The Problem of Conformity: Unity without Doctrine

I appreciate a genuine spirit of ecumenicalism within believers. But false ecumenicalism, built upon counterfeit truths and a denial of doctrine, is going to damn sinners to hell without ever having delivered to them the hope of the gospel. When we try to build unity apart from truth, we construct nothing more than a flaming, shaky bridge, hung by dental floss, swinging precariously over a river of hungry alligators with their teeth gleaming. In other words, unity without biblical fidelity is a flaming farce.

Paul writes, in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

These two verses pack a serious theological punch and speak directly to the problem of seeking unity above and before biblical fidelity. After writing eleven chapters of profound doctrinal truths, the Apostle Paul now focuses on the practical outworking of those spiritual truths.

First, he commands us, as Christians, to present ourselves before God as a spiritual sacrifice. This, he says, is to be done according to the mercies of God. It cannot be done any other way. We do not have the power within ourselves to offer the strength needed to be a living sacrifice. Only through the Holy Spirit indwelling us, by the mercies of God, are we able to fulfill this all-important task of offering ourselves as a living sacrifice.

But notice, to be a spiritual sacrifice, we must be holy. It is true that, at the moment of salvation, we are counted as holy in Jesus. Being crucified, buried, and risen with Christ, we now stand in Christ. Our sins are paid for by Him, and His righteousness is made our own. But we do not always live righteously or holy. Therefore, there is forgiveness with Christ when we confess our sins to Him and earnestly seek Him. Yet, there is also a sense in which we must pursue holiness with all the strength we can muster; the strength which, by the way, God Himself is presently working within us (Col. 1:29).

This is what it is, then, to worship God. Living in Christ and standing upon His Word, we die to self and live for Him. Our preferences no longer matter. We care only for Christ’s preferences. Our desires no longer matter. We care only to fulfill Christ’s desires. We love Christ and His Church with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, so we seek the best for Christ and His people through obedience to His Word. We have died to ourselves and now live, wholly and entirely for Him. We are to now exhaust ourselves for the Kingdom of God, having done all to glorify Him according to His Word and standards.

The Need: Continual Renewing Our Minds in Christ

After telling us all of this, Paul then gives us a reason to pursue these things: So that we would not be conformed to this world but would be renewed in our minds. This means having spiritual discernment, which is more than just telling right from wrong. This is telling right from almost right. This is having the tenacity to live all of life for all of Christ truly.

This is incredibly important. You’ve probably noticed that the world is crazy lately. Worse yet, many churches are following suit. Rather than becoming more like Christ, they’re becoming more like the world, concerned more about what the world thinks about them than what Christ thinks about them. We have it backward. Let the world think what it will of us; only let us pursue Christ with all strength and intensity. Let the world scoff and hate us, only let us earnestly desire to be conformed to the image of Christ.

One thing I’ve discovered is that being conformed to Christ’s image can be a painful process. If you’re at all familiar with art, Michelangelo’s statue of David is one of the most famous sculptures ever created. It is famously said (likely, mythical) that he responded that it was easy when asked how he made it. “First, I pictured it in my mind. Then I chipped away everything that wasn’t David.”

Being conformed into the image of Christ is like this. God must chip away at everything in us and around us that is not Christ. This is painful. But, friend, it is worth it.

Spurgeon’s Bravery and Teaching to Cling to Orthodoxy

Now, part of this means we will reject the things of this world and the false teachings of the world, and not following false teachers means having the bravery and courage to refuse to follow them. Unity is a wonderful thing, but purity in doctrine is better. We should not pretend to have unity with another Christian or the church down the road, which denies biblical doctrine when it is clear they deny it.

Now, I know some reading this are probably thinking, “Woah, this guy is really staunch with doctrine. He’s so serious about the Bible; he won’t let up. He’s kind of nit-picky. He’s legalistic. This is pharisaical.” First, allow me to interject that legalism adds to God’s Word, which I’m not suggesting we do. I am suggesting we obey God’s Word. To many, biblical fidelity is legalistic because theological liberalism is rampant. Everyone loves the Jesus they don’t know and hate the Jesus revealed in the Bible. So, call this legalism or biblicism if you must. These are desperate times, and we need more men who are willing to commit themselves faithfully to Scripture.

I’m reminded of Charles Spurgeon. Today, we laud him for his courage to stand for orthodoxy, but he stood against liberal theology in his day. This stand became known as the “Down-Grade Controversy.” Spurgeon’s concern was that theology was on the downgrade. Liberalism had reared its ugly head and, as is so often the case, caused many to abandon orthodoxy. However, an ecumenical spirit ran rampant within the Baptist Union, and generally conservative theologians desired peace more than faithfulness to God.

Spurgeon would famously quip of this false religion, “A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.”[1] It is little surprise he was hated for this in his day, and many abandoned his side. But praise the Lord for him! We need more Spurgeon’s!

Away with effeminate Christianity unwilling to take a stand for anything important. Away with the sissified view of Jesus that neglects His flipping over money changers tables. Away with false converts who think they can tear a church apart with their false doctrines. Away with cowards who refuse to stand for anything of value, caring more for the world’s opinion of them than the Lord’s. Away with cowards who pretend they’re only careful when they refuse to stand for truth. As Doug Wilson said, “Desperate times call for faithful men, not careful men. The careful men come later and write the biographies of the faithful men, lauding them for their courage.”[2]

Boldly Standing on Nonconformists, Conformed to Christ’s Image

What shall we do, then, with these false Christians? John tells us, in 1 John 2:18-20, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.”

The genuinely saved have knowledge. What sort of knowledge? The sort that lends itself to spiritual discernment, the sort of discernment that can tell right from wrong and even right from almost right. We are to use this discernment to mark false teachers and, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1-7, avoid such people.

Yet, there’s encouragement from the Lord. John 10:8-10: “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The sheep did not listen to the thieves and robbers. The sheep did not follow the false teachings of the thieves and robbers, either. They utilized their spiritual discernment to reject and flee from lies. They refused to live by lies. They sought only the truth, as revealed by God in His Word.

Each week, as a pastor, I’m reminded that what I say from the pulpit may very well be the most shocking things the people of our congregation hear all week. Why? Because it’s coming from the Bible, which is true, and we live in a world afraid of the truth. The Bible, in its truth, demands we be conformed to Christ but remain, nonconformists when it comes to the world and culture. Nothing scares the people of this world than those who won’t conform to it.

Again, I quote Doug Wilson: “We should be thoroughly embarrassed by the fact that we have thousands of pulpits across the land, and the secularists who are wrecking our nation are not in the slightest bit afraid of what we are saying in them.”[3]

We need pastors and churches who conform only to God and His Word and stand as nonconformists against the world. I pray that our pulpits strike fear and terror into the heart of secularists, thieves, robbers, and whoever else would stand against God, His Kingdom, and His gospel.

My prayer for whoever is reading this (yes, you!) is that you would be conformed to Christ’s image. That when the world looks at you, they’d immediately recognize Christ in you, the hope of glory. My prayer is that you would be known as someone who loves Jesus, seeks His will, and glorifies God always. I pray we would be known for our faithfulness to the Bible, above all else.

I pray that the Lord would fill our churches with such people as this and that we would be churches of saints who assemble together to praise the Triune God in spirit and truth, to hear His Word rightfully divided and proclaimed, and would continually seek to evangelize sinners and see the Kingdom of God come, as His will is done in earth as it is in Heaven.

[1] Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A. G. Haykin, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), 208.

[2] Douglas Wilson, “A Sermon to the Governor and Legislature of Idaho,” July 8, 2012.

[3] Douglas Wilson, “The Gay Pulpit,” September 10, 2021.

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