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A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position” (John Ashbrook, The New Neutralism II, 1992, p. 7).
Since the last half of the 20th century, theological dialogue has become a prominent aspect of Christianity. A report issued in 1983 by the Center for Unity in Rome listed 119 official ongoing dialogues between representatives of Anglican, Baptist, Disciples, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, Roman Catholic, United, and World Council of Churches.
Dialogue has also become a major aspect of evangelicalism. The late Harold Ockenga, who claimed to have coined the term “neo-evangelical” for a speech delivered in 1948, said that the new evangelicalism differs “from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day” (Ockenga, foreword to Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible).
Ockenga was very influential. He was the founder of the National Association of Evangelicals, co-founder and first president of Fuller Seminary, first president of the World Evangelical Fellowship, president of Gordon College, on the board of directors for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and chairman of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and one-time editor of Christianity Today.
The new evangelical philosophy, which was just blossoming in the late 1940s, has spread throughout the evangelical world in the decades since.
There is dialogue between EVANGELICALS AND ROMAN CATHOLICS.
On the side of the Roman Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, in its “Decree on Ecumenism,” called for “dialogue with our brethren” and said that “dialogues and consultations ... are strongly recommended.”
Evangelicals have responded to this call. Following are a few examples:
From 1977 to 1984 Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue In Mission was conducted in Britain. John R.W. Stott was at the forefront, and one of Stott’s co-workers, Michael Harper (formerly assistant curate at All Souls Church where Stott is pastor), wrote the 1977 book, Three Sisters, which contends that the “Three Sisters” -- Evangeline (the Evangelicals), Charisma (the Charismatics), and Roma (the Roman Catholic Church) -- are part of one family and should be reconciled.
In 1992, Chuck Colson, in his book The Body, called for closer relationship with and dialogue between evangelicals and Catholics. Colson said, “...the body of Christ, in all its diversity, is created with Baptist feet, charismatic hands, and Catholic ears--all with their eyes on Jesus” (World, Nov. 14, 1992). [Colson is either ignorant of the fact that there are false christs, false gospels, and false spirits, or he ignores the fact.] The Body was endorsed by many well-known Evangelicals, including Carl Henry, J.I. Packer, Pat Robertson, Bill Hybels, and Jerry Falwell.
In 1992, Catholic priest Thomas Welbers announced in the Los Angeles diocese paper that a four-year dialogue between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Catholic Campus Ministry had resulted in an agreement to seek “mutual understanding” and to “refrain from competition in seeking members” (Battle Cry, October 1992).
In 1994, Moody Press published Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us. Thirteen Evangelicals contributed. Michael Horton concluded his chapter, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?” with these words: “I do not suggest that we should give up trying to seek visible unity, nor that we refuse to dialogue with Roman Catholic laypeople and theologians, many of whom may be our brothers and sisters” (p. 264). He does not explain how someone committed to Rome’s false sacramental gospel could be a born again child of God.
In 1997, InterVarsity Press published Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue. It was edited by James Cutsinger and contained articles by Harold O.J. Brown, Peter Kreeft, Richard Neuhaus, J.I. Packer, and others. The book is a collection of material from an ecumenical dialogue held at Rose Hill College, May 16-20, 1995. The objective of the dialogue was to answer the question: “How can Protestants, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians talk to each other so as together to speak with Christ’s mind to the modern world?” (p. 8).
There is also dialogue between EVANGELICALS AND MODERNISTS.
In about 1976, Pentecostal David du Plessis became chairman of dialogues with the World Council of Churches’ Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Du Plessis was long at the forefront of promoting ecumenical dialogue between Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and liberal and evangelical Protestants. Fuller Theological Seminary made du Plessis its “resident consultant on ecumenical affairs.”
In 1983, after attending the Sixth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, some prominent evangelicals signed an open letter encouraging dialogue with the exceedingly liberal WCC. The signers included Richard Lovelace of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Arthur Glasser of Fuller Seminary. The letter rebuked those who practice separation and said:
“Is there not the possibility that evangelicals have not only much to contribute but something to receive through ecumenical involvement? Do evangelicals not also have the obligation along with other Christians to seek to overcome the scandal of the disunity and disobedience of the churches that the world might believe (John 17:21)? Should evangelicals not seek to receive all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, even though they may seriously disagree on theological issues apart from the core of the Gospel?”
A three-day dialogue was held October 22-24, 1986, at Fuller Theological Seminary, involving Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and liberal Protestants. The Ecumenical Press Service said, “Although some came with predetermined agenda, many came to listen and learn” (Ecumenical Press Service, November 1-15, 1986).
In 1988, InterVarsity Press published Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue. The Evangelical was John R.W. Stott and the liberal was David Edwards, who rejects the fall of man and the atonement and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stott said heretics such as this “do not forfeit the right to be called Christians” (Iain Murray, Evangelical Essentials, p. 228). To the contrary, to deny the fall of man and the atonement of Christ is to deny the very gospel itself, and there is no salvation apart from the biblical gospel.
There is even dialogue between EVANGELICALS AND MORMONS.
Evangelicals have been dialoguing with Mormons since InterVarsity Press published “How Wide the Divide: A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation” in 1997. This is a dialogue between Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary and Stephen Robinson of Brigham Young University.
In November 1998, Assemblies of God pastor Dean Jackson presented Mormon leaders in Provo, Utah, with “a formal declaration of repentance for prejudice against members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.” The document was signed by more than 160 members of Jackson’s Canyon Assembly of God Church in Provo, and roughly 100 Mormon visitors were on hand to receive the official apology (Charisma News Service, March 1, 2000, citing Deseret News of Salt Lake City). The declaration of repentance was also endorsed by the regional presbytery of the Assemblies of God.
Standing Together Ministries was formed in 2001 in Utah “to build greater dialogue between Evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints.” Founder Greg Johnson has traveled extensively conducting public dialogues with Mormon professor Robert Millet of Brigham Young University.
An “EVENING OF FRIENDSHIP” was held in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle on November 14, 2004, featuring Evangelicals who are calling for dialogue with Mormons. Ravi Zacharias was the main speaker. He was joined by Richard Mouw (president of Fuller Seminary), Craig Hazen (a professor at Biola University), Greg Johnson (director of Standing Together Ministries), Joseph Tkach, Jr., (head of the World Wide Church of God), and Michael Card (Contemporary Christian musician). Roughly 7,000 attended the meeting, filling the Tabernacle to capacity. Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw apologized to the Mormons, making the following amazing statements: “Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you. ... We have demonized you.”
Evangelical dialogue is witnessed in the way the publishers and magazines print all sides of theological debates while remaining “neutral.” InterVarsity Press, for example, has printed books defending the infallible inspiration of Scripture and books attacking it. Christianity Today has printed articles opposing ecumenical relations with Rome and in support of it, articles warning of Karl Barth’s heresy and promoting Karl Barth, etc.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE :
FIRST, THE BIBLE DOES NOT INSTRUCT BELIEVERS TO DIALOGUE WITH FALSE TEACHERS AND APOSTATES, BUT RATHER TO SEPARATE FROM THEM. See Romans 16:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 3:5; Titus 3:10-11.
SECOND, IT IS NOT DIALOGUE THAT WE SEE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, BUT PREACHING. The Bible does not instruct believers to dialogue with false teachers but to preach the truth to them and to rebuke their errors. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
THIRD, THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE IS BUILT UPON AN UNSCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY. See Characteristic #4: “New Evangelicalism is characterized by exalting love and unity above doctrine” in the book New Evangelicalism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit.
FOURTH, THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE RESULTS IN “TONING DOWN THE RHETORIC,” IN SOFTENING THE PLAIN CHARGES OF HERESY AND APOSTASY AND UNBELIEF, IN QUIETING DOWN THE WARNINGS ABOUT JUDGMENT. It is impossible to dialogue without doing this, but this is contrary to the Scriptures.
Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries in Utah said that we must “cease throwing our theological rocks and start loving as Christ commanded us.” This is his definition of dialogue. Thus, speaking the truth about heresy is likened to “throwing rocks,” which is potentially very hurtful, even deadly. Actually, preaching plainly against false christs and false gospels is a very loving, compassionate thing. If a man is on his way to hell but is self-deceived into thinking that he is on his way to heaven, it is an act of the greatest Christian charity to tell him plainly that he is deceived.
“Toning down the rhetoric” and softening the plain charges of heresy and apostasy is precisely what the Bible does not do and what the apostles and prophets did not do and what Bible preachers today are not allowed to do.
Paul called false teachers “dogs” and “evil workers” (Phil. 3:2). Of those who pervert the gospel he said, “Let them be accursed” (Gal. 1:8, 9). He called them “evil men and seducers” (2 Tim. 3:13), “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8), “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). He named the names of false teachers and called their teaching “vain babblings” (2 Tim. 2:16, 17). He warned about “philosophy and vain deceit” (Col. 2:8). He spoke of their “cunning craftiness.” When Elymas tried to turn men away from the gospel, Paul wasted no time with dialogue but said, “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). He warned about false teachers who would come into the churches, calling them “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29) and their teaching “perverse things” (Acts 20:30). Those who denied the bodily resurrection are called “fools” (1 Cor. 15:35-36). He warned about false christs, false spirits, false gospels (2 Cor. 11:1-4). He labeled false teaching “doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). In the Pastoral Epistles Paul warned of false teachers and compromisers by name 10 times, and this is the example that the Spirit of God has left for the churches.
Peter wasn’t much of a dialoguer, either. He was much too plain spoken about heresy. Of the false prophets in his day and those he knew would come in the future, he labeled their heresies “damnable” and warned of their “swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1). That would end a good dialogue right there, but he wasn’t finished. He called their ways “pernicious” and their words “feigned” and boldly declared that “their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Pet. 2:3). He warned them of eternal hell (2 Pet. 2:4-9) and called them “presumptuous” and “selfwilled” (2 Pet. 2:10). He likened them to “natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed” (2 Pet. 2:12) and exposed their deception (2 Pet. 2:13). Peter is in high gear now. Consider how he ended his little “dialogue” in 2 Peter 2:14-21. I don’t suppose that Peter would get invited to too many ministerial association meetings or ecumenical dialogues today. He might be invited once, seeing that he is an apostle and the first pope and all, but I can assure you that he would not be invited back!
But what about John, the Apostle of Love? How was his dialoguing technique? Again, not too effective, because he was too often warning about antichrists (1 John 2:18-19), calling them liars (1 John 2:22) and seducers (1 John 2:26) and deceivers (2 John 7); saying that they denied the Son (1 John 2:23) and that they don’t have God (2 John 9). He put too much of an emphasis upon trying the spirits (1 John 4:1-3). He even made all sorts of exclusive claims, such as, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). Just who did he think he was! John even forbade the believers to allow the false teachers into their houses or to bid them God speed (2 John 10-11). It is not possible to maintain a good dialogue when you do such things.
In this, the apostles were only following their Lord, who was not big on soft-spoken, “let me listen carefully and make sure I understand you,” give-and-take dialogue; but He was a great preacher. He scalded the Pharisees because they perverted the way of truth and corrupted the gospel of grace, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind, serpents, generation of vipers. And that was just one sermon! Even when he visited in the homes of the Pharisees He didn’t try to be socially acceptable or avoid offending their self-esteem. He wasn’t concerned about being invited to speak at the next big Pharisee convention. He spoke the truth in love at all times and therefore offended them coming and going! They were so angry that they plotted His murder.
FIFTH, DIALOGUE CALLS FOR “MUTUAL RESPECT,” BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT WE SEE IN SCRIPTURE. Jesus did not show a lot of respect toward the Pharisees who were leading people to hell through their works gospel. Paul did not show a lot of respect toward the heretics who were bothering the early churches. How much respect did he show toward the following two fellows? “And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus” (2 Tim. 2:17). Didn’t Paul understand that such language would hurt these men’s feelings and might even injure their self-esteem? Today, the ecumenical crowd would say, “Paul, how do you think we are ever going to have a good dialogue if you persist in talking like that? Don’t you understand the need for Christian unity? Why are you so harsh and judgmental?”
SIXTH, DIALOGUE REQUIRES “LISTENING, WHICH AT ITS BEST INCLUDES RESTATING WHAT THE OTHER IS SAYING TO HIS COMPLETE SATISFACTION.” This ignores the fact that heretics lie and try to hide and shade their error. The Bible repeatedly warns about the subtilty and deceit of false teachers. Jesus referred to them as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat. 7:15). Though they are wolves, they hide their appearance. Paul warned of “deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13), of “false brethren” who work “privily” (Gal. 2:4), of their “cunning craftiness” (Eph. 4:14), of their habit of “speaking lies in hypocrisy” (1 Tim. 4:2), of those who “who creep into houses” (2 Tim. 3:6), of “seducers ... deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Peter warned of “feigned words” (2 Pet. 2:2). Jude warned of “certain men crept in unawares” (Jude 4).
Consider some modern fulfillments of these warnings:
The example of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Even the name of the organization has changed several times in its attempt to escape its past and hide its identity. Its many false prophecies have been swept under the rug. Its early history has been whitewashed to hide the deception, chicanery, and immorality of its leaders.
The example of Seventh-day Adventism
It has modified its history, hiding the fact that early Adventists were anti-Trinitarian, hiding Ellen White’s nervous disorder, hiding her false prophecies and her use of the “prophetic gift” to manipulate the everyday lives of her followers, even “prophesying” that Adventist women had to wear a certain type of dress, etc.
It hides its heresy under a re-definition of theological terms. I have an SDA pamphlet entitled “Saved by Grace,” but it actually teaches salvation by grace plus law.
It has tried to hide its identity when conducting evangelistic campaigns. I visited an SDA prophecy conference in Tennessee and the only way one would know that it was sponsored by the SDA was the presence of Ellen White’s literature.
It often downplays its stranger doctrines, such as “the spirit of prophecy” (Ellen White’s role as a prophetess) and Investigative Judgment. In the 1970s I took some correspondence courses offered by the Seventh-day Adventists. In a course designed for the general public, these things were glossed over; whereas in courses designed for Adventists, they were highlighted.
The example of the Mormons
The Mormons have whitewashed their early history, hiding the true character of Joseph Smith, his conviction in a court of law for deceiving people with a “peek stone” that he claimed could locate hidden treasure, his adultery, his violence, his false claim that he could read ancient languages, etc.
The Mormons have gotten rid of inconvenient doctrines --such as that which said black people are inferior (they were not allowed into the Mormon priesthood) and polygamy --by means of new “prophecies.”
The example of the Roman Catholic Church
Rome has re-written its history so that most Catholics do not know the truth about such things as the brutality and extent of the Inquisition, Rome’s persecution of the Jews, Rome’s curses against Bible believers, and the moral vileness and greed surrounding the papacy. It has also downplayed doctrines such as purgatory and indulgences and Mariolatry.
Rome adapts itself to any given situation. Today it is becoming more “evangelical” and more “charismatic” for ecumenical purposes.
Rome redefines terms, speaking of salvation by grace, for example, but meaning salvation through sacraments.
Because of the deceptive nature of false teachers, it is not wise simply to ask them to state their doctrine and then accept what they are saying at face value, as dialogue requires. One must analyze what they are saying carefully and be willing to expose fraud, which makes a fruitful dialogue impossible!
SEVENTH, DIALOGUE RESULTS IN WEAKENING OF BIBLICAL CONVICTIONS. The Bible warns, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). Close association with sin and error corrupts godly thinking and living. Just as a good apple cannot raise the standard of a barrel of bad apples, a true Christian cannot raise the standard of an apostate or deeply compromised church or association. Contrariwise, it is the man or woman of God that will always be corrupted.
Look at Billy Graham. When he first began his ecumenical ventures, he claimed that he wanted to use ecumenism to get the gospel to more people and that the liberals and Roman Catholics needed the gospel. It wasn’t long before his thinking had changed entirely and was saying that the liberals and Roman Catholics are fine like they are. In a May 30, 1997, interview with David Frost, Graham said: “I feel I belong to all the churches. I’M EQUALLY AT HOME IN AN ANGLICAN OR BAPTIST OR A BRETHREN ASSEMBLY OR A ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. ... And the bishops and archbishops and the Pope are our friends” (David Frost, Billy Graham in Conversation, pp. 68, 143). It is Graham who has been converted by the dialogue process. He admitted, “The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint” (Curtis Mitchell, Billy Graham Saint or Sinner, p. 272).
The same is true for Graham’s co-workers. When an evangelist said that he did not believe that Catholics are true Christians, Graham’s co-laborer “Grady” Wilson exclaimed that this is “absolutely wrong”; he continued, “...to say they are not Christians--man alive! Anybody that receives Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour is converted! They’re born again. I believe the Pope is a converted man. I believe a lot of these wonderful Catholics are Christians” (William Martin, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, p. 461). Obviously, Wilson is not asking any hard questions about what a person means by believing in Jesus as “Lord and Saviour.”
This same thing will happen with those who are dialoguing with Mormons. Do not Mormons also believe on Jesus as Lord and Saviour? Of course they do, but only if we allow them to define these things by their own heretical dictionary
The ecumenical crowd, which has been busy dialoguing for half a century and more, has been so weakened that they can’t even speak out about salvation and say that pagans need to be converted. When the Southern Baptist Convention published a prayer guide in 2000 calling upon Baptists to pray for the conversion of Hindus, ecumenical leaders in India rose up in alarm. Ipe Joseph, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, condemned the prayer guide and said, “We should find ecumenical space for followers of other faiths in salvation. ... Christians should stop thinking of Christianity as the religion among religions.” The general secretary of the Council of Baptist Churches in North-East India, Pastor Gulkhan Pau, also condemned the Southern Baptist prayer guide. Pau said, “You preach your faith, but don’t play down others. ... I am not going to condemn the Hindu or the Muslim for his faith.”
For eleven years the Church of England conducted a formal dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission); the result was that the Church of England capitulated to Catholic doctrine, for “at no point was there any give in Roman doctrine” (Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, p. 219). The dialogue concluded in 1981 and five years later the Final Report was approved by the General Synod of the Church of England.
“The Vatican delayed its response until 1991 and then, instead of thankful consent, it required that the Catholic teaching--especially on the Eucharist (the Mass)--be spelt out specifically. It wanted assurance that there was agreement on ‘the propitiatory nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice’, applicable to the dead as well as the living; and ‘certitude that Christ is present ... substantially when “under the species of bread and wine these earthly realities are changed into the reality of his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity”’. This confirmation was given from the Anglican side in Clarification of Certain Aspects of the Agreed Statements on Eucharist and Ministry (1994). The Anglicans assured the Vatican that the words of the Final Statement -- already approved by Synod -- did indeed conform to the sense required by the official Roman teaching” (Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, p. 220).
Eighth, dialogue ignores Titus 3:9-11 -- “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
The command of God is not to dialogue with heretics but to reject them.
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