Everything is about God. God is the narrative, the thinking, the lifestyle, and the meaning. And God is One. He doesn’t deny Himself. God is consistent. The gospel is about God. It solves man’s sin problem, but it is about God receiving the glory He deserves. It is about God being God. We don’t say where He is God and where He is not. Man does not submit to God and then deny God in music, in art, in science, in education, in literature, in government, or in philosophy. Since God is One, if you deny God in art, for instance, you’ve denied Him. You don’t get to segment God into parts and choose where He is God. He is either God or not. He is a God of non-contradiction. There are not two truths. God created everything and everything with His purpose. Everything, therefore, has His meaning. The meaning must fit God or it is wrong, it isn’t the truth, and it is part of the lie.
Enter fundamentalism. God gets to be God of the fundamentals. Everything else is up for grabs. Fundamentalists would say “no,” but actually “yes.” It’s just “no” on paper. In reality, “yes.” In lifestyle, “yes.” In particular works they allow the denying of Him. That is as much a lie as if we denied all of God. God is all or nothing. He is not God when He is just God of the fundamentals. Fundamentals are about us. About what we think we need to get along with each other. We shrink God’s domain to allow for more people. It’s chariot counting even though God “burneth the chariot in the fire” (Psalm 46:9). The fundamentals are not and never have been God’s will for getting along. They couldn’t be. It would be to say that God created everything, but He’s only made that clear in part of what He created. But that’s not what God said. Since God created everything, He reveals Himself in everything, and the meaning relates to God. We interpret everything according to God.
Now fundamentalists say some of God’s world is non-essential. Some of my Father’s world is not as important. Several “truths” are permissible in certain continents of His creation. And yet everything fits into God and God is as important as important is. We cannot remove God from a segment of His reign. He reigns in music. He reigns in fashion. He reigns in leisure. When we remove God from any part of His reign, we dethrone Him. We don’t actually dethrone Him. That can’t happen. But He isn’t God to us anymore when we shrink his reign to the domain of fundamentals.
Some have shrunk fundamentalism even further. They’ve reduced God’s world to the gospel. They say that the limitation of the boundaries to the gospel pleases God. One man uses foul language, but he has the gospel. He is included. Another man sprinkles infants. But he has the gospel. They say they are elevating God’s world to the gospel. They diminish God and they use the gospel to do so. This is travesty. No one should be celebrating. Everybody should mourn. God does not limit Himself to the gospel. Sure, the gospel touches everything in God’s world, but His world isn’t the gospel. The gospel is the hub or the axle upon which man’s view of God’s world can succeed. The gospel enables rebellious men to see God in His world. And rebellion is the problem. The gospel succeeds everywhere, not just in the gospel and not just in the fundamentals. It enthrones God over all of His creation. The whole story is His. All practice is His. All thinking is His. All relationship is His.
When God is excluded from much of His actual reign, a form of religion exists, but the power of God is denied. Of course, we cannot limit the power of God. God’s power does what it does whether we recognize it or not. So when we do not receive God’s power over all of His world, we deny all of His power. He isn’t glorified when His power is denied even when we say it’s about the gospel or the fundamentals. So it’s not even the gospel but a denial of the power of God. The lie limits God to man’s domain, to his preferred boundaries, holding off or suppressing the truth.
Let God be God and every man a liar.
Faith believes what God said just because He said it, not because it’s been proven to us or because we’ve experienced something. Since faith puts confidence in what God said as true only because He said it, it is faith in things that we cannot see. At one time, theology was the queen of the sciences because God’s Word was considered evidence. The Enlightenment and its consequences changed this way of thinking for professing Christians.
A big clash exists in evangelicalism over the age of the earth—new earthers versus old earthers. The new earthers take the Genesis account literally. The old earthers are influenced by “human observation and discovery.” For instance, they look at the time it takes for light to travel from distant stars and assume that the universe must be billions of years old or else we wouldn’t be able to see these stars through a telescope. So there’s a challenge from science to the record of Genesis 1-3.
Many more evangelicals believe in evolution than what you would even imagine, and especially among the so-called elite and scholarly. This debate among them elevated in March when a well-respected Old Testament Hebrew scholar, Bruce Waltke, posted a pro-evolution statement on a well-visited evangelical website. Several conservative evangelicals have reacted to his statement in very heated fashion. Rightly so. I don’t want to get into extreme detail here, but the paradigm for evangelicals and their faith changed well before this debate began. I do think we have some pot calling the kettle black occurring here.
Evangelicals long ago started discarding scriptural and historic belief for sight. Nothing is more important to faith than the Bible. The Bible promises its own perfect preservation. Evangelicals and fundamentalists took this same paradigm of unbelief long before Bruce Waltke and these old-earth evangelicals. They now say that the Bible never really taught preservation per se. Well, not that the Bible wasn’t preserved—it was, just in a way that you have no hope of a perfect Bible and the one you have you really don’t know the number of mistakes. Just in too, that’s what the Bible has always taught. No one has said this before, but as I speak, well, that’s what it says about itself. I know that some evangelicals and fundamentalists are now saying that they are getting their doctrine of the preservation of Scripture from the Bible.
Having said that, most evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. Kevin Bauder represents their position on this when he writes in Only One Bible? (p. 155) that Scripture does not affirm that “any singled printed text preserves all of the words and only all the words of the autographa.” He continues: “Such a specific affirmation clearly lies outside of the teaching of Scripture.” Those two statements he makes in the first paragraph of his chapter, “An Appeal to Scripture.” The very next line, which is the first sentence of the second paragraph, he writes: “If the preservation of the Word of God depends upon the exact preservation of the words of the original documents, then the situation is dire.” That last statement is the rub for evangelicals and fundamentalists.
From Bauder’s statements, really just quoted as a representation, because this is the stand of almost all of evangelicalism today, you can see that they depend on their sight and their observation, i. e., their scientific discovery, for their position on preservation. Again and again, evangelicals say that miracle was not the means of God’s preservation. No miracle involved. Supernaturalism was not the means. You would see this many times in Only One Bible? This was not always the case among Christians. At one time, pre-enlightenment and textual criticism, relying on the Bible alone for their doctrine (sola scriptura), they believed in the perfect preservation of Scripture.
Preservation passages are being twisted with the same pattern as creation passages. If you are going to discard the promises of preservation found in the Bible for the science of textual criticism, that without theological presupposition proudly follows the “evidence,” then next will come other doctrines of scripture like creation. That’s not all, of course, because the abandonment of a grammatical-historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 undermines the entire rest of the Bible, including the gospel itself.
A second part to this paradigm is the new evangelical emphasis on primary versus secondary doctrines. They rank doctrines for the purpose of cobbling together alliances. These old earth evangelicals want to keep the faux unity between them and the new-earthers. They attempt to do this by categorizing this creation doctrine as a non-essential. I read this all over. They insist that it does not affect the gospel, and since the gospel is “first in importance,” the old earth position should not separate them from the new-earth evangelicals. They just differ on a tertiary issue. This, of course, is ripped right out of the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist playbook. If the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists do not agree to see the nuance between the two beliefs, and not to agree to disagree, they’re the ones causing unnecessary division in “the Lord’s body.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t mind that you believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. They just don’t want you to cause division over it. Keep the peace.
So let’s review. Evangelicals already moved into the conform-scripture-to-science column with textual criticism. The doctrine of perfect preservation was as firmly established as a Christian belief as teaching on creation from Genesis 1-3. So here we have just more of the same. And now we can still all get along because none of these are essential doctrines. Chalk it all up to a paradigm of evangelical unbelief.
The term “legalism” isn’t in the Bible, so it is off to a bad start as a scriptural discussion. And, yes, I know “Trinity” isn’t in there either. It is kind of ironic that someone could get in trouble for something that isn’t in the Bible to start with, and in trouble for something that says we’re in trouble for adding to the Bible. Nevertheless, “legalism” is a term we’re forced to discuss and deal with today.
Modern society relegates moral and religious concerns to matters private and personal. They’re nobodies’ business. You have the utter independence of the individual, offering freedom from all moral restraint or bounds. On the other hand, legalism becomes the suppression of the individual to majority or authority rule. The authority imposes standards which might elevate appearances to greater importance. Someone might look the part without really meaning it. Is there a scriptural place to regulate the lives of individuals by outward authority or law?
The laws themselves, as long as they’re scriptural, are not the problem. Having less of them won’t solve insincerity. We’re a nation of laws. God is a God of law. He provides standards by which to follow Him. Jesus said that if we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments. We can keep His commandments and not love Him, but we can’t love Him if we don’t. Reducing the commandments, the words, or the sayings to a manageable number, an amount we can keep, doesn’t make the living more about love. The one falling short of obeying the commandments loves less.
Paul saw Galatians, who professed justification by grace alone, moving from the “faith alone” column to the “plus works” one. This wasn’t the church having rules or standards. These individuals weren’t shaking apostate Judaism. They were still earning their salvation no matter what Jesus had done. As a result, Christ was made “of no effect unto” them (Gal 5:4). This mindset propagated by false teachers also effected already saved, truly converted believers. They, who had “begun in the Spirit” “by the hearing of faith,” were influenced to “perfect” themselves “by the flesh” (Gal 3:2-3). God accepts the fulfillment of Scriptural standards produced by the Spirit through the life of the believer. The reduction of standards does not vindicate the acts of obedience any more than the addition of them. The key for acceptable obedience isn’t the minimization of the rules but the grace by which they are accomplished.
The modern obsession with lessening restrictions, reflected in evangelicalism today, doesn’t reveal God’s grace or His glory. It manifests rebellious hearts and corrupt consciences. God’s grace is a dynamic force of God that secures our working for Him. Grace looks to obey the precepts and principles of Scripture.
Often evangelicals flash the term “legalism” to make room for a questionable behavior or habit. I started part one of this two part series when a popular evangelical blog author attempted to defend a post about a popular television show (Lost) with another one against legalism. The author said one of the forms of legalism is the pharisaism of adding to scripture. Adding to the Bible is pharisaical and Pharisees are legalists. However, legalism of the Galatian variety isn’t adding to God’s Word. Actual scripture does just fine for Galatian legalism.
The evangelical charge of either legalism or adding to Scripture relates to the lasciviousness of evangelicalism today. I want to use one obvious issue as an example—women wearing pants. Why avoid it? I agree that the Bible doesn’t prohibit women from wearing pants. Case closed, right? Wrong. Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits women from wearing the male garment. Pants are the male garment. So I’m coming from the Bible on this one. And a woman wearing the male garment is an abomination to God, so this is a moral issue. God is displeased by disobeying the prohibition.
Now this is where some say Christians have liberty because we have here one of these “doubtful disputations” of Romans 14:1. We are not to reject someone in doubtful disputations. Deuteronomy 22:5 hasn’t been doubtful until just recently when society decided they would overturn the symbols of God’s design of the two genders. And if we’re going to still keep obeying Deuteronomy 22:5, we’ve got replace the male symbol, the male garment. I get no answers, total silence, or a joke, from every person I ask to name the male symbol or garment that has replaced pants. Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t want women to be prohibited from wearing pants, so they say that grace, God’s grace, permits their pant wearing. And since it is God’s grace that gives permission, it must be legalism now that prohibits. This circuitous line of reasoning makes “the commandment of God of none effect” (Mt 15:6), another kind of pharisaism.
I read with interest some of the arguments of the “lovers of grace” for justifying the night time soap opera. Here is one from one of the contributors there, Frank Turk:
Now, before stuff gets a little out of control, there is nothing that happened in the course of the 6 seasons of LOST which is anywhere near as gritty and frankly carnal as what happened to Er, Tamar, Onan, and Judah and his son Perez.
Frank argues that the content of biblical narratives justifies watching some sex scenes on television. His argument says that if it’s OK to read the Bible, and it is, then it’s also OK to watch something equal to or less sinful. I’m not going to provide opposition to this justification in this post, but I wanted you aware of what they’re saying. Phil Johnson adds this:
But it’s not really necessary to portray Rob and Laura Petrie sleeping in separate beds in order to preserve the purity of the viewing audience, and it’s not inherently sinful to be exposed to a story in which someone commits adultery–or even worse.
I think Phil is staying a little purposefully ambiguous, but he’s creating space for watching acts of adultery committed on television. It’s along the same lines of the Frank argument above. And overall, those who question this line of reasoning, they say, are “legalists.” And Phil would add that this kind of “legalism,” the type that questions this type of viewership based upon moral grounds, is more dangerous than emergent or emerging types of license. And this is coming from those who claim to be conservative evangelicals.
Was Job a tad legalistic when he followed that whole “covenant with his eyes” standard (Job 31:1)? I guess Job was just trying to rack up merit points. Either that, or he thought that having the right thought life would help him please God. And He did love God. We’re commanded by Paul, “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2a). But how can we follow that requisite for presenting our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1b)? Well, it’s by being transformed “by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2b). And how are our minds renewed? They are renewed by what we fill them with. Garbage in, garbage out. Clean in, clean out. Christian leaders shouldn’t be encouraging their listeners to belly-up to the garbage trough. What do you think?
Now I say that these boy-who-cried-wolf type of accusations of “legalism” destroy. They encourage lasciviousness and license. They sear and suave the conscience. They encourage false worship. They impede holy living. They excuse sin.
In the last week someone wrote that these “legalists” require lists of rules for their adherents in order to compensate for personal insecurities. And then as a way of reaching unattainable spiritual heights, made impossible by the sheer magnitude of the regulations, the followers obtain special relics to overcome their spiritual shortfalls. Mark Farnham says these fundamentalist relics were objects associated with fundamentalist saints, like the signature of a well-known preacher or the car of John R. Rice or Jack Hyles’ ring. Interesting theory. I wonder if a heavy collection of C. H. Spurgeon memorabilia would count as spiritual relics as well. Or perhaps treks to the meccas of Together for the Gospel in Louisville or Shepherd’s Conference in Southern California might result in some pure spirituality that someone might otherwise be missing.
Following Farnham’s line of reasoning, I see evangelicals and fundamentalists also reaching for an abounding grace formerly unreachable without the relic of the worship team, the contemporary chorus, the goatee beard, the powerpoint screen medium, and the casual polo shirt. Some mixture of these ingredients effuse Christians with a grace elixir capable of bringing them to a different spiritual dimension. Grace is available to those hungry enough to release the ball and chain of an old version of Scripture, a stifling shirt and tie, and a constraining television standard. Nothing says grace quite like your best Sunday t-shirt and a Jars of Clay logo on the bottom of your skateboard.
Recent reactions to the Together for the Gospel (T4G) meeting in Louisville expose the fundamental error for evangelicalism and fundamentalism. One of the most popular and well-read bloggers in evangelicalism, Tim Challies, covered T4G, obviously at its invitation, and afterward explained what he thought was so good about the T4G brand of togetherness. I’ll break down his argument later, but Ben Wright, one of the bloggers on the SharperIron blogroll, revealed (probably unintentionally) the thinking of fundamentalists and evangelicals on togetherness, unity, and fellowship. He writes concerning Challies’ argument: “There may be another argument that reaches his conclusion, but I don’t think he gets us all the way there.” You see, the “conclusion” and “getting all the way there,” that is, to this utopian evangelical unity, is what is important to evangelicals and fundamentalists. They come with the arguments later. This, by the way, is pragmatism. You start with a desired conclusion and assume an argument. The conclusion is big enough and important enough to them to pervert scripture to get there.
And pragmatism was David’s ox cart in 2 Samuel 6. He needed the ark to get from point A to point B, that is, to reach his desired conclusion, and that desire led him to the ox cart. It was the best, fastest, and easiest way to get the ark from point A to point B, so the cart was the means that David justified for transportation. It wasn’t the scriptural means to get there. It wasn’t a godly method. It wasn’t how God wanted things done. But it would work. It was utilitarian. All that was proved wrong when Uzzah touched the ark and died. David got out of the ox cart business. You would think that professing believers would end their ox cart fascination for ever after that. But ox carts will be built if the conclusion is what guides the argument. You want to get to point B after all.
Now some might argue that Ben Wright, featured at SharperIron, is just a young man, one of the restless, petulant, and angry reformed, regularly disrespectful and impudent to older separatists whom he doesn’t like, using the faux authority that SI provides him as a reward for his ejection to the big tent of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is true that his blog reads mainly as a bitter evangelical rant against his personal distaste with traditional fundamentalism, but I think his point does speak for evangelicalism and now a sizable segment of fundamentalism (why he gets SI promotion). You have a conclusion, unity, and better, significance or bigness, and so now you just have to start looking for the arguments to get you there.
Challies’ arguments for T4G togetherness do represent the kind of stretch that evangelicals and fundamentalists invent to reach their desired ends. They also generally approve of these types of attempts, as long as whatever the reasoning, faulty or not, directs them to their theologically correct conclusion. “Just keep trying, Tim, you’ll finally get us to our goal.”
The first Challies’ argument is in essence that not all doctrinal error is sin, so you don’t have to correct the error and can still be in unity, even for a difference like infant sprinkling versus believer’s baptism. Now Challies says that some doctrinal error is sin, like preaching that Jesus isn’t God or saying that homosexuality is permissible. Why? No reason in particular. Those doctrinal errors won’t threaten the T4G coalition. However, he says we should not see all doctrinal error as sin because doctrinal error is merely the consequence of sin, just like illness is the consequence of sin. His basis for this in scripture? Nothing. And then I think we get a second argument, which is that conscience is the guide in the doctrines that divide godly men. Since two men who differ in doctrine both are persuaded in their own conscience that they are right, neither should they “abuse” the other’s conscience by dividing over those differences. Challies ends by writing this:
I am encouraged to see Christians uniting across lines that were once considered too wide to cross. Together for the Gospel is an excellent example of Christian leaders being willing and eager to put aside secondary differences for the sake of the gospel. While they disagree on many fine points of doctrine and even many very important points of doctrine, they all hold tightly to what matters most–the gospel message. This is one line that would be too great to cross but one, within which, there is opportunity to practice humility and fraternity. They join together not to condemn, not to argue, but to affirm the common bond of gospel unity. Though never downplaying differences, neither do they seek to bind one another’s conscience. And this, I think, is how God wants us to be as just a foretaste of that greater, more complete, perfect unity to come.
The conscience is a God created warning device within us that is trained by what we know and believe. Challies is arguing that keeping a properly operating conscience is more important than believing right on “secondary differences.” In other words, what informs the conscience is less important to Challies than the conscience itself. For instance, a conscience may be informed by false doctrine that infant sprinkling is correct, but it is better for T4G and evangelicals to preserve the smooth function of the conscience than to tell the conscience what is true. The conscience has been raised in this argument above Scripture and above the Holy Spirit. That kind of thinking is permissible to evangelicals and won’t send you off the T4G reservation, because it is an ox cart that can bring them to their desired destination.
SharperIron linked to Challies’ post without disclaimer, as if this were an important bit of interaction for the contemporary fundamentalist thinker. The concluding paragraph of Challies presents numbers of awful points. He’s happy that men are coming from widely divergent points of view in order to “unite.” He disintegrates a biblical doctrine of unity. In the last line of his essay, he says that the unity that we have now is different than the one we’ll have together in heaven. The unity I seek, the one in Scripture, is the same as the one in heaven and the one Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Challies explodes a scriptural understanding of humility and fraternity. He implies, of course, that people who emphasize doctrine for unity are proud. On the other hand, those who put aside difference to get together are the humble ones. The problem is that they don’t “downplay” differences, they just ignore them. Challies also says that arguing about differences wouldn’t be humble and would “bind one another’s conscience.” What that is, I don’t know. Feeding a conscience with the truth won’t bind a conscience. The reality is that the conscience operating correctly should be warning someone that something is terribly wrong at the T4G conference. All of this combined devastates discernment in the people that need it the most, Christian leaders. We could rename the conference, Together for Devastating Discernment—T4DD.
What I hadn’t heard during that week was that there was one more conference during the same time as T4G and IBFI, that is, Wheaton’s Theology Conference, featuring the British theologian, N. T. Wright. Christianity Today quotes Wright saying, “Nothing justifies schism.” Brett McCracken breaks down the idea in his CT article that these two massive and sold-out conferences should be getting together to fulfill a New Testament understanding of unity. I don’t agree with any of this, but McCracken writes concerning T4G and the Wheaton conference:
Are we on the same page on the core issues? Can we agree on the claims of the creeds? Yes? Then let’s hash out the details of theological minutia (which is definitely important) in a spirited, friendly debate as the people of God exercising the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
He concludes his article:
What if both conferences had merged and two seemingly antagonistic groups of Christians put aside their differences for a few minutes to just sing (in both conferences the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” was sung), side-by-side, in worship of the triune God who gives the same grace through which all who follow Christ have been saved? That would be a unity the rulers of the world would truly be afraid of.
This two evangelical factions seem to know what the conclusion should be. Now if they can just find the ox cart that will get them there. Ask Tim Challies. He’s already got one built.
If you see the evangelical or fundamentalist ox cart on its way somewhere, wait for someone else from whom to thumb a ride. Unity is found in the assembly, the church. Outside of the church, it is found in churches of like faith and practice. Same belief and practice are the basis of the unity, just like we see in the Bible (Eph 4:1-3). And that’s the only unity that pleases God. The ark of the covenant was the presence of God. The presence of God is purity, holiness, and righteousness, both doctrinally and morally. His presence was not meant for our ox carts.
by Pastor Bobby Mitchell, Mid-Coast Baptist Church, Brunswick, Maine
The autonomy and independence of New Testament churches is plainly taught in the Scriptures. We must be very careful about “meddling” in another church’s business. However, when a pastor and church seeks to start a “movement” that involves thousands of other churches then it is only right to comment on that movement if error, or compromise with error, is being promoted. When such an influence is presented to New Testament churches then New Testament pastors are under holy obligation to speak out about it. Some have asked why I am not involved with the newest Baptist group that is titled Independent Baptist Friends International, and why I felt it necessary to state that I was embarrassed that Mid-Coast Baptist Church was listed on their church directory. I am happy to answer and I thank you for asking. I am not able to give much time to a long and diplomatic response, so please be forgiving of the pointedness of this. I harbor malice towards none of those that I am stating disagreement with. I believe that there is much good that could be said about many involved with the IBFI, but the following are my reasons for not participating.
I do not buy into the philosophy that to obey the Great Commission we must work with those that have the name Independent Baptist and yet preach and practice contrary to Scripture. For instance, Jack Schaap of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, was a featured preacher at the IBFI conference. Pastor Schaap and FBCH (following former pastor Jack Hyles) have, for years, promoted an un-Biblical form of “soul-winning” in which repentance is ignored and true Scriptural faith is replaced with the repetition of a prayer. FBCH’s un-Biblical soul-winning methodology is widely known and documented. It has resulted in much confusion, many lost professors of faith, and the promotion of a weakened Gospel message. Further, Jack Schaap has a perverted and twisted view of the Lord’s Supper that teaches that partaking of the elements is akin to sexual relations. This is taught in his book titled Marriage: The Divine Intimacy. Another example of the un-Biblical practice of FBCH is their refusal to practice New Testament Church Discipline.
Pastor Sexton emphasizes in his magazine, emails, mailings, You-Tube videos, and preaching that we must be friends to accomplish world evangelism. He wants men like me to be friends with men like Schaap. I am reminded of John 15:14 where the Lord Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” The Lord Jesus commanded that we preach repentance (Luke 24:47) and that we practice church discipline for the purity of the church and the restoration of the sinning church member (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus’ friends obey Him. My friends for world evangelism (those that I will “partner” with, to use a phrase quoted by the IBFI) should be those that are obedient to the Lord. The fellowship of the church at Jerusalem in Acts 2 was in the Apostles’ doctrine and practice (Acts 2:42). It was not fellowship around non-Apostolic preaching and practice! I encourage Baptists everywhere to hold to sound faith and practice and work with others that hold to the same. But, I cannot engage in cooperation with those who are disobedient to the Lord.
It was very obvious from watching three of the services as they were broadcast live on the internet, and observing all of the video highlights, that the IBFI has a “movement” mentality driving it. I don’t see a movement mentality in the Word of God. Scripture reveals that God’s plan for this age is the local New Testament church doing all that the local New Testament church is to be doing! The Lord has promised that “the gates of hell” will not “prevail” against the church. There is no such guarantee for man-made movements. At the Friends Conference Pastor Sexton and others spoke regularly of the new “movement,” the “inaugural meeting,” and the need to “join,” “partner,” and “register.”
I did not hear one speaker encourage any attendee or webcast listener to seek the counsel of their pastor and church as to whether or not they should get involved with the IBFI. They were simply encouraged to join, give, and cooperate. My understanding is that this infringes on the authority of the local church.
One young preacher who was featured at the conference said, “To get the truth to the whole world we must cooperate and coordinate together. It makes sense and it is practical.” I do want to partner and cooperate with New Testament churches (regarding missions) that are serious about obeying all of Scripture, but I see no instruction in the Bible to work with disobedient people to evangelize. The New Testament reveals cooperation among the early churches, but not through compromise. I will not invest my time and money in a man-made movement. I plan to keep on devoting myself to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ through His church.
The host pastor, Dr. Clarence Sexton, and other featured speakers made it very clear that any criticism of the meeting or movement was not welcome. Instead of appreciating that “iron sharpeneth iron,” which is something a true friend does (Proverbs 17:17), those who questioned the promotion of some of the preachers at the conference were referred to as “presumptuous” and “immature.” One preacher stated that we should ”never criticize any man that’s trying to get people saved. It doesn’t matter who they are.” That is foreign to Scripture. Peter, a preacher and follower of the Lord, was sharply rebuked by the Lord Jesus for his un-Scriptural statements (Matthew 16:22,23). Later, the same Apostle was “withstood” by Paul for his wrong practice regarding the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11). Paul even went so far as to write his criticism down for believers all over the world to see!
“It takes no size to criticize” one preacher declared at the IBFI meeting. Of course, that leaves the door wide open for non-militancy that will always result in compromise. The Bible tells us to “try the spirits” and “prove all things.” I also see Jesus, Paul, John, Jude, and others in the Scriptures criticizing as needed. I don’t want a critical spirit, but, as a man of God, I must criticize what is un-Biblical.
By the way, Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and others who are promoting an anemic Christianity would all insist that they are trying to “get people saved.” Should we not criticize their errors, even if we could be glad for the little bit of Gospel preaching they do?
One preacher at the IBFI conference lamented that “we are so divided over personalities.” I agree that we should not divide merely over personalities, but personalities are an aspect of men and men have doctrine and practices that must be proven by Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Scripture states that we should not partner with men who preach and practice in an un-Biblical fashion.
Another preacher warned against “disagreement and division about what God has blessed.” Of course, it was implied that the IBFI has been blessed of God since it is so “exciting” and “so many are registering.” Meanwhile, Acts 17:11 still records that it is noble to search the Scriptures to check and see if what the preacher is saying is so. I do not trust any man or movement that refuses to deal Scripturally with criticism. No man, ministry, or movement is above 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
HE SAID WHAT?
At least three of the messages that I listened to via the live webcast involved misuse of Scripture. One man preached from Acts 15 and compared that meeting of two churches (Jerusalem and Antioch) to independent Baptists around the world needing to work together. He said that he had learned that he’d “better set aside my opinions, what I think we should be doing . . . and let’s do what seems good to the Holy Ghost.” In actuality Acts 15 is about two churches that believed and practiced the same and when a disagreement came up it was dealt with and they went away committed to total agreement as to the doctrine and practice concerning that particular item of business. To compare that to some “need” of independent Baptists agreeing to work together in spite of real disagreements over doctrine and practice is not true to the text. At any rate, obeying all of the Bible commands, including the command to warn and separate from erring brethren, will “seem good to the Holy Ghost” since He has given us His mind on the matter!
Another message involved the divisions in the church at Corinth over Peter, Paul, and Apollos. Once again a comparison was made to modern independent Baptists. Of course, Corinth was a local church, not an international group of Christians or churches. Paul, Peter, and Apollos all believed, preached, and practiced the same. They were not experiencing disunity over different practices and doctrine. It was disingenuous for that preacher to insist that independent Baptists should ignore the un-Biblical preaching and activities of some in the “movement” while attempting to utilize 1 Corinthians 3 for his proof-text.
One other example of a message based on a strange interpretation was the teaching that after his escape from Sodom, Lot regained his burden for souls, resulting in the preservation of Zoar (Genesis 19:20,21). During the same message, the preacher also stated that Lot’s wife “just froze up” because she realized that they had lost everything in Sodom and hadn’t won any souls. I cannot get excited about, or involved in, a movement that glorifies that kind of “preaching.”
The organizing of the IBFI online church directory seems strange, to say the least. During one of the broadcasts of the meeting I listened as it was stated that “thousands” had “registered” their churches and ministries at the IBFI website. On Thursday I looked at the church directory and I noticed that the church I pastor was listed there. None of us here at MCBC had ”registered” our church. I also noticed several other churches that were “registered” that had not been “registered” by anyone associated with those churches. The more I read the stranger it became as I looked at listings of churches that no longer exist, the names of pastors who are now in heaven, and the names of pastors who have moved to a different church. Other pastors began to notice the same thing and a disclaimer was added to the directory that seemed designed to appease any concerns about churches being listed without their approval. One pastor from Indiana wrote to me, “I just went through the directory for Indiana, and found numerous instances of wrong information. Evidently, they did not bother to check or confirm with the local churches themselves before listing them. They just added them without consent or approval, leading to numerous inaccuracies that might have been clarified if they had respected the autonomy of the local church, who should have had a say in whether or not they wished to be listed.”
When I spoke with a staff member at Crown College about having our church removed from the directory he apologetically stated that, in fact, they had built the majority of the directory from other existing church directories that were created and owned by other groups.
IT’S A ______________
Sunday night, the IBFI website appeared to be the website of a new fellowship, but it has been changed now to appear to be something much less organized. There was a statement of faith, but it has been removed. There was a link that said “Become a Baptist Friend,” but that has also disappeared. I don’t know if the IBFI is an association, a once a year meeting, a fellowship, etc. There is a logo. There is a name. There is a directory. There is an annual meeting. There are even “commemorative coins” for sale. Is there a leader? Is there a Statement of Faith that those “registering” ascribe to? Is there accountability? I don’t want to be involved in something when it is not clear what that something is.
I believe that our friendships for world evangelism should be based on obedience to the Word of God. Again, Jesus said, “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Brother Sexton wants us to be friends for evangelism in spite of error and disobedience “in the camp.” I rejoice in any truth that is being preached by the IBFI. I rejoice in the burden for world evangelism. I rejoice in the conservative dress and music and many of the positions declared by the preachers. I am troubled by the promotion of some that preach and practice in an un-Biblical manner. I am troubled by any misuse of Scripture and any hint of dishonesty in the service of the Lord. I am standing where I stand and I am not demanding that anyone else must agree with me. I do not want to be associated with the IBFI. I don’t even want the church I pastor to be listed on their directory of Baptist churches. Before God, I hope that my motivation and spirit is right in expressing this disagreement and lack of cooperation. Please consider it and please consider me with charity.
This last week two huge evangelical and fundamentalist events concurred: Independent Baptist Friends International in Knoxville, TN (April 11-16, 2010) and Together for the Gospel in Louisville, KY (April 13-15, 2010). Obviously, these two groups didn’t get their calendars together to make sure that they wouldn’t be competing for attendance. It’s probably a very small group who had to decide which one to attend. But it was possible. And actually, when you consider the speakers at these two conferences, you aren’t too many steps away from almost the entire spectrum of evangelicalism, including fundamentalism, being represented, except for a very small number.
I think we could probably agree that the Dan to Beersheba at the IBFI conference is best represented by the one side of John Vaughn, former president of Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, and Mike Schrock, a staff evangelist for Bob Jones University, stretching to another side with Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond. It’s harder to find the outer boundaries of Together for the Gospel, because there’s the Charismatic, C. J. Mahaney, the Southern Baptists, Mark Dever and Albert Mohler, and then the Presbyterian, Ligon Duncan. Also there’s John Piper, who is having Rick Warren come to speak at his Desiring God Conference later this year. Some of the conference speakers of IBFI also fellowship with Southern Baptists.
Several fundamentalists, who would associate with the FBFI, would also attend Together for the Gospel. They have. They do. So you move from Bob Jones to Jack Schaap and you can make it all the way through the Southern Baptist Convention to John MacArthur to Rick Warren in the connectivity. Nothing is that far removed. And just for a little sidebar: they all say they represent the historic Charles Spurgeon, all of them. If you take it one step further, you get Rick Warren with Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. I think that the theme for IBFI, Truth-Friendship-World Evangelism, would work for Together for the Gospel too. Both of these conferences are saying, let’s put down differences to get together.
What does all this mean? What is it that the leadership of these conferences are saying to those following, including the people in the churches? And is there anything wrong with it? What brings these people together? Should anything that any of these believe and practice result in some kind of separation between them?
As I start to consider this, the typical reaction to any kind of analysis or questioning is that it is “critical” and “divisive.” In that way, the ironic critics of the analysis would say that it is also “unchristian.” They might even say it is “heretical.” Oh, and “unloving.” Or something like this: “You’re just trying to impose your opinions on others.” And “that’s what gives fundamentalists a bad name.” Or, “you’re why everyone is turned off with fundamentalism.” And just in case, a little psychobabble, “You’re just jealous!” Wait a minute, one more: “While you are writing your blog, people out there are dying and going to hell.” OK, now we can move on.
Getting together like these two groups means deciding that certain differences in belief and practice don’t matter enough. They must be overlooked, ignored, or deemed non-essential, too minor. When it comes to the T4G guys, paedobaptism and continuationism are two obvious of the supposed tertiary differences—together despite them. For the IBFI conference, the gospel itself is at stake with a denial of some that repentance is necessary for salvation. A few of the primary participants are the poster boys of the 1-2-3 pray-with-me method of evangelism. Within both groups the range of acceptable music for worship among the participants ranges from contemporary to southern gospel to very conservative. John Piper’s affirmation of Rick Warren makes a concession to his methodology. IBFI wouldn’t use all the techniques and strategies of Warren, but the basic philosophy between many of these IBFI and Warren are the same. Both conferences are purposefully minimizing certain doctrines and practices for the purpose of cooperation and fellowship. An emphasis of both is that they aren’t going to be judging based on too strict a standard, making concessions in several areas for the sake of unity or friendship.
Several of the conflicting beliefs within these conferences are mutually exclusive from one another. Both could not be at the same time pleasing to God. Two irreconcilable doctrines could not both be congenial to the nature of God. To say so or to act as such is to suggest that God has no particular favor for either truth or error.
I understand that these men would not say that they are indifferent to the contrasting doctrine and practice, just that they are willing to overlook it for the sake of the alliance. The alliance itself becomes sovereign. The idea is also that the value of the gospel in T4G and friendship and world evangelism in IBFI surpasses the value of the differences in belief enough to merit indifference toward those conflicting doctrines and practices.
Unity and fellowship, in contrast with what scripture says, have become more about toleration. Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t wish to be reduced to an insignificant number to the world, which will happen if one elevates all of Scripture to a basis of fellowship. The key then is to reduce doctrine to a manageable level, that will allow the conflicting factions to get along. The new heretic is the dogmatic, someone who thinks he’s certain on too many teachings. He endangers the harmony and cohesiveness and ruins the togetherness. Or in other words, he violates the most sacred tenet to the whole, getting along.
Whether evangelicalism or fundamentalism likes it or not, or whether they agree or not, they have surrendered to the uncertainty and ambiguity of the meaning of Scripture. They concede the perspecuity of God’s Word. At the root of this is a fundamental awareness of permissible doubt. We cannot assume that all truth can be known. They are saying that God hasn’t been plain and that we cannot sort things out. As much as they say they love the truth, the truth is the casualty of indifference.
Many years ago, someone taught me an acrostic that listed the historic marks of a New Testament church. The first was “B,” Bible sole authority for faith and practice. A Bible believer, the converted person, will alter his course to the direction of the teaching of Scripture. This is also contained within the mark of “P,” priesthood of the believer, or if you may, “S,” soul liberty. We are first responsible to God and are free to move at the promptings of the text of God’s Word.
God’s men have a responsibility before God. They’re bought with a price. They’re not their own. They must give an account to God. The big conference to which they are attuned is the one at the bema seat with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek term for “preacher” in the New Testament is kerux. The kerux was a herald. He gave only the message of the king without regard for popular opinion. He was the representative of God and all that mattered was that he say exactly what the king wanted. This concept is found in other New Testament terms, like “ambassador.” An ambassador represents the country from which he comes and gives only the message from where he possesses his citizenship. The believer is from heaven, hence a message conformed to God. As 2 Timothy 2:4 teaches: “we please him who has chosen us to be a soldier.” We’ve got one Commander-in-Chief in this war to which we’ve been recruited.
Preachers should have a kind of independent attitude of the Old Testament prophet. We’re not working for anyone else but God. He’s the One Who signs our paycheck, so to speak. This relationship with the Lord gives the man of God the freedom to say what needs to be said. We’re looking for our approval from Him. Even pastors in one sense, although under the authority of the church like the rest of the congregation, still have an office that carries with it a separate authority that is all about saying the thing that needs to be said to that assembly of people. The office of the pastor is a unique organizational role that both submits to and yet rules the church. The pastor’s ruling status allows him to maintain an independence from the people of the church for the purposes of telling the truth and pointing out error. You get the essence of this job in the great passage on preaching in 2 Timothy 4. “Preach the Word.” “Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” They are going to have “itching ears” and won’t “endure sound doctrine,” but be “long suffering” and finish your course whether it is popular or not.
What I see as one of the biggest problems in evangelicalism and fundamentalism manifests itself in where men look for approval and in their fear of independence. Both of them are related. Built into man’s nature by God Himself, I believe, is an appetite for approval. That hunger is intended to be directed toward the right bestower of approval, God Himself. However, it requires living by faith to accept an only legitimate source of endorsement. Instead of waiting for divine confirmation, men seek to gather tangible support on earth to satisfy the craving.
The replacement system of approval on earth has become very complicated. The world itself will offer notoriety or popularity in many different forms. Sometimes it comes in the small time stuff at a school or in a community. If that’s not enough, there is national celebrity and even worldwide fame. Some look for what Andy Warhol called the “fifteen minutes of fame.” You can get that today on youtube if you find a way to get people’s attention. It is often enough for one boy or girl to fit into his little group of friends and get acceptance from them. That might require talking in a certain cadence or dressing with a certain style, but you will likely have to adapt your behavior to the preferences of the group. In the context my son lives in at West Point, the people around him aren’t necessarily going to reward with a higher ranking those who manifest biblical behavior. The young men pick up the cues for what types of actions will bring commendation from peers and from command. Some of the types of actions that might impress the company won’t impress the Lord Jesus Christ. You do have to decide what your life is about.
It is almost impossible for a Christian both to live worthy of God and find approval from the world. But the temptation is great for believers to prove themselves to the unsaved crowd. The sense is that you can’t really find out how good you are unless you can compare your relative skill to what’s happening in the world. How do you stack up next to them? Will they think you’re good? And you’ll probably not ever show up in the history books unless you accomplish something the world can find impressive in whatever niche you might be—music, sports, politics, business, and more.
THE PROBLEM AS IT APPLIES TO EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
For pastors, scripture has isolated the Lord as the one to please. Yet, you won’t likely feel that approval of the Lord. You have to accept it by faith. But sometimes that isn’t easy. So what has developed to replace the confirmation of the Lord has been a very complex system of endorsement and sanction that would rival any organization on earth. It has become its own giant entity with tentacles reaching all over the place—fellowships, boards, conferences, conventions, schools, colleges, publishers, and seminaries. I believe that this is what has, more than anything else, propped up evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
We have the church. That’s Christ’s institution. And it is sufficient. But that doesn’t satisfy the hunger that many have for approval. Fundamentalism has developed its own orbs of sanction. Evangelicalism has its too. Both of them are similar in their organizational systems. They both revolve around associations and conferences, boards and meetings. Now you’ve got the internet as a tool to spread even more notoriety. How many hits does your blog get? What kind of online presence do you have?
Fundamentalism is the ugly step brother as a platform for approval. And young men especially know how dorky they look being a fundamentalist. At one time fundamentalism was bigger. It could contend with evangelicals in that way. But the fundamentalists always did have boundaries that evangelicals never had that would keep the world from being impressed. Both sides have their cast of characters, but now evangelicalism has the biggest religious celebrities, wherever they might fall on the theological spectrum. They are better at drawing a crowd and using the mediums that will gain the most attention. Fundamentalists find this alluring.
To present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, that is, to worship God, we must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). Being conformed to the world is not just the outward forms of the world, but also the same types of ambitions and appeals of the world or as 1 John 2:16 says, “the lust of the flesh” and “the pride of life.” Because of the structures set up in evangelicalism and fundamentalism, you don’t have to go outside of those affiliations to gratify your desire for earthly approval. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism can offer its own mini-versions of what the world offers all over the place. In so doing, it influences behavior just like the world too. Men will be stifled on the things they ought to be saying and constrained to go along with wrong methods and activities by the inducements of the group. Men hunger for approval and they will alter their behavior to fit evangelical or fundamentalist scruples or lack thereof.
So now the lines that were drawn between fundamentalism and evangelicalism have become blurred. The two are getting together more than ever. Many times they say they’re getting together for the gospel, overlooking other biblical differences in order to fill an immense auditorium or convention center. The size is a heady thing. Makes you feel at least somewhat big time. Maybe we all do have it going after all. And you can feel the approval. It seems like it might even be filling that appetite.
I think that evangelicals and fundamentalists should consider whether they’re together for the gospel or even together for the fundamentals or for loyalty to an evangelical or fundamentalist institution, or whether they really are together for approval. I see fundamentalists today that are cozy with men they would have never been twenty years ago and for biblical reasons. If these parachurch groups were in scripture, I would think that there might be something legitimate there, something God-designed. But no. I do believe that this is almost entirely about the feeling of legitimacy that men want to experience.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN
When we look for approval from God, what His Word says takes the preeminence. If the church is good enough, the only scriptural institution, we retain an independence to say the truth to anyone. We aren’t attempting to cobble together a coalition. We don’t need one. What we need, what we crave, is to please Jesus Christ. He is our all in all. He designed that to be accomplished on a local level. That’s why he left the little flocks as the pattern for His mission.
We have to remember that Scripture does say we aren’t going to be liked. We won’t be approved of on earth. “Take up your cross” does not speak of goodwill. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” Not being popular doesn’t bother the galley slave who’s only responsible for keeping is oar going. We’ve got to be OK with faithfulness in this world. Don’t be surprised if the persecution you get comes from evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They don’t like feeling disapproval from you. Your separation from them won’t be tolerated, especially when the disapprobation comes with quoted scripture. You are “complete in” Christ (Col 2:10), not in an evangelical or fundamentalist association. So you can handle it in Him.
I see so much acceptance of false worship and doctrine, the multiplication and the spread of it, and I believe that it all relates to this hunger for approval that men have in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. I play basketball still on a regular basis. There is a phrase that basketball people will understand: “Let the game come to you.” True fellowship isn’t anything that we have to force. That fellowship has just come to me. Men of like faith and practice will gravitate toward one another as long as they don’t try to force it. I’ve got great fellowship outside of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in churches of like faith and practice. They don’t even show up on the radar of fundamentalism or evangelicalism. They are unaffiliated. I’ve never been more greatly refreshed than being around men who weren’t interested in anything bigger than the church. If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for them.
Men who are just fine with just the church don’t minimize the basis for gathering to only the gospel. They fellowship based on the truth. They’re more interested in the truth than they are in getting along. In the end, Christ is honored because His Word is exalted. If I do get together with these men, and they do exist, I’ve found that discussions about the Bible are occurring all over the place and without limits. We’re not getting together with a diminishing of the truth. We know our approval is in Christ. I don’t care that it is a small group. It doesn’t surprise me that it is. I’m not intimidated by the fact that we don’t fit into either evangelicalism or fundamentalism. I don’t feel any pressure from my friends, from these men, to say anything but whatever God would have me.
I suggest to you to get out of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Don’t worry about it. It isn’t scriptural unity. That’s found in the church. You endeavor or strive for unity in the church. The church has been given the tools to have unity. If you have any unity outside of the church, let it come in the context of the truth that your church believes. And then satiate in the approval you have from God. Be truly independent like God designed. You’ll love it
Approval is found in that “B” that distinguishes New Testament churches. God wants belief in and obedience to His Word. Priesthood is not just a privilege, it is also a responsibility. When I’m interested most is my fellowship with Him, then I get the kind of fellowship too that is right in the world. I’ve never had the liberty to do what I wanted, but to be and do what the Lord wants. I want my life and my worship to be acceptable to Him. Let us restore a right thinking of approval and a true spirit of independence in the man of God.
Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Romans 16:10a
When the Revivalist movement swept Canada and the United States, holiness and humility got a little extra face time. And, as far as that goes, we’re fine with holiness and humility getting some props. We certainly need to emphasize these things. So long, that is, as we emphasize them Biblically. And that brings up one of the glaring ironies of the Revivalist movement, still strongly promoted in some circles in our day. Because the “holiness” and “humility” preached among the Revivalists is not true holiness or humility. In fact, we might argue that they are sinful holiness, and sinful humility.
Revivalistic holiness is not Biblical holiness. It is nothing more than moralism. Moralism sets up a false standard. Rather than preaching what is right and acceptable according to the standard of God’s Word, moralism preaches what is moral according to the times. A false standard produces a false holiness, and false holiness is sinful holiness. As we have discussed previously, we must presuppose the authority of God’s Word in defining our standards of righteousness and holiness. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Paul warns us to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
There might not be any one man who has been more guilty of preaching the rudiments of the world and the traditions of men than Charles Grandison Finney. Finney absolutely denied the doctrine of original sin, preached that man was basically good, denied the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, denied that Christ’s atonement paid for the sin of any man, denied that the new birth was supernatural, believed that Christ died for a purpose not for people, and preached that salvation is the result of men repudiating sin, continually repenting and staying clean, in order to keep in good standing with God. In short, Finney based his theology on logic rather than on Scripture. As a result, Finney developed standards of holiness based on moralistic values and the traditions of men, rather than presupposing the pure standard of God’s Word. Finney preached a form of Christian perfectionism that exalted the self and relied on the flesh in order to obtain holiness. This kind of holiness, the kind that is generated from the sinful flesh, can only be sinful.
But we like Finney. And Finney wanted holiness. We want holiness, so we like the holiness that Finney preached. Do you want to defend the Finney standards? Do you think that a wrong standard is better than no standard? Or perhaps you would defend Finney by saying, “at least he preached holiness.” Then perhaps you should consider this… So did the Pharisees. Finney is not the first to develop his own standards of holiness. The Pharisees, in fact, beat him to it by more than a millenium. What do you think of the kind of holiness that the Pharisees indulged in? Would you consider Pharisaical holiness to be true holiness? Christ didn’t (Matthew 23:3). To be sure, they were very tedious about keeping all of the traditions and laws that they had invented. They were expert gnat-strainers. They also excelled at heavy-burden-binding (Matthew 23:4). But they were not so scrupulous about keeping God’s law, especially the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23) like judgment, mercy, and faith. Their kind of holiness is very unholy, for it fails to observe the whole of God’s law.
The same can be said for the kind of humility — I believe our modern day apostles of revivalism call it “brokenness” — preached by the revivalists in the Finney tradition. The humility they promote mirrors the kind of humility that Paul was speaking of in Colossians 2:18. Granted, he was referring to Gnostic humility. But false humility is false, whether Gnostic, Finneyistic, or perfectionistic. In the case Paul describes in Colossians, they were worshipping angels, as if they could not go directly to the Lord but instead relied on an intermediate agency to bring their requests to God. They promoted this kind of thing in the name of “humility.” They believed that praying through angels made them more humble. But their humility was not the result of a Scriptural understanding of God. Rather, it was a “voluntary humility.” The Greek word for “voluntary” is a participle form of the word thelos, which means “will” or “desire.” It means to take delight in, to devote oneself to a thing, delighting in it. The idea is that they were humble for the sake of being humble, because they delighted in humility, rather than because they were humbled by a proper view of God. It was a gratuitious kind of humility, and they developed a fixation on humility itself as an end. This kind of humility is sinful. This kind of humility actually produces pride and makes a man more self-absorbed, because he becomes enamored with his own humility. This is the kind of “brokenness” or humility promoted amongst the modern-day Finneyists. This kind of humility strips a man of all actual humility, and instead vainly puffs him up by his own fleshly mind.
Paul said, “Let no man beguile you of your reward” in this sort of humility. The phrase “beguile you of your reward” comes from a single Greek word, katabrabeuo. The prefix kata means “against,” and brabueo means “to act as a judge or empire.” A.T. Robertson tells us that the word brabeus is used for the judge at the games, and the word brabeion is used for the prize awarded to the victor. The Gnostics warned these Colossian believers that if they did not humble themselves and seek the mediation of angels, that they would lose their reward. But Paul warns the Colossians that if in fact they followed Gnostic teaching, the Righteous Judge would strip them of their prize.
Instead, they need to hold fast the Head, which is Christ (v. 10). From the Head, all the body by joints and bands has nourishment ministered to it. By the Head, the body being knit together (v. 2), increaseth with the increase of God. Revival, holiness, and humility, contrary to what Charles Finney taught, are not natural results of human effort. Rather, they are the result of God working in us, producing in us that vital life and communion that increases us with the increase of God.
Contrary to the Fundamentals of Revivalist Preaching, revival is never the result of meritorious power with God. Obtaining new heights of holiness and new degrees of humility do not make us especially powerful with God. I believe that Charles Spurgeon was addressing the perfectionism preached by Finney when he said, in his sermon “Power with God,”
when we speak of having power with God, we must not suppose that any man can have any meritorious power with God. It has been thought, by some people, that a man can attain to a certain degree of merit, and that, then, he will receive heaven’s blessings; — if he offers a certain number of prayers, if he does this, or feels that, or suffers the other, then he will stand in high favor with God. Many are living under this delusion; and, in their way, are trying to get power with God by what they are, or do, or suffer. They think they would get power with God if they were to feel sin more, or if they were to weep more, or if they were to repent more. It is always something that they are to do, or something they are to produce in themselves, which they are to bring before God, so that, when he sees it, he will say, “Now I will have mercy upon you, and grant you the blessing you crave.” O dear friends, all this is contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ! There is far more power with God in the humble acknowledgment of sinfulness than in a boastful claim of cleanliness, — much more power in pleading that grace will forgive than in asking that justice should reward; because, when we plead our emptiness and sin, we plead the truth; but when we talk about our goodness and meritorious doings, we plead a lie; and lies can never have any power in the presence of the God of truth. O brethren and sisters, let us for ever shake off from us, as we would shake a viper from our hand, all idea that, by any goodness of ours, which even the Spirit of God might work in us, we should be able to deserve anything at God’s hands, and to claim as right anything from the justice of our Maker! 
He went on to point out the pride of those who think themselves to have obtained a higher sanctification…
Have you ever tried to go to God as a fully-sanctified man? I did so once; I had heard some of the “perfect” brethren, who are travelling to heaven by the “high level” railway, and I thought I would try their plan of praying. I went before the Lord as a consecrated and sanctified man. I knocked at the gate; I had been accustomed to gain admittance the first time I knocked; but, this time, I did not. I knocked again, and kept on knocking, though I did not feel quite easy in my conscience about what I was doing. At last, I clamoured loudly to be let in; and when they asked me who I was, I replied that I was a perfectly-consecrated and fully sanctified man; but they said that they did not know me! The fact was, they had never seen me in that character before. At last, when I felt that I must get in, and must have a hearing, I knocked again; and when the keeper of the gate asked, “Who is there?” I answered, “I am Charles Spurgeon, a poor sinner, who has no sanctification or perfection of his own to talk about, but who is trusting alone to Jesus Christ, the sinners’ Savior.” The gatekeeper said, “Oh, it is you, is it? Come in; we know you well enough, we have known you these many years, and then I went in directly. I believe that is the best way of praying, and the way to win the day. It is when you have got on your fine feathers and top-knots that the Lord will not know you; when you have taken them all off, and gone to him, as you went at the first, then you can say to him, —
“Once a sinner near despair
Sought thy mercy-seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free,
Lord, that mercy came to me;” —
“and I am that poor publican, who dared not lift so much as his eyes towards heaven, but smote upon his breast, and cried, ’God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and he went home to his house justified rather than the brother over there, who talked so proudly about the higher life, but who went home without a blessing. “Yes, my brother, you are strong when you are weak, and you are perfect when you know that you are imperfect, and you are nearest to heaven when you think you are farthest off. The less you esteem yourself, the higher is God’s esteem of you. 
Spurgeon, Charles H.: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 52. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons 52)
By Hugh Dathunk
Murfreesboro – Readers were bemused, and a few downright outraged recently when Lord of the Sword publisher Hilton Heath decided to sprinkle a little honesty into his otherwise tame and very predictable “Editor’s Notes” article. “I realized that most of my reports in that section were little more than flattery designed to get me more meetings in more churches. Since my schedule was overloaded already, I decided to prune some future meetings.”
“Prune some meetings? I’ll say,” said Dr. Winslow Neasy, senior pastor of Hamilton Boulevard Baptist Church and regular featured speaker in the annual Lord of the Sword Convention. “More like he wacked them off and threw them into the river.”
Other pastors expressed concern at the tone of some of Dr. Heath’s comments in the LOTS. “He seemed a little judgemental. It seems to us that he should be more gracious when he reports on the churches where he preached… churches that sacrificed to give him a nice fat honorarium.”
Pastor Phil Pew of Winston-Salem, North Carolina thought these kinds of comments might be out of bounds for publishers like Heath. “My granma always taught me, ‘if ya cain’t say nuthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ atall.’ I ain’t susure that Dr. Heath mightn’t o’ crossed a line or two with that last article.”
“I was just trying for a little authenticity. Every year at the LOTS Convention, we get at least one message on being real, on not being fake. I just thought I’d try it out for size. See how everyone liked it.”
But others think that perhaps Heath was a little beyond authentic. “I spent the third Sunday of December at Main Street Baptist Church of Bloomburg, Pennsylvania. Just a handful of people showed up for the meeting, most of them late, and most of them slept through my preaching. I tried to keep a straight face when they complemented my preaching, but a couple of times I had to get out my hanky and blow my nose,” said Heath in his article.
“I really couldn’t wait to get out of there,” Heath continued. That Saturday, I headed for Phoenix, Arizona, and the (supposedly) red hot, on fire, Brighter Vision Baptist Church. What a disappointment. These people obviously believe their press releases. They haven’t really grown much since the last time, just a lot of new faces, and almost none of the people who were here when I came last year. This place is all hype.”
“After Sunday, I had a quick bite to eat in the airport, and headed out to Barnseville, Georgia, and the Snooty Hills Baptist Church. Of all the compromising Independent Baptist Churches that plague our movement, this one might be the worst. Sure, they are big, and growing. What would you expect. Their music is racy, their girls dress like sluts, they turn a blind eye to sin, and their pastoral staff is each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife. I preached on sin, and you could have heard a pin drop. The altars were empty after the message. Pastors, we’ve got to get back to sin-hatin’, devil-spittin’, world-gratin’ hell-fire preachin’, or our movement is G-O-N-E gone!”
Pastor Drew Crowders was outraged. “I can’t believe he would print this,” he said, crumpling and uncrumpling his latest edition of the Lord. I’ve supported the Lord of the Sword for years and years. We just finished a subscription drive. I travel to the Convention every year. I have him preach here every year. He has a standing invitation to fill my pulpit whenever he wants to come. And now this.”
Crowders stops to control his quivering lip. “He won’t be back again in my church,” he said emphatically.
Meanwhile, other pastors were somewhat amused. “That LOTS crowd has been a ‘good-ole’-boy network’ for some time now. Nice to see a change.” One pastor, who has never been invited to speak at the LOTS Convention, but who has spent some time writing about their “Mutual Admiration Society of Compromise” was cheered by the article. “This does my heart good,” said Dr. Jack Hammer. I might even think about reading this paper, if he keeps it up.”
A spokesperson for the Lord of the Sword had no comment about how the editor’s candor has affected subscriptions. “We operate by faith, and stand for truth. We don’t measure our success by subscriptions.”
I caught sight of curious patrons staring through tinted windows at the convoy of beef streaming from all directions toward the two glass doors of the single entrance into one herd. They had to wonder what motivated suits of all shapes and sizes in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon to invade their Roy’s. I smiled at how ridiculous it must look. It couldn’t have been anything on the menu, typical of any number of cafes dotting highway exits throughout the heartland. Two words: Patty Melt. It would take awhile to explain a conference of fundamentalists to these natives. Chit-chat with the locals, however, was not on the agenda today, so they would have plenty of free entertainment without risk of an awkward introduction.
The trail of cars on the short stretch of interstate looked like a funeral procession that then made a wrong turn into a restaurant parking lot. I had ridden shotgun to someone else who was trying to look like he knew what was going on. That morning he was sitting alone on an aisle seat toward the back when I climbed over him to claim the cold, unwanted middle pew, a risky venture that included with it uncomfortable small talk with church members on my other side, who had arrived early enough to claim their inherited location at the end of the row. Jim had served about two hours away for the last five years and his church was not growing. He had taken a congregation in an association to which he had never belonged, and had struggled to get along with all the entrenched personalities and rituals of a long-established institution.
I followed the sway of the pine-tree air freshener dangling from his rear view mirror, wondering all of the incentives for making the original purchase and whether its brown edges should have long ago signaled to Jim the end of its artificial aroma. I checked out the prices on the gas signs to see how they compared to those in my area. As he explained some of his difficulties, I turned and looked at the shape of his longish side-burns, surely a little message to everyone of the truly independent thinking with which he was involved. Jim was not a climber in fundamentalism. His tie looked to be something still in style during his five undistinguished years at a large fundamentalist university. His pilgrimage to this conference maintained an identity to which he was accustomed, giving him a sense of belonging.
Jim mentioned again his small numbers and the lack of success in attracting visitors to attend and especially to stay once they came. I never assumed that unbelievers would want to just come to church. I asked him what he did to evangelize his community.
“I joined a local band,” he answered. “I play trumpet.”
“Hmmmm,” I said with feigned interest, my lips curled with Mona Lisa approval. “I go out and evangelize door-to-door every week. It gives me many opportunities to preach the gospel to people.”
Jim didn’t look comfortable with my comment, but he still replied. “I’ve not seen that type of evangelism to have much success.”
“So how have the evangelism opportunities gone with all the other band members?” I asked.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I haven’t given the plan of salvation per se to anyone yet, but it really does seem like an open door.”
My mind decided right then why his church wasn’t growing, even if door-to-door was as little effective as he had already determined.
This was my first of one of these meetings ever, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I had assumed that this was one of the things that pastors did, come to these—it was a bit of an experiment for me. The roster of speakers were big names in the fellowship that were penciled in to most of the regional line-ups across the country. Nothing to me had ever stood out with their preaching. When I say that, I don’t mean to say that I either got nothing out of it or that I just wasn’t entertained. It was neither entertaining like the revivalist preachers with their amazing stories nor was it substantial like many of the leading evangelicals I sometimes heard on the radio. Their major qualification seemed to be either their proximity to or their good favor with the same large Christian university from which Jim came. It didn’t seem that the host church had anything to do with the program except for the privilege of ranking high enough for the honor of hosting.
Tuesday morning started out strange. I parked my rental car and walked to a row of doors to the church auditorium. I grabbed the handle of one and ignored any happy welcome I thought I might receive as I scanned the lobby in search of the universal symbol for men’s room. Upon finding it, I strode that direction, following the urges of my natural instincts. I was stopped by a booming voice behind me, sending his earnest, authoritative command in my direction. “Son,” this mountain man said. I pivoted just enough to catch his image in my peripheral vision. There was no on else around so I knew he must be talking to me. There he was, his silver and black hair greased back in Memphis style, his body thick and wide, the president of the fellowship. “Son, could you go get me a glass of water?” The man was busy and thirsty. My subtle knowledge of church architecture changed my direction to two swinging wooden doors that led to a hallway. I kept walking until the kitchen appeared, the smell of coffee and the gurgling of its brewing leading my way. I began opening cupboards to find the elusive, available cup, twisted the cold handle, filled it straight from the tap, and then took the path back to deliver it to my solicitor. I remembered on my way a story that Jesse Jackson had told about working in a fast-food restaurant, spitting into some of the food of his customers before serving. Interesting thought. I considered whether Jesus had this in mind when He said, “A cup of cold water given in my name.” No. Maybe. Anyway, I located a duck tail on the back of a huge head, circled until I caught his attention again, and he reached out to accept my delivery, immediately draining its contents and then handing the empty cup back to me. He turned and kept talking, and I made my way back to the kitchen. I poured myself a cup of coffee before I headed back to the bathroom.
Two messages were preached that morning, first something allegorical from an Old Testament narrative. When Elijah promised rain, there appeared a cloud the size of a man’s fist. A man’s fist has five fingers. The number five means this, and so it meant this. He was my water drinker and single syllable words were spoken in two and three syllables, the past tense delivered with an emphatic, hard “-ed.” The second warned against ecumenical evangelism. I wondered how many men who traveled to this conference had been tempted by ecumenism. Zero, I guessed, but there were a lot of Amens. Nothing to bring us together like problems with other people. Amen! But at least we’d have some good Bible discussion at lunch. At Roy’s.
Jim seemed insecure and I felt sorry for him. I hoped that by tagging along the time I did I could make him feel a little better about being in the ministry. However, I had decided on the drive over that my time with him would be over once we scattered to our seats in the restaurant. We wouldn’t be doing lunch together. We did service and drive to Roy’s. As I exited Jim’s vehicle, no one separated me from the host pastor, who walked fifteen feet in front of me and who upon popping a stick of gum into his mouth, quickly wadded the wrapper and threw it into the shrubbery in front of Roy’s restaurant. I thought of that American Indian with the single tear running down his cheek positioned next to a face shot of Pastor Big Shot. I could see the metallic juicy-fruit cover stuck like an asteroid near a restaurant window. I took a deep breath of disgust and kept marching. I still held many strong illusions about the nature of these men that had not yet been shattered.
A big crowd of men stood together next to the “wait-to-be-seated” sign already in some type of pecking order. Even though I was the morning water boy, my knowledge of the authority of my office provided all the confidence I needed to talk to anyone I wanted, so I headed right into the brood of roosters to hear what they had to say. I stood and listened while we waited for an appropriate number of tables to open up for our crowd to be seated. I caught a story a little ways in that recounted a fight at just this type of restaurant in which the two fundamentalist leaders had each other’s hands around the other’s throat until a third had broken it up. I struggled to find the moral of the story, but it was highly entertaining, ending about the time our hostess arrived to lead us to our places.
When the music stopped, I was in a booth alone with two other guys I had met before, well-known in the fellowship who had both hosted one of these conferences. Neither of them knew me. I found that I didn’t know them either. I looked to my left at a bank of tables to see Jim sitting down in an empty seat right next to the fellowship president. Wow. Maybe Jim had more grit than I had imagined, or he was a loser in the contest of restaurant chairs. Alone standing up in back of a seat at the far end of the table was an elite fellowship man. I saw a situation developing. His eyes met the president’s. Then the president looked at Jim, then back at his elite friend, then back to Jim again, and then the fellowship president stood and with that booming voice said, “Jim, have I ever introduced you to a couple of my friends? They’re right over here.” He walks Jim to my table. I knew I wasn’t one of the friends. “This is Roy and Larry and….” “Moe,” I said. “Roy and Larry and Moe.” “I’m actually Bruce.” “Oh, Bruce.” That joke was obviously lost on him, but Jim was now sitting with us, actually right next to me again. I don’t think Roy and Larry were much happier about having such a little man right across from them. The fellowship elite now moved into Jim’s former seat to a giant back slap from the fellowship president and huge laughter.
I looked across the room to the adjacent booths where some of the locals were sitting and all of them were seeing the same drama unfold that I had. It was a little like watching an old television sit com with characters so above life to even be real. But these were real. Really real. Too real actually. Surreal.
As I picked up my own laminated copy of Roy’s food items, it occurred to me that one of the guys across from me was also Roy. Then I read the “Hello, I’m” sticker still stuck on his lapel, so I asked him, gesturing to the menu, “Any relation?” He was not amused. I thought, “Roy meet Roy,” wondering if one might be Leroy or the other Royal. We spent the next few minutes choosing what we wanted to order. A waitress came, we made our selections, me a patty melt, of course, and then handed in the menus. I had a couple of Scriptural discussions that had been percolating, so I brought one of them up. Larry and Roy just looked at me. A dramatic pause. Jim had more experience at conferences. He knew not to bring up Biblical discussions, especially ones that challenged the status quo of the fellowship. We came together especially based upon a few propositions that stated what our group was against. I had asked, “What do we do with churches in the fellowship that take in a member whom our church has disciplined out of the church?” Long silence. “Bruce, you’ve just got to get over it.” “Get over it?” I asked. “Yes, get over it, Bruce. Everybody has that happen to them.” “But isn’t that as much of a fellowship issue as there is?” No answer. Just smiles and looking at each other. Long sighs. Head wagging.
“So how’s their patty melts here, ya think?” Smiles again. Now there’s fellowship.
“Hi Jay. It’s Brother Bill.”
“Hello Brother Bill. What’s up?”
“We’ve got a problem.”
“Well, ya know how we were goin’ta have jet man this Sunday?”
“Well, jet man tore his ACL makin’ a practice run this afternoon, so he can’t make the jump on Sunday.”
“Wow. How did he do that?”
“We parked three buses right in a row and he tried to get over’em, but overshot the landing ramp about ten feet and bent his knee at a very nasty, very odd angle. He couldn’t even stand up or walk afterwards. So it looks like he’s a no go for a long while.”
“Wow. He oughta be glad that all he tore up was his knee and that he didn’t break his neck or sumpthin.”
“That’s for sure.”
“Well, I hope he’s OK, Brother Bill. It’s prolly good for everybody anyway. It’s craziness, some guy doin’ a stunt like that. I’d been already thinkin’, who is this guy? And where do you get these types of people for these big pushes? I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“A friend uh mine from my days at Bodine-Pyle used him for one of their big days and they had a gazillion visitors come and see him. He swears by the guy.”
“Wow. That’s a bummer. Anyways, my kids were kinda lookin’ forward to seein’ that. But they’ll get over it.”
“I know what you mean. All the kids were excited about it and I think we may’uv set a record attendance, and now we’ve got this big promotion we’ve told everyone in town about and now we’ve got nothin’.”
“Yep. Serious disappointment. Lot’s of sad kids on Sunday.”
“Uh-huh, but Jay, but here’s the thing. We can’t very well tell everybody we’ve got jet man lined up and then when everyone gets here, they find out that we’ve got the inside of a donut, can we? Is that what we wanna do, Jay?”
“Ha. That’s funny.”
“Not really, Jay. Maybe what I’m sayin’ isn’t gettin’ through. I’m sayin’ that we’ve got to have someone jump. We can’t just say we’d got jet man comin’, have people get there, and find out he’d canceled. That’ud ruin our credibility in the community.”
“Brother Bill, I thought just havin’ the guy was hurtin’ our credibility already, so maybe this is kind of a blessing in disguise. He’s like a circus act. I know people are curious to come out to see him, but it makes our church look like it’s kinda desperate, don’t it?”
“Yer not listenin’!”
“I am. I am. The kids will understand, Brother Bill. They’ll get over it.”
“I don’t think so, Jay.”
“Brother Bill, these special deals that we do, you know, that help us get more kids to show up on Sunday. Something here seems kinda off that this is so important to people, ya know, as far as them comin’ to church and all.”
“Jay, Jesus said to go out into the highways and hedges to compel them to come in. And this is how we compel ‘em to come in.”
“So does anything go, ya know, in compelin’ them to come and everything?”
“Not anything Jay, but anything that idn’t disobedient to Scripture. We only do the things the Bible dudn’t say are wrong or anything. It’s not like we’re havin’ a Christian grunge rock concert or sumpthin’.”
“Shouldn’t the Bible or Jesus be a good enough reason to come to church?”
“Sure, Jay. But these little kids aren’t all goina come just because the Bible or Jesus. Not until they’re saved. And some of ‘em just aint dedicated to God as yet. That might come later on.”
“You say we don’t have rock concerts, but when I’ve been in helpin’ with super church with the kids on Sunday mornings, some of that looks pretty entertaining, nothing too reverent as far as I can see. Some of it’s pretty wild. I don’t think those kids are in there because they love the Bible.”
“It’s a television generation, Jay. It’s harder to get kids tuh listen tuhday. They’ve got real short attention spans.”
“So you think they’ll keep comin’ after their saved, whether we offer them candy or pop or toys or jet man or stuff like that?”
“I don’t know Jay. What I do know is that we get a lot of people to come usin’ this stuff and then a lot of ‘em get saved once they get here. Some of ‘em ‘ud be burnin’ up in hell right now if it wudn’t for us. So if they don’t stay with us, at least they got saved. You gotta problem with that?”
“OK. So Brother Bill, what exactly does this all have to do with me? I’m not even in charge of any of this stuff.”
“I’m glad you asked that Jay, because here’s the thing—we want you, we want you to make the jump. To take Jet Man’s place.”
“That’s right. We want you. You duh man, Jay.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can.”
“No. I can’t. I don’t even know how to ride a motorcycle.”
“Now that’s not what I’ve heard Jay. Weren’t you a biker or sumpthin’ before you got saved?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“It’s just sumpthin’ I’d heard.”
“Well, yeah, Brother Bill, but that a long time ago. I haven’t been on a bike in years and for good reason. I’ve not even been lookin’ to get back into motorcycles again. I’ve been tryin’ to stay away from that old crowd and the motorcycles and stuff.”
“But isn’t that why they say, ‘it’s just like ridin’ a bike,’ Jay?”
“Ha. That’s funny. No. This isn’t just like ridin’ a bike. It’s more like somebody gettin’ killed. Like me.”
“But from what I’ve been told, makin’ one of these jumps really idn’t that hard, Jay. Jet man, his name’s Fred, Fred says it’s easy, anybody can do it if he can ride a motorcyle.”
“So how did Fred crash and wreck his knee up if it was so easy?”
“Jay, can you do it or not? If you don’t, we’re gointa have a big bunch of sad kids on our hands. And you could keep that from happenin’ if you’d just come through here, Jay.
“I’ll think about it.”
“You’ll think about it?”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it. I’ll pray about it.”
“That’s great, Jay! I’ll tell preacher and he’s goina be really happy to hear that. Really happy. I was just talkin’ to him and he was just tellin’ me how happy he was that you were here and everything. This is gointa make his day, Jay.”
“OK. But I’m not sayin’ I’m going to jump. I’ll just pray about it and get back to you.”
“Jay, the kids are gointa flip when they find out who jet man is. That you’re jet man. We’re plannin on lettin’ kids get their pictures taken with him, you, afterwards. And you can sign’em later and everything. Jet Man Jay and everything.”
“I don’t think they’d like gettin’ their picture taken next to my casket.”
“Oh come-on Jay, that aint goina happen. You’ll do fine. You and Fred’s about the same size, so you could wear his jet man suit too.”
“Is there blood on it?”
“Nothing one good run through the washer can’t take care of.”
“So who’s goinna preach then, Brother Bill? Wasn’t jet man, Fred, goinna be preaching on Sunday morning too?”
“No, he’s just jumpin’, just was jumpin,’ Jay. Preacher’s got Brother Clifford Lee to do the preachin’. He’s done a ton of these kinda days and he knows exactly how to gettem down the aisles. If we can gettem there, he’ll gettem to come forward. No one’s better for big days than Clifford Lee.”
“I’ve never heard him.”
“He’s good. He can really preach. Nobody’s better at keepin’ people’s attention and gettin’em down the aisle like Clifford Lee. We had’im for M and M Sunday a few years ago, and there was more people in the aisles than there was in the pews.”
“M and M Sunday?”
“Yeah, magician and musicians. We had a guy do magic and then the Cloud Indian Family. We handed out M & Ms to everyone who came. Get it, M and M?”
“Yeah, I get it. That must have been before my time.”
“Well, how bout this, Jay? How bout I come over to your house in, let’s say, twenty minutes. I’ll bring the uniform and the paperwork and everything.”
“Yeah. It’s nothin’ really, just a release form, guaranteein’ that if anything might happen to you when you make the jump, that the church wouldn’t be liable or anything.”
“Yeah. So’s you couldn’t sue us or anything.”
“I thought you said you thought I could make the jump. So why would I need to sign a liability release form, Brother Bill?”
“Oh you can. You can, Jay. Easily. But this is something we have everyone do. We did it with the flaming sword swallower in the Spring, too. Remember? And it was a good thing too. The skin grafts and everything.”
“I wouldn’t sue the church if I crashed in a motorcycle jump.”
“So you’ve decided to make the jump, then.”
“No! I haven’t decided!”
“But you said and we need you, Jay.”
“Brother Bill, why can’t we just pray for kids to come to church? We believe in prayer, don’t we? Preacher’s always talking about havin’ the power of God. I mean, if you’ve got the power of God, why do you need a measely motorcycle jumper?!?!”
“Hey, be careful, Jay. We don’t want to mock the power of God now.”
“Brother Bill, who’s mocking God’s power? Wouldn’t the power of God, I mean if we had it, have more sway on kids comin’ to church than the lure of a thousand jet men? And if kids can’t be impressed with God, it seems kinda demeaning to Him to bring in a jet man to win a competition for kid’s attention.”
“That’s deep, Jay. Deep. Real deep. I think you need to understand that you’re the answer to our prayers and start polishin’ up your cycle skills. Jay, I don’t have time to keep talkin’ to you about this, so I’m comin’ over with the jet man suit and the liability release, and then we talk about when we can work on some practice runs. Your participation would be much appreciated. By me, by preacher, and by dozens of snotty nosed bus kids.”
Thanks to Jack Schaap, the KJVO debate has reached a rolling boil among the ranks. Right now, on my desk, sits a stack of articles from all sorts of sources, not least of which is the Sword of the Lord, and mostly those representing the various colleges in the Hyles circle. The articles have titles like “The Inspiration of the King James Bible,” “Is the AV 1611 King James Bible Inspired?” “What Did Jesus Write?” “Siding With the Plowman,” “Editor Makes the Case for Inspired Text,” “The Inspiration of the Scriptures,” and “The Inspiration and Preservation of the King James Bible.” In each case, the author denies that he believes in “double-inspiration.” And in each case, the author proclaims a doctrine that is impossible unless God re-inspired the Bible in English.
Here is what flabbergasts me. These men claim that they believe in preservation — they claim to believe that God kept every word of Scripture. And then, they turn around and deny that. In their attempts to argue that God’s Word is preserved in English only, they make statements like, “God allowed the Greek and Hebrew to go into oblivion.” They deny that God’s Word is preserved in the languages in which it was given. They argue that the Originals do not exist, and cast reflexion on the integrity of the various manuscripts of the TR, the basis of our King James Version.
In order to uphold our English Bible, those who claim to be King James Only are now denying that God has preserved the very words that he gave. I find this mind-boggling. What purpose does it serve to attack the foundation of the King James Bible?
When the Psalmist said in Psalm 12:6-7, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever,” what words was he speaking of? What words did God promise to keep? Would David have understood this to mean English words? Would he have thought that God was promising to keep any words other than the Hebrew words in which the Old Testament was given?
How about Matthew? When the Bible says in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,” how would Matthew have understood this? Would he have thought that Christ was referring to English words? Would Paul understand this to mean that God would lose the Greek words, the very words in which this verse and the majority of New Testament verses were given? Would Peter have understood this to mean that the Greek words would be lost and/or replaced with English words?
To argue that the Greek and Hebrew words were lost or “went into oblivion” is to argue that God failed to keep his promise. He promised to keep them, as the old Divines would say, “by His singular care and providence.” Ironically, those who have made the King James Version their first issue are now denying God’s promise in order to maintain their singular loyalty to this version, and subsequent rejection of the Original Languages.
As anyone knows, we aren’t Hyles fans here. But I think Jack Hyles, and while we’re at it, Jack Schaap, are owed an apology. Don’t get me wrong—Hyles and Schaap deserve criticism. They merit the exposure of their errors and have earned the censures they have received.
So why the apology? The denunciation of Hyles and Schaap should proceed from their false doctrine and practice, their violations of God’s Word. The reprimands of them or anyone else should not arise from some personal distaste. We want to protect and propagate the truth out of love for God. When we desire for God to be honored, then the personalities are irrelevant. We are honest critics, ready to point the error where we see it. If we’re not going to be consistent in this, then we should apologize to Hyles and Schaap. We weren’t doing it for the right reason—it was only personal.
Where men have excoriated Hyles and Schaap, they have remained comparably silent on others with the same doctrinal or practical error. And I mean in the doctrine or principle behind the negativity over Hyles and Schaap. In this way, Hyles and Schaap have become the whipping boys for those who don’t seem to have a problem with the actual false doctrine or practice when it is practiced by other men. This rings of hypocrisy, one that no doubt God can see.
We’re either against a false belief and practice or we are not. The identity of the person who holds the distortion shouldn’t matter. So what are the practices of other fundamentalists and evangelicals that parallel those of Hyles and Schaap?
1. DEPENDENCE ON AND ACCOMMODATION TO THE WISDOM OF MEN FOR CHURCH GROWTH
In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes in v. 22 that the “Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.” Wrong church growth methodology starts with an evaluation of what unsaved people want. Paul took the opposite tack. He gave to the Jews what was to them a “stumblingblock” and what was to the Greeks “foolishness” (v. 23). He just preached the gospel to them. He didn’t want the growth of the church to stand in the “wisdom of men,” but in the “wisdom of God,” which was “to them that perish foolishness” (v. 18). Why? “That no flesh should glory in his presence” (v. 29). “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (v. 31). Men get the glory through the modernistic church growth methods.
Hyles pioneered many of the modern methods of church growth. A primary strategy of his at First Baptist Church in Hammond was to offer a particular demographic (children) an attraction for church attendance (small toys, candy, soda pop). The incitement to attend church would fit only the specific demographic, not another one (elderly, middle aged adults, etc.). Hyles targeted a special group with an appropriate seduction. Because of the success at increasing attendance, this method was imitated by many. The Jews required a sign, Greeks wisdom, and children temporary excitement. Rather than avoiding this wisdom of men, Hyles accentuated it. Schaap continues it. This technique directly violates 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16.
But is it only Hyles? Consider these recent statements on SharperIron, a fundamentalist forum, by fundamentalist leader Stephen Davis from Calvary Baptist in Lansdale, PA in an article entitled “Planting Urban Churches”:
Church planting involves numerous details such as strategy, demographic studies, . . .
You might be surprised at how many people think that new churches should dance to the same tune as churches which have existed for decades with their well-established traditions. The traditions are not necessarily wrong but may be unnecessary barriers in planting an urban church among those unacquainted with those traditions.
You might need to ask them to be open to different forms of worship, a different leadership style, a different philosophy of ministry, and a different way of living out practical Christianity.
Davis encourages young fundamentalists planting churches to accommodate the urban culture to enhance evangelistic efforts, just to be careful not to be too offensive to mother churches who practice something more “traditional.” A huge emphasis of the article is this decision for the church planter to cater to the way of life of the inner city lost.
The founder of SharperIron, Jason Janz, chronicled the “launch” of his church in downtown Denver with these words:
At the end of the meeting, we passed out a white envelope to everyone in attendance, and inside it was the balance of our checking account: $1,500. We gave every person $30 cash and asked him to find a person in need and give him the money. As clear as day, God said to me that we should do it again.
I walked into staff meeting on Thursday morning and explained the direction God had placed on my heart. I thought we should do the reverse offering again and give every attendee $10. They all agreed that we should do it in spite of the fact that we only had $2,500 in our checking account and the knowledge that we could have 250 people in attendance.
“God said to” Janz that they should do it again. This is the very kind of statement that Hyles often used to justify some evangelistic method that he used.
In the last year many fundamentalists expressed outrage over statements criticizing Calvinism by a pastor in a regional Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (FBFI) meeting. The blog world burned up with articles and comments. Shortly thereafter, the national meeting of the FBFI titled their corresponding children’s program, “When I grow up, I want to be a fundamentalist.” This as well fired up young fundamentalists. And yet there hasn’t been a peep about the Hyles-like philosophy represented by Davis and Janz from fundamentalists.
And conservative evangelicals? Or even a conservative evangelical who is the hero of fundamentalists and evangelicals, John Piper? Piper was in a conference this last year in Cleveland, OH and he answered a question about evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll, and in his answer he said these exact words, imparting his own belief and philosophy about evangelism:
These are weird people comin’ to his church . . . look at this . . . they wouldn’t come to hear me for anything. They wouldn’t go to my church, but they’ll go to his church. I’m cuttin’ him a lot of slack because of the mission. It’s kind of a both/and for me. You don’t need to go as far as you’ve gone sometime with your language, but I understand what you’re doing missiologically there and I have a lot of sympathy for, because I like to see those people saved.
Mark Driscoll does things in the way of coarse language and other strategies, completely detached from scripture and the Holy Spirit, that make him effective at seeing people saved. John Piper believes this.
If the fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are not going to scrutinize and denounce other fundamentalists and evangelicals, then they should just apologize to Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap. They don’t really care about these false doctrines and practices. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve got some other agenda.
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote:
The fountain of Christ
I ever will sing;
The blood of our Priest,
Our crucified King;
Which perfectly cleanses
From sin, and from filth;
And richly dispenses
Salvation and health.
This fountain from guilt
Not only makes pure,
And gives, soon as felt,
But if guilt removed
Return and remain,
Its pow’r may be proved
Again and again.
The things that Bunyan says in this poem are things that John MacArthur won’t say about the blood. Somebody’s wrong. I’m saying it’s MacArthur. The blood of Christ is a fountain. The blood of Christ has power. None of these are new ideas, novel inventions of modern theology. They are old. Actually they’re Bible. And I’ll talk more about that.
By the way, it might seem like I’m picking on MacArthur and that I do that a lot. And that my “attacks” on him are the equivalent of a chihuaha jumping up to nip at a passing elephant. So they’re funny! There are guys a lot worse for me to target. OK. But MacArthur is the bridge to the badder guys. He often crosses the same line, just not as far as some of them. Many men who will never be seduced by those worse than MacArthur, will be lured by him. I understand that it would be a good thing if some on the left would move MacArthur’s direction, but I don’t see that happening. If anything occurs, those to the right shift MacArthur’s way. That’s a big part of his following.
What’s somewhat confusing about MacArthur is that he makes true statements about the blood. However, when you read him carefully, you see that he never has the blood of Christ actually doing anything except one thing, that is, fulfilling the Old Testament types of a bloody, violent death. He says the death of Christ needed to be bloody, oh yes, but it never does anything itself. I don’t see how anyone could take that position without some outside influences. On 1 John 1:7, in his reference Bible, MacArthur says nothing about the blood. He says nothing about the blood there in Revelation 1:5. On Revelation 7:14, he writes: “This refers to the atoning sacrifice of Christ.” In 1 Peter 1:18-19, he amazingly says nothing about the blood of Christ. Regarding Hebrews 9:12, he says, “A better translation would be ‘through His own blood.’” For Hebrews 9:14, concerning “the blood of Christ,” he comments:
This is an expression that refers not simply to the fluid, but the whole atoning sacrificial work of Christ in His death. Blood is used as a substitute word for death.
That’s it for that verse. He does the same kind of thing everywhere. In reading for this, I found a few places where MacArthur may have slipped up. He said something that was different than he has said he believed. When he preached Hebrews 9:1-14 in 1972, in commenting on the sprinkled blood of Christ purging us from a sinful conscience, MacArthur said:
Boy, Christian, you need to realize that. You need to realize that. It’ll…it may clean up your life a little bit. You live in the throne room of God, spiritually speaking. Jesus has taken us in. He not only went in and sprinkled some blood for us, but He hauled us in with Him. And He says you can stay forever. That’s the sanctuary that He ministers in.
He doesn’t elaborate on this at all. And then consider this line of exposition on Revelation 7:14 from a sermon in 1993:
[T]hese are white robes because they have been washed and they have been made dazzling, leukon, and they have been washed and made dazzling by what detergent? The blood of the Lamb. . . . [H]ere is a paradox, a precious paradoxical truth. Blood doesn’t stain, blood cleanses every stain. The divine detergent removes sin all together. This wonderful theme of the blood of the Lamb is not new to the book of Revelation. . . . The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.
He was extremely careful to say the opposite in the audio that I embedded in part one and in much of what he has written. The way he has written in the two above quotes says the exact opposite of what he says when he instructs in his doctrine of the blood of Christ.
It is difficult to understand how MacArthur comes to his position. I don’t deny that the term “blood” can be used as a metonym. However, its usage in the New Testament in many cases doesn’t read as a synonym or metonym. MacArthur doesn’t prove that “blood” means “death,” unless you believe that a couple of straw man arguments count. I can’t assume he’s being stubborn. I’ve got to believe that he means what he is saying. With that in mind, I do believe that it is possible that MacArthur was influenced by the teachings of the late R. B. Thieme, oft published author and long time pastor of the Church in Houston, Texas (R. L. Hymers develops this idea here).
By the words that he says and the tone of his voice, MacArthur sounds very upset about the criticism he receives on this issue. However, the things that he says are not compatible with New Testament teaching. Scripture reads as though the blood itself is doing something, not just performing as a synonym. Let me explain how I see it.
What Scripture Says the Blood Does
As I have explained God’s plan of salvation to my own children, here is what I have said to them about the blood of Jesus. I’ve said that Jesus did two things. He died for us on the cross and He shed His blood for us. I have said that through His death He paid the penalty of our sin by substituting for us sinners. I have also said that His shed blood washes away our sin. I’ve told them that sin stains us, corrupts us, spiritually, so Jesus’ blood cleanses away our sins spiritually. I explain to them that we don’t know how His blood does this, but that it does. How do we know? Because the Bible tells us.
But MacArthur might contend that the “fluid” doesn’t do anything or that no priest carried Jesus’ blood in a bowl to heaven. So what? Who is saying that? Let’s just stick with what the Bible says and rejoice in it. None of us can fully explain how Jesus could die for everyone, but He did. We just accept it. We accept that Jesus’ blood not only washed away all our sins in the past, but all of them in the present and the future too. This is more than atonement. Jesus’ blood takes away all of our sins and keeps taking away our sins. This is one reason why we willingly confess our sins (1 John 1:9), because as we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus is washing away all of our sins (1 John 1:7).
MacArthur says that we shouldn’t get caught up in the “bizarre notion” that there is some kind of saving efficacy in the actual blood of Jesus. Why not? We can believe that the physical body of Jesus had something to do with our salvation. That is why we partake of the bread and the cup. Those symbols are not signifying a spiritual death (as R. B. Thieme taught and his doctrinal statement still reads) or a spiritual blood, but actual body and blood.
I don’t know how it is that the blood of Jesus gets applied to me, but it is different than what is only human blood or else why would Peter describe it as “incorruptible” and “precious” (1 Peter 1:18ff). What makes it precious? And how is it incorruptible? Certainly human blood is corruptible, that is, it perishes, decays, rots. Christ’s blood is the opposite of that. The exact Greek term translated corruptible relates to “decay” and “rot.” It’s not like silver and gold that is temporal, the price paid to redeem a slave in the Old Testament. The blood of Christ is much more. There is life in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). In this case the life of Christ, which is Divine and eternal. Through the Spirit of God the physical blood of Christ has within it a spiritual dimension that cleanses from sin.
MacArthur says that “incorruptible” simply communicates the value of Christ’s blood, nothing about its lack of decay. Silver and gold is worth a lot and it can’t redeem, but His blood is worth eternal value. He makes the point that blood is of tremendous worth or cost. That’s not how it reads, especially in light of the later idea in 1 Peter 1 of things that perish. The blood of Christ has an eternal quality that is different than the temporal quality of gold and silver, even though they are thought to be supremely long lasting by men’s standards. The blood of Jesus can be trusted for its longevity even as God’s Word can be trusted in such fashion (1 Peter 1:23-25).
There is a relationship between the physical and the spiritual. God is a Spirit, but He created a physical universe with spoken word. Words, which are inanimate, made animate things out of nothing. We use our physical body to commit deeds that are spiritually corrupt. Sin, something spiritual, resides in our physical bodies (Romans 1:20-21). We can yield our physical bodies to God, a Spirit, and glorify Him in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 6:12-13).
There seems to be a bit of the influence of docetism in MacArthur’s thinking on this. He talks down the place of Jesus’ physical blood in the cleansing from sin, as if the body and blood of Jesus were not able to participate in His eternal works. 1 Peter2:24 says that Jesus “bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Is this too a synonym for death? Jesus conducted something saving with His body that a mere man could not have performed. Docetism comes, I believe, from doubt. Docetistic people won’t just accept what the Bible says about Jesus—they have a few “scholarly” presuppositions that won’t allow them to give in to statements that communicate the miraculous nature of our salvation. Instead of saying “miraculous,” someone like MacArthur will say “magical property” in a mocking way. Well, was there a “magical property” to Jesus’ body that allowed Him to bear all our sins in His body?
There was something miraculous about Jesus’ body. His body was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). Before Jesus was born, He had a body prepared for Him by God the Father (Hebrews 10:5). I agree with the Trinitarian statement of the council of Chalcedon (451), but that doesn’t stop me from believing that there was an aspect to Christ’s blood that could do the spiritual work of cleansing sin in conjunction with His death on the cross.
What Have Men Said?
Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology writes (p. 395):
Such being the Scriptural doctrine concerning the person of Christ, it follows that although the divine nature is immutable and impassible, and therefore neither the obedience nor the suffering of Christ was the obedience or suffering of the divine nature, yet they were none the less the obedience and suffering of a divine person. The soul of man cannot be wounded or burnt, but when the body is injured it is the man who suffers. In like manner the obedience of Christ was the righteousness of God, and the blood of Christ was the blood of God. It is to this fact that the infinite merit and efficiency of his work are due. This is distinctly asserted in the Scriptures. It is impossible, says the Apostle, that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sin. It was because Christ was possessed of an eternal Spirit that He by the one offering of Himself hath perfected forever them who are sanctified. This is the main idea insisted upon in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This is the reason given why the sacrifice of Christ need never be repeated, and why it is infinitely more efficacious than those of the old dispensation. This truth has been graven on the hearts of believers in all ages. Every such believer says from his heart, “Jesus, my God, thy blood alone has power sufficient to atone.”
C. H. Spurgeon said (recorded in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons, parts 417-42):
Poor creatures have even gone the length of doubting the power of the Hood of Jesus to cleanse them. If you talk so, I must put my hand on your mouth ; you must not say another word of that sort. Is it not enough that you have bespattered yourself with sin ? Must you now asperse your Saviour? Will you trample on the blood of Christ ? Will you deny its cleansing power ? As he was God as well as man, our Lord’s sacrifice has an infinite virtue in it, and we cannot endure that you, guilty as you are, should add to all your former crimes this highest and most ungenerous iniquity of charging the blood of Christ with a want of cleansing power. Will you give God the lie about his own Son? O sirs, if you perish it will not be because the blood has too little efficacy, it will be because you have not believed on the name of the Son of God, and will not come unto him that you might have life.
Richard Watson in his Theological Institutes, wrote (p. 621):
For what does Dr. P. Smith gain, when cautioning the believer against the use of the phrase “the blood of GOD,” by reminding him that there is reason to prefer the reading, “the Church of the Lord, which he hath purchased by his own blood ?” The orthodox contend, that the appellation “TILE LORD,” when applied to our Saviour, is his title as GOD, and the heterodox know, also, that the “blood of the Lord” is a phrase with us entirely equivalent to “the blood of GOD.” They know, too, that we neither believe that “GOD” nor “THE LORD” could die; but in using the established phrase, the all-important doctrine of the existence of such a union between the two natures of our Lord as to make the blood which he shed more than the blood of a mere man, more than the blood of his mere humanity itself, is maintained and exhibited; and while we allow that God could not die, yet that there is a most important sense in which the blood of Christ was “the blood of GOD.”
We do not attempt to explain this mystery, but we find it on record; and, in point of fact, that careful appropriation of the properties of the two natures to each respectively, which Dr. Pye Smith recommends, is not very frequent in the New Testament, and for this obvious reason, that the question of our Lord’s Divinity is more generally introduced as an indisputed principle, than argued upon. It is true, that the Apostle Paul lays it down, that our Lord was of the seed of David, “according to the FLESH,” and “the Son of God, according to the SPIRIT OF Holiness.” Herre is an instance of the distinction; but generally this is not observed by the apostles, because the equally fundamental doctrine was always present to them, that the SAME PERSON who was FLESH was also truly GOD. Hence they scruple not to say, that “the Lord of glory was crucified,” that “the Prince of life was killed,” and that HE who was “in the form of God,” became “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
We return, from this digression, to notice a few other passages, the meaning of which can only be opened by the doctrine of the personal union of the Divine and human natures in Christ. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead BODILY,” Col. ii, 9; not by a type and figure, but, as the word swmatikw~ signifies really and substantially, and for the full exposition, we must add, by personal union; for we have no other idea by which to explain an expression never used to signify the inhabitation of good men by God, and which is here applied to Christ in a way of eminence and peculiarity.
John Owen in His Works wrote:
The blood of Christ in his sacrifice is still always and continually in the same condition, of the same force and efficacy, as it was in that hour wherein it was shed. The blood of other sacrifices was always to be used immediately upon its effusion; for if it were cold and congealed it was of no use to be offered or to be sprinkled. Blood was appointed to make atonement, as the life or animal spirits were in it, Lev. xviL 11. But the blood of the sacrifice of Christ is always hot and warm, having the same spirits of life and sanctification still moving in it. . . . Every one, therefore, who at any time hath an especial actual interest in the blood of Christ, as sacrificed, hath as real a purification from the defilement of sin as he had typically who stood by the priest and had blood or water sprinkled on him; for the Holy Ghost diligently declares that whatever was done legally, carnally, or typically, by any of the sacrifices of old at any time, as to the expiation or purification of sin, that was all done really and spiritually by that one sacrifice,—that is, the offering and sprinkling of the blood of Christ,—and abideth to be so done continually. To this purpose is the substance of our apostle’s discourse in the ninth and tenth chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
This truth about his blood is seen in the history of believers’ praise to God in the old hymns of the faith. William Cowper in 1771 wrote:
There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he, Washed all my sins away:
E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die.
Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved, to sin no more.
A song doesn’t have the authority for Scripture, but it does communicate what Christians believed the Bible taught. These types of thoughts are all over the old hymns. They say something different than what John MacArthur teaches on the blood.
The word “shun,” I’d think you’d admit, has negative connotations. It now sounds like something bad that people would do. I was talking to a Hyles-Anderson graduate recently and he was criticizing a church in the area of his own. He said, “We don’t get along with them.” I asked, “Why?” One of his two reasons was: “When they discipline people out of their church, they practice shunning them.” He said it with incredulity. I kept a deadpan face and nodded to him. I was preaching at a conference and he was a missionary there to get some contacts, and I didn’t want to make a scene. I was very surprised he was even there. I didn’t think our orbiting paths would ever cross. My mind told me that he didn’t know what he was getting into. I figured maybe he could get some help. I never gave away that I liked the church he was talking about, that we supported two missionaries from that church. However, I was thinking this: “What do you think church discipline is? It is shunning!”
Here’s the definition of the English word “shunning”: “To avoid deliberately; keep away from.” That sounds just like what we read in Romans 16:17:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
And it also matches up with 2 Thessalonians 3:14:
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
“Avoid them” and “have no company with him.” What is church discipline if it is not shunning someone? The point of it is to make him ashamed, to remind him that he needs to get right with God before he’s going to be right with you.
Alright, but this is a series on shameful alternatives for church discipline. You might be trying to guess where I’m heading with this. Good job. Is it the alternative of not shunning? No . . . . . . . . it is shunning. The shameful alternative is shunning. Is shunning?!?! Didn’t I just say that shunning was what we’re to do? Yes. So what’s wrong with shunning if it’s what we’re supposed to do? Good question.
Shunning is the third and final step of church discipline. It isn’t the first step. Fundamentalists and now conservative evangelicals are the kings of practicing the shun as the first step of church discipline. It may be called different names, but it is a kind of shunning. So in our four part series, I come to number four of the shameful alternatives for church discipline.
The Cold Shoulder
The Cold Shoulder isn’t a scriptural form of church discipline, but it is one used an alternative in many fundamentalist churches. I know it is used by evangelicals as well. The Cold Shoulder is nothing more than a church discipline methodology that practices shunning while a person remains in the church, skipping the first and second steps of Matthew 18. He hasn’t found out officially that he has done anything wrong. I say “officially” because he may have heard through the gossip grapevine. Information may have made it to him.
A church member receives the Cold Shoulder after other shameful, alternative forms of church discipline will have taken affect, probably a couple of the first three that I’ve mentioned in this series. Someone has violated a church standard or scripture or an obvious desire of church leadership. This has been mentioned to the pastor or him and his staff. This has been whispered among church members. The one in violation hasn’t been called on the carpet, but he is out of social and political good standing. He may think that he’s getting mentioned in sermons. At least it sounds like it. Does he know it? Maybe not. But he might figure it out if he is able to read the tea leaves properly. He will begin to get the idea that something is wrong. It might be obvious to him that something is wrong. How? He gets the Cold Shoulder.
There are various degrees of the Cold Shoulder. People that once talked to you are now avoiding contact with you. Conversation with you is kept to a minimum. Things you were asked to do—you’re not being asked to do them anymore. People who were your friends aren’t as friendly. When you are walking toward someone and you smile, he turns his head to lose eye contact. Wherever you go, people seem to walk away from you. Responses are terse, minimized to the smallest amount of information.
Often you won’t get the Cold Shoulder from everyone. You’ll still have people that will be OK with you, although they know that if their status doesn’t change with you, theirs will with everyone else. They’ll start getting the cold shoulder too. There are probably some that can’t pick up on the Cold Shoulder you’re getting. The news of this has lost them. So they keep treating you well. But then they’re told not to keep hanging around you. “Why not?” “Because he’s not a good influence.” “How so?” “Believe me, he isn’t, so you’d best stop hanging around him if you know what’s good for you.”
With the Cold Shoulder you are now receiving, you may or may not know why you’re getting it. You may have an idea, but it isn’t clear. You’re probably right about what it is. It is likely whatever comes to mind when you ask yourself why it’s happening. It reminds you of getting benched by a coach who is a poor communicator. Suddenly your playing time has shrunk and no one has told you why that’s happened. It’s supposed to be obvious, you guess. Whatever it is you have done, it isn’t being dealt with properly, because if it were, it would start with telling you exactly what it is that’s wrong. There would be attempts a reconciliation. None of that has happened. You are in somebody’s doghouse, everyone’s doghouse maybe.
The practice of the Cold Shoulder is a particular favorite of fundamentalists even outside of the church. You’ll find out that you are no longer in good standing in several different ways. You aren’t being invited to speak any more or very infrequently. You won’t get mentioned in a positive light. You don’t get your comments answered or responses to your emails. People stop talking to you. You’ll have to figure out why this is on your own. You might notice that you get some derogatory references in what people write. All of this occurs without one conversation explaining what is wrong. There is no resolution to whatever is the issue.
For whatever the real reason that you get the Cold Shoulder instead of a scriptural treatment, what you’ll hear is that you are someone who doesn’t listen. You are someone past dealing with. It’s a waste of time. They’ve got too many other things to do than to be chasing you down and explaining something that is obvious. What’s the real reason? Faithlessness. Cowardice. The flesh. A pattern of not handling things the right way, and it doesn’t matter, because after all, no one can be 100% consistent anyway. It’s too much of a hassle for their time. You aren’t contributing to them in a way that would make it worthwhile to continue a relationship. If something financial was at stake, maybe you’d get an opportunity. Or if you are popular, they may see a need to do something in the way of returning to a right relationship with one another.
Doing the right thing really isn’t that difficult. You talk to someone, laying out from scripture what he’s done wrong. If he hears, then you have regained the brother. If he doesn’t, you get witnesses. It may be at that point that you find out that you’re the one who doesn’t have evidence. He really may be innocent or at least not guilty. Others are able to judge whether something wrong has actually happened. It could be that you find out that you were mistaken when more witnesses are involved. If the witnesses corroborate, then it goes to the church. If it is outside of the church, once he won’t listen to witnesses, you have a basis for separation.
No one wants to be shunned, except for certain eccentrics. No one especially wants this shunning without the due process that everyone should anticipate before a shunning occurs. Giving the Cold Shoulder without any kind of possibility of repentance or reconciliation is as bad or worse than the behavior resulting in that treatment. Let us all together decide that we will not be the individual or the church that uses shameful alternatives for church discipline. Let’s follow Christ in what we do and allow His Words to regulate our lives out of love for Him.