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)