Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IF IT'S NOT CONSISTENT, IT'S NOT THE TRUTH (Part One)

The One and Only Consistent Scriptural Position That
Harmonizes Separation and Unity


I have stopped blogging. OK. That’s not possible or you wouldn’t be reading this. I can’t be both writing this blog and not writing this blog. As you analyze what might seem fairly obvious, you can designate this the law of the excluded middle. Something is either "A" or "Non-A." I cannot be not-blogging and blogging. There is also the law of contradiction, which means that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. "A" cannot be "non-A." A thing cannot be and not be simultaneously. And nothing that is true can be self-contradictory or inconsistent with any other truth. Rational thought requires this and meaningful discourse demands it. Scripture very clearly affirms the law of contradiction.
I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 1 John 2:21
If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
The Consistency of Scripture

Scripture interprets Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word and so it is consistent with itself. The Bible does not contradict itself. If you read one passage of the Bible and it seems to contradict a different passage then at least one of the passages is being misunderstood, if not both. This is the logic of the laws of the excluded middle and of contradiction.

John W. Hendryx agrees with this truth and explains it in its proper context:

It is important to note that consistency and logic (like omniscience, justice and mercy) are among the perfections of God. Lest you doubt the validity of this assertion, the Scripture itself teaches this. Jesus Himself said that He is "...the Truth" and later in the same gospel he states that God's Word is Truth (John 17:17). These statements, of course, would be utterly meaningless if it did not mean that Jesus was opposed to all falsehood. The conclusion we must, therefore, reach is simply that God's Word does not contradict itself. . . . God keeps his promises, does not lie, nor does God have the capacity to deny Himself. Since this means God cannot contradict Himself in what He says, does and believes, then He calls us to do likewise (Be truthful, holy, keep your promises, do not lie). God Himself, as revealed in Scripture, is the ultimate presupposition we have in being consistent and logical in everything we say and do, and this is especially true for those who would be teachers of God's word.
Robert Thomas in Evangelical Hermeneutics (p. 413) wrote: "He (God) overruled natural limitations of humanity in inspiring Scripture, the result is an inspired Bible that does not contradict itself." Lewis Sperry Chafer in Major Bible Themes (p. 34) concurred: "In interpreting the Bible, every text must be taken in the light of the total content of Scripture, as the Bible does not contradict itself." In a positive way, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics reads: "WE AFFIRM the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter." And then, negatively it says: "WE DENY that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another." Article XIV of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states: "We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture."

A Scriptural position on inspiration and inerrancy results in consistent or non-contradictory beliefs. For that reason, I can’t believe both in salvation by works and salvation by grace. Those two doctrines contradict each other; therefore, only one of them could be true. God is not going to contradict Himself, so we won’t get a right understanding of Scripture that results in any contradictions.

An Issue of Inconsistency

A huge number of both evangelicals and fundamentalists contradict themselves especially in one particular area of Scripture. They do this blatantly. Since no truth can contradict another truth, one or both of their contradictions must be false. That hasn’t stopped evangelicals and fundamentalists from regularly discussing how that they can force the contradictions to somehow fit together. And then this reflects on the nature of God. It makes Him deny Himself and thereby calls Him a liar. A professed "belief" or "truth" that contradicts something else taught in Scripture cannot actually be the truth.

Scripture is consistent, so part of believing it, and, therefore, God Himself, requires studying with the degree of diligence that would alleviate the contradictions. Leaving the incongruities cannot be the will of God and will not result in a right interpretation of Scripture. Instead, the inconsistencies will lead to a deviation from God’s Word in faith and practice.

Most evangelicals and fundamentalists have learned to ignore a major inconsistency. Some continue to struggle with the conflict between two major theses, yet tolerating the contradiction as part of their historic traditions. The discrepancy lies in their teaching of Scriptural separation and the doctrine of Biblical unity. Their beliefs about separation and unity contradict one another. Since they do, that ought to be tell-tale that they are getting something wrong, that they are missing something. These are both Biblical doctrines and they shouldn’t contradict. Later we will discuss exactly what is their precise failure, but first we will look at the kind of floundering and tangled, most often invented teaching that comes out of their error. Their Scriptural falsehoods lead to even greater twisting of the Bible.

The evangelical and fundamentalist discussions about this tension between separation and unity verge on the dissection of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. The contradictions make the Bible impossibly complex. The Bible is simple when it is interpreted properly—everything fits together in a plain, very comprehensible way. That’s not what we get in these filibusters on separation and unity.

Kevin Bauder, a fundamentalist, illustrates the convolution and perplexity that result from the contradictions in a series he wrote entitled Thinking about the Gospel:

An indifferentist is a Christian who affirms the gospel but denies that the doctrines of the gospel must constitute an unbreachable boundary for Christian faith and fellowship. . . . Indifferentism is a serious error. While indifferentists do not deny the gospel, they do demean it. They diminish its importance for Christian faith and fellowship. If we take seriously 2 John 8-11, then indifferentism is truly scandalous. At minimum, indifferentists are woefully deficient in discernment and obedience. Therefore, they must never be placed in positions of Christian leadership or held up as models of Christian faith and practice.

Bauder is attempting to reconcile doctrines that contradict one another. Fundamentalists and evangelicals to a lesser extent have been trying to do this for decades and to live comfortably with the strain. Bauder coins new words to accomplish this. Notice that indifferentism is an error and scandalous, basically offensive or shocking. He doesn’t call it a sin. And his punishment for the indifferentist is prohibition from leadership and exclusion as a "model." You won’t find that in the 2 John 8-11 text, which actually says that the indifferentist has become a "partaker of evil deeds," and someone involved in those evil deeds, obviously without repentance, must be separated from. Bauder falls short of this—his indifferentist is a Christian and so his view of unity comes into play. Contradictions with Scripture occur. Bauder continues:

Another error exists that is almost the opposite of indifferentism. We could call it "everythingism." An "everythingist" is someone who is committed to the "literal exposition of all the affirmations and attitudes of the Bible, and the militant exposure of all non-biblical affirmations and attitudes" (this was George Dollar’s definition of "fundamentalism" in his History of Fundamentalism in America, published by Bob Jones University Press in 1973). While the indifferentist makes too little of the gospel and of fundamental doctrines, the everythingist makes too much of non-fundamentals, weighting these doctrines as if they were essential to Christian faith and fellowship.

Obviously, the "everythingist" is bad to Bauder. By his own admission, Bauder doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep everything that the Bible says. He says that he believes in that. With that in mind, this is hard to figure out. How do we determine what disobedience to the Bible is worth separating over? Why isn’t "everythingism" right? What are the fundamental doctrines and why is it that only those are the only ones essential to "fellowship"? That’s not what we read in Romans 16:17, 18, 2 Thessalonians 3:16-15, and Matthew 18:15-17, among other places. Again, Bauder is attempting to reconcile separation and unity and in doing so, he contradicts passages on both of them. This inconsistency should reveal to him that something is wrong in his interpretation of Scripture. Instead, he is willing to live with the inconsistency, even though he shouldn’t. Then he says:

Of course, very few people, if any, are pure everythingists. Almost everybody recognizes that at least some teachings are non-fundamental, secondary, or even incidental. Pure everythingism is hard to find.

Fundamentalists deny this, but their authority for their ranking of doctrines doesn’t come from Scripture, but as Bauder writes plainly here—the recognition of almost everyone. Their basis in doctrinal value judgments is populism—"it must be true because so many people believe it or are saying it." God told us to obey everything (Matthew 28:20, Deuteronomy 30:2). That may clash with the crowd, but it’s still God’s Word. However, that doesn’t jive with Bauder’s system of separation and unity. He concludes his essay with this rather ambiguous paragraph:

If we want a truly biblical Christianity, then we are going to have to avoid both errors. We are going to have to treat everythingists and indifferentists with about the same misgiving. Of course, in order to do that we shall have to become skilled at judging the importance of doctrines. We must develop special proficiency for discriminating fundamentals from non-fundamentals.

According to Bauder, the true position falls somewhere between indifferentism and everythingism. Why? It just does. He says so. Others would agree. They will continue arguing ad infinitum on what degree. The "separatists" will scold the "compromisers" and the "conciliatory" will castigate the "isolationists." The key, Bauder says, is to become "skilled at judging the importance of doctrines" and "develop special proficiency for discriminating fundamentals from non-fundamentals." How will you obtain these skills and this proficiency? What are the guidelines for success? That’s what we need to know, but Bauder doesn’t give an answer for it. We’re left with the sense that all we can do is to give it our best shot. After all, "we’re not perfect, just forgiven."

Joel Tetreau, someone who would profess to stand left of Kevin Bauder, but another fundamentalist, attempts to make sense of the contradiction by labeling various men and groups of men:

Today, I am convinced that Type B’s outnumber Type A’s. Once in a while, I get a note or a piece of communication from an angry Type A who tries to convince me that Type B’s are really just new-evangelicals who should leave the movement. I’ve always responded that they are actually closer to Hyper-Fundamentalism (type A+) than we Type B’s are to New-Evangelicalism (left of Type C). I have suggested that they should leave because the closer reality is that they have changed the face of Fundamentalism, not us. They aren’t used to this interaction. In the old days, Type A’s would bark at a Type B, and the Type B (or C) would leave. Those days are mostly over. In its place is a civil war. Hopefully, we will wage this with Biblical ethics. The war is mostly between A’s and B’s.

According to him, we need a "war" to stake out the correct position. This war between professing believers, he hopes, will be fought with "Biblical ethics"—perhaps no choke holds or hitting below the waist. His "Type A+" seems to be someone closer to Bauder’s "everythingist" and his "Type C" must be closest to the category of the "indifferentist." Apparently, Tetreau is striving for that important middle ground of fundamentalism, a completely even number of contradictions of each separation and unity.

Phil Johnson, a professing evangelical, describes the uncertainty about how to balance contradicting ideas or practices with an article entitled: Fellowship or Fight. He sums up his position when he writes:

Clearly, there are two extremes to be avoided. One is the danger of being so narrow and intolerant that you create unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ. The other is the problem of being too broad-minded and sinfully tolerant—so ecumenically minded that you settle for a shallow, false unity with people whom we are commanded to avoid or whose errors we are morally obligated to refute.

This is clear. He says so; it must be. Again, the key is to avoid the extremes, stake out the middle ground. You can feel the struggle in his words. "This isn’t going to be easy, folks!" What makes it so difficult is that it is not only not taught in Scripture, but refuted by God’s Word. Phil Johnson represents his evangelical view of fundamentalism in his seminar entitled, Dead Right: The Failure of Fundamentalism. If you read carefully, you'll see his twist of Scripture in order to reconcile his own degree of contradiction between the doctrines of separation and unity. He writes:

In fact, I believe as Christians we have a duty to contend earnestly for the faith whenever vital gospel truths are threatened. I recognize that there is a core of truth that is absolutely essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and when someone’s teaching deliberately rejects or fatally compromises any of those essential truths. . . . I believe Scripture forbids us to have fellowship with people who deny essential gospel truths. . . . Scripture repeatedly makes clear that we are not to seek fellowship with people who corrupt the essential truths of Scripture—even if they claim to be Christians, and especially when they demand that we compromise our convictions or tone down our message in the name of unity.

His language is loaded with qualifiers that give him room to determine what in the Bible is "vital" and "essential." "Vital" and "essential" aren't found in passages on separation and unity. He downloads the words to fit his position. Nowhere does the Bible say that the grounds of separation are a "core of truth that is absolutely essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ." He as well as other evangelicals or fundamentalists have invented an unbiblical view that contradicts the Bible's teaching on separation and unity.

Recently a coalition of four well-known evangelicals have agreed to ignore sufficiently their doctrinal differences to come "together for the gospel." These four—Albert Mohler (a Southern Baptist seminary president), Ligon Duncan (a Presbyterian pastor), Mark Dever (a Southern Baptist pastor), and CJ Mahaney (a Charismatic pastor)—in reality come together for the five points of Calvinism. Supposedly, cessation of sign gifts (Mahaney), infant sprinkling (Duncan), and associations with Billy Graham (Mohler) aren’t sufficient considerations to break fellowship. Other popular evangelical Calvinists, like John MacArthur and John Piper, laud and support them for unity. In an elevation of Calvinistic soteriology, they choose indifference to eschatology (amillennialism or premillennialism), baptism (infant sprinkling or believer’s immersion), or charisma (continuationist or cessationist). They look for common ground and essentially ignore the rest for the sake of "fellowship," or do they?

Recently Mark Dever writes in an article on August 15, 2007 saying that he would not have communion (the Lord’s Supper, which is a test of fellowship) with someone who was not obedient in Scriptural immersion. How does someone separate his fellowship from his fellowship? He fellowships with paedo-baptists, but he doesn’t fellowship with them. He’ll get together for the gospel, but he won’t get together for the Lord’s Table. They can’t participate in communion because he says that they are clearly disobedient. However, these disobedient people, unrepentant, can preach in his pulpit, and he will gladly get together with them. Do you see the contradiction? If someone takes a Scriptural position, these types of contradictions will not exist. They reflect blasphemously on the nature of God and His Word. They obliterate the Scriptural teaching on separation and unity.

Discussions about the degrees of separation and unity are repeated everywhere and often among fundamentalists and evangelicals, "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). Formations of multitudes of groups and circles and fellowships come from an estimation of what is the appropriate degree of contradiction they’re willing to tolerate. Almost every faction is built around a particular personality or school. The adherents travel to conferences where sufficient agreement exists. They’ll never reach a solution, because of clear discrepancies in their doctrine. Some individuals are politically suavy enough to travel in several circles at once. They are able to accentuate an acceptable degree of diplomacy to fit into many groups, perhaps even brokering a unique skill or ability or success into adequate approval.

God’s Word does not contradict itself. The teaching in Scripture on separation fits perfectly with its instruction on unity. Men can practice Biblical separation and Biblical unity in a consistent way. God does not deny Himself. That isn’t, however, what we witness in most of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They’re views of separation and unity are unscriptural; they’re wrong. If you follow they’re path, it’s one that ends in disobedience to God’s Word.

How the Doctrine of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Contradicts Itself

The Correct Teaching on Separation and Unity: It Will Not Contradict Itself

The Consequences of Contradicting the Doctrines of Separation and Unity

In part 2, we will reveal the contradictory teachings of fundamentalists and evangelicals that lead to this ongoing, never-ending debate and result in serious deviation from God’s Word. We will show plainly the position that will not contradict itself, so that everyone will believe it.

11 comments:

William D said...

Great observations. I have to agree with your complaints about stands on separation that these men take. Even though I find myself being influenced by them in many positive ways, my fundamentalist brain can't compute thier economy of separation.

Eg: how can Piper allow Driscoll in his conferences when the man is in outright disobedience with his cussing in the pulpit??

The other question that arises for me is: what does separate mean?

1. To treat as an unbeliever
2. To treat as a brother but fellowship only on certain levels?
3. To treat as a sinning brother? (which is to treat him as an unbeliever until he repents anyway)

As for essential truths and non-essential truths...that's a joke. Truth is truth and it's always essential. But what about when two brothers sincerely see a truth and disagree on what it means...like baptism, spiritual gifts, end times theology? They are not "essential" to the gospel message (by that i mean, an incorrect view in our opinion on one of these will not damn someone to hell, nor will it pervert the gospel message), but they are important none the less.

Am I supposed to take something as unclear as eschatology and call someone disobedient like a person who is clearly disobedient in regards to the moral law of adultery? What think ye?

Kent Brandenburg said...

William, Thanks for commenting. I wish that others would take this into strong consideration like yourself. Your Piper comment was dead on, and it could have fit right into this essay. I believe that "what is separation" question is a good one. It relates to a "what is fellowship" question.

When we separate, we stop associating with, identifying with, or collaborating with a person or group based on their or his doctrine or practice. I believe Scripture shows we might take (depending on whether we believe that someone else has already done this) steps of separation, starting with a first confrontation over the doctrine or practice for the purpose of reconciliation. I believe the pattern for this is in Matthew 18:15-17. We give people an opportunity for repentance before we cut them off.

As to your last paragraph and questions, I think this will be answered in part 2.

Thanks again.

Don Johnson said...

Kent, will you address the notion of "degrees of separation"? It does seem reasonable to me that at some levels I can fellowship with men who disagree with me at various points. For example, I can participate in a conference that includes men who believe in closed communion, 'close' communion, or open communion. We might be quite emphatic on our own distinct view of the matter, and we might not participate as members in the same local church, but we can fellowship on some non-local church matters, i.e., a missions conference in another local church or some such meeting.

Your thoughts?

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

I do believe that there are issues that are meat-offered-unto-idols issues. I believe there is liberty in non-Scriptural issues. I don't see "degrees of separation" in Scripture. I do think we treat people in different ways regarding their practice because we are being patient with them.

Different people are at different places of Christian growth and we acknowledge that. 1 Thessalonians 5 brings that in, when it tells us what to do with different types of people in the church. I will set down with anyone to explain to them how to change. When they become unruly, they reach a different category. I don't think they can reach that classification until I have tried to help them.

Our church practices closed communion, but our church chooses not to separate based upon that practice.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

I have a comment or a question, but I'm waiting for part 2. That might take care of my question.

Anvil said...

Pastor Brandenburg, I fail to understand how your position on closed communion is consistent with your points in these articles. If you believe that closed communion is correct and that close or open are wrong, how can you not separate over this practice? Are you not then treating some teachings of the Bible as more important than others?

Or is it that you see closed communion as a Romans 14 issue? That seems less likely to me based on your previous comments about that position.

Would you separate from a church over that doctrine after a period of time trying to convince them of the correctness of your view?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anvil,

Oh so full of questions. I will answer your question in my article. But I'm glad you're reading. Stay tuned.

Anvil said...

OK, so from article 3, you actually do separate based on the approach to communion -- not from close, but definitely from open.

I guess I still fail to see how you are also not practicing a "degrees
of separation" version of separation. You don't agree with the church practicing close communion, but you don't separate over it, even though they are not in complete unity with you on the subject. If closed communion is one of the doctrines of the Bible, and if no doctrine is minor, how can this non-separation be tolerated on this issue?

For consistency then, it seems you find the close communion position to not be error. If it were an error, even if less serious than the "error" of open communion, separation would still be necessary.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I wish others cared about my consistency as much as you do, Anvil. Our church is 100% unified and we separate over everything that we believe and practice. We don't cut people off, because we give people time to change.

I was planning on getting a comment from you about 100% consistency or it blows the whole teaching away. I call it the Golden Gate Bridge theory. I'm going to die anyway, so I may as well just go ahead and jump now. We're going to be inconsistent anyway, so let's just sin as much as we want. No, I explained it, that is, we separate over the doctrines and practices the Scripture teaches. We do separate over the nature of the church. We do separate over the impurity of the table, the point of the close/closed issue, based on what our church believes and practices. You could have pounced on our view of separation regarding divorce too, but we as a church see the line as hating divorce. We don't rank doctrines. We see them as all important. We are consistent in our practice of that.

Thanks for the help. :)

So do you think there is a violation of God's Word that isn't worth separating over? How do you square that with the separation passages? Do you separate from other believers? How do you square that with the unity passages?

Albert said...

Are you saying that it is also wrong for Fundamental Baptists to cooperate with other fundamentalists, say, the Bible Presbyterians (www.bpc.org)? Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I believe it is a church issue, Albert. In order to keep church purity and true unity, protect doctrine, and honor what God said, churches separate based on doctrine. That would separate our church from Presbyterians because of several Scriptural doctrines. That far from means that we are your enemy though.