Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taking Liberties that Are Not Ours to Take

I can't climb through an open window into your house without being invited. That's not a liberty that is mine to take. I don't get to borrow your car because the door is unlocked and the keys are in the ignition. You understand those in a personal way. You also can comprehend certain actions like those on a little larger level. I can't take my entire salary in cash under the table without paying taxes. I may not like most of the government, but I still owe the IRS. I might know how to get away with copying someone's CD, but that isn't a liberty that is mine to take. It's against the law.

Last weekend's NFL football brought some controversy. When the Green Bay Packers lost in overtime, two plays stood out as a violation of the rules. In the Packers final drive, their first possession of the overtime period, they received a ten yard holding penalty, but replays showed that their quarterback was hit with a clear helmet-to-helmet tackle by a Cardinal defender. It was an immistakable illegal play that should have given at least a replay of the down. There would not have been a third and five play that ended in a Cardinal defensive touchdown. In the final play of the game, photographs show the Cardinal defender pulling down the Packer quarterback's helmet by grabbing his face mask. Not only would the Cardinal touchdown be overturned, but the Packers would have been moved fifteen yards forward because of the personal foul. Those incidents occurred on two of the final four plays of the game that, if called, could have changed the outcome of the game. I don't think any Packer fan believes that the Cardinal players should have had the liberty to get away with those two penalties against their team. Spectators understand that those kind of plays happen, but they don't believe that they should be allowed. They don't think that those are liberties that the officials should take in refereeing the game. They want the rules followed.

Many today seem to take a different approach with God. They take liberties with God that do not belong to them. They don't react the same way about God's laws being violated that they would about someone entering their house through an open window or a player committing a penalty against their team. They seem to think that they can take liberties with God that shouldn't be allowed in these lesser realms of life.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't expect liberties taken that shouldn't be taken. They will. We all sin. We all struggle with sins. We fall sometimes. But it's a wholly different matter when the liberties taken are not just overlooked but codified as acceptable and even superior behavior.

God says immerse. Someone sprinkles. God says immerse believers. Someone sprinkles infants. Those are not liberties that anyone should take with what God said, but they do. But what has now become the bigger problem? That someone doesn't accept this liberty that has been taken with what God said. It's not the sprinkling of infants that is today the problem, but that someone will break fellowship or separate from the one who has taken a liberty with what God said. God doesn't fellowship with unrepentant disobedience or sin. But we do out of what we see as love. God is love. He won't fellowship with it, but we will because of love. We're indicating that our love and our unity is superior to God's. That doesn't mean that we can't rejoice in some truth that the infant sprinkler believes, but do we fellowship with him when he tolerates this violation of God's plain teaching?

What is even more pernicious about this practice of taking liberties is that it now uses the gospel as a basis for it. These people are together for the gospel. They see themselves as having a robust, large kind of love that can overlook a false doctrine or practice for the sake of a transcendent unity. It isn't love. It is at best sentimentalism. It isn't about God. It's about being big. About having more friends. About not having to do the hard thing. About looking good in a world that values toleration above obedience and egalitarianism above authority.

This taking of liberties reflects on a view of either the plainness or authority of the Bible. Nowhere does Scripture tell us to allow for these differences. And we have enough of a grasp on language that we don't practice the same way almost anywhere else, essentially with areas that deal with our own tangible well-being. We don't nuance on what constitutes someone opening their car door into our car's paint job. We can see the ding. It's plain to us. It's our car after all. We don't want a car with a ding in it. We might forgive the act, but we do not embrace an acceptance or toleration of the continued practice of it. People are not at liberty to keep denting our automobile.

Because of the nature of this type of discussion anymore, I must say that when I use the example of infant sprinkling, it is just an example. This is not an essay about infant sprinkling. I know how hard it is, however, for people to accept certain other examples, even cessation of the sign gifts---tongues, healings, and miracles. Or public nudity. The conversation can easily turn junior high. It usually does on this. "He's a flame-throwing fundamentalist." "He's someone that's part of a very small and insignificant group of people who haven't found wide acceptance." "I can tell you from other conversations that I've had with him that he's unbalanced." "He wants to put women in burkhas." "He thinks that ladies who wear pants are going to Hell." This is a craft often learned in the high school locker room and then applied in theological circles.

When everything is finished, however, you still have God having said what He said and knowing what He knows. He's the judge. As much posturing and duplicity can be utilized as possible, but God is still on the throne. It is to Him and His Word to Whom we're accountable. And we know from His Word that He doesn't give us liberty not to follow what He said. He is of a very detailed nature that expects those specifics to be kept. He said no to any single item in Jericho, and one garment resulted in dozens killed. Nadab and Abihu died for a wrong recipe for the altar of incense. We can see how God looks at things. He is less lenient than most make Him out to be, even in areas of methodology.

The gospel brings liberty. Not to sin. Not to worship God the way we want. Not to be a stumbling block to the weaker brother. Not to be a bad testimony. Not as an occasion to the flesh. Not to disobey what the Bible teaches about separation. But to live in a way that pleases Him.


Anvil said...

You seem to be implying we have absolute clarity from scripture on every point, such that there can be no disagreement among true believers.

The text you use for "no pants on women," Deut. 22:5 could be likened to a law that says I can't deface your lawn, because it's your property. OK, it's obvious that I can't remove things from your lawn, paint it, leave big gashes in it, etc., but without a clause stating such, it would not be clear that I can't walk across it (assuming you don't have a big, no-trespassing sign posted). You might argue that the grass is defaced by walking on it, since some blades of grass might not recover, etc., but in absence of a clear, unequivocal definition of walking on grass being equivalent to defacing, there will be argument over that point.

The argument over Deut. 22:5 is similar. Your second premise, namely that pants can never be a female garment, does not get unequivocally clear support from scripture, so many will come to a different conclusion from you, as long as the women is not dressing in man's garments and vice versa. If pants can ever be a female garment, then female pants would be OK under the terms of Deut. 22:5.

Baptism and some of the other things you mention are clearer, but obviously not as clear as the Gospel itself, otherwise there would be as much agreement over those issues as there is over the Gospel.

After a number of posts on similar topics, you still have not made clear how you consider *any* fellowship outside your local church possible, since there will always be some small point of disagreement on doctrine with *every* other pastor.

Gary said...

Do you think that separationing over the minors is pleasing to God or a thrill to Satan? My church works with other denominations when it comes to things like feeding the homeless and Christian Youth Theater. We have great fellowship with alot of the local churches in our community, from Baptist to Methodist, and from Lutheran to Church of God. I'll betcha Peter probably took part in the Lord's supper when visiting the other churches.

We do not have fellowship with the Mormons or the JWs as they are cults and teach a different gospel. I believe that as long as the churches hold to the same gospel message, unity in the community is great and shows God's body at work.

Gary Webb said...

Great article brother Brandenburg. It is simple, straightforward, easy to understand, & by the responses, very provocative to those who want to find reasons not to obey.

I don't know what type of church you are in, but it is clearly not one that takes obedience to the Bible very seriously. By the way, I would be interested in your Scriptural justification for a church "feeding the homeless" or providing "Christian Youth Theater". If you can provide that Scriptural basis, then give your basis for working with churches that teach baptismal regeneration and consubstantiation.

I didn't see the "implication" in what Brandenburg wrote. What I see implied & stated is that we ought to fear God & be careful not to violate God's commands. That mindset would cause us to carefully consider how they are to be applied ... not try to find some reason not to apply them.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Perhaps I'll write a scriptural presentation of the perspecuity of Scripture some time, because we have a basis for believing that we can understand what God said. One of the predominant attacks on Scripture in the age in which we live is one on the clarity of the Bible. We could hardly expect almost anyone to obey it if we can't know what God is saying. So yes, I assume people can know what it says or else I wouldn't have a basis for almost anything I do as a pastor.

What my article presents is taught in the Bible. What you are presenting in your comment, I don't find anywhere. At best you could go to the end of 2 Peter and say that certain things are hard to be understood, but he seems to be talking about the eschatological texts of Paul and it doesn't mean that they can't be understood. Because I can see in Scripture that God expects us to get what He said, I should expect the same. In the end, it is true that God will sort through everything, but I'm not willing to take liberties with what He said right now.

On the Deut 22:5 issue, which wasn't a focus of this article. I'm thinking about the gospel coalitions that ignore things that I talked about in the post. And my big problem is that they codify the acceptance of false teaching and practice. That also means that they buy into scriptural muddiness.

You say that one thing that is clear is the gospel. Is that what you think that even Christians think today? Look at all the varied presentations of the gospel today and the disagreement about what constitutes that.

The best argument that you or anyone else has given against what I'm writing above and then in the other times I've written on this is some kind of pointing out something in my or others' behavior, and saying, "see you get together with those you disagree with." Even if that were true, I don't take the position that we get together based on maybe one doctrinal point---the gospel. I say maybe, because even in that there is more leeway than should be allowed.


When I read your comment, I find a foundational or fundamental problem. Who determines what is major and minor and where in scripture are we told that the unrepentant violation of the so-called "minors" (which I don't see at all in the Bible) are worthy of ignoring. Jesus died for our breaking of those minors, so God takes them seriously. And that's without me saying I believe there are minors. What Rom 14 says is that we receive one another in those areas that are non-scriptural issues. I would get together with those who have differences with me in those are areas that are non-scriptural.

When you talk about the great fellowship you have with all these different religions and denominations, you aren't talking about what the Bible calls "fellowship." This is where biblical discernment breaks down. You aren't having fellowship with them. Fellowship is based on doctrinal and practical unity, which requires believing and obeying what God said.

Thanks for coming by and commenting though.

Bro. Webb,


Gordy said...

Quite a few years ago, I saw a quote on a church sign that has stuck with me. It is: "Freedom is not the right to do as we please; it is the liberty to do as we ought."

That is the liberty we have when Christ sets us free: to do as we ought. Before, we were slaves to sin and unable to please God, but Christ has set us free to live a life pleasing to him.

Claymore said...

Just a question for Dr. Brandenburg: Would you consider closed communion a commandment, or an opinion? For my part, the reasons I am an open communionist are these: 1. I see no basis in Scripture for the single argument in favour of it, which is that we do not know the visitors salvation and church membership status (e. g. under discipline elsewhere, &c). 2. No closed communionist I have ever asked on the subject has ever given me a clear answer, only something to the effect of "I am sure that it is Biblical" - perhaps there is a reason I have not heard, but then, I have not heard it. 3. Historically, the practice of the churches was open communion - see Fragment Three of Iranaeus concerning Polycarp's visit to Rome.

I have to agree with what Gordy said concerning taking liberties: to say otherwise is to fit the description of the apostates of Jude four who turn the grace of God into looseness of living, and deny the Lord, causing His enemies to have cause to blaspheme. Once we accept Christ as Saviour we ceased being slaves to sin and error to become slaves of Christ. As such, we have no right to do anything that is condemned in Scripture.

Probably the one good example for the opposite position is concerning James saying for Gentile Christians not to partake of pollutions of idols while Paul seems to say the opposite - this was because not all men had the knowledge that an idol is nothing, and in no way made the offering that it did not eat any different from the food not offered to it. It was merely for the sake of weaker brethren and unbelievers that the command was given - thus there is no excuse for direct disobedience.

Joshua said...

I've always thought it would be fascinating to listen to an evangelical give back-to-back debates with firstly an athiest, and then follow it up with a debate against a fundamentalist.

You'd hear the same man for the first half talk about how sure, true, accurate and understandable the Scriptures are, and then in the second half he'd talk about how murky, unclear and subjective the same book is.

Gary said...

Gary Webb,

Funny that you would say that my church doesn't take obedience to the Bible seriously. My Pastor is starting a series on obedience next week. Our church usually puts a banner outside of the building to let the public know what is being preached. The banner only says OBEDIENCE, so I'm not sure if we're going to see many visitors during this series.

I'm a little confused on your wishing a scripture reference on feeding the homeless, but Matthew 25:34-40 is a good place to start.

How about Proverbs 22:6 for a reference to the Christian Youth Theater. How do you teach the children in your congregation? Do you teach them like the muslims schools that I see in the news(constant repetitions of scriptures)? The CYT teaches the kids how to speak in public, share their faith, and work together as a team. The Gospel is what is taught there, not the doctrinal dissagreements. The issues of church doctrine is left to their individual churches to teach them.

Before I give scripture reference on your last statement, I would like to first know if you consider churches like the Lutherans to be Christian and thus its members saved.


We do some community outreaches like feeding the homeless with only other churches, not other religions. The different churches are assigned specific days in which they take turns feeding the homeless at a place that I think is furnished by the city. No doctrinal discussions take place their, only sharing the Gospel message.

In reference to the major/minor issues, I'm curious to see what Gary Webb writes back. I am in agreement with you when it comes to water baptism. To me it's a no brainer, but the churches like the Lutherans, they are not trying to be disobedient. They honestly believe that they are not in error and are being obedient to God's word. If you say that they are not true Christians, than I can understand not working with them, but if they are Christians (just in doctrinal error due to a misunderstanding of scripture)then doing simple homeless outreaches should not be a problem.

I don't think that the world really knows the difference between a Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran, they just see us all as Christians. The question is do they know that we are Christians by our love for one another, or by our doctrinal dissagreements?

Joshua said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

Just a thought to consider, but I was wondering if it would be a useful thing to make a FAQ for your evangelical readers?

Just reading Gary's comments - I feel like I've seen these questions and reasonings many times over. I just know it will be the usual run through the importance of truth, clarity of Scriptures, importance of separation, the non-existance of a universal church and the error of doctrinal ranking.

Perhaps even a coherent series that hits each of the standard issues in a logical flow? I can think of several of your articles that address each point, but perhaps putting them together would make it easier and save a lot of time debating the same things over and over in the comments section?

Just a suggestion. I know it would be a lot of work, but you do have a way of being succinct and direct with what you write. I know it would be a very useful resource for many.


d4v34x said...

Several things:

Bro B.: They don't call (what used to be) 5 yard facemask infractions in the NFL anymore, but the helmet to helmet was as clear as could by. I have hung up my Aaron Rogers jersey for 8 months of mourning.

Brother Webb: Where in scripture do you get your basis for communion being a thimble full of juice and a cracker crumb? That's much closer to RCC practice than it is to Biblical practice.

Frankly though, I don't know if there is much point in haggling the actual subject of this post. From one perspective it seems silly to separate piece by piecemeal over what appears to many to be minor application of principle rather than outright Biblical prescription.

From another perspective, we all draw our line in cooperation with Other Churches (caps intended) somewhere. Most of us just don't call it separation. And most of us are convinced is in the most biblical place.

Bro B.: What I have not seen from you is a strong case that the passages that prescribe separation from individuals unrepentant of flagrant moral sin also prescribes separation from those who practice and apply differently from you but in a way that the tenents of the Gospel are not changed. I think you border on (unintentional)equivocation here.

As for me, sprinkling is a deal-breaker. Transsubstantiation is moot as those who hold that also teach salvation by works. Music and continuationism will limit my cooperation, but only for practical reasons.

Gary Webb said...

I appreciate your good response. I want to give a good answer & hope that you will carefully consider it.
The passage you gave, Matthew 25:34-40, is one that people normally give as a proof text, but which is completely taken out of context. Go back to verses 31-33. This judgment is the "judgment of the nations" after the Tribulation period. It is not the Bema judgment of Christians (II Corinthians 5:10) that takes place after the rapture, nor the “Great White Throne” judgment of the unsaved at the end of the Millennium. Rather this is the judgment that takes place after the Tribulation in which Christ will judge the nations & determine who will enter the millennium.
The basis of this judgment is works that reveal the reality of faith. During the terrible persecution of the Tribulation Period, genuine faith is proven by the willingness to help other saints (see verse 40: “the least of these MY BRETHREN”). In other words, true Christians will feed, clothe, and visit saints in prison who have been persecuted for their faith. If you look at this passage carefully, you will see that that is the obvious interpretation of this passage. The NT presents churches helping believers who have material needs, but there is not one Scriptural example or command to provide the material needs of the unsaved.
Thanks for explaining what “Christian Youth Theater” is. We do train our own church kids to speak & be able to clearly defend their faith by having them speak in recitals, etc. That is not my disagreement with what you are doing.
I don’t believe “church doctrine” is the issue, but Bible doctrine. Having talked with a few Lutherans in my lifetime, I have found that though they profess “salvation by faith”, what that means is that “I can believe the Gospel but I don’t have to obey the rest of the Bible.” Probably that is not true for all Lutherans, but you would have to be fairly confused about the Gospel to accept consubstantiation or baptismal regeneration.

Gary Webb said...

I am not aware that I have ever said in my lifetime that communion is "a thimble full of juice and a cracker crumb." I must have pushed some button for you to make such an outlandish & unsubstantiated attack. I might be mistaken, but after 36 years of reading, studying & preaching the Bible, I never noticed that the Scriptures gave any idea of how much juice or bread was to be used. Perhaps you could enlighten me so that I can be sure not to follow RCC practice.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I've argued at WIT and elsewhere that you give people time to grow---be patient with all men.


Thanks for your comment. I'm closed communion based on conviction. I believed and practiced close, but wasn't convinced that it was right even while I was practicing it. What got me was 1 Cor 10 where Paul calls it the communion of the body of Christ. I believe the body of Christ is local only (1 Cor 12:27), so we regulate the Table based upon that. I keep the communion to our body.


You're evangelical debate was very good. And I think you're right. As far as writing one catch-all article on these things you mentioned---it would be worth it, but I don't think it would stop comments from going and going.


I haven't given what are the traditional application situations up. Others have. However, I believe we are assumed to be able to apply passages. I'm going to write soon on Things Mean Things. When I say soon, I mean in a month or two.

You say that infant sprinkling is an easy call. Well, the coalitions formed ignore that, so you are siding with me on that point. That's making you someone who isn't even a fundamentalist, because it hasn't been a matter of separation in fundamentalism---let alone an evangelical.

Regarding separation, our book on separation in two years coming out will deal with all the separation passages. There is more than flagrant moral violations in those passages. What about he that thinks gain is godliness in 1 Tim 6? And covetousness in 1 Cor 5? Rom 16:17 and 2 Thess 3:-15 opens it up to doctrinal issues. And 1 John presents light as both moral and doctrinal light, separating fellowship.

Anvil said...

Pastor Webb:

I may indeed have been referring more to the body of Pastor Brandenburg's posts, instead of just this one, but it's clear that separation comes from disobedience, and disobedience comes from not obeying a command. So, I believe it follows that Pastor B. believes that all teachings (doctrines) that are biblically-based and not just biblical command, but come from implication or even inference are clear enough that separation can be carried out over them. I don't believe that the Bible is unclear on every point, so that we can make it say anything we wish it to say and discount what we don't like, but I also don't believe that the Bible is equally clear on every doctrine. For instance, using your examples, baptismal-regeneration not being correct is much clearer than consubstantiation. When the difference is application, and not doctrine, I find it even harder to see that separation is necessary. E.g. we have a biblical command to not love the world, but there will be honest differences in applying that scripture, and unless the difference is blatant, I would not always be able to call it disobedience and hence, call for separation.

What I don't get from your side is that any difference in application from what you believe seems to indicate to you a desire to avoid application entirely rather than a genuine difference in application. A difference does not indicate a mindset of "trying to find some reason not to apply" God's commands.

Anvil said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

I agree that we don't just reduce the doctrine to something like the gospel, or we would essentially have to fellowship with anyone who proclaimed the true gospel, even if they were wrong on other clear biblical doctrine. However, I find I can't take the opposite extreme either. If I take what you are saying to its logical conclusion, I could fellowship with no one outside my own church, and given Paul fellowshipped with believers from many churches (including gentile and Jewish churches who would at a minimum, have disagreed over application of some of the OT practices), I can't believe that view would be correct either.

God made his commands clear. Other things he left unclear (e.g. we are both chosen from the foundation of the world, but yet he desires all men to come to repentance, but we are not given much help in resolving those two truths that are completely incompatible using human logic). The command to not love the world, which I already mentioned in a previous post, is clear. How to apply it consistently is not, and many doctrinal teachings in fundamental churches are based on applications of this scripture. I understand that such differences might mean I should serve at one church vs. another, but I don't see how I can easily declare such differences as disobedience and worthy of separation. I believe the Bible intentionally leaves some of that unclear, to allow for the working of the Holy Spirit in my life through preaching of the Word and seeking God's face on a daily basis. If I could apply everything perfectly, I wouldn't need to depend on God.

d4v34x said...

Bro. B.,

I'm not to worried about getting tagged with, keeping, or losing a particular label, other than Christian.

Brother Webb, the first Lord's supper was a (modified?) passover feast, no? A meal. There was wine, bread, and some sort of dip/sop. My point was that it wasn't likely the sip and quick crunch as we (extra-biblically) practice today with clean consciences.

Claymore said...

For what it's worth:

Trying to argue for the LXX is like trying to argue for any English translation - it is just that - a translation. The NT writers quoted parts of it, but that does not make it inspired (only their quotes were inspired when used in the NT). Jude also quotes from two apocryphal books - The Assumption of Moses, and the Book of Enoch - neither of these were inspired (though some wanted to make them inspired). Therefore, the LXX is not an argument that one could use (except perhaps in showing how Greek words were used in the common language - and that is lesser than the NT in Greek).