Chapter OneWHAT MAKES
Where is the perimeter of light located? It's hard to determine
where light stops and darkness begins. Light gently fades
into night. Actually, the perimeter is not located at an exact spot,
because if the fire burns brighter, the edge expands and enlarges
the circle of protection. When the fire is almost out, the perimeter
is so small it becomes almost too small to provide protection
for one human. The perimeter of light changes according
to the brightness of the fire.
The edge of light is not a line drawn in the night. The flickering
flames of a fire make the edge dance; the energy of the fire
determines how far the light reaches into a darkened night. The
edge dashes out into the darkness when the flame sparkles or
flickers brightly. It creeps away from the darkness back toward
the campers when they allow the fire to diminish.
LIGHT ON THE PERIMETER
The edge of light between Christianity and the world is not a
distinct boundary line that can always be easily seen. It is a
perimeter. Even though we see gray areas in Christianity, nothing
is gray to God. We don't see things the way God sees them.
God knows what is Christian and what is not Christian, even
when it's blurry to us. Christianity is not a religion, like joining
a movement. Being a Christian means having a relationship with
Christ. Christianity is about that relationship between God and
If Christianity were a "religion," it would have boundaries
as do other world religions. You would do certain things and that
would qualify you as a Christian. But Christianity does not have
a fence to keep people in-or keep them out. Although it does
have principles by which a person should keep in relationship
with God, Christianity is not a set of rules that you have to keep
to become or remain a Christian, though it does have principles
by which you live for God.
Christianity is not about rules; it's about a person. It's about
Jesus Christ, and if you are properly related to Him by faith,
you're a Christian. The light is Jesus, and the edge determines
how close to Jesus you live.
The perimeter is not a boundary where the traveler passes
from total light to total darkness. A perimeter is a "twilight zone,"
where it's not completely light, nor is it completely black. Sometimes
it's hard to see clearly at the edge of the zone-it's hard
to see the edge itself. God knows where Christianity leaves off
and the world takes over. Even when you are not sure where the
boundary is located, God knows.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
EDGES AND BOUNDARIES
What Are Boundaries?
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has defined boundary
as "something that indicates or fixes a limit," i.e., a separating
line. The emphasis is on the actual point that separates two items
or views. If you apply the concept of boundaries to Christianity,
there are fences, or "property lines," between Christianity and
non-Christianity. The Oxford Dictionary adds the following definition
to boundary: "that which must be limited, confined or restrained."
This means Christianity is limited or bound up.
Therefore, the nature of Christianity would demand limits.
There are some boundaries that relate to practice:
There is a line between an authentic church (Matthew
16:18) and a group that only has the title "church," but is
not a tree church in God's sight (e.g., the churches in Pergamum
and Thyatira, Revelation 2:12-29).
There is a difference between true worship (John 4:20-24)
and activities that take place in a church but are not true
worship-they may even be anti-worship (Colossians
There is music that points people to God (2 Chronicles
5:11-14) and music that does not (Isaiah 14:11-15).
Somewhere between biblical principles of biblical evangelism
(Matthew 28:19-20) and human methods (Matthew
7:26-27), there are practices that a church should not use
Giving a religious speech and preaching the Word (2 Timothy
4:2) are not the same thing.
Crossing certain boundaries of practice can also lead to error,
What we do does impact what we believe. Somewhere in the journey
from true Christianity (1 Timothy 3:16) to heresy (1 Timothy
1:19-20), one crosses a point of no return, i.e., a boundary
or property line. God's property is located on one side of the
fence; Satan's property is on the other side. Somewhere in a journey
from holiness (1 Peter 1:16) to ungodliness (2 Peter 2:21-22),
there is a boundary line beyond which a person should not
The issue of boundaries does not represent a new challenge,
nor is it a new reaction. Even in the early church there were questions
as to where the fences should be built. Four of the apostles
issued warnings. John wrote, "Beloved, do not believe every
spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because
many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John
4:1). Jude wrote, "For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who
long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men,
who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only
Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4 NKJV).
Peter and Paul also issued warnings:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also
be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive
heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift
destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality and because
of them the way of truth will be maligned. (2 Peter 2:1-2)
The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from
the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Timothy 4:1)
It seems every generation has battled with the boundaries
issue, Most boundary debates involved doctrinal issues, but not
all. Some were boundary issues of methodology, or "how to express
Christianity." Martin Luther rejected the enthusiasts. John
Wesley was ridiculed for his new "methods" and was sarcastically
labeled "Methodist." Jonathan Edwards struggled with emotional
expressions of revivalism in the First Great Awakening, and
Charles Finney was criticized for embracing "the right use of appropriate
means" in the Second Great Awakening. With each new
outreach of the gospel, new methods have emerged. Reactions to
the new methods are usually negative.
An Ongoing Battle to Keep the Church Pure
The very nature of Christianity implies that there would be
an ongoing battle to keep the church pure. Satan is called "a liar"
(John 8:44). Originally, he distorted God's Word in the Garden
of Eden. Is it not plausible that he would distort God's Word and
God's methods today? The adversary still attempts to corrupt the
minds of believers (2 Corinthians 11:3), and he blinds the minds
of nonbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
God divinely knew there would be attempts to both dilute
His message and to add to it. The apostle John gave the following
warning concerning the last book of the Bible, yet the meaning
can be applied to all Scripture: "I testify to everyone who
hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to
them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this
book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of
this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life
and from the holy city, which are written in this book" (Revelation
For some, it is easy to draw hard edges. Some groups believe
that they are the only correct church-and all others are in error.
However, this makes little sense. Obviously, there are Christians
who differ from us, and they are still Christians. The question
is, How far can one be from the light and still be a Christian?
So it is obvious that the task is difficult, and the answers will
not be perfect. As a result, few are addressing the issue from the
center of evangelicalism. However, it is an essential need.
When dealing with an "edge" related to Christianity, a common
problem is the creation of false boundaries-boundaries
that are culturally conditioned but are not biblically required.
It is important to know the difference.
THE EDGE OF ERROR
The edge of error is to be avoided at all times. The purpose
of the Christian, as well as the church and denomination, is to
stay as far from the perimeter of error as possible. Yet, there must
also be recognition that although we think we are as far from
error as possible, there are other Christians who are wrong about
some things but are still Christian brothers and sisters.
What does it mean to be "wrong" or "in error"? In today's
world, people object to the idea that someone is right or wrong.
We will address this issue on a deeper level later. However, initially
let us say that many Christians are wrong about certain
things. Not everyone can be right. Either the Bible teaches that
all true believers will persevere until the end or it does not; either
speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism
of the Holy Spirit, or it is not. Both cannot be right.
The idea that the Bible can mean anything based on the response
of the reader actually devalues the Word of God and destroys
Christian unity. If the Bible can mean anything, then it
really means nothing. Instead, the authors of Scripture had specific
truths in mind when they wrote the Scripture text. They are
either rightfully interpreted correctly, or they are wrongfully interpreted
incorrectly. Some Christians are right, and some are
Who Is Right? Who Is Wrong?
The problem is determining which Christians are right and
which are wrong. In the New Testament era, there was already
confusion. That confusion continues today. There are thirty-eight
thousand denominations in the world today. All of them can't be
right in all issues.
Although some are wrong and some are right, we are unwise
to think that we are always the "right" ones. On the one hand, we
should think we are right. Even the world acknowledges that all
religions think they are right. Recently, CNN's Larry King interviewed
a Methodist bishop who implied that Christianity was not
the only way to God. King, hardly an advocate of evangelicalism,
was surprised the bishop did not believe Christianity was the
only way. (In a news release the next day, the United Methodist
Church distanced itself from the comments of Bishop Talbert, indicating,
"United Methodists believe faith in Jesus Christ is the
only way the Bible gives to salvation and heaven.")
Both authors came to Christ in other denominations and determined
that they were wrong about certain doctrines-we both
became Baptists because of what Baptists believed. We thought
(and still think) that our denomination is the closest we can find
to a correct and right interpretation of Scripture.
However, we are pretty sure that some of the things we believe
will be corrected when we get to heaven. (We don't know which-if
we knew that we would change!) There are just too many Christians
who differ on too many issues for us to be sure we have
every doctrinal distinctive correct. Yet, for now, we think they are
wrong (or else we would hold their views).
So, if edges are important, then the question of how wrong
is essential. Charismatics can be wrong (or, if you are a charismatic,
those Baptists!), but they are still our brothers and sisters
in Christ. Yet, Mormons are not. What about Catholics? What
about liberal Protestants?
Finding the Edge: A Diagram
The diagram below, "Toward the Edge: Leaving Christian
Truth," attempts to illustrate the "edge." We do so with great trepidation.
Who are we? Why do we get to judge? Well, we do not.
Ultimately, only God can make the determination of who is faithful
aim who is not. Yet there is a tremendous need to look at
this issue today. As the diagram below indicates, heresy, whether
in doctrine or immoral action, moves a person, church, or denomination
to the edge. Our hope is that the diagram below will
help you to discuss these edges.
The issue may seem unimportant-unless you are part of a
church or a denomination struggling with the issues. The issue
of the "edge" is on the front pages of Presbyterian, Methodist,
and Anglican publications around the world. For those of us outside
of these communities, the issue is also important-it frames
how we will relate to these groups and others.
EXAMPLES OF CHURCHES AND INDIVIDUALS
SEEKING TO FIND "THE EDGE"
Present and Historical Examples
Many of our brothers and sisters are wrestling with the issues
every day. A few examples:
The Anglican Church is gripped in a worldwide struggle
for what is evangelical, while some of its third-world bishops
are sending missionaries to the United States, calling
the Episcopal Church here an apostate church. (Several dioceses
in the United States are formally agreeing with the
third-world bishops, asking to be placed under their authority
and out from under the US Episcopal Church.) The
impetus is the advocacy of homosexual ordination, even
as the church's most problematic retired bishop (lames
Spong of New Jersey) asks if Jesus was a homosexual.
The Confessing Movement of the Methodist Church is struggling
to return the church to an evangelical conviction, as part
of the denomination refuses to remove a lesbian pastor.
The Evangelical Theological Society addressed (in its 2002
annual meeting) the boundary of evangelicalism itself, rejecting
as heresy the idea of open theism (the idea that God
does not know the future) but not removing members who
hold that position.
For many of you reading this book, "the edge" may seem to
be too abstract to consider, but for others, this book is about a
Throughout history, groups have always needed to define their
edges. In some cases, they did so very clearly by signifying what
they believed and what they did not. For example, the Chicago
Statement on Biblical Inerrancy explains in Article I: "We affirm
that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word
of God. We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the
Church, tradition, or any other human source" (italics added).
Examples of a Static Edge and a Receding Edge
In some cases, we have to look at what is outside of and what
is inside of the edge of light. This is not an easy task, because
genuine people are often misled. If a Mormon believes that she
is saved by temple rituals, it is important for us to tell the truth