Home > Brandenburg, Truth > The Point and Presumptuousness of Ranking Doctrines

The Point and Presumptuousness of Ranking Doctrines

February 11, 2009

Where does Scripture tell us that only a limited number of its teachings are worth separating over?  Answer:  Nowhere.  You can’t find that anywhere in the Bible.  Phil Johnson says it’s just common sense for us to rank doctrines and bemoans the loss of common sense since post-modernism.   C. H. Spurgeon came along before post-modernism and perhaps even modernism, so based on Johnson’s standard for common sense, I wonder where Spurgeon’s is, when I read this quote from his 1856 sermon, Zion’s Prosperity:

I believe that we ought not to say that any truth is non-essential; it may be non-essential to salvation, but it is essential for something else. Why! you might as well take one of the jewels out of the Queen’s crown, and say it is non-essential, but she will be Queen all the same! Will anyone dare to tell God that any doctrine is non-essential?

He lacked the “common sense” that Johnson claims in many other sermons he preached as well.   Johnson must retreat to the 17th century to find anyone expounding on essentials and non-essentials and really to only two volumes, one of which was Herman Witsius’ Sacred Dissertations on the Apostle’s Creed.   Witsius argues that essential doctrines are only those necessary to salvation.   One of Witsius’ life goals was reconciliation between the reigning orthodoxy of his time with the new covenant theology.   His doctrinal taxonomy would help bridge the gap between those two.   We must consider that objective when we read Witsius’ arguments as well as  to understand that he’s unpacking the Apostle’s Creed, which on its own is a monumental contraction of doctrine that among the few things that it states as essential, it includes:  “I believe in the . . . holy catholic church; the communion of saints. . . .”

The Point of Ranking Doctrines

Witsius revealed his point of ranking doctrines—the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.   He believed that all believers made up the true church, the holy catholic one, and that unity was required, the communion of the saints.  I agree with total church unity.  Paul admonishes the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12:25 “that there should be no schism in the body.”  Of course, two verses later (v. 27) he also calls the Corinthian church the body of Christ.

Scripture doesn’t teach the communion of the saints.  1 Corinthians 10:16 teaches “the communion of the body of Christ,” but the “body of Christ” and “the saints” are two different terms and two different concepts.  “Saints” is a soteriological term.  It means “saved people” in essence.  “Body of Christ” is an ecclesiological term.   It is speaking of the church, local only, which is why Paul said to the church at Corinth, excluding himself, in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Ye are the body of Christ.”

You can clearly see “saints” and “church” are different in 1 Corinthians 14:33, where Paul mentions “all the churches of the saints.”  “Saints” and “churches” are differentiated from one another in their usage.   The church is an assembly of saints in a particular location, and it is in the church where unity can be found, because a church has the means provided by the Lord Jesus Christ to maintain unity:  church discipline, the Lord’s Supper, and the church officers, among other tools not given to all the saints in general.  The church, local only, is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”  God gave churches the capacity to protect and propagate the truth and nothing more than churches.  A church can keep factions out of itself (Titus 3:10-11).   It can do that by means of church discipline.

It is no wonder that Phil Johnson says that ranking doctrines is common sense.  It’s the only way that he sees that all believers could get along.   There’s way too much diversity even on a plain subject like baptism for “the communion of the saints.”  Yet, how far do they reduce the doctrines to get down to the essentials?  Ironically, almost everyone disagrees on what is essential, so that they even divide over what to divide over.

Even if these evangelicals make the gospel the one non-negotiable, they do not consistently separate over that either.   There is a huge divergence in the gospel understanding of Billy Graham and Albert Mohler, but that did not stop them from coming together in a “gospel” endeavor in 2001.   Graham preaches universalism.   John MacArthur understands very clearly what Graham told Robert Schuller in 1997.  But then Mohler and MacArthur are in very close fellowship.  Mohler’s doctrinal triage is the means that he wants to bring the Southern Baptist Convention together, he and Graham both being Southern Baptists.  As a part of Together for the Gospel, MacArthur and Mohler also both join with the Charismatic C. J. Mahaney.  MacArthur has written scathing material against Charismatic doctrine, but that doesn’t keep him from fellowship with Mahaney.  In other words, these men who believe that the true church is all believers use ranking doctrines as a means to unify everyone.  What we can see by their practice is that they unify whether they believe the same gospel or not.  Instead of calling themselves “Together for the Gospel” (T4G), they should label themselves “Together for the sake of Getting Together.”

Johnson and MacArthur and their evangelical guys aren’t the only one who believe this.  We also have the fundamentalists as represented by Kevin Bauder and his indifferentism and everythingism teaching, and as exemplified by the 2009 Bible Conference at Bob Jones University.   Of course, they’re a lot less diverse than the evangelicals, but the diversity that’s there comes because of a kind of theological triage they also possess.  I’m sure that Paisley is a Calvinist.  I’m sure that Ollila is not, especially in light of the reported statement that he is a “no-point Calvinist,” that is, “there’s no point in discussing it.”  In Paisley and Sexton we have King James Only.  Among some of the other speakers are multiple versionists.  Sexton markets himself as with Spurgeon in most of his publications, but on the Crown College campus he has a building named after Curtis Hutson, one of the fathers of the modern no-repentance-for-salvation doctrine, and has the image of Jack Hyles hanging in his preachers hall of fame.

Scripture must be consistent because God cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).  God can’t tell us to have no schism in the body on one hand (1 Corinthians 12:25) and then to separate from believers on the other hand (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15) if the body of Christ is all believers.   Those two teachings would contradict one another.  The unity must be based upon doctrine and found only in the church, which is local only.  If churches choose to fellowship, they will do so based upon doctrine and practice.  However, we are together for more than just the gospel.

Ranking doctrines was invented for the point of a  fake unity that is based upon degrading the teachings of God’s Word.  Unity trumps all other doctrines in this scheme.  Earlier Baptists were tortured and died over mode and recipient of baptism, but now baptism is a doctrine to overlook in order to get together and to get along.   With so much doctrinal disagreement, instead of separating, men unify based upon a lower common denominator, reducing the teachings of the Bible into essentials and non-essentials.   It encourages disobedience to Scripture.

The Presumptuousness of Ranking Doctrines

Jesus told the religious leaders that they left the weightier matters of the law undone.  He also said that there was a greatest commandment.  Paul said that certain doctrines were foundational.   From those teachings, one is presumptuous to think that he can choose certain doctrines to deemphasize in order to stay in fellowship with another professing believer.  Those verses don’t say anything about that.  The ones who do the ranking are guilty of the Pharisaic practice that Jesus confronted in Matthew 15:6:

Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Ranking doctrines is tradition.  It isn’t taught in the Bible.   This tradition, however, has led to the fall of many a man by making the commandment of God of none effect.  Sure, they might recognize the commandment of God—so did the Pharisees—but it isn’t necessary to practice, because they’ll suffer no loss of fellowship for disobeying it.

Uzzah presumed on God and touched the ark of the covenant.  God killed him.  Nadab and Abihu presumed on God in the matter of the recipe for the incense to burn at the altar of incense.  They offered strange fire unto the Lord.  God killed them.  Ananias and Sapphira presumed upon God  in holding back certain money they had promised from the sale of their land.  God killed them.  Adam and Eve presumed about one piece of fruit on one tree in the Garden.  They died the day they ate thereof.

In the form of a serpent in the garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to presume upon God.  Certain things that God said weren’t essential.  They just weren’t as important as other things.  Jesus, however, never presumed upon the Father.  He always did the will of the Father, who sent Him.  And he said that the greatest in His kingdom is the one who does the least of His commandments.

  1. Damien T Garofalo
    February 11, 2009 at 10:40 am

    In Phil Johnson’s article to which you linked, he provides what he believes are scriptural bases for ranking doctrines. . .and in saying some are non-essential, he isn’t endorsing throwing them away like Spurgeon’s crown jewel analogy. Why not hit it from that angle and show us why his biblical examples are right or wrong?

  2. February 11, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I’m pretty sure it was Ollila’s successor Olsen who was calling himself a “no point” Calvinist.

  3. February 11, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Hey DT. I touched on Phil’s scriptural reasons in one of the later paragraphs under presumptuousness. I know that I dealt with most of them over at my blog when I wrote in this subject (which I linked to in my first part of this series). Besides that, I was preparing to deal with the proof texts for ranking doctrine in later posts. I’ve got at least two left. One more thing, however. Phil stretches the essential/non-essential teaching into things to separate over and not to separate over, and in doing so, he doesn’t deal with one separation passage. He extrapolates separation from passages that in their context have nothing to do with that. Phil is messing with scripture on this one. I explain why in this post. I too think that people should deal with my actual scriptural arguments. They don’t. Why are they more credible when they don’t? Thanks for commenting. I appreciate you talking about this and coming over.


    I listened to the Mp3 of the Olsen message and he gave credit to Dr. O about the no-point Calvinism. Thanks though. And thanks for coming by.

  4. reglerjoe
    February 11, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    I’m confused. Kent, you said in a previous comment thread:

    “Unity is found in the church. Regarding separation then, our church chooses the basis for it. When we talked about separation, we brought this up. Rom 16:17-18 talks about separating those who will cause a problem (”divisions and offenses”) in the area. It doesn’t say separate from those who believe something different. We don’t divide issues into non-essentials and essentials for the basis of separation. Every doctrine is important and every doctrine is potentially worth separating over based upon the terms of Romans 16:17-18.”

    The church chooses what to separate over. So, are you saying that all doctrine is essential, but all doctrine is not necessarily worth separating over? And that the local church decides what to separate over? Isn’t the end result of all this the same with both sides of the debate…that some doctrines are chosen to separate over while others are not?

    Are you saying that the basis of separation is a church’s statement of faith? But even when disagreements arise between, say, two churches, there can still be fellowship as long as they don’t become divisive over them?

  5. February 11, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for asking. And I mean that. You asked and asking is good. All doctrine is worth separating over, but how to separate is something different altogether as I see it in Scripture. And that could be, at least for this month, be an entirely different subject due to the length in dealing with it. We separate over every single thing that the Bible teaches, but we separate based on what the Bible says about separation. Some doctrines and practices are not going to cause a problem for the church believing and practicing as it does. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t taking all the doctrine seriously. We also have people that are still open to learn about a particular doctrine. If we see people as open to learn, we don’t break fellowship with them. We are also talking about Biblical Theology versus Systematic Theology.

    Do you believe in a real Satan? Yes. But do you believe that Isaiah 14 is talking about Satan? Maybe no. I believe the belief in Satan is the doctrine. What Isaiah 14 is saying, isn’t. It doesn’t change your belief or your practice. You may think it is the King of Babylon there.

    This is pretty much the question that Anvil has been asking me here. Some would say that Dave and I have doctrinal and practical differences. The Bible doesn’t designate open/closed/close communion. We make those designations. We believe in practicing it. We divide over that doctrine. It is not non-essential. But our church chooses where the scriptural line has been crossed to result in separation. It doesn’t make the teaching a non-essential.

    I believe there is much to be said on this. I don’t think I’ve answered all your questions. Some of it is how we separate, what the separation is like. It’s also what is causing division. What is that? I believe that it is a problem when it creates a problem for our church in its belief and practice. I haven’t read a book on separation that deals with the separation passages and applies them in their context in the church. Our church is going to write one, Lord-willing, in the next 2-3 years along with some other pastors. I hope it will help in these areas.

  6. Anvil
    February 12, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Yes, reglerjoe’s question is essentially the same one I was asking. Like him, I’m still not sure how there is any practical difference between the positions. I’m sure there are people out there who would say there are certain scriptures or doctrines that we can ignore and just spend all of our time with the essential doctrines instead. I certainly don’t believe Dr. Bauder is in that group, and neither am I, for that matter. In fact, seeing as how many of the so-called essential doctrines are generally agreed upon, it seems to me we spend most of our time arguing over the issues that are less clear, which would be a crazy thing to do if we considered them unimportant.

    Of course that means there are still a couple of things to consider. 1. Not all doctrine is equally as clear from scripture. Preservation is a prime example. Among those who believe there is a doctrine of preservation, there is a pretty large variation in ideas of what that means. I’m sure you think that those who don’t see preservation as you do are just being disobedient to scripture or not wanting to understand it, but I doubt there would be the kinds of discussions there are if preservation were as clear as “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And 2. (and this is the big one) We still have to have a way to apply separation that allows some amount of unity (even if, as you believe, it is only in the local church) while understanding that there are differences in belief between any two people. For that matter, you seem to believe that unity can exist in spite of some doctrinal differences between men that are not a part of the same local church, so there must be a way to apply separation outside of the local church as well as inside. That means that all the books you mention that apply it in that fashion still have at least some relevance.

    I hope you do have time to get to the “divisions and offenses” passage you mentioned in a prior post that seems key to what you are arguing here. I’m having a hard time seeing what the real differences would be between what you would mean by that, and the type of separation practiced by men like Dr. Bauder, as I think both of you are tackling the same problem, if in a slightly different manner and from different viewpoints, though both of you are wanting to come at it from a scriptural point of view.

  7. February 12, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    I am confused with you. This topic that I have been struggling with for some time.
    Thanks for this discussion and your emphasis on the true nature of the church. I am enjoying reading the posts and comments. I really desire to be obedient to the Lord but it is hard to figure out how to put separation into practice sometimes. Maybe next month could be expanded to include discussion on this topic.

    I definitely have concluded that I must separate over the gospel. After all, I can’t really count myself a separatist and then fellowship with those who alter the good news by denying or redefining repentance. It is too bad that IFB’s really aren’t “Together for the Gospel.” Perhaps “Together for the movement” or “Together for the pats on the back from the other guys in the movement,” but that’s another story. The hypocrisy of MacArthur and Mohler in their fellowship with Billy Graham is sickening. Apparently, the gospel is really not that important after all.

  8. February 13, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Here is Mark Dever on lowest common denominator fellowship:

  9. February 13, 2009 at 8:20 am

    According to today’s headlined article at Sharper Iron disagreement over the Bible doctrines of preservation, the end times, and baptism matter as much as disagreement over which brand of running shoes one prefers.

    Here’s the quote:
    “Everywhere I go, Christians are tearing into each other over Bible versions, eschatological views, modes of baptism, or other issues that in my opinion are ultimately of no more eternal significance than the brand of running shoes one chooses to buy.”

    So, in Mr. Bean’s opinion those doctrines aren’t worth separating over. I wonder if he’ll respect another persons opinion when said person’s opinion is that the doctrine of salvation isn’t one to separate over.

    Every word and every doctrine matter and they all should be held to and obeyed. BTW, Mr. Bean is a recent product of BJU.

  10. Anvil
    February 13, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I think you are missing the larger point of that article. I read it too, and while I don’t claim to know what the author is thinking on this, or agree with him completely, I believe there is a big difference between separation and “tearing into each other.” We don’t have to join in some form of false unity with every person who calls himself a Christian, but neither do we need to direct the larger percentage of our hot preaching against those men who differ on the doctrines you mentioned (which is different from separating from them). It looks to me like Paul directs much preaching against those who distort or pervert the Gospel, and warns of their teaching, but I don’t see much preaching like that from Paul about baptism. The “let him be accursed” passages are about the Gospel, not about eschatology. Usually, Paul writes directly to those in error, so they know to deal with their own problems.

    Where separation is necessary, then separate. Churches that disagree can’t usually work together when they differ even on the doctrines you mention, but that doesn’t mean we spend nearly as much of our precious time railing against and tearing into them over those doctrines as we should reaching people for Christ and teaching fellow believers about what is right. Examples can be helpful, but it seems that rather than being used as examples of how we differ, and why we believe our interpretations of scripture is right, the “example” becomes twisted, and we spend a lot of time congratulating ourselves that “we are not as these publicans.”

    Every Word of God should be held to and obeyed. However, except in the case of false teaching distorting the Gospel and sending people to hell (the most important eternal consequence), it’s much more valuable to deliver a word of encouragement or a rebuke directly to another believer than to spend a lot of time speaking to others about what he is doing wrong.

    P.S. Given that Dr. Bob Jones Sr. was a methodist, it should already be obvious that BJU is not going to have the same view as you do on some of the doctrines you mention.

  11. February 13, 2009 at 9:58 am


    I’ll probably get into the separation aspect this month, since that seems to be where the difficulty is. It would also be dealing with unity. The two go together. We are to separate and we are to have unity. And God cannot deny Himself.


    Preservation itself is not a vague scriptural doctrine. There are more preservation verses than inspiration ones. The WC and LBC show that men have thought it clear enough to put it in a confession. The doctrine of preservation itself, let alone how it looks in application, is attacked today by both evangelicals and fundamentalists.

    I’ve found that whatever doctrine people don’t want to practice seems to be the one that isn’t clear. Certain doctrines and practices were clear for centuries and suddenly today, as we go first through modernism and then post-modernism, they’re not clear anymore. I contend that the ambiguity has come from the uncertainty about scripture itself that is found in the textual issue. First, the Bible is unclear and then doctrine is unclear. How can we be too dogmatic about doctrine when we can’t be dogmatic about what the Words are?

    I think the best argument on the ranking doctrines side happens to be an attack on those who don’t believe in ranking doctrines. They look for an inconsistency in practice and if they think they’ve found one, they now have the evidence they need to rank doctrines. This shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. I personally, considering the nature of God and then looking at the breadth and depth of scripture, believe that the burden of proof is on the ranking doctrines side to produce evidence for doing so.

    Regarding giving people encouragement, I do believe love rejoices in the truth, so I do when I see it. So I do regularly say positive things to people that I’m not in fellowship with. At the same time, the bigger emphasis of scripture is keeping His Words and protecting doctrine. Eli didn’t lose his sons because he wasn’t positive enough, but because he restrained them not. The ten commandments are almost entirely negative. And preaching is said to be reproof and rebuke. This is often the way it is. Read Jesus letters to the seven churches and look how much negative is there. He reserves good things to only two churches and those were churches with which he had nothing against them. Even Ephesus, the best of the rest, gets a severe warning.

    Regarding baptism, this has historically been a major doctrine for Baptists. When you study the history of Baptists, you see men suffering over this. This was a major cause of suffering for Baptists in the colonies. Why do you think baptism was such a big deal to them? And why is Jesus’ baptism such a major part of the gospel accounts. Making baptism a non-essential for fellowship disregards scripture.

    That’s all for now.

  12. February 13, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    The matter becomes simple when we deal with this from a simple perspective of Christ’s command. If you cannot honestly, with a clear conscience, recommend that someone will be faithfully led to Christ and discipled by someone according to the Words of God, the teachings of Christ in the Gospels, and the Apostolic epistles, we have no business “fellowshipping” (partnering in the “work of the ministry”) with that person or that local church.

    The fourfold command of the Great Commission gives of three governing principles that encompass the “jots and tittles” of the Word of God:

    1. “Go ye therefore” (we can’t take “GO” out of “GOSPEL”)
    2. “Teach all nations” (World wide evangelism of all ethnicities, cultures, and language groups)
    3. “baptizing them {“born again” believers, connecting them to God’s ordain organization for discipleship and through which the “work of the ministry” is to be done} in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”
    4. “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (discipleship in the whole counsel of God, from cover to cover, intent upon observing and obeying every “jot & tittle”)

    Which of God’s Truths do we dare say are non-essential to this all encompassing command from our Lord?

  13. February 13, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    This seams to be quite the hot topic. I can say that I’ve learned a bit from reading through this article and reading through the previous comments.

    I especially like the thrust of the comment right before mine here. He mentions the four fold process of completing the great commission. We are commanded to to be actively working toward the accomplishment of these four goals. Yet we have people that say we should work together to accomplish them even if the other party only believes in the first of those four goals. Since, after all, salvation is the only doctrine that has eternal weight. We’re not commanded to focus on salvation and let everything else slip because nothing else is as important as our eternal destinations. We are commanded to stand and preach and move forward in all four of those areas. All doctrines are important.

    Bro. Kent Brandenburg,

    Thank you for your great job on this article and for the way that you thoughtfully and tactfully answer each question of opposition. It’s refreshing to see a debate take place in which there is no name calling or bashing. Keep up the great work.

  14. February 13, 2009 at 1:23 pm


    Read again the quote I gave from Mr. Bean. He states that these things matter as much as different brands of running shoes! Doesn’t that concern you?

    I’m not aware of any in my circle of friends who major on preaching against people who disagree with us while letting the lost stay lost. I appreciate your concern, but the men I fellowship with practice separation and they are the most serious men that I know about reaching the lost with the Gospel. It seems to me that you are assuming that because we talk about separation that is ALL that we talk about. Please correct me if I’m reading you wrong on this.

    Paul did teach to contend for the right understanding of prophetic events.
    2 Thes 2:15. The context is what he taught by word and epistle concerning prophecy.

  15. February 13, 2009 at 1:45 pm


    Very good. Sometimes I laugh when I read something that makes it so simple that it is profound. Thanks. I laughed. It is so true. And obvious.


    Thanks for your comment.


    Thanks for the illustration at SI. It represents it perfectly. Running shoes? OK. The 2 Thess 2 example is a great one in scriptural example of this.

  16. Anvil
    February 14, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Lots to comment on.

    Regarding Preservation, there are plenty not in your camp who believe in that doctrine (and I am one of them), but do not agree as to the methods and application of preservation. That was what I was getting at, not the belief in the doctrine itself. And it’s not at all clear back in history that the men who have worked with and compiled the MT didn’t have to wrestle with manuscript differences and other problems that made them question which words/passages should be included. However, this topic has already been fleshed out enough on this site.

    Actually, I understand how you might see what I have written on “inconsistency in practice” regarding those who do not “rank doctrines” as being an attack and looking for an excuse not to consider doctrine important. Nothing could be further from the truth. For sure, I am probing for holes in your argument — that’s really the only way to see if it stands up. Also, I want to see how your belief and practice in that area line up with scripture. There are unity passages that we can’t get around, and it’s obvious that Paul had fellowship with different churches and people outside his own (if you consider the Jerusalem church “his” church). That’s why I believe more explanation is necessary — I too believe that all doctrine is important, but I can see that we can’t separate over each point of difference, or we would be in conflict with the “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” passage among others. It might be convenient to think of those that disagree with your interpretation as thinking some doctrine is unimportant, but I prefer to think the best of some of those men — I think they are trying to come up with exactly what you are: doctrine and practice that is consistent with all of scripture, not just a portion of it.

    If you think I have a problem with negativeness, please read my comment after Bobby’s. I specifically mentioned rebuke in there. But even your examples show my point — the rebuke was given to those in question. Those that read about it as warning later were after the fact. The ten commandments were given directly *to* the children of Israel. Eli should have spoken to his sons. Speaking about them to others instead would not have been the right course of action. Jesus’ letters to the churches were just that — *to* those churches. I’m sure they were also meant for our warning after the fact, but Jesus directed his rebuke directly at them. Like Paul, when he preached, He warned other believers about false teachers, but to believers he spoke directly to them about their problems.

    Regarding baptism, I won’t go into that too much, but it seems obvious to me that believers through the course of history have fought the big fights over baptism mostly because of the false understanding of the Catholic church (and others) that it imparted actual grace and was required for salvation rather than baptism being obedience and a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. That goes directly to the heart of the gospel.


    I think that comment about running shoes was hyperbole, so I wasn’t that worried about it. If he meant it seriously, I would disagree. And again, I understand talking about and practicing separation. But separation from other believers over things like the doctrine of the end times or prophetic events is quite different from the separation we practice from unbelievers and those who teach a false Gospel. And again, the auther didn’t directly mention separation so much as he did “tearing into” other believers which is quite different.

    I actually liked one of the comments on that article more than I did the article itself. Keeping to the race metaphor, it mentioned that there might be differences that would keep us from wearing the same colors (i.e. put us on a different team) from someone else running the race (also a believer), but the point is that those in the race are in fact running the same race. It is to our own master we will stand or fall.

  17. February 14, 2009 at 11:21 am


    Fair enough with what you said. We’ll be dealing with it, because I don’t believe God denies Himself. I believe that the way is in there. I’m comfortable with it, but I don’t believe I have ever written it all out, which we want to do in our separation book that will be coming in the next three years, I hope.

    I have one thing to add at this time, and that is regarding the Baptists and baptism. In Europe, it was both the Catholics and the Reformers that killed Baptists over baptism. In the colonies, it was the Puritans and the Anglicans, not mainly Catholics, who persecuted Baptists. A good and accurate book on the early American Baptist History is America in Crimson Red. You can read a lot of other Baptist histories that have a lot of what Beller had, but he has an exclusively American Baptist History book there which is very helpful.

  18. Robert M'C MacLeod
    February 16, 2009 at 7:44 am

    There are several matters in this topic which cause me to wonder – perhaps they may be explained.

    First, if every doctrine is worth separating over, are only those who believe exactly as Kent saved? Obviously a heretic is one who believes false doctrine, and no heretic is saved, therefore, this would seem to indicate that only those who believe exactly as he does on every point are saved. If this be true, there are many who would be in hell who did great things for the cause of Christ. For myself, I confess that I find much in the teachings of John Wesley and the early Methodists that are acceptable to Christ. The French athiest Francois Marie, de Arouret (aka Voltaire) was once asked by a fellow athiest if he had ever found proof of Christianity being genuine, obviously expecting Voltaire to respond in the negative. Voltaire responded with two words: “John Fletcher.” Who was this John Fletcher? John Wesley expected John Fletcher to take over the Methodist movement. However, Wesley preached Fletcher’s funeral, taking the text from the Psalms: Mark the perfect man. Particularly acceptible to Christ is Wesley’s teaching on Sanctification. I Peter 4:1-2 is among the clearest teaching of the Bible on this doctrine: He that hath suffered (aorist) in the flesh [that is, has crucified the Old Man] hath ceased (perfect passive) from sin [this shows that it could not be referring to Christ as He never had sin] that he should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men but to the will of God [this shows that it is not merely a process that ends at death]: such teaching shows the crisis (suffering in the flesh) and the process (ceasing from sin) in the life of the Christian (Peter wrote this to believers, not to unbelievers). I also find much in the life of Calvinists like Brainerd and McCheyne to be acceptible to Christ. particularly about their personal piety. Though their doctrine may have been Calvinistic, their lives declared human responsibility.

    If one were to study the beginnings of Fundamentalism, he would find several prominent voices for it included Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, some Anglicans, and other assorted non-denominational, Bible Churches. My view is that if one cannot view those Christian Fundamentalists as brothers (How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity) they should at least view them as allies – if not as allies, then as co-belligerents against apostasy.

    Second, I wonder about the statement that the “Body of Christ is not saints but the church (local only)” What shall we say then of Old Testament saints, such as Judah, Joseph, the prophets, David, Boaz, John the Baptist, even to the repentant thief? It is not a matter of them being identified with Israel, for Scripture gives other examples: Adam, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Methusalah, Noah, Shem, Japheth, Abraham (he was not a Jew nor an Israelite, seeing that he was Israel’s grandfather and Judah’s great grandfather), Naaman the Syrian, the Widow of Zarapheth, the Pharaoh in the days of Joseph, the king of Nineveh in the days of Jonah, Nebuchadnezzar, Hiram of Tyre, Artaxerxes, et cetera. What shall be said of the mixed multitude who believed Jehovah in Egypt and came out with Israel in the exodus? Are they somehow not part of the Body of Christ because they were not part of any local church? Also, many leave local churches to go to others that teach the truth – do they leave the body and return to it? Is there such a thing as leaving the body and returning to it? The word “Church” itself comes from the word “Kirke” which is especially evident in Scotland and Ireland. The word “Kirke” comes from the Greek Kuriyake, meaning “belonging to the Lord.” Is it the corporate believers and not the believers themselves as people who belong to the Lord? Can it be possible for the Lord to possess a collection and not possess the individuals of that collection primarily? By possession of the individuals does He not, ipso facto, possess the corporate? Also, if the local church is the body of Christ, can there be a head with multiple bodies? This would be as much a monstrosity as a body with multiple heads (which is one reason why the papacy is not of God). One might as well speak of men whose heads grow beneath their shoulders as a head with multiple bodies. Perhaps I can be enlightened on this.

    Then the statement of “the local church is the pillar and ground of truth.” I have been a member of several churches that compromised, went the way of all flesh. Is that heretical, apostate church still the pillar and ground of truth? If it is, can truth be supported by the admixture of error? If it is, can that which is the pillar and ground ever not become the pillar and ground?

  19. February 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm


    Thanks for commenting. I’m going to attempt to answer all your questions as best but as quickly as possible.

    “First, if every doctrine is worth separating over, are only those who believe exactly as Kent saved?”

    No. We are told in 2 Thess. 3:6-15 to separate from brothers with a different doctrine and practice, but separate as brothers.

    “Obviously a heretic is one who believes false doctrine, and no heretic is saved, therefore, this would seem to indicate that only those who believe exactly as he does on every point are saved.”

    If you look at the NT regarding the heretic (see Titus 3:10-11), you can see he’s the factious or divisive person, which doesn’t mean necessarily that he’s not saved. I don’t know what scriptural basis you have for saying that a heretic is an unsaved person.

    Regarding the rest of the material in the first paragraph, I’ve found that many men with which I am not in fellowship will have orthodox doctrine.

    Your second paragraph becomes moot because of my answers to the first paragraph.

    “Second, I wonder about the statement that the “Body of Christ is not saints but the church (local only)” What shall we say then of Old Testament saints, such as Judah, Joseph, the prophets, David, Boaz, John the Baptist, even to the repentant thief?”

    As I said in my article, “body of Christ” is ecclesiological, not soteriological. Saints are saints; they’re saved people. The thief was “in Christ” (salvation), but he didn’t join a church, of course, because he wasn’t baptized.

    “Also, many leave local churches to go to others that teach the truth – do they leave the body and return to it? Is there such a thing as leaving the body and returning to it?”

    Transfer of membership doesn’t require leaving the body of Christ. This is why we have taught transfer of membership as scriptural. There shouldn’t be a gap between two churches of which we are a member.

    “The word “Church” itself comes from the word “Kirke” which is especially evident in Scotland and Ireland. The word “Kirke” comes from the Greek Kuriyake, meaning “belonging to the Lord.””

    We should understand the word translated “church” in the NT, ekklesia, based upon how it is used. Knowing the history of the English word has some value, but limited value, especially in exegesis of scripture.

    “Is it the corporate believers and not the believers themselves as people who belong to the Lord? Can it be possible for the Lord to possess a collection and not possess the individuals of that collection primarily? By possession of the individuals does He not, ipso facto, possess the corporate? Also, if the local church is the body of Christ, can there be a head with multiple bodies?”

    For the first three questions, I would say that you are reading too much out of the English word. Obviously, the moment we are justified, in Christ, we can’t lose that, we can’t be plucked out of His hand. We’re not talking about soteriology but ecclesiology. For the last question, the answer is “yes.” You have to consider the generic use of the singular noun. Consider 1 Timothy 3:12, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” Robert, is one woman married to several husbands in this verse? Or should we understand there to be the generic use of the singular noun? Christ has only one body, one church—His church—His church is found in many different locations and it is always local. Of course you have many churches and Christ is the head of each of them, but each one of them is still His church. That is how He is the head of the church. Just like deacons are the husbands of one wife.

    Last paragraph—“Then the statement of “the local church is the pillar and ground of truth.” I have been a member of several churches that compromised, went the way of all flesh. Is that heretical, apostate church still the pillar and ground of truth? If it is, can truth be supported by the admixture of error? If it is, can that which is the pillar and ground ever not become the pillar and ground?”

    We have great guidelines to know what a church isn’t a church anymore. You look at Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus Himself tells believers to stay in a church that is disobedient, deceptive, and disloyal, I believe, until efforts to revive it have failed. It is no longer His church or His body when it has apostatized—the candlestick is removed and Christ is no longer walking in its midst. By the way, look at how Jesus uses the Word church in the twenty plus times in Rev. 2 & 3. It’s always local and only. Should we not understand the word “church” like Jesus did?

  20. Robert M'C MacLeod
    February 17, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    The context that I find II Thessalonians 3:6-15 in is that of Christians who refused to work – this is especially evident in verse eight. This nowhere mentions any doctrines.

    As to the head with multiple bodies, I recommend Eph. 4:4 and I Corinthians 12:13. However, I am going to liken your statement to a military organisation: in any such setup, there is one man, the general, who is in command of all troops – the Roman fiasco at Canae gives an example of why there can only be one absolute “head.” However, there are more ramifications that you might not be considering. First, there may be different companies (local churches?) but they are all one army, under one commander (the Lord Jesus Christ) with one common enemy (the world, the flesh, and the devil), and with one common purpose. Second, though these many companies are split into companies for logistical purposes, they all retain that cohesion as one army.

    What would have happened at Omaha if the Americans decided to fight the Nazis each company by themselves, without “fellowshipping” one with another in the way of mutual aide? Suppose that the 2nd Rangers said to another unit, “You do not have our emblem, so you may not help us and we will not help you.” Each company had the common enemy (the Nazis) and a common purpose (to dislodge them). Without cohesion, they would have been slaughtered. As it was, American destroyers nearly ran themselves aground to deliver much-needed firepower to the bluffs overlooking the beachhead (particularly Charlie Sector). What would have happened if the destroyers decided to leave the infantry alone in the fight by not fellowshipping with them, and without viewing themselves as one army? Though the local churches may be scattered, this is logistically planned by God so that all the world need not come together into one geography to worship. Suppose that one in Singapore wished to worship, and the only place to do so was in Edinburgh – the trip would be too expensive to make. Nonetheless, all individual companies are part of the same army.

    Fundamentalism has enough enemies without, so we ought not to turn our swords one against another among God’s true people. In fact, John states that a test of the true believer is in loving all other true brethren, and it says nothing about tags and labels of theology, which is why I have several good friends who are Presbyterian (and they do immerse btw). This could easily come to the point of the Galatians biting and devouring one another (Gal 5:15). A baptist pastor named Edward Poole-Connor wrote of this, “When spirituality is low, Christians tend, like the Galatians, to bite and devour one another.” It is also of interest to note that Jude condemns those who separate themselves. Separation is important, especially where doctrines that affect salvation are attacked (as in Athanasius separating from Arius) or when practices are unbiblical (such as Graham’s universalism) but in some matters, it may not be so important. To the contrary, it could be taken too far and be viewed as sectarian at best or a cult at worst. I say not that I view it that way, but we must not let our good be evil-spoken of. If you admit they are orthodox and have correct practices, why would you not fellowship with them?

    As to the matter of the local church being synonymous with the body of Christ rather than the saints, this unnecessarily divides believers who came before the cross from those after it. Even after the cross, a reading of the histories of martyrs will reveal many who died before they could be baptised – are they then outside the body of Christ? As to baptism itself, I find no place in Scripture where it is into a local church, and in my studies of history, this was a belief not found among the orthodox. Aside from which, there are multiple baptisms (Heb. 6:2). From what I have found, water baptism is merely the outward symbol of what is done in the heart at salvation.

    Given all this, I follow the words of J. C. Ryle, “Let us not root up the hedges between denominations, but let us keep them low so as to be able to fellowship with all true Christians everywhere.” I see an unbiblical ecumenism (such as the World Council of Churches), but if there is anything false it implies a true form as error cannot exist without truth. Paul condemns such divisiveness – I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas, I of Christ – one could put anything else there: I am of Bunyan, I of Calvin, I of Arminius, I of …. This is a sign of carnality rather than spirituality.

  21. February 17, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Robert, the word “tradition” in the KJV (paradosis) seems to be used synonymously with the word doctrine (2Th. 2:15). Paul calls it a tradition because prior to being recorded in Scripture his teaching regarding work was an orally transmitted revelation. Upon referencing these items in his letters, they became doctrines in the traditional sense that we understand it now for his recipients and for us. This does not mean that it was any less binding for the believers who did not yet have a copy of Paul’s letter. He was divinely inspired in his teaching prior to the actual writing as well.

    Additionally, the word doctrine (didache) simply means teaching. And, there is a lot of teaching (doctrine) even in the OT about working for a living. In fact, Paul says that if a man will not provide for those of his own house he is worse than and infidel. I would say that this is grounds for separation and implies that work is a biblical doctrine.

  22. February 17, 2009 at 5:14 pm


    Thanks for your comment. With the Bible as sole authority for faith and practice, I want to rely on it for my doctrine. I appreciate when you answer the arguments with Scripture. I recognize the importance of historic theology secondary to biblical theology as well.

    “The context that I find II Thessalonians 3:6-15 in is that of Christians who refused to work – this is especially evident in verse eight. This nowhere mentions any doctrines.”

    Two things. First, even if that text indicates separation from a brother over the refusal to work, it is still separation from a brother. Second, the plain meaning of that text reveals more to separate over than only refusal to work. I ask you to read vv. 14-15 again.

    “As to the head with multiple bodies, I recommend Eph. 4:4 and I Corinthians 12:13.”

    I have no problem of the idea of one body in Ephesians 4:4. Consider Romans 15:6 as you think of this grammatically: “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Did each of those have one mouth, or did one mouth represent unified mouths? Did they have only one mind, or did that represent unified minds? Christ has only one body, His church. If you want to get into the logic of it, you’ve got more trouble. You need to see that “body” is a metaphor that God uses to describe His church, which is local only. The concept of “body” is local only. It is also visible. Having a body that is spread out all over the world contradicts the point of body. Why call it “body” when a foot is in Beijing, an elbow is in Rome, and a hip is in Miami?

    Regarding 1 Cor 12:13, Paul is talking about water baptism. That is the only kind of baptism he has mentioned up to this point in the context—1 Cor 1:13,14,15,16; 10:2. He uses the preposition eis (“into”), which shows indentification, not location. Water baptism unifies someone with the body of Christ. If this is Spirit baptism, it should be Jesus doing the baptizing like the model in Mt, Mk, Lk, and Jn, with the Holy Spirit the medium of the baptism. This is not the case here. If anything it is reverse. He is talking about how that baptism unifies us with his body. Later in v. 27, Paul writes, “ye are the body of Christ.” You never answered that one. It is obvious through the rest of 1 Cor 12, that in view is something local and visible. Historically, I challenge you to look two places that are older than your earliest confessions—read 1 Clement with its local body ecclesiology and then Michael Sattler in his Schleitheim Confession, 1527.

    Regarding some kind of larger group, we see the family of God and the kingdom of God as soteriological concepts. Body and church are only local in the NT. You never answered on Jesus use of ekklesia in Rev. 2 & 3. Your illustrations are interesting, and I mean that, but they don’t hold any authority.

    Regarding biting and devouring, I think that Paul writes about that happening in churches. And getting our doctrine and practice right is not biting and devouring. We get unity from doctrine.

    We must decide our fellowship on more than orthodoxy, and more than on just “essentials,” but also on orthopraxy and orthopathy.

    We aren’t separating saints. We have the family of God and the kingdom of God that includes all saved people from the beginning until now.

    I dealt with the baptism issue above. Jesus traveled 70 miles to be baptized by the proper authority. Since we are regulated by Scripture, not our feelings or opinions, we should be baptized like Him, as well, by immersion. Consider the Schleitheim Confession in which Sattler wrote—“with all those who are baptized into the one body of Christ”—speaking of water baptism.

    You mentioned Hebrews 6:2. I would encourage you to look at the Greek word, because “baptisms” isn’t baptizo, but baptisma. It is speaking of ceremonial washings, not NT baptism.

    I’m against divisiveness too. Read Titus 3:10-11. We can see that the context is the church, local.

  23. Robert M'C MacLeod
    February 18, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Thank you both for your input on this matter. My primary concern was in reading the article it had a great deal of polemic spirit, but little to no irenic. My thoughts on the one mind and mouth of Romans are these: the one mouth is to have unity of speech, being an idiom. The one mind is unity of thought, also an idiom. As to the churches of Revelation 2-3, these also represent seven periods of church history, seeing that Revelation is a book dealing with prophecy. Tentative dates for these ages are: Ephesus (relaxed) 70-170, Smyrna (from Myrrh, suffering) 170-313, Pergamos (peri, around, Gam, marriage literally, married around the town, worldliness) 313-606 Thyatira (feminine oppression, the papacy) 606-1517, Sardis (builders rule, the Reformation) 1517-1750, Philadelphia (brotherly love, the time of “Christian perfection” or maturity) 1750-1900, Laodicea (Lao – people, dicea rule) 1900-present. These were literal churches, and yet their names give a prophetical statement.

    Concerning the matter of separating from the orthodox, our Lord stated to John “He that is not against us is on our part” (Mark 9:40) the context of this is that one who was not in their local group, who was obviously not opposed to them, was on their part. Paul’s words to the Corinthians are clear on this as well. We find in Jude that Michael the archangel durst not even bring a railing accusation against the devil – can we, who are less than angels in power and might dare to do what an archangel dared not to do?

    I conclude with an example from history. A man once asked Spurgeon if he believed he would see John Wesley in heaven, and the man who asked him this despised Wesley. Spurgeon responded that he did not think he would see Wesley in heaven, and the reason was (Spurgeon explained), Wesley would be much nearer the throne of God, so he would not have that chance. It is good to be militant, but in being militant we need to be magnificent. I probably will not be back to make anymore comments, as my schedule is filled, but I do hope that Fundamentalists can have an irenic spirit in the midst of the polemic defenses.

  24. February 18, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Jude 1:9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

    Railing: vilification, Clamoring with insulting language; uttering reproachful words, Expressing reproach; insulting.

    Vilify: To defame; to traduce; to attempt to degrade by slander.

    It is neither railing nor vilifying to expose error and compromise, and to separate from such that do so.

  25. Ben Hanabaniy
    February 20, 2009 at 1:49 pm


    The idea of a railing accusation (Greek: blasphemias krisis) which Michael refused to render against the devil is different than preaching against sin and error. The idea of the word blasphemias is to slander (Thayer) and that in a judgment that gathers evidence (krisis, giving opinion concerning anything – Thayer). However, the thrust of what Jude wrote was that Michael would not do this against the devil. If he said it of the devil, it would likely be true, but it was not his place to make such a judgment. There may be many beliefs, practices, or visions which are not erroneous (though they differ from our own) which Jesus made clear in his words to John in Mark’s Gospel as Robert pointed out. Does not nature itself teach us that clones are abnormalities and differences are the norm? Jesus said “I am the vine, ye are the branches” do any two branches of the same vine appear perfectly similar? Should then one branch separate from every other that is not similar?

    When too much separation takes place, a belligerent attitude is discerned, whether it be there or no. By all means, separate if you must, but remember Paul’s words in II Thess. 3:15 “Count him not as an enemy.” along with the words of Christ that he that is not against us is on our part. It is one thing to preach against error, but it is another thing if we believe it to be error when it is not. However, that may be why heaven will be so vast, so that those who refused fellowship with other true Christians on earth can avoid these same Christians in heaven. We should all watch out for the high horses, lest we be taken as arrogant. It was this arrogance that was the downfall of men like Augustus Toplady and Carl MacIntyr.

    As to the local church being the body of Christ but not the saints, I intend to put this matter to rest once and (hopefully) for all time. A church would not exist if it were not for the saints who make it. What makes a church is the people who are members.

    As to the matter of Hebrews 6:2 which Robert mentioned, the words Baptisma (Strong’s G909) is from the same root as Baptizo (Strong’s G907) both being from Bapto (Strong’s G911). One is a noun, the other a verb. Also, note these differences: John the Baptist contrasted water baptism with the baptisms of Christ (Matthew 3:11). Jesus said to James and John (both converted under John the Baptist and baptized by him) “Can ye drink of the cup that I shall drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Jesus said in another place, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straightened till it be accomplished.” This last one near the end of His ministry. Clearly then, baptism is found in more than one context.

    The idea of the local church only being the body of Christ rather than the saints can be dangerous, if the train of thought does not stop at the right depot (I say not that I disagree with the premise). I have known of at least one church that was strong on this point, and they are now a cult because it came to the point that if anybody left that church, then he had, to the pastor, left the body of Christ, and so had left God.

    • February 20, 2009 at 5:24 pm

      Ben, since our topic this month is the truth, can I ask, are you schizophrenic with Robert or do you just share the same IP address and email address? If you read the comments on this site, you’ll know that we don’t mind a nickname, like anvil or reglerjoe. But we do mind people having conversations with themselves and referring to themselves as another person. This is dishonest. Of course, you could be two people sharing the same yahoo address, so please forgive me if I’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion.

  26. February 20, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    It is one thing to preach against error, but it is another thing if we believe it to be error when it is not.

    And how do we determine what is error and what is not? By diligently comparing that position/practice/teaching, etc. with the Word of God.

    However, that may be why heaven will be so vast, so that those who refused fellowship with other true Christians on earth can avoid these same Christians in heaven.

    In Heaven, I truly believe all our false doctrines and misunderstandings of God’s Word will be corrected by God Himself – that is not the case down here.

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