Friday, December 28, 2012

Were the Reformers Heretics? Appendix Part 1

Please note that the entire series entitled "Were the Reformers Heretics"? can now be viewed by clicking here as one complete essay.

The post below originally went from the sentence "Apart from their connection of baptism and salvation, the Reformers adopted many other heresies." to the sentence: "  “Idolaters . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8)."

Monday, December 24, 2012

2 Corinthians 2:12-17: An Imperative Passage for a Right View of Ministry Success

The Apostle Paul had spent long and valuable time to establish the church at Corinth, left there, and then the church turned off the right path in numerous ways that you can read in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  It was a wreck.  The latest and greatest travesty was a mutiny against Paul by false teachers who would take over and destroy the church.

Paul had sent Titus to find out the church's reaction to a letter that he had sent actually between 1 and 2 Corinthians, what some call the "severe letter," a non-inspired epistle meant to help them again with problems.  He had not heard word of how the people had responded to the correction.  Between his health, the terrible persecution in Ephesus, his concern to hear from Titus, and his desire to preach elsewhere, Paul left Ephesus to Troas.  The plan was to rendezvous with Titus in Troas, so while there, Paul preached the gospel and we can see from 2 Corinthians 2:12 that he was seeing results there, a door was open unto him.  However, because of his discouragement over Corinth, he didn't stay with the new converts in Troas, but ditched them to go meet up with Titus somewhere between Corinth and Troas.  I can visualize Paul standing on the pier of some sea port madly jumping and waving as Titus's ship neared port.

Paul was seeing himself as a loser in the ministry.  He had not given up, but he had taken the step of forsaking an open door to preach and make disciples.  He "had no rest in his spirit" (v. 13).  Why keep preaching if the result is going to be another group that just goes down the tubes again?  How would that be worth it?  But Paul didn't stay down, and he elaborates on what got him out of his condition before he ever even saw Titus.  He did see Titus and we read the results of that reunion in 2 Corinthians 7.  His letters had their desired effect and that did bring Paul great happiness.  However, in this intermediate time, he had to get himself out of this poor state of mind.  He did that by turning his attention upward toward God and thanking God for certain realities, certain truths.

In Philippians 4, Paul writes about how he remains content despite bad conditions.  A major solution was maintaining the right thinking and focus.  Here in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul ticks off the thoughts that carried him out of the duldrums.  They do represent a philosophy of ministry for him.   Paul's thinking and thanking revolve around an event the people in Corinth would have understood:  the Roman Triumph.  When a victorious Roman army returned from battle, the celebrants would let loose a victory fragrance, women would throw down cut flowers at the feet of the returning soldiers, that crushed under their feet would also release a sweet smelling savour.  That smell would follow the victory train everywhere it went for the enjoyment of everyone in its path, and finally would waft into the nostrils of the emporer himself at the end of the procession.  Paul uses this picture to communicate what delivered him from discouragement.

Paul's attitude changes when he thinks of the reality of the triumph God had given him in Christ that he could bring to every place when he preached.  Paul's horizontal circumstances were not his reality.  He wasn't a loser.  He was a winner.   And how was he a winner?  He not only brought the fragrance of Christ's Triumph to all those he met in his work for God, but he was sending it to God Himself (v. 15), who in the metaphor would be the emporer.  That fragrance of Christ's triumph would rise to the nostrils of God with both those who were saved and with those who would perish.

Success in ministry for Paul did not depend on people being saved.  He would also succeed when people were not saved. In the procession were the victorious soldiers and then the captured prisoners.   Both would carry the fragrance of Christ's triumph to the nose of the heavenly Father.  If you know that you have succeeded no matter what the reaction to your gospel preaching, as long as you preached a true gospel, then you are a success no matter what.  And Paul is communicating that here in 2 Corinthians 2.

The prophet in Isaiah 55 said that God's message will always fulfill its intended purpose.  God is glorified by the savor of death or of life.  Both are part of the triumph in Christ.  Those who receive and those who reject are both part of the success.  That means that even if Corinth did collapse and not make it (which it wouldn't), Paul would still triumph.  He would always be a winner.

This passage does not guide the modern church growth movement where the only success is reception.  If the only triumph is life (and not death), then strategies and techniques will be utilized to insure victory.  Instead of being satisfied with Christ's triumph, measures are taken to guarantee numeric success so to alleviate the savor unto death that God also enjoys.

(to be continued)

Friday, December 21, 2012

New resources at "Theological Compositions"

There are a variety of relatively recently posted resources at my “Theological Compositions” website that I thought you might find of interest.  These include:

1.) In the Bibliology section, a work entitled “Texts Where the Deity of Christ is Attacked or Denied in Modern Bible Versions Because of Corruptions in the Greek Critical Text, with a Brief Defense of the Textus Receptus in These Passages,” the significance of which is self-explanatory.  Another new self-explanatory study in the Bibliology section is:  “Daniel 3:25: ‘the Son of God’ or ‘a son of the gods’?”

2.) In the Theology Proper, Christology, and Pneumatology section, I have added about 47 pages of material to the “Objections to the Trinity Answered” work.  Now not just the objections of Arians/the Watchtower Society are detailed and refuted, but a careful study of and refutation of the modalist/Sabellian/“Jesus only” doctrine of the Oneness Pentecostals—who are, by the way, more numerous than the Watchtower Society—has been added.  It is one of the most, if not the most, detailed study refuting “Jesus only” Christology that is available free online.  I have also updated the work of the same name at the evangelistic “What Must I Do to be Saved?” website.

I have also linked to E. W. Hengstenberg’s 4 volume Christology of the Old Testament. Although a Lutheran, for a scholarly and Hebrew-text based OT Christology, his work is very valuable.

3.) In the Soteriology section, the study:  “‘The just shall live by faith’— A Study of Faith’s Connection with Salvation in All Its Justifying, Sanctifying, and Glorifying Fullness” has been added.  It is a portion of my (in progress) Ph. D. dissertation on the doctrine of sanctification in historic Baptist perspective.  The study took me a number of months to complete.  I believe it will strengthen your knowledge of God intellectually and refresh your soul also.  I am likely, Lord willing, to post material associated with this study on “What is Truth?” in the relatively near future.

I have also linked to David Cloud’s refutation of John Piper’s “Christian Hedonism,” and posted links to two great devotionals, Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening and the lesser known but still Christologically rich The Poor Man’s Morning and Evening Portions by Robert Hawker.  The book received its name because it was originally published in cheap editions so that the poor could purchase them.  Hawker is great at seeing Christ in the Scriptures, although sometimes he waxes a little allegorical and I don’t agree with his Calvinism.

4.) In the “Politics” section, I have linked to Randy Alcorn’s work Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?  Scripture teaches that children are a reward from God and a blessing (Psalm 127:3), and believers should seek to have as many blessings and rewards from the Lord as possible rather than preventing God from rewarding them by limiting their family size.  Today, many believers would be horrified to receive the blessing Rebekah received, instead of rejoicing in it:  “And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them” (Genesis 24:60).  If believers in the USA had generally maintained a Biblical perspective on family size, instead of adopting the mentality of our contraceptive, anti-child culture, Obama would not be sitting in the gate now—someone far, far more righteous would be.  However, if you are determined that you want God to reward you less and to raise fewer children for His kingdom, please do not do so with the birth control pill, for then you are almost surely not just preventing God’s blessing, but are actually involved in murder, as the Pill does not always prevent conception but with some frequency results in the early death of an already conceived person bearing the image of God.

5.) In the new section entitled “Family,” I have linked to some great material by Pastor Brandenburg defending a courtship/betrothal pattern for obtaining a spouse, rather than the world’s dating pattern, and added an excellent tract by Pastor David Sutton on the Biblical basis for and practice of spanking.

6.) In the “Our Other Websites” section, on the “Literary Compositions” page, a number of well-written plays by my wife Heather, appropriate for performance by Christian schools and in a variety of other settings, have been added.  If you need a play, you can use one of them as written, tweak one of them, etc. instead of having to start all over from scratch.

7.) In the “Material for College and Seminary Courses” section, a goodly number of new resources have been recently added, including a link so that you can learn 1st year Greek online from Dr. D. A. Waite.  If you do know Greek, you might salivate at the fact that you can download free copies of the Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon, A. T. Robertson’s massive Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, and Alford’s 4 volume Greek Testament Commentary, along with other valuable original-language based commentaries.


Monday, December 17, 2012

How To Keep Children Safe

I wish the twenty children and six adults in Connecticut had not been murdered last week and I hope the best for the families of the victims.  Proceeding from such an incident should arise a discussion about how to keep children safe.  But no.  The media and politicians spawn a debate about gun control.  Isn't the issue the safety of our children?  Does more gun control actually make our children safer?  What if gun control in fact made our children less safe?  Could we support that?

The sheriff's department where we live has informed us that there is nothing that it can do to stop our church and school from being robbed and vandalized.  We have been vandalized or robbed 15-20 times in the years I have been pastor here.  Law enforcement here cannot stop crimes from being committed against us and can only prosecute crimes already perpetrated against us.  We were informed that they could not even really prosecute criminals who commit them against us unless we were willing to purchase video surveillance equipment to catch the criminals in the act.   And then we have caught at least three different people in the act through the years --- one parent voluntarily paid for the damage and the other two did nothing even with the coercion of law enforcement.  We sat together with the criminals in a victim reconciliation program, where we talked together about what they did, but we received zero remuneration.  This seems to be about par for the course today.

Like you, this incident has got me thinking about the safety of our school.  What would happen if a killer came on our campus with a rifle or handgun and began firing at our teachers and students?  I can tell you what would happen right now.  We would have a massacre on our hands.  I wouldn't allow him to keep killing people without trying to do something about it, so I would likely be dead.  Our teachers would be left with doing about the same thing that the teachers in Newtown did:  hide, lock, and barricade the children into a bathroom or closet, throw their bodies over children as a human shield, or charge the killer to distract him and hope that he misses.

Let me present to you a different scenario.  It's not happening right now because it is illegal as far as I know.  I'm going to be investigating how far we can go here to protect ourselves.  As I mentioned, law enforcement has told us that they cannot and will not protect us.   Instead of being unarmed, imagine that every one of our teachers carried a concealed handgun.  As soon as a man like this started open firing at our people, three or four of us would be firing back at him.  What would that do?  It could stop him while he had shot only a few, before he shot many.  Knowing we are armed could deter him in the first place.  If we shot at him, it could make him leave or look for cover, where he was no longer on the offensive, but on the defensive until more law enforcement could arrive.  Those all sound like a safer situation for children.

Let me play the devil's advocate.  We ban semi-automatic weapons.  Some of these terms are foreign to many people, if not most.  Many city folks don't know much about guns.  Most hunting rifles are semi-automatic.  Handguns are semi-automatic.  Semi-automatic means you can keep successively firing bullets one at a time.  None of the recent mass murders occurred with automatic weapons, even though you'll hear media persons saying semi-automatic and automatic together like they are the same thing.  An "assault rifle" is usually nothing different than a semi-automatic rifle that looks like a military weapon.  Looks like.

If we ban semi-automatic weapons, we are banning almost all guns.  And then criminals, people who commit horrendous crimes, law-breakers, surprisingly don't mind violating the law.  They are going to murder numerous people, which is worse than owning a gun without a permit.  If you ask them if they have a gun, they will lie, because people who will murder numerous people don't mind lying to people.  If you would kill a person, then you would easily lie.  Does anyone really need to go through this with me?  I guess so.  This is how simple it all is.

So criminals, who don't submit to gun laws, go with murderous intent to kill unarmed people, people who don't have guns because the law says they can't.

This all reminds me of what happens when a drunk driver hits a van full of children.  What do they do?  They make new laws for van safety.  I can't say that I understand the thinking.  It is the kind of thinking, I believe, however, that goes along with a culture that has become deluded and reprobate.  Or we could just call it NOT thinking.  People have a feeling and act on that feeling. The feeling says that criminals  or insane or murderous thugs shouldn't have an "assault rifle," so we should ban semi-automatic weapons.  If the man didn't have the gun, he wouldn't have murdered the people.  It's true.  But it was illegal for him to shoot people, and that law didn't stop him.  Why would a gun law stop him?  It wouldn't.  No one wants him to have the gun.  Like the sheriff said, we can't stop them.  It's only a feeling that will do nothing to protect children, actually leave them more vulnerable.

So what would stop him?  If we both had a gun, he could be stopped from doing the damage.  The data, actual facts, proves this out.  The children would be safer if those watching over them could be or were armed with guns.  If we wanted to keep children safe, if that was the issue, then we would have the adults in charge carrying guns.  In a perfect world, no criminal would murder anyone, but we're talking about the world we live in.

If someone wants to get to the root of the murdering, it isn't the guns.  It is the culture of death we live in.  All abortion and especially late term abortion is murder.  A life is snuffed out with no good reason, the life of the most helpless person in our society.  Murderers murder and keep murdering without receiving the appropriate punishment.  We have a president who, while a state representative in Illinois, fought for murdering babies who survived a botched abortion.  It was hard for me to sympathize with his crocodile tears.  He supports the murder of the most innocent, so please stop the act, I say.

On top of all this is the possible motive of the government to disarm it's people.  People are more pliable when they can't fight.  They'll have to go along with whatever right or freedom is taken away and without recourse.  The government will never say there's a motive to disarm people.  The War for Independence started when the British marched to Concord, Massachusetts to confiscate a storage of weapons.  This was prominent in the minds of the founding fathers when they penned the second amendment.

Let's say that both sides of the gun debate said that they really cared about the safety of the children.  If that was the case, then we wouldn't care about whether our position was enacted, just that we did what was best to protect our children.  More guns, not less would better and more likely keep our children safe.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Were the Reformers Heretics? part 11

Please note that the entire series entitled "Were the Reformers Heretics"? can now be viewed by clicking here as one complete essay.

The post below originally went from the sentence "Baptists stand for the necessity of conscious, personal and evangelical conversion as a prerequisite to baptism. ." to the sentence: "Saints associated with the Romish whore (Revelation 17:1ff.) or her Protestant daughter churches (17:5) should take heed to the inspired command:  “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4)."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cult-Like Tendency in Modern Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, part three

I think the word "cult" gets thrown around too easily, but I'm still using it in this series (part one, part two).   I'm not saying "cult," but "cult-like tendency."  Cults don't have history on their side.   They find a new teaching and practice that contradicts historical doctrine and application.  If there is to be a change in what Christians believe and do, it should be accompanied first, if not alone, with serious exegesis of Scripture.   When I say that fundamentalism and evangelicalism have a cult-like tendency, I'm suggesting this feature, the neglect or ignorance orthodox, historical theology.  I'm not saying, however, that fundamentalists and evangelicals don't consider historical doctrine and practice at all.  They do, but they are selective in this, which is also what one witnesses in cults.

Biblical, spiritual matters should be considering first whether it is what God wants, what He said, not what will be popular, "help" with the size of the church or the organization.  The world will clash with the church in a greater, more severe way on certain doctrines and practices, highlighting the difference, the contrast between the church and the world.  A major teaching in the Bible is the suffering of the church.  Jesus said the world would hate His people, like the world hated Him.  1 Peter is a book that teaches the calling to suffer.  A tendency of churches, however, and professing believers, is to try to avoid suffering.  It's natural, but it must be resisted.  A church should just keep walking the right path in doctrine and practice, despite the hostility of the world.  Pragmatic compromises with the world will not help.  They might look like they help in the short term, but they are not honoring to God when they move away from God.  Again, this is all about God, so His honor must stay in the forefront.

Little suffering will occur for a church because they use the King James Version with its underlying received text.  Some will happen, mainly in the nature of being marginalized as kooks or quacks with no proof from the accusers.  There will be those who will not attend a church if a modern version is not used.  It's been programmed in now after years of propaganda.  I know modern version advocates will say the opposite occurs too with people who reject modern versions for the King James, especially in certain areas of the country.  That tide is turning or has turned now.  The point I've made on this is that the church has believed in the perfect preservation of Scripture and that has been forsaken by fundamentalism and evangelicalism, ignoring historical doctrine to do so.  That is a cult-like tendency, to leave the historical doctrine of the preservation of Scripture because of science.  We are seeing the same trend with 6 day literal creationism for views compatible with evolution.  Leaving the orthodox understanding of Genesis based upon worldly thinking is cult-like.  Fundamentalists have not taken this turn on Genesis, but they have moved on the text of Scripture based upon similar "scientific" principles.

A major turn in fundamentalism and evangelicalism away from historical application of Scripture, the practice of God's Word, has been on the so-called cultural issues.  The historical understanding of Deuteronomy 22:5 among Christians has been practiced as men wearing pants and women wearing skirts or dresses.  Historically, true believers have believed that the disobedience of this passage in this way made the violators an abomination to God.  That was the position that Christians took, all of them.   As the culture of the world began to move away from this Christian influence, Christians stood against the world, but over a longer period of time, Christians too have shifted on it, until there is little to no difference between the church and the world in this practice.  In fact, now professing Christians actually attack, mock, and ridicule the historical Christian position and practice on gender distinctiveness in dress as much as or more than the world itself does.

The change in practice on dress did not start with study of the Bible or exegesis.  It started with accommodation to the world and then acceptance of the world's practice.  Christians were no longer obeying Deuteronomy 22:5.  Some interpretational differences came later as fundamentalists and evangelicals attempted to justify their lack of practice.

Understand that accompanying the disobedience of Deuteronomy 22:5 has come the variation in the roles of men and women and the rise of homosexuality.  They are related issues.  First came the God-ordained symbolism of men wearing pants and women wearing skirts and dresses, and then once the symbol was rejected, the roles themselves have moved to the worldly thinking as well.  New arguments arose against male headship and female submission, changing the historical beliefs of Christians.  And this is related to the creation issue, since God created the roles of men and women, and He wanted those differences designed into the external symbolism of dress.  This is clear in Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-16.

From my perspective, the arguments against the man wearing pants and the woman wearing skirts and dresses, are weak and ridiculous.  They are not trying to follow what the Bible says, just looking for a way out in order to fit in with the world.  The issue has become political more than exegetical.  You take a position that will allow you to fit in with more people.  There is no history with it.  The people will not refer to positions Christians have taken.  They will not talk about how Christians have interpreted the passages.  They don't want to do that.  They know what it means.  Instead, they  just take pot shots at those who continue believing and practicing the biblical and historical way.  This is a cult-like tendency.  It is illustrated with the rebellion on the dress issue, but it is happening in many of the cultural issues.   The world is turning the church upside down.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Were the Reformers Heretics? part 10

Please note that the entire series entitled "Were the Reformers Heretics"? can now be viewed by clicking here as one complete essay.

The post below originally went from the sentence "William Tyndale, translator and promulgator (with Coverdale and Rodgers) of the immensely influential Tyndale Bible, held Baptist views on baptism." to the sentence: " The Regulative Principle was an important component of the Baptist doctrine of baptism."

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Applying Biblical Texts to Ecclesiastical Separation?

Recently Dave Doran, pastor and seminary president, wrote on his blog about a post by Lance Ketchum on ecclesiastical separation.  Ketchum had named Doran in a negative way in his article, and then Doran riffed on it with a very short essay with a link to an article he had written about a related passage.  Ketchum says that Doran isn't practicing biblical separation and Doran says that Ketchum isn't essentially interpreting and then applying the passage in Romans 16 correctly.  So what's going on here?

I had read the Ketchum post and didn't have any trouble with it.  I read the Doran post and thought it was unusual for him.  I like Doran in so many ways.  It seemed to be something little less than a pot shot, a hatchet job (to mix my metaphors) on Ketchum.  And Doran's name was mentioned by Ketchum.

Ketchum quotes our book on ecclesiastical separation, A Pure Church, in his article, but this has nothing to do with my post right now.  Doran really didn't touch what we were quoted on.  There wasn't enough of a context to the quotes to know what positions we would be taking exactly on the text.

Doran's post was so short, let me just quote the entire thing right here:

FWIW, I was reminded of this previous post when I read this article.

The genuine cause of biblical separatism is not helped by applying biblical texts about false teachers to brothers with whom we disagree. It may work to create controversy and generate heat, but my observation over the past 30 years is that it only works for the short term and then blows up. People who makes claims like this lose their credibility and their following, properly, grows smaller and smaller. Sadly, they interpret that as some kind of proof that they are right, but in reality it is simply a sign that they are unbiblically divisive. Even more sadly, because they wave a Bible verse and drape their false accusation in biblical garb, good people and assemblies are hurt by the confusion it causes.

Succinctness can be good....and bad.  I judge the latter here, because there isn't enough explanation for Doran to avoid failing.  I quoted the whole thing, so I could refer to it in this post.

The post to which Doran links, which you can pick up by clicking on the link I provide in my first line, deals with a misinterpretation or misapplication of Romans 16:17-18, that I have to say, I've never heard in my life, making it seem like nothing more than strawman.  He bashes a position I've never heard taken and doesn't tell us who he heard taking it.  Ketchum doesn't take it, so it doesn't even apply to Ketchum, even though Doran links to it like he does.  So we're bad there right off the bat.  Problem #1.

Then the major point of Doran is that Ketchum's article misapplies Romans 16:17-18 (and I think Doran may be saying, misapplies to me).  He uses the words "brothers with whom we disagree."  That is at least misleading.  Ketchum isn't talking about "disagreements," like non-biblical issues (Rom 14 ones).  Ketchum is talking about false teachers and false teaching.  Problem #2.

I wrote Doran about this, so I know now what he thought was the misapplication.  Ketchum applies Romans 16:17-18 to false teachers who are professing believers and Doran thinks that it should apply only to lost false teachers.  That's it.   Doran treats this like it is some egregious issue of interpretation or application.  I don't see Doran going after this kind of situation normally, but obviously his name and some of his closer friends were mentioned in the article.  He and they were involved with Mark Dever at a conference a few years back, and this got some hubbbub.

Is Doran right?  Does Romans 16:17-18 apply only to unbelieving false teachers?  If there are false teachers teaching something that is against scripture, we don't mark and avoid them, at least according to Romans 16:17-18?  I don't think Doran can prove his point.  He doesn't even try in the article.  Actually I think it applies to any kind of false teacher, and we're not always able to instantly determine whether the one doing the false teaching is saved or not.  Usually saved people, when confronted about false teaching, will repent, so you don't have to mark and avoid them.  The terms aren't a dead give-away to say that these are surely all unsaved people.  Problem #3.

The way Doran reads is that Ketchum was attempting to "create controversy and generate heat."  So this comes across like he is assigning that motive to Ketchum.  I don't think so.  I think Ketchum is concerned about the Bible being followed and obeyed.  He sees fundamentalism changing and he doesn't think in a good way, and he wants to do something about it, so he uses a lot of exegesis to do so.  Doran says bad exegesis with no proof, but Ketchum does in fact refer to scripture in a serious way to make his point, unlike ironically what Doran does.  Doran just blasts Ketchum without providing proof, except for a link that is a bridge to nowhere.  And I think the plain reading has Doran judging Ketchum's motives.  Problem #4.

In the exactly previous post to this one by Doran, he writes about what bothers him about blog debates, and #2 is:  "when a written text is defended or attacked by arguments that assume the ability to read the author’s mind."  So in his next post, he attempts to read Ketchum's mind in a blog debate.  Bravo!  His number one was treating arguments like they are an attack on a person, when they are an attack on a text.  What text did Doran really deal with?  Voila.  Nothing.  All he did was smack down Ketchum.  Problem #5.

Doran says that Ketchum makes a false accusation.  What is the false accusation?  Please, if there is confusion, let's clear that up!  No clearing up available with this essay.  Ironically, more confusion with this post than with what Ketchum offered.  I got what Ketchum was talking about.  Doran serves up ambiguity that then comes across as a smear job.  It is a smear job.  So, it is a false accusation against Ketchum about Ketchum making a false accusation.  If you are going to say someone is making a false accusation, you've got to do better than this, or you yourself are making one.  He says that Ketchum is losing credibility, being unbiblically divisive, and then being a con man by putting biblical garb over his sinful actions.  That's all very serious.  Doran seems to think that the sheer weight of his personality or self-perceived gravitas is enough authority here, all very much like the fundamentalism that I witnessed when I was in it.  Problem #6.

Ketchum is supposed to be concerned that his "following is growing smaller and smaller."  Ouch.  This is big with fundamentalists, their following.  They will lose a following.  I could riff on several posts on that.  That idea makes me sick.  Is Ketchum really concerned about his "following," so he writes an article to make sure he keeps it?  That sounds dastardly.  I would hope not.  I don't think so.  Problem #7.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Separation and Sectarianism, An Article Review

In the interest of understanding biblical separation, I offer some criticism of an article by Rick Flanders at the Revival Focus blog.  I have a narrow focus in my review, dealing only with the separation topic, and not with revival, soteriology, discipleship, nor sanctification.  Just because I don't touch on those doesn't mean that I believe Flanders is correct on those.  With our having just published a book on ecclesiastical separation, A Pure Church, I continue to have an interest in related articles.

Flanders uses Luke 9:49-50 to make a point about separation, a generally good point.  We shouldn't separate from people unnecessarily.  The men not following Jesus and yet casting out demons were not opposing Jesus.  There was no reason to stop them from casting out demons.  Having demons leave people is a good thing.  Flanders goes from there to say that we should not separate from other people just because they are not in our particular group.

Maybe some base their fellowship on whoever is in their group or circle or network.  He describes this as casting "out like-minded Christians just because they don’t know them very well."  So Flanders is confronting a problem.  The only people I have ever seen, who operate like Flanders describes, are fundamentalists.  The typical situation is that you don't send your students to a particular Bible college or university, so you diminish in your favor with that school.   In certain instances, only by attending a particular conference or supporting certain missionaries will you people held in enough esteem to include in cooperation.  These are fundamentalist politics, wielding influence within fundamentalism by playing these types of games.  Flanders is dealing with something he sees and I don't know if this is it.  It's the place where I see what he's talking about.

Flanders defines a fundamentalist as someone who "thinks of himself as standing faithfully for the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel."  That statement is loaded with so many qualifiers that make it unhelpful.  Are you a fundamentalist if you merely think of yourself as standing faithful to certain doctrines?  It would seem that thinking alone wouldn't cut it.  And he narrows it down to the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, not fundamental doctrines of Scripture, only the doctrines that are fundamental to the Gospel.  That really wouldn't make you any different than a conservative evangelical.  He provides no basis for this definition of fundamentalism.  The only fundamentals I had every heard, were the ones in the pamphlets, The Fundamentals, and then called "the fundamentals of the faith."  It didn't dawn on me until I was pastoring for awhile that the reason for having fundamentals was to create a unity that was less than biblical unity.  For instance, you could be unified with people who sprinkled babies as long as they believed the fundamentals.  Every movement that provides for a unity that reduces the basis of fellowship to arbitrarily chosen fundamentals is a movement to reject.   Let God be true and every man a liar.

OK, what motivated me to write this began in about the 8th paragraph, when Flanders wrote:  "The truth we mutually understand and follow can be the basis of some Christian cooperation, although disagreements on other things must limit the extent of it."  This is where he takes an application of Luke 9:49-50 too far, if that is in fact the basis of this statement.  He doesn't supply any support for it.  He is saying that we can cooperate with one another, that is, fellowship based upon truth we mutually understand.  The fellowship, however, is limited by disagreement "on other things."  What other things?  Are these the truths we don't mutually understand and follow?  In other words, fellowship can still occur with a degree of false doctrine and practice.  The Bible not only doesn't teach this, but it teaches against it in all the major separation passages.

Let me use Flanders himself as an example.  I don't oppose him in those doctrines and practices that are right.  I don't go out of my way even to deal with those areas.  However, different doctrine and practice doesn't just bring a different degree of fellowship, but it results in not fellowshiping at all.   I like Flanders a lot.  I would enjoy getting together with him, talking about doctrine, sitting for a cup of coffee.  However, I won't fellowship with him.  Why?  I don't believe the same as him.  I know this to be true from reading what he is written.  I can't ignore those doctrinal differences to cooperate with him. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate where he is right.  I do.  I rejoice in it.  I would even defend him when he is attacked on the truth.   We are not fellowship with those who have a wrong doctrine and practice.  We're talking about a doctrine the Bible teaches.  Romans 14 is a passage that relates to those doctrines and practices the Bible doesn't either forbid or teach, that is, liberty issues.  We should not relegate doctrines and practices the Bible teaches to matters of liberty.

A primary thought behind fundamentalism, represented by Flanders' article, is that we have varying degrees of fellowship based upon varying degrees of doctrinal disagreement.  The Bible does not teach that at all.  He doesn't prove it either.  Fellowship is cooperation in ministry or worship (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  The basis for cooperation is the truth (1-3 John).  It's true that we don't break fellowship just because someone hasn't "been in our group."  However, we do break fellowship for more than "fundamentals to the Gospel."  We don't start fellowshiping based upon a percentage of mutually agreed truths, and fellowship to the degree that we agree.  Something the Bible teaches will be left out in that equation, purposefully dismissed solely for getting together.

We fellowship based on everything the Bible teaches, all its doctrines and practices.  We break fellowship for unrepentant violations of biblical teachings and deeds.  Once we know someone does believe and practice according to God's Word, we welcome fellowship.  This is what John talks about in 2-3 John.  It's not based on camps, on networks, or groups.

It might look like churches that believe and practice the same are a group.  It might look like churches that will not fellowship outside of that group are not doing so because they won't welcome anyone who isn't in their group.  I know that this isn't true.  The churches our church fellowships with today we didn't even know about until doctrine and practice became our basis of fellowship.  When those churches found we believed and practiced like them, they gladly welcomed us.  They didn't shun us just because we weren't in their "group."

Doctrines and practices should not be ignored in order to fellowship.  We should not be reducing doctrines to mutually agreed upon ones or to those merely fundamentals of the gospel as a criteria of our fellowship.  There is no fellowship that is worth ignoring doctrine and practice in order to keep it.   If it is called fellowship, and it isn't based upon all of the truth, then it isn't fellowship anyway, just a facade of fellowship, a counterfeit.  God doesn't require any group, but that one He started Himself, the church.  No group outside of the church is worth cooperating with in order to try to gain some kind of "influence."  It's not a necessary influence.  Purity and truth are necessary, not these influences.

Now I'm going to do something a little different.  I'm going to anticipate the biggest disagreements with this post.  People will disagree with me and their basis will be my own practice of what I'm writing about there.  If they can find me inconsistent, then they have liberty to practice differently than what I'm teaching.  They don't even have to find an inconsistency.  Of course, the real basis for disagreement will be ecclesiology.  Flanders likely believes in a universal church, so that we must have unity with all believers in some way---that's how he gets his fundamentals of the gospel idea.  If that's the case, then he will need to find a way to fellowship with all believers, including evangelicals.  Others will just call it divisive and heretical, that is, just call it names.  I can see Flanders complaining that I misrepresented him or wondering why it is that we can't just be an encouragement, because he really only wants to help people.  Others will just ignore it.  If they ignore it, then they are not unifying with me, a believer, and therefore being divisive.  Oops.  But that will be OK, because no one that believes the way they do can practice either biblical unity or separation and be obedient to God anyway.  Ignoring me won't change that.