On Saturday thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC for Together 2016. This event was billed as a time for Christians from around the country, and around the world, to make a stand for Jesus and “reset” their lives in repentance.
Well-known pastors and musicians marked the gathering. Before the event had to be called off due to excessive heat, there were seven hours of wonderful testimonies, challenging messages, impassioned prayers, and heartfelt singing by all in attendance. The theme of “unity” and standing “one in Jesus” ran throughout the day.
I didn’t see or hear everything during those seven hours, but I saw much of it. And as I watched, I found myself encouraged, convicted, and concerned.
I wish all those who scoffingly claim that Christianity is dying off could have seen what was happening on the Mall this weekend. This gathering of impassioned believers boldly proclaimed that Jesus is still the most relevant name in the universe.
They came together in prayer, singing, and crying out to God. Together 2016 was a bit nostalgic for me. During the first summer following my conversion, I attended One Day 2000. During that gathering I heard John Piper challenge us not to waste our lives. It was a pivotal day for me, and I suspect Together 2016 will be the same for many others.
There were people from many tribes, languages, nations, and generations. Skin colors were diverse, but the prayers were unified. Themes of justice and righteousness marked the day. The songs, most of the people who spoke, and the regular pauses to pray about loving God, repentance, and our need for Jesus were heartfelt.
As Francis Chan reminded us at the end of the day, following Jesus will not be the popular thing to do, but it will be eternally worth it. I praise God that He is raising up another generation of believers who desire to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost.
I must confess, I approached the event with a critical spirit. Over the past ten years, my theological convictions have deepened—and I anticipated that most of them would be grated against during this event. And they were.
Lack of theological precision, careless phrasing of words, and the emotionalism that marks evangelicalism were not difficult to find.
But that’s when the Holy Spirit convicted me with a scene from the Gospels. In Luke 9, we find an account of a few of Jesus’ disciples getting irritated that people were doing ministry in a way they weren’t.
“John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you’” (Luke 9:49-50).
In the opening minutes of the event God convicted me of spiritual pride. I was reminded that Jesus is doing great things in His Name among people who are very different than me. And regardless of who is ministering, Jesus is always working in spite of our feeble efforts. As one of my professors used to say, “The Holy Spirit loves to work in the midst of our mess.”
Praise God for that!
The Body of Christ is diverse and we must all learn from and be encouraged by one another. I have plenty of my own issues and blind spots, as do the people in my theological camp. It is easy to sit back and be critical of others who don’t do things the way I would. But that attitude isn’t pleasing to Jesus.
He would say to people like me, “the one who is not against you is for you.” After a few moments of conviction, the Spirit broke my pride and gave me the freedom to rejoice in the good work God was doing in my brothers and sisters on the Mall.
But that joy didn’t leave me without a concern.
Calling us to be “together” is a noble thing. There are countless things that divide us unnecessarily. Many of these were addressed wonderfully during the event. But the one thing that actually brings a unity that pleases God was not always clear; and was at times even undermined.
At one point in the first session, a group of men came on stage to pray, including a Roman Catholic. What he said was encouraging and true. But having him on stage to speak and pray (plus promoting the event with a video from Pope Francis) was a tragic decision that may have been overlooked by many in the swirl of all the encouragement.
While it is true that #JesusChangesEverything, this is not the truth that unifies believers. What unifies Christians is that Jesus died and rose and that anyone who repents and believes in Him and His work alone will be saved. The organizers of the event seemed to work so hard to bring down walls of division, that they intentionally neglected to be clear about the Gospel of justification by faith alone.
We must remember that the Protestant Reformation happened for a reason. The theological truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is eternally important. And sadly, this was dangerously distorted on Saturday as thousands watched it happen.
In the days since the Protestant Reformation, more people were executed or exiled over the truths that were brushed aside today than the number of people who were in attendance at the event.
Should we work for unity at great cost? Yes.
Should we pursue unity at all costs? Never.
As J.C. Ryle said in Warnings to the Churches, “never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth upon the altar of peace.”
I believe we should work together with people of all faiths for issues of religious freedom and social justice. But I do not believe that Jesus would have us sacrifice precious truths He shed His blood for in order to have togetherness.
I deeply believe that the organizers of Together 2016 are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some dear friends of mine participated in the event today. I do think the true Gospel was proclaimed by numerous speakers and performers. I am certain the motivations of the organizers are to get the Gospel to more people. And I trust the LORD will do great things through the event today.
However, muddying the Gospel will not help any of this come to pass. The best way to love those who are in error over the Gospel is not to link arms with them, but to help them see the importance of our differences.
Whether this sort of gathering will happen again or not, I do not know. But we who are Christians must remember that before Jesus prayed for us to be “one,” He prayed for us to be “sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-23), because after all it is “the truth that will set you free” (John 8:32).
Why is it “tragic” that the pope, who (like it or not) is the face of Christianity for much of the world, just encouraged young people to look to Jesus in response to the restlessness in their hearts? Why is that tragic? He didn’t encourage people to enter into the Catholic church or start praying the rosary. He encouraged young people to look to Jesus. Didn’t you cite Luke 9:49-50 earlier in your post?
Thanks Walt. I’m not sure how much you understand about the differences in Roman Catholic teaching and the teaching of Christianity. The blurring of this line is what I think is tragic because that line is eternally significant. I personally like the Pope in many ways, but he isn’t the face of Christianity, he is the face of Roman Catholicism which teaches that one gets to heaven by grace and what we do where the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, not by our works in any way. This confusion is what I find tragic.
Thanks for elaborating. Though I missed what the other Catholic participant said, I was encouraged by the pope’s words. God is able to speak truth through anyone (donkey? King Saul? demon-possessed slave girl?). Perhaps any Catholics who attended were drawn toward a more evangelical understanding of their faith.
I would pray the same thing. Amen.
I don’t think it’s critical to expect the true gospel be preached at a “Christian” event.
Unity at all costs will allow more watered down gospel to go forth. It’s true that only Jesus can save this world. But, if you confuse people they will be pointed to a different Jesus.
It’s disheartening to see people come together and not clearly proclaim the truth. I think it does more harm than good. I see your point about feeling encouraged that people came together to proclaim the name of Jesus. But, I would ask if it would be ok to have Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses at the event? They are not against us either. For me, the pros did not outweigh the cons. So, I skipped the event. Thank you for writing this post. It’d good to hear other points of view.
This event was a true tragedy…It’s as if the protestant reformation never happened and Luther would be rolling over in his grave. What fellowship does light have with darkness? The catholic church is in darkness, and for us to pretend otherwise, is unloving to the catholic people.
The person above said “God is able to speak through a donkey”, Yes of course, but in Hebrews it says in the latter days God spoke through His Son Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t look for “signs and wonders” from God, we should look in the Word of God.
As an ex catholic, I know the dangers of their beliefs. They teach another gospel (galatians 1:8), they state salvation by works, they deny the finished work of Jesus, they re-crucify Jesus at every communion, they put priests in the place of God (Jesus is our high priest), they pray to the dead, they state their pope is infallible yet even Paul (their first pope) was rebuked by Peter. They also got rid of the 2nd commandment and they bow down to idols made by human hands. They also believe in the apocrypha which contradicts the old testament. If anyone doesn’t have discernment about this church, I pray you research and look up John Macarthur’s sermons.
Chan had an amazing opportunity to preach the real gospel. To tell the lost people that we cannot pray with them because they pray to a different god. Chan had the opportunity to tell them that they have a true Father in heaven and they don’t have to call a man in a white robe “father”. But Chan didn’t. Instead, he called us to unify and pray together and worship together with lost people desperately needing the gospel. What unity does light have with darkness?
I share similar thoughts with you on all three points Garrett. Though I did not attend the event and had little desire to, based on your brief description it sounds about what I was expecting. Not necessarily bad or evil or anything like that, but fraught with dangerous complications. Your third point in particular I find bothersome. When people try to bring together the Catholic and Protestant churches, they simply are failing to understand the fundamental difference between the two. We preach different gospels; there’s no way around it. So to try and pretend like all that separates us are nominal distinctives is irresponsible.
I too felt it was inappropriate to include the Pope. I find that many evangelicals are very ignorant of what Catholicism really is, as well as forgetful of Church history. There was a whole BIG REFORMATION battle over 400 years ago (to recover the true Gospel) that happened in conflict with the RCC, because of their authority & doctrinal abuses & errors. The RCC even launched a 30 year war and Counter-reformation over this, with various European States who were defecting from their so-called “Holy Roman Empire.” It culminated with the Council of Trent, which basically condemned the Reformational recovery of the true Gospel, and re-asserted RCC & Papal authority over everybody in regards to salvation (and those declarations have never been rescinded). They militarily lost control of many Countries, but others they have remained dominant over to this day. They kept asserting themselves all the way up to after WW2 and then decided on a new strategy with the Vatican 2, of watering down the conflict and their militant rhetoric & tactics, and a cosmetic change of appeasement towards evangelicals who were winning multiple millions of RC people over to the true gospel and out of the Church, especially in America. The RCC has proven very adept at syncretizing with pagan idolatries in the past (just re-naming pagan idols as various “saints” etc., and allowing continued idol-statue worship, in direct contradiction to the 2nd Commandment). So in the USA & elsewhere they decided to syncretize with evangelicalism (since they couldn’t beat em they decided to join em – regarding the evangelicals & catholics unity movement). Most evangelicals are proving very naive’ about it, not really knowing the reality of what it is like to grow up in the RCC. Well I do. Both my wife & I grew up in devout RCC families & Churches & schools. I never heard the gospel there, all my growing up years (and none of my family are saved to this day – parents nor 6 brothers & 5 sisters – thanks to their insistence on sticking with that Church). Thankfully the Lord broke through to me with the Gospel back in my college days when I finally was away from home and on my own, and met some Campus Crusade for Christ people, who invited me to a Bible study (which I had never cracked open in all my life in a devout RC home). My wife had a similar experience, and was led to the Lord by a non-RC H.S. friend, just before she went to college, and then also got linked up with CRU, where we met. Those of us who got saved out of that RCC reality know that that was just a dead religious substitute for true Christianity – a counterfeit! Asking the Pope to join an evangelical gospel rally to me is equivalent to asking the chief Apostle-President of the Mormon Church to join in as well; or the Leader of the JW Church: or any other world religion leader, as if we are all about the same thing – BUNK!!! For Nick Hall to be gushing with excitement over this and calling the Pope “His Holiness” is the absolute depth of un-discernment, even though he seems a legit guy himself. Anyway, the RCC version of the”gospel” is just as the Apostle Paul said in Galations 1 and elsewhere, another/perverted gospel, that really is no gospel at all, and is eternally condemned (as per Gal.1:6-9). They teach faith in Christ + RCC sacraments and other good works = salvation; and if you don’t quite clean away all of your sins through the “grace”-soap-dispenser of the RCC, then you can still get into Heaven’s back-door by suffering in purgatory for whatever sin-debt isn’t covered (and other family & friends still alive on earth can help you get out of purgatory earlier by giving special offerings & things to the RCC). This is the so called “gospel” and reality we grew up with, and that many of my family and old school friends are still sadly-mistakenly clinging to to this day. So this is not about “fellowshipping” with other “Christians” who just worship a little more traditionally than we do, but who still “love” Jesus. The RCC rank & file & officials generally worship & love “another Jesus” as per 2Cor.11:4, rather than the true Biblical one, and that is because the RC Church authorities keep them all largely ignorant of the Bible (we were always told we couldn’t properly understand or interpret it, so just let the Priests spoon feed little portions of it to us, and of course let the whole Church Magisterium & Historical Dogma and Catachisms and the Pope tell us what it “really means.” Some nominal RC people do get saved, but that is because of input they get from outside their Church, and then some do not have the discernment or understanding of true RCC teaching to realize that the RCC is actually a contradictory religion. That is my 2 cents worth, to try and help open evangelical eyes.
BTW it was a very good article indeed, and we do not want to give the impression that we hate Catholics (or anybody from any other religion for that matter). Most Catholics (as well as any other religion) just become that as a matter of growing up in such a religious family, and most people are just motivated to go along and get along with their families and not rock the boat. I am glad at least that the RCC decided to stop being so militant & aggressive in trying to gain or retain adherents (or recover those defecting). But it is important to realize that even with this calmer-gentler approach they are subtley still undermining the true Gospel & salvation. But nonetheless God is and has been Sovereignly over-ruling that in converting many Catholics anyway (like myself). I also understand that with such a cosmetic face-lift to the RCC, most evangelically raised people have the wrong impression of it, and assume it is just like the difference between Coke & Pepsi – no big deal. Historically this syncretism synergy began when the Billy Graham Crusades were having great effect and garnering tremendous media attention & coverage in the early decades. That is when the RCC was going through a Vatican 2 renaissance, and then Billy Graham’s evangelical awakening movement was at its height as it finally came to the Big Apple, New York City. As BG tells in his autobiography, the RCC officials in NYC came to him and appealed to him to let them endorse and participate in the Crusade. Though he was leary, when he explained to him his message that he would not alter for anybody, they gave agreement to that. That was their can’t fight them join them stradegy. I believe it was a bit undiscerning on BG’s (and the BGEA org’s) part, because then they had to refer all the names of responders who identified as RCC-ers to the NYC-RCC for follow up. I believe it was also a strategic policy decision by BG & co., because they figured this would open up many RC people to come and hear the true gospel, and if the Spirit moved them to conversion at the Crusade then the RCC could not reverse that spiritual regeneration reality, even if the RCC followed up to keep them from thinking that they had to leave their Church over it.. BG also had his own follow up materials and magazine subscription that every convert or inquirer would get directly, so I suppose he felt they could kind of do an end-run type of discipleship anyway, and then just let the Lord work out the further details of their spiritual journey (letting the chips fall where they may). That is still the BGEA strategy-policy to this day (and I am sure influenced Nick Hall as he consulted with BG over this event, and is on an advisory board of theirs), and I can’t necessarily fault it, as it was just what presented itself, and it is understandable how they might have felt led to go with it as such. However that did open the door for a broader sense in Evangelicaldom that the RCC was just a fellow team in the same league, rather than the different religion that it historically morphed into from good beginnings. That all culminated with the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together in Unity” movement undiscerningly endorsed by many evangelical & RCC leaders in America, which called for a prohibition against proselytizing (ie evangelizing) each other, as just being “sheep stealing,” since we are all supposedly part of the same flock & Shepherd. But that is very untrue, and certainly not the reality that I know of in the RCC world I grew up with. It is my hope that RC people could know the real truth of the gospel, and just as I would with Mormons or JW’s or any other person of some other religion, the need is to help them see how the gospel is different & credible, as opposed to what their religious organization and source documents are teaching & trusting in. Gospel Blessings everyone 🙂
Brothers and sisters, there was nothing encouraging about this ecumenical event. nothing!
The main organizer of this event has no idea what the Gospel is, Reset? Really?
Grieved at how many good solid Bible teachers were part of it. Wake up every one, wake it
Hey Team, stumbled across this and thought I’d lend my voice. @Garrett thanks for the humility of your post and for being open to listen at an event that was outside the box. If more people took this posture before posting, our team wouldn’t have felt so attacked leading up to this! All that to say, I was encouraged by your post. Thank you.
It’s too bad the story with the RCC got so blown out of context. We literally had zero interaction or involvement with any Catholic connections (other than an item on our prayer wall praying for Catholics to attend) until the Pope wanted to encourage Catholics to attend this evangelical-led event. As I’m sure you can imagine, when you pray a group attends and then their leader wants to shoot an endorsement video, that’s pretty exciting! Now please note here that most of our leadership grew up in mainline Catholic or Lutheran families so there’s definitely not a lack of understanding or knowledge, or desire to somehow minimize doctrinal differences. If anything I would say our decision was made through the lens of relationship for those we knew would now feel welcomed (and free) to attend. If any of this involved any changing of messaging from stage, we wouldn’t have even considered it – but this was basically just the Catholic Church sending their endorsement. Maybe some would have not used it or would have taken the chance to use it to make an example of differences… but for us we just wanted the name of Jesus to be lifted high for all to hear and without any barriers – with a clear call for repentance (reset) to each person in our country at Together and then from the day we drove people back to the cores of prayer, scripture, evangelism and service. And by God’s grace, tens of thousands of people have been actively engaging in these areas every day since the event!
But all that to say, thanks again Garrett for your post. I’m always encouraged to know there are pastors and preachers across our nation shepherding with such a passion for truth with love. Maybe sometime I can stop by!
Thanks for your kind words, and your ministry for our Lord. If you’re ever in the area, would love to connect. Lunch or dinner is on me.