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Jerry Bridges Judges Judgmentalism

January 12, 2011 54 comments

Jerry Bridges published Trusting God in 1991, Transforming Grace in 1993, and The Pursuit of Holiness in 1996.  I read all three over ten years ago.  They were about as strong as you’ll read from evangelicals.  As is typical of those who disobey the biblical doctrine of separation, Bridges falls short in application.  If you trust God, you will separate; if God’s grace has transformed you, you will separate; and if you are pursuing holiness, then you will separate.  The constituency of Jerry Bridges and Navigators, the parachurch organization he served for many years, would enjoy the squishy softness of his books.  People not pursuing holiness would enjoy The Pursuit of Holiness.  They could read the book and still not be sure what unholiness might be.

Bridges exposes himself in a recent book, published in 2007, entitled, Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate.  Bridges always has much solid material in his writing.  However, what some might call grace and love really is weakness.  I can’t tolerate Bridges’ mushiness anymore.  It’s not always what he says, but what he doesn’t.   A respectable sin we shouldn’t tolerate is mistaking love for syrupy sentimentality.  That will stop a pursuit of holiness in its tracks.

I’m especially referring to chapter 17 in Bridges’ book on what he calls the sin of “judgmentalism.”  Many evangelicals love the chapter.  However, try to find judgmentalism in the Bible—that’s a bridge to nowhere, pun intended.  Since judgmentalism isn’t in the Bible, is Bridges guilty of making his own opinion into the commandment of God?

Bridges judges judgmentalism, but how can he do that and not be judgmental?In order to understand sins that we shouldn’t tolerate, well, we’ve got to judge sin.   There’s an assumption that we can judge and we should.  Not judging would be a sin that we shouldn’t tolerate.

Bridges essentially says that judgmentalism is when we don’t show toleration for disputed practices.  What I’ve noticed, however, is that almost everything is disputed now.  At one time we were much more sure about what the truth was and its application.  And so if it is disputed, which is now about everything, then you’ve got to just agree to disagree and learn to get along, and then not doing that, with the view of Bridges, is judgmentalism.  You’ll have to do a lot of getting along.  Getting along has become the most important doctrine.

Bridges says that “the sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our ‘respectable’ sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right.”   Hearing that sentence, you just know that evangelicals are going to love it.  Then he gives examples of disputed practices where the sin of judgmentalism is practiced, and comments on each:  dress, music, and alcohol.  If his book can stop evangelicals and now fundamentalists from being judged in those areas, he might have a bestseller on his hands.

Now as you are reading this post at home, and are judging my tone, I ask “What verse tells you that my tone is wrong?”  Aren’t you adding to Scripture if you can’t give me actual text from the Bible that says my take on Bridges’ chapter violates God’s will?  Or is it just a feeling that you have?  How do you know that feeling isn’t the Holy Spirit convicting you?  Are you being judgmental?  I think you know, my reader, that you are busy judging all the time.  And those to the left of me are judging my tone right now.   Tone isn’t even one of Bridges’ “respectable sins.”  I’m judging that non-separatist evangelicals liked the chapter on judgmentalism (my spell check says it’s not a word), not for themselves, but for “fundamentalists” who are judgmental.   For them at best it explains why they should be free in the areas of dress, music, and alcohol.

DRESS

Bridges writes a shallow, ultra-superficial section on dress, that if it were almost any other subject, would be dismissed out of hand, but evangelicals so crave this sort of freedom, they suck it up like a strawberry shake.   He says (pp. 141-142):

I grew up in the mid-twentieth century, when people dressed up to go to church.  Men wore jackets and ties (usually suits and ties) and women wore dresses.  Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts.  Many women began to wear pants. For several years, I was judgmental toward them.  Didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.

In the next paragraph he observes, “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church. . . . Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress; it’s a matter of the heart.”  What is lacking in this level of analysis is good judgment.  Why did men start showing up in casual pants and open-collar shirts?  Why did women begin to wear pants?  And who were these people?  Why did the culture start to change?  What was this new emphasis on creature comfort and convenience?  Do these changes have no meaning?  How much, if at all, should the church be conforming to the spirit of the age?

Bridges’ dealing with all of the subjects in his chapter miss an important aspect of obedience to God’s Word, that is, the application of the principles of Scripture.  The Apostle Paul taught the financial support of the pastor in 1 Timothy 5:18 from Deuteronomy 25:4, a verse which teaches the fair treatment of a domestic animal (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn.”).

Most of Scripture requires application and to make the right application certain truths must exist in the real world.  To abstain from corrupt communication, you’ve got to judge what bad words are with no help in the Bible.  Regarding dress, Paul ordered the believing women of Corinth to wear their head coverings (1 Cor 11:3-16) without any previous verse of Scripture to authorize that specific practice.  If women didn’t wear the head coverings, couldn’t they just warn fellow church members not to participate in the respectable sin of judgmentalism?

MUSIC

Then Bridges moves on to music:

I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ. It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today, in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music, and the piano and organ with guitars and drums. Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs, yet they managed to worship God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see Colossians 3:16). I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it’s just that—a preference—not a Bible-based conviction. It’s true that a lot of contemporary music is shallow and human-centered. But there is much that is as God-honoring and worshipful as our traditional hymns. So let’s avoid being judgmental.

How did Bridges know if the old hymns were grand or majestic?  Why are churches replacing them with contemporary music?  What’s the difference between the music with piano organ and that with guitars and drums?  How does he know that the New Testament churches didn’t have instruments?  What verse says that they didn’t use instruments?  On what basis does he judge the contemporary music to be God-honoring and worshipful?  He is judging that, so what is the basis?  He says, “let’s avoid being judgmental,” and yet he’s obviously making his own judgment and criticizing.  He’s judging that people have no basis for judgment, so that if they do judge, they are sinning.  He’s calling people’s judgment about the contemporary music “sin.”  I don’t know if I like his tone.  My pursuit of holiness says that I need to judge worship, whether it is acceptable to God, since it is being offered to Him.

Is Jerry Bridges saying that only the words have any meaning in worship, and the music is meaningless?  Is music meaningless?  Can we use grunge music?  What about rap?  Is heavy metal fine?  Is there any line that Jerry Bridges draws?  If so, he’s judging too.  I guess some people would think that such pablum as what Bridges writes is significant enough to conclude everyone who judges some worship music to be wrong to be sinning in doing so.  We’ve got the thing that we should be the most picky about in the world, our worship of God, and Bridges wants to tamp down that pickyness so that people won’t feel so criticized.  God gets disrespected and blasphemed so that men can have fun and feel good—party time at church at God’s expense.

ALCOHOL

Bridges completes his triumvirate with alcohol, the last of three pets close to most evangelical hearts.  He writes:

We have convictions that we elevate to biblical truth on a number of issues. I wrote somewhere that I had finally come to the conclusion that in most instances, the Bible teaches temperance not abstinence. I had to work through that issue also because again I found myself being judgmental when I would see Christians having a glass of wine at a restaurant.

Bridges’ second sentence in that quote I judge to be ridiculous.  I wish he had an editor who was a little more judgmental, but I guess that’s what happens when you throw this kind of judgment under the beer truck.  The Bible can’t teach both temperance and abstinence.  He says that in most instances it teaches temperance.  If it teaches abstinence in a lesser number of instances, those instances would be contradicting temperance.   His judgmentalism, he testifies, caused him to “work through that issue.”   Some people have a hard time working through even simple problems when they are under the influence of one drink of alcohol.  If the Bible teaches abstinence even a few times, shouldn’t we judge drinking a glass of wine as disobedience to Scripture?  Shouldn’t we applaud that judgment?  Now what he’s going to do about it is another thing, but it’s a fine thing to make a judgment.

I understand that there are professing Christians that think that drinking alcohol is acceptable to God.  There are many others that believe that alcohol is prohibited by God in the Bible.  The ones who understand it correctly, that is, that God forbids alcoholic beverages, really should continue to judge people who are drinking it, despite what Jerry Bridges seems to be trying to do with heavy applause from a large evangelical audience, that with this chapter and the present condition of evangelicalism, will be growing even larger.

Conclusion

Here’s what has happened.  Rationalism in the 19th century placed truth under human reasoning.  In the 20th century, every person’s opinion stands as his own authority.  The only permissible dogma is tolerance.  That philosophy now is accepted by many if not most churches.  Bridges’ chapter against judgmentalism represents the influence of that philosophy.  If you follow what Jerry Bridges writes here, you shouldn’t judge if your church were to have a rock concert, serve alcohol at it, and everybody came in their shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.  They can call it “worship” ta boot.  Evangelicalism already does this and some of the younger fundamentalists are totally kewl with it.

To be effective, Scripture must be applied.  To apply God’s Word, Christians must judge.  They make decisions based on biblical principles.  The most prominent present attack on the Bible in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is against its application.   The attack says, “Don’t judge.”  It means, “You can’t know how the Bible applies.”  God’s Word then loses its authority in many practices of churches and their members.

My recommendation to you is don’t listen to Bridges.  Keep applying the Bible and biblical principles to dress, music, and alcohol.  Keep judging in those areas.

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God’s Kind of Separation over the Gospel

November 8, 2010 47 comments

The New Testament several times lists the people who will not enter into heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8, 27; 22:15) .  Since these lists are all different, they are not each intended to be comprehensive, but representative.  Whether someone makes it to heaven or not, lives forever in the New Jerusalem, enters through the gates of that eternal city, is a gospel issue.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists today say that they separate over the gospel.  God excludes the people on these lists from salvation, so they are gospel related practices.  People who practice them are not saved and will not be saved.  You’ve got to repent from these sins, resulting in them not being your practice any more.  That’s what the lists say.

One of these exclusion passages is Revelation 21:8, which reads:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Later in Revelation 21:27, you read this:

And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Those are very serious sounding verses in the Bible.  One is not more caring who does not take these types of verses seriously.  I want to draw your attention to just one of the ones in the lists, and that is “the abominable.”   “The abominable . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”  Wow.  I sure wouldn’t want to be one of these “abominable” ones.  I wonder who they are.  I mean, who are they?  Who are “the abominable”?   And then in the next verse, v. 27, we see that those who work abomination will not enter into the gates of the eternal city.  I should look at Scripture to see who these people are, that is, let the Bible define for me who they are.  The abominable would be who the Bible says are abominable.  This really isn’t a matter of opinion.  So a good thing to do would be to look this up in God’s Word.  These “abominable” ones, these people who work “abomination,” are found right in these lists, excluding them from eternal life and heaven.  The fact that they are included in these lists would say that these are practices that really have God’s attention.  He despises them.

Separation forever from God is the ultimate in separation.  God will not have an abominable one, one committing abominations, in His presence for all eternity.  This looks like God’s kind of separation over the gospel.  Someone could not be said to believe the gospel, but also to believe that abominations are permissible, could he?

I could start with the English word “abomination” to find what is uniquely an abomination, or what makes the people an abomination.  I could also look at the Greek word translated “abomination” or “abominable” to find out who they are.  The New Testament, that’s right, the New Testament, says that those people who are an abomination will have their part in the lake of fire.  Now where does the Bible say that a person is an abomination to God?  What would a person do that is an abomination to God?  We would need to look at the Bible to find out who that person is.  OK, so let’s look.

The Greek word for “abomination” is bdelugma.  That Greek word, or forms of it, is found 6 times in the New Testament, two of which are in Revelation 21:8 and 27.  The Hebrew word is to-ay-baw.  That Hebrew word is found 117 times in the Old Testament in 112 verses.  “Abomination” is mainly an Old Testament concept, but it is still in play as offensive to God as seen in the two verses in Revelation.  We get our idea of what an abomination is from the Old Testament, however.

If you look at every single one of the verses where these words are used, only one verse says a practice that makes a person an abomination.  Only one.  People do abominations.   They commit abominations.  But only in one verse does the person himself or herself become an abomination to God.  In certain verses, we see that someone can become an abomination to other people, but in only one does a person become an abomination to God.  Which is that verse?

Deuteronomy 22:5.

So I see this very serious verse that says that the abominable will go to the lake of fire and then I go to find out who the abominable is and I for sure see in the Bible that person in Deuteronomy 22:5.  And what makes the person abominable, an abomination to God?  Let’s read the verse.

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

“All that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”  Who is an abomination to God?  Who is abominable?  First, the woman who wears the item specifically designated for a man, that distinguishes him as a man.  Second, the man who puts on a woman’s garment.

Do you want to be an abomination to God?  I wouldn’t think so, especially in light of Revelation 21:8 and 27.

Is someone being an abomination a gospel issue according to Revelation 21:8 and 21:27?  I see it as such.  God separates himself from the abominable.  Should we separate ourselves from the abominable?

What is the male garment?  What is the female garment?  What item of clothing distinguishes a man from a woman and woman from a man, honoring God’s design?  For many centuries, cultures that looked to the Bible in these matters distinguished pants as the male item and the skirt or dress as the female item.  As feminism and unisex thinking took hold in a post-enlightenment, rationalistic, evolutionary United States, women began wearing pants in contradiction to the male role and male headship.  In certain cases, women began to wear them out of sheer convenience with little thought about the symbolism of God’s designed roles.  God’s people would not go along with pagan culture, but like in so many other areas, churches began to compromise with the world.   Today in most evangelical and fundamentalist churches, women wearing pants is acceptable.  Even further, in most instances, the women who continue to wear only female garments are ridiculed or looked upon as odd.  The churches who take the historic Christian position are scorned and marginalized.

But Revelation 21:8 and 21:27 are both still in the Bible.  And Deuteronomy 22:5 is still the only verse that says a person becomes an abomination for a particular practice.  And women in dresses or skirts and men in pants is the historic way that Christians have followed Deuteronomy 22:5.

Is an abomination a non-essential?  Does God say that an abomination is a non-essential?  Of course not.   Who is anyone to say that an abomination is a non-essential?  And yet today evangelicals and fundamentalists would say that an abomination is a non-essential.

Just because a fundamentalist says it is a non-essential doesn’t mean that God is saying that it is a non-essential.  You won’t be able to say to God that you would have known, except that a fundamentalist told you that this wasn’t essential and you believed him.  You’ll have to base what you believe and do on what God said.  If fundamentalists don’t say the same thing, that can’t really matter.

Think about it.

As you are thinking about it, I want to make a preemptive strike.  Someone is going to say, “So are you saying that women who wear pants are an abomination and so are going to hell?”  That will be the most likely argument to come along to this.  It is a jr. high type of argumentation that shouldn’t get any respect.  I’m asking you to think about the verses in the Bible.  Be serious about them.  They are very serious verses.

The other response will most likely be ridicule.  Men will scoff at this position.  They will not likely offer you an alternative for the practice of Deuteronomy 22:5.  They might say that all that really matters is that women look like women and men look like men.  That’s not what the verse says, however.  It says don’t put on certain items or garments.  Don’t have them on.  Just because fundamentalists say that there are no such items of clothing today does not make it true.

So again, think about it.

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An Addendum

I just finished a series in Revelation and that is what got me thinking about this post.   It is normal for me to ask, “Who is abominable?  Who would that be?”  And if you look it up, you get to Deuteronomy 22:5.  But what also crossed my mind is a new attack, I believe, on the Lordship of Christ in which those claiming to elevate the gospel to its rightful place, say that by talking about something like “pants on women,” men like myself are diminishing the gospel, which is, according to them, to be first in importance.  By giving the gospel this so-called  “back seat,” men like myself, according to these “gospel first” guys, are doing damage to the gospel.  This type of idea is being pushed in conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism.   Revelation 21:8, 27, and 22:15 would indicate the opposite.  If you love the gospel, you are going to warn about these types of practices in people’s lives.  When we left all to follow Christ, we certainly left abomination.  So when we confront abomination, and connect that to the gospel, we are doing the right thing related to Christ as Lord.  There would be no practicers of abomination, who also follow Him.  Abomination isn’t in that path of following Christ.  The freedom that Christ gives us through the gospel is not freedom to be abominable, but freedom from abomination.

If someone who brings up an abomination in a gospel conversation is guilty of somehow dismissing the gospel, then the Apostle John was doing that when he mentioned abomination in Revelation 21.  Jesus Himself brought up loving your neighbor in a gospel conversation in Luke 10 and covetousness in Matthew 19.  What we have with these evangelicals and fundamentalists, I’m afraid, is something of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness that Jude wrote about, and using grace as an occasion to the flesh that the Apostle Paul mentioned in Galatians.

Another point.  People want “abomination” to be non-New Testament.  Since it’s not New Testament, it doesn’t matter.  But it is New Testament.  Not being an abomination continues to be an issue in the New Testament.  But it obviously points back to practices in the Old Testament.  This does great harm to that particular excuse in this.

One more point.  Shouldn’t being an abomination give us pause?  Shouldn’t we want to make sure we aren’t one?  Why mess around with whether we’re being one or not?  Especially in light of Revelation 21:8, 27?

Last point.  I believe that people just block this one out.  They just choose not to think about it.  They put their head in the sand in so many ways.  They aren’t dealing seriously with the text itself.  Until I preached a series through Deuteronomy several years ago, I wasn’t either.  Once I came face to face with what it said, I had to make a decision.  The decision hasn’t made me more popular.   To be honest with the text, I had to take the position I take.  When I looked at commentaries from before 1930, they were unanimous in what this text meant.  The popularity of alternative positions came later.  People hang on to those alternatives.  I believe they spread abomination.  That doesn’t sound like a good thing to do.  But it is what they are doing.  They attempt to take comfort in the reality that most professing Christians don’t follow this path any more.  If so many other Christians go the way they go, then they must be safe.  It couldn’t be true that so many people, who are such good people, could all be doing wrong.  You’ll hear the same argumentation used by Charismatics.  I heard the same used by a Mormon this last Sunday when I was out evangelizing in Sacramento.

The “Essential Doctrine” Doctrine Is Just Being Assumed with No Proof

October 4, 2010 118 comments

Evangelicals and Fundamentalists today say that that the right kind of fellowship or unity aligns with the “essential doctrines of Scripture.”  On the other hand, at least fundamentalists (since few to no evangelicals talk about separation at all) say that we are to separate only over “essential doctrines of Scripture.”   Kevin Bauder, who leads Central Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:

To be a Fundamentalist is, first, to believe that fundamental doctrines are definitive for Christian fellowship, second, to refuse Christian fellowship with all who deny fundamental doctrines (e.g., doctrines that are essential to the gospel), and third, to reject the leadership of Christians who form bonds of cooperation and fellowship with those who deny essential doctrines.

David Doran, who pastors Inter-City Baptist Church in the Detroit area and leads the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:

Believers and churches must separate from those who deny essential doctrines of the faith.

Those are two representative fundamentalists.  They write the same thing that evangelicals do.   D. A. Carson, professor at Trinity, says:

The Bible itself insists that there is a core of doctrines that are most important. As soon as you start assuming the center and then just focusing on the marginal items, the next generation will be looser on the center.

This “essential doctrine” doctrine is invented for the purpose of fitting in with more people.  It isn’t at all some kind of development of doctrine from scriptural exegesis.  No way.  It’s popular for selling more books, for being bigger, for opening up more speaking engagements, for a fake peace.  Guys don’t have to face conflict.  They can believe differently and its not a big deal.  People can do a lot of things that they want to do and not hear about it.  This “essential doctrine” doctrine isn’t from the Bible.  It is assumed with no proof.  It dumbs down love and unity and truth.  A few years ago I wrote this:

But let’s be clear. We know why “core” and all these exciting new theological terms are being used. Men want to be able to water down belief and practice and not be punished for it. The world loves minimizing and reducing, so these same churches will be more popular with the world. And then all the churches that love being popular will also be popular with each other. It’s like a big peace treaty that we could hand out a Christian version of the Nobel Peace prize. We can all smile at each other and get along while we disobey what God said. Then you’ve got a guy that says everything is important, and that’s, you know, an attack on unity. It’s a fake unity like what people have at a family reunion. Real unity is based on what God said.

Not only does the Bible not teach the “essential doctrine” doctrine, but it teaches against it.  God killed people for violating certain teachings outside of the “essential doctrines.”

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Here are links to articles where I have developed this scripturally and some otherwise:

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2007/04/secondary-tertiary-or-essential.html

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2007/04/secondary-tertiary-or-essential-part.html

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2007/05/who-ranks-into-primary-and-secondary.html

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2007/05/secondary-tertiary-or-essential-part.html

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2007/05/secondary-tertiary-or-essential-part_19.html

https://jackhammer.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/ranking-doctrines/

https://jackhammer.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/the-point-and-presumptuousness-of-ranking-doctrines/

https://jackhammer.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/separation-and-ranking-doctrines/

https://jackhammer.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/deconstructing-fugate-and-schaap-and-a-conclusion-about-ranking-doctrines/

http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-did-h-ironside-say-about-tertiary.html

I’m not saying that ‘what God kills people for’ is the best argument.  It just shows how serious God is about things that fundamentalists might say are non-essential.  I don’t think we should say something isn’t essential if God kills you for violating it.

When you read D. A. Carson, as in above quote of him, and others that I have read, you see that a new attack on separatists is that they are actually diminishing the gospel or attacking the gospel, so in essence preaching a false gospel, by saying that other doctrines in addition to the gospel are important.  This is a subtle, new, and dangerous attack.  I am reading the same kind of attack coming from professing fundamentalists.

We should get our doctrine from the Bible.   It’s ironic, but evangelicals and now fundamentalists are saying that, if it isn’t stated in scripture, we should allow liberty, but there is no liberty about the “essential doctrine” doctrine, which isn’t in the Bible.

The Destructive Charge of “Legalism” Pinned on Rightful Application of Scripture pt. 2

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.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Building Ox Carts to Reach the Conclusions They Desire

April 26, 2010 44 comments

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.

Why I’m Not Participating With The IBFI

April 22, 2010 35 comments

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.

DISOBEDIENCE OVERLOOKED

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.

MOVEMENT MENTALITY

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.

DON’T CRITICIZE

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.”

REGISTERED?

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.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Indifferentism

April 19, 2010 15 comments

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.