Thursday, October 07, 2010

Horrible and Yet Typical Ecclesiological Explanation

I get the Baptist Bulletin, a bimonthly magazine published by Regular Baptist Press. A regular feature (no pun intended) is the Q & A in which Norm Olson for many, many years, well, answers questions. I pulled my recent Baptist Bulletin from the mailbox and I went to the Q & A to see what question Norm would answer this time. Here was the Q:

Recently I came across a person who insists that Baptists are the only true church because only Baptists can trace their heritage to John the Baptist. Is this Scriptural?

Very interested. Really want to hear Norm's answer. I read the answer. Ouch. Terrible answer. Garbage answer. Norm was just preaching to the choir. I want to go through his answer paragraph by paragraph to show how awful it is, starting in detail with the fourth paragraph.

The first three paragraphs poison the well about the people Norm targets. He isn't trying to make them look credible, so he spends the first three paragraphs with a subtle smack down in general. The question itself is loaded. The term "landmarkism" itself is being used as a pejorative. He suspects that few want to be known as a "landmarkist." And then I don't know of anyone who even believes like the very question represents. In other words, I know of no one who insists that Baptists are the true church because they can trace their heritage to John the Baptist, as if "the Baptist" is the important factor in the search for the true church. That right away creates a bit of a straw man. However, I want to look at the basic doctrine itself, which he starts dealing with in the fourth paragraph.

As my most fundamental criticism, Norm Olson does not take a grammatical-historical understanding of "the body of Christ." This is his downfall. He writes near the end of the third paragraph: "we believe that all true believers compose the Body of Christ." That's what he will have to prove if he is going to debunk local only ecclesiology. Just before writing this paragraph, I read this:

[W]e should seek the meaning of the text that: (1) it had at the time it was written; (2) is found in the words chosen and arranged by the writer; and (3) is consistent with the overall message and doctrine of the Scriptures. The technical way of saying that is that we should use the historical, grammatical, theological method of interpreting Scripture.

I enjoyed those two sentences written by Dave Doran. It's exactly how I want us to work on this subject. Unfortunately, it is not the method employed by Norm Olson in his answer to the question. It is not how most people come to their position on their understanding of "the body of Christ." They've heard a point of view and then try to fit it into Scripture. What Olson does in this article is a good example of that.

Fourth Paragraph

In the fourth paragraph, Norm Olson expresses a desire for us to look at some passages "that refute Landmarkism," and he refers first to "Ephesians 2." He uses Ephesians 2:19 to say that "all (emphasis his) born-again believers compose the household of God." I don't have a problem with someone saying that "all born again believers" compose the household of God, but I wouldn't make that point from Ephesians 2. Ephesians 2 doesn't say that. Paul writes that "ye are . . . of the household of God." When a person exegetes, he makes the point from Scripture, unlike what Olson did here. Paul excludes himself by saying "ye." That doesn't mean that Paul isn't in the household of God, but the text does not say that he is in the household. The Greek term translated "household" is found three times in the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 5:8, in the KJV it is translated "of his own house," or in other words, family members.

In the Greek, Paul is actually utilizing a pun here. These saints of the church at Ephesus were not "foreigners" (paroikoi--those who are around or outside the house as non-family members), but instead were "of the household of God" (oikeioi), that is, they were family members. Paul isn't talking about "the church" with his "household" metaphor, but the family of God. "Family of God" is a soteriological designation (cf. John 1:12), not an ecclesiological one, so it proves nothing about the nature of the church.

Olson goes to Ephesians 2, and especially verse 19, to say that "the body of Christ" is all believers. His evidence is found in this sentence: "This chapter also presents the Body of believers as something beyond the local assembly." Where? If you want to disprove something, you've got to do better than that. You've got to show something from the Bible that proves your point. Olson doesn't do that.

Then he states: "Hebrews 12:22–24 bears out this truth as well." That is, the "truth" that "the Body of believers" is something beyond "the local assembly." Really? If you look at Hebrews 12:22-24, you'll see that "body of believers" or even the word "body" isn't found there.

Olson ends that paragraph with this: "we still recognize the Biblical truth that all believers everywhere and in every age do compose something—the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23)." I agree that "all believers" compose something---the family of God. All believers everywhere and in every age are not "the body of Christ." He refers to Ephesians 1:22-23, which doesn't show the body of Christ to be "all believers." Those two verses say nothing about that.

Fifth Paragraph

In the fifth paragraph, Olson moves to Ephesians 4:1-6. He simply asserts that the "one baptism" of v. 5 is not water baptism, but "the baptism of the Holy Spirit." Why is it "the baptism of the Holy Spirit?" No reason. It just is. Worse than that though, he says that believing that "baptism" there is water baptism "positions the movement dangerously close to those who embrace baptismal regeneration." That's a false and ridiculous statement. He then says that the failure to believe that "baptism" is not water baptism, but spirit baptism, "keeps the movement from realizing that not just Landmarkers have been baptized into Jesus Christ." Using the term "movement" itself is a smear. What basis is there for calling this a movement? He doesn't explain. What Olson fails to recognize about those who believe the church is local only do not believe that spirit baptism is for today and it has little to do with their view of Ephesians 4:1-6. However, what Olson should reveal is how that Ephesians 4:5 says "one baptism," but that there actually are "two baptisms," water and spirit. I'm confident that Olson believes there is water baptism. So if there is also "spirit baptism," that would mean "two baptisms." That deserves an explanation.

The last sentence of the fifth paragraph is this: "Water baptism does not place a person into one Body (1 Corinthians 12:13); the baptism of the Holy Spirit does." He just states this with no proof. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says nothing about "placing a person into the body of Christ." It does say that "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." The terminology "baptism of the Holy Spirit" isn't anywhere in the Bible, and especially isn't in 1 Corinthians 12:13. I believe it is "water baptism" in 1 Corinthians 12:13. I'm not going to argue for that here (though I have here), but Olson doesn't prove anything with his statement.

Sixth Paragraph

Olson states this: "Landmarkers hold that a believer’s water baptism isn’t legitimate unless one of their men performs it in one of their churches, and they will not accept for membership someone from another Baptist church even if that person was baptized by immersion after salvation." I've never ever either read or seen the situation he describes here. It's sheer propaganda to make these churches sound like a cult. There are situations where churches will not accept someone's baptism, but this is a total misrepresentation of the type of position that I've read.

Then Olson says that Paul condemned this unscriptural attitude, referencing 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. The attitude in 1 Corinthians 1 was an attitude among various men in one church, that was causing division in that one church. It had nothing to do with not accepting someone's baptism because a church does not believe the church performing the baptism was an authoritative church. Many churches believe that proper authority is a requirement for biblical baptism, which is why Jesus walked 70 miles to receive His baptism from John the Baptist, who had received his baptism from heaven.

Seventh Paragraph

Olson criticizes a "closed communion" position, and then he represents it in the worst way possible. Our church practices closed communion. This doesn't mean that we don't fellowship with believers outside of our church. What it does mean is that we believe Scripture teaches closed communion. We think we should practice what the Bible teaches. The Lord's Table is the communion of the body of Christ and the body of Christ is the church, which is local only. We limit the Lord's Table to our church because Scripture limits the Lord's Table to the body of Christ.

Norm Olson should look at 1 Corinthians 12:27, where Paul gives a definition of the body of Christ, when he writes to the church at Corinth: "ye are the body of Christ." Are all believers in Corinth? If the body of Christ is all believers, we would think so. But we know that there are believers in other places. So the body of Christ is local, or else Paul would have said "we are the body of Christ." He didn't.

Olson finishes with this: "We have no right to bar an immersed, doctrinally sound believer from obeying the Lord by observing His Supper." A believer can obey the Lord by partaking of the Lord's Supper in his own church. A church isn't holding anyone away from the Lord's Table by not allowing non-members to partake. They are practicing like they see the Bible teach it.

Eighth Paragraph

Olson's next to last paragraph says that the church started at Pentecost, not with John the Baptist. He gives no proof except for some references. The church didn't start on Pentecost. Jesus sang in the church (Heb 2:12). Those saved on the day of Pentecost were added to the church (Acts 2:47). Jesus talked like the church already existed (Matthew 18:15-17). There are other good exegetical proofs that the church existed before Pentecost. We believe that the church started with John the Baptist in an embryonic form. There were already immersed believers gathered around him. They were an assembly. No doubt Jesus is the Head of the church. Scripture says that, but that doesn't mean that the church isn't traced back to John the Baptist. And it has nothing with the name "Baptist."

Ninth Paragraph

The last paragraph is absurd, bizarre. He writes: "Examples of a group thinking it is the only true church have existed through time. Roman Catholicism is one example." None of these Baptist groups think of themselves as the only true church. They believe there are true churches since Christ. The Bible backs that up. Olson makes the pathetic parallel of these Christians with Roman Catholics. It's a desperate criticism from someone who offers no biblical basis to believe differently. It's also ironic coming from Olson. He believes the true church is a catholic church, when the Bible teaches something just the opposite. That is not how the word "church" is used in the New Testament.

Norm Olson does a bad job of answering this bad question. But you might not expect otherwise, because Norm Olson has not come to his understanding of "body of Christ" or "church" from the Bible.


Handley M. Hopkins said...

I know this is ploughing some dangerous ground here, but I have these observations to make.

Personally, I do not see how anybody could assume that the Baptists started out with John - something that does not add up Scripturally as John would not have wanted anybody to identify with him but with Christ. The only answer I can find from history that harmonises with Scripture is that not all of John's disciples actually believed on Christ - though he tried to the end of his life to point them to Him. The apostle John speaks of a time when the disciples of John and the Pharisees got into a dispute about washings - which may be the origin of the Hemerobaptists as the Clementine Homilies II states (chapter 23). The Constitutions of the Twelve Apostles then says that these (Hemerobaptists) "every day, unless they wash, do not eat - nay, and unless they cleanse their beds and tables, or platters and cups and seats, do not make use of any of them." Epiphaneus of Salamis in the fifth century confirmed also that the name Baptist of that time identified Jewish heretics who were similar in belief to the Pharisees though denying the resurrection. Another group who used the name "Baptist" were largely composed of Gnostic gentiles who borrowed their terms from John - these are named in the Trimorphic Protenoia, which is a damnable document dating back to c. 3rd century.

As to the subject of closed communion, I think it is a great deal more than a bit of a stretch to say that "because it is the table of the Lord's body it is closed to any outside our assembly." These are my reasons: 1. In symbolic language as the Lord's Supper, symbols (e.g. bread/cup) are spoken of in terms of that which they symbolise. I believe that the bread is a symbol of the actual body of Christ which was literally crucified - it was not the church that was broken.
2. Building on that, it would indicate that all true Christians - including those visiting, should at least be permitted the cup as they are all washed by Christ's blood. In addition to this, the only place in church history that I have read anything similar to closed communion (and even that is a stretch) was with Tertullian, who was far from being orthodox as he was a Montanist. Indeed, Polycarp, a disciple of John, is clearly an open communionist as his disciple Iranaeus of Lyons points out, for when Polycarp visited Rome, he disputed with a church there concerning fasting before the Lord's Supper, but was invited to partake of it nonetheless and gladly did so.

Concerning Baptism in Eph. 4 - I know that every time the word "Baptism" is used in Scripture, the majority of Baptists have to insert the word Water into it, but this simply does not fit the facts of Scripture. Again, the symbol is spoken of in the terms of what it symbolises. You chaps might remember that shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus said to James and John that He had a baptism to be baptised with - which was His death - not in water but on a tree. Therefore, this represents what Paul spoke of in Gal. 2:20 and Romans 6 of being crucified with Christ - leaving the sin nature (which Paul taught is co-existent with the New Nature - see Gal. 4:21-31 - Jewish children were weaned about the age of 5 so for five years Isaac and Ishmael lived in the same house, so there cannot be a good representation if they do not co-exist for a while) for the purpose of letting the Holy Spirit fully control the life. Too often, Baptists in particular are guilty of being sacerdotal - not for saving but for spirituality, as their spirituality is based strictly on what they do - immersion and soulwinning rather than in a personal, continual communion with the Saviour.

d4v34x said...

Hi Bro, B.,

Not a greek student, so maybe you can help me. Re: I Cor 12:27 is "the" the best rendering or would a be better?

Gary Webb said...

Brother Brandenburg,
It is frustrating to try to answer someone like Olson or Mr. Hopkins because, as you have shown, they use historically received statements rather than exposition of Scripture. I was taught that the "body of Christ" was all believers, but, after looking more closely at 1 Corinthians 12:27, etc. I had to change my position. I hope that those who read this blog will actually take the time to consider the passages. Romans 6 would be a good place to start as well. Nothing about the Spirit there.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I should have answered these comments earlier. OK.

Mr. Hopkins, too much to answer for the time. Thanks for coming over.


There is a grammatical reason why about every translation says "the body." If Christ is definite, then body must be definite. It is a rule of Greek grammar.

Bro. Webb,

I agree.

d4v34x said...

I suspect that's the same Greek construction that says Jesus is THE way, THE truth, THE life, correct? The as in only.

If the church at Corinth was THE body, and the church at Ephesus is THE body, and the church at El Sobrante . . . they are all THE body. Not bodies.

I'm eager to hear your response to the latest commenter in the Dever-Driscoll-MacDonald article.

Kent Brandenburg said...


They are all "the body," since "the body" is local only. Someone nebuluous, universal, that never assembles, that never comes together is the antithesis of the body. If a church, which is always in a particular locale, is the body, that means there isn't another one.

If I answer "the phone," does that mean there are no phones, plural? Of course not. But I'm also not answering a universal, invisible, platonic phone.

d4v34x said...

"The phone" implys the phone "of the Brandenburgs" or "in my pocket". The body of Christ is more specific than that.

This may be better located in the more recent article comments, but when you say assembled"in Christ" is positional, I say "amen". My understanding of a the whole "universal church" is positional, spiritual. I don't see a real difference between what I understand and what you articulate about in Christ.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi D4,

Good point. When I say "I answered the phone," it doesn't mean that there are no phones, but for there to be a generic "the phone," there must be particular phones. "The body" can be either generic or particular. There is no universal, invisible, platonic usage of the singular noun in any language.

"In Christ" is actually Christ. That is spiritual. Really spiritual. The body of Christ is visible as opposed to spiritual. It's not that there is nothing spiritual about it, but the point of "body" is something visible, just like it has visible members.

"Ye are the body of Christ" says that "the body" is visible and local, not spiritual and universal. I haven't got a good answer ever to that bit of exegesis. I assume at this point because there isn't one.

"In Christ" is nowhere in the Bible said to be "the church" or "the body of Christ." "In" (en) is different than "into" (eis). the former shows location and the latter shows identification. We identify with the body of Christ (eis). Just like Israel was identified with Moses in 1 Cor 10. They weren't "in Moses." We've got to be consistent. For instance, "the husband the head of the wife" must be universal, invisible, and platonic if "the church" or "the body" are.

Thanks for the discussion.