In this article here, Carl Trueman writes as a complementarian, but one who is wondering what the big deal is. Here is the money quote near the end:
“It is thus not complementarianism in itself to which I object; I am simply not sure why it is such a big issue in organisations whose stated purpose is basic co-operation for the propagation of the gospel and where other matters of more historic, theological and ecclesiastical moment are routinely set aside. If you want simply to unite around the gospel, then why not simply unite around the gospel?”
In this response I will not be engaging with all the fun little conundra that Trueman points out about the practices of evangelical ecumenicity — e.g. the visiting Presbyterian pastor who can fill the pulpit in a Baptist church, but who can’t take communion there. I can go one better than that. I preached from a psalm of David this morning (68), called it the word of God, but freely acknowledge that it was penned by a man who couldn’t be an elder in our church, adultery and murder being the initial reasons that might be given. How’s that for weird? Life is funny that way.
I want to give three simple answers to Trueman’s question. Why not simply unite around the gospel, if that is what the big deal is?
1. Uniting around the gospel, and that’s all, is not possible. The true gospel encompasses all of life. Reductionism can be applied to lots of things, but the gospel is not one of them. Those who unite on the gospel, but who differ on baptism, eschatology, etc. will invariably be men who agree on a host of other things that were shaped, regulated, and formed by the gospel, but which are pretty much unnoticed by everybody. The fact that such massive agreement is unnoticed does not mean that it is not there.
2. The true gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus) calls us to a life of repentance and faith, and it is not possible to work together with men “in the gospel” when they are refusing to call people to repent of the principal corruption of our day, which is that of sexual confusion. This confusion includes homosexuality, porn, fornication, divorce, women’s ordination, and so on. This is the front line of the battle, and if I decline to strike hands with a man who is confused at this point, I am not saying that he is going to Hell. I am only saying that if he cannot detect a strategic moment in history like this, then he ought not to be a general. Keep him on our side, but him back in the Red Cross tent and ask him to wind some bandages.
3. And lest we wave our hands over the spot, as Naaman was hoping Elisha would do (2 Kings 5:11), and say that there is baptist hermeneutic out there, a feminist hermeneutic, a premill hermeneutic, and who’s to say anymore? — the true gospel tells us what sorts of foibles and errors (from our perspective) we should let pass by for the sake of unity, and why we should do this, and which ones we shouldn’t. The Bible talks about this. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” I would invite into my pulpit a man who believed in triune immersion, but not a man who believed in triune marriage — even if they both signed the same “gospel statement.”