Home > Brandenburg, The Church, Truth > A Leaky Container and Its Spoiled Contents

A Leaky Container and Its Spoiled Contents

December 30, 2010

We don’t want to see the gospel spoiled.  We desire to preserve the truth.  If we hope for either, we must understand the way God designed to keep both intact.  I’m not going to carry nuclear materials in a brown paper sack and not expect bad things to happen.  We can say we care about the gospel and the truth, but we don’t and can’t respect either when we leave them unprotected.

The gospel and truth are popular topics today.  I’m happy about that.  I love the gospel and the truth.  We have seen new alliances form today with the gospel supposedly at their center.  They have set aside other doctrine—ecclesiological, eschatological, pneumatological—in order for what they say is a stronger emphasis on the gospel.  I believe, however, that the greatest threat to the gospel and the truth relates to container in which they are held.  The truth, and therefore the gospel, is to be protected and propagated by the church (1 Tim 3:15) and if so, it must be the church alone responsible for that task.  However, it must be the church, the actual church, the scriptural church, that does the protecting.  We should assume that something different than what Scripture presents as the church could protect the truth.  And there are very distinct views of the church.  One is that the church is universal and visible.  Another is that it is universal and invisible.  And a third is that it is local and visible.  Each of those three is different than the other.

To see all of this, I want to provide a snapshot of what occurred in the history of doctrine.  First, the Bible stands as the sole and final authority for faith and practice.  The writing of the New Testament brings us back to the beginning of Christian belief and practice.  Genuine doctrine springs from the Bible.  Scripture provides the means for judging how men and institutions departed from the truth.  The New Testament is a historical record.  We can be sure of the history there, because it is inspired by God.  We can’t be entirely certain of all the other history, because it truly was written only by men.  From the period beginning shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first century, we can read what we call the “church fathers” or the “patristics.”  Today when we read those writings, we are getting really only an edition of what they wrote, one that is less certain in its veracity than Scripture, because the patristics don’t come with the promise of preservation.  It is possible, even probable, that later these writings were edited to look closer to Roman Catholicism.  Roman Catholic theologians read their version of the church fathers.  Later, the reformers read a probably amended edition of the church fathers and then the interpretations of the theologians who read them.  The  Protestant reformers corrected the soteriology of the church fathers and the Catholic theologians.   They went to the Bible to do that.  However, they didn’t amend the ecclesiology or the eschatology or even much of the hermeneutics of the church fathers and the theologians of Roman Catholicism.

What is clear from reading the writings preserved by Roman Catholicism, called the church fathers or the patristics, is that many of them mixed Greek philosophy with Scripture in their doctrine.  By the time we get to Augustine in the 5th century, we have someone who combined the ideas of Plato with Christianity.  Augustine originated the invisible church concept in the Donatist controversy.  He was influenced by the Platonist belief that true reality was in the invisible, and if the visible represents the invisible, it always does so partially and imperfectly.  The allegorical hermeneutic of Origen, borrowed by Roman Catholicism, also influenced the reformers in their ecclesiology, eschatology, and system of interpretation.

The purpose of this post is not to expose the passages necessary to understand what God’s Word says the church is.  It is to show that the wrong view of the church will affect the preservation of the gospel and the truth.  Someone may say that he shows his great love for the gospel by only dividing over the gospel or what some call “gospel-related truths.”  However, I contend that if he does not hold the right view of the church, he contributes to the destruction of the gospel.  The gospel can’t be preserved in a leaky container or its contents will be spoiled.

The same people most responsible for spoiling the gospel in history, Roman Catholics, are also most responsible for corrupting scriptural ecclesiology.  The Catholics invented the universal church and then the invisible church.  The Protestant Reformers did not amend that false teaching.  Only churches who remained separate from Catholicism kept a scriptural ecclesiology, the belief in an only local and visible church.  Through history they have been known by different names, but today they are called Baptist.

Scripture teaches an only local and visible church.  Only that church, the only scriptural one, can keep the truth.  The Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired New Testament give only a local and visible church, the only true church, the necessary means to keep the truth and therefore the gospel.  Churches keep the truth through discipline, through the offices of the pastor and deacons, through the practice of separation, and through the purity of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table.  A universal and invisible church is a leak container that will not preserve the truth.  It treats the truth like an open pick-up truck treats an pile of tomatoes.  If a few of the tomatoes fly or drop out, it won’t really matter as long as many or most get to their intended destination.  Something beyond or in addition to a true church does not have the means necessary to keep the truth.   For sure non-church institutions, like colleges or mission boards or publishers, can preserve the truth.  The very existence of these parachurch organizations threaten the truth and the gospel.  Cobbling together a coalition big enough to support the extra-scriptural institution requires laxity of doctrine.

No kind of viable, practical unity around common doctrine is possible and is not even available to all professing believers from all the various evangelical denominations.  To attain some faux unity, doctrines and truths will be devalued and dropped by the wayside.  Without the means possessed by true churches to keep the truth, doctrines will leak and leak until very little Scripture is believed and practiced.  I believe the wrong view of the church has done more damage to the truth and the gospel than any other doctrine.  Great damage will continue to be done to the truth and the gospel until there is a return to a biblical ecclesiology in Christianity.

  1. Steven
    December 30, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    So using this same logic we can see why Mohler preaches alog with Maheny and Piper with Warren. In both these cases their containers are leaky (every cranial pun intended).

    They may preach ,for example, separation and show how it looks but never actually practice it. Right ?

    Is this how MVO people are developed ?

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Br. Steve

    Gal. 2.20

  2. David J. Warner
    December 31, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Very true. The universal church idea along with modern philosophy has put doctrines and standards in a whirlwind, in which everything’s all fogged up, at least in the worldly churches. But the counsel of the Lord still stands. If the wimps and wusses want to be wishy-washy in their doctrines, then they can go ahead and let God judge them in the end.

  3. Buddy Woolbright
    December 31, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Bro. Kent, Once again a powerful truth that is so needed in so-called Christianity today. Paul called the church, “the pillar and ground” of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 In more than forty years of preaching this truth, I have had many discussions with the “invisible church” brethren. It has always been hard to keep the discussion Biblical. Other than their misunderstanding of 1 Corinthains 12:13, the ICBs always leave scripture and go to history. History is written by whomever is in power and varies from author to author. I do understand that many of the groups which have held to local church truth have gone to seed on it and slacked off on witnessing and Biblical evangelism.
    This doesn’t negate the truth of God’s Word. May all us us who believe and practice church truth be more surrendered to the Holy Spirit and more active in telling sinners how to be saved. After all, it is OUR responsibility.
    In His service, bw, 2 Timoteo 1:9

  4. December 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    The Universal visible Church is the result of a Theonomic Ecclesiastical world-view. This world-view was also adopted by most Reformed Churches and continues to be their world view today. This resulted in various State churches. The Free Church (separation of the state from the church) view had a radically different world-view manifested first in the formation in practice in the U.S. of A..

    I quote from an article on my blog:

    “Mixed seed theology has created an aberrant amalgamation of theological “cheat,” especially in the paradox of interdenominational fellowship in the breach of God’s separation commandments. Critical to the discussion regarding the application of separation is the obvious differences between separation among fundamental Baptists and other species of Christianity and the separation of the interdenominational Fundamentalist Movement. It is within this dialogue in this new kind of interdenominationalism that the waters are being muddied by educational institutions that were once solidly Baptists and who are now merely becoming baptistic (i.e., similar, but different than Baptists).

    This interdenominationalism can certainly be traced to a faulty Ecclesiology. The manner sought to correct this faulty Ecclesiology was the creation of a more definitive denominationalism among Fundamentalists through local church conventions, associations, and fellowships such as the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (I.F.C.A.; now International), Bible Baptist Fellowship (B.B.F.I.), Baptist General Conference (B.G.C.) General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (G.A.R.B.C), North American Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention, & ad infinitum; these in themselves merely generated a different faulty Ecclesiology.

    It is within the ever broadening dynamic of commingled seed in interdenominationalism that the praxis of Biblical separation becomes untenable. This all hinges on our Ecclesiology and what defines the common nomenclature of like precious faith. This then extends to unity in purpose in the practicum of evangelism in the three phase commandment of Christ in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Until the orthodoxy of these three phases of the Great Commission is defined, there can be no agreement upon unity in praxis regarding how this is to be accomplished. Therefore, separation must focus both upon the purity of the gospel and the purity of the local church. People cannot be saved through the preaching of a corrupted Gospel and those that are genuinely saved cannot be discipled through a corrupted discipleship process. A Biblical discipleship process begins with the proper understanding of both the purpose and mode of the ordinance of water baptism in the uniting of that believer to God’s official organism for that discipleship process; the LOCAL CHURCH! Therefore, separation is centrally focused upon maintaining the purity of the local church, which is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Yes, the purity of the Gospel must be maintained as a primary emphasis as it is the foundation of all true conversion, but purity of “the faith” must also be maintained as it is the foundation of all true discipleship.

    There is a confusion of “seed” in trying to maintain either the purity of the gospel or the purity of the local church when we have a faulty Ecclesiology that defines the Church interdenominationally as a general term referring to all Christianity. I believe it is from a faulty interdenominational Ecclesiology that this discussion regarding the application of separation finds its source of adulteration.

    ‘[8]A true New Testament witness will always deny ‘Apostolic succession’ of individuals and will always affirm ‘Apostolic succession’ of the institution of the local church. Jesus said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Matt. 16:18).’

    Therefore the praxis of separation must begin with a pure Ecclesiology that BEGINS with the local church as opposed to some invisible, intangible, non-entity that has never assembled and has no formal membership accountable to one another in any real way. This latter is just impractical theological nonsense (heteropraxy). How can anyone make practical sense out of separation when they begin with Ecclesiological nonsense? Anything less is an aberrant amalgamation of commingled seed. This aberrant amalgamation is the outcome of dialogue between people holding aberrant views of Ecclesiology. Aberrations can only produce different verities of aberrations. That is the practical essence in the command of the metaphor against commingled seeds.”

  5. Travis Burke
    January 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Thank you Pastor B! This is refreshing to read. This has been a topic of much study and preaching on my part this past year, and I whole heartedly Amen this post. An universal/invisible church theory makes keeping the ordinances and church discipline truly an impossibility.
    While it is no suprise that Protestants hold this view, what is a shame is the amount of ‘Baptist’ that hold to an Universal Church view. This is why church discipline is ignored, letters of commendation of no importance, and church hopping so popular.
    Keep preaching Truth!

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