Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? Galatians 4:16
There is a certainty about truth that many who claim to love it do not like. And that is that the TRUTH makes enemies. In the age of tolerance we live in (which also affects Christianity and independent Baptists), making enemies is about the worst sin a person can commit. Now, I’m not here promoting the making of enemies. The Word says that when a man’s ways please God, even his enemies will be at peace with him. But the Word also states that some who are told the truth will esteem the truth-tellers to be enemies. From this I gather that love of truth must come before love of friendship or fellowship. If we love the truth and speak it in love, and those who hear it count us as enemies, we must love truth more than friends. In this verse, Paul continues to speak to and try to help those who counted him as an enemy. But he did not change his message or water it down. He did not leave some truth out that was not important or not essential. Because all TRUTH is important and essential.
So love the truth; love people; and don’t be afraid to make some enemies.
You can buy Oxy 10 (strong zit cream) now that performs two tasks—dries up the pimple and covers it with a flesh tone coloring. It’s both a medicine and a make-up. Teenagers, no more need for those unsightly bandaids waiting for a bad blemish to heal. This essay will also multi-task by delivering my break-down of the Fugate-Schaap fight and finish up the actual topic of the month—Ranking Doctrines. The first will surely bring the largest crowd (fitting for Fugate and Schaap) and the latter will draw the most commentary. This month our blog has had more readers in its bathroom than other blogs have had in their auditoriums. Jeff Fugate and Jack Schaap are google gold.
Fugate and Schaap
I still get The Church Bus News, once printed by Wally “Mr. Bus” Beebe, and since his death, the domain of Jeffrey Fugate of Lexington, KY. I get the major mailings, including The Voice, from First Baptist in Hammond, now headquarters for Jack Schaap. Like most of you, first I received the special edition of the Fugate magazine (23 pp) and a little later Schaap’s answer (16 pp). The same day as Schaap’s reply to Fugate, I got the surreal letter to Jack Hyles written by Russell Anderson. I’ve never been in the Fugate/Schaap loop, but I was happy to have them tell me what they thought about the doctrine of preservation and the King James Version.
Fugate and Schaap represent the Hyles’ branch of fundamentalism. Schaap took the mantle from Hyles. He refers to the moment on p. 2:
On his (father-in-law, Jack Hyles) deathbed he took my hand and stated pointedly, ‘I love many people, but I don’t trust them all.’ He paused, squeezed my hand, and continued, ‘I trust you, Jack, with everything I have.’ It was a holy and sacred moment for me.
Schaap has done a phenomenal job in keeping the Hyles’ circus going. I would not have thought anyone could do it. He has. Fugate had to settle, it seems, for getting Russell Anderson, which is a feather in his Hyles cap, but he is a simple Hyles’ grad with a Hyles honorary doctorate, which can’t compare to being in Hyles’ family and getting the Hyles’ death bed handshake.
For those who haven’t seen the mailings, let me start with the Fugate one. Around a huge, half page picture of himself, Fugate explained and justified his mailing on pp. 2-3. On pp. 4-5 he presented quotes from Jack Hyles on the subject from Hyles’ book, The Need for an Every-Word Bible. Fugate printed a chapter from a recent Ms. Gail Riplinger book from p. 6 to p. 12. Fugate wrote a chapter called “The Inspired, Preserved Word” from pp. 13-17, and then reproduced his “Open Letter to Dr. Schaap” from p. 18 to p. 23.
On the top fold of the newsprint style Special Pastor’s Edition of The Voice read in giant red letters, “Dr. Jack Schaap Speaks on Inspiration and the King James Bible.” On the top 1/3 of the first page, but numbered p. 2, in about 25 pt. font, Schaap stated what he believes, and after that an open letter to no pastor in particular, p. 3 an answer to eight different questions that he said he had received from various people, pp. 4-5 his Jack Hyles pages, quoted for his own defense, pp. 6-7 excerpts from two different booklets in which he deals with this subject—Why Stand against the King James Bible? and Dr. Jack Schaap Answers, p. 8 the doctrinal statements of seventeen different Baptist schools to support his position, and pp. 9-11 letters from deacons, staff, Charles Colsten, Wendell Evans, and Ray Young in full support of Schaap. The last three pages were miscellaneous defenses of the Schaap position—one the letter to the readers by the KJV translators, dictionary definitions of “inspiration,” lexiconal entries for theopneustos, and ending with observations and conclusion.
Both of them quote Hyles for their own purposes. Ironically, I believe that it was possible to defend more than one position with Hyles’ words. Hyles would say that he always took the same position, but if you read his early Revelation commentary, you’d see that he commonly corrected the KJV in that book. Then later he turned to the position that said someone could not be converted except through the KJV. In between there, he made many varied and contradictory statements on the subject, so much so that men with different positions both use him to defend themselves.
Fugate and Schaap make convoluted or inaccurate statements. In the large font on p. 2 Schaap wrote what is his official position:
I believe the King James Version of the Bible is the divinely preserved translation of the inspired Word of God for English speaking peoples.
What’s wrong with that? It isn’t easy to understand. I can’t tell what he believes about the underlying Greek and Hebrew text by that statement. I don’t know what he believes about inspiration or preservation from the statement. Someone asked Schaap this question: “If we believe in divine preservation, don’t we then believe that the inspired words were preserved in their inspired state?” As part of his answer, he made this statement: “We have copies of an English translation that came from copies of other translations, etc., etc.” By the time he was done, I couldn’t tell what he believed.
When you read the official position of the church and college, you find the same indecipherable type of statement (p. 9):
Furthermore, we believe the Scriptures were translated, copied, and preserved under the watchful care of divine providence and that the English speaking peoples of today have in the King James Version of the Scriptures an accurate, reliable, divinely preserved translation of the Scriptures.
It says the Scriptures were translated, copied, then preserved. Isn’t copying the way they were preserved? Wasn’t the copying or preservation of Scriptures done before they were translated? Nothing else that was written by Schaap or any others from Hyles-Anderson cleared this up.
Gail Riplinger took up the bulk of the space for Fugate, carrying the doctrinal water for him. She wrote on p. 6:
The actual ‘originals’ have not been the recipient of the promise of preservation, as they have long since dissolved.
I haven’t read anything that Riplinger has written until this paper. She made the above inane statement in the second sentence of her presentation. She said there was no “promise of preservation” of the ‘originals’ because they have long since “dissolved.” How does a promise of preservation relate to whether we still possess the originals or not? The absence of originals doesn’t change what Scripture promises or doesn’t promise. And how do the “originals” receive a promise anyway? God wrote promises to people, not to manuscripts of the Bible. The next sentence brings confusion to what she even means by “originals”:
As is demonstrated in detail in the previous chapters of Greek and Hebrew Study Dangers, all currently printed Greek and Hebrew editions contain errors.
From that statement you can see where we’re headed with Riplinger, but you can also see that when she says “originals,” she doesn’t mean “original manuscripts” but “original languages.” So she is saying that Scripture doesn’t promise original language preservation. So what does it promise about preservation? We’ll get there.
On top of that, how does Riplinger know that every Hebrew and Greek text has errors? She doesn’t possess the original manuscripts, so she doesn’t know that. She can’t compare any of the editions of the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture with their original manuscripts, so she can’t even come to that conclusion. What she should conclude, based upon a biblical view of inspiration and preservation found in God’s promises in His Word, is that we do have all of the Words without error in the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture.
But that isn’t where Ms. Riplinger is headed as she teaches us her bibliology. She claims to know that we don’t have a perfect original language Bible, but what we do have is a perfect translation of the Bible. So a perfect translation came from a corrupt text. And she based that upon what?
The answer to the question, ‘Where is the living word of God’ lies in God’ s promise given to Isaiah 28 and fulfilled in Acts 2. “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak . . . saith the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:21) [bold hers].
What do you think of that exegesis? She concludes that God is telling us in 1 Corinthians 14:21 that His Word would come with men of other tongues—not Hebrew and Greek ones—and we know now that they are English ones. We’re supposed to read that out of that verse from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 (I wish she had read a little further down to 1 Cor 14:29-35 and practiced that instead).
She has many more errors, crazy ones, as you continue to read her. Her writing should be respected by no one. What you can see that she believes is that we didn’t have a perfect Bible from the moment those original manuscripts “dissolved” until we got the King James Version (1611 or 1769?). She is a living example of why women shouldn’t be teaching doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:9-15). When Schaap challenged Fugate on the phone about learning theology from a woman, Fugate’s comeback was (p. 23):
Gail Riplinger is a woman who holds an honorary doctorate from Hyles-Anderson college for her work on the KJB.
Somebody should tell her that her career in doctrinal mangling is over.
What kind of respect does Fugate hold for Riplinger? This really shows you the caliber of these types of men. Not only is half his presentation a chapter from her book, but then he writes his section and plagiarizes paragraphs of her from the very chapter that he printed. Some editor should have stopped chewing his bazooka and informed him of this. On p. 15 in the first column and on p. 16 at the bottom of the first column and top of the second, Fugate plagiarizes almost word-for-word two paragraphs of Riplinger’s chapter located at the bottom of the last paragraph on p. 6 and then the last paragraph on p. 7.
Trying to be the diplomat, Schaap wrote this on the back page of his paper:
I don’t think any one of us could slide a piece of paper between our differences.
I want to go on record to say that there is far more than paper-thin differences between the scriptural position and what most of the Hylots have written. Try a boulder.
As an aside, the new filing director at Sharper Iron, Greg Linscott, linked to Dave’s last article on Schaap-Fugate. It is presently the most visited thread of their filing section and heavily commented. One of their moderators, a “Larry,” wrote this about Dave:
The irony of this article is that someone who does not have a biblical doctrine of preservation is complaining that someone else who doesn’t have a biblical doctrine of preservation doesn’t have a biblical doctrine of preservation.
That’s all he said. Clever, huh? He didn’t say how it was unscriptural, just that it was. It’s throwing raw meat to the MVO (multiple version only) crowd. He knows it. Classic fundamentalism. What is truly ironic is a person with no biblical doctrine of preservation, Larry, saying that Dave doesn’t have one. I’ve never ever heard an MVO advocate, someone like Larry, ever start with the Bible to come to his position on preservation. As a matter of fact, they believe that you start with textual criticism and then restrain your doctrine from keeping the “evidence” from leading you to the “truth.” Larry’s view of preservation is the new post-enlightenment position that all of the doctrines of scripture have been preserved, not the words. You won’t find it in the Bible.
Final Comments about Ranking Doctrines
In the previous three posts of mine about reducing scripture to essentials and non-essentials, I haven’t presented much of a scriptural argument against that position and practice. In my first installment, I linked to a five part series that I had already written, that did give a biblical basis for an every teaching is essential approach. I also argued against the defense mounted by the other side. I would like to spend a little time dealing with their main arguments. I contend that their main point isn’t in the Bible at all and it is invented only to maintain a type of fake unity between all believers. However, here are some of the passages to which they refer to state their case.
1 Corinthians 15:3
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
Those who rank doctrines see this verse as inferring this practice. They understand “first” (protos) as “first in importance.” They explain that Paul is saying that the gospel is foremost of all the doctrines, based on this text. This is how the New American Standard and the English Standard Versions translate protos. Protos more often means “first in time.” If it does mean “first in importance,” then Paul could be saying that the gospel is foremost in this chapter. With such relative ambiguity, we shouldn’t base a doctrine on the understanding of this one word. Even if it does mean “most important,” then it is an even further stretch to say that it is the only doctrine or one of the few doctrines worth separating over.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Essential or non-essential people infer their practice from the use of the word “weightier” (barus). The Pharisees paid tithe on certain small herbs, but didn’t accomplish the “weightier” matters of the law, like mercy, etc. What are “weightier matters?” Barus carries with it the understanding of “difficulty.” The Pharisees chose to do the easier things, tithing their little herbs. Jesus is refuting the ranking of doctrines. They had voided certain practices and replaced them with other easier ones. Why? The easier ones they could do on their own. This is a major reason why men will rank doctrines–because they don’t see how they can keep everything that God said. They’re right. They can’t do it, which is why they need justification by faith.
1 Corinthians 16:22
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.
Certain violations come with severe punishment. Those ranking doctrines say that this indicates that these issues are essential, rated ahead of other doctrines or practices. If someone doesn’t love Jesus, then he isn’t saved. That’s why he is cursed. It is ironic that people who do love the Lord Jesus will keep everything that He says (John 14:21-24). In other words, “Anathema Maranatha” if you won’t do everything that Jesus says to do.
1 Corinthians 3:11-13
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
Jesus is foundational to everything. No one is arguing with that. We must believe in Jesus Christ or all other doctrine or practice won’t matter to someone’s life and eternity. In 2 Peter 1, believers will add virtue to faith and knowledge to virtue. That doesn’t mean that faith is more important than virtue.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Romans 14 applies to non-scriptural issues. Colossians 2:16 says that we shouldn’t judge one day above another because they are merely shadows of Christ. 1 Corinthians 5:7 says that Christ is our passover. Days are not a doctrinal issue. You can’t apply this to scriptural doctrine and practice.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
This verse has been used for ranking doctrines. It isn’t remotely about that. What is the “same mind” that Paul wanted the Philippians to have with him? It was the same mind or attitude of this pursuit of Christlikeness that he just talked about in the context. Paul uses sarcasm with the term “perfect,” because he himself had just said that nobody had reached perfection until they reach Christ. If they weren’t going to have that mindset of pursuing Christlikeness, then his hope was that God would expose this wrong way of thinking and help them change it.
I’ve already made arguments for not having the essential/non-essential teaching over at my blog in a five part series. I’ve only dealt with the other side here. I’ve found that this is all they’ve got to offer.
Defining What Fellowship Is
In the comment section, one brother asked me about fellowship, to define what it was. I thought it would be worth doing here. I’m not fellowshiping with someone at the park with whom I’m playing pick-up basketball. I might take an unsaved person out to lunch. That isn’t fellowship if I have the purpose of evangelism. I’m on the board of two orchestras. That isn’t fellowship, even though there are other Christians on one of the boards. Winning an election and joining Congress isn’t fellowship.
Fellowship is an association with a common spiritual purpose and goal. I may talk to another professing believer who believes differently than me. We can sit down for coffee or a meal with the attitude that we are attempting to be in fellowship if possible. This may take many visits. I know that these two paragraphs don’t deal with every situation.
Sometimes the word “core” is used. I see it spreading. Core values. And then fancy words like triage, which puts people in such a daze that they refuse to keep thinking about it. Taxonomy is another one. None of these are taught in Scripture. “Fundamental” is very much like “foundational.” I have no doubt that certain doctrines are “foundational.” For instance, who cares if you practice complementarianism when you are not saved. Being saved is foundational. It could also be fundamental in that sense.
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.
Most conservative Bible teachers and preachers agree that the Bible teaches separation, that we must separate even from other believers for violations of doctrine and practice. Yet, does Scripture teach that some teachings in the Bible are worth separating over and some are not? Does God’s Word say anywhere that certain doctrine and practice are not issues of separation but others are? You hear this stated again and again by men as if it is what the Bible teaches. Here the Neo-fundamentalist comments:
Basically, we will have to establish some form of a hierarchy of issues that are separation offenses. It may be helpful to throw out those commands or principles that are “unclear,” but then we all will have a slightly different take on which ones are clear, or perhaps we should act based upon those areas where all true believers should be in agreement?
Andy Milliken, on behalf of the Christian Research Institute, contends:
There are five core doctrines that we do separate over if they are not being taught or demonstrated.
Someone at Cogitate Theology writes about this in pretty typical fashion:
We all need to understand that there are different levels of commitment when we talk about theology. Some things are more important than others. For instance, many folks will bitterly argue over things that aren’t central to Christianity (Eschatology, for example). While there is a place for debate in public discourse over such items, they are not worth division and making enemies over.
Pat Brown writes:
A Christian body has to decide the number of ‘essential’ truths that are worth dividing over and which issues are secondary and not worth dividing over.
If we want to find out about how God wants us to separate, then we look at what the Scripture itself says about separation. When we see what it says, then we do what it says. We shouldn’t find out that it says something different than what we are practicing and then adjust our interpretation of the Bible to fit our present practice. We should adjust our practice to fit what God’s Word says. I believe that when we look at what the Bible does say about separation, that it doesn’t give any impression that we separate only over essentials.
The Bible about Separating
You will find separation in every New Testament book. What do the primary separation passages say about what we separate over? Jesus taught that church members should separate from one of their own based upon any unrepentant trespass (Mt 18:15-17). It is no jump in logic to assume that believers are to separate from those of another church who would participate without repentance in the same trespass as the one had in their own body.
Of course, perversion of the gospel is a basis of separation. In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul said that anyone that would corrupt the gospel should be accursed. That passage doesn’t say anything about separation but separation is surely inferred. A place with similar teaching is 2 John 9-10 where John uses the imperative mode to command believers not to fellowship with those who teach false doctrine about the Lord Jesus Christ. A Christian should not allow one of these into his house nor even give him any kind of verbal encouragement.
In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul admonished the Corinthian church not to company with someone called a brother who is a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard, extortioner, and one who is involved in other such sinful activities. This text assumes the same loss of company with any that practice them in or outside one’s own body.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15, Paul commands the church at Thessalonica to withdraw from or break fellowship with every brother that walks disorderly, deviating from what he had taught them, disobedient to his epistle to them, and to have no company with him for the purpose of shaming him.
Without repentance, if a man within the church were to continue being factious, causing division over the doctrine, practice, and leadership of the church, he is to be put out of the church (Titus 3:10-11). This man is the heretic of the New Testament, the one who won’t fit into the church, but instigates division in the church against the unity of the Spirit.
Paul instructs Timothy that he and any other believer should withdraw themselves from those who will not consent to the Words of the Lord, describing it as purging oneself from corruption (1 Timothy 3:3-5). This object of separation will not give his assent to something taught in scripture.
In Romans 16:17, the Apostle Paul adds to this teaching, giving more instruction as to what separation entails. He begs the Roman church to scope out men who would cause dissension and stumbling over anything that he had taught them and to avoid those men.
In none of the above texts are certain non-essentials singled out as non-separating. The separation passages include any false doctrine or practice as worthy of separation.
The Bible about Not Separating
Paul deals with not separating in Romans 14. In the first verse, he writes:
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
That first sentence makes a big difference in how we understand Romans 14. First we determine who is weak in faith. Evangelicals and now many fundamentalists have hijacked the identity of the weak in v. 1 by misusing the example that Paul uses in vv. 2-3.
For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
In Paul’s example the weak person has more scruples than the strong person. The strong person eats anything. The weak person eats only vegetables. He won’t eat meat, maybe because of still following Old Testament dietary restrictions or because he once ate meat offered unto idols, so he’s overreacting to that.
Paul commands the Romans to receive the “weak in the faith.” It doesn’t say “weak in faith” but “weak in the faith.” “The faith” is the body of truth as found in Scripture. ” The faith” is biblical beliefs. The weak doesn’t know the Bible well enough as of yet, so that he would know what is scriptural and what is not. Because he is still weak in his understanding of the truth, he may still be either adding to it or taking away from it. In Paul’s example, he adds to it, but that doesn’t mean that he also might not take away from it. Both the adders and the taker-awayers are weak in the faith.
Romans 14 deals with non-scriptural issues. In an area that someone takes a position that is non-scriptural, don’t fight with him over it. That’s the point of the last part of v. 1, “not to doubtful disputations.” It means, “without arguing with him over it.” Don’t get bent all out of shape when someone takes an extra-scriptural position that does not violate scripture. Just get along with him. Receive him.
So we get some instruction about separation in Romans 14. We are not to separate over non-scriptural issues. Some practices are preferences, ones that we hold dear and that have helped us individually or as a church, but preferences. We aren’t to divide over things that are beyond the scope of scripture and yet still not sinful.
Who Determines What Scripture Says?
The meaning of Scripture is clear enough that a child can know it (2 Timothy 3:15). Some of it is hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16), but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood. This is where the unity of the Spirit comes in. God has the church to judge spiritual matters in the age in which we live (1 Corinthians 6:1-5). It is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
A church agrees on what Scripture teaches. Christ walks in the midst of the church and He will use agreement between them, one mind, to know what the Bible teaches (Matthew 18:18). The “spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32). When a man is preaching, those in the church are judging. They despise not prophesyings (1 Thess 5:20), but they also “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21). In doing so, the church abstains from every kind of evil (1 Thess 5:22), not just essential evil but every evil—evil doctrine (heterodoxy), evil practice (heteropraxy), and evil affections (heteropathy).
The “unity of the Spirit” is kept in the “one body” around the “one faith” (Eph 4:3-4). Unity comes because there is “one Spirit” (Eph 4:4). The same Holy Spirit Who moved upon holy men of God in inspiration of Scripture also illuminates the meaning of Scripture (2 Pet 1:20-21; 1 Cor 2:13). The members of the body come together as one through one Spirit (1 Cor 12; Rom 12). The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). Paul said that the church at Corinth was the temple of the Spirit of God, Who indwells them (“ye”—plural). Since everybody in the church has the same Spirit, He will be telling each of them the same thing with an emphasis here on the most spiritually mature in the church. The latter are less likely to be quenching the Spirit.
It isn’t one man who is the pillar and ground of the truth. It isn’t a caste of scholars. It is the church. The church separates based upon the faith that has been given it. It practices separation towards the unrepentant within it and without it for purposes of glorifying God, purifying the church, preserving sound doctrine and practice, and instructing saints out of love.
What Does the Separation Look Like?
Churches are different to the degree that each follows Christ with obedience (Revelation 2 and 3). Even though unity in a church is the persistent goal, even in the church men will believe and practice differently. Each church member won’t even stay the same in his belief and practice. He is to add to his faith (2 Pet 1). He is to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Pet 3). The individual believer will struggle to do good (Rom 7:21). Even when he would do good, he does not do good. He disciplines himself and other members discipline him. The church communes at the table for unity, examining itself again and again.
During this progress in sanctification, conforming to the image of the Son, church members are to be patient with one another, strengthening and supporting (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15). Pastors preach the Word with all longsuffering (2 Tim 4:2). We restore the sinning with meekness, considering ourselves and our own temptations (Gal 6:1-2). None of this means that we put up with the violation of so-called “non-essentials.” It means that Christians will be weak in the faith and will struggle to grow. They will get stronger—little children, young and then old men (1 John 2). We are patient with everyone, allowing them time. Even the Jezebel at Thyatira (Rev. 2:20), Jesus gave “space to repent.” Paul warned at Ephesus night and day. All of this is a messy process that doesn’t look clean-cut.
Does this mean that we have essentials and non-essentials? No. It means that we give men time to learn and grow. If we expect that of our own church, then certainly we should allow it for other churches with whom we will fellowship. The standard, as I see it, in Scripture is: “Are they willing to learn?” Or: “Will they be humble and willing to listen, not divisive?”
This standard, I believe, comes out of the warning against those who would cause dissension and a stumbling for others (Rom 16:17). These are the same people or at least attitudes in 1 Timothy 6—“proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings. . .” These are those we withdraw from. The teaching of the church can’t be sidetracked by scorners. Proverbs 22:10 says, “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.” You can’t work with someone who scorns. There is too much at stake. One of these little ones might be offended. Jesus said it would be better to tie a mammoth rock around your neck (a millstone) and jump into deep water than to cause one of them to stumble.
“Heresy” is teaching that goes against what the church is teaching (Titus 3:10-11). The Holy Spirit through the church tests the orthodoxy. If someone wants to cause division away from the practice, teaching, affections, and worship of the church, he must be rejected. He’s a problem. The whole church is bigger than he is, so he should fit in to it. Jesus said that to those even in the minority in the churches of Asia (Rev 2, 3). He told them to revive what was remaining and hold fast. Our first responsibility is to try to help. When an individual will not hear or no one will listen anymore, then we separate.
A church that is against divorce doesn’t present a problem for our church’s belief of no-divorce and no-remarriage. A church that doesn’t listen to teaching on it or encourages divorce will cause people to stumble. Our church has to make that decision. We believe that pants on women is an abomination to God. It takes some a while to learn that even in our own church. As long as they aren’t causing division, we give them time. Other men don’t have the same conviction. Neither did I for the first eight to ten years of our ministry until I preached a series through Deuteronomy. It took me that long. Others will have different beliefs and practices than me, but I won’t separate from them immediately (what I call “cutting them off”), because we all need time to learn and grow. Since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, each church makes its own decision. Only a church has the machinery—Lord’s Supper, Pastors, Discipline—to maintain that unity Christ prayed for in John 17.
The codification of doctrine and practice in associations and denominations today makes the matter of separation clearer in those instances. The churches in these conventions and fellowship may openly oppose a doctrine or practice our church believes. They give notice that they aren’t budging on a particular point. Fellowship will likely never begin with those churches. Separation is maintained for the stated scriptural purposes, love being prominent among them.
None of what I’ve said here means that certain teachings are essentials and non-essentials. It does mean that we will have to show discernment about what will be a problem for our church and whether we are dealing with a scorner or not. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul gave different ways of dealing with different people. The weak and feebleminded you strengthen and support, but you warn the unruly. The unruly get a different treatment. We approach other churches and other pastors the same way.
The Advantage of this Teaching on Separation and Ranking Doctrines
This teaching on separation and ranking doctrines relies on scripture for the position. It doesn’t invent a new doctrine of essentials and non-essentials in order to maintain a fake unity. It cares about every teaching of Christ like Jesus Himself does. It values every doctrine and practice of the Bible. It looks for unity. It separates for the right purpose. It respects the truth.
Folks, I had to deal with some unplanned school activities for several hours yesterday. Hence, my tardiness and brevity. But consider today the relationship between the Word of God and the Truth. Jesus said along the way in His high priestly prayer, “Thy word is truth.” When He did that, he stated an equivalence between them. I believe that ranking doctrine is related to ranking Scripture. If we can or have to determine which scriptures are more important, i.e. really truth, then we feel that we can or have to determine which doctrines are also more important. Is seems that one’s belief about preservation affects his view of doctrine. Which only makes sense (or maybe it’s circular). He doesn’t think preservation is a primary doctrine. Maybe that is a root problem!
Maybe some of you can develop these thoughts in the comments…
If you are in touch with contemporary theology, then you know the emphasis today in theological circles on ranking doctrines. In case you don’t understand, let me explain. Evangelical teachers say that some doctrine and practice is worth separating or fighting over and some is not. They rank certain doctrines as primary or essential and others as secondary or non-essential. Ironically, there’s a lot of conflict among them about which doctrines are important and which ones are not. For instance, is mode of baptism worth separating over?
Who Is Talking About This?
I said that people are talking about it. Who?
Nick Duke, pastor of Campus Church at the The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ, wrote a three part series outlining his thoughts on the ranking of doctrines (beginning here).
The GARBC published a pamphlet written by a pastor, David Nettleton, which was against the dividing of doctrine into essentials and non-essentials.
Miles J. Stanford writes that the separation of doctrine into these types of categories was a characteristic of new evangelicalism: “Concession has been the course of Neo-evangelicalism. Its interdenominational [and nondenominational] approach has caused it to divide the Bible into essentials, and non-essentials.”
Oh, and then me. I finished a series at my blog specifically on this subject (part one, two, three, four, five, and then here) [One young blogger commented]. My position, of course, contrasts with Johnson, MacArthur, Bauder, and Mohler. Kevin Bauder might call me an “everythingist,”or at least a modified everythingist, which he would look at with disrepute.
Overview of the Discussion
One side says that Scripture ranks doctrines according to importance and that this provides a basis for separation. Most of the truth rankers agree that the gospel is the one doctrine over which we are to separate as Christians. Everything else is tertiary or non-essential. A major phrase I’ve heard on this position is: Essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, all things charity. They say that some doctrines are more important than others—those are primary or fundamental—and those are the ones that are worth separating from another person or institution. This is the means by which we maintain unity between believers. In order to get along, we have to reduce the teachings or issues over which we will separate to a manageable number.
My position is that every doctrine in Scripture is essential. We don’t have one example in Scripture of something God said being dispensable. The non-essential doctrines are those that are non-scriptural. Non-biblical issues are not a basis of separation. Anything that God did say in His Word is primary and fundamental. We aren’t taught in the Bible anywhere this essential and non-essential, primary and secondary or tertiary doctrine. We are not given liberty in the Bible to disobey God or to believe differently than what Scripture says.
Phil Johnson gives five scriptural reasons in his online series on this subject, but he admits:
It seems to me that the distinction between primary and secondary doctrines is implicit rather than explicit in Scripture.
He says the teaching is implicit. And yet, it is a major teaching for evangelicals and many fundamentalists. These are the same men who often chafe at dogma arrived from implications. And this is major dogma with them. In my five part series linked above, I cover several of his arguments by implication.
I’ve found in person that the main arguments for the essential/non-essential teaching are experiential. The typical attack is rhetorical, something like this: “So you’re saying that baptism is as important as salvation in Scripture?” Or, “So you think that Jephthah’s daughter and the sons of god in Genesis 6 are as important as the doctrine of justification?” If you say yes to either of these questions, then they say something like: “That’s just crazy!” Or, “You gotta be kiddin me (laughter)!” The indifferentist crosses his arms with smug satisfaction. With those questions, he has just won this debate. If you won’t separate over every teaching of Scripture, then you may as well fellowship with everyone no matter what their beliefs.
Once I started looking into this issue again in preparation for this series, I read some that saw it like I did. Leland M. Haines, albeit a Mennonite, here writes an article that I believe reflects a biblical view. He concludes: “In Biblical issues, unity. In non-Biblical issues, liberty. In all things, love.”
As we look at Scripture, do we see God take the same attitude as us about all of his teachings? Do we take the same attitude when the restaurant missed our special order? “I said no onions on my Whopper!” Our position should reflect the will of God as revealed in His Word. We don’t have liberty to cobble together a new doctrine based upon our struggles to get along with one another.
You will find men discuss this topic in history. Herman Witsius, 17th century Puritan, discusses it from pp. 16-33 in his Sacred Dissertations: On What Is Commonly Called the Apostles Creed. He barely refers to Scripture to make His point, but this issue was being discussed. John MacArthur’s three part series (linked above) essentially uses the outline of Witsius from these pages, except MacArthur attaches verses to what Witsius wrote. This article says that Wesley took some type of this essential/non-essential position. Francis Turretin in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, in volume 1 deals with what is fundamental and non-fundamental under his fourteenth question, which is “Are some theological topics fundamental, others not; and how can they be mutually distinguished?” Turretin uses 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and Philippians 3:15 as his basis and that’s it. You will be hard-pressed to find any kind of ranking of doctrines in those two texts. Tell-tale is Turretin’s opinion of the Lutheran view of doctrinal taxonomy: “the more strict Lutherans who extend fundamentals more widely than is just.” In this we see the peril of taking scripture and reducing it to what we think is important—people who have a longer list of important doctrines than us are considered “too strict.”
Spurgeon, on the other hand, with his vast library and encyclopedic knowledge of theology did not approve of dividing doctrines into essentials and non-essentials. He talked about this on many different occasions and showed a severe dislike for this practice. Alexander Young wrote against this doctrinal division in 1852, James Carlile in 1823, and J. S. Thompson in 1890. In 1887 Thomas Armitage in The History of the Baptists wrote (p. 680): “But their folly is more apparent still when we find them drawing a distinction between essential and non-essential Christian doctrines.” In 1878 The True Covenanter did an article against the division of doctrine as such.
The Bible is historical and I believe that ranking doctrines did start in Bible times. We read about it in Scripture. It began with the unconverted religious leaders of Jesus’ day—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes. It was normal for them to reduce the commands of God to a number they could keep on their own. They wanted to involve Jesus in this practice when they asked Him in Matthew 22:36, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Like Jesus would do many times, He played along with this little game when He answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Of course Jesus wasn’t saying that ranking God’s commands was acceptable. He knew that all of the other commandments could be wrapped up into this one. He also recognized that this was one that the religious leaders were violating.
The religious leaders in Israel didn’t have a supernatural religion. In their sinful flesh, they were powerless to keep the many commands that God had given. This weighed upon them a heavy burden. Since they couldn’t keep them all, they chose to minimize them to a manageable number. They even started reducing the number to just the one really important one. That’s what we see happening today with ranking doctrines as well. We choose what we think is important and then we fellowship based on that smaller number of divine instructions based on our own convenience. Then we call it unity.
Why a New Popularity?
Ranking doctrines occurs for two reasons: a perversion of the nature of the church and a misunderstanding of the doctrine of unity. The latter is related to the former. Since men think that the church is all believers, they assume they must unify with all believers based on what the Bible teaches about unity. They have found that there is no way that they can get along with everyone else if every teaching of Scripture is the basis of fellowship. There is too much doctrinal disagreement, so they choose to get along based upon what they call the “essentials.” If someone violates one of the essentials, then they have a reason for separation. Until then, they’ve got to maintain a unity that is based upon a few doctrines or just one.
This practice has been around for years in Roman Catholicism. Men may not have believed Roman Catholic doctrine, but the belief in Catholicism itself trumped all other doctrines. Remaining in the Catholic “Church” was necessary for eternal life. Excommunication from the denomination meant condemnation. Roman Catholicism was held together by a few basic teachings that all Catholics agreed upon in order to stay together and to remain in the church.
I believe the new popularity of ranking doctrines comes mainly as a response to the mainstream culture. We live in a new era of tolerance. Not getting along is not acceptable and those most at fault are the ones with the higher and more plenteous standards. The church has mirrored that trend. It doesn’t look good squabbling over doctrinal differences. The new unifying doctrine is unity itself.
Another factor is the world’s view of success. To be successful you need to be in a large group. It brings credibility and safety. When you are outside of the group, you lose the comfort of social status. God said that it wasn’t good that man was alone. God created us with the desire for relationships. Like anything good that He created, the ruination of the curse twists it into something perverse. You won’t be considered a success unless you have a lot of friends. The new facebook craze is testimony to the seduction of popularity. The only criteria for friendship is the click on one internet link. You’re now friends…because you want to be. Doctrine and practice doesn’t have to mess that up at all. It’s nice to feel wanted.
Monetary factors exist. You can’t sell books without a more universal acceptance. You won’t have the pool of speaking invitations unless those opportunities are kept open. You might not get a job at a parachurch organization that is more broad than what you are. Being narrow is the deal-breaker. If you have your own conference, you won’t have people coming if you are so narrow that few will feel comfortable. The threat of shunning exists. The way to alleviate that is to have very little worthy of ejection from the group. If they come, they’ll help pay for your conference.
If you are dispensational and premillennial like I am, then you believe a one world church is in the future. How is that going to happen? Religious people will forego their doctrines and scruples to get together based on one common belief. I would expect a trend toward that as we get closer to the end. It’s Satanic influence headed toward what we see prophecied in Revelation. Before the all out unity in the tribulation period, the world will be rid of all those that have been causing division—the people that believe and practice the Bible.
But Does Ranking Doctrines Please God?
When you rank doctrines, you are going to let a few teachings go like so many loose tomatoes in the back of a pick-up truck. The God of the Bible doesn’t approve of any disobedience of Him. In essence, God is left out of this discussion. It centers on man. Ironically, ranking doctrines doesn’t love God. God is loved by keeping His commandments, words, and sayings (John 14:15, 21, 23). We have doctrinal and practical light and then doctrinal and practical darkness with no shades of grey in between. If everything that He says is true, then all of it is important. All of it needs to be followed. We don’t have liberty to sin (Romans 6:1). Faith keeps God’s Word and faith pleases Him.