The attitude of church leadership during the late first century and early second century toward that period’s purveyors of deception was one of intense disagreement. The church father, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria who was martyred in c. 115 A.D. said the following: “Avoid heretics like wild beasts; for they are mad dogs biting secretly. You must be on your guard against them; their bite is not easily cured.” (Bettenson 55) So I write this refutation of representative elements of what was taught this past August at the Common Ground conference hosted by Christ the Rock Community Church in Menasha, Wisconsin.
From the “Common Ground” (C5) Conference held at CTR:
“Our goal in the morning, we lay out a foundation for the Kingdom of God. We become really clear about what we are doing when we are trying to talk about our faith or sharing our faith: that it’s the message of the Kingdom of God, that we’re not interested in any Muslim converting to Christianity because that wasn’t Jesus’s way and it was an old message.”
With immediacy upon considering the quote above my mind flooded with John 3.1-15. “We’re not interested in converting”, as the quote puts it, is clearly in conflict with what Jesus says in verse three: “…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”(English Standard Version). Note Nicodemus’ reaction. He asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” The word “born” (γεννάω) means figuratively, of the influence exerted by one person on another. (Bauer 155) Scripture here makes clear that indeed conversion should be our interest and it was Jesus who makes that very point. In John 7.50 Nicodemus’ sympathy for Jesus is scorned by his fellow Pharisees, and then, later, with Joseph of Arimathea, he assists with the body, brings seventy-five pounds of spices, and helps with Jesus’ burial. In some sense, Nicodemus did not remain a Pharisee but did things out of character and contrary to the typical pharisaical attitudes and actions recorded in the Gospel of John.
To refute further the Common Grounders’ teaching that one need not leave his religion to follow Jesus I turn to Galatians, chapter one: “…there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (v. 7)
The Apostle Paul in this letter lays out his defense of the Gospel defending it from the hypocrisy of some Jewish Christians. Peter, a Jew, while not in the presence of those other Jews, lives free of the Jewish religion but when those other Jews come around, not only does he revert he pressures gentile Christians to adopt the legalism of the Jewish religion. (2.12,13) Note the rebuke in verses fifteen and following of the Apostle Peter by the Apostle Paul:
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified….For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”
Here Paul says that it is through the law and its inability to make us justified before God that the ultimacy of faith in Jesus Christ is understood. Note what he says proves him to be a “transgressor,” the rebuilding of what he has torn down. Transgressor (παραβάτης) is a term used mostly for “warrior” or “foot soldier,” infantry beside the charioteer. (Bauer 612) The image conveys the idea of battle, and within the immediate context Paul is saying that to rebuild the religion he left is to fight against Christ and the gospel. Common Grounders are transgressors; they intentionally build Islam in the lives of Muslims: “God made you Muslim. Why were you born in a Muslim family?” That is what a leader in this heretical movement told a sixteen year old boy when the boy complained to the leader that some Christians had said he should leave Islam. The leader went on to say, “You know what, we have enough Christians in our church. We don’t need you, but your family does.” This man was rebuilding, preventing the demolition of Islam, and ultimately fighting against Christ. The dialogue went on to say that the boy went home and declared to his father, “I’m a good Muslim.” But the effect of true allegiance to Christ was prophesied by Jesus:
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother….” (Luke 12.49-53)
When Luke writes “from now on” (v. 52) he is using freight-filled vernacular, the connotation of crisis that would pertain to even family relationships. Think of the crisis of faith with its implications as recorded by the Apostle Mark:
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it….For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'” (8.34, ff.)
The cross, the symbol of the ultimate form of Roman capital punishment that was inherently unclean to the Jew, was scandalously offensive when associated with the Messiah. Yet this was the crisis that Jesus imposed on the minds of his hearers. Think of it: that which to the Jews was anathema was the symbol of their only hope! Not only did Jesus not minimize the symbolic impact of the cross, he maximized it by using it to show the Jews just how objectionable, problematic, and radical the life of his follower would be. Compare and contrast the Common Grounders’ disregard for conversion, their allegiance to Islam and indifference to the gospel, and their prioritization of temporal relationships over that of the radical relationship called for by the Son of God.
From the “Common Ground” (C5) Conference held at CTR:
“The Kingdom of God is redefined. The Kingdom of God is not uniquely Christian (or even covenantal as in God’s fulfillment of his covenant with the Jews), but equally draws from various faiths: Christian, Muslim, etc. The C5 strategy, in light of this theology, could potentially be adapted for other faith groups as well, such as Mormons.”
The Common Grounders are attempting to redefine for the church the Kingdom of God. By doing this, not only are they violating the biblical teaching, they are usurping leadership, posing as authorized by Christ. While preparing to address this point the Lord highlighted a verse I was reading that is Old Covenant background to the verse I was studying, so I include its significance. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says to the disciples about those who believe in Jesus but are vulnerable in their child-like trust and dependence upon leadership, “…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (18.1, ff.) Malachi, calling for the repentance of a corrupt priesthood (2.8), identifies the covenant of Levi, hearkening back to the time of Moses when
“…the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” (Numbers 25.1, ff.)
The Bible goes on to say that Phinehas “turned back my wrath from the people of Israel in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy.” Before Phinehas made atonement for the people the Lord had called for the hanging of all the chiefs of Israel. Who were the chiefs but the leaders of the people. It is leadership through whom Common Grounders disseminate their deception, like a farmer broadcasting mingled seed. Note that, in the Parable of the Weeds, it was while they slept that the enemy came and sowed the weed seed. In Jesus’ explanation of this parable he identifies the weeds as “…the sons of the evil one….” (Mt.13.24-30; 38) We must not sleep!
The following is a quote from the same conference held at Christ the Rock Community Church:
“This is the kingdom of God, right here, right here in this room. We have a Jewish follower of Jesus sitting with a Muslim follower of Jesus, and a Christian follower of Jesus.”
The above is thoroughgoing heresy! The conference presenter had illustrated in a workbook a diagram of this conception. Below is a facsimile of it.
Those who teach this conception are irresponsibly philosophizing at best or intentionally misrepresenting the Word of God. The following is what they said in the conference they say to a Muslim that is committed to following Allah but has not accepted Christ:
“So I’ll say, ‘You’ve already started on that straight path. You’ve already stepped into the Kingdom.'”
The quote corresponds with the diagram in that this theology equalizes Islam with the church. But this is not a biblical conception of the Kingdom of God and its entry. Note the phrase “straight path” that the conference presenter used in his description. How, and by what path, has the Muslim entered God’s kingdom? By following Allah? So then, according to his premise, it is equally tenable to say that an adherent committed to any religion has also entered the Kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth!
“Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.” (John 10.1) Jesus explains this verse in verses six and following: “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (v.10) The Greek words translated “thief” and “robber” are κλέπτης and ληστης. The former “implies subtlety and trickery”; the latter “connotes violence and plundering.” (Tenney 107) Jesus is referencing the leadership of Israel and how, after the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.), there had been so many who had attempted to assume the nation’s leadership and overthrow the Roman occupation, factions violently contending for political power. (Tenney 108) There had been much political intrigue and militancy, and Jesus was teaching the people that he was not a “thief” or “robber.” The theological subtlety and violence of the model of C5 contextualization that was taught in the conference is exactly the kind of violation that Scripture is here condemning. It is as if the Common Grounders believe that the theological expedience of redefining biblical truth is, in and of itself, the wresting away of the Kingdom! Many are being deceived!
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1.15) This is THE proclamation of Jesus’ ministry! It is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, and faith in him that stands as the entry to the Kingdom! And whose kingdom is it?
“They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17.14)
Holy Bible; English Standard Version; 2007
Bauer, Walter; A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature; The University of Chicago Press, 1957
Bettenson, Henry; Documents of the Christian Church; Oxford University Press, 1963
Tenney, Merrill C.; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (The Gospel of John); Gaebelein, Frank E., General Editor; Zondervan, 1973
Conference Quotes are from a conferee’s audio recording of the Common Ground Conference hosted by Christ The Rock Community Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, August 21 and 22, 2009.
The Kingdom diagram is a facsimile that I created myself of the Common Ground conference workbook diagram.