Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the campus of Abilene Christian University during their 2000 lectureship. Although I was aware of the college's historic endorsement of institutionalism and other avenues of digression, it scarcely prepared me for what I heard from two of the speakers.

The university had invited Dr. Montie Cox, an associate professor and director of missions from Harding University, to speak on the topic of "Renewing Our Identity: Seeking and Saving the Lost". Instead of an appeal for a renewal of Biblical principles, Dr. Cox took the audience down a strangely divergent path.

He began to address what he perceived to be one of the church's biggest problems-- the pursuit of "peripheral issues". Starting with the Restoration Movement, Dr. Cox began to list several "peripheral issues" such as the divisions over the missionary society, instrumental music, and premillenialism. He bemoaned the notion that the church had become encumbered in these issues instead of seeking to spread the gospel. On a positive note (by his estimation), he applauded the efforts of churches that are introducing "worship renewal" in their assemblies. Furthermore, he congratulated one church for their announcement of a nearby "Promise Keepers" rally in their church bulletin, yet he was disappointed by the notion that the elders later determined that they had publicized the rally in error.

During an open forum later that day between F. LaGard Smith and Mike Armour, Smith outlined several points that are hampering the communications between Christians. In this list he included the notion that those who label individuals as false teachers are "demonizing" them, and that using their tapes, bulletin articles, and Internet writings are doing so as a means of "entrapment".

Needless to say, brethren should view such attitudes as troubling. To consider doctrinal matters of the Lord's body as "peripheral issues" minimizes the impact of the scriptures (1 Tim. 4:6) and negates the church's ability to maintain doctrinal purity in matters of faith (Rom. 16:17). However, such digression is necessary in order for the change agents to spread their error. Without the fear of discipline, false teachers may continue to spread their fables to the itching ears of the spiritually unstable (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

We must remember that we live in a time of spiritual "fairy tales" for those who refuse to endure sound doctrine. In essence, some churches have traded their spiritual identity (i.e., doctrinal purity based upon the Bible) for the glamour of the denominational world. When we emphasize "Promise Keepers" at the expense of doctrine, we find ourselves venturing down a broad path that the world follows (Matt. 7:13).

What do we do? First of all, we need to admit to the problem! Too many brethren are in denial that the doctrinal paths laid down in the 1950's have led to a 21st century apostasy in the Lord's church. Recognition of error and admission of culpability are key to stemming the tide of error. Casting a blind eye to the bitter fruits of liberalism is tantamount to upholding it. Instead, faithful brethren need to speak out against it and call for a return to the Bible as our sole authority (Eph. 5:11). It is long overdue.

Finally, brethren need to demand accountability of those who teach matters contrary to the truth. Through the inspiration of God, we have the all-sufficient Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), yet to many are afraid to use it as God intended. They may use it for doctrine or instruction in righteousness, but fail to use it for reproof or correction. In today's politically correct society, we are afraid that we may offend or alienate. Instead, we need to focus on doing the Lord's bidding in the spirit of meekness and gentleness (1 Cor. 5:8; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 4:1-3). By doing so, we truly can have the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

By Kelly G. Spencer

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