Although we are not ‘of the world’ we are nevertheless in it. Many of us work together with those who are not of the church; for example, in the factory, in business dealings, in the office. And that’s fine; otherwise, as the apostle Paul says, we’d have to go out of the world. Nevertheless, we are not to be ‘of the world’. For the unbelieving world is ruled by Satan (Jn 12:31; 16:11; 17:14-15; 1Jn 5:19) but the church is ruled by God and is “a royal priesthood, God’s special people” (1 Pet 2), set apart to be holy to Him. Set apart also from those who serve God in their own way and do not join His church. As we confess: God’s children are, through baptism, “set apart from all other peoples and all false religions, to be entirely committed to Him whose mark and emblem we bear” (BCF 34).
But what about other Christians, members of various religious bodies? Can members of Christ’s true church, in their efforts to help stem the tide of evil in the world, join organisations with believers who are not members of Christ’s true church but who are engaged in many of the same battles? Should they join forces with them in organisations to present a united front so as to have more clout, greater effect? After all, the aim of stemming the tide of evil and promoting Christian values is surely commendable.
I had to think about this recently after I’d given a sum of money to the Australian Christian Lobby to spread the word about the wrongs and dangers of ‘same-sex marriage’ (SSM). I began to regret it. Not that I care about the money itself but I noticed it was spent on a video clip in which three women, one a pastor, spoke about what SSM was leading to. In a way, the video clip worked to legitimise female pastors. Nor was anything said about SSM being an offence to God. Hence while we seek to attack one wrong (SSM) we compromise by not focussing on the real issue (unbelief and revolution against God) and use people who themselves are disobedient (e.g. female pastor). We compromise the truth to promote what we consider to be a more significant truth.
This is the rocky road that leads to deformation of the church through broad Christian cooperation. The lines are no longer kept straight. We can learn from what happened in the Netherlands. After the Church Liberation of 1944, members of our Dutch sister churches (GKv/RCN), under the blessing of the Lord, established distinctive organisations – their own newspaper, own political association, own social and economic bond, own schools, etc. These organisations were, when they were established, all linked only to the true church and functioned as a blessing for the church people while they remained faithful to the confessions.
However, after some time they all, one after another, succumbed to the idea that they could be more effective if they combined forces with other Christians. Their distinctly reformed newspaper began to employ editors from other religious bodies, their political association joined forces with other Christian parties, and so on. Even their reformed schools were opened to outside students and teachers. The aims seemed laudable but, in the process, these organisations devalued their distinctive, reformed position and compromised the truth.
In our turbulent times it is tempting to join forces with others in order to be more effective. However, we are simply commanded to confess and serve Christ, to whom has been given all authority in heaven and earth. We must continue to go forward trusting in God rather than numerical strength, for “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1) and He governs all through our Saviour Jesus Christ. He sees our needs, our concerns, our position amidst a degenerate society and commands us simply to be faithful and trust in Him. And He calls all believers to join the true church (BCF 28). So, let us avoid the temptation to join forces with ‘outside’ Christians in order to engage in ‘kingdom activities’ together without first establishing unity in the true faith. It would be better to outsiders to be obedient to Christ’s command to join His church.
Rev van Delden once made some pertinent comments about cooperating with ‘outside’ Christians (“Faithful Members?” Una Sancta, 12/11/94, p. 27). Here is what he said:
“Those who do not honour the Lord’s day by diligently attending the Church of God are not people to work with in the first place, but people to work upon. Before working with them toward a common goal […] we must first work upon them to bring them to faithfulness in the matter of Church-gathering. We must make them obedient to God, so that God might be glorified by their obedience. We must exhort them to faithfulness. If their disobedience arises out of ignorance, then we are obliged to bear witness to the truth.
When there is obedience, then we may work together in various kingdom causes for the further glorification of God. But if they are not willing to obey God’s fourth commandment and refuse to diligently attend the Church of God we cannot work together for the advancement of God’s kingdom. The faithful may not work alongside of the unfaithful.
Scripture is clear on this matter. In the books of Kings and Chronicles we read not only about the struggle between the world and the Church, but also of the struggle between the true Church (Judah) and the apostate Church (Israel). When Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, allied himself with Ahab, king of Israel, the Lord sent his prophet Hanani to rebuke Jehoshaphat sharply, stating that such an alliance was unholy (cf. 2 Chron. 19:2). … Thus the principle of this text applies: the faithful may not ally themselves with the unfaithful.
The message of Scripture comes out clearly in Nehemiah 3:2-3. The Samaritans said,
‘Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.’
There could be no cooperation, for the Samaritans were not faithful in their service of the Lord.
Other texts, such as Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22:9 and 2 Corinthians 6:14ff also prohibit joining together those things which are not alike. In the last text, someone might suppose that since Paul speaks about ‘unbelievers’, we may work with others providing they are believers. But we must never drive a wedge between faith and faithfulness. Faith is inseparably connected to faithfulness, just as love for God is inseparably joined to obedience to God’s commandments (cf. John 14:15). Faith apart from faithfulness is dead.
As we work for the promotion of God’s kingdom, let us do it in all humble obedience to the Scriptures, for it is in our obedience that God is glorified.”