Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “ (John 3:3-7)
Read The Signs Of The Time In Which You Live
Surveying the rising ecumenical spirit found in much of the visible Christian Church, with its sordid love affair with man-centered church methods and corrupt Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism, there is much reason for concern that the Protestant reforms of evangelicalism are not so subtly being reversed in order to find stronger fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church. For example, this is glaringly obvious with SBC ministers as you can plainly see in Pathetic Protholics Like James Robison Are Reversing The Reformation and Rick Warren And Teachings Of Demons.
But is this drift away from proper doctrine e.g. sola Scriptura the solution to true Biblical unity or is it rather a very dangerous compromise? In this generation all of us who will are truly following the Lord are going to be brought face to face with a couple of very crucial issues. There are vital issues that certainly are of prime importance as we begin to share the true Gospel of Jesus Christ within a perverted postmodern society that is literally drowning itself in a sea of relativism and misguided tolerance.
Not necessarily in order of importance—the first one being the idea of “unity” in the Body of Christ. As in: How should we approach people of different faith traditions who would claim Jesus as their “Savior.” And the other issue would be the Roman Catholic Church. So, as you can probably see, these issues are in fact already intertwined. We who would call ourselves Biblical Christians will need to decide–once and for all–just what is the proper stance concerning the Church of Rome for those of us who are Protestante.
In other words, how should those of us who are Protestants view the Roman Catholic Church? For example, should we simply consider those who would claim to be Roman Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ who are worshipping in another Christian denomination that happens to have some doctrines we just disagree with? As one who monitors Intel along the Internet I can tell you this is precisely the idea that the vast majority of evangelical writings I’ve captured lately would be trying to convey. They’re essentially Protholics.
It can readily be seen that there are segments within the genuine Body of Christ that do have some fairly serious differences with each other and yet fellowship doesn’t completely break down among them. They still join together because they agree on the correct understanding of justification—the doctrine at the very heart of the Gospel of Christ itself. And because these differences involve “non-essential” matters, in the interest of the correct understanding of unity within the universal (Greek—katholikos) Church, they are still willing to accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, the key question then becomes: Should this be the case with the Church of Rome? And in this generation we will need to come to an agreement as Protestants in our answer to that question because as the Roman Catholic Church is a fundamental issue for those of us who in the Body of Christ to come to grips with. This is especially true right now as major Progressive Christian leaders e.g. Living Spiritual Teacher and Emergent Church guru Brian McLaren—in fact virtually all in the Emerging Church movement—are expressing more than an eagerness to put aside all “doctrinal differences” in seeking to make peace with Rome.
Those of us who would call ourselves Protestants must ask ourselves a very tough question: Have we lost confidence in the historic orthodox Christian faith that Luther and the Reformers risked their very lives to recover and defend? The time has clearly arrived to decide whether or not we are going to be obedient to God in representing His true Gospel to this lost world, or for the sake of tolerance will we acquiesce to it. For the Roman Catholic Church undoubtedly is an organization which claims direct and unbroken Apostolic succession from Peter to their current Pope, and it most certainly relates to the mandate that Christ gave to His true Church to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3, NKJV).
An Examination Of What Unity In The Church Means According To God’s Word—The Bible
The first thing we need to do is to look at the question: What do we mean by “unity” in the Body of Christ. It is imperative today that we define our terms to those we witness to. And we obviously can’t do this if we are not sure what these things mean in the first place. Sadly, this is now the case with the average person today who would see themselves as an evangelical Protestant. In order to discover what is meant by unity in the Church of our Lord, we will first need to find out the kind of unity Jesus was praying for in the Upper Room? For the root of all the confusion over this issue of unity comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about just what the Master meant by unity in His High Priestly prayer in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John.
As we examine this passage of Holy Scripture we will see Jesus praying for all those who would come to know God through the witness of His Apostles who were there with him in that Upper Room:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20–23)
Here is Christ Jesus praying that all those who would surrender their lives to Him as Lord and Savior would then be one—that they would be united. This brings up another issue that we don’t have space to deal with in-depth here. What does it mean to “believe” in Jesus as Lord and Savior? Briefly, it means to totally commit oneself to Him alone. This is what the historic orthodox Christian Church has always meant when we say we believe in Christ.
I draw your attention back to verse 20—the middle of the verse. Jesus tells us He is praying for those who will believe in me through their word. The Greek word here for “believe” is pisteuo. The key to understanding what someone regenerated by God the Holy Spirit, which we also refer to as “born again,” must do would be this word pisteuo. By the way, pisteuo is most always translated as “believe” when it appears in the New Testament.
To the western mind to “believe” means to acknowledge something intellectually. As in “I believe in my heart that such and such is true.” It’s kind of a thought that you feel strongly about. But the word—pisteuo—in the vernacular of its culture actually means to totally trust in—and to “place confidence in.” So you can see that it’s really much more of a commitment than we in the West would normally associate with our believing something.
Now let’s look at verse 20 one more time for a different focus. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” The footnote in the famous Geneva Bible used by the Pilgrims, who played a part in the founding of this nation, is helpful at this point:
Secondly, [Jesus] offers to God the Father all of his, that is, all those who will believe in him by the doctrine of the apostles: That as he cleaves unto the Father, receiving from him all fulness [sic], so they being joined with him may receive life from him,…
What applies here in relation to our discussion of unity in the Body of Christ is the phrase – “all those who will believe in him by the doctrine of the apostles.” This would be someone who believes in Christ according to what His Apostles taught. And this “doctrine of the apostles” is what we Protestants now refer to as Biblical doctrine. Someone who believes in Jesus Christ according to what Holy Scripture teaches is the one brought into that unity the Master is talking about in John 17:23 — “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Since the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t teach proper Biblical doctrine someone who holds firmly to the dogmas and sacramental system of the Church of Rome has excluded themselves. When you read this passage of Holy Scripture carefully it becomes obvious that this prayer was completely fulfilled in Acts chapter 2 as God the Holy Spirit came upon the believers on that Day of Pentecost when the Church officially began. In our text of John 17:20-23 Jesus is talking about what the Holy Spirit would do inside genuine believers, but Who was yet to come at this point. Our Lord is praying for the Holy Spirit to come and indwell all people who will pisteuo. And we must keep in mind here again that this would be all those people who will place their complete “confidence in” and “totally trust in” Christ alone as their Savior.
This is why the doctrine of justification is without a doubt a most central issue to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and why the Reformation happened in the first place. If you look at John 17:23 carefully you will see that first Jesus says — “I in them and You [Father] in Me.” And then He says — “that they may become perfectly one,” i.e. perfect unity. One would have to be in Christ as the Father was in Christ to ever even have this kind of “unity.” If one does not pisteuo in Jesus—that is to “believe” by fully trusting by God’s grace alone; through faith alone, in Christ alone—then he has not been born again. And, if he is not born again, then God the Holy Spirit does not indwell him (cf. Romans 8:9-11).
As such then, he cannot possibly have this “unity” with God or believers in Christ that the Master is praying for here. Dr. Herbert Lockyer’s insightful comment brings out a critical point here:
Regeneration brings the Holy Spirit into the believing sinner. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9, KJV). “None of His.” How emphatic! Such a serious statement demands attention. Where the vital bond does not exist between the soul and Christ, the divine Spirit is not to be found. Whatever virtues a person may possess or whatever attractions and qualities may adorn his character, if unsaved, he is destitute of the Spirit… The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, making us “accepted in the beloved.” We are joined unto the Lord by one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17).
Spiritual Blindness Is Increasing And The Return To Purity In Christ’s Church Is Imperative
Indeed it is a bit involved to understand, but as I said earlier, this is the issue that was at the very heart of the Reformation itself. However, somehow this seems to have been forgotten by so much of the lukewarm evangelical community as well as in the visible Christian Church at large. I think it’s very important for you to understand a couple of things here. 1) We are living in a world filled with every kind of blatant sin imaginable because there is no fear of God in our immoral culture; and 2) the unbelieving world also sees a Christian Church world-wide, which has all but lost our own fear of our Lord’s awesome presence.
And unfortunately, in addition the church of Jesus Christ has apparently even lost our fear of disappointing our Master. It’s become obvious to those with eyes to see that too many in the seeker sensitive Church Growth Movement are striving to live in peace with the world, when we should instead be the salt and light within it. As Christians we are to be the fragrance of the knowledge of [God] (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14) as we stand with Jesus against this world system just as He once did. As Dr. Walter Martin (1928-1989) used to say: The Christian faith was nurtured on the controversy it produced, and Jesus of Nazareth was the most controversial figure who ever lived.
Tragically Satan has been able to deeply embed a twisted lie concerning tolerance into the very soul of our society. Of course we should be tolerant of other cultures and religious views here in our pluralistic world. However, the feigned tolerance of this society is in actuality quite aggressively hostile to the historic orthodox Christian faith. And the time has now arrived where we must confront false doctrine within our Lord’s church visible, and return to Gospel purity. And at the same time His Christian community also needs to stop being wishy-washy and to make a firm commitment to start exposing the veritable cornucopia of false religious systems that are all around us. This also means that we are going to have to prepare ourselves intellectually to be able to confront their erroneous teachings, such as those of apostate Roman Catholicism.
Yes, we must face a hard reality here. It is true that many people infected by today’s Purpose Driven/Seeker Driven so-called attractional churches aren’t going to like it. They will cry that we are “intolerant,” and they will call us “narrow-minded.” But this type of self-centered people said the same kinds of things about Jesus of Nazareth, so we are in the best company. For this is what He said — “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:18-19). You may draw strength from this: If someone who claims to know Christ “hates” you, then according to what our Lord and Master Himself just said, who do they actually belong to?
The Fact Is The Body Of Christ Does What Jesus Did
Widely respected Bible scholar Dr. John MacArthur pastors a church in Southern California with members in the multiple thousands, all the while having nothing to do with the compromises of the Purpose Driven churches or the Emergent Church—one of its seeker sensitive Church Growth counterparts. Grace Community Church is made up of more than 50 percent former Roman Catholics who have come to know Christ under his ministry. So Dr. MacArthur knows from first-hand experience what he is talking about when he says:
it’s so important to know this. In a time like this of tolerance…false teaching will always cry – “intolerance.” It’ll always say — “you’re being divisive; you’re being unloving; you’re being ungracious” — because it can only survive when it doesn’t get scrutinized. And it cries against any intolerance; it cries against any examination; any scrutiny, “just let us embrace each other; let’s love each other; let’s put all that behind us.”
False doctrine cries the loudest about unity. [So] listen carefully when you hear the cry for unity; because it may be the cover of false doctrine encroaching. And if ever we should follow 1st Thessalonians 5 and examine everything carefully (v.21) — it’s when somebody is crying ‘unity, love, and acceptance’”(Online source).
While I don’t agree with everything he taught, in his book What If America Was A Christian Nation Again? the late Christian statesman Dr. D. James Kennedy brings up an indispensable reality for the Church of our Lord in this timid and tepid generation we are currently living in when he says:
Jesus confronted sinners and we are to do it as well. But the day is coming when we might suffer persecution for doing so. For far too long Christians have been afraid to state their faith for fear of offending somebody.
The seeds of what Dr. Kennedy is talking about have already been planted within the Christian Church here in America. Sadly many evangelical leaders, misled by men like Rick Warren and his erroneous semi-pelagian (at best) Purpose Driven religion and Rob Bell, once a leader of the Jesus the social reformer movement, have been already taken in by this horribly mistaken delusion that love doesn’t confront wrong. And this is an especially false idea when it comes to wrong views about God Himself. In fact in the Gospels we see Jesus of Nazareth confront false beliefs and man-centered religious leaders on a regular basis. Our Lord even made them so angry that they had Him nailed to a cross and then left Him to die! The absolute truth is—and Christ Jesus told us that He is Truth—that while the Master was never offensive in how He confronted evil—the incontrovertible fact still remains—that our Lord offended many by what He taught, and by what He claimed.
But Ask Yourself, Are You In The Body Of Christ?
There’s an interesting riddle about making decisions in life that goes like this. There were five frogs sitting on a log; and, suddenly four of them decided to jump off. So how many frogs are left on that log? The answer is all five. That’s because making a decision to do something is simply not the same as really doing it. For one to actually accomplish something an effort is needed, and it also requires a commitment. And so it is with the true Christian; making a decision to follow Christ is not the same as actually following him. As for those who are caught up in the self-absorbed seeker sensitive spirituality of the Ecumenical Church of Deceit, as a true minister of God’s Word, I must tell you the truth. Please understand that mentally acknowledging Jesus as your consumer friendly “Savior” simply is not the same as really trusting Him alone as your Lord, and being born again into the true historic orthodox holy and catholic (means “universal”) Christian Church.
The sad and pitiful fact is, there are so many of those today who consider themselves Christians because they attend the Mass, keep the sacraments, do nice things for the poor, or once walked down an aisle, said a little prayer and they think — “I’m in, so now I can just do whatever I want to.” You know—the perversion of “once saved; always saved.” However, those who would have this eternally fatal view need to consider the following from Jesus of Nazareth lest they be deceived:
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word — [of the message of salvation] — and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word — [or he learns that he must obey Christ] — immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)
It’s imperative as the spiritual darkness grows during this time of apostasy for us to realize that it is one thing for someone to claim to be a Christian. It is, however, quite another thing to have the life to back it up. For truthfully Holy Scripture clearly reveals that a claim in itself really means nothing. The Apostle James asks us:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him… So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14,17,18)
The aforementioned John MacArthur tells us the truth when he says:
Shallow acceptance of the Gospel can be encouraged by shallow evangelicsm that promises blessings of salvation but ignores the costs of discipleship. If people just “make a decision” for Jesus Christ without accepting all His claims on their lives, they can become insulated from genuine salvation.
When superficial hearers first hear the Gospel, they have a euphoric religious experience, believing that at last God has met their felt needs. They are often zealous and energetic in church activities and eager to tell others about their new happiness.
But sadly for such people, all the change is superficial rather than deep-down in the heart. Their feeling are changed, but not their souls. There is no repentance, mourning over sin, or humility, which is the first trait of real conversion (cf. Matt. 5:3). Such a person has placed his or her religious house on the sand, and when the storms of trials and persecution come, the house crumbles and washes away (Matt. 7:26-27).
For the superficial hearer, God’s truth has penetrated only on the edge of the mind, but not the heart. That is why, when the high cost of salvation does confront the person, the Gospel can be as quickly renounced as it was once seemingly accepted. Spiritual reality has no root and thus can’t produce true spiritual fruit, which as Jesus soon makes clear, is the only sure evidence of a transformed life.
No, this isn’t a popular message, but it is God’s truth for those who have ears to hear what the Spirit says. This fact remains; according to the Bible, and despite what we are so often told by these false prophets of the inward-turned emerging church movement and their sinner sensitive counterparts in the PD/SD aka attractional section of the Church Growth Movement, the person who continues on in willful sin and prolonged self-ishness while professing to be a believer in Jesus Christ is demonstrating before the world that he never became a true Christian. Hence he was never even saved in the first place, and with such as these the true Christian has no basis for unity.
And if you haven’t seen your own life change since you made your “decision” to follow Jesus, then it is you who have every reason to question whether you simply made a decision, or whether you have actually made the commitment to truly trust in Christ alone as your Lord and Savior. For it is written:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
(2 Corinthians 13:5)
If you truly are in Christ…then…you will know what I have just told you in the Spirit is the truth…
 Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek–English Lexicon [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996], 511.
 Herbert Lockyer, All About The Holy Spirit [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995], 137, emphasis mine.
 John MacArthur, Daily Readings From the Life of Christ [Chicago: Moody, 2008], December 10.