Let me explain. MacArthur and Johnson believe that the doctrine and practice revealed in Scripture should be ranked into categories of essentials and non-essentials, sometimes also referred to as primary and secondary or tertiary doctrines. You'll also hear the "essentials" called "fundamental" or "core" doctrines. In Johnson's message at the conference, he said that the gospel was the essential for Christian fellowship, so that the gospel is also the basis for separation from other professing brethren. MacArthur and Johnson would also say that we don't make standards of practice except from statements in scripture, that is, we can't require any kind of behavior that you can't read right from the text.
In the first part of this series of posts, I showed how in his sermon from Paul's epistle to Titus that Johnson violated his own teachings in these above areas. How?
1. He moved the speech of a believer into the category of an essential (not just the gospel).
2. He made the speech of a believer a separating issue (not just the gospel).
3. He said that Scripture forbid a believer from using certain words in his speech, when the identity of those words is found nowhere in the Bible.
More about the Sermon by Johnson
In his sermon from Titus, Phil Johnson wove the conduct of a believer into the gospel itself. He made speech an essential by tying it into the gospel, what he had said was the essential. Phil is right that behavior comes out of the gospel. The book of James says the same thing. We might say we have faith, that is, we've believed the gospel, but if we don't have works, then it isn't genuine faith. When the children of Israel received the Lord in Deuteronomy 30 (the text that Paul quotes in Romans 10:6-9), they agreed to do everything that God had told them He wanted them to do. Their faith was tied into obedience to all that God had taught them.
What's new about this, as far as what I've read and heard from these conservative evangelicals, is their willingness to separate over a practical and really a cultural issue. There is a cultural application to bad speech. Greek foul language is different than English foul language, which is different than French foul language. We must discern what the corrupt terms are in the culture to make the application of Titus 2. And this is raised to the level of an essential for the first time I've ever heard from an evangelical.
It isn't that I don't agree with Johnson on this. I do. My problem is that he is applying it so selectively to the behavior that in particular offends him. Other conduct that is unscriptural and worldly, they allow to go, even though it is just as Cretan as the bad language. The pictures on this post are from the MacArthur's Master's College website. One promotes the trap set and the other boys having their hands on the girls, despite the scriptural instruction that it is not good for a man to touch a woman. They use this to attract young people to their school. Is this pragmatism?
A couple of times at Johnson's blog, he has posted pictures of women with their thighs showing---one of a woman diver and the other a video of a female sprinter in tiny speedo, panty-like shorts. When criticized, he becomes defensive and even derisive. From all his evangelical friends come the most hateful words you will see in his comment section. They see this kind of picture as a liberty and one about which they do not want judgment at all. On one occasion, he wrote: "For all the fundamentalist lurkers whose minds are in the gutter, the girl in the picture is wearing shorts, not a miniskirt or hotpants." He labels his critics as having an "artificial sanctimony." Mark Driscoll could probably use the same defense that Johnson makes against Johnson's sermon, which targets Driscoll.
In the Biographical Sketch by Murray
How does this tie in with the Iain Murray biography of MacArthur? Murray, vaunting MacArthur, wrote concerning him (p. 48): "The truth is that his parents and mentors had recognized how time that (sic) is wasted and unity lost when brethren major on minor subjects---and expect all to agree with them." Later he gave this further description on this point (p. 56): "[MacArthur] has made it clear that it is the ideas fellow-believers have supported, not their persons, which he is opposing; and where separation over essential truth is necessary, he insists that it has to be without 'abusive, spiteful, or venomous, (sic) behavior toward others.'" So we hear repeatedly "majors" and "minors" and then "essential truth."
I showed in the first post how that music and worship has not been one of those essential truths for Johnson and MacArthur. Now they are saying right speech is essential, which is directed towards men, but they don't see worship to be worthy of that designation, despite it's being directed toward God. God, of course, is more scrupulous than we are. That should matter, but it hasn't to Johnson and MacArthur. They make worship something about which we can agree to disagree. To them, language an essential, worship not an essential.
Murray spent two whole pages in a sixty page biographical sketch criticizing MacArthur over this. He wrote (p. 57):
I want to add a measure of regret that MacArthur does not seem to have given fuller attention to an issue connected with all these controversies. The contemporary decline in public worship bears a relationship to antinomianism, with the charismatic movement, and with the practice of the Church of Rome. . . . A lost consciousness of the majesty of God has turned worship into providing what people desire.
Murray talked about MacArthur's position that music is "only a matter of taste" (p. 57) and has a "subordinate place" to the gospel if it has a good intention (p. 58):
How does this argument differ from the pragmatism which says we may give people what they desire, provided our intention is goo and not actually forbidden in Scripture? Protestant history does not favor that argument. I twas readiness to supply what people liked that brought on the corruption that necessitated the Reformation. In the words of John Owen, 'Dislike of the purity and simplicity of the gospel worship is that which was the rise of, and gave increase or progress unto the whole Romans apostasy.'"
So Murray spends considerable space going after MacArthur for his negligence in this area. Murray says that MacArthur is pragmatic with his music. And he isn't talking about the words, but about the music itself.(1) He is saying what anyone knows about music. Music itself has a message that it communicates in notes and sounds and composition and chords and dynamics a meaning that can fit with the nature of God or is incompatible with God and His attributes. Of course, worship is directed to God. Since God is greater than man, the communication to God must be subjected to even greater scrutiny than the speech to men.
Great harm is done to the respect of God's Word when pastors use smutty language while preaching. I believe greater damage is done to people's understanding of Who God is when worldly, fleshly music is offered up to Him as worship. Why don't MacArthur and Johnson care about that? Why doesn't it bother them what God is hearing? Why does MacArthur not only allow it go on but participate in the production of it? Most of the church growth books talk about the worldly music being a key ingredient to get and keep people in the church. Just like the right speech, the right music must adorn the gospel of God. It is true that in the speech issue, we must discern what is foul language, but it is also true that in the worship issue that we must discern what is profane music. Both types of discernment can and should be done.
(1)Part of the music curriculum at MacArthur's Master's College is the jazz program. Here is the Master's College jazz concert. Is this sensual? Does it make provision for the flesh?