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