaws: Vision for Transformation: Proposed Revisions. Approved and Recommended by the General Presbytery and Resolutions Committee." Proposed major changes present us with a CRISIS. It is not my purpose to deal with every aspect of the proposals. Rather, I am asking you to give very prayerful consideration to two matters of crucial importance to the Assemblies of God.

I. Why we should retain the present bylaw regarding ecumenical movements, Article IX, Section 11. See page 46 of 84.

II. Why we should reject "The General Council of the Assemblies of God Operations Manual." See Article XIX, pages 83-84..

Why We Should Retain the Present Bylaw Article IX, Section 11

The original bylaw, adopted in 1969 and re-emphasized in 1995, reads:

"The General Council of the Assemblies of God disapproves of ministers or churches participating in any of the modern ecumenical organizations on a local, national, or international level in such a manner as to promote the ecumenical movement because:

a. We believe the basis of doctrinal fellowship of said movement to be so broad that it includes people who reject the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the universality of sin, the substitutionary atonement, and other cardinal teachings that we understand to be essential to biblical Christianity.

b. We believe the emphases of the ecumenical movement to be at variance with what we hold to be biblical priorities, frequently displacing the urgency of individual salvation with social concerns.

c. We believe that the combination of many religious organizations into a world superchurch will culminate in the religious Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18.

(This is not to be interpreted to mean that a limitation may be imposed upon any Assemblies of God minister regarding his or her Pentecostal witness or participation on a local level with inter-denominational activities.)"

The Proposed Revision of this bylaw says:

"The General Council of the Assemblies of God encourages ministers or churches to fellowship with other Christians of like precious Faith who hold to the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the universality of sin, the substitutionary atonement, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and His second coming.

The General Council of the Assemblies of God shall not belong to any interdenominational organization that denies the evangelical beliefs stated in the above paragraph, and urges its ministers and churches to avoid entanglements with such interdenominational organizations except as opportunity may arise to support Biblical values in the culture or provide opportunity to bear witness to our evangelical and Pentecostal faith and experience.

This is not to be interpreted to mean that a limitation may be imposed upon any Assemblies of God minister regarding his or her Pentecostal witness or participation on a local level with inter- denominational activities."

I. We should retain the present bylaw for the following reasons:

A. The present bylaw defends the Gospel which is "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16); it protects against ecumenical movements which inevitably blur and eventually destroy the Gospel message. It states clearly that we disapprove of ministers or churches participating in the current ecumenical movement because it "will culminate in the religious Babylon of Rev 17 and 18." If retained and obeyed, this bylaw will enable us to be true to our mission to take the Gospel to every creature.

The contemporary ecumenical movement is as dangerous as was the coming of the Judaizers to the Early Church with their false "gospel" of "JESUS plus works of law" (Acts 15:1; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:1-21). We need not be surprised by the ecumenists among us today. The Judaizers were so influential that even Peter and Barnabas were temporarily drawn away. Paul immediately and publicly accused them of hypocrisy and pronounced the curse of God on the false "gospel." Peter and Barnabas saw the Truth, repented, and joined with Paul in the first Council of the Church in Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit led the Church to settle the message of the Gospel for all time (Acts 15:2-28).

The main leader in the current ecumenical movement is the Roman Catholic Church; it teaches the same heretical "JESUS plus works for righteousness" message as that of the Judaizers. Like Paul and all the Apostles, we have the blood bought privilege of preaching the Gospel of "JESUS plus nothing." Through the finished work of Calvary, Jesus Christ provided our full Salvation. HE "became for us wisdom from GodĖand righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). Our present bylaw defends this Gospel.

B. The proposed revision of the bylaw does not adequately defend the Gospel. Its definition of "Christians of like precious faith," with the five requirements, will be welcomed by Catholic ecumenists.

1. They will say, "We agree with you that the Scriptures are inspired," but they also insist that the Catholic Church is the higher authority and that Scripture must be interpreted according to their Tradition (Vatican II, Dei Verbum).

2. Their Tradition accepts the Deity of Christ, but by worshiping Mary as "Mother of God," they destroy the meaning of "Deity" (Catholic Catechism, 25).

3. They do believe in the universality of sin; however, they insist that the merit of Jesus Christ is applied to infants by the sacrament of baptism and by baptism the guilt of original sin is remitted (Council of Trent, 22, 23, 54). As children grow up, their sins are dealt with by the unscriptural doctrines of Penance, Confession to priests, Indulgences, and finally the fires of Purgatory.

4. They will say, "Yes, we believe in Christís substitutionary atonement," but for Catholics there is no justification by Christ alone. In their Decree on Ecumenism, we read, "For it is through Christís Catholic Church alone that the means of salvation can be obtained." They say Christ makes salvation possible, but He is only one of the means of justification. Other essential means of grace include the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, efficacious only when administered by the Catholic Church. They also insist that "Mary is truly Mother of the Church and brings birth of believers" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 25).

5. They profess faith in the physical resurrection of Christ and His second coming, but they insist that no one can be ready for that event without going through the cleansing fires of purgatory.

They teach that Purgatory exists because "the saved must be purged before entering Heaven" (Catechism, 268).

C. The proposed bylaw cannot protect Christians against the increasing pressures from the ecumenical movement, as the present bylaw does.

1. Pressure from "The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity," an official group who state their goal in all Catholic dialogue and conferences with other faiths: "The results will be that, little by little . . .all Christians will be gathered into the unity of the one and only Church. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose" (Vatican II, 457). Faithful watchmen can discern alarming increase in the current pressures.

2. Pressure from ECT: Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millenium. Published in 1994, it is the work of outstanding Evangelicals and Catholics. Its main thesis is that we must consider all baptized Catholics as having been born again. See at:

http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9405/articles/mission.html 

3. Pressure from the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue. Meeting regularly for over thirty years, its greatest ecumenical pressure is clearly seen in the document, Evangelization, Proselytism, and Common Witness, published in the Spring 1999 issue of Pneuma. The reader can readily summarize its 40 pages: "Pentecostals should not evangelize Catholics; to do so is to proselytize. Rather, they should do mission together in Common Witness." Read at:

http://www.pctii.org/cyberj/cyberj4/rcpent97.html

The six Assemblies of God ministers who helped to produce this document must have forgotten that the majority of our converts in many countries came out of the Catholic Church. AndĖall Catholics still need to hear the Gospel; how can we consign over a billion eternal souls to the darkness of their false "gospel"?

4. Pressures from the ecumenically inclined in our own Fellowship. This may be the most insidious of all; few can stand up to pressure from a fellow minister, particularly if that minister is a special friend or one in authority in the denomination.

Have we forgotten the Protestant Reformation? We need to be reminded that we the Assemblies of God, like all other Evangelicals, are spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther risked his life to protest the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic System. Thousands of godly saints before him, as well as after, suffered the wrath and torch of papal inquisitions. The Catholics have changed their tactics. Because of religious liberty, enforced by civil law, they cannot easily kill protestors. They have gone from open hostility to feigned friendship, "from killing to kissing," the Judas kiss of betrayal.

We could profit from hearing the message of Charles Spurgeon: "It is impossible but that the church of Rome must spread, when we who are the watchdogs of the fold are silent, and others are gently and smoothly turfing the road, and making it as soft and smooth as possible, that converts may travel down the nethermost hell of Popery" (Sermons, Vol. X).

Some of the ecumenically inclined among us have claimed our early leaders at Azusa were ecumenical. The fact is they hoped the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit would make Pentecostals of all denominations, thus enhancing unity. However, they insisted that such unity would have to a unity of both experience and doctrine. W.F. Carothers said, "The restoration of Pentecost means ultimately the restoration of Christian unity." In context he is seen to be in full agreement with Charles Parham who expected unity for the Church under the condition, "when baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body, the gloriously redeemed church without spot or wrinkle, having the same mind, judgment, and speaking the same things." William J. Seymour "believed that doctrinal unity was as essential as spiritual unity." (Hollenweger, Pentecostalism, 382).

Who really loves Catholics? It is not the ecumenists for they deprive them of the Gospel! It is the faithful missionaries who give their lives to bring them the Gospel. All who truly love them will tell them the Truth at any cost. Reverend James K. Bridges, speaking to a group of leading educators, reminded us: "There are many putting down denominations today, but I would rather have the multiple denominations which have emerged out of the Reformation than to be held in the bondage of a Roman colossus that continues to keep its devotees in superstition, ignorance, and spiritual darkness. Beware the ecumenical movement afloat today lest when the new garb is removed it shows itself to be the same old bondage."

WE NEED TO RETAIN OUR PRESENT BYLAW TO BE TRUE TO THE GOSPEL.

II. WHY WE SHOULD REJECT PROPOSED ARTICLE XIX

The proposal reads:

"The General Council of the Assemblies of God shall develop and maintain a set of documents referred to as The General Council of the Assemblies of God Operations Manual. These documents shall set forth the procedures, guidelines, and parameters relating to the operation of divisions, departments, commissions, and ministries of The General Council of the Assemblies of God. The General Council of the Assemblies of God Operations Manual shall be administered by the Board of Administration and shall be approved by the Executive Presbytery. The General Council of the Assemblies of God Operations Manual shall be available upon request to all General Council affiliated churches and licensed or ordained ministers of The General Council of the Assemblies of God."

All who have been members of The General Council of the Assemblies of God for any length of time recognize this as a MAJOR CHANGE in the government of our Church; of course we might expect change as part of the "Vision of Transformation." When I read this proposed Article, my first question was, "What is meant by ĎThe General Council of the Assemblies of Godí?" Historically, "The General Council of the Assemblies of God" has consisted of "all ordained and licensed ministers holding a current fellowship certificate and Churches holding a Certificate of Affiliation." This cannot be the meaning as used here. I then assumed the meaning must be "the leaders of The General Council of the Assemblies of God" who comprise the Board of Administration. A phone call to our General Secretary, Dr. George Wood, confirmed my thinking. Currently, the Board of Administration consists of "the general superintendent, the assistant general superintendent, the general secretary, and the general treasurer." A proposed revision adds to the four: "the executive directors of Assemblies of God World Missions and Assemblies of God U.S. Missions" (page 9).

Therefore, we can read Article XIX to say that "The General Council . . ." as used here actually means "The Board of Administration, six executives." They will develop and maintain the Operations Manual (page 83). They are amenable to the Executive Presbytery (page 9). Their decisions are shown to the General Presbytery, but without opportunity for voting. Ministers and churches may see the Operations Manual "upon request" (page 84).

It is putting it mildly to say this represents a major change in the operation of The General Council of the Assemblies of God. Guided by our understanding of the Scriptures, such as Acts 15:4, 22, we have basically operated under the Congregational form of government, as opposed to the Presbyterial. It has been our practice to refer to ourselves as "not a denomination, but a cooperative fellowship." Could it be that The General Council of the Assemblies of God is undergoing change from the "Cooperative Fellowship" to a well-organized "Centralized Government"? Whereas all ministers and delegates have always had a vote on all resolutions brought to the General Council in session, important decisions would now be made by a few men "at the top."

Are we ready for this takeover of decision making? The phrase, "operation of divisions, departments, commissions, and ministries of The General Council of the Assemblies of God " covers much of our entire organization. Note the mass of deleted material from our present bylaws on pages 55-60 and 74-82. All of the deleted current provisions for operation of the many departments are subsumed under the control of the Board of Administration, according to Article XIX. It is misleading to use the term "The General Council of the Assemblies of God" if the meaning is "The Board of Administration." A "council" by definition is "an assembly or meeting for consultation, advice, and discussion."

Consider one of the most important decisions to be made in the near future. The Commission on Christian Higher Education is deleted (pp. 74-76) to be taken over by the new plan. This change gives a few men the authority over AGTS, Central Bible College, Evangel University, and Global University. Any of these institutions can then be "managed" by the Board of Administration. They can merge, sell, close, etc., as they see fit. The General Council in session will have neither voice nor vote, though the institutions were originally established by the General Council in session.

As a member of the faculty of Central Bible College, I was made well aware that some of our leaders desired to merge all the Springfield schools of higher education and to create a new entity: an Assemblies of God university. A resolution to this effect was defeated in 1987; still, the desire for the university has smoldered in the hearts of some leaders. Earlier this year, administrators of our schools were told we would be voting at our upcoming General Council on the proposed merger. Now, we know we will not be voting on this matter at all, if the proposed changes in Article XIX are approved in August.

Some of the institutions might gain significant advantages by the merging; however, it has been the settled opinion of the majority of interested persons that merging will eventually destroy the identity of Central Bible College. Central Bible College is unique in that it is the first and only institution established and owned by the General Council with the express purpose: "for the training of ministers and missionaries." Its purpose has been jealously guarded by personnel and by the Holy Spirit.

With the growing emphasis on higher education of all kinds, many among us have said, "Our youth need credit for all their college work by a fully accredited college." Accreditation is not sinful, but neither is it a guarantee of good Christian Education. It must never overshadow the specialized training in the Word of God. If our doctors need medical school to be prepared to care for our physical needs, how much more do our ministers need specialized training to minister to spiritual needs. The need is greater today than ever before.

In fact, Central Bible College has been accredited with the Association of American Bible Colleges for many years and recently was given full accreditation by the North Central Association as a Bible college. In the final meeting between the examining team of the NCA accrediting association and the administration of Central Bible College, at least two most noteworthy things occurred. The first was the committeeís announcement that it would recommend full accreditation for the school. Then followed an expressed appreciation for their finding that the school had not deviated from its stated purpose through the many decades of its history. The NCA granted the school full recognition and accreditation.

Since it was the General Council in session that established Central Bible College, it should be only the General Council in session that could decide whether it should be merged, along with others, into a university. Many pray it will never happen, because as a Church Body, we need the specialized ministry of Central Bible College "for the training of ministers and missionaries."

For this reason, among others, I conclude:

We should REJECT Article XIX and continue to allow The General Council of the Assemblies of God to function as a Cooperative Fellowship where every ministerís vote is counted.

We should RETAIN our present Article IX, Section 11 to defend the Gospel, to maintain our Pentecostal distinctives, and to be true to the purpose for which God made us a Movement.

 

 

 

II.

 

The following article by Opal Reddin was published in Enrichment, the Assemblies of God Ministers' Magazine, Spring 1996, pp. 68-71

 

BIBLICAL CHURCH UNITY

"As in Acts and at Azusa"

The Church is the Body of Christ, the habitation of God through the Spirit. It is the end of God's purpose in human history; Christ "loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph. 5:25,27). Every one who is born of the Spirit is a member of the "church of the Firstborn, which are registered in Heaven" (Heb. 12:23). The Church is universal with some from every tribe and nation. It is invisible in the sense that it is impossible to see the Church as a definite group in a definite place. All creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18).

One of the most popular topics in Christian circles today is "Church Unity." Many leaders are saying, "We must get together and bring the answer to Jesus' prayer in John 17." Let us consider the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed, the fact that His prayer was answered, and that His prayer continues to be answered, according to His will as revealed in the Word.

The KIND of Unity for Which Jesus Prayed

Jesus prayed for His disciples: "that they may be one just as We are One" (v. 22b). He said, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word" (v. 20). We are awed as we contemplate God the Son praying to God the Father that we might have the same kind of unity as that existing between them! Let us consider what kind of unity this is. First, this unity is spiritual. The Father and the Son are one in essence from eternity to eternity (Jn. 17:5; 10:30). We know God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) and that God the Son in His incarnation became man with a physical body (Jn. 1:14). Their essential unity was never broken because it is spiritual and immutable (Jn. 10:30). Second, this unity is in truth. Jesus said, "I Am the Truth" (Jn. 14:6), and He prayed, "Sanctify them through Your truth; Your Word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). Third, we see that this unity is in love. He prayed, "that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. . . that the love with which You loved Me may be in them" (17:23,26).

Jesusís Prayer Is Answered

Jesus' prayer for unity was answered initially on the day of Pentecost, and the Spirit-given unity was manifested in the Early Church. Acts records what we often refer to as the birth of the Church. The 120 + 3000 were brought into spiritual unity as all were filled with the Holy Spirit (2:4,38,41). They were in unity in the Truth, "continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (2:42), and in love with fellowship, "having all things in common" (2:43,44). The result was that "many signs and wonders were done" and "the Lord added to the church daily" (vv. 43, 47). This is God's pattern for church unity.

All Scriptures that refer to church unity make clear that the true Church, the Body of Christ, is one. The only way to be in the true Church is to be placed in the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit in regeneration; "the Body is one . . .all the members are one . . . for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body" (1 Cor. 12:12-13). "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Cor. 6:17). "You are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).

Nowhere are we admonished to implement this unity. Ephesians 4 does tell us we are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (v.3), and that Jesus gave the five-fold ministry for the perfecting of the Body "till we all come to the unity of the Faith . . .to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (11-13). "The Faith" is the body of orthodox Christian doctrine, well known to the Early Church and preserved for us in the New Testament.

Unity in Doctrine is Essential

We agree with David Wells when he says, "there is no Christian faith in the absence of 'sound doctrine' (1 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 1:9)."1 Without it, we have neither the Father nor the Son (2 Jn. 9). We are told to "contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). We must "guard" this faith (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 4:3). We know that this faith was stated in propositional truths, for Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "I plead with you that you all speak the same thing and that there be no division among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). It is on this basis that churches have statements of fundamental truths. Belief and practice are inextricably linked (1 Jn. 2:3-3:18).

There are two kinds of division, one of God and the other of Satan. When Paul warned against division, he was referring to bad division, caused by false doctrine. Some "depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). In John's Epistles he warned, "Many antichrists have come . . .they went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 Jn. 2:18-19). Regarding fellowship, he wrote, "If anyone comes with another doctrine, do not receive him . . .for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 Jn. 10,11). Paul told the Romans to "mark those who cause division contrary to the doctrine which you have learned" and avoid them (16:17).

There is good, necessary division, the result of being separated from Error by the Truth (Jn. 17:17). Jesus said, "I came to bring division" (Lk. 12:51); He separated His Church from the Judaism that rejected Him (Jn. 1:11). Paul maintained this separation by exposing the Judaizing heresy as "another (accursed) Gospel" (Gal. 1:6-9). Without this division, Christianity would have gradually become merely a sect of Judaism.

Problems in Current Ecumenical Movements

Current ecumenical movements attempt to bring all churches of all denominations into a visible unity. The Protestant branch of religious ecumenism is the World Council of Churches; Roman Catholics also have unity as their agenda as described in Vatican II and their New Catechism. A study of these two movements reveals the wisdom of our Assemblies of God General Council Bylaws. Adopted in 1962 and officially re-emphasized in 1995, Article IX, section 11, states in part:

The General Council of the Assemblies of God disapproves of ministers or churches participating in any of the modern ecumenical organizations on a local, national, or international level in such a manner as to promote the Ecumenical Movement, because we believe the basis of doctrinal fellowship of said movement to be so broad that it includes people who reject the inspiration of Scripture, the Deity of Christ, the universality of sin, the substitutionary atonement, and other cardinal teachings which we understand to be essential to biblical Christianity.

The protection provided by this bylaw is needed now more than ever before. The World Council of Churches has included as participants at conferences, not only all Christian churches, but also adherents of non-Christian religions. For instance, the 1991 conference in Canberra, included Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs; a Korean Presbyterian professor near the end of her lecture summoned the spirit of Han and chanted to the departed spirits of ancestors. (2) ) The Roman Catholic ecumenical movement works in various ways. The New Catechism has not changed the insistence that there is no salvation outside the Church, referring to the Church in Rome. All the objectionable doctrines are still there, including baptismal regeneration, grace inherent in the Mass through transubstantiation, prayer to Mary, indulgences, and purgatory. Their "salvation" is a "faith plus works," the same Judaizing heresy anathematized by Paul (Gal. 1:6-9).

The goal of Catholic dialogue with other faiths is to bring all Christians together in the One Church. In the Decree on Ecumenism, they state their purpose: "The results will be that, little by little . . .all Christians will be gathered . . .into the unity of the one and only Church. . . . This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose."(3) They also make the umbrella of the Church big enough to cover those in some non-Christian religions: "The plan of salvation includes those who acknowledge the Creator [Muslims and Jews]; together with us they adore the one, merciful God."(4)

Danger: Loss of TRUTH

In 1994 a group of Catholic leaders and Evangelical leaders drafted a document known as ECT, short for "Evangelicals and Catholics Together in Mission."(5) The Pentecostal Evangel carried the story of ECT in the May 29, 2020 issue, with the title, "Evangelicals, Roman Catholics pledge to work for unity (italics mine)." Having read the document, I find it to be a plea for visible unity at the expense of Truth. For example, the one absolute essential for being in the true Church, "justification by faith," is barely mentioned, though it is one of the major doctrines that irrevocably divide Protestants and Catholics. ECT forbids "proselytizing." In practice, it would stifle the evangelizing of Catholics. Since we are Evangelical Pentecostals, will we be expected to leave millions of lost souls in the darkness of a false "Gospel" for the sake of man-made "unity"?

There are two widespread misunderstandings: (1) "If we love people of all faiths, will we not desire visible unity with them?" To that I reply: we must define "love." Humanistic love will cause us to compromise the Gospel to please people (Gal. 1:10); God's love refuses to compromise "the Truth of the Gospel" (Gal. 2:14). (2) "If people speak in tongues, should we not desire visible unity with them, regardless of their doctrine?" My response: God desires that all people experience being filled with the Spirit, but experience alone is not an adequate basis for unity. The "one-ness" for which Jesus prayed demands Truth; the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, guiding the Spirit-filled "into all Truth" (Jn. 16:13).

We have seen that Jesus' prayer for the unity of His Church was indeed answered and continues to be manifested. When we think clearly, does it not border on blasphemy to suggest that any prayer of our Lord would go unanswered, or that the answer depends on human works?! To "work" for visible unity builds human ego, but it is a work of the flesh. "Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3). Church history shows us that such unions have never produced revival; rather, to the contrary.

During the early years of Pentecostal outpouring in this century, some leaders hoped the baptism in the Holy Spirit would actually bring all denominations together. They were aware such unity would have to be a unity of both experience and doctrine. W. F. Carothers said, "The restoration of Pentecost means ultimately the restoration of Christian unity." In context he is seen to be in full agreement with Charles Parham who expected unity for the Church under the condition "when baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body, the gloriously redeemed church without spot or wrinkle, having the same mind, judgment, and speaking the same things." William J. Seymour "believed that doctrinal unity was as essential as spiritual unity."(6) Indeed, if all denominations had been completely open to the pattern in Acts, all would have become "Pentecostal" in experience and doctrine, though not necessarily in title.

Fellowship Across Denominational Lines

As Pentecostals, we have good fellowship with all who are in Christ, regardless of denomination; we know that all who are truly "in Christ" are in Spirit-given unity. However, we are responsible to "contend for the faith" as it has been revealed to us in doctrine and in experience. Compromise of Truth is always sinful and leads to backsliding. Joseph Flower, former General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, spoke to the necessity for God-ordained separation in order to preserve Truth as it has been given to us. In 1965 he wrote:

God did not permit the Pentecostal movement to be swallowed up by existing denominations, even though the early pioneers had no intention of starting another one. We have a specific task to fulfill in this world. The Lord knew that keeping us separate was probably the only way our distinctive testimony could be preserved.(7)

Ecumenical pressures will continue to mount, and diverse winds of doctrine will blow fiercely against the Church. Should we succumb to a "fortress" mentality, hiding behind our orthodox doctrines and waiting for the Rapture to set us free from conflict? By no means! JESUS is building His Church, and He invites us to march with Him as we storm the gates of hell, setting captives free, and establishing churches where the true Gospel is preached in power and glory.

The ACTS Pattern Assures Success!

Let us hear the clarion call to renew our commitment to the Acts pattern of church unity.

The same message preached with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and lived in the same voluntary exactitude of holiness will bring the same kind of results as in the first century. Let the Church again be known as in Acts 2:42-47: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common. . . .Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." This is God's will for "Now" and until Jesus comes!

Endnotes

1.  David Wells, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 103.

2.  Walter Hollenweger, PENTECOSTALISM: Origins and Developments Worldwide, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub. Inc., 1997), 382.

3. Austin Flannery O.P. Vatican Council II, (New York: Costello Pub. Co., 1975), 457.

4. Catechism of the Catholic Church. (New York: Catholic Book Pub. Co., 1994), 222-223.

5. Evangelicals and Catholics Together... (New York: Religion and Public Life, 1994).

6. Hollenweger, op cit, 384.

7. The Pentecostal Evangel (Springfield, MO: Gospel Pub. House, Sept., 19, 1965), 24.

 

 

III.

GODíS ECUMENICAL MANDATE 

VERSUS

THE MODERN ECUMENICAL  MOVEMENT

 

 

This article was submitted to Enrichment (The Assemblies of God ministersí periodical) Ė November 17, 2020 (Three times during 1999 and 2000 Dr. Reddin was told it was scheduled for publication and three times an executive stopped it.   Question:  "WHY would an Assemblies of God executive stop this article-- when the Enrichment editor wanted to publish it?"  See the answer at the end of the article.

 

Increasingly churchmen are asking the following questions: "Exactly what is ecumenism? Is this something I need to know? Does it matter to me, my family, and my church?" To answer these questions, definitions are in order. "Ecumenical" and "ecumenism" come from the Greek term oikoumene; it is used 15 times in the New Testament and always means either "the inhabited world" or "inhabitants of the world." Therefore any movement that aims to reach the whole world can be called "ecumenical." Basically, there are two such religious movements, both of which are even now making a bid for your allegiance. One is Godís ecumenical mandate, and the other is the modern ecumenical movement. One is older than Creation; the other is a counterfeit of Godís original intent.

Let us consider Godís ecumenical mandate first. Stated briefly, His command is that His chosen people take the good news of salvation to all inhabitants of the world. Early in human history we see Godís mandate opposed by a humanistic substitute (Genesis 4:3-8). The faith of Abel (Hebrews 11:4), carried on by Seth, Enoch, and Noah is contrasted with the "way of Cain" (Jude 11) which produced Babel (Genesis 11). Abraham was justified by faith and became the father of the nation chosen to spread the knowledge of Godís salvation to all people (Genesis 12:1-3).When Israel was faithful, individuals such as Rahab, Ruth, and Naaman, and cities such as Nineveh were brought to God. Sadly, Israel was not always faithful to Godís ecumenical mandate; they often succumbed to tolerance of, and then unity with, idolatrous religions.

Coming in the fullness of time, Jesus Christ most clearly revealed Godís will for the world. He said, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him" would receive eternal life. John Baptist recognized the Lamb Who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Jesus promised, "If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto Me" (John 12:38). Prior to His death, Jesus told His disciples "this Gospel shall be preached in all the oikoumene" (Matthew 24:14). After His resurrection He said, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:15); "going, make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:20); "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations" (Luke 24:47); as the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21).

How amazing that Jesus would expect as few as 11 or as many as 120 to evangelize the entire oikoumene! But more amazing is His promise that everything needed for them to fulfill the commission would be given them; all they would have to do was obey. He assured them: "All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18), and "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). He made clear that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was essential to the mission: "tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). "He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father . . .you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:4-5).

The Day of Pentecost was a microcosm of Godís ecumenical purpose. Jews from every nation under heaven were present to hear the mighty works of God in their own native languages spoken by Galileans. The languages were Godís sign to the thousands gathered in the Temple area that He was reaching for every person in every land. To the disciples, the tongues were an integral part of the great empowering that would be the hallmark of Godís ecumenical movement throughout the Church Age.

The 120 were set ablaze with a passion that could not be satisfied as long as a creature remained who had not heard the good News. The result was that they reached their world better than any generation since. Acts records it. They filled Jerusalem with their doctrine (5:28); from there they spread in every direction preaching the word (8:4). About 30 years after Pentecost, Paul could write to the Romans: "your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world" (1:8). To the Colossians he wrote from prison, "The Gospel is come unto you, even as it is also in all the world" (1:5). Harold Carpenter states: "Superlatives do not exist to adequately describe the triumphs of the first century of the Christian era. From India on the east to Spain on the West, the first century church left an imprint unequaled by any other century in history."1

It was Godís intention that the level of spirituality evident in Acts continue throughout the Church Age. This "spirituality" is the lived experience of Biblical doctrine. Church history is the story of the rising and falling of spiritual life. There have been many great revivals since the first century; space in this article does not permit outlining them. What is obvious to the whole world is that early in this century God poured out the Holy Spirit in what may be the greatest revival since the First-century Church. Obedience to the Holy Spirit has again motivated zealous worldwide missions outreach; Pentecostal denominations have been the fastest-growing of all Evangelical churches. According to Harvey Cox, Pentecostalism is "a religious movement that already encompasses nearly half a billion people. . . By next century it will outnumber both Catholics and Protestants."2

Godís ecumenical mandate took high priority for all early twentieth century Pentecostals. For example, at the second General Council of the Assemblies of God, November 1914, the Minutes record: "We believe: That the priority reason-for-being of the Assemblies of God is to be an agency of God for evangelizing the world." Recently Randy Hurst wrote: "The boldness of our forefathersí response to our Lordís command is astounding. How could such a small group of Christians even consider attempting to preach the gospel in all the world? Because they were truly Pentecostal they believed both Jesusí command to reach the whole world and also His promise that they would receive the Holy Spiritís power to do it (Acts 1:8)."3 The secret of the success of any Church or individual Christian is to be aligned with Godís PURPOSE in the earth.

Having determined Godís purpose, we ask, "What is the PURPOSE of the modern ecumenical movement? Most proponents would say, "We must bring all churches together in order to be the answer to Jesusí prayer in John 17." This concept is grossly in error. What does the Bible tell us regarding the unity for which Jesus prayed? Scripture is clear that the true Church, the Body of Christ already is one. "The Body is one, all the members are one (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The only unity we are told to strive for is unity in "the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). This faith is a body of doctrine; there is no Christian faith in the absence of sound doctrine. Jesus gave the five-fold ministry for the perfecting of the Body "till we all come to the unity of the faith" (Eph. 4:11-13).

Let us examine the practice of the current ecumenical movement. The two branches, the World Council of Churches (Protestant) and the Pontifical Council on Ecumenism (Catholic) have the same goal: the unifying of all religions, including non-Christian ones. Though the WCC statement of faith seems to require Biblical belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior, those terms can be interpreted very loosely, so loosely that other religions are welcome in WCC conferences. Documented instances of outright syncretism with paganism abound. In the Canberra WCC conference, "the presence of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs raised problems for some people. A Korean Presbyterian Professor, Chung Hyun Kyung, summoned various spirits of Han." This was rooted in ancestor worship.4 The latest Catholic Catechism states: "The plan of salvation includes those who acknowledge the Creator: Muslims and Jews; together with us they adore the one, merciful God."5

At Vatican II, the Pontifical Council, speaking of dialogue with "separated brethren," said: "The results will be that, little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only Church." 6 That church of course is the church in Rome. A Pentecostal in describing the purpose of Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue wrote: "The fruit of this dialogue must not be expected immediately in terms of the unity of the church. If necessary there must be a commitment to decades of discussion rather than a few years."7

Some who are involved in ecumenism say there is no intention to have visible, structural unity. However, their own statements show otherwise. The drafters of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: the Christian Mission in the Third Millenium" wrote: "We acknowledge that we do not know the schedule nor do we know the way to the greater visible unity for which we hope."8

The WCC and RCC are coming together rapidly, with the WCC being more or less subsumed under the authority of Rome. The RCC can accept no authority higher than the Pope. Any unity with Catholics will be strictly on Vatican terms with the pope as ultimate authority. Editors of Christianity Today asked Pope John Paul II if he might consider the issue of papal infallibility. They reported, "The pope insists he is the ultimate authority as Christianityís moral and theological arbiter."9 For Rome, this has to be the case; if papal infallibility were removed, the entire structure of Roman Catholicism would fall like a row of dominoes.

Most Pentecostals who consider the possibility of uniting with Catholics use the argument that some of them have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. Certainly we rejoice with all who receive. However, tongues-speaking alone is not the basis for fellowship; experience must be combined with sound doctrine. "If anyone comes with another doctrine, do not receive him . . . for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John. 10,11). Peter was Spirit-filled when he began to side with the Judaizers in their legalistic heresy; Paul rebuked him publicly for his hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-16). Peter repented; thus good fellowship was preserved in the unity of the faith (Acts 15:7-11; 1 John 1:7). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and He will lead all who are truly Spirit-filled away from unbiblical doctrines.

Anyone who looks at the latest Catholic Catechism (1995), will find that all the heretical teachings of past centuries, plus some new ones, are there: the placing of ultimate authority in Church Tradition and the Papacy rather than in the 66 canonical books of the Holy Bible; sacramentalism of Rome as necessary to salvation; Mariology and even Mariolotry; transubstantiation, i.e., the receiving of grace by partaking of the Eucharist, which is claimed to be the real body and blood of Jesus; purgatory, which all believers must endure before going to heaven; and indulgences for future sin. Roman Catholic theology presents "another gospel" (Galatians 1:1-9) and "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Why is there such pressure today for "church unity"? Charles Harris said recently: "We are moving toward one world religiously as we are moving to one world politically and economically. Current pressures to bring together Roman Catholics, Orthodox Churches, Pentecostals, Buddhists, Muslims, and every other religious group on earth must be setting the stage for the formation of the Church of the Antichrist headed by the false prophet."10

Over three decades ago, Frank M. Boyd wrote: "I am convinced that the harlot church of Revelation 17 is being formed rapidly. Romeís position on dogma and church tradition is rock-ribbed. True ecumenicity must be based on the Scriptures as the inspired Word of GodĖthe infallible rule of faith and practice. . .There is a line of cleavage going down through Christendom at this moment which will eventually put the true believer on one side and the developing apostasy on the other."11

The Assemblies of God has logically sound and Biblically based reasons for disapproving of its ministersí participating in ecumenism, the main reason being that "We believe that the combination of many religious organizations into a world superchurch will culminate in the religious Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18" (General Council Bylaws, Article IX, Sect. 11).

James K. Bridges recently addressed a large gathering of leading educators in the Assemblies of God. To this very influential group he said: "There are many putting down denominations today, but I would rather have the multiple denominations which have emerged out of the Reformation, than be held in the bondage of a Roman colossus that continues to keep its devotees in superstition, ignorance and spiritual darkness. Beware the ecumenical movement afloat today lest when the new garb is removed it shows itself to be the same old bondage." (Personal file).

JESUS was not ecumenical with the religions of His day, and He has not changed. If He had only been willing to dialogue with the Pharisees and Sadducees on their terms, He could have escaped the Cross. But He told Pilate, "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the TRUTH" (John 18:37). For that, He was crucified, but He is alive, Truth is alive, and His Church is alive!

Godís ecumenical mandate has not been withdrawn. A veteran missionary warns:

"Ecumenism as represented by ECT [Evangelicals and Catholics Together] and by Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue, if continued, will take the heart out of Assemblies of God missions."12

The Pentecostal message is needed more today than ever before. This is no time to retreat into seeking personal comfort, power, or popularity with liberals and ecumenists. It is time to sound the alarm: Jesus is coming; go tell everybody to get ready! The Holy Spirit is here on earth preparing the Bride of Christ; the marriage feast is being prepared in heaven (Revelation 19:9). "The Spirit and the Bride say Ďcomeí; let whosoever will come." (Revelation 22:17). Many are waiting to hear the Good News that God wants them to be there; we can tell them. As Luther wrote in "A Mighty Fortress": "The body they may kill; Godís Truth abideth still: His Kingdom is forever."

ENDNOTES

 1. Harold Carpenter, Mandate and Mission (Springfield, MO: Central Bible College Press, 1988) 82-83.

 2. Walter Hollenweger, Pentecostalism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 2.

 3. Randy Hurst, "The Assemblies of God--Staying on Course in World Missions," Enrichment (Springfield, MO: GCAG, Fall 1998), 66.    

 4. Hollenweger, Op. Cit., 383.

 5. Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Catholic Book Co., 1994), 222-23.

 6. Austin P. Flannery,  Documents of Vatican II (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1975), 456.

 7. Jerry Sandidge, "Dialogue, Roman Catholic and Classical Pentecostal," Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, eds. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 244.

 8. ECT (New York: Religion and Public Life, 1944), 8.

 9. CT, July 17, 1995, 56.

10. "Church Unity," Contending for the Faith (Central Bible College, Fall 1995), 3.

11. "Ecumenicity--False and True," The Pentecostal Evangel, Oct. 7, 1962, 19.

12. Harold Carpenter, personal notes.

 

 

 

"Answer to "WHY?"  The executive stated as his reason for refusing to allow the article to be published was that he would have nothing controversial in any of the AG publications.  I ask, "When has the Gospel failed to be controversial in a world that hates the message of Jesus?"  If Jesus had not been controversial, He would never have been nailed to the Cross.  This article is controversial because it is true to the Gospel."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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