By Dr Paul M Elliott
Part two of a series. Read part one.
Today we continue the discussion of questions we receive more and more frequently: “My church is no longer true to the Word of God on essential Christian truths. What should I do? Should I leave? Should I stay and try to fight error? Will I be guilty of schism if I do either one?” Our focus in this installment is on the pernicious nature of compromise.1
Jesus warned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” By this, He meant their heretical doctrine (Matthew 16:5-12). Their doctrine, like much that is found in today’s Evangelical church, was founded primarily on two false principles: preaching a counterfeit salvation by adding works to faith, and debasing the authority of Scripture by subordinating it to the words of fallible men. Why was it necessary for even these men, the twelve who were closest to Christ, to “beware”? It was because they were men of sinful flesh, as we are. It is easy to be deceived.
The word that perhaps best describes error in the church is one seldom used today: It is pernicious. Webster’s Dictionary defines pernicious as “causing irreparable harm through insidious corrupting influence.” Nineteenth-century theologian Robert Lewis Dabney wrote that “false principles once firmly fixed are very apt to bring after them their appropriate corollaries in the course of time, however distasteful to the promulgators of the parent errors.”2 Once error is accepted in one area of foundational doctrine, departure from the truth in other areas becomes probable.
This is true even when such an outcome is repugnant to those who allowed the original error to be propagated. Today we call it “unintended consequences.” A church may take a compromise stand on the doctrine of creation, for example, and not realize that recent church history demonstrates that compromise on the first chapters of Genesis leads eventually to compromise of the Gospel itself, by planting the seeds of compromise on the authority of Scripture.
The Bible is one Book, proclaiming one divine message, and all of its parts are tightly integrated. We not only have no right to tamper with or question any part of it, we do so at our great peril. As we said in our last article, to openly deny, or subtly question, the verbal plenary inspiration, complete inerrancy, and absolute infallibility of the Bible is contrary to the clear statements of passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 and 2 Peter 1:19-21. To openly deny, or subtly question, the sole authority of Scripture, or in practice place anything else — tradition, other writings, other peoples’ words, etc. — in authority over the Word of God is contrary to Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, and Revelation 22:18-19.
Small Compromises Lead to Large-Scale Disaster
Compromise may have small beginnings, but it is like the breaching of a great dam. The breach may begin as a fingertip-sized hole allowing only a trickle to pass. But left to itself, the breach opens ever wider. The trickle eventually becomes a flood, and those responsible for the original breach are powerless to stop it. They themselves are often swept away, and others with them. Or, the flood of error may not come until after those who were originally responsible pass from the scene. But the damage will be done to succeeding generations.
The false principles of the Pharisees and Sadducees concerning the Gospel and Scripture are the same underlying principles that corrupt the church in our time. In the epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul warned the believers against the same things. As the teachings of the Judaizers in Galatia were pernicious, so is the spread of false teaching in formerly sound churches today, and in new ones that are being started on an unsound foundation. Paul warned the church:
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is (Galatians 5:7-10).
1. Material in this article is adapted from Christianity and Neo-Liberalism by Paul M. Elliott (The Trinity Foundation, 2004), pages 33-35.
2. Robert Lewis Dabney, “The Public Preaching of Women,” Southern Presbyterian Review, October 1879. Reproduced by Foundation for Biblical Studies, Lumberton, Mississippi, 1998.