Sunday, May 04, 2014

Practical Denial of the Doctrine of Perspicuity

What's a better argument?  The Bible says the teaching of the Bible is clear, is plain, is understandable.  Or, a lot of people have disagreements about what the Bible means, so it must not be very easy to understand.  The second one has the most traction today.

The Bible talks like everyone should understand all of it, if they want to.  That doesn't mean they'll all do it, or that they even will understand it, but they are responsible to understand it, because they can.  If people can understand it, then they are responsible to practice it too.   I'm going to quote the dreaded Wikipedia article on perspicuity, because you'll get the gist from it.

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture (often called the perspicuity of Scripture) is a Protestant Christian position teaching that "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and, therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."  Clarity of scripture is an important doctrinal and Biblical interpretive principle for many evangelical Christians. Perspicuity of scripture does not imply that people will receive it for what it is, as many adherents to the doctrine of perspicuity of scripture accept the Calvinist teaching that man is depraved and needs the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to see the meaning for what it is. Martin Luther advocated the clearness of scripture in his work On the Bondage of the Will.  Arminius argued for the perspicuity of scripture by name in "The Perspicuity Of The Scriptures."

Scripture affirms that scripture is able to be understood (Dt 6:6-7, 30:11-14; Ps 19:7, 119:105, 130; Mt 12:3, 5, 19:4, 21:42, 22:31; John 3:10; 2 Tim 3:15).  There are a lot of other arguments for perspicuity, but it is a historic doctrine.

You can't be responsible to obey everything God said if you can't understand all of it.  Everyone in a church cannot be expected to have the same mind or the same thinking or the same doctrine or be likeminded without everyone being able to understand scriptural teaching.

Everything that you have read above, we teach in our church.  We not only teach it, but we agree that we can all have the same doctrine, like Paul expected of the Corinthians.  He began his teaching to the Corinthians with this (1 Cor 1:10):

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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 he ended his teaching to the Corinthians with this (2 Cor 13:11):

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Some might call this unanimity.  It is in fact biblical unity.  That is all conditioned on the expectation that everyone can get everything that the Bible teaches.

Here's an evangelical come-back:  "But you don't see this kind of unity today.  You're just not going to.  You won't find it anywhere, so you can't expect it."  Many of them see this kind of certainty as the real problem, an epistemological pride that will send many off the deep end.  Part of the idea is that people want to go there own way, and you better give them some freedom to do that or they'll push the eject button on Christianity completely.

What we have today is a virtually complete, at least practical denial of the doctrine of perspicuity.  The Bible either teaches it or it doesn't.  If it does, then we can separate over doctrine other than the so-called essentials.  

The way I hear it today in a vast number of evangelicals is that if you separate over amillennialism, continuationism, infant sprinkling, church government, qualifications of the pastor, and many more other doctrines, you are separating over non-essentials, mainly doctrines that men can't really be sure about.  John Piper is a continuationist and in so doing encourages the Charismatic movement and its abuses.  John MacArthur calls this strange fire, but that isn't going to stop him from fellowshiping with John Piper.  John MacArthur preaches at the Together for the Gospel conference with John Piper.  They yoke together.  This is token admission that someone can't be sure on this particular doctrine.

At the T4G conferences you have amillennialists, covenant theologians, baby sprinklers, and continuationists.  Paul says "be of one mind."  They say, "No, can't be done."  "Won't be done, because of the unity of the church."  This unity is toleration.  It is a practical denial of the doctrine of perspicuity.  Believe me.  They only give lip service to perspicuity.  They say it is historical.  They say it is biblical.  But they deny it.  They reject it.  They are faithless in their view of perspicuity.  The differences between men in their understanding of the Bible are more convincing than what scripture says about perspicuity.  The differences are greater evidence than biblical teaching.

We could talk about other reasons why men do not have the same mind, do not think the same thoughts, but they allow for it by at least practicing that we can't be sure of what the Bible is teaching.  We can't be sure about how everything will end.  We can't be sure about ecclesiology.  We can't be sure about much of the doctrine of salvation.  We can't be sure about sanctification.  We can't be sure about bibliology, about what the Words of the Bible even are.  We can't be sure about whether it's right or wrong to drink alcohol, to wear a bikini, to have long hair on men, or about the right music for worship.  There is actually very little that we have to understand because of this practical denial of perspicuity, which is the actual belief of almost all of evangelicalism and most of fundamentalism.

There is no wonder that room is opening up for doubt about the definition of marriage.  How can we expect anyone to know that either.  If so much is unclear, and not so plain, then we can't be too tough there either can we?


I want to add to this, because of a thought I had later.  2 + 2 = 4, right?  That's plain.  That's clear.  5 isn't an acceptable answer, right?   What God said is that clear, that plain.  The lack of clarity professed exists to justify disobedience.  You can't say it's clear to get a certain degree of obedience, but then say it isn't clear in order to allow for larger coalitions and greater numbers.  Truth is the casualty.



Shouldn't you seperate from those of us who hold to headcoverings?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't have a problem with women wearing headcoverings. I'm happy that they want to distinguish themselves in their dress. I won't separate over it. I'll applaud it. You might separate from me, however, because I don't require it, because it isn't what I think the passages teach. And if you do separate from me over it, I would totally understand it.

Don Johnson said...

On this point, I would say that a local church should have pretty close to unanimity in what is taught and held by the members. I think this kind of unity is possible at a local level.

I would be able to have some fellowship with matters of difference (like headcoverings mentioned above) where I could work with others who differed in those areas in certain contexts.

But I find the kind of unity practiced at T4G to be entirely hypocritical, especially on the part of those who preach so strongly on those matters of difference. If ongoing gifts is such a heresy, as MacArthur preaches, he shouldn't give aid and comfort to those who promote it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


Thanks for the reply. A few honest questions:

I don't "require" headcoverings for those who meet in our house. Ladies do wear them there. I do teach that the NT teaches the practice. Do you require ladies wear dresses at the church you pastor?

I understand we aren't yoked up, but for argument's sake, why do you not separate from me for something you believe is unscriptural and do separate from others for other unscriptural matters?

If 2+2=4, then why all the differences and why should I buy your books?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I appreciate your comment. I really don't see any other kind of unity delineated in scripture than this same mind, exact doctrine, kind of unity. Paul told Timothy to teach no other doctrine. That kind of thing is again and again and again. The later iteration of a doctrine of agree to disagree is a pragmatic bow for the purposes of something bigger that isn't required in scripture. The unanimity is required and people don't practice that, but they do practice the later big coalition, ignoring doctrine and practice thing. MacArthur is doing what a gigantic majority of evangelicalism and fundamentalism does, just with what seems to be more responsibility because of how harsh he is about strange fire. "THIS IS STRANGE FIRE!!!" "CAUSES SOUL DAMNING CONFUSION!!!" And then, "Hey strange fire, let's get together and preach. I accept you."

Let's say this was something in the bridge building world. There was the engineer who built bridges that collapsed because he had the wrong equations. He wouldn't be accepted in the bridge building fraternity any more. This is true in the real world. In the fantasy world of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, you're still accepted.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Female garments are required in our church because that is what we believe and practice. People are given time to grow in all the doctrine and practice of our church, but I haven't seen otherwise from any of our people. I see your teaching of headcoverings as being a teaching on a female garment. I don't believe it is one, but the teaching is still valid, that is, 'wear a female garment that distinguishes from a man.' That doesn't differ from what we believe and practice, so it isn't a deal breaker with us. I've never had a problem with someone that had a different standard than mine, as long as theirs was scriptural.

I've said many times that we separate over doctrine and practice, not different "interpretation." This is where the standard for separation is. Women wearing headcoverings in our church would be welcome. They can't cause division over that, because it isn't the doctrine of our church, but it isn't unscriptural.

I've written on this above, and it is in the book. I think division is the point of separation. If that were not the case, then no one could grow as a Christian. They would have to be immediately thinking and practicing immediately right. The Bible teaches it at the point of division, and it also makes sense because of the desire to grow. That would indicate I don't believe in sinless perfection for those reading, one of which who claimed that we said that.

Why buy our books? They are scriptural, good books. They are careful. They are grammatical and historical. They come from a church. They take a scriptural point of view. Lots of other reasons. I don't think buying a book is fellowship. And even if it were, you can't know until you read it.

David Gross said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I know this has become somewhat of a rabbit trail from the original article you posted, but it would be very helpful to know the exegesis on the I Corinthians passage dealing with the covering of the head. Do you have anything already written out on it? I am a missionary in Eastern Europe where many "Baptists" and even Orthodox wear head coverings. The non-received text Romanian translation even lends itself to the covering being something added rather than referring to the woman's hair. So many Christians have waved off biblical teaching with the excuse of "well, that was cultural so it no longer applies to us." This excuse is used to validate women preachers, lack of dress standards, etc. I feel like I'm missing something obvious in the passage to help me settle on one side or the other but I'm missing it. Any help? Thanks.


Kent Brandenburg said...


I have a book that hopefully will come out relatively shortly that is my best writing on this, but I blogged here, and you can let me know if you think it helps:

Dave Barnhart said...

So with your separate answers about unanimity and head-coverings, I don't really understand either your practice of separation or your definition of unanimity.

If people who believe head coverings are required attend your church but don't cause division, you say they could continue to attend. However, if, in spite of your preaching, they still believe that head coverings are required and you don't, then all the people of your church are not unanimous in doctrine. Of course, you don't see head coverings as unscriptural, but I would think you would see their position that head coverings are required as unscriptural.

If you say you are just giving time, how long would that period be? If they continue to attend and believe differently from you for 20 years, would you eventually separate from them? If not, what does this mean for true unanimity of doctrine within your church? It is exactly this type of situation that leads me to believe that even within a local church there will never be true 100% unanimity (let alone in organizations like T4G).

Kent Brandenburg said...


I want to break down your answer, because parts of it are not true. We've danced around these issues in the past, and you've made statements that are not true, but you seem convinced they are anyway, no matter what I write or say. I don't say that with any anger or even disappointment, but with some curiosity or wonder. Do these things that you say that aren't true have to be true for you to do what you do? Or even believe what you believe?

God wants one mind, one doctrine, one thinking. Do you believe that? Is this just an ideal or is it something that one can have? I believe you can have it. Our church does. How is that the case? Perhaps for you, you wouldn't want that kind of church. You want more of a buffet table church maybe, where there are several options. But how can someone want that, when God says we must have what I am describing? You haven't really dealt with the exegesis, but as you do so often, whether we are practicing it consistently. I say we are, but you have to have it not to be. I say, "????" What?

Our church as unanimity of doctrine and practice. Wearing a headcovering doesn't disturb that at all. If a woman is wearing a headcovering it doesn't violate what our church believes. That person has the liberty to practice that. How does she not? But we don't teach that's what it means. We have said that our unanimity is not in what the meaning of every preposition or case usage or particular usage of perfect verb. I've written this again and again (and again), because I believe that's what the passages teach, and I've told why. You've never answered the exegesis. We have a whole book on it that I'm guessing you've never read.

If a lady said that the headcoverings were required and caused division, that would not be allowed. No division in our church.

The Bible doesn't give us a time period. 1 Thessalonians 5 commands, "Be patient with all men." There are people in a church who are weak, feebleminded, and unruly, and we treat them different ways, being patient with all of them. We are even more patient with those outside of the church in other places, because they don't hear the teaching all the time. I can't put a time table, but I've noticed that we give time and we do separate. I think we should start with what does the Bible teach.


Dave Barnhart said...

Several things here. First a couple points:

1. I don't believe that unity and unanimity are the same thing. A church can have unity, but it will often be accomplished by people not being divisive about what they believe, but they won't necessarily believe exactly the same about every single issue. It's much easier for a church to see "unanimity of practice" than it will be to have unanimity of belief. However, no one should mistake conformity with complete agreement.

2. I do believe that God has only one mind on any topic, at least those he has laid out for us in scripture or given us the tools to evaluate. I don't believe, however, apparently unlike you, that it's always easy for everyone to get every point correct. If it were always as easy as "2+2=4," then there wouldn't be any disagreement on head coverings, or LCO, KJVO, or any number of other doctrines. Some things are that easy, e.g. "Children obey your parents in the Lord." Others are more like quantum theory. We know God designed the universe, and we try to understand how it works, and there is only one right answer, but the differences in the theories about how it works show we don't really understand it. Some things in scripture are like that. They take time to understand and discern, and we can easily get them wrong. If that were not true, you would not have men who all believe the scriptures and want to obey them coming up with different doctrines. Obviously, they can't all be right. I don't believe in a "buffet table of doctrine." But regenerated men can and do get points of doctrine wrong. That's not to say we shouldn't try to find the one true meaning, but it's clearly not always easy to do, not even for people in the same local church.

3. Some differences in belief and practice don't matter to God, as stated in Romans 14. Obviously, there is a lot of disagreement about what all falls under that purview, but still, there are at least some things that can be believed/practiced differently that we are to give latitude on. Even in a unified local church, you might have differences here, and it is clear from the text that God does not expect unanimity on those points, but understanding (i.e., not despising, etc.)

Can't put this all in the same post. The rest will be in the next post.

Dave Barnhart said...

Continued from previous post:

Given your other posts above, let's see if I understand what you are saying.

1. You state you believe unity means "same mind, exact doctrine."
2. You state you believe that "division is the point of separation."
3. Someone who believes head coverings are required, but is not divisive about it would be welcome in your church.
4. If they are never divisive, then no separation would be necessary even if they retain their belief (i.e. different mind).

The reason I don't understand your view is this -- if no separation occurs, you don't have 100% same mind in your church.

So correct me if I get this wrong too, and "say something that isn't true," but it seems to me that we are really discussing a difference of degrees. You believe there can be some differences in belief inside a church as long as people aren't being divisive. Organizations like T4G believe there can be some differences of belief between orthodox believers, but they would allow more differences than you would. I don't know, but I'm guessing the men in T4G wouldn't tolerate divisiveness either, and would (eventually) separate from those causing division. The difference is that you draw the boundary for unity at the local-church level and believe that that is the point at which you can have complete unity, even though inside that there won't be 100% agreement on belief.

Finally, If you are referring to your book "A Pure Church," you are right, I haven't read it. I believe I asked you when it was released if it was going to be available in a Kindle (or other ebook) edition, and if I remember correctly (don't want to be possibly stating more things that aren't true here) you said it would happen eventually, but not at release time. I just looked at your order site, and I don't see an ebook version available. If you have one, I'll order it today. One thing I don't have room for any longer is more paper books, as all my bookshelves are overloaded and quite cluttered. I'm certainly not against reading your book at all. I have "Thou Shalt Keep Them," which I've read twice through. It didn't convince me you were right on that topic either, but I'm willing to try again. I'll see if anyone I know has a copy I can borrow.

(Is it just me, or do captchas get harder to read as you get older? Those on your blog seem particularly hard to read.)

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'll use your outline.

1. Thinking the same thing isn't saying that everyone will use paper and not plastic. The church has liberty in non-scriptural matters. There are also matters of conscience -- someone might not doing something or might do something for conscience sake. However, the test is not causing division. The Bible can't contradict itself. I'm saying that our church would allow for the wearing of a headcovering, like we would allow for one woman to be more modest than another woman. We don't have anyone doing it and I don't suspect we will, but we're talking in hypotheticals here. It's unlikely that a headcovering wearing woman would join our church because she does have a different belief, but if it is a matter of conscience, the practice of a Christian liberty, she might stay.

2. If it is plain, I'm saying it is like 2 + 2 = 4. However, sin doesn't affect 2 + 2 = 4, like it does a belief and practice. I'm simply illustrating plainness for those who deny it. I don't think we should take examples of disagreement and then say that means it isn't quite so plain as 2 + 2 = 4. We should just believe it is plain. Children obey your parents isn't quite so easy for children, which does illustrate the point. It is easy to understand, but believing it isn't easy. You say you don't want a buffet table, but do you want a church with one belief? You are not LCO or KJVO, but are you one in thinking with your church right now? Why not? If that is what God says He wants, why don't you expect it? The reason our church is one in thinking, I believe, is because the Bible teaches that, we believe it, the people do conform to that, and we teach the whole counsel of God. I can teach KJVO from the Bible and LCO from the Bible, so people are persuaded from the Bible, giving us the same doctrine.

3. Romans 14 is a passage that helps a lot with unity/unanimity.

I think I answered the beginning of your second post.

I can't speak for t4g, but I suspect that they see divisiveness as intolerance. They don't separate over anything but "the gospel." The divisive person is the one who would separate over something other than the gospel. That isn't a scriptural position.

For us, people who are not divisive are thinking the same thing. Someone dividing means he's thinking differently. The other aspect to this is -- the standard is the same thinking, and that doesn't happen immediately because of sanctification, which is why divisive is the practice. The same thinking is the position that we take. That doesn't mean that we are there. It is a process for everyone to be the same mind, but until then, no division. Since scripture is plain, we're either there or we can get there. As well, I can't align or restore what I don't know. Maybe someone is thinking differently, but he doesn't cause division, so it's not something I or anyone else deals with. The church is blessed by that.

I was too sharp with you for not reading our book, but it is the most complete presentation we have of unity and separation. We'll get into kindle soon. Do you think it is possible that you can come to conclusions about us without checking out the book?




I don't see the NT requiring dresses on ladies. All I see is modest dress and headcoverings when praying.

Are you saying women wearing dresses has replaced headcoverings?

Anything other than physical headcoverings is a new teaching.

I wasn't saying your books were bad or a buying them would be fellowship, I was simply saying that if Scripture is so clear then why all the commentaries, books, etc? (similar to Bro. Barnhart's #2 above).

Our points of agreement dwarf our disagreements and to that I rejoice.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Many times when you come here you talk about headcoverings. I've thought a lot about it at one point in the past. I'm willing to take your headcovering position, but I'm not convinced of it from the Bible and from the supporters that have written books and articles on it. I have my arguments against wearing them today. Do you greet other men in your church with a holy kiss? The Bible says that. I'm asking if your men kiss each other at church. Do you drink water? Paul said, "Drink no more water."

Scripture requires women to wear the garment designed for the woman and not to wear the male garment. I believe that in Corinth that meant wearing a headcovering, because that was a garment that distinguished her as a woman. I don't think that it has in our culture been a distinguishing factor.

Scripture teaches about books. Paul said, Bring the books. And it teaches to teach. It's plain, but that doesn't mean, "no teachers." Is that what you think? No teachers, no teaching. When I said, Plain, that doesn't mean "easy." It's not always easy, but if someone wants it, he can get it.


I talk about headcoverings because it is one of our few points of disagreements. It is profitable for your readers to see both sides. I’ve learned much here from back and forth comments.

Jesus said, "go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:" (Matt. 10:5). You go evangelize Gentiles?

Of course you do because you consider texts in their contexts. Paul was talking to Timothy about his stomach issues. We don't always kiss one another and maybe we should (I have thought about it) and I think that is like the Europeans do: a non-touching (holy=separated) kiss near each cheek to greet. Regardless, you’re putting up a command in a couple of closing salutations against a 1/2 a chapter of text. As you say, I'm just reporting what 1 Cor. 11. says, deal with the text. Do let men pray with hats on like Catholic priests and some Protestant clergy? You teach a position that virtual no Christian came to before 1800, it's a new teaching. You rightly argue this way for the VPP position, why the opposite here?

You said "plain", "clear" & "2+2=4"which implies easy. You didn't say plain, clear & quadratic equation.

No, there should be teachers. Elders should be apt to teach. I'm not the one saying the Scriptures are so plain.
Thanks for the interaction.

Kent Brandenburg said...

My best, most thorough explanation of my position on headcoverings is in the book. I actually do believe Paul wanted them to wear headcoverings, but I argue that it is cultural. I bring up the holy kiss, because it is cultural and you take it that way too. I bring up the water, because it is a particular historical situation. That was my point. I think there are ways that we decide that.

I'll talk about history again sometime.

My two plus two was an illustration that might not work for everyone, but it helps people understand plain. It seems simple to you, but it isn't when someone first start learning. It takes them about two or three years of schooling to get to that level of understanding.

I believe they are plain and I think we can know, since they are plain, about how plain that is.


November 14, 2007 at 9:56 am
KB said,
"I knew it would be tough to write something that would deal with the issue at large, get into great detail, and also keep people’s attention. I am finished, however, with a 300 page book on dress that is about ready to come out."

I've never wrote a book, but you've been keeping us waiting since 2007... ;)

I have 5 kids, I don't see how you do it all.

I look forward to meeting you in heaven and hearing one of us say, "see, I told u so!". (It will be me , of course :)).

Publish only if you want to brother.

Dave Barnhart said...

Just a few quick answers.

1. I think the ideal would be one belief in a local church. I think the ideal ideal would be one belief in the universal church (or for those of you that don't believe in that, in all believers). I think a local church attempts that and can certainly come closer than could ever happen between different churches or among all believers, but due to sin and the fact that no one is perfect, I don't think it ever actually happens.

2. While dividing does mean thinking differently, the converse is not necessarily true, and which your application points out. Someone can hold a different belief but not be divisive about it if he believes more strongly in submission or unity in the church.

3. I agree you can't do anything about what you don't know. However, I was referring to when you know there is disagreement, but no one is being divisive.

4. I believe I'm as close to complete agreement with my church as it's possible for me to be. I'm not perfect and there is no perfect church, but I selected a church that is as close to my beliefs as I believe I can get in our local area. I've always been open and honest with my pastor on the points where I disagree, but he could testify to the fact that I don't cause division, and wouldn't teach something contrary to what the church teaches. As to why I'm not in 100% agreement, there are some positions our church takes different from mine and preaching on them hasn't convinced me. That's the downside of the priesthood of the believer and individual study and searching of the scriptures. If you take the time to study something yourself, you are not just going to parrot what someone else says about it.

5. From what I have read online, I have come to conclusions about you and have done so without reading your book. The book would give me a fuller picture or possibly correct my thinking about you. However, that wouldn't be my main purpose for reading it. I'm genuinely interested in your ideas on unity and separation.

Anonymous said...

Re: Headcoverings
I, too, believe that this was a cultural consideration in Scripture, and that the general interpretation of women differing from men in dress is the important take-away. But I wanted to offer an observation: I know a woman who is a pagan. She wear a head covering, and has said that all the other women in her pagan circle do so also. From what I have observed, this seems to be growing. And that brings up the question: If a Christian woman wears the head covering, should she be concerned that others will regard her as a pagan? Taking the culture/dress issue a little further: what do you say about some cultures that believe a woman in a dress is extremely immoral and that a nice woman always wears long pants (usually under the shortened dress)? Is it the question of wearing a dress, or is it the question of culture?

Joshua said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburg,

John's already got a dig in about "Dressing for the Lord", so I will refrain, but I am very keen to get my name on the pre-order list, particularly if it comes out on kindle. Do you have a rough ETA on this one?