There is No Third Way on Doctrine, Either

Al Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He is one of the most vocal and articulate evangelical spokesmen for a Biblical view of social and political issues in the Western world.  He recently wrote an excellent article on a challenge his denomination recently faced, and I highly recommend it.

But the purpose of this article is not to recommend the article, but to discuss an intriguing statement in his article — for if Al Mohler and other evangelicals consistently applied what he said, it would revolutionise and revitalise evangelicalism.

Mohler — No Third Way on Homosexuality

Dr Mohler’s article is Homosexuality as Dividing Line — The Inescapable Issue.  In it, he addresses a church within the Southern Baptist Convention which decided it was going to be a “third way” church on homosexuality.  Rather than condemning or affirming homosexual behaviour, this church in La Mirada, California decided it would allow people to disagree.  In their church, they said, people could affirm homosexuality or they could disagree and say it was wrong.

Dr Mohler rightly says that there is no third way, especially when a pastor takes a position, as happened in La Mirada:

The decision to affirm a pastor is a decision to affirm the pastor’s teaching and actions and to take congregational responsibility for them. The claim that the congregation has not taken a position when the pastor they affirm has taken a position is a fiction.

The Southern Baptist Convention has (rightly) parted ways with this “third way” church.  The church may contain true believers who have not been taught the Word of God well, but whether they yet see it clearly or not, all who remain as members are going along with error.  The church may or may not yet include members who are involved in homosexual sin — his article does not say if it does yet, but the SBC still broke ties.  The reason for parting is what the church is affirming.

Division is always painful, but on a clear question of biblical truth, division is sometimes the only act that faithfulness to Scripture will allow….

…There is no third way, and there never was.

Any person who is thinking clearly and Biblically will agree with Dr Mohler on that, and be thankful for his clear statement on the matter.

To Allow Affirmation is to Affirm

I’ve written enough on homosexual sin (Summary of Posts on Homosexuality) that I probably wouldn’t have written on or linked to Dr Mohler’s article if it weren’t for the following statement:

Consider this — the only way to construct a “third way” is to suggest that one can allow for the affirmation of homosexuality without affirming it. That simply does not work. To allow the affirmation is to affirm. (emphasis added)

It is not acceptable to affirm sin, to say that sin is ok.  The Scriptures are very clear on this.

Proverbs 17:15

He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.

Isaiah 5:20

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Malachi 2:17

Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?

To say sin is acceptable is an abomination to God.  Suppose you tell me that you think stealing is good.  I can’t say, “Let’s choose a third way for our church on stealing, I’ll allow you to affirm that.”   God says very clearly that your statement is an abomination, for you are justifying the wicked.  If I allow your statement, I am doing one of two things:

  1. I am saying that your statement is true.  (I thus affirm what you affirmed.)
  2. I am saying that your statement is false but it is acceptable for a Christian to say it.  (I thus commit an abomination, as per Proverbs 17:15.)

In practice, it always comes down to the first.  If I allow your statement that stealing is good, I am effectively saying that it really isn’t that bad.  Dr Mohler is right.  To allow the affirmation is to affirm.

The world knows this.  When the owner of a sports franchise makes racist comments, the entire sporting world must rise up to repudiate him.  If you allow him to affirm what he affirmed, you affirm it, too, or at least affirm that it wasn’t bad enough to repudiate.  When a politician implies child abuse isn’t that bad, his statement must be fully rejected and condemned.  Those who permitted it to happen in Rotherham must be forced to resign.  You can’t allow affirmations of evil without yourself affirming something that isn’t true.  Even the world knows this.

That doesn’t mean we need to repudiate every false statement that crosses our radar screen (or our computer screen 🙂 ).  But we must not say, “It is ok for you to say that” when someone affirms something which is false.

Ministry Affirmations

I Timothy 5:19-22

19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
21 I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

The principle that “to allow the affirmation is to affirm” is particularly relevant in ministry endorsements.  In I Timothy 5, Paul is writing about elders / pastors who sin.  In that context, we have verse 22, which refers to the laying on of hands.

The laying on of hands is a recognition by a church that a man desires a spiritual ministry of leadership in the church and is equipped and qualified to carry it out, a statement of their belief that God has put the man into the ministry (see in the same book 1:11-12, all of chapter 3, 4:9-16, etc).  But here Paul says not to be quick to do that, to be slow to endorse a man for ministry, for you can end up being a partaker in his sins.

Paul gives a specific application of the general principle Dr Mohler stated.  If you allow (by ministry endorsement, the laying on of hands) someone to do or say evil, you become a partaker of that sin.  What you allow, you affirm as acceptable.  (Obviously, people can have secret sins which become known later.  Paul’s point here is not that we will never lay   hands on people who sin later, but that we must be very careful of whom and what we endorse or allow.)

No Third Way on Doctrine, Either

To allow the affirmation is to affirm.”  What is true of homosexual sin is also true of false doctrine — and this brings us to the great evangelical tragedy of our day.  Broader evangelicalism, on both sides of the Atlantic, is rife with examples of leaders endorsing other leaders despite serious error, allowing affirmations of false doctrine and thus affirming that the false doctrine is not really a serious problem.

In America a few years ago, two famous pastors gave a television hearing to a man who has made unbiblical statements on the Trinity and on the Gospel.  They treated him as if his teachings were acceptable — and as Dr Mohler said, “To allow the affirmation is to affirm.”  If they did not affirm that what he actually said was true, they treated his doctrine as worthy of equal consideration, and thus allowed his affirmations.  Thus, they affirmed that his statements were acceptable.

On this side of the sea, Steve Chalke has long taught heresy on what Christ’s work on the cross meant.  He and his organisation continued to be part of the Evangelical Alliance until he recently also changed his position on homosexuality.  Is being wrong on homosexuality more important than being wrong on the cross of Christ?  Really?

Back across the water, Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Christian Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote this:  “If Pope Francis wishes to reclaim the primacy of the gospel, he must simultaneously speak with kindness to those outside of its reach and speak of the need for good news.”  Perhaps it would be good if he mentioned that Pope Francis teaches a false Gospel, idolatry, and a false authority, when he advises on how he should reclaim the primacy of the Gospel?

Back on this side, a few years back the Barnabas Fund, an evangelical organisation established to support persecuted Christians, issued a joint statement with, among others, the Church of Scotland, which is full of false teachers.

There are literally thousands, perhaps millions, of cases where “leading” evangelicals have endorsed or allowed false doctrinal affirmations.  And few evangelicals will say, “Hey, wait a minute, do you realise what you just allowed/affirmed?”  Instead, other evangelicals simply go on affirming those who are making the allowances, and thus make allowances for false doctrine themselves.  “To allow the affirmation is to affirm” — but modern evangelicalism is full of what I call “endorsement creep” — with devastating consequences for the purity of churches.  False doctrine takes hold because pastors and other leaders do not take seriously the danger of affirming by allowing, the danger of endorsing without careful scrutiny of a teacher’s doctrine.

Dr Mohler’s Allowed Affirmations

Nor is Dr Mohler himself exempt from this problem.  He wrote, “Pope Benedict has offered a brave and intelligent defense of truth against a relativist tide.”  Pope Benedict is a defender of false Roman Catholic doctrine, not truth.  Mohler and Rick Warren exchanged tweets thanking each other, one of which included a picture with them arm in arm — yet Rick Warren’s errors have been well-documented by many (I wrote on this briefly here).  Al Mohler signed a statement that said “We are Christians” — along with many who denied the very foundational doctrines of the faith, and who are not Christians at all by any Biblical definition (the Manhattan Declaration).

Billy Graham reached the point where he denied the necessity of the Gospel proclaimed through the Word of God:

“I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost–were going to hell–if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that.” (1978)

“I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…. He’s [God] calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.” Interviewer: “What, what I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?” “Yes, it is, because I believe that.” (Billy Graham, 1997)

Four years after Dr Graham made that second statement, Dr Mohler was the chairman of Graham’s evangelistic campaign in Louisville.  What can we say but that Al Mohler allowed Graham’s affirmations?  Many churches that were allowed (there’s that word again) to participate in the campaign denied foundational doctrines of the faith.

To allow the affirmation is to affirm.”  There is no third way on homosexuality.  But if  it is unacceptable to allow affirmations of sinful behaviour, why is it acceptable to allow false doctrinal affirmations?  As I wrote recently, all church problems are doctrinal.  If you allow false doctrine, sinful behaviour will inevitably result.

There is no third way on doctrine.  If you allow false affirmations on doctrine, you affirm, at the very least, that those false affirmations are not that damaging.  Evangelicalism in Western countries will always suffer, will always be pervaded by error, always be rife with immorality and other sins, until evangelicals decide there is no third way.  You cannot affirm false doctrine, and you cannot allow its affirmation.  You have to break ties, both with those who affirm and those who allow, for those who allow also affirm.

Second Degree Separation?

There will be those who will object.  “Jon, you are talking about second degree separation!  You aren’t just talking about breaking ties with those who are false teachers, you are talking about breaking ties with people who don’t hold to the doctrinal error at all!”

Those who argue thus should notice that the Southern Baptist Convention just practiced second degree separation.  They broke ties with a church over the sin of homosexuality.  Yet few, if any, in that church currently are practicing that sin.  They didn’t just break ties with those who commit the sin, but with those who affirm it.  They even broke ties with those who don’t affirm it but merely allow the affirmation — some of whom may well be believers, who just haven’t been taught to apply the Scriptures in what they allow.

The SBC didn’t actually practice second-degree separation at all.  They broke ties with some who are not one step, but two, from homosexual sin — those who allow the affirmation.  So if you want to talk about degrees, this was third-degree separation.  Were they right to do that?

Of course they were right.  It is not about degrees of separation, but about withdrawing from sin, even when that sin is practiced by believers.  Those who commit homosexual sin (and those who teach false doctrine) are sinning.  Believers should not continue in fellowship with them, and church discipline is in order.  Those who affirm homosexual sin (or false doctrine, or any other sin) are themselves sinning by doing so (Isaiah 5:20, etc).  It isn’t “second degree separation” to break ties with them, to withdraw from their sin.  Their sin may not be the false doctrine or the practice of the sin they affirm.  Their sin is a false affirmation — God calls that an abomination.

And those who allow affirmations of false doctrine or sin are sinning.  They are guilty before God — they’ve said something is acceptable which isn’t acceptable at all.  You don’t have to commit the sin, or even affirm it, to be held accountable.  Just as Eli allowed his sons to sin, and was held responsible for that, so we also stand before God for what we allow.  Those who allow sinful affirmations are sinning.  It isn’t third degree separation, it is simply withdrawing from sin, simply committing ourselves to purity, to break ties with them, to withhold fellowship.

To allow the affirmation is to affirm.”  I’m thrilled that Dr Mohler said it.  I’m thrilled that the SBC acknowledged the authority of Scripture and broke ties with the church in California over its sinful decision to allow homosexual sins to be affirmed.  There is no third way.

But there is no third way on doctrine, either.  The evangelical endorsement machine dishonours the Lord in its affirmations and allowances.  Those things may help to build ministry empires, but our God does not need empires, and He delights in faithfulness, truth, and purity.  Those are the things we should affirm.

Next: “Unconventional” — When Doctrinal Purity Dies

Somewhat related:  Church Problems — They are Always Doctrinal

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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48 Responses to There is No Third Way on Doctrine, Either

  1. Eliza says:

    Amen! Thank you for speaking the truth to a very serious error so willingly and easily accepted within the evangelical church today. The ecumenicism within the “evangelical church” is broadening to avow Muslims as believers in God. Discounting doctrinal error and affirming those who deny the truth are the steps that are leading to the apostate one world religious system that will help to usher in the Antichrist. This is not the work of God, but the work of the enemy. May we stay faithful and true to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and work His works which are to glorify God through proclamation of the truth, rescuing the deceived from their deception, and striving to save the perishing by the power and blessing of God Almighty through His glorious Holy Spirit. God bless you and thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog:)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you, Eliza. Of course, many, many evangelicals would shudder at recognising Muslims as believers in the true God. But Rick Warren has been doing the “bridge-building” thing to Muslims, and far too many evangelicals won’t repudiate him for it. And these things are contagious.

  2. Eliza says:

    Reblogged this on holdingforthhisword and commented:
    Great post that gives the biblical reason for turning from those who compromise the truth by what they affirm and what they do not speak out against.

  3. MTJames says:

    Where did the church get the idea that freedom of speech applies within the body of Christ? God holds believers to the standard of His holiness, which is why church discipline is so essential. After reading this article, however, I must ask how you define “false doctrine?” Of course, anyone denying that God’s eternally living Word was born to a virgin as Yeshua, lived a sin-free life, and freely gave Himself as the ransom for many, cannot be a believer in Christ. But, what about those with differences of opinion about doctrines where both sides can be derived from Scripture? Frequently I’ve heard Wesleyan holiness subscribers ignore passages that support God’s sovereign choice, but I’ve also heard Calvinism subscribers ignore passages that support personal volition. Christ’s Way is narrow, as prescribed by Christ Himself, but our minds must not be narrow on debatable points of doctrine, as no one can claim to completely understand God’s perfect revelation in His Word.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, James, thanks for the comment and the good question. Certainly, humility is in order as we approach doctrinal questions — but I also believe in the perspicuity of the Scriptures. They can be understood.

      You mentioned the Calvinism / Arminianism question. Some debatable points of doctrine are debatable because God hasn’t really taught them. Maybe He wanted us to believe it happened, and to be secure in His love and His plan for us, but maybe He never encouraged us to delve too deeply into how it happened because we are finite and couldn’t understand. So my first response to your question is to ask, how many debatable points are things God makes it clear I should care about? The logical priority by which election happened? I think I mostly understand…

      A few posts back, I wrote on voting. I believe Christians should vote. I believe Scriptural principles support that. But it is a question I brought to the Scriptures, not one that our Lord focused on teaching. I’m not greatly concerned if someone draws different conclusions on voting. Not everyone in our church voted in the recent referendum, and we haven’t discussed church discipline. 🙂

      A difference on a doctrinal question God asked is very important. A difference on a question theologians ask may not be.

      But my second response is that the point shouldn’t be lost by your question. The evangelical world must stop allowing / affirming error on: 1) the truth, authority, and sufficiency of the Word 2) the Person and Work of Christ 3) the Triune nature of our God 4) the one true Gospel, 5) the need for holiness / purity and the deadliness of sin 6) the absolute necessity to love our God and our brothers according to God’s definition of love. It would revitalise churches throughout the world.

      Let’s start with that. When people actually get serious about purity of life and doctrine then we can look at where the line should be drawn, and what constitutes false doctrine. On most points, it isn’t that hard to know what is false. If you’ve been letting the pigs live in your house, don’t ask whether you need to get rid of the dog, too. Throw the pigs out, clean up the mess, and then look at the dog’s habits and decide. Right now, the house smells so bad that you can’t tell whether the dog smells bad, too, or just needs brushed. Get your olfactory senses functioning again and you’ll know. (Perhaps I should put that paragraph on the front page of the blog.) 🙂

      The church in California was in doctrinal error on applied sanctification (some sins are ok) and the nature of the church (the church can accommodate different views on holiness). If you asked a lot of evangelicals if they should break ties over errors on applied sanctification and ecclesiology, they would say no. But actually….

      Maybe some of those so-called secondary doctrines matter, too.

  4. Bob Wheeler says:

    I guess I would have some of the same concerns that MT James has. I thing homosexuality is by its very nature a very divisive issue — there is no middle ground; either it is moral or it is not, and I think that Christians will be forced to choose on this one.
    But as MT James noted there are doctrines on which good, sincere Evangelical theologians can both claim Scriptural support. Theoretically that cannot both be right — but can we be sure which one is?
    As for separation, I think is it interesting that Jon is on the “other side of the pond,” as it were, where there are state churches. What shall we make of “Evangelical Anglicans,” (and I’m sure that there are professing Evangelical Christians within the Church of Scotland as well). I understand that a number of years ago there was something of a falling out between Martyn Lloyd-Jones and men like John Stott and J.I. Packer. I would think that Stott and Packer were perfectly sincere — so how do we deal with men like that?

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Bob. There are getting to be fewer and fewer of those Evangelical Anglicans and Evangelicals in the Kirk. The “success” of Stott’s approach (as opposed to that of Lloyd-Jones) is evident.

      It’s above my pay grade to decide who is and who is not sincere. But since when did sincerity become the measure of truth? Stott remained in a denomination full of apostates. In fact, he said it was wrong for others to leave it or encourage anyone to do so. Whatever we may think of his sincerity or much of his theology, his ecclesiology was a disaster.

      How do we deal with men like that? They aren’t walking according to Scripture. Stott was even a speaker at the World Council of Churches. We are to have no fellowship with idolaters and false teachers. Stott simply did not obey the clear teaching of Scripture on that point. That was sin.

      Should we decide that homosexuality is a worse sin than false teaching? Why? Why is it not ok to affirm / allow homosexuality, that we must break ties from those who do, but we keep sharing pulpits with those who will affirm / allow false teachers? Are false teachers any less militant than homosexuals, that they won’t keep pushing for more and more concessions, more and more influence and territory? If you think they are less militant, you haven’t been watching the Church of England or the Church of Scotland.

      Where is the Scripture that tells us to measure someone’s sincerity? Don’t we have to respond based on what they do, if what they are doing is sin?

  5. Jon:

    Thanks for this thorough discussion. From the testimony of Al Mohler you demonstrate the inconsistency in the application of biblical separation among the so-called “conservative” evangelicals. For years Mohler and his fellow evangelicals made selective application of the separation principles. You have touched on the events in which Al Mohler legitimized and endorsed the ministries of Billy Graham, Rick Warren and a host of “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18) when he signed the Manhattan Declaration. Al Mohler has never repented of any of these compromises of the Scriptures.

    There is only separation, and the duty of every believer is to obey Go’ss Word on separation (2 Cor: 6, 14-ff, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Rom. 16:17-18, Eph. 5:11).

    Kind regards,

    Lou

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Lou. I know you know it, but for the sake of other readers, Dr Mohler did express in a book written in 2011 that his signing of the Manhattan Declaration had crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed. But he never withdrew his name, it is still on the MD listing, and the only mentions of the MD on his website are positive, include a full article endorsing it. He neither withdrew that article, appended a statement to it, or issued a new statement.

      Anyone researching the MD will see his name and also see this on his site: “At the end of the day, I did not want my name missing from that list when folks look to see just who was willing to be listed.” That’s his final word on it unless someone happens to buy that book, which hardly had a huge distribution. Very unfortunate.

      • Hi Jon:

        Thanks for the reply. If I may I would like to share with you and your readers an article I wrote on Mohler’s alleged repentance over having signed the Manhattan Declarataion (MD). That article here can be read for the details. I cite Mohler from the obscure book, the very small portion he included, and even within that portion he again lauds the MD.

        Btw, we can add to Mohler’s selective application of biblcial separation his outreach to and cooerative ministry with the Mormom Church. See, Al Mohler Joins hands With the Mormon Church

        Thanks again for this excelllent article.

        Lou

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Hi, Lou. It is really the job of Dr Mohler’s church to assess his repentance. I suspect he has some regrets, but repentance is more than regret. Anyway, I included it in my article, which I wouldn’t have done if I’d thought he had really distanced himself from it. I’d like to leave it there.

  6. Eliza says:

    The point about theology is that it is often times derived from the minds of men because they feel they must somehow reconcile Scriptural passages because they don’t make sense to their logic. Do you really want to follow the teachings of Calvin who relied heavily upon Augustine the father of the Catholic Church? He taught numerous doctrines that have no Scriptural support and therefore have propagated numerous errors within the visible church. This is one of the major fountainheads of much of the false teaching within the church today.
    The point about following the doctrines of men is that then we are not following the clear teaching of the Scriptures. Here is a wonderful verse the Lord showed me on Sunday about understanding the truth found in Proverbs. I shared it with James hoping his understanding of the clarity of Scripture would be increased.

    7 For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness is an abomination to my lips. 8 All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse is in them. 9 They are all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge. Proverbs 8:7-9

    The Scriptures which are the source of truth, wisdom, righteousness, and knowledge are clear to those who have their understanding empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. If the Scriptures are not clear to those who come up with their doctrines and theology to “reconcile” Scriptural passages, then most likely they don’t have the Holy Spirit. Considering all of the error that was propagated by Augustine, it is highly unlikely that he was a genuine believer. Do the various high profile teachers who come up with aberrant doctrines have genuine faith in our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ? What if they teach works centered justification, are they saved? According to the Word of God written by the Apostle Paul as he was led by the Holy Spirit, that would be a resounding no! We must prove all things by the Word of God and not give anyone a pass just because of their so-called reputation. The church should not be a good old boys club of congratulating and esteeming one another because of so-called ministries. The stakes are too high: The glory of God, the validity of the Scriptures, the praise of Jesus Christ, and the salvation of lost, condemned sinners on their way to hell because of their wicked rebellion against God’s holy law.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Eliza. Calvin got a lot of things right, as well as some things wrong. Augustine did, too. I don’t know, or need to know, who in the past was a genuine believer.

      But your point about following the Scriptures and not men is well-founded. Your point about the perspicuity of Scripture is an important one. The Scriptures certainly contain some texts that are hard to understand, but the message of the Scripture is clear.

      Our problem is that people are blinded by sin and worldliness and bound by tradition. We have to have cooperative evangelism, for instance. Why? Does the Scripture say it? No, but the worldly attitude of “bigger is better” and the simple tradition that “this is good for Christians to do” are deeply embedded in modern Christian thinking.

      And so, then we have to figure out how to deal with which doctrinal differences are important and which ones aren’t. But we’re asking the wrong question. The right question is, where does Scripture tell us to have cooperative evangelistic endeavours? And where does the Scripture say we should compromise on what we believe the Scripture teaches in order to be able to do that?

      • Eliza says:

        There is a source of error, and both of these men have contributed to the deplorable state of the visible church that is evident today. I think that the right question is the one brought up by Lloyd-Jones when this whole controversy about cooperation was beginning to develop across the pond; What is the definition of a Christian? That its the question. Can someone hold to anti-biblical doctrines about God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, end times and still be a believer? If those who purport to be “Christians” hold to and espouse teaching that contradicts what God has said in His Word, should they be considered to be those who have been born again by faith in Jesus Christ? This is what Spurgeon had to say about discernment:

        Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.

        I am afraid that many who claim to know Christ are almost right and are therefore lost. Why else is there so much error and evil within the visible church, including the “conservative evangelical church”?

        Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? Jeremiah 5:29-31

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Hi, Eliza. Lloyd-Jones’ question (what is the definition of a Christian?) is only the first one. Second, is a Christian living and speaking truth?

        Spurgeon’s statement is excellent. And Spurgeon held to a pure church and withdrew from the Baptist Union. (He was also a Calvinist, which is slightly relevant to where the discussion has gone :). Perhaps not like some of today’s Calvinists, but still very much a Calvinist in his soteriology.)

        We do need to remember that, thankfully, our God is very patient with human frailties, and that we are not saved because of our doctrinal consistency but because we are trusting the One who loved us. When people have limited mental capacities (and we all do), imperfect logical function (and we all do), and then we add onto that the deadening effects of sin and the world (which impacts us all to varying extents), it isn’t surprising that people get things wrong, despite the clarity of Scripture and the work of the Spirit. The renewing of the mind is an ongoing process.

        That is not to say we make allowances for false doctrine. But it is to say that we must remain charitable and humble. Our Lord will sort it out by and by. In the meantime, I’ll seek to remain true to what I believe He has said, and trust Him to sort me out if I’ve missed something.

  7. Brian says:

    Thanks Jon for the article touching on this topic. What Mohler has done is typical Evangelicalism, an inconsistency with doctrine and practice. Now I know we all have inconsistencies, we’re not perfect but the Fundamentalist is not satisfied with inconsistency but seeks after truth, holiness, purity (to paraphrase a bit from Dr. Beale’s history, In Pursuit of Purity), the Evangelical has pretty much disregarded this attempt and has sought to find acceptance for various views which oppose each other and say that’s acceptable. The Truth of the Scriptures on any topic, doctrine,etc. is knowable (John 16:13 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” John 8:32 “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 17:17 “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” I could go on with passages but this should suffice.).

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thanks, Brian. Well, we can rejoice in the truth, anyway, right? If Dr Mohler and the SBC are not consistent, at least they upheld truth and withdrew fellowship in this case. It was well done and I commend them for it.

      I just found the one statement particularly striking, because if applied consistently it would change many things in evangelicalism.

  8. Bob Wheeler says:

    I think that Eliza’s comments about Calvin illustrate the whole problem here. What many of Calvin’s critics forget is that Calvin was a gifted theologian and Bible scholar, and probably 90% of what he had to say came straight out of the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible say that an unregenerate sinner has a free will. The sovereignty of God, the depravity of man, and salvation by grace alone are all major themes of the Bible, and there are passages that discuss explicitly predestination and election. When the Bible says that God chose us, redeemed us, made us alive, and keeps us, it means exactly that. Most of Calvin’s modern critics, on the other hand, adhere to doctrines that only became current in relatively recent times — the 18th and 19th centuries when theologians began to rely more heavily on human reason. (And both Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were Calvinists!).
    Calvin, of course, was not infallible, and nothing is true merely because he said it. But on the whole he was probably a better, and more biblically sound theologian than most of his modern critics.
    Who, then, should be condemning whom?

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Bob, if you are saying that you find the way that one person practices separation to illustrate the whole problem, I’m not sure what to say.

      Warren affirms unbiblical aspects of Catholicism, and Mohler and Piper affirm Warren. Driscoll affirms TD Jakes, and Piper and half the world affirm Driscoll (well, until his empire blows up). Graham affirms universalism, and the entire evangelical world affirms Graham.

      And the whole problem is illustrated by one comment by one person about someone who has been dead hundreds of years?

      I don’t know Eliza from Adam. For all I know, her real name IS Adam. 🙂 But at least I see in her comments someone who cares about the purity of the church and thinks something should be done about it. If she, or I, or anyone else, doesn’t exactly practice the pursuit of purity perfectly, I’d still rather try than simply give aberrant doctrine a free pass.

      If Eliza’s comment illustrates the whole problem, what’s your solution to the “third way on doctrine” modern philosophy? Or do you think the modern “third way” approach is working just fine?

      I still can’t help but feel that you are debating whether or not the dog is smelly and has to be put out of the house when we haven’t dealt with the pigs yet.

      Would Paul have tweeted that people should “appreciate the differences” in reference to Roman Catholic doctrine? Would Paul have had his picture taken arm in arm, and talked about their fellowship, with someone who HAD tweeted such a thing? Is there nothing wrong with this kind of stuff? Or do we just ignore it all if find Eliza’s comment lacking?

      I don’t understand this argument. Maybe I’ve misunderstood you.

      • Bob Wheeler says:

        As I just mentioned on Eliza’s blog, what I’m trying to get at is this: the problem with Second Degree Separation is knowing where exactly to draw the line, and in her particular case she draws the line with anyone who disagrees with here on any point of doctrine.
        Admittedly the evangelical scene today leaves much to be desired, and what we probably need is a genuine revival, which would have the effect of focusing our attention on Christ and what He wants. If we would just ask the simple question, what does our Lord want, that would cut out a lot of the nonsense we see today, with people trying to redefine the gospel to make it more palatable to a post-modern world. It is also true that Billy Graham’s 1957 New York Crusade was a tragic blunder that started a great deal of the problem. As you may know Iain Murray’s book “Evangelicalism Divided” has an excellent discussion of the problem.
        As you noted on Eliza’s blog the meeting at Jerusalem was not a “church council” in the sense in which we often think of it. But it did issue “decrees (dogmata) to keep” (Acts 16:4). We are also faced with the fact that the meeting was a gathering of the apostles, who obviously exercised some degree of authority over all the churches, which raises some interesting questions about church government. Did Christ really intend for each local church to be autonomous?
        Look at it this way: suppose there was a problem in one particular local church. How should it be resolved? — by splitting the church, since each side is convinced that it is its duty not to have fellowship with false teachers? Or should they admonish one another, pray with each other and try to reach a consensus based on Scripture? What would Christ want to see happen? Thus if we have a serious problem that involves the evangelical world at large, how should we respond? Separation? Where do we draw the line? Is Christ really pleased with the multiplicity of sects and denominations that we have now?

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Bob, several thoughts.

        1. Yes, we need a revival, but why should we expect that if we won’t commit to purity?

        2. Graham in 1957 only popularised what Ockenga and others started, I believe.

        3. I think it would be hard to make Acts 15/16 normative, in the sense that, as you said, there were apostles there. Yet, the response was directed by James, not one of the twelve, and endorsed by the whole church at Jerusalem. It is an interesting event, but it would be hard to say it sets a precedent for any kind of interchurch council.

        4. Christ intended each church to be founded on His revealed Word (Ephesians 2:20). If churches were to obey the apostles, now they are to obey the Scripture. You can’t use apostolic authority to argue against the autonomy of the local church unless you are going to demonstrate some form of apostolic succession, that apostolic authority today resides in modern day apostles rather than in apostolic writings (Scripture).

        5. Your problem in the local church question. As I noted just a couple posts ago, all real problems are doctrinal. Identify the doctrinal issues. If it can’t be resolved, you are going to have to part company. Parting company is not necessarily the worst thing in the world.

        6. You extrapolate from local church to how things should be handled in the broader evangelical world. The Scriptural basis for that extrapolation is pretty thin. In fact, Scripture gives multiple commands as to how local churches should deal with problems, but gives no commands as to how and when churches are to cooperate, unite, or resolve problems between them. Perhaps that means we need to spend a lot less time trying to cooperate and unite things that weren’t ever intended to be united, and focus on serving the Lord in our local church. Which makes a lot of this stuff just disappear.

        7. Finally, you say “the problem with Second Degree Separation is knowing where exactly to draw the line.” I’d say the problem with second degree separation is that people use that as an excuse to not practice it at all, and invariably end up not practicing first degree separation as a result. Since you have a problem with Second Degree Separation, which was the SBC practicing here, First, Second, or Third Degree? Do you agree or disagree with what they did?

  9. Bob Wheeler says:

    I guess to answer all of your questions I would have to write a fairly lengthy blog post of my own, and even then I probably wouldn’t be able to resolve all of the issues. I do know this, however. In His high priestly prayer recorded in John 17 our Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples, and that basic train of thought is carried through in several of Paul’ s epistles. In some contexts this exhortation to unity applies to the universal church as well as particular local churches. A kind of sectarianism and party spirit was one of the egregious sins of the Church at Corinth,and Paul soundly rebuked them for it. Interestingly, though, Paul often didn’t attempt to resolve doctrinal disputes in favor of one party or the other, but rather pointed to the underlying attitudes involved. The implication is that if the various parties had the proper love, humility and forbearance they would be able to come to a biblical consensus on their own.
    There are obviously cases mentioned in the New Testament in which false teachers were condemned and their doctrines were not to be tolerated. What is presupposed, however, is the existence of a general consensus about what constitutes sound doctrine. My thinking is that if a particular form of doctrine is accepted by an entire denomination, then its advocates should be given the benefit of the doubt. Thus I would be hesitant to call an orthodox Lutheran or a Wesleyan a “false teacher” even though I strongly disagree with various points of their theology.
    I also think that in evaluating someone’s theology one must look at the underpinnings. On the homosexual issue, for example, there is a whole worldview and system of morality implied which is radically at variance with Christian teaching, and should strongly be condemned. Hence I think that the SBC took the proper action in the case you mentioned. On the other hand I cannot see condemning someone as a “false teacher” because he takes a commonly held position on an issue over which Evangelicals have traditionally disagreed.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well, Bob, briefly.

      1. As I said to you elsewhere, the high priestly prayer of Christ also prayed for the sanctification or holiness of believers. Neither unity nor holiness will exist perfectly in this world, and we shouldn’t try to implement unity where sanctification is not being implemented.
      2. The sectarianism / party spirit Paul rebuked was dividing into following individuals. He was not talking about naming and withdrawing from false teachers.
      3. ” What is presupposed, however, is the existence of a general consensus about what constitutes sound doctrine.” You know what? The examples I gave in the article are examples where there is no doubt about what constitutes sound doctrine or false doctrine.

      You are jumping to things I never talked about in the article in a way that distracts from the article. “On the other hand I cannot see condemning someone as a “false teacher” because he takes a commonly held position on an issue over which Evangelicals have traditionally disagreed.”

      Personally, I’m not quite persuaded that “commonly held position” is a good basis for determining what God thinks is acceptable. But let me just, for the sake of discussion, concede your point. And then ask, “So what?”

      Evangelicals have had a consensus since the 1500s that Rome teaches a false Gospel. Billy Graham and Rick Warren have been “third-way” types on this question, and Russell Moore appears to be, too. Evangelicals have had a consensus for 2000 years on the Trinity, and for over a millennium that modalism is unacceptable, yet Macdonald and Driscoll decided that the third way is the way to go. There’s no question that evangelicals historically rejected Steve Chalke’s blasphemous description of what the Bible teaches on atonement. The Evangelical Alliance decided the “third way” was just fine.

      Evangelicals have always rejected universalism — but everyone takes the “third way” on Billy Graham.

      I’m imagining Winston Churchill having a conversation with someone on 16 March, 1939, saying, “We have to stop Hitler!” And that person saying, “Well, how far are you going to take it? We don’t agree with the government of Bolivia, either. But you can’t just go overthrow the government of Bolivia.” Maybe not, but Churchill was talking about the guy who wanted to take over the world, already had enslaved Austria and Czechoslovakia, and wanted war in Poland.

      I feel like I’m talking about Hitler and you are talking about Bolivia. Denominational differences may be doing some damage, and we may differ on how those are to be handled, but that is such a small issue compared to the fact that soul-destroying errors are being tolerated by evangelicals.

  10. Brian says:

    I find the discussion of “second degree, third degree” separation to be one of sidetracking the real issue which is what you note, Jon, with this series of articles on doctrine. The Scriptures are clear, we separate because of doctrine, period. There are no “degrees” of separation. In the examples given somewhat here and used to speak of “second degree” separation, it usually is you separate from someone who won’t separate from doctrinal error. I separate from the person because of his doctrinal error of separation. Last I knew there is a “doctrine (teaching) of separation” given in the Scriptures, Romans 16:17; II Thess. 3:6, 14, 15 come to mind. So separation is a doctrine just like other doctrines and is either believed and practiced or is ignored, twisted, or what have you.
    Jon, you well point out, there is no “third way” on this issue of gays or any other issue that the Bible addresses. This SBC church has not by any stretch of the imagination taken a neutral position on the issue of gays. They have accepted gays even with this issuance of a non-position.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well stated, Brian. Those who won’t break ties are themselves sinning, as I said above. We can’t endorse their sin.

      I think it helps to look at the particular area of error. I have no problem with saying a Presbyterian is a brother in the Lord, praying for him, encouraging him, rejoicing in the positive parts of his ministry, using sound hymns written by Presbyterians, etc — but I shouldn’t say anything that endorses or implies that I think infant baptism is ok. In that, I’m persuaded he is in error, and where he is in error, I’m going to keep my distance.

      In the cases we are talking about, the area of error is a wrongful exaltation of fellowship over purity. Since the very area of error is fellowship, if we enter into that fellowship we endorse a false view of fellowship. It would be like a Baptist preaching at an infant baptism service.

    • Brian:

      Your commentary (above) on the doctrine of separation is spot on. There is only separation, and the Bible is clear on when we must, when we are mandated to separate from unbelievers or believers who have gone wrong.

      Jon, such an excellent, needy and timely article. Thanks again for posting it.

  11. Eliza says:

    The only way we can know where to draw the line is to check any teaching against the sound doctrine of the Bible. How else do we decide what is false and what is true? Then the issue is whether or not that teaching attacks the person and work of Jesus Christ and/or seeks to undermine the integrity and authority of the Scriptures. That is always the main issue, and many times the attack is subtle. Why is Calvin’s teaching on infant baptism troubling, because he teaches that a religious ritual performed on a person through a human intermediary somehow bestows God’s grace upon that person, who being an infant, can in no way consciously receive that supposed benefit. This not only adds human works as a means of receiving God’s favor, it was also noxiously protected by Calvin’s vehement denunciation of those who rejected this doctrine. That sounds suspiciously like false teaching to me on many levels, but foremost because it contradicts God’s Word! Those who are false will follow a similar pattern as Calvin and denounce those who dare to stand up to what they are teaching. I am aware that even some genuine believers can be caught up in false teaching, but our command is to avoid those who do so, after we have made an effort to reclaim them with God’s love, grace and truth, if they persist in their sinful behavior.

    God’s Word calls us to separate from those who teach contrary to the doctrine that we have received. Where did this doctrine come from that we have received but from the Word of God? So that brings us back again to the point that we must compare all teaching with the sound doctrine of the truth of God found only in the Bible. I have no problem with the depravity of man, with God’s election in salvation, with eternal security because these doctrines are all taught in the Bible. I do have a problem with pastors and teachers taking these doctrines and then making them the gospel, which I have seen more than once. The gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and the He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures and we are saved by believing this and only this gospel. I also do have a problem with pastors and teachers taking those doctrines and then minimizing the importance of repentant faith for salvation, teaching an almost fatalistic form of salvation. I also have a problem with teachers and pastors limiting Christ’s propitiation to only the elect, since God’s Word says in more than one place that Christ died for all mankind. I also have a problem with pastors and teachers using those doctrines as a means of discouraging sincere seeking after the Lord by intimating that one “isn’t chosen”. (I have actually seen this done to a woman, it was quite distressing). The reason I have problems with these errors is not because I am so smart or wise or have all of the answers, but because they contradict what God teaches us in His Word, the Bible.

    Jon, I agree that we must be patient and kind with those who are growing in the grace and their knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is so patient with us! Praise God for that! I also, as stated before, heartily agree that ministry must be about recovery and rescue, which is the work that Jesus Christ did and does for us. God bless you:) (and Eliza is a part of my name)

    Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
    Romans 16:17-20

    Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

    This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. 1 Timothy 4:9-11

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thanks, Eliza. Re: Calvin, in general I agree with the list of things with which you agree and disagree. I don’t think Calvin would have agreed with everything done in his name, including some of the things you mentioned. But certainly, there were areas in which he was influenced by traditional thinking, and ways in which he erred.

      And I agree that Scripture clearly teaches we are to mark and avoid those who cause divisions contrary to sound doctrine. I do agree with Bob that it isn’t always easy, on some of the finer points of doctrine, to know exactly how God wants us to put that into practice. But (as I said to him) that’s really a very minor part of the picture. Usually if we start by obeying on the obvious big things the more difficult little things tend to become a lot more clear.

      I didn’t really think your name was Adam. 🙂 But some people find it wise to use a pseudonym on the Internet. I don’t see anything wrong with doing so, unless it is used as a cloak for sin, as an excuse to say things you wouldn’t say in real life.

  12. Eliza says:

    Thank you Jon for your encouragement. That is how the Lord led me, to stand up for the truth where there was obvious heresy. I trust the Lord will continue to lead in championing His Word the Bible rather than the empty traditions and harmful deceptions that come out of the fertile mind of mankind. Praise God for His salvation, truth and Holy Spirit. God bless you:)

  13. Bob Wheeler says:

    I think that the proper way for believers to resolve doctrinal differences among themselves is the way that the Synod of Dort dealt with the Arminian controversy. Since Arminius had been teaching things contrary to the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, the Reformed churches had the option of simply expelling the Arminians as false teachers and heretics. However they recognized, as all true Bible-believers should, that we are all subject to error and that God’s Word is the final authority. So what they did instead was to call a Synod of the leading Reformed theologians of the day to examine the Scriptures and determine if any of the Arminian positions had any merit. The result was what we know of today as the “Five Points of Calvinism.”
    In some ways the controversy was a blessing — it helped clarify the Scriptural teaching about what God does in the salvation of sinners, and in England, at least, the Puritan movement was immeasurably enriched thereby.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Bob. Sounds great — although I don’t see any of that in Scripture. No synods, no gatherings of leading theologians, etc. It’s all extra-Biblical. And to be clear, they did expel the Remonstrants and used civil authority to banish ministers from the country.

      So, let’s clarify. I say we should break ties with people who teach a false Gospel (universalism and the Roman Catholic “gospel”). We should also break ties with those who decide there is a “third way” on those heresies (just as the SBC broke ties with a “third way on homosexuality” church). People who do those things shouldn’t have our approval, we shouldn’t invite them to speak, verbally pat them on the back or recommend their books / schools / conferences. I’m not advocating burning houses down, though. 🙂

      You think I’m too extreme, and before I can advocate this I need to explain how to respond to people like the Wesleyans. You fear I’ll break fellowship with people whose doctrines are accepted as within the mainstream of Biblical evangelicalism. And your example of how to do it is a synod which decided to banish people whose doctrine was effectively the same as the Wesleyans. Kick them out of their homes, exile them from the country! (All I want to do is stop endorsing people and giving them a platform! :))

      Honestly, Bob, you are getting yourself tied in knots here. But even so, I’d love to see your plan, even though it is extra-Biblical, if people would do it. Get leading evangelicals to say, “We need a conference to clarify some doctrines, and we’re going to abide by it.” They would clarify (as if it hasn’t been done before), the Biblical doctrine of salvation.

      They would say, “No more coddling universalists. They teach heresy of the first order, a false gospel, and are accursed (Galatians 1). We won’t recommend their books, we won’t have them in to speak, and those who do have them in to speak have chosen a third way when there is no third way. And just as we break ties with the ‘third way’ churches on homosexuality, we’re going to break ties with ‘third way’ churches on universalism. And the same with the Roman Catholic ‘gospel.’ No third way, and if you think there is, we’ll have to break ties with you. No more shared conferences, no more endorsements. We just can’t go along with this kind of error.”

      You know what? It will never happen. But if it did, even if they ignored the Calvinism / Arminianism controversy, even if they completely ignored what we’ll call denominational differences, even if they ignored modalism and everything but soteriology, it would be a great thing. Not a perfect thing, but at least it would be a step towards purity of doctrine.

      • Bob Wheeler says:

        I may be getting myself tied in knots here, or it may be simply that we’re not that far apart in principle. I certainly don’t recommend using the civil authorities to enforce church edicts. I would also agree that contemporary Evangelicalism is drifting theologically, and that is something that should cause us alarm.
        Is there a realistic remedy? Under present circumstances I would have to admit that I am pessimistic about the prospects. But I do think that here in the US., at least, we are about to witness a radically changed set of circumstances (legally mandated acceptance of homosexuality), and that this will force professing Christians to reexamine their priorities. There will inevitably be a parting of the ways, and biblically orthodox Christians will find themselves marginalized if not outright persecuted. At that point new church relationships will have to be formed among believers who are committed to biblical purity. It will be difficult — many of them will come from denominations that have been historically antagonistic towards each other. But might they come up with something to replace the National Association of Evangelicals? — something a little bit more firmly committed to the authority of Scripture — something that will give a visible expression to the unity of true believers?

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Hi, Bob. If we were THAT far apart, you wouldn’t be interested in discussing it, you’d just say doctrinal purity doesn’t matter.

        I think you are right that legally mandated acceptance of homosexuality is coming. I wrote this a while ago, and keep linking back to it. https://mindrenewers.com/2012/10/29/progression-of-sins-acceptance/

        And I think you are right that professing Christians will be forced to re-examine their priorities, and we might find out that a lot weren’t Christians at all. If there is real persecution, all of these extra-church structures will just disappear.

        Something you’ll have to consider. You’re looking for a visible expression to the unity of true believers. I only see one such institution mentioned in Scripture, and that is the local church. You suggest institutional responses (synod, something like the NAE), but those just don’t have any Biblical basis.

        I don’t really see any instructions in Scripture as to what we are supposed to >do< about a universal church. Some even deny there is such a thing except prophetically, since a church is an assembly and the universal church will never assemble until the Lord's return. It appears to me that they have a point, or at the least that the common teaching of a universal church is way overblown Scripturally. But I don't see anything at all that we are supposed to do to reflect a universal church, model it, display it, act upon it.

        I can perhaps find two reflections of it. First in Galatians 6 we are to help those in need with "those of the household of faith" as a priority. We're obviously supposed to love our brethren. But even that is an "as you have opportunity" rather than going out of our way to try to make the universal church visible. The second is the need to provide hospitality to traveling brethren (perhaps itinerant teachers) based on II & III John, and purity of doctrine is an absolute requirement. There's just not a lot on what this "universal church" means for us now in this life, not a lot we are supposed to do about it.

        And really, the concept of a universal church is that it consists of all true believers. Since we can't know who are all true believers, and would have to be sticking our noses into the business of myriad local churches to even be able to make an educated guess, how can we do anything with that? There are churches taught by false teachers where there are few if any believers, even if they have a reasonable doctrinal statement. To include or exclude? How will you tell without spending so much time that you never actually leave your building to go evangelise the lost out where they are, never study the Word, never preach and teach, never interact with the lives of people in your church?

        But the institution God gave is the local church. That is the scope of church discipline. That is the scope of elder/pastor authority, the scope of the service of deacons, the scope within we exhort one another.

        Much of your thinking on this topic (it appears to me from your comments here) flows out of an expansion of the universal church concept beyond the teachings of Scripture. The Scriptures don't tell us of (or even hint at) a NAE or other visible manifestations of the universal church. If the universal church can be said to exist today, it is a completely spiritual existence which can be known by God alone and will only be visibly seen at Christ's return.

        Perhaps that's why you are getting yourself tied in knots. You accept the authority of Scripture but you are trying to accomplish something that Scripture never commanded, so you end up with extra-Biblical solutions?

        Anyway, to your "realistic remedy" question, I'd say the remedy is to drop out of the evangelical mutual-appreciation society. Our church does not use the label "evangelical" nor join evangelical associations. I don't see any need to endorse John Piper or Billy Graham or Mark Driscoll or the latest evangelical stars. It's not going to help our people live in holiness or be better witnesses for Christ to friends, family, neighbours, and co-workers to take part in a Franklin Graham evangelistic campaign. I don't have to bring in the moderator of the Free Church to speak in our church, and because I don't, I don't have to analyse the things he says and writes to decide if his doctrine crosses the line or not.

        It means I won't be invited to speak at Keswick or any other big conference. That's ok, they wouldn't like what I'd say anyway. It means I won't accept many invitations to preach. That's ok, I've declined invitations where I could comfortably have preached, too, as well as where I have my doubts. My ministry is here in Glenrothes, I don't need to be famous, and it would probably be bad for me if I were.

        The local church does not need to be part of associations or conglomerations, and with those things often come problems. Most of the evangelical doctrinal mess comes because people joined into these extra-Biblical parachurch bodies and then some of the members went off the deep end doctrinally. People were tied together with those in error and had no real Biblical means to deal with the problem, because the normal church discipline procedures are for a church, not a school or an association or something. So sometimes you had people quietly walking away without rebuking the error, sometimes they had a big ugly fight which was decided largely by politics rather than the authority of the Word, and sometimes people just stayed in and allowed / affirmed the error.

        And that is supposed to reflect the unity and purity in Christ of the universal church. Blech.

        The realistic remedy is to get back to the local church and quit trying to make big things that aren't in Scripture. It has to be done on a church-by-church basis. You aren't going to solve this from the top of evangelicalism. One leader may call for purity, but the others just ignore. You see this with some of the things Macarthur has said (not that I agree with him on everything). But he's called for purity and fidelity to doctrine in some areas and the rest of evangelicalism plugs their ears and strolls merrily along. Murray writes a book about the damage of Graham's NY campaign (the problem started before that, of course), but I haven't noticed evangelical leaders repudiating Graham's approach. It won't be solved at the top, it can only be solved by individual churches saying, "We'll do differently" and opting out.

  14. Eliza says:

    Jesus Christ laid the responsibility at the feet of individual believers to avoid error. As God’s beloved children through repentant faith in Jesus Christ we have everything that we need to detect and turn away from error. We have His Holy Word which we can know and understand if we study to show ourselves approved rightly dividing the Word of truth, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth and equips us through His supernatural work to recognize and avoid error, and we have other believers who have done the hard work of pointing out the chasm that divides God’s truth and the lies of men.
    Synods have not be effective in blanching the flow of error because of the lure of power and monetary gain. There is a lot of money to be made within “Christianity” and there are a lot of people who will blindly follow anyone. Maybe instead of relying upon the works of men to stop the error of men, we should rely upon the work of God to open the eyes of His children so that they will stop supporting those who promote error and stop supporting those who endorse those who promote error. By praying for God’s work in the hearts and lives of His children and then by standing steadfast for the truth and against error we can see the Lord God Almighty deliver His children from the lies of the enemy and stand them up on the rock of His Word as they follow Jesus Christ and live to please Him.
    God has delivered many from error, including me, by the powerful work of His Holy Spirit and by teaching us and leading us into all truth that is found only in His Word the Bible. The problem is that many leaders within the visible church, while claiming to know and follow Christ, are actually charlatans. Jesus did say that we would know them by their fruit, the fruit of their doctrine and manner of life. In order to distinguish the good fruit from the bad fruit we must be equipped by knowing the truth and living godly lives. The responsibility for avoiding and turning away from deceitful workers, again lies with the individual, and especially in this dark day when so much of the “Christian” leadership is enamored with one another, but not filled with the love of Christ, the fear of God, and steadfast commitment to His truth, the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Eliza. Synods have often been made up of believers whose intentions may have been good but who were A) obviously imperfect themselves and B) operating within a structure God never commanded. The result will thus always be mixed, at best. As you said, it is a “work of men” — not something God commanded.

      One minor quibble: “Jesus Christ laid the responsibility at the feet of individual believers to avoid error.” Well, yes. But the local church is the pillar and ground of truth. Not every individual believer will recognise error, and some will recognise it where there is none. Every believer should seek to increase in knowledge of the Word and discernment, but God gives and equips leaders to guide and protect the flock.

      Individual believers should be examining the teachings of their leaders, for those leaders can stray. The Berean model is an example commended to us. But individual believers should not be seen as on their own in this, at least wherever there is a church which is committed to truth.

      I don’t expect every member of our church to be able to recognise modalism and be ready to refute it. Not all have the maturity and Bible knowledge for that. But there certainly are members who I would expect to step forward and speak out if I should begin to teach it.

      • Eliza says:

        Dear Jon,
        Thank you that is the truth. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find churches where the leadership is committed to the truth. We have yet to find such a church although we have attended many within our neighborhood and outside of our neighborhood. We have also been members for long periods of time, investing ourselves into the local assembly only to be discouraged later on with the leadership as they refused to just preach the bible and stand up for the truth and godliness. It is truly distressing. So our experience has been that the leaders have either been compromised with the error within the evangelical church, refusing to stand apart from that error, or they have taught their own brand of false teaching. When exhorted with God’s truth with love they have refused to repent and do what God has called them to. I know that our experience is not the exception but rather an extremely frequent occurrence, which shouldn’t be surprising given the state of the seminaries and schools of theology which have been infiltrated with liberal scholarship and other error. So it is incumbent upon believers to know God’s Word and rely upon the Holy Spirit to protect them from error and teach them the truth, so that they can be equipped to stand up for the truth and exhort the leadership to do likewise, and then leave if the leadership refuses to repent.
        I thank God that you are committed to the truth of God’s Word and understand that those who are called by God the Father to lead His sheep must be committed to the purity of His body. I would truly be joyful and grateful to the Lord if there were such a leader within our community. Sadly, at this point, there isn’t. God bless you:)

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Eliza, I obviously can’t comment on the churches in your area. I do know that it is hard to find a sound church in many places. (Obviously, we have to examine ourselves as well as the churches when this happens, lest the problem be us.) I hear many accounts from believers here in this country with experiences similar to yours. I suspect that persecution is coming and that it will have a purifying effect. I Peter 4:17 always comes to mind when I hear accounts like yours.

  15. Bob Wheeler says:

    It is true that in the New Testament you do not see any formal organization beyond the local church, and that the Holy Spirit, working through the gifts that He as given to the local church, is sufficient to accomplish God’s purposes on earth. In fact it could be argued that one of the endemic problems with modern American Evangelicalism is that we have replaced the Holy Spirit with human organizations, and have used carnal means to achieve spiritual ends. It can also be argued that one of our major problems is that we have the large ministry empires headed by domineering personalities that are accountable to noone — and often disgrace themselves and bring reproach on the gospel as a result.
    But the question remains, what is the “one faith” mentioned in Eph. 4:5, and how do we “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3)?

    • Jon Gleason says:

      How to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (v 3)? Perhaps we could look at verses 1 & 2 for a start. Purity of life. Humility. Patience. Love.

      What is the “one faith”? As you have noted, there was apostolic authority and no such thing as denominational doctrinal differences in NT times. So we need to acknowledge that Ephesians 4 is not talking about how we are to deal with denominational doctrinal differences. We can’t yank it out of the context in which it was written. Does it have principles with application to today’s denominational landscape? Sure. But this passage is not talking about today’s denominational landscape.

      We don’t have the apostles to sort out the differences. A Presbyterian thinks he’s following that one faith. So does a Baptist, and the Brethren, etc. I don’t have any way except appealing to Scripture to correct them 🙂 and they don’t have any way to appeal to me. I’m convinced that in some areas they are not right, and they are convinced I’m not. And we both look at Scripture and say it teaches what we believe.

      So, what’s the solution? Well, guess what. The current evangelical approach hasn’t solved it. All it has done is allowed people who are manifestly way outside the one faith to be accepted as Christian (I’ll be posting on a case study on this, perhaps tomorrow). There are still denominations. And actually, they’ve sometimes violated the “fences make good neighbours” principle and, in trying to create an artificial unity greater than the level of unity they actually have, ended up creating conflict. Have the Church of Scotland and the Church of England been models of unity in the last couple of years? Far from it.

      Perhaps the best solution is to not try to solve something God hasn’t told us to solve. Ephesians 4:1-2 isn’t talking about responding to denominational differences, but it’s not a bad model. Purity of life, humility, patience, love. If someone is from a different denomination but they are truly of the household of faith, that model is going to give you a pretty decent relationship, even if you don’t try to have some kind of formal ecclesiastical structure. Worth considering.

      Even Paul did not claim dominion over the faith of his converts (II Cor. 1:24). The responsibility of believers to search the Scriptures themselves, and the principle of the priesthood of the believer, to me are indicators that God has established a situation where doctrinal differences can arise on some of the more difficult doctrines. People have varying knowledge, varying spiritual maturity, varying blind spots, etc, yet God expects all to read the Scriptures, all to learn from them. And He removed the apostles.

      Why? Why did God establish churches in such a way, and give us His inspired Word with enough difficult passages, that denominational differences would almost inevitably arise? (I’m not talking about false gospels or modalism or such, those are outside the true faith. I’m talking about difference in church polity, eschatology, etc). If you answer that question, perhaps you answer what should be done about them. I’m pretty sure I have an answer, but I’ll sit on it for a day or so, because I’m interested in what you’ll say.

  16. Bob Wheeler says:

    One other thought — while it is true that we do not see in the New Testament any visible organization beyond the local church, it is also true that we do not see a church of every different denomination only a few blocks away from each other. The biblical record suggests that all the believers within a given metropolitan area (e.g., Ephesus, Corinth, etc.) were considered a singe church, and were governed by a board of elders, which was actually called a “presbytery” at one point (I Tim. 4:14). If the local church, then, is to “speak the same thing” and “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10), how can we justify having a “Baptist” church a block away from a “Wesleyan” church a block away from an “Orthodox Presbyterian” church?

  17. Bob Wheeler says:

    I’m not so sure that “God established churches in such a way, and give us His inspired Word with enough difficult passages, that denominational differences would almost inevitably arise.” I guess through my study of church history and my own first hand experience denominational differences arise through a variety of factors. One is the historical circumstances in which theologians find themselves — they are the products of the culture in which they live, and their thinking is shaped accordingly. Luther and Calvin lived in a culture in which state churches were the norm, and it was hard for them to conceive of a Europe in which there were not Christian princes actively supporting organized national churches. The Anabaptist movement seemed dangerously subversive. Then another factor is personality types. One type likes to see things in black and white, and likes to take dogmatic stands on a variety of issues, even where the Scriptural support is debatable at best. Another type of personality is more relational, and wants to accept everyone as a Christian that is willing to call himself a Christian. To a person who is relatively poor and uneducated, an emotionally expressive style of worship seems natural. To someone who is more affluent, a style that speaks of continuity and stability seems more appropriate.
    But I do believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, and theoretically, at least, it should be possible for brethren to be of one mind and heart (Rom. 12:16; I Cor. 1:10; Eph.4:2-6; Phil. 2:1-4). Sometimes I fear that we here in the U.S., at least, have come to accept as normal what God thinks is sinful., viz., a wide range of separate denominations. And I think it is especially incumbent on Elders, especially those charged with teaching responsibilities, to try to be as honest and as faithful to Scripture as they possibly can be, in an effort to minimize the differences that do exist.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well, Bob, then we could expand it to say, “God ordained history to move in such a way, and saved people from enough backgrounds and with different personalities, and didn’t continue the apostles,” etc, etc. The point is that our Lord could have prevented any kind of denominational distinctives other than the Baptist (which of course, I’m convinced is right 🙂 ), and He didn’t. Why?

      I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, too. But all these factors that are under our Lord’s control have contributed to denominational differences. He didn’t stop it. Why?

      My answer: He is a relational God. He likes variety, and He likes to see His children grow, and learn. He saves different kinds of people with different backgrounds and history and personalities. He is ultimate holiness and will not tolerate error that arises out of unbelief and rebellion, but He is also ultimate love and patience, and is very longsuffering towards errors that arise out of personality, history, culture, etc.

      That’s why I think we have denominations. But whether I’m right or wrong, I believe in the sovereignty of God. Denominational differences is something He could have solved, one way or another, if He had chosen to. He didn’t. So for me, I’m not overly bothered by them. They’re there, that’s the way it is. I can’t solve it, and I shouldn’t try to. I can’t compromise on what I believe the Scripture teaches, nor should I ask anyone else to compromise on what they believe it teaches. If that means we don’t get together in extra-Biblical organisations outside the local church, well, that’s probably better, anyway. If someone has time for these organisations, they probably aren’t doing enough in their own church anyway.

      • Bob Wheeler says:

        “My answer: He is a relational God. He likes variety, and He likes to see His children grow, and learn. He saves different kinds of people with different backgrounds and history and personalities.” — I remember a Presbyterian minister once making an argument like that — that God raised up the Presbyterian denomination specifically to reach the educated classes in society. But is that really Biblical? Is that the way the New Testament church operated?
        If you really want to read something thought provoking on the subject, try and get ahold of “The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary,” by Alexander Rattray Hay. Unfortunately I think the book is no longer in print, but you might be able to find a copy through the Internet. Hay was originally from Scotland (I’m not sure which denomination), and served as a missionary for many years in Argentina and Paraguay. While there he was led to consider the question of what kind of churches should he be seeking to establish? He reexamined the New Testament, and arrived at some startling conclusions. In some ways his thinking on the subject was similar to that of the “Brethren in the Assemblies,” as they like to call themselves. But he was very critical of the institutionalized form of church life with its professional clergy to which we are accustomed today.
        As for myself, theologically I am basically a Reformed Baptist, but am currently involved in a house church fellowship. Unfortunately i cannot hold up our little group as a shining example of what a church ought to be like — we are still trying to get on our feet. But in the days to come, with the increasingly hostile environment we face, i think that this is going to be the way to go.
        I am also involved in a “connect group” that meets in a private home and is part of non-denominational church in our area. That church has experienced a remarkable turn around within the past two years, and is now outgrowing its facilities. The reason seems to be two-fold and surprising simple: 1) The pastor concentrates on what he should be doing, clearly expounding the Word and applying it to the consciences of his people, and 2), prayer is an important part of the “connect groups,” and now 80% of the congregation is involved in that important part of the ministry. I’m sure that the church’s doctrine and practice are not perfect, but what counts in God’s sight is a heart that seeks after Him, and the first step is united prayer. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

      • Jon Gleason says:

        “I remember a Presbyterian minister once making an argument like that — that God raised up the Presbyterian denomination specifically to reach the educated classes in society.”

        That’s not really what I’m saying. I’m not saying He brought denominations into existence to reach those different people. That’s completely unbiblical. I’m saying God is patient with denominational differences because He saves many from different backgrounds, different personalities, different educations, etc. These things inevitably (in the absence of apostles or an unbiblical papal authority) lead to denominational differences.

        That is not a huge problem for me. The Lord could have given us a systematic theology textbook. He didn’t. It would have changed the emphasis of what true faith is. True faith is not a set of propositions, it is knowing and loving Him. He is a living Being, not a set of propositions. The propositions are important so we can know Him as He truly is, but you can know the propositions and not know Him. To have given us a systematic textbook would have been to emphasise the propositions rather than the Person. It would have solved the denominational problem, but created a bigger one.

  18. Jon Gleason says:

    For those following the comments, my followup post is up.

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