In Essentials Unity

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In Essentials UnityCopyright 2013 by David W. CloudThis edition November 1, 2014This book is published for free distribution in eBookformat. It is available in PDF, MOBI (for Kindle, etc.), andePUB formats from the Way of Life web site. We do notallow distribution of this book from other web sites.Published by Way of Life LiteraturePO Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061866-295-4143 (toll free) - [email protected]: Bethel Baptist Church4212 Campbell St. N., London Ont. N6P 1A6519-652-2619Printed in Canada byBethel Baptist Print Ministry2

Table of ContentsIn Essentials Unity.1Independent Baptists Buying into This Heresy.4Non-Essentials vs. the Bible.10The Bible position is the ALL THINGS principle. .11No doctrine is “non-essential.” .12What about Romans 14?.14What about Christian Unity?.15The Centrality of the Church.15Conclusion.16About Way of Life’s eBooks.22Powerful Publications for These Times.233


In Essentials UnityThe modern evangelical philosophy is often stated by thedictum, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in allthings charity.”Though commonly attributed to Augustine, it wasapparently first stated by the 17th-century Lutheran RupertusMeldenius (a.k.a. Peter Meiderlin).It became the rallying cry of the Moravians, who had awonderful missionary zeal but retained such Romanistheresies as infant baptism and an ordained priesthood andwho promoted unity above the absolute truth of God’s Wordfor the purpose of “revival.”The “in non-essentials liberty” principle was adopted bythe fundamentalist movement of the 20th century.Fundamentalism focused on a unity built around “thefundamentals of the faith” while downplaying “minor issues.”The pragmatic objective was to create the largest possibleunited front against theological modernism and forevangelism and world missions.“Historic fundamentalism has always been characterizedby a core of biblical, historic, orthodox doctrines. .Most fundamentalists would be content with terms like‘major doctrines’ or ‘cardinal doctrines’ to describe theirconsensus. . [T]here are other doctrinal distinctivesthat some may claim for themselves as fundamentalists.But to make these beliefs articles of fundamentalist faithwould cut the movement’s channel more narrowly thanhistory will allow” (Rolland McCune, Detroit BaptistSeminary Journal, Fall 1996).This has been a hallmark of the Southern BaptistConvention, as well. In describing why he is glad to be aSouthern Baptist, Pastor Ben Simpson says, “I'm captivated bythe commitment to unity in the essentials and mission of1

Christ while allowing diversity in the nonessentials andmethodology” (“Two Divergent Views from Young Pastors,”Baptist Press, April 14, 2011).SBC leaders David Dockery, Timothy George, and ThomRainer express the prevailing philosophy in the followingwords:“Though I may disagree with some on secondary andtertiary issues, I will not let those points of disagreementtear down bridges of relationships with brothers andsisters in Christ. . We need a new spirit of mutualrespect and humility to serve together with those withwhom we have differences of conviction and opinion. Itis possible to hold hands with brothers and sisters whodisagree on secondary and tertiary matters oftheology.” (Building Bridges, 2007, pp. 11, 34).This dictum has been an integral philosophy of NewEvangelicalism. They might stand for ten or twenty or thirty“cardinals,” but they refuse to make an issue of the WHOLEcounsel of God. Particularly when it comes to one’sassociations, they believe that there are “non-essentials” thatshould not get in the way of unity.Influential evangelical leaders such as Chuck Swindoll holdthis philosophy. He writes:“There was a time in my life when I had a position thatlife was so rigid I would fight for every jot and tittle. Imean, I couldn’t list enough things that I’d die for. Theolder I get, the shorter that list gets” (Grace Awakening,p. 189).This reminds us that once you buy into the principle of “innon-essentials liberty,” your list of “non-essentials” tends togrow ever longer as your associations broaden.The Promise Keepers movement promoted this philosophyas a basis of its broad unity. The Promise KeepersAmbassador booklet listed the following as examples of issues2

that must be ignored for the sake of unity: Eternal security,the gifts of the Spirit, baptism, Pretribulation or posttribulation prophecy, sacraments or ordinances” (PKAmbassador booklet).3

Independent Baptists Buying into ThisHeresyIn the last few years many prominent fundamental Baptistpreachers have espoused the “in essentials unity” principle.In his book Thinking Outside the Box, Charles Keen said:“I’m a slow learner, but I finally realized that not alltruth is of equal value. Some truths I differ from othersand divide over or even die for (as least I should). Withothers, I might be uncomfortable with how they arehandled by my brethren, but I can still fellowship withthem either personally or in some cases, ecclesiastically.We need to develop some ‘ecumenicalism within theparameters of fundamentalism.’ . Let’s decide who theenemies of the cross are and divide from them. Then let’sdecide who the friends of grace are and tolerate them.We don’t have to unite but we do need unity” (ThinkingOutside the Box, 2003, p. 81).Clayton Reed of Southlake Baptist Church, Southlake,Texas, and head of Global Church Planters,* in his paper on“Ecclesiastical Separation,” says we should not separate overnon-fundamentals. He quotes John Rice in saying that weshould work with those who disagree on baptism, tongues,prophecy, election, association with SBC. Reed concludes,“We ought to join every willing, warm-hearted Christian inadvancing our Lord’s kingdom while it is day.” (* At the timehe wrote this paper, Reed was the head of Global ChurchPlanters, but it was subsequently turned over to PeachtreeRoad Baptist Church of Suwanee, Georgia.)Paul Chappell, pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church, joinedReed as the co-author of Church Still Works. Note thefollowing excerpt:4

“On the other hand, one of the weaknesses ofindependent Baptists has been calling non-essentials,essential. . Practically speaking--it will be impossiblefor our churches to be what God intended and to makethe difference that ‘salt and light’ should make if we aredebating minor issues” (Church Still Works, p. 215).Pastor Chappell does not tell us what these “minor issuesare.” He says we shouldn’t make “personal preferences” intomajor issues, but what are these “personal preferences”? Hedoes say that eternal security and the reality of a literal Helland the doctrine of the local church are “essential truths,” butthese aren’t at issue among most fundamental Baptists. WhatChappell does not deal with are the doctrines that are realissues today among fundamental Baptists, such as repentance,modesty in dress, contemporary worship music, Bible textsand versions, election, and building bridges to SouthernBaptists and evangelicals. Are these “minor issues”? Shouldindependent Baptists be unified in spite of these issues? Wedon’t get clear answers, only vague statements about a unitythat disregards “preferences.”This reminds us that many men who are using the terms“essential” and “non-essential” refuse to tell us exactly whatthey mean and exactly where lines should be drawn.Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary inMinnesota, praises “conservative evangelicals” in his blog andpromotes the “non-essential” philosophy:“Conservative evangelicalism encompasses a diversespectrum of Christian leaders. John Piper, Mark Dever,John MacArthur, D. A. Carson, Al Mohler, R. C.Sproul . These individuals and organizations exhibit aremarkable range of differences, but they can be classedtogether because of their vigorous commitment to anddefense of the gospel” (In the Nick of Time, Bauder’sblog, March 2010).5

In a mailing to its alumni announcing its February 2011National Leadership Conference, Calvary Baptist Seminary ofLansdale, Pennsylvania, stated:“We should grant each other the freedom to holddiffering viewpoints and to refrain from caustic letterwriting campaigns to or about those with whom onemight differ. . in our zeal to earnestly contend for thefaith, fundamentalism became more concerned aboutMINOR ISSUES and less concerned about what theBible clearly presents as THE MAJORS.”The “minor issues” are alleged to be such things as: whichGreek text or English translation to use, dress standards,musical styles, election, and baptism. We are told that suchthings should not determine fellowship. The seminary usedthis philosophy to explain why they invited Ed Welsh, aPresbyterian, as a speaker to their annual National LeadershipConference in 2009 and New Evangelical Southern BaptistMark Dever in 2010. (Dever’s church, Capitol Hill Baptist inWashington, D.C., is a member of the District of ColumbiaBaptist Convention, which is partnered with the very liberalAmerican Baptist Church, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,and Baptist World Alliance.)Clarence Sexton is promoting this principle through hisIndependent Baptist Friends International conferences. In2012 he said:“There is AN IRREDUCIBLE BODY OF TRUTH (e.g.,who God is, what His Word is, what He says aboutsalvation, the local New Testament church). There are anumber of things that are in THIS IRREDUCIBLEBODY OF TRUTH. And I believe that all over the worldthat God will raise up circles of friends. They have thetruth; people need the Lord; and they are going to worktogether” (Sexton, “On the High Road with a HighVision of God,”, April 9, 2012).6

The “irreducible body of truth” refers to the “essentials”that are the alleged basis for unity and joint ministry.For the sake of evangelism and world missions, Sextonconsiders such things as the Bible text issue, dress, music,Calvinism, modes and candidates of baptism, and separationfrom the SBC as “non-essentials” that should not hinderfellowship. He does not say this outright, but it is obvioussince he has had men representing a wide variety of views onthese issues as speakers at his church, school, andconferences.Matt Olson, former president of Northland University,used the “in essentials unity” philosophy as the foundationfor the changes that he introduced to the school. He said thatissues such as “Bible translations, music, dress, methods ofministry, secondary associations” are non-essentials and suchthings should not be used as a basis for separation (“PursuingTransparency with Change,”, Apr. 18,2013).John Van Gelderen and James Hollandsworth are alsopromoting the “in essentials unity” philosophy. In aRevivalFocus Ministries blog, Hollandsworth says:“Unity is one of the blessed effects of revival. Pettydifferences, and often denominational distinctions, tendto become of lesser importance when the Spirit of God,the Spirit of Love, comes down. Disunity, on the otherhand, is one of the great hindrances to corporaterevival” (“Seeking the Spirit of Love and Unity: Part 1,”, Dec. 13. 2012).The Spirit of God is indeed the Spirit of love, but He is alsocalled the Spirit of Truth multiple times in Scripture. Hewould never downplay any part of the inspired Scripture forany objective, including “revival.”Again, these men do not define “petty differences” or“denominational distinctions,” purposefully leaving the7

subject vague. If the “petty differences” amount to things thatare not clearly taught in Scripture, such as the time of churchservices and whether or not to have a Sunday School, that isone thing, but if they are referring to things that are clearlytaught in Scripture, they aren’t “petty.”That they are referring to Scriptural issues is plain from thefact that Hollandsworth uses the Moravians as an example oftrue Christian unity, ignoring the fact that they were infantbaptizers and sacramentalists and contemplative mystics.Would Van Gelderen and Hollandsworth, et al, accept infantbaptism as a “non-essential”? Apparently they would if theycould get away with it in the eyes of their brethren.Hollandsworth writes,“If I were living in the days before the rise of thefundamentalist movement, I could unite in prayer forrevival with some men of a different denominationallabel, men such as Jonathan Goforth, D.L. Moody,George Whitefield, and John Wesley” (“Seeking theSpirit of Love and Unity: Part 2,”,Dec. 13. 2012).Whitefield and Wesley, of course, practiced infant baptism,while Moody was a ground-breaking ecumenist who yokedtogether with theological modernists. Yet Hollandsworthsays, “I have a spirit of unity with these men, because theywere fundamental in doctrine and passionate for revival.”These men, as well as the Moravians, had a zeal for thecause of Christ, insofar as they understood it but that doesnot excuse their heresies, and it does not mean that we shouldfollow in their doctrinally confused footsteps, and it does notmean that we should yoke together with men who practicethe same heresies today.We are told that the Moravians did well to treat “Calvinistsoteriology and sanctification issues--including personalstandards” as non-essentials for the sake of unity and that8

“fundamentalists” today should imitate their example(, Dec. 13. 2012).We are told that Count Zinzendorf was led by the Spirit ofGod when he drew up a covenant that urged the people “toseek and emphasize the points in which they agreed ratherthan to stress their differences.” We are told that God was sopleased with this that He “sent a great outpouring of HisSpirit.”This is presumptuous. Nowhere does the Bible even hintthat God would be pleased when a group of Christiansdownplay the clear teaching of any part of His Word for thesake of unity.A foundational error in this thinking is that it seeks topreserve “the fundamentalist movement.” The fundamentalistmovement has always been willing to compromise God’sWord for the sake of unity. The fundamentalist philosophy ofunity wasn’t right in the 1920s and it is not right today.In Part 2 of his blog “Seeking the Spirit of Love and Unity,”Hollandsworth says that he isn’t calling for unity with“broader evangelicalism,” but that is exactly what ishappening on every hand among “fundamentalists.” Look atNorthland, Liberty, Tennessee Temple, Calvary BaptistLansdale, Central Baptist Seminary. Look at Trinity Baptist,Jacksonville, Florida. Look at the way that Paul Chappell andhis friends are recommending the writings of men in the“broader evangelicalism” on his blog. (For documentation see“Review of Church Still Works” at would Hollandsworth’s principle stop at the door offundamental Baptists? Why doesn’t it include “conservativeevangelicals” like Al Mohler and Ed Stetzer and JohnMacArthur? The answer is that his principle does and willlead “fundamentalists” to join hands with “conservativeevangelicals,” if it is applied consistently, and this in turn mostdefinitely will lead to the “broader evangelicalism” because9

evangelicalism today is a broad house with many rooms andthere are pathways between all of the rooms, even from themost conservative to the most liberal. We have documentedthis in many reports. (See, for example, the free eBook TheEmerging Church Is Coming and the free eVideo The ForeignSpirit of Contemporary Worship Music, available Olsen, former president of Northland University, saidconservative evangelicals are “in the spirit of historicfundamentalism” (“Pursuing Transparency with Change,”, Apr. 18, 2013).This thinking most recently led Northland into the arms ofthe Southern Baptist Convention. (See “Northland Officiallya Southern Baptist Institution,” Friday Church News Notes,Oct. 24, 2014).Non-Essentials vs. the BibleI challenge anyone to provide a solid Bible foundation forthe “in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty” doctrine.I don’t want a lesson in church history. What Moravians orold-time fundamentalists did or did not do is interesting andeducational, but it has zero authority unless it lines upcorrectly with Scripture.I also don’t want a lesson in pragmatism. Whether or not“unity in essentials” would further “revival” or “evangelism”or “bringing America back to God” or “creation science” orany number of other worthy objectives is neither here northere, because pragmatism has no authority.The sole authority for faith and practice is the Bible, andthere is no support for “in essentials unity” in Scripture. It is aman-made principle created to further a pragmatic agenda.10

The Bible position is the ALL THINGS principle.Consider the Old Testament law. Its requirement wassummarized in Deuteronomy 27:26, which Paul cited asfollows:“Cursed is every one that continueth not in ALL THINGSwhich are written in the book of the law to dothem” (Galatians 3:10).The Psalmist preached the all things principle.“Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea,above fine gold. Therefore I esteem ALL THY PRECEPTSconcerning ALL THINGS to be right; and I hate EVERYFALSE WAY” (Psalms 119:127-128).Observe that the reason that the Psalmist esteemed all ofGod’s precepts was that he had a passionate relationship withand high view of God’s Word, loving it above gold.Observe that the Psalmist did not merely hate those thingsthat were contrary to the “essential” doctrines of God’s Word.He hated every false way.There is no “non-essential” principle in the New Testamenteither.The Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to teachtheir converts “to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever I havecommanded you” (Mat. 28:20).The apostle Paul reminded the elders at Ephesus that thereason he was free from the blood of all men was that he hadpreached the WHOLE COUNSEL of God (Acts 20:27).The more plainly and fervently you preach the wholecounsel of God, the less likely it will be that you will joinhands in ministry with those who hold different doctrines.In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul said to the church at Corinth,“Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in ALLTHINGS, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them toyou.”11

This passage deals with hair length and the Lord’s Supper,which are widely considered to be “non-essentials,” yet Paulpraised the church for remembering him in ALL things.In light of this clear Bible teaching, I reject the philosophythat rebukes those who make an issue of hair length ratherthan rebuking those who flaunt their “liberty” in this matter.When God’s Word speaks, our liberty ends. When God’sWord speaks on any matter, our liberty ends. When the Wordof God says it is a shame for a man to have long hair and thatlong hair is the woman’s covering and glory, that is the end ofthe matter and it is our part to honor God by obeying HisWord.Paul instructed Timothy to “keep this commandmentWITHOUT SPOT, unrebukeable, until the appearing of ourLord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). A spot is a small, seeminglyinsignificant thing.This particular epistle contains commandments about suchthings as the woman’s role in ministry (1 Tim. 2:12), which iswidely considered a “non-essential” today. Paul taughtTimothy to have an entirely different approach toward suchteachings.I challenge anyone to show me where the Scriptureencourages the believer to treat some doctrine as “nonessential” for any reason whatsoever. I have been issuing thischallenge for years and I’m still waiting for a response.No doctrine is “non-essential.”Though not all doctrine has the same significance andweight, none of it is “non-essential.”Consider the following issue

Clayton Reed of Southlake Baptist Church, Southlake, Texas, and head of Global Church Planters,* in his paper on “Ecclesiastical Separation,” says we should not separate over non-fundamentals. He quotes John Rice in saying that we