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EDITOR:
Steve Van Nattan

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A LIMITED MESSAGE,
OR A LIMITED FELLOWSHIP

By Pastor David Nettleton


The following is by the late Pastor David Nettleton and was published in the 1960s by the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).

The GARBC once practiced biblical separation and gave clear warnings against New Evangelical compromise, and they published many helpful materials such as the following.

Sadly, this is no longer true, and many good churches and pastors have left the GARBC in recent decades because of its slide away from Scriptural separation.

"I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Acts 20:27

This message, like many, is born out of an experience. It may be some others are going through similar experiences. Therefore, let me recount the one which brought this message to light.

I was brought up as a Presbyterian. I was saved at a college which was interdenominational in student body, but was managed by the Church of the Brethren. From there I went to a seminary which was not a denominational school, and from there to another seminary which was United Presbyterian. I entered the Baptist pastorate with no Baptist training except that which came from reading of the Scriptures.

A few years later I was drawn into an interdenominational youth movement and was given the leadership of a local Saturday night rally. I cooperated with any who were evangelical, regardless of their associations. I was advised by top leaders in the movement to seek the names of outstanding modernists for my advisory committee. I didn't do that. But I did follow advice which led me to send all converts back to the churches of their choice, churches I knew to be liberal in some cases. This greatly troubled my conscience and I prayed and thought about it.

Another problem connected with this work was the failure on my part to instruct any converts on the matter of Christian baptism, which in the Scriptures is the first test of obedience. I felt that I should do this inasmuch as Peter and Paul did it. But how could it be done when on the committee of the work there were close friends who did not believe it? By such an association I had definitely stripped my message and my ministry of important Bible truths which many called "nonessentials."
The Christian has no liberty under God to sort out the Scriptures into essentials and nonessentials! It is our duty to declare the whole counsel of God, and to do it wherever we are.

In the follow-up work it was not convenient to speak of eternal security in the presence of Christian workers who hated the name of the doctrine. Thus the ministry was pared down to the gospel, just as if there was nothing in the Great Commission about baptizing converts and indoctrinating them. I had found the least common denominator and I was staying by it. But my conscience had no rest. Then it was that Acts 20:27 came to mean something to me.

The great apostle had never allowed himself to be drawn into anything which would limit his message. He could say with a clean conscience, "I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Why cannot many say that today? In my case, and in many other cases, it was due to a desire to teach a larger audience and to work with a larger group of Christians. Many have been carried away from full obedience by a noble-sounding motto which has been applied to Christian work. "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity." Some things are not essential to salvation but they are essential to full obedience, and the Christian has no liberty under God to sort out the Scriptures into essentials and nonessentials! It is our duty to declare the whole counsel of God, and to do it wherever we are.

Paul had a wonderfully balanced ministry. In his preaching he would never please men, for he knew he could not be pleasing to God if he tried to please men. Yet in his living he testified, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). "Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:33). What a happy balance this is in the ministry! It is true, humble, and wholesome.

Today we are choosing between two alternatives. A LIMITED MESSAGE OR A LIMITED FELLOWSHIP. If we preach all of the Bible truths, there are many places where we will never be invited. If we join hands with the crowds, there will be limiting of the message of the Bible. Bear this in mind--it is the Baptist who lays aside the most! It is the fundamental Baptist who makes the concessions! Think this through and you will find it to be true. We believe in believer's baptism. We believe in separation. We preach eternal security. We believe in the imminent coming of Christ. We consider it an act of obedience to reprove unbelief in religious circles. The Sadduccee and the Pharisee are to be labeled. But according to a present philosophy we must lay these things aside for the sake of a larger sphere of service.

Which is more important, full obedience or a larger sphere of service? And yet I do not fully believe these are the only two alternatives. It is our first duty to be fully obedient to God in all things, and then to wait upon Him for the places of service. It may be that we will be limited, and it may be that we will not. Charles Haddon Spurgeon did not travel as widely as some men of his day, but his sermons have traveled as far as the sermons of most men.

I have recently read a religious article by a great evangelist. He deplores the moral conditions in America. He deplores the conditions in our schools. He speaks against the liquor traffic and against juvenile delinquency. But nothing is said against America's greatest enemy--THE MODERN BELIEF WHICH GOES FORTH FROM SUPPOSEDLY CHRISTIAN CHURCHES. The strength of the nation lies in her love of God. That love has grown cold in many churches, and Jesus Christ our Lord is called an illegitimate child, a confused young man and a dead teacher. That kind of thing needs to be rebuked at the cost of reputation and even at the cost of life, if need be. But as soon as it is rebuked, the man who rebukes it will lose the majority of his following, if he is gaining that following through cooperation with modernistic churches.

It is my belief that some of our great evangelists today are thorough Bible-believing Christians. They accept nearly every truth in the Book. It seems they refrain from preaching all the counsel of God for one reason. To them, it is important to reach farther even if we reach with a smaller message. The breach within so-called Protestantism today is as great as the breach between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. We need to make this fact known. But every time we promote the inclusive type of ministry we are covering up a fact that needs to be known.

God has given us a great message to preach. It contains the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is not limited to that gospel. He has commissioned us to preach the gospel, baptize our converts and indoctrinate them (Matt. 28:19,20). He has given us the very best system of follow-up work, which is the building of Bible-believing churches and joining converts to them. He is calling us to loyalty and obedience.

We need no new message. We need no new method. We need only the spirit of obedience found in Paul when he testified, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."

 

 

Steve Van Nattan-- Anecdotes:


My experience in Ethiopia:

When my wife and I joined the Sudan Interior Mission in the 1970s we had to fill out a very long information form to see what our beliefs were and how we worked with other Christians. That makes sense of course. It is horrible for a missionary with much zeal to go through a long deputation to raise support, and through a great mountain or red tape and medical preparation, only to find when he arrives "on the field" that he is totally out of sync with other missionaries with whom he must work.

So, we tried to be very conscientious with the entry form. One of the questions was, "Can you work with other missionaries who may not believe the same thing you do about the doctrines of the End Time?" Now, that would be a no brainer ONLY if the doctrinal statement of the mission were vague, right?

Well, they were actually hiding something. It may have actually been by stealth, but I suspect they believed the lie stated above that there are nonessentials in Christian fellowship. In any case, I read the End Times statement of the mission, and it was solid about the return of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom reign. I freely admit that I read into the thing that they believed the same thing as I did about the Great Tribulation. This was not totally naïve of me. The reason I missed the subtle omission was that virtually everyone I had known in SIM up to that time was from churches which are pre-millennial and pre-tribulation rapture.

When we got to the field, in the orientation classes for new missionaries, we were told emphatically, though with some grace, that we dare not offend other missionaries with different eschatology than ours. Essentially, we were to say nothing out loud about our doctrinal beliefs in the End Times. This is because SIM, like all the old "faith missions" founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s included missionaries from the USA, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. About 99% of all English and Australian Christians believe nothing about the End Times except that we will all come to a happy ending.

I was horrified, not only at the trick they had played on me, but because I fell for it. I had grown up in the Africa Inland Mission in East Africa, and my Dad had ground his teeth many times over the same problem. I felt like I had not been paying attention well enough. Well, we were in Ethiopia, and we made the best of it. SIM missionaries in other ways are great hard working people. Their policies are much more biblical than most large mission. The Lord let us have fruit in the work.

But, if we wanted to have close fellowship with other missionaries that held to the same Bible teachings we did, we had to be very careful and do a lot of homework to be able to talk about all things in common. I later found out the a pre-trib, pre-mil man who had graduated from Dallas Seminary had fallen for the entry form trick the same way I had.

The worst place of this compromise was in prayer meetings. We dare not rejoice in prayer with other missionaries in the soon return of Jesus Christ for his Church. Some present had no ideas where Jesus would go at the happy ending, and they might have been prepared to meet Christ on Jupiter. Over and over, we had to halt and stop rejoicing to the Lord lest the person next to us be offended. AND, then an a-trib, a-mil, A-everything nut case is offended about your End Times belief, they attack viciously.

The worst place for this compromise is in Bible institutes and Bible colleges on the missionfield. End Times doctrine is totally left out, thus setting up the new pastor for the vultures of the cults. In Tanzania, the AIM had the same understanding, and when pastors would graduate from the AIM Bible institute, a Jehovah's Witness or Seventh Day Adventist missionary would find them and teach them eschatology. The new pastor would conclude the AIM failed them, and many of these pastors joined the cults who paid well also.


Jack Van Impe

Billy Graham

 

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