At Arm's Length
In times when there are so many churches and parachurch organizations changing, it is always a question of how much of a change will cause us to sever our ties with others. Not being eager to give up on historically good ministries and long friendships, we graciously take a wait-and-see approach and decide that for a while we will embrace them at arm's length. There are others too whom we already know have gone over the Neo-evangelical hill, whom we have come to accept (so long as we keep them at a respectful distance that we feel will not jeopardize our own testimony) because we have developed personal ties or value special ministries not found elsewhere in fundamental circles. It all sounds comfortable, acceptable, even safe; nevertheless, there are some basic principles ignored by an "arm's length" philosophy.
The first false presumption is that Neo-evangelicalism, Evangelicalism and Liberalism or Modernism are either static or have run their course. While we may not all keep up on who has done what recently, we ought to agree with the Biblical principle that evil men will wax worse and worse. If Fundamentalists have never subscribed to the expectation that the world is getting better, why then should we expect that those who are selling out Biblical Christianity will cease from their actions of compromise that undermine the authority of Scripture? If we would dare think that even Neo-evangelicalism has plateaued in some manner, we have been seriously deceived by Satan himself.
Apostasy is, by definition, a continuous state of change; and apart from efforts of godly men to be obedient to the Word of God and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, the prevailing gravity of sin and the corrupting influence of the old nature will continue to draw men away from the Truth. The problem, however, for us, as we draw the lines of fellowship, is that these changes prevent us from neatly assigning everyone a fixed theological pigeonhole. For example, many of the attributes once the exclusive domains of Evangelicals and Liberal- Modernists thirty years ago have cropped up among the Neo-evangelicals in recent years. John MacArthur, in his book Reckless Faith, marks several changes that have migrated from Liberalism into the Neo-evangelical camp. The only problem is that while MacArthur deplores their presence, he will not separate from his friends over them. Quite the contrary, he simply may keep them at arm's length.
What are we saying? We are saying that the hallmark of compromisers is a dynamic perspective that pursues change, even for its own sake, and accommodation to the spirit of the age wherever possible. What we need to see is that compromisers of all degrees are part of a theological parade of different denominations and designations marching inexorably towards repudiation of the Scriptures and rank apostasy. Some, like the Modernist-Liberals of forty years ago are already well down the parade route to unbelief. Others, however, who have just begun to yield the standards of Scripture to become followers of men more than followers of Jesus Christ may be several blocks behind them and moving more slowly, but the ultimate destination is exactly the same. The only question is how much longer it will take them to arrive there.
It ought to be clear by now that keeping at arm's length will not protect anyone, because we have drawn a fatal conclusion. The false sense of security drawn from keeping at arm's length will compel us to ignore the continuing changes among apostates and their fellow- travelers. It is a dangerous and faulty conclusion that being fundamental is a matter of distance, not position, when in fact the exact opposite is true. Given the continuous change of apostasy, what fundamentalists should really see is a growing gap between themselves and all compromisers. The distance between (i.e. arm's length) cannot remain the same unless we, too, are changing and moving in the same direction and have silently joined their parade to spiritual oblivion. While we may find some small comfort that we are blocks, even miles, behind the Neo-evangelicals in this parade, we must also concede that we will soon find ourselves parading past milestones we had once marked as anathema to us in the past.
Separation must ever be a matter of doctrinal position and never a measure of distance in relation to someone else. It is not measuring ourselves by ourselves, which the Apostle Paul warned us is unwise, nor is it measuring ourselves by revered spiritual leaders with feet of clay. It ought not even be a comparison between Separatists, but always a life, ministry or movement that is constantly measured by the Word of God. Let our standard always be the Scriptures; and where that brings us together for "a cause such as this," then we will enjoy sweet fellowship and mutual encouragement to stand firmly for the Name of Jesus Christ.
Pastor Charles L. Dear