The Cost of Compromise
Martin Luther wasn’t prone to compromise. He famously said in his sermon “Knowledge of God’s Will and Its Fruit”:
The world at the present time is sagaciously discussing how to quell the controversy and strife over doctrine and faith, and how to effect a compromise between the Church and the Papacy. Let the learned, the wise, it is said, bishops, emperor and princes, arbitrate. Each side can easily yield something, and it is better to concede some things which can be construed according to individual interpretation, than that so much persecution, bloodshed, war, and terrible, endless dissension and destruction be permitted.
Here is lack of understanding, for understanding proves by the Word that such patchwork is not according to God’s will, but that doctrine, faith and worship must be preserved pure and unadulterated; there must be no mingling with human nonsense, human opinions or wisdom.
The Scriptures give us this rule: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
It is interesting to speculate what the church would be like today if Luther had compromised. The pressure was heavy on him to tone down his teaching, soften his message, and stop poking his finger in the eye of the papacy. Even many of his friends and supporters urged Luther to come to terms with Rome for the sake of harmony in the church. Luther himself prayed earnestly that the effect of his teaching would not be divisive.
Compromised truth has no hope of rescuing the eternal souls of men and women
When he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door, the last thing he wanted to do was split the church.
Yet sometimes division is fitting, even healthy, for the church. Especially in times like Luther’s—and like ours—when the visible church seems full of counterfeit Christians, it is right for the true people of God to declare themselves and defend the truth. Compromise is sometimes a worse evil than division. Second Corinthians 6:14-17 isn’t speaking only of marriage when it says:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Satan, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
Sadly, this familiar command to separate is frequently both misunderstood and violated. But Paul is not giving believers license for legalism, sectarianism, or monasticism.
Instead, he’s drawing on an analogy from the Mosaic law. In Deuteronomy 22:10, the Lord commanded the Israelites, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” Those two animals do not have the same nature, gait, or strength. Therefore it would be impossible for such a mismatched pair to plow together effectively. They would be unequally yoked.
Paul’s meaning is clear: believers and unbelievers are two very different creatures and cannot work together in the spiritual realm. He called for separation in matters of the work of God, since such cooperation for spiritual benefit is impossible.
We sometimes tend to think of the early church as pristine, pure, and untroubled by serious error. The truth is, it wasn’t that way at all.
From the very beginning, the enemies of truth launched an effort to infiltrate and confuse the people of God by mangling the truth and by blending lies with Christian doctrine. Attacks against the truth regularly came not only from persecutors on the outside but also from false teachers and professing believers within the visible community of the church.
That was the case in the Corinthian church, where false teachers brought with them a quasi-Christian syncretism of gospel truth, Jewish legalism, and pagan mysticism. They were eager to blend the people of God with the pagan worshipers, and the truth of Scripture with the lies of Satan.
That kind of spiritual blending is exactly what Jude warns against in the third verse of his short epistle. “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Through the pen of Jude, the Holy Spirit urges us to exercise caution, discernment, courage, and the will to contend for the truth.
Notice what we are supposed to be fighting for. It is not anything petty, personal, mundane, or ego related. It’s not mere wrangling between competing ideologies. It’s not a campaign to refine someone’s religious creed or win denominational bragging rights. It’s not a battle of wits, or a game of any kind.
What we are called to defend is no less than “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” He’s talking about a serious struggle to safeguard the heart and soul of the truth itself and unleash that truth against the powers of darkness. Compromised truth has no hope of rescuing the eternal souls of men and women who have been unwittingly ensnared by the trap of devilish deception.
This is a battle we cannot wage effectively if we always try to come across to the world as merely nice, nonchalant, docile, agreeable, fun-loving people. We must not take our cues from others who are perfectly happy to compromise the truth whenever possible for “harmony’s” sake. Friendly dialog may sound affable and pleasant. But neither Christ nor the apostles ever confronted serious, soul-destroying error by building collegial relationships with false teachers. In fact, we are expressly forbidden to do that (Romans 16:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 Timothy 3:5, 2 John 10-11).
The appearance of unity, no matter how enticing, is not worth sacrificing the clarity of the gospel
Infiltrating churches under the guise of tolerance and cooperation is one of Satan’s most cunning ploys. He does not want to fight the church as much as join it. Undiscerning believers who partner in a common spiritual cause with unbiblical forms of Christianity or other false religions open the door wide to satanic corruption. The appearance of unity, no matter how enticing, is not worth sacrificing the clarity of the gospel.
Furthermore, embracing those heretical systems falsely reassures their followers that all is well between them and God, when actually they are headed for eternal damnation. Partnering in a spiritual enterprise with unbelievers helps Satan muddy the doctrinal waters, and it cripples our ability to preach the need for repentance.
Scripture is clear about how we are to respond when the very foundations of the Christian faith are under attack: our duty is to contend, not compromise.