Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Open Letter on the Integrity of the New Testament Church

by Dr. Gary Webb

I have been reproved by 2 writers for sarcasm and a “sniping attitude”. I believe in both cases the critics are far more concerned with my “attitude” than the content of what I am writing. Both the Lord and Paul demonstrated impatience and/or used sarcasm with those who dealt loosely with Scripture, and that is what Scott has done in his posts.

The reason for my “attitude” relates to the tenor of many of the posts in response to Brandenburg’s writing on this subject. I cannot speak for Brandenburg and do not know how his story will turn out. However, I would guess that the types of input posted here demonstrate a primary reason for “leaving fundamentalism”. I hope that you will carefully consider what I write here.

Probably most who have written here are from “independent Baptist” or “fundamental” churches. At the very heart of such religion is the concept of having “regenerate churches”. It is not just having orthodox doctrine, but having churches made of people who are genuinely saved. However, many of you have written in criticism of Bethel Baptist Church’s actions (BBC), not understanding that your view and understanding of this issue is what is destroying and discrediting the claim of “fundamental” churches to be Biblical or NT churches. Let me explain.

The whole idea of a NT church depends upon the guarding of the integrity of its membership. If we are not careful in preaching the Gospel, examining the profession of those we baptize, and checking up on the proven testimony of those we receive from other churches – the effect of our practice is to fill our churches with unregenerate people. You may not like the fact that a pastor would question your testimony when you want to join the church he oversees, and you may even be offended that he would call your former pastor and question him about your testimony, but it is his foremost duty if he is going to present his church as “a chaste virgin” to the Lord in the day of judgment (2 Cor. 11:2). Likewise, when a pastor overlooks sin in his congregation – including unresolved personal disagreements (Matthew 18:15-20), immorality (I Cor. 5), divisive teaching or actions (Titus 3:8-11), and, yes, even whether a man will or will not work to support his family (2 Thess. 3:6-15) – that pastor is guaranteeing that sin will multiply in his church. A profession is just a profession. When a profession proves to be untrue by a disobedient life and the pastor and church will not remove the person who continues in sin, the church will lose the integrity of a regenerate membership.

In many “independent Baptist” and “fundamental” churches their claim to “NT Christianity” is gradually becoming hollow. They eagerly accept members from other churches without ever contacting that former church and pastor. Oh, they might send a little piece of paper like the Southern Baptist Convention churches do requesting “a letter” as a formality, but they do not want any real information about the person’s life or testimony. The “transferring member” could be an adulterer, liar, heretic, etc., but the church who received the new member does not care. In fact, as has been demonstrated by many posts to Brandenburg’s article, the church will not only receive the member without checking but will condemn a sister church for any disciplinary steps it has taken. This is not love. What it is is the road to apostasy.

Why do you think that most independent Baptist churches have an attendance record as follows: 200 Sunday morning, 100 Sunday night, and 50 on Wednesday prayer meeting (if they actually pray in prayer meeting)? Why, when that same church has visitation to evangelize the lost, will only 25 people show up? The pastor of a “good”, large, independent Baptist church and a very well-known, independent, fundamental, Baptist evangelist both told me without any hesitation that in most such churches only 15 per cent of the congregations do any real work for the Lord. It was their evaluation that probably only about 15 per cent of the memberships were saved. This is NT Christianity?

What Brandenburg has written about here is not a matter of a church being too strict or trying to tell another church what to do, it is about the very heart of NT Christianity: seeking to have a regenerate church. The action by BBC to contact the other church has to do with 3 things: 1) The desire to please the Lord by obeying His commands; 2) The desire to help a man and his family who have serious sin problems; and 3) The desire to prevent another church from receiving a potentially unregenerate man into their congregation. The responses Brandenburg has received by people who found every kind of problem with the action of BBC demonstrate that most of them must not understand what a NT church is supposed to be.

I am not “hurt” by Scott Leigh’s or “anonymous’” criticism of my tone. I do not claim to have any super spirituality, but it would be unrighteous to respond to posts like Scott’s without anger about his cavalier approach to Scripture. Anvil and others have asked me questions that indicate their probable disagreement, but my responses were different to them. Perhaps many of you did not grasp the serious implications of the actions taken by BBC, but hopefully you will take time to think about it and about whether or not your church is guarding the integrity of its membership. You may disagree with many of his positions, but when you criticize him and his church for the actions they took in this case, you are demonstrating a failure to understanding and to guard the integrity of a church as defined in the NT.


d4v34x said...

Hi Brother Webb,

Just some perspective for my question: I don't have a problem with Pastor Brandenburg's/BBC's actions, and I don't think the line of confrontation they pursued with the the other church was innappropriate.

But wouldn't Matthew 13:24-30 give reason for extreme care in practicing ultimate discipline? I'm not talking about forbearing initiation of three stage discipline as outlined in the Bible, but pursuing the first step for a period (rather than one meeting), the second for a period, etc.

Even Christians can be stubborn about sin.

Gary Webb said...


I am glad you referenced that passage because it is one often used in opposition to church discipline. I am not saying that you are opposed to church discipline, but many understand that passage that way. For example, someone gave me a series of CDs by R. C. Sproul teaching the universal church doctrine, and Sproul referenced this passage in application to church discipline.

However, the specific interpretation given by the Lord prevents us from applying Matthew 13:24-30 this way. Notice verses 36-43. In verse 38 Jesus says, "The field is the world". Not the church, but the world. The parable is about unsaved & saved people in the world. The proper application here would be to prevent executing the death penalty for doctrinal heresy or unbelief in a nation [Baptists have historically held to this type of "separation of church and state".] It makes no statement about church discipline but about why God allows the unsaved to remain in the world until the Day of Judgment.

I agree with the principle of caution. We want to restore people. However, often too much caution is given. By that I mean it is easy to not take the action commanded by God. For example, Matthew 18:15-20 gives a particular process [4 steps] when dealing with personal disagreements between fellow church members, and Titus 3:9-11 gives a divisive person 2 opportunities to repent of their behavior. However, there are other cases like I Corinthians 5 where the only step commanded is to remove someone involved in a sin like fornication & then to not even eat with the person. Not many churches are willing to go that far.