1/26/2012

Elephant Room, Unity, and the Gospel

1/26/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , ,
The latest brouhaha in evangelicalism centers around the issues of unity and doctrine.  Specifically, what doctrines and beliefs are worth dis-unity with other professing Christians and which beliefs should unity take precedence over.  This has been thrust into the spotlight recently because of the Elephant Room conference created and run by James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Fellowship.
A brief recap of recent events:

  • MacDonald announces that T.D. Jakes will be a participant at Elephant Room 2
  • Controversy ensues dues to Jakes fuzzy definition of the trinity due to his background with Oneness Pentecostals (who hold a heretical view of the trinity) and his word of faith prosperity message.
  • MacDonald defends his choice of Jakes and even goes so far to change the purpose of the Elephant Room.
  • Jakes and MacDonald participate in Code Orange Revival at Elevation Church. Elevation is pastored by Steven Furtick who is also a participant at Elephant Room 2.
  • Code Orange is blasted by many, including Chris Rosebrough,  for its man centered, prosperity messages (with the one notable exception of Matt Chandler's sermon).
  • MacDonald resigns from his position with The Gospel Coalition stating that God has called him to different methods of ministry that TGC may not agree with.
  • Chris Rosebrough is asked to leave an Elephant Room 2 satellite site and threatened with arrest if he does not do so.
  • Elephant Room Session 4 takes place with all the participants seeming to believe that it has settled the issue of Jakes' orthodoxy and many others believing it has only perpetuated the belief that Jakes sidesteps the issue of orthodox trinitarianism and receives a pass for his teaching of the prosperity gospel.

The question that naturally arises out of all this is "Who is right?" because in this case "right" matters.  MacDonald, Driscoll, et al will tell you that as long as people are being reached for Jesus with the gospel then most other considerations can be overlooked and we can embrace each other despite our differences.  They also strongly implied that if you disagree with that position then you are a bible beating, divisive person who only wants to tear down other believers. These men wield a great deal of influence in evangelicalism so what they say matters.  Whether they are right or wrong here matters because they have been given/created a large platform from which to influence the church.

I have a couple of observations I would like to offer here.

First, the quote below is taken straight from the Elephant Room purpose statement:
The Elephant Room is more than an event. It is the outgrowth of an idea. The idea that the best way forward for the followers of Jesus lies not in crouching behind walls of disagreement but in conversation among all kinds of leaders about what the scriptures actually teach. We must insist on the biblical Gospel, right doctrine and practice but not isolate ourselves from relationship even with those who believe much differently.These are conversations about the most Christ honoring ways of building a church.  Our goal is unity, however a true unity cannot be fashioned in pretense or denial of truth nor can it be won among those who prefer sectarianism to the unity Jesus prayed for.  To advance Christ’s call to unity we must do what men have always done, we must push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other’s beliefs and methods.  Fidelity and fruitfulness, both matter.  No one has a corner on the truth and methods must do more than ‘work.’
I find it indefensible and comically hypocritical that an event whose purpose "lies not in crouching behind walls of disagreement but in conversation among all kinds of leaders about what the scriptures actually teach"  would begin by revoking the registration of one of their most outspoken critics.  I fail to see how this is anything other than the very sectarianism they rail against here.  How are they going to "push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other's beliefs and methods" if they don't allow those with significant disagreements to even attend a video simulcast of their event?

The whole thing smacks of the big evangelical superstars telling the rest of us peons to just let them take care of this one.  They know what is best for us and if we will just get out of their way and stop criticizing them, then they will be able to inform and instruct us on how to handle these types of situations.

The actual Elephant Room session with Jakes seemed to bear very little resemblance to a group of men trying to discern biblical truth.  It seemed that everyone there already decided they agreed (enough) on the doctrinal issues and their point was now to demonstrate that we can all just get along.

The bigger issue here, I believe, is a gospel issue.  The truth is that I agree in principle with what MacDonald and company are trying to say.  If the biblical gospel is being proclaimed and taught then that is something to be rejoiced in.  If another truly believes and proclaims the gospel of the bible then I think we can disagree on some other issues and still fellowship and labor alongside one another.  But where there is no gospel agreement, there is no unity.  Scripture is clear that what unites us is the work of Christ on the cross and our new identity as children of God.  The gospel unites us and the lack of gospel divides us.

The Elephant Room wants me to believe that Jakes and those like him are reaching people with the gospel and that should trump all other concerns. The question is which gospel are they reaching people with?  Is it the gospel of the bible?  Is Jakes' gospel the gospel of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the rest of the biblical authors?

Let's look in His word and see, shall we? I know it isn't as controversial and exciting as The Elephant Room or a book on sex and marriage but it is the most important question to be answered if we want to see the name of Christ exalted among all the nations.