Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Artificially Manufactured 'Majoring on Minors' Controversy

Imagine you and I go to a department store to shop for a shirt. You pick out a nice one. We get to the check-out and while waiting in line, you notice a small hole in the back of the shirt. Very small. Very minor. You announce to me that you're going to take it back. And I answer, "Is the rest of the shirt OK?" You answer, "Yes." "So why make a big deal about such a minor, little hole, when everything else is fine?"

Why is the small hole an issue when the rest of the shirt is good? It's easy isn't it? The hole is the problem. The rest of the shirt isn't where the problem is. We major on the problem because it is a problem. And it is a problem. It's enough to take the shirt back and no one would question it. Our standard is that we won't keep a shirt that has a little hole in it.

If I spent too much of my time on the hole in the shirt, I wouldn't have almost finished preaching through the entire New Testament during my nearly twenty-five years of pastoring. I'm in my last book, Luke. My and others' emphasis is on the whole instead of the hole. However, the hole becomes an issue when others say the problem is minor. It's a hole. It isn't minor. It's a part of the whole, but it isn't anything anyone should ignore. People don't ignore it either, which is why this is a controversy.

Evangelicals have been banging the major-minor, primary-tertiary drum for a long time, until now people believe it. This reminds me of two different quotes. The first is credited to Joseph Goebbels, that if you say something big enough and then keep repeating it, even if it's not true, people will begin to believe it. People are believing this type of minimalism, not because of scripture, but because the philosophy has been repeated by its advocates for so long and so many times.

The other quote comes from Martin Luther:

If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

The "little point" becomes major because it is being attacked or ignored, even though it is in God's Word and is historic Christian doctrine. There is a reason it is being disobeyed or opposed and that is because it is important, even though it is being relegated to something minor. In the strategy of Satan, I also believe he is an incrementalist. He wants to destroy what some might call a major doctrine, but he does it by starting with the "little point." People give in on the "little point" and then Satan and his system keep chipping away until more and more is gone. I'll explain as you continue reading.

The Manufacturers and their Impact

The major-minor propaganda that has owned evangelicalism for decades is now holding sway as well in wide swaths of fundamentalism. This is observed recently in a sermon at the national FBFI conference in Indianapolis, where a young, conservative fundamentalist, Jeremy Sweatt, discussed a survey he did of thirty FBFI type young fundamentalists, and he asked these men what they thought that the worst problems in fundamentalism were. You can see that evangelicalism has made huge headway when you read what these men wrote as answers to his survey. They sound like evangelicals. He said (at about the 28 minute mark) that they responded with these criticisms:

It seems like some fundamentalists are often majoring on the minors. It sometimes seems like some fundamentalists have a judgmental edge towards anyone who is not just like them in their eschatology, ecclesiology, dress standards, music philosophy and practice, etc. Their loudness in expressing their opinions concerning issues of secondary importance can sometimes become louder than their passion for the true work of the gospel.

I'm thinking, "These men are duped!" They are being swayed by propaganda. Think men! In the next few minutes, he gave a few more quotes along this line. Why are men saying these things? They give no biblical basis for their criticism. This sounds like men who are talking directly from the evangelical playbook and talking points. The words are even identical.

At the same time, conservative evangelicals are beginning to see the damage done (they've done, but they don't confess that), and are pulling back on minimilization. Now in this, it seems like Johnson and MacArthur have been reading my blog in certain places (I'm not saying they are, just that it sounds like it. I hope they would.). This is seen in an interview that Phil Johnson did with John MacArthur in January of this year (2011):

PHIL: So here’s my question. This may be the hardest one I have for you all night. With these issues that aren’t really necessarily fundamental gospel issues, but they’re supremely important, with so much drift on issues like that, do you think that Together For the Gospel formula is sufficient, the idea that we can unite and fellowship with anyone who simply affirms the gospel? What if they affirm the gospel but they deny Genesis, they deny that homosexuality is a sin and they deny that, you know, they suggest that it’s okay to have women preachers? What do you do with someone like that?

JOHN: It’s not enough just to be together for the gospel.

With that initial statement, then MacArthur pulls away a little, because he's not comfortable yet, it seems, making that point, so he follows:

I just think a biblical issue is enough. Sure, I’m not going to restrict fellowship with people who take a different view of eschatology, different view of baptism, mode, maybe a different view of Old Testament covenants. But when people begin to violate Scripture, I’m not talking about different views of Scripture or different interpretations of Scripture...some of them very historic. But when they begin to set the Scripture aside, that’s scary. And you’ve got these young guys who even call themselves evangelicals who are caught up in this self-exaltation movement of promoting themselves and they’re the big guru of their movement, developing their own style and their own theology...that is really scary.

Notice how MacArthur says that eschatology and baptism are not scriptural doctrines worthy of separation. Why? He never explains. Is he saying that scripture could be teaching sprinkling or infant sprinkling? Really? And he doesn't explain that ever, which sends a mixed signal that he says he doesn't want to send. MacArthur says all the time that the Bible is very clear, unambiguous on eschatology. We know how everything is going to end. And then he says that it isn't worthy of restricing fellowship. That, my friend, is contradictory. The doctrine isn't as important as his "friendships." What about the friendship with God that we're supposed to have? So he keeps fellowshipping and rewarding amillennialists because he likes them. What about the doctrine? Shouldn't it be of greater value? Of course, when does an evangelical ever teach separation anyway? MacArthur is very ambiguous about what is worth restricting fellowship for him. Why not be clear? Scripture is clear on this. Johnson and MacArthur continue:

PHIL: One more question. Because there’s a danger on the other side of that as well...what you’re saying is, well the gospel defines what’s most important, and therefore all the fundamentals are somehow related to the gospel...there are other very important issues worth fighting for that are maybe not directly related to the gospel but still worth defending. And you don’t want to give up the fight on those things and say, “The only thing that’s really important is the gospel.”


This is all Johnson with MacArthur giving the one word answer. And immediately after, Johnson attempts to make sure that everyone knows they aren't going to be too strong in this.

PHIL: And yet, on the other side of that if you look at the history of the fundamentalist movement, the twentieth century, what they did was begin to fight mainly about secondary issues. How do you avoid that pit fall?

JOHN: Yeah, we used to say about the fundamentals, it was no fun, too much damn and not enough mental. They basically made...they died on the peripheral hills. You know, you just can’t do that. So I go back to what I said before, the issue for me is what does the Bible say and what is the clear interpretation of what it says. For all of those truths, I have to be ready to take my stand...for all of those truths, not some of them, all of them.

And I think that’s why things drift the way they drift, because the people who have the ear of these young guys are too restrictive in what it is that they will fight for. Paul gave the whole counsel of God. I think...look, if you don’t know what your view is on something, then get back in the book until you do know what it teaches because you’re responsible for all of it. And I wish...well, I wish more people would take the Genesis to Revelation responsibility and stand for all that is revealed in Scripture.

Obviously there are things we can’t be dogmatic about, but we’re not talking about those. We’re talking about the things that Scripture clearly teaches.

This is all confusing, as it will be in evangelicalism. MacArthur makes a joke about fundamentalism, essentially calling them stupid, and that they died on peripheral hills. That is nice preaching for the choir, but it really doesn't say anything. It doesn't prove anything. It's just more propaganda. Where are the oracles of God from the man of God, instead of sheer ridicule? Then he moves the other direction and says stand for all of Scripture, but don't be too dogmatic on parts. Where does this come from? It isn't from the Bible. Out of one side of their mouth, they say "take a stand on all of Scripture" and then out of the other side, "some of the issues are only peripheral." Well, which ones are which? Complete ambiguity.

So MacArthur and Johnson are seeing the dangers of the minimalistic approach. I think it's because they see the young preachers following all the fads of the young and restless, following these rock star evangelicals, and they don't like it. But Johnson and MacArthur won't be clear about, are cryptic about, what they are talking about, because they don't want to shake up their present coalition and numbers and "significance" (a common Johnson word) and their own fads that they followed, that are now out-of-fashion, because they are circa the Jesus movement.

Johnson became a part of the discussion at SharperIron over the Jeremy Sweatt FBFI message and he wrote this:

To wit: the actual "gist" of my remark was NOT that John MacArthur "doesn't like the direction T4G is headed," but that he is concerned about the tendency toward doctrinal minimalism among EVANGELICALS IN GENERAL.

MacArthur is concerned now with doctrinal minimalism. This is something I've been hitting for years here and I think that MacArthur and Johnson are just now seeing the damage they have been a part of causing in evangelicalism with their own emphasis on doctrinal minimalism, an emphasis from the Sweatt message that we can see has impacted some of the most conservative young fundamentalists too. And what is at stake? Obedience to God and His Word and the authority of Scripture in the lives of believers.

What Is Really Happening?

In Romans 14 Paul writes about disputable matters and those are non-scriptural doctrines, not minor scriptural ones. The Bible doesn't present a minor-doctrine teaching. We've talked about that a lot here. My concern is that biblical doctrines and practices are being nullified in the name of this primary-tertiary scheme, invented by men. What we have happening is the incrementalism of a Satanic plan. We have an acceptable attack on biblical doctrine, given credence by evangelicals and now fundamentalists. Those who defend these doctrines are called "peripheralists" or the like, part of the propaganda---name-calling. They are also 'not enough fun and not enough mental'---they aren't nice people and they aren't very intelligent (that sounds like typical liberal attack, by the way, in our culture). There is not biblical basis for ignoring Bible doctrine and practice, so they have to attempt to humiliate these men, that is, use carnal weaponry. It's too bad.

When there is a hole in the shirt, that's a problem. We've got to fix the hole. Evangelicals and now fundamentalists say, "let it go, it's peripheral." But it is the hole. It is what needs to be fixed. And there is a reason why it happens to be the hole. When a reformed and evangelical pastor says that it's good to use salty language, corrupt communication, in preaching, then Johnson and MacArthur say that there is a hole in the shirt. That isn't acceptable. Why? Because that is their preferred "peripheral" issue. It's important. Why? Because they say so. Complete subjectivity here.

Sensual and worldly music used in worship, misrepresenting and blaspheming God, is a hole in the shirt. Detiorating obedience to biblical dress is a hole in the shirt. The disappearing doctrine of the preservation of Scripture is a hole in the shirt. Skewed eschatology is a hole in the shirt. Charismatic ecstatic worship is a hole in the shirt. These don't mean that we are ignoring the whole shirt. The whole shirt is important. But the holes are what get our attention. And they need to get our attention.

(part two to come)


Charles E. Whisnant said...


I go back to the J.F. Norris, Oliver B. Greene, John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Lester Roloff time when SIN of any kind was an issue. And even Bill Gothard times when all SIN was SIN. Goodness you couldn't even kiss a girl before marriage. You talk about separation from the world, goodness I thought it was a sin to say "cotton picket" or drink root beer. An you certainly didn't go to another kind of church that was not Baptist.

But I can tell you with experience, more people were hurt and got out of church with this kind of over load.

I personally believe if you teach the scripture as John MacArthur has for 40 years, you are more likely to live a separated life than you would if you were in one of the churches that always "Separated yourselves totally from all worldly activity and people."

Gary Webb said...

I guess that I am not as concerned about "experience" - mine or yours - than I am about "keeping" the Word of God. Paul told Timothy that, when people have itching ears & turn away from the truth, keep preaching (2 Timothy 4:1-5). But, then again, Norris, Greene, Rice, McIntire, & Roloff are not the standard. The Bible is. So, we are not concerned with which approach "hurts" people or gets them "out of church." Our concern is with preaching the whole counsel of God & practicing the whole counsel of God. If that does not tickle people's fancy, we are not concerned. I say "we" meaning those who want to please the Lord & to follow the standard He gave in Matthew 5:17-19: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” I don't think that endeavoring to obey all the Bible is "over load", but it seems that most do, & therefore they "go out from us." John MacArthur may be a good teacher, but his practice is more important & that is where the problem lies.
BTW - you must not be from the South. The saying is "cotton pickin(g)".

Liam O'Brian said...

Something I have noticed is that when a hole is in a piece of cloth it eventually is made worse. That is why we would return it. In a belief held by some, or a practice of which Scripture does give liberty (not with gimmicks, entertainment, ccm, et al.) would you say they also create a larger and worse rent?

Charles E. Whisnant said...

"He may be a good teacher but his practice is more important."

I am not sure about the shirt illustration. Unless the small hole in the shirt represents one's practice and the whole is what he teaches.

In other words are you saying that if one doesn't practice what he teaches then there is a flaw in the person or a flaw in his teaching?

Can we teach the Word of God (expositionally) and be correct in the explanation of the text and then not be dogmatic as to the extend of its application?

Are we really hedging on the text if we say its not my intent to make an issue of the application.

Am I really minimizing what I really have conviction about if I don't push for full compliance to my personal conviction?

If I fellowship with a pastor who believes Romans 6;1 is talking about water baptism and I believe its talking about spiritual baptism, would that negate my creditability as to what I believe the text is saying?

If I personally believe in a real 1000 year millennial and so teach that, am I wrong to fellowship with a pastor who is an amillennialists?

Does obedience to God's Word mean that I do? Romans 6 tells us we should but we don't.

I believe MacArthur is quite clear about what he teaching when preaching, so do I. But does this mean that we must be dogmatic when asked what we believe about music and dancing?

So when I am seen at a Shepherd's Conference I have put a whole in my shirt of creditability?

PSFerguson said...

Both sides are preaching to the gallery here as I see it. The dead horse keeps getting flogged and there is only the bones left. Kent is as equally culpable as MacArthur, as he does not adduce Scripture to sustain his position in principle or pattern.

MacArthur, it is true, minors on majors such as Bible Versions, Music, Separation. The people he seems to dislike the most are consistent Biblical separationists! He refuses to separate from those who violate the Scripture on music and modesty - even the world can parse and understand what is sensual and immodest!

Where Kent jumps off the deep end here is that he argues as if there are no discernible way to differentiate doctrines in levels of importance. He wants to equate Pre-Trib vs Mid -Trib with the same degree of importance as the Deity of Christ.

Joshua said...


I think you're being unfair on Kent there. It would be more correct to say Kent doesn't think it's an appropriate task for a Christian to try to decide how important certain doctrines are.

Both yourself and Charles have started at the completely wrong point. You've tried to figure out a theology of Biblical separation without getting a theology of Biblical unity.

Biblical unity is a complete unity of Scriptural belief and practice. Not a 80% unity. Not unity on the big 5. Paul could instruct Timothy to command some that they teach "no other doctrine" because there was a unified body of doctrine that every church should have. Biblical unity is complete agreement on that body of doctrine, with "no other" doctrines attached.

So we couldn't be less interested in developing a system of ranking Eschatology against Christology. There are no commands to do so, and the fruit of this kind of endeavor is outlined above. It takes arrogance on our part to assume we know enough to decide for God which of His commands are the important ones and which aren't.

But there is no natural motivation for us to rank them anyway. What does it matter what the ranks are? When you're aiming for 100% unity and fellowship, doctrinal rank means nothing.

So the mid-trib man gets the same offer that MacArthur gets - to leave off his false belief and practice and come join in true unity and fellowship. This doesn't mean MacArthur is hated. This doesn't mean we're not grateful for any and all good he does. This doesn't mean that God isn't using him or that he's a wicked man. But the offer is the same to all men who insist on holding alternate doctrinal views (and the practices that come with them) to the faith once delivered to the saints.

This is all very simple, and is adduced directly from Scripture. The ranking system has no Scriptural command, no Scriptural example, and there is no Scriptural necessity for it. It is neither needed nor wanted

PSFerguson said...

Hi Joshua, I am not being uncharitable to Kent, as I have read almost everything he has said on this subject. Yet, he fails to do what he accuses MacArthur here - adduce Scriptural precept or pattern that teaches that every doctrine and practice needs to be agreed on before believers can fellowship.

I did not come up with a method of parsing doctrines in levels of importance vis a vis separation. The Bible did as it was the Holy Spirit who attached particular warnings of damnation to those who reject certain doctrines (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:3; 1 Corinthians 15:14). It was the Scripture that sets forth different levels of doctrinal understanding e.g. milk vs meat. Should we not be so charitable?

You do the same as Kent when you said, "Biblical unity is a complete unity of Scriptural belief and practice" - really? Where do you find this in Scripture?

Charles E. Whisnant said...

Does Scripture really teach 100% unity to have fellowship? Does there have to be 100% agreement on all doctrine?

Would you say if we all had the right interpretation and right application of all Scripture that would be 100% unity?

All Scripture is God breathed and is profitable for doctrine … so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Biblical Christian doctrine is good for clarifying the Bible’s revelations about God and humanity.

Does Scripture clearly teach I am not to have any fellowship, listen to any sermons by those who I believe do not practice what I believe to be biblically correct behavior or doctrine.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello everyone, just saw my son off at the airport, and now we have a church work day this afternoon, but let me say a few words. First, what I've written here is scriptural and I've revealed the scripture for everything already in other posts, even as P.S. says that he has read about everything I've written here on this. But the best stuff will come out in our Word of Truth Conference, where we are dealing with this very subject, AND we have it on audio at the WORD of truth audio place, for which there is a link above right.

Charles has asked quite a few questions. I'm not saying that certain doctrines and practices aren't given more emphasis, and that's important, nor am I saying that certain practices do not have harsher punishments attached to them, like rejecting the gospel, which results in hell. And the way this reads above reflects that knowledge. I even call the hole a small hole compared to the whole. But it is still a hole, and does only take an offense of one law to offend the whole law (James 2:10), no matter how minor we may think that offense is. That assumes perspecuity.

I'll come back and answer every one of Charles' questions.

As it relates to unity and fellowship, I've written on that here. And if you look at all the passages, it's clear that what the Bible teaches isn't what MacArthur or Johnson says, or what P.S. Ferguson says. And like Webb has said, that's what we're concerned about. But as a start, consider 1 Corinthians 1:10 as a definition of unity---"that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." And then the verse, among others, that Joshua referred to, 1 Timothy 1:3, and then 1 Timothy 6:3, 5. Combine those two. "Teach no other doctrine." And, "If any man teach otherwse, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to doctrine which is according to godliness.... from such withdraw thyself." So there's a start---and there are more.

Gary Webb said...

I would like to get your explanation of Romans 16:17- "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them."
This is not a mocking question, but I would be interested in knowing how you approach it, since there is no particular statement about which doctrines they had learned.

PSFerguson said...


I am afraid that the Bible is not clear that your position is inviolable. If it was you would have been able to posit the Scriptural proof that every doctrine of the Bible necessitates a breaking of fellowship between local churches if there is not absolute unanimity.

I note that none of you have defined "doctrine" yet from a biblical standpoint. Does the view that the sons of God are demonic angels in Genesis 6 constitute doctrine? Can two members of Bethel Baptist come to different interpretations? If so they surely are not speaking "the same thing" under your truncated definitions. If you want to interpret all the passages on separation this way then you must be consistent the whole way! You cannot cherry pick the doctrine of baptism as worth separating over and then reject separation of the doctrine of Angelology!

Gary said...

5 years ago everyone I knew was pre trib, today I have several friends that are post trib. While I can show that pre trib is scriptural, they keep insisting that the Apostolic Fathers did not hold a pre trib view. They state that the pre trib view did not come about until around the 1830s. How would you answer them and do you know of any pre trib Apostolic Fathers? Thanks.

Please forgive me if I'm going slightly off topic, but these post tribers seem to be growing in numbers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gary,

Well, the answer to your friends' would be to begin by questioning the basis of their knowledge.

Specifically, if it isn't based on Scripture - if they can't provide a sound, solid, systematic scriptural basis for their post-trib beliefs, then there is no basis for them to hold to them.

It doesn't really matter what "the apostolic fathers" believed about anything, for a couple of reasons:

1) They were men. Men can be wrong. Men often are wrong. Even back in that day. Keep in mind that even while the apostles were still alive, you had heretics teaching all kinds of things - even men who were trained by the apostles themselves. Paul warned the Ephesian pastors this would be the case.

As such, there's no reason to think that mere supposed* antiquity (which is what implicitly lies behind the "apostolic fathers" arguments) lends credence to a doctrinal position. For every John, there was a Cerinthus, for every Paul a Simon Magus. Who was right depends on who was in line with Scripture.

2) Our knowledge base of what "the early church fathers" taught is insufficient to allow us to speak definitively anywise. Keep in mind that what we have now as far as patristic writings comes down to us through HEAVY Roman Catholic bowdlerisation. If a "church father" wrote stuff that later Catholics liked, then he was transscribed and passed on. If not, he was quietly shuffled off into the mists of forgotten time. The reason that most of the patristics are so "Catholic-friendly" (and this pertains because Catholics rely on them heavily for their eschatology, as do Protestants) is because the writings of the ones who were, or could be made to sound, Catholic friendly were perpetuated down the line. We have no idea, however, what the vast bulk of early Christian pastors - i.e. people who were not Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and a few select others - thought about almost anything. Indeed, the patristics we know could well have been minority schismatic heretics, for all we would know.

Your best advice to your friends would be to stick to the Bible.

* - I qualify this with the term "supposed" because, when you get right down to it, the doctrinal positions which ACTUALLY have the most antiquity are those which are Scriptural, since the Scriptural is the basis of it all. In that sense, pre-tribulationalism HAS the greatest antiquity, since it is what is taught in the Scriptures themselves.

1611 said...

If Aquila and Priscilla had separated from Apollos the early church would have been without one of it's most influential men. He only knew the Baptism of John at the time.
I think there's gotta be a balance somehow. Didn't Whitefield preach at Wesley's funeral? Or maybe vice versa? I wonder if they were closer to the right balance or if we are?

Kent Brandenburg said...


We have a historic basis for a premill, pretrib rapture. Historical theology has value, but as Titus mentioned, we still go back to the source of all authority, the Bible.

Gary Webb said...

What was the "baptism of John"? According to the Bible (Acts 19:1-7) John's message was that men should repent and believe on the Messiah, whom he identified as Jesus. He also preached that men would be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Is there some reason that Paul should have separated from them for preaching what he preached?