We don’t want to see the gospel spoiled. We desire to preserve the truth. If we hope for either, we must understand the way God designed to keep both intact. I’m not going to carry nuclear materials in a brown paper sack and not expect bad things to happen. We can say we care about the gospel and the truth, but we don’t and can’t respect either when we leave them unprotected.
The gospel and truth are popular topics today. I’m happy about that. I love the gospel and the truth. We have seen new alliances form today with the gospel supposedly at their center. They have set aside other doctrine—ecclesiological, eschatological, pneumatological—in order for what they say is a stronger emphasis on the gospel. I believe, however, that the greatest threat to the gospel and the truth relates to container in which they are held. The truth, and therefore the gospel, is to be protected and propagated by the church (1 Tim 3:15) and if so, it must be the church alone responsible for that task. However, it must be the church, the actual church, the scriptural church, that does the protecting. We should assume that something different than what Scripture presents as the church could protect the truth. And there are very distinct views of the church. One is that the church is universal and visible. Another is that it is universal and invisible. And a third is that it is local and visible. Each of those three is different than the other.
To see all of this, I want to provide a snapshot of what occurred in the history of doctrine. First, the Bible stands as the sole and final authority for faith and practice. The writing of the New Testament brings us back to the beginning of Christian belief and practice. Genuine doctrine springs from the Bible. Scripture provides the means for judging how men and institutions departed from the truth. The New Testament is a historical record. We can be sure of the history there, because it is inspired by God. We can’t be entirely certain of all the other history, because it truly was written only by men. From the period beginning shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first century, we can read what we call the “church fathers” or the “patristics.” Today when we read those writings, we are getting really only an edition of what they wrote, one that is less certain in its veracity than Scripture, because the patristics don’t come with the promise of preservation. It is possible, even probable, that later these writings were edited to look closer to Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholic theologians read their version of the church fathers. Later, the reformers read a probably amended edition of the church fathers and then the interpretations of the theologians who read them. The Protestant reformers corrected the soteriology of the church fathers and the Catholic theologians. They went to the Bible to do that. However, they didn’t amend the ecclesiology or the eschatology or even much of the hermeneutics of the church fathers and the theologians of Roman Catholicism.
What is clear from reading the writings preserved by Roman Catholicism, called the church fathers or the patristics, is that many of them mixed Greek philosophy with Scripture in their doctrine. By the time we get to Augustine in the 5th century, we have someone who combined the ideas of Plato with Christianity. Augustine originated the invisible church concept in the Donatist controversy. He was influenced by the Platonist belief that true reality was in the invisible, and if the visible represents the invisible, it always does so partially and imperfectly. The allegorical hermeneutic of Origen, borrowed by Roman Catholicism, also influenced the reformers in their ecclesiology, eschatology, and system of interpretation.
The purpose of this post is not to expose the passages necessary to understand what God’s Word says the church is. It is to show that the wrong view of the church will affect the preservation of the gospel and the truth. Someone may say that he shows his great love for the gospel by only dividing over the gospel or what some call “gospel-related truths.” However, I contend that if he does not hold the right view of the church, he contributes to the destruction of the gospel. The gospel can’t be preserved in a leaky container or its contents will be spoiled.
The same people most responsible for spoiling the gospel in history, Roman Catholics, are also most responsible for corrupting scriptural ecclesiology. The Catholics invented the universal church and then the invisible church. The Protestant Reformers did not amend that false teaching. Only churches who remained separate from Catholicism kept a scriptural ecclesiology, the belief in an only local and visible church. Through history they have been known by different names, but today they are called Baptist.
Scripture teaches an only local and visible church. Only that church, the only scriptural one, can keep the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired New Testament give only a local and visible church, the only true church, the necessary means to keep the truth and therefore the gospel. Churches keep the truth through discipline, through the offices of the pastor and deacons, through the practice of separation, and through the purity of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. A universal and invisible church is a leak container that will not preserve the truth. It treats the truth like an open pick-up truck treats an pile of tomatoes. If a few of the tomatoes fly or drop out, it won’t really matter as long as many or most get to their intended destination. Something beyond or in addition to a true church does not have the means necessary to keep the truth. For sure non-church institutions, like colleges or mission boards or publishers, can preserve the truth. The very existence of these parachurch organizations threaten the truth and the gospel. Cobbling together a coalition big enough to support the extra-scriptural institution requires laxity of doctrine.
No kind of viable, practical unity around common doctrine is possible and is not even available to all professing believers from all the various evangelical denominations. To attain some faux unity, doctrines and truths will be devalued and dropped by the wayside. Without the means possessed by true churches to keep the truth, doctrines will leak and leak until very little Scripture is believed and practiced. I believe the wrong view of the church has done more damage to the truth and the gospel than any other doctrine. Great damage will continue to be done to the truth and the gospel until there is a return to a biblical ecclesiology in Christianity.
“I think the Lord is leading me to….” “I feel the Lord is leading me to….” “I really prayed about it and I felt that….” You’ve probably heard these types of statements before. And if it is God leading, who is anyone to question? In many instances, it really is like questioning scripture at this point. Except for one big thing—it isn’t scripture. It is “I think,” “I feel,” and “I felt.” And if not that, then sometimes it is, “The Lord told me.” And that isn’t scripture either, even though, again, it is treated like it’s Bible.
One might hear these above type of statements from men in the office of the pastor. How did he know what the church was to do? How did he know what sermon he was to preach? “The Lord told him” or “he felt the Spirit leading.” One pastor I have known demanded the support of his congregation for every one of His sermons because it was Holy Spirit-preaching. When he preached, that was the Holy Spirit, so it should be unquestioned. Do you see a problem here? This kind of language from a pastor places a type of authority on his decision making that is authoritative on the level of God. Should we expect this kind of authority from the leaders of our churches? In one sense, a pastor represents the voice of God, but it is only insofar he preaches the Word. The people listen to God in those instances by means of the messenger. But every opinion out of the man’s mouth or even just the ones when he is behind the ‘sacred desk’ are not synonymous with scripture.
How do we know what we ought to do in the areas that the Bible is silent upon, like who I’m going to marry, where I’m supposed to work, or whether the reuben on rye or the 10 oz. NY strip steak? It seems that, “the Lord led,” is all we’ve got in those types of decisions? Or is it? How does the Holy Spirit actually work in these situations?
To detect true spirituality, first (part one) we proposed that all believers are spiritual. Every Christian is spiritual. There was a question of whether there were degrees of spirituality. No. Each genuine believer is indwelt by the one and only Holy Spirit, a Person. You can’t get more or less of Him once you have Him. However, He can have more of you. It’s not quantitatively more spirituality. No one is more spiritual in that sense. However, someone can, rather than yield to the Spirit, submit to his flesh. At that time, he is carnal, not spiritual, in a practical, not positional, way. When someone is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then there are manifestations of that yieldedness. We showed six of them. These are how we detect genuine spirituality. And now for the last aspect we will consider in the detection of true spirituality.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
The Holy Spirit leads (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18). We know this. But how does He lead?
First, He leads in accordance with Scripture. “The sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). Parallel to the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Col 3:16). Being controlled by the Spirit is being controlled by the Word of God. All of this fits within the sufficiency of Scripture (Mt 4:4, 2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s Word equips a person for every good work. If a decision attributed to the Holy Spirit contradicts the Word of God, disobeys scripture, it wasn’t or isn’t the Holy Spirit leading. The Bible is how we test to see if something is of God (1 John 4:1). Sanctification of the Spirit is also the sanctification of the Word of God (John 17:17-19). We are set apart by the truth, not by our feelings or opinions, which might be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
A corollary perhaps to the Spirit’s leading in accordance with Scripture could be “no private interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21). The Bible has one meaning and many applications; however, we ought to also look to history to see how the Spirit worked in believer’s lives to apply Scripture. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to suddenly accept a practice that has been forbidden by God’s people in the past.
Second, He leads in accordance with the church. I’ve asked many if they needed the church to know the will of God and most will say that they can know the will of God independently of a church. Often today I’ve noticed people think that they have the right to question a pastor in his preaching, but few think they should be questioned when they say ‘the Lord is leading.’ A church is to be of one mind, one spirit, one mouth, and one speech (1 Cor 1:10, Philip 1:27). People should not operate outside of the unity or unanimity of the church. Believers walk in the Spirit, but they do not walk alone.
In the Old Testament, Israel had the Urim and the Thummim for God to guide her in her decisions (Ex 28:30, Lev 8:8, Num 7:21, Deut 33:8, Ezra 2:63). Do we have anything like that today? I believe we do. The Urim and Thummim today is the church. The Holy Spirit indwells a church as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God leads through the church, not through single individuals. There is one Holy Spirit who indwells church members, the same Spirit, so the agreement of the church is the leading of the Spirit (Eph 4:1-4, 1 Cor 12). Dividing off of the opinion of the church is heresy (Tit 3:10-11, 1 Cor 1:11-17). Church members judge matters of believers (1 Cor 6:1-8). Matthew 18:18-19 suggests a supernatural leading through the agreement of the church.
In the freelancing spirit of the age, many today do not desire the agreement of a church in matters. They rather operate independent of church authority, appreciating the freedom of “the Lord’s leading.” It’s a free country. We can move about when and where we want. Many treat the will of God as a plaything, affording them freedom, which they label “Christian liberty.” Many pastors also use this freedom to move from church to church, again attributing the activity to the “will of God” in their life, when often it is discontent. Rather than just leave, people should be sent by the church for greater ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-5). Lesser ministry isn’t God’s will. But who determines that is the church, not the individual. Someone may ask, “Well, what if the church is wrong?” If the church is wrong, an attempt should be made to persuade the church from the Word of God. Sometimes men will just use scripture to excuse what they want to do. Jeroboam quoted Aaron to justify building calves at Dan and Bethel. The church should be able to determine whether something is the will of God or not.
When Paul discussed Christian liberty in 1 Cor 8-10, at the end of that section (11:1), he commanded the church at Corinth to imitate him as he imitated Christ. In areas of liberty, people of a church should look to the leaders of their church to know what to do in areas in which scripture is silent (cf. Heb 13:17). Rather than follow self, follow godly leaders in the church.
How did Timothy know he was to be a pastor? 1 Timothy 4:14 is a great verse on this. First, prophecy, that is, the preaching of the Word of God. I’ve had men tell me that they didn’t ask me what would be the right decision because they already knew what I would say. How did they know? The preaching of God’s Word. Preaching worked in the heart and life of Timothy. Second, the laying on of hands of the presbytery. Timothy got the unified guidance of godly men to verify the will of God in this matter. In many cases today, men say they’re “called,” in essence, “God told me,” and that’s their chief indication of God’s working. This isn’t the pattern in scripture.
Do you see how that Scripture and then the church puts objectivity to the will of God? This is how the Holy Spirit guides today. In answer to this type of presentation, often I’ll hear from men examples of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Do you understand that God doesn’t work with us like that any more? We have Scripture and the church now. God doesn’t speak to us that way. If He is going to guide you like an apostle or prophet, than you should also fulfill the qualifications of the prophet and the apostle. You don’t, so don’t see yourself as led by the Spirit the same way they were.
Some Specifics Concerning the Individual Will of God
Does Scripture teach us that God has only that one person for us to marry? Or does the Bible order us to obey God’s Word but give us liberty within scriptural parameters in those individual matters? For instance, Scripture prohibits a Christian from marrying an unbeliever among other instructions (2 Cor 6:14), but God would give freedom within the bounds of what He said in His Word. Paul says this in 1 Corinthian 7:39: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” Of course, he adds, “only in the Lord.” Within biblical guidelines, someone can marry whoever he or she wants to marry, unless, of course, God sovereignly overrules otherwise.
The above exact teaching you’ll see in Proverbs 16:1 and 9:
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. . . . A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
The idea of “preparations” is “plans.” It is God’s will for man to make plans. A man is to devise his way. The Lord may step in to change something, directing his steps, but he should go about making plans and devising his way. God allows people to make their own decisions within the bounds of the guidelines and principles He has set up in the Bible. The best way to ensure you do right is to obey God’s Word, practice it or apply it in every area of your life. If you do that, those unknown, individual things will work themselves out, very much like we see in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
In short, if you will trust God and acknowledge everything He said, those individual, personal decisions will work out fine.
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.”
Here are links to articles where I have developed this scripturally and some otherwise:
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.
When Jesus sent out missionaries, what did He do? Do we know? We do, because we can read about it in Luke 10. We should also assume that this is the model that the Apostle Paul utilized in His efforts. We will be and we should be sanctified by the truth, not by opinion and pragmatism. I think that much of what we read in Jesus’ sending of the seventy in Luke 10 is ignored today by churches and church leaders. How?
1. Ignorance of the Method in Luke 10
The seventy were sent to say something. They were sent to preach a message (Lk 10:5b, 9). We don’t see “church-planting” per se in the Bible. Jesus did not send the seventy out to start a church. The Apostle Paul did not go to start a church. Churches were started, but neither the seventy nor Paul were sent to start a church. Scripture is sufficient. Silence does not mean permission. We ought not to be sending men to start churches. Jesus didn’t and Paul didn’t.
We send men to preach. We don’t send them alone. We send them in twos. That’s what we see. We may think we have a better idea, but that’s the model that Jesus left us. At least two men go. They go into a town or city and preach.
As the men go to preach, they find out who receives the message and who does not. If a person receives the message, that’s the possible start of a church. If no one receives the message, the two don’t tweak the message or consider a different method. They leave after proclaiming judgment on the town or city. Each home is a microcosm of this. If a home does not receive the message, the men move on to the next home. Look at vv. 1-17 (below) if you don’t think this is the case. I’m open for your alternative ideas, but at least consider the text.
There is no pressure on the preachers to “produce.” They don’t need to see a certain number in a certain number of weeks or months or years. Their one goal is to preach just what God said. From there, they just gauge the response. They are not required to toil in obscurity with no one listening. They are actually not supposed to do that. They should preach—if no one wants it, move on; if someone does, park there. If it succeeds, it will be because of the gospel, not the preacher.
The preachers Jesus sent out, He said He was sending as “lambs among wolves” (Lk 10:3). Jesus didn’t say that people would like the method or the message. It would be worse than a turn-off. Most would hate it.
Demographics don’t relate at all to Luke 10. Everyone was preached to. Nobody was left out.
If the emphasis is on the preaching and not the starting of a church, then the point or the real goal will be met, that is, everyone will be preached to. Many church planters go to a town and immediately start inviting people to church and the people of their community never, ever receive the gospel. They still haven’t preached the gospel to everyone. They don’t even know that is what they were supposed to do. They thought they were supposed to start a church. They go with a pack full of non- or un-scriptural methods and get to building a crowd. That is not the rock upon which Jesus said He would build His church (Mt 16:18).
2. Ignorance of the Money in Luke 10
“Church planters” travel the country raising support to plant their church. I understand that the seventy were a second phase of Jesus’ sending, after the twelve (Lk 9). Later in Luke, Jesus sends them with money (Lk 22:35-36). I’m not opposed to supporting missionaries. What I think we need to know, and this is one of the lessons of Luke 10, is that money is not necessary to be a missionary. Jesus wanted them to see that in Luke 10.
Today we hear there are “needs” in order to see a church “launched.” One professing fundamentalist, quasi-evangelical, who had read all the studies, the missional philosophy, the cultural engagement strategy, said that he needed to raise at least $300,000 to launch his church. People believed him. They supported him. He was a hot commodity because he was up on all the latest techniques necessary for a successful church launch.
The building is another important “need” for the church launch. (“Launch” is important for a launch. Use the word “launch” if you want to launch.) But the building must be something that people are going to want to attend, you know. All of this really is a lie. Jesus said nothing about a building. Paul said nothing about a building. A building is not necessary for a church to start. You don’t need money, and you can see from reading Luke 10 that your first building is the house of the first person who will receive the message.
The building is really about an impression that becomes necessary for “church planting.” You want to have a church and church has a building. And you are not going to get a lot of people to stay if they aren’t comfortable with your building. You won’t look classy or successful enough for those people, which the church planter perceives are a lot of people. Plus, the program the church planter expects to succeed as part of the attraction to his church needs that facility. That requires money. So the desire for money relates to the alternative to the Luke 10 method.
3. Ignorance of the Message in Luke 1o
“The Lord” (v. 1) appointed the 70 and He sent them to go ahead of Himself to towns where He would come after them. Their message was “peace” (v. 5) in the “kingdom of God,” which was “nigh unto” them (v. 9). A kingdom has a King. The offering of a kingdom meant the King was coming. If He was their King, He was their Messiah, as well as their absolute monarch. They would be turning their lives over to Him. If they relinquished their selves to Him, He would bring them the kingdom. They had to receive Him as King. If He was King, He was Lord. If He was Lord, they were His slaves. The message Jesus sent them to preach was no different than the gospel that He preached from the very beginning of His earthly ministry (Lk 4:43).
If people receive the message Jesus expects of His evangelists, that is, the truth, the kind of building they have doesn’t matter. Slaves aren’t offended by some discomfort. Those who have denied themselves to follow the Lord aren’t concerned with those peripheral, superficial interests that captivate many church planters.
Jesus did send the seventy to preach. That’s what he wanted them to do. If a church started, it would come out of the affirmative responses to the message they preached.
For Reference, Luke 10:1-17
1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
2 Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.
3 Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.
4 Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.
5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house.
6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.
7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you:
9 And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
10 But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say,
11 Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
12 But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.
13 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
14 But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you.
15 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.
17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
On the approach and strategy of church growth, Rick Warren and Jack Hyles little differ. With all the studies Warren did to figure out his scheme, he came up with something along the same lines as Hyles. Hyles is dead but the Hyles methods and men still operate. I’m not saying that Warren copied Hyles or that they’re twins separated at birth. Both of them understood human nature and marketing and used that knowledge to formulate their plan. The big thing is to give people what they want—target a demographic and customize your pitch to fit the target. Since what allures and attracts men hasn’t changed much, their plans have mirrored each other. Warren has a little different packaging, but besides that, he could be a Hyles clone.
Warren and Hyles both recognized what most people have long known—the world doesn’t like church. The world likes what the world likes, which is earthly things, so Warren and Hyles were faced with a conundrum. They wanted big crowds of unbelievers to be interested in their churches, and yet the world doesn’t like church. The world isn’t interested in spiritual things, and the church is all about spiritual things. Therefore, in order to get their big crowds, Warren and Hyles offered the world the things that it liked in order to get unbelievers to come to church. It really isn’t even that hard. Certain types of businesses have taken advantage of the same kind of knowledge in order to draw crowds to make money, namely places like amusement parks, rock concerts, arcades, and movie theaters.
There are differences between Warren and Hyles. In a lot of ways, Hyles is old school in the same kind of strategy as Warren. A Hyles church would be noticeably different than a Warren church, although there would be some overlap that I have noticed. I want to talk about the overlap first, however. Warren and Hyles would both provide fun activities that the world would like. Both would do a rodeo or carnival to get people to come. Warren and Hyles would both give out popular food or beverages. Both would alter their preaching, albeit in different ways, in order to attract and then keep a crowd. Both would use business marketing techniques that would catch the eye of unsaved people. So they have an overlap in technique.
On a root level, Warren and Hyles were the same. They both believed in building a church through inviting unsaved people to church services. They both believed in trying to get people to come by offering them things they wanted. They both conformed the church to their church growth ideology, straining theology to fit what it took to have a bigger church. Both would say it was about seeing more people saved. Both tried to reproduce their findings, their pragmatism, in others. Both have had many adherents and headed a movement built around their particular philosophy. Both used Scripture to justify what they did. Both attacked those who criticized them. Both used their size and success to silence their critics. Both preyed on the pride and the faux security that comes with bigness.
How do Warren and Hyles differ? Warren and Hyles have cultural differences. Warren says that finding the kind of music the world likes is the most important part of church growth. Hyles used music, what he would call evangelistic music, but he would preach against the kind of music Warren uses. Hyles believed music should be upbeat and fast and exciting, part of a strategy to thrill the unsaved people, but he drew a far more conservative line about what he might use. Hyles required a dress code. He expected modest dress, clothes with designed distinctions between men and women, and he dressed up himself, suit and tie. His workers did the same. Not Warren. Warren emphasizes a lower common denominator for appearance; in essence, dress like the world dresses to make the world feel comfortable being with the church. Warren zeroed even more on what the world liked, the earthly things, even than Hyles. Warren preaches from multi-versions with the people in mind. Hyles preached only from the King James Version, but his preaching was heavily entertainment, very little teaching. They both prioritize the audience, except in different ways. Both conformed the subject matter to fit the listeners, just in different ways.
Hyles would call Warren worldly. Warren would call Hyles legalistic. I would call them both about the same. Manipulative. Secular. Man-centered. Carnal weaponry.
However, Warren is far more acceptable to evangelicals than Hyles ever would be. Many young fundamentalists would never accept Hyles. But they don’t have such a problem with Warren. John Piper, a real favorite among many evangelicals and young fundamentalists, and even older fundamentalists, is having Warren come to his next Desiring God conference. That is not a deal-breaker to the Piper crowd. If Hyles were alive, and he had Hyles, that would end the Piper favoritism. Of course, Piper would never have Hyles, and really for the same reason young fundamentalists don’t like Hyles. Hyles wasn’t worldly enough. Hyles used the King James Version. Hyles said women shouldn’t wear pants. Hyles preached too hard against sin, i.e., he was too moralistic. Hyles would preach against attending the theater, something like Spurgeon was death on. They like that Warren isn’t that way.
The rock music of Warren, the casual dress of Warren, the earthly popularity of Warren, the hi-tech success of Warren, and, yes, the bigness of Warren—those are all the things about Warren that young fundamentalists and evangelicals approve about Warren. It’s why Warren is able to go to Piper’s conference. John MacArthur’s church uses the same type of Warren formula to attract for their Resolved Conference, so they haven’t shucked the Warren brand entirely. It’s a working plan, especially for the youth culture. They don’t go quite as far as Warren, just like Hyles wouldn’t go as far as Warren. Hyles wouldn’t have a hip-thrusting praise team up leading the worship.
Across the street from our church, a Trinity Evangelical grad, that would be well-accepted, I believe, by many young fundamentalists and evangelicals, kicks off his fall program with a parking lot full of jumpers. Especially since he went to Trinity and that’s where D. A. Carson teaches. He’s into the big sermon series, playing off some hit movie or the Beatles hits, if not the lyrics of U-2. Of course, he “gets it.” He “knows” what’s really important and what isn’t.
Young fundamentalists and evangelicals talk about the old hero worship of the fundamentalists, about how that too much revolved around big personalities. That hasn’t changed. That’s the same today. It’s just different personalities. And things really aren’t that much different. There really is quite a bit in common between John Piper, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, and Jack Hyles. Oh, and the young fundamentalists and evangelicals. Earthly things. That’s the common ground. Earthly things help keep their crowds. Different types of earthly things, but earthly things. And since they keep those earthly things, they stay big and that’s their success. Not all their success. But a lot of it. And God doesn’t get the glory in all of that. The men do. Still.
1 Kings 12:25-33 is a pivotal section of scripture. In those verses we get some insight into God’s thinking about what He said about worship. God wanted the kingdom split at that juncture (1 Kings 11, 12:1-24). However, He didn’t want changes in worship, like changes in the manner, the place, and the time of prescribed worship. To keep his crowd and make it all more convenient, Jeroboam built new places of worship at Dan and Bethel. “But God didn’t say that they couldn’t worship somewhere else!” He did say Jerusalem, but He didn’t say “not Dan and Bethel.” And Jeroboam did argue the advantages of Dan and Bethel. And that reminds me of Saul arguing the advantages of what He did. Stuff makes sense to us that is different than what God said.
Today God prescribes the worship in a place too—the church. I’m happy about all the writing today that criticizes the modern violations of the means and manner of worship. I believe we have New Testament absolutes about the kind of music God wants to receive in worship. I think contemporary Christian music is a travesty. But what about all the deviations of New Testament place of worship? Why then the silence about this aberration? The worship prescriptions of Romans 12 don’t stop at vv. 1-2. You move to vv. 3-8 to find the place of the “reasonable service,” that is, “spiritual worship.” The place is the church. Is modern evangelicalism and fundamentalism moving out of the limitation of the church akin to Jeroboam moving out of the limitation of Jerusalem? I believe they are.
The church is the New Testament temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17). The church is the means by which God has chosen to make known His manifold wisdom (Eph 3:10). God designed the church to protect and propagate the truth (1 Tim 3:15). God has chosen in this age for the church to judge all matters (1 Cor 6). Unto God is glory in the church (Eph 3:21). Jesus gave His authority and the promise of His presence to the church (Mt 16:18-19; 18:15-17; 28:18-20).
Neither the college, the mission board, the convention, the association, the fellowship, nor the camp are found in the Bible. They fall outside the limits of biblical teaching, like Dan and Bethel did and like the cart that carried the ark did. Some might say that those things are not prescribed, but neither are they wrong. They are simply out there to supplement the church. They come up beside the church (“para”) to help the church. Consider what God says about the issue of place with Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:30: “And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.” Worshiping in Dan was a sin.
Some might argue that these organizations are just additions. They aren’t replacements for the church. But they are innovations that deviate from scriptural worship.
Someone might say that they are well-intentioned. They’ve got good motives. Uzzah seemed to have a good motive too when he touched the ark. And Saul had a good motive when he kept the best of the animals to use for sacrifices.
Someone might contend that these people are doing good things. They have good preaching, good music, and say the right things to one another that are helpful for the Lord. They are a good opportunity to serve. For instance, in the chapel at the Christian university, the preacher preached a good message and the student body sang really good hymns to worship the Lord. Is that true? If you took various components of Jerusalem worship and moved them to Dan and Bethel would they be acceptable? Verse thirty of chapter twelve says it was a sin. It was a sin. Deviating from God’s prescription for worship is sin.
Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Romans 14:23 says that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” God says do it this way and we do it another way. That’s sin. Jesus always did the Father’s will. Like Him, we are to be sanctified by the truth, not by our opinions, by what we think will work, or by what makes us feel good. We are not sanctified by an unbiblical way of doing things.
The Jews thought signs were an effective means of accomplishing God’s will. The Greeks thought that wisdom would work if relied upon. Fundamentalists and evangelicals think that parachurch organizations will help. They can even start listing all the good ways that those non or un-scriptural organizations have helped, just like Charismatics will list all the ways that signs have helped their ministries. But then in 1 Corinthians 3 we see that if we don’t do it His way, it is wood, hay, and stubble. It’s not how God wanted us to build.
So, in other words, I’m not wanting people to have their works be worthless. I don’t want them to be sinning. We probably would all say that we want God to be honored. So I want you to think about this. The fact that I wrote this could become the big deal here. The big deal is our worship of God. What God says about that worship is the big deal. I can’t make someone’s worship valueless. They do that to themselves. I’m just reporting.
OK. Now this is the part that most will think is the tough part. I could have even left it out. But I don’t want to be confusing here. Still, however, I’m going to put it in the way of question. What about Bill Rice Ranch, The Wilds, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, Ambassador Baptist College, Baptist World Mission, Baptist International Missions Incorporated, or the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches?
I’ll ask it before you do. What about Jackhammer? What about ‘What is Truth’? Fair question. These aren’t organizations. These aren’t institutions. I’m not serving the Lord at Jackhammer. I’m sent by my church to preach where ever I preach, including online. Jackhammer is nothing more than an element like an offering plate, a cell phone, or a letter. Everything I write here represents my church, exactly what my church would teach. I don’t compromise anything my church teaches to write here. Jackhammer and What Is Truth for me are elements in the ministry of my church.
Many of the arguments for parachurch organizations parallel very closely to the kind of rationalization that Jeroboam made in his own heart. They will work better. They’re just necessary in the times in which we live. A lot of good experiences have been had in and through them.
I know my last three paragraphs might be the most popular in the whole piece. The other popular thing, even more important than judging whether the teaching is scriptural, is to make sure that I’m practicing it all consistently. But read everything that comes up to those three paragraphs. Think about that first and consider whether parachurch organizations are sin.
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.