Monthly Archives: March 2014

Unity: Confessional Unity

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

Biblical unity has been replaced by a counterfeit unity that goes by the name of confessionalism.  Protestants have historically loved to write confessions of faith.  These documents are designed to clearly spell out one group’s understanding of biblical doctrine at a particular point in time.  Although the original intention behind the writing of most confessions was to make a clear statement of doctrinal beliefs and to separate true believers from false believers, most confessions have today come to be used as a means of separating true believers from true believers.  Although not originally designed to be used in this fashion, confessionalism is a primary engine of the sin of factionalism.

Confessional unity is a counterfeit unity.   As a counterfeit it has done tremendous harm to the genuine unity of the Church.  This concept is a very difficult one for a confessionalist to stomach.  Many churchmen have lived their entire lives trying to become experts in their particular confessions.  Many churchmen have risen up the ladder of spiritual power in their denominations by defending their confession against all others.  Many churchmen have a vested interest in seeing the practice of factionalism continue on a grand scale.  Many churchmen are going to be very surprised when they find out that God was not nearly so concerned with their confessions as they were (except to judge them as an instrument in the sinful practice of factionalism).

To illustrate my point about the evils of confessionalism, consider this one little gem from my favorite confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).  WCF section 31:4 says this, “All synods or councils since the apostle’s times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but  to be used as an help in both.”  This is a great statement because the authors of the WCF recognized the tendency of men to begin to use the written confession, rather than the Bible, as a test of orthodoxy.  They specifically repudiated that practice by asserting that confessions are not inerrant.  This is a healthy and proper understanding of the drafting and use of confessions.

What has happened in our factionalized time?  The WCF is the rule of faith and practice to thousands of Presbyterian elders around the country.  My own ex-denomination required this oath before being ordained as an elder, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the WCF as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures and do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine…?”  This is a strange oath indeed!  How is it possible to swear an oath of allegiance to the WCF when the WCF itself asserts that it is never to be the object of a sworn oath?  I asked this question of several of my fellow elders in my ex-denomination and was never given an answer (Or, at least, a biblical answer.  I did get an earful of lectures from many of them on the importance of upholding the WCF against all enemies, especially Baptists!)

Confessional unity is a sham.  It does not exist.  Everybody has exceptions to one or another part of any confession.  Then it becomes necessary to spend tremendous amounts of time and energy to determine if the exception makes that  person somebody that needs to be separated from the particular church or if they can remain, insofar as they promise not to teach what they believe that is contrary to the confession.  One churchman went so far as to suggest that each new elder have a signed letter of resignation on file at the denominational office so that all he had to do was make a phone call whenever he had a change of belief on some doctrine mentioned in the confession.

Confessional wars are being fought in many denominations.  The “strict subscriptionists” vs. the “loose subscriptionists” is not the name of some Hollywood movie.  In this case, those who want a verbal, plenary oath of allegiance to the confession are fighting against those who want an oath to the general “system of doctrine” taught in the confession.  Leaders of the church are expending tremendous amounts of time and energy as they fight with one another over doctrines that fit into that alleged third class of doctrine and practice that is not necessary for salvation but which, nonetheless, must be believed and practiced  to be a part of their faction.

In addition to being a sham and counterproductive, confessionalism is the coward’s way out with respect to the hard work of biblical unity.  Biblical unity is arrived at via the process of church discipline.  Church discipline is what determines whether a doctrine is necessary for salvation or elective for the individual.  If a doctrine is necessary for salvation, then it must be believed and practiced.  If a person does not believe a necessary doctrine then he is necessarily a heretic and must be excommunicated.  On the other hand, if a doctrine is elective, individuals are free to disagree with each other provided they do not separate from each other.  There are no other options.  There is no other class of doctrine or disagreement.

A coward likes confessionalism because it permits him to not have to make judicial decisions about the beliefs of others (see my paper on “The Case for the Reformation of Church Disciplinary Procedures” for a full study of this topic).  A coward can hide behind a confession and never have to make a hard decision.  It is despicable that there are leaders in our churches who routinely make statements about the beliefs of others without ever rendering a judicial decision about them.  For example, I went to a Baptist seminary, despite the fact that I do not believe in the traditional Baptist doctrine of baptism.  I had many spirited debates with my fellow students.  Oftentimes the word ‘heretic’ would arise.  When that word would be uttered I would ask, “So am I necessarily unsaved (a heretic) for not believing in believer baptism?”  In the heat of the moment some would say that I was condemned to hell for not believing the Baptist doctrine on baptism.  Most would recognize that I could be a true believer and a paedobaptist, even though they didn’t like it.  A confession allows Christians to separate from each other and “agree to disagree” on a particular doctrine (like baptism) without ever actually having to deal with a person who disagrees with the pet doctrine.  I have often heard that amazing statement that we must “express our unity by dividing” in cases such as that.

The concept of expressing unity by dividing is the exact same concept that exists in the world with respect to divorce.  Couples who have grown tired of each other decide that it would be better for all involved if they were to divorce as the ultimate expression of unity!  Then they are free to become “just friends” since both parties recognize that they are better “friends” than they are “marriage partners”.  After all, is that not also in the best interest of the children?

That same idea exists in the Church.  We are told that unity can best be exemplified by separating into separate denominations.  After all, we only fight and argue over our pet doctrines when we are together.  It is alleged to be better to be friends and separated than enemies and united.  How, we are asked, are we going to conduct the other vital ministries of the church when we spend so much time fighting?  And we must not forget the sheep.  Is it not better for the sheep to not see the elders always fighting with each other?  Yes, it must really be in our best interest to separate for the sake of our unity!  Hiding behind a confession as a means of expressing our unified disunity is the easiest way out for someone who is unwilling to do the hard work of “considering others as more important than himself.”

The Church is made up of a diverse group of people.  Although Christians are legally saints, there yet remains the stain of sin and sinful behavior that makes life within the Church, just like life in the marriage, difficult at times.  As a result, there are many conflicts in the Church.  How we resolve those conflicts is the key to biblical unity.

Unity: Unity Defined

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

It is almost impossible for an evangelical today to comprehend what biblical unity is.  The practice of factionalism has been going on for so long and is so strongly reinforced by the teaching of the various factions, that it is like asking a fish if he is aware of the water in which he is swimming.  When you have known nothing else, how can you be aware of the alternate reality?  As is always the case, the alternate reality (the real reality, as some philosophers have said) is contained in the Word of God.

The philosophical problem of the one and the many has been captivating philosophers for thousands of years.  How is it possible (or is it even possible?) to conceive of unity amidst diversity?  The answer to that question is a resounding, YES!  The one and the many is resolved in the doctrine of the Trinity.  All of the examples of the one and the many in this world are analogous to the nature of God revealed in the Trinity.

God is Spirit.  God is one Substance.  God is three Persons.  The three Persons are One God.  The three Persons of God are equal in power and authority.  The three Persons of God have assigned Themselves a protocol of functional subordination in which we are told that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.  This is unity in the midst of diversity.  This is the pattern and picture for the Body of Christ, the Church.

Unity does not deny that differences exist.  Paul (I Corinthians 12: 19) says, “And if they were all one member, where would the body be?”  The answer to that rhetorical question is, nowhere!  We are not all one member.  We are different.  But we are also one.  Our differences are what define, or constitute, our oneness.  If we were not different we would not exist at all.  It is a myth to believe that oneness consists of uniformity.    We exist because we are different but we are not to be separated because we are different.  After all, has Christ been divided?

This is not just a bunch of semantic games that I am playing.  The fact that the Church does not recognize that its oneness is defined by it’s differentness is what has brought us to this point where we believe that we must be factionalized because we are different!  We have come to believe the propaganda that asserts that we are to be “like-minded”, when “like-minded” is defined as agreeing upon the same body of specific doctrines.  Then, by definition, anyone who does not agree with our body of specific doctrines (I am not talking about doctrines necessary for salvation here, I am talking about the good, old “denominational distinctives”.) is not “like-minded” with us.  What else is there to do with a non-like-minded person but to wish him well and separate?

Philippians 2: 1-2 describes “like-mindedness” properly when it says, “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  Biblical unity is not demonstrated by agreeing to the same list of particular doctrines.  Biblical unity is the like-mindedness that evidences itself in the fellowship of the Spirit, in affection and compassion, and in being united in spirit and intent on one purpose.  The sentence I just wrote also describes, in an analogous fashion, the nature of the unity of God.  That sentence is to be the nature of the unity of His people as well.

Unity: How Many Classes of Doctrine?

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

Some may object to my strenuous assertion that there are only two options with respect to the doctrine of separation.    For many, there are three types of behavior that may be demonstrated in the church:  separation from heretics, unity with fellow believers, and separation from believers who are not doctrinally “like-minded”.  Indeed, the denomination that I used to be a part of went on the official church record with the statement that there are three classes of doctrine that necessarily express themselves in the three classes of separation mentioned above.  The number of classes of doctrine is a very important presupposition because it determines the number of classes of disagreement that believers may have.  We have seen that Paul told the Corinthians that there were only two classes of disagreement.  Either the disagreement was between true believers and separation was the sin of factionalism or the disagreement was between a true and a false believer and the separation was the proper action of separating from heresy.  How many classes of doctrine/disagreement are there?

Everybody agrees (although nobody does anything about it ) that factionalism is the separation of true believers.  True believers will sometimes sinfully separate from one another over doctrinal beliefs that both generally admit are not required for salvation.  Furthermore, everybody also agrees that separating from heretics by means of church discipline is a separation of true from false believers (although, again, nobody does anything about it).  In this case, the separation is a result of one party not believing in a doctrine that is essential for salvation (ie. the deity of Christ, the Trinity)  The point of disagreement comes up when we ask, what about true believers that have separated and are, in some mystical way, not an example of  factionalism?  The answer given to that question by the factionalized evangelical Church is that there is a third class of doctrine that sometimes forces true believers to separate from one another.

Two classes of doctrine are obvious.  Some doctrine is necessary for salvation.  To disbelieve something that is necessary for salvation makes one a heretic and, necessarily, unsaved.  The Athanasian Creed (~350) sums this up very well.  Before asserting the required doctrines of the faith, the creed says, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”  Other doctrines are not necessary for salvation.  This category includes the majority of the doctrines found in a systematic theology text.  These are the doctrines that we are free to disagree on.

The problem begins when we recognize a third class of doctrine; doctrines that are not necessary for salvation but that we, nevertheless, are not free to disagree on.  This is the class of doctrine generally called the “denominational distinctives”.  These are the doctrines that we acknowledge as not being required for salvation but that we do not permit other believers, who on account of their disagreement with us, to be a part of us.  This third class of doctrine is the intellectual basis for the sin of factionalism/denominationalism.  Oftentimes the particular names of the third class doctrine that we hold dear show up in the name of the factional church.  “Free Will”, “Seventh Day”, “Four Square”, “Providence”, and “Missionary” are just some of the many doctrines that we have used to separate true believers from other true believers in our regular practice of the sin of factionalism.

In a vain attempt to justify the sin of denominational factionalism, some church leaders will assert that the mythical “third class of doctrine” only actually exists for those who are in leadership positions.  These men will argue that the average church member is not guilty of factionalism in any way because he is free to believe anything that is not heresy.  Church leaders, on the other hand, are said to have a “higher responsibility”.  This higher level of responsibility requires a higher level of “doctrinal purity”.  This higher level of doctrinal purity is found in the third class of doctrine.  Church members do not need to believe these doctrines, but the more “mature” church leaders do.  Not surprisingly, the doctrines contained in this third class are exactly the same as the denominational distinctives.

It is asserted that the average member is permitted to disagree with a doctrine in this imaginary third class, but that church leaders are not free to disagree.  If a person is biblically qualified to be an elder but does not agree to one of the cardinal doctrines contained in the mythical third class, he is told to go to another church with more “like-minded” leaders.  No matter how much he might try, he will never be considered acceptable for church leadership if he does not conform to the accepted doctrinal distinctives.  This, of course, is nothing more than factionalism at a different level.  The fact that the separation has been moved from the rank and file member to the leaders of the church does not change the fact that it is still separation of believers from believers and, therefore, factionalism.  Furthermore, it becomes abundantly clear to the rank and file member that, although he is technically permitted to disagree with the “higher doctrines”, he is never permitted to speak against the doctrines in any way.  Even worse, he is put under a great deal of psychic pressure to change his mind and conform his opinion to that of the denomination.  If anyone doubts what I am saying, just try and have your children baptized in a Baptist church or try to not have your children baptized in a Presbyterian church.

The problem with this presupposition of a third class of doctrine that permits, in fact according to our denominational leaders, requires, our separation from one another, is that the distinction does not exist in the Bible.  The Bible is black and white.  A person is either a believer or he is not.  There are certain things that must be believed to be a believer and there are many other things that are matters of personal opinion and conviction.  False believers are to be put out of the Church.  No matter what, true believers are never allowed to separate over any non-essential for salvation doctrine or behavior.  This was precisely the problem that Paul was dealing with in Corinth.  Paul by no means permitted the Corinthian believers to separate from each other because they had different doctrinal/behavioral emphases.  You will search the Scriptures in vain to find any support for the idea that it is ever proper or correct to separate from other true believers over a class of doctrine/behavior that is not either necessary for salvation or a case of heresy.  The third category simply does not exist.  The church has created the third category for the purpose of justifying our factionalism.  The concept of the third category needs to be abandoned.

Another problem with the doctrine that there are three classes of doctrine for church leaders is that it also creates a false distinction that the Bible does not recognize.  The biblical qualifications for elder nowhere spell out a specific list of higher doctrines that an elder must believe.  All of the qualifications for elder, except one, are qualifications of character, not intellect.  The one qualification that does deal with the intellect is that an elder must be “able to teach sound doctrine.”  However, “sound doctrine” is always defined in Scripture as doctrines that are necessary for salvation.  It is not even remotely possible that “sound doctrine”  might refer to a third class of doctrine that elders, and only elders, must believe.  Every reference to “sound doctrine” in the Bible is a reference to a doctrine that is required for salvation, and therefore, required of all believers.  All other doctrines are “disputable” and elders are free to disagree on them and teach on them as their conscience’s dictate.

Unity: Factionalism Defined

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

Factionalism is the sin of personal and/or ecclesiastical separation between true believers.  The Bible only recognizes two classes of people, believers and unbelievers.  Believers are to be united.  Unbelievers are to be rooted out and separated from true believers by means of church discipline.  According to God’s Word,  there are no other classes of people in the Church.  Two sins may be committed with respect to this reality.  First, believers may separate themselves from other believers.  That is the sin of factionalism.  Second, believers may join themselves to unbelievers.  That is the sin of worldliness or apostasy.  I Corinthians 1: 10-12 records a historical example of factionalism in the Church:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.  For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.  Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul”, and “I am of Apollos”, and “I of Cephas”, and “I of Christ”.

The church in Corinth was quickly becoming factionalized.  True believers were separating from one another because of their theological distinctives.  Paulinist churches were emphasizing Christian liberty and justification apart from the works of the law.  Petrine churches were emphasizing the necessity of obedience to the law for sanctification.  The super-spiritual churches were just asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”.   When Paul finds out about their factionalism, he is outraged.  They had no right to separate from one another.  Jesus was not divided so how could His body be divided?  Later in the letter (12:25) he says, “…that there should be no divisions in the body,…”  The Corinthians were severely rebuked for visibly dividing the Body of Christ.

The Bible recognizes true and false believers.  True believers are always commanded to be personally and ecclesiastically united.  False believers are to be disciplined out of the church.  There are no other categories.  There is no recognition of categories called something like “separate, but equal”, or “divided for the sake of unity”.  These phrases, and others like them, are little more than feeble attempts to justify our immoral separations.

Not all separations are cases of factionalism.  The unbelievers are to be separated from the Church.  Galatians 5: 20 lists “heresies” as one of the deeds of the flesh that are evident for all with eyes to see.  Heresy requires separation.  II Peter 2:1 says, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies…”  Heretics and false teachers were to be thrown out of the church.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul deals with both examples of factionalism and heresy.  Chapter 11: 17-19 says,

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it.  For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.

Notice what Paul is saying here.  In the first place, he rebukes them for separating themselves from true believers in the church.  He had already addressed that issue in the first chapter of the letter.  But then he goes on to say that “there must be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident”.  Obviously there are some who are not “approved”.  These are the false believers.  In this sense, factionalism is a necessity.  It is necessary that true and false believers be separated.  This separation is brought about by means of the process of church discipline, a practice that is almost universally ignored in evangelical churches.  So, once again, Paul proves that the separation of true believers is the sin of factionalism and the separation of true from false believers is the proper goal of the church discipline of heretics.

Unity: Introduction

This is first in a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

John records the last public prayer of Jesus in John 17.  Jesus had just finished delivering His final discourse to the disciples when He “lifted up His eyes to heaven” and said:

Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.  As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.  I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.  And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me…

Shortly after praying for the unity of His people, Jesus was crucified.  For many of His disciples, those words were the last words they heard out of His mouth.

I just received my new phone book today.  I turned to the yellow pages and counted 112 different denominations of professing Christians in the Denver area.  These 112 different denominations are all ecclesiastically divided because of each denomination’s “doctrinal distinctives”.  Many of them have long and bitter histories of separation.  Many of them have theological family trees that go back to a common denomination.  All of them are very proud of the doctrinal stances they have taken to protect their denominational distinctives from the harm that they believe would be caused by “unbelievers” in their particular doctrines being among them.

It is very rare these days (perhaps it has always been rare, I have not lived long enough to know) for Christians to publicly confess their sins.  But what is even more rare, in fact, it is unheard of, is a public confession of the sin of factionalism.  One of two things must be true:  either the sin of factionalism is no longer happening, or the sin of factionalism has become such a part of Church culture that it is no longer even perceived.  112 separate denominations, all claiming to be Christian, answers the question.

The thesis of this series is simple.  The evangelical Church in the United States is guilty, on a massive scale, of the sin of factionalism.  The sinful practice of factionalism has become so dominant in Church culture that Christians are no longer able to perceive it.  In fact, it is much worse.  Not only is factionalism a regular practice in the Church, it is a practice that the Church takes pride in performing.  Individual factions glory in their separateness.  Tremendous amounts of time and energy are expended in tossing theological hand grenades back and forth between the various factions.  In many cases, a man may make progress up the chain of command in a particular church by demonstrating how vociferously he can attack other factions of believers.

Our factionalism has many negative consequences.  Jesus’ prayer indicates just a few of them.  The Church today is not sanctified.  The Church today is ignorant of God’s Word.  The Church today has little conception of the truth.  When the world examines the Church there is absolutely nothing there that would cause anyone to believe in Jesus.  The glory that we are to have as the Bride of Christ is covered with filth.  The world does not know that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of His people.

Our foolish, sinful squabbling between ourselves is a horrible offense to the glory of God.  Our ecclesiastical separation makes a mockery of the glorious unity of the Trinity.  Our protection of distinctive theological turf has resulted in the total irrelevance of the Church in our country today.  I believe the sin of factionalism to be the single greatest sin in the Church today.  Our factionalism destroys the visible representation of the very nature of God Himself.   As I write this I am unable to find the words to express how evil it is that we glory in our factionalism.

Biblical unity is not an option.  God commands that we be united.  We have ignored His command.  In what follows I am going to examine the biblical principles of conflict resolution.  We are separated because we have conflicts and we do not resolve them properly.  Conflicts can originate from many different parts of life.  In this paper I will examine conflicts coming from three different areas in life:  conflicts due to sinful behavior, conflicts that are matters of the weaker/stronger brother distinction, and conflicts due to unwise priorities and personal insecurities.  Each of these types of conflict will be examined in turn.  Before doing that, however, a couple of definitions are in order.

Assimilation: Conclusion

This is the last part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.

Judgment Proves Assimilation

In all ten of the attributes described above it was the case that the only reasonable conclusion that could be made was that the Church is under the judgment of God. We have seen that the Church has adopted the morality of the State with respect to which behaviors are considered to be sinful. We have seen that the Church has ignored its responsibility to call the State to repentance, despite the fact that the State continually breaks all of the Commandments of God. We have seen that the Church has fully adopted the spirit of patriotism with respect to the State and has, as a result, become fully assimilated to the ways of the State. We have also seen that this assimilation has been so complete that most Christians are unable to even conceive of the possibility that the Church has apostatized and come to play the role of the false prophet in support and defense of an immoral State.

What has the Church succeeded in doing? In 1990 the Gallup organization conducted a poll in order to determine the beliefs of citizens of the United States about heaven and hell. According to Gallup, a majority of citizens believe in the reality of hell. However, only 4% of the citizens of the United States believed that it would even be possible that they could go to hell! If this statistic is true, then 96% of the citizens of the United States believe that they are going to heaven! Where did they get this idea?

I would suggest that they got this idea from the preaching and teaching of the apostate Church. By focusing exclusively upon the message of the love of God, by seeing itself as a public service organization designed to minister spiritual happiness to the citizens of the land, and by making the conscious decision to preach a false gospel, the Church has managed to fully assume the role of the false prophet. The Church has become fully assimilated to the world in the United States.

What is a Christian to Do?

What did Ezra do when he encountered a church that was fully assimilated to the culture in which he lived? He called the true believers out. His message was a simple one. In times of assimilation the only response of the true believer is to separate from the society in which he lives, no matter what the consequences. That means that many will have to make tremendous sacrifices of State power and privilege in order to live consistently with the Word of God. There is no way for the Christian to make a compromise with the State. There is no way to try and reform the State from within by becoming a part of it. The only option is to immediately vacate the apostate organization of the State. Ezra did not care about the consequences of his separation. In his mind there was no other option.

Separation from the apostate State is not the only thing a Christian is to do. In II Corinthians 10: 3-5 Paul lays out the war plan for the Church in the presence of wanton worldliness:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

I would suggest the following activities as a minimum in order to wage our warfare:

  1. Christians must immediately resign any position that they hold in which they have been required to swear an oath of allegiance to the government of the United States.
  2. Christians must realize that we are at war with the State.
  3. The Church must preach the Gospel, the whole counsel of God found in both the Old and New Testaments.
  4. Christians must immediately cease invoking the blessing of God upon this country in any way.
  5. Christian leaders must assume their responsibility to declare the rules of form and function to the State (taken exclusively from the Bible).
  6. If the State refuses to repent and recognize the Crown rights of Jesus, it is the duty of the Church to pray the imprecatory prayers against the apostate State.

I have no hope that any of these things will happen in my lifetime. Nevertheless, that reality does not excuse any Christian from the responsibility of doing what is right, no matter what the consequences.

A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 3

Goodman begins Part 3 by saying that he “never intended to delve deeply into a discussion of cessationism.” Yet, Goodman says of cessationists that they make “theological leaps” to arrive at their conclusions and that those conclusions are “a non sequitur.” If he did not intend to delve deeply into a discussion on cessationism, why does he have the right to make these kinds of pronouncements?

Goodman then goes on to quote Spurgeon. It is a great quote, so I will include it in its entirety.

“Many persons have been converted by some striking saying of the preacher. But why was it the preacher uttered that saying? Simply because he was led thereunto by the Holy Spirit. Rest assured, beloved, that when any part of the sermon is blessed to your heart, the minister said it because he was ordered to say it by his Master. I might preach today a sermon which I preached on Friday, and which was useful then, and there might be no good whatever come from it now, because it might not be the sermon which the Holy Ghost would have delivered today” (Spurgeon).

Goodman asks, “Are the ‘Spirit-led’ words Spurgeon referred to here ‘extra biblical revelation?’” The words to which Spurgeon referred were extra-biblical if the Holy Spirit told him something that is not contained in the Bible. I do not believe that is what Spurgeon means here though. He is referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit who takes the words of the gospel, which are contained in Scripture, and uses them to pierce the heart of a man. Spurgeon could preach the same sermon on two different days and have two completely different results depending on whether or not the Spirit was using the words preached to pierce the hearts of the listeners. However, that does not mean that the Spirit is providing any new information to anyone.

Goodman then asks, “How can the translation of human speech into soul-piercing conviction to repentance be considered anything other than work of the Holy Spirit (mystical, secret, or otherwise)?” It can’t be considered anything other than the work of the Holy Spirit. Who said that it could be? I certainly never made that claim. I believe that this is one of the main ministries of the Holy Spirit. However, that does not mean that he tells specific missionaries to go to specific places and say specific things to specific people.

Goodman then asks a series of questions, which I will answer.

“I’m fascinated with this line of thinking. If, for the cessationist, seeking the Spirit’s guidance in mission amounts to a seance, what else also falls into this category? Should we ask for wisdom, or is that ‘secret knowledge?’”

I never said that anything amounted to séance, though I would be okay with applying that term to numerous mystical practices. Whether or not it should be applied to “seeking the Spirit’s wisdom” depends on what is meant by “seeking the Sprit’s wisdom.” If it means making wise and mature decisions about obeying the commands of Scripture, then I would say that it does not amount to séance. If it means engaging in a religious practice (such as prayer or fasting) and waiting for God to tell a specific person to go to a specific place and to do a specific thing, then I would say that it does amount to séance. We should most certainly ask for wisdom, but such wisdom is not secret knowledge. Secret knowledge is private or special information that the Holy Spirit tells to one person and not to another. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the application of the knowledge that is already contained in the Bible.

“What about conviction? If the Spirit convicts me of spending too much time with my campanology club, is that ‘extra-biblical revelation?’”

Biblical conviction is not extra-biblical revelation because the sin of which the person is convicted is already contained in the Bible. If I steal from my neighbor and the Spirit convicts me, I am convicted that what the Bible says is true. The Spirit most certainly convicts of sin, and the sins of which he convicts are contained in the Bible. The Spirit will never convict anyone of spending too much time at his campanology club because spending any certain amount of time at a campanology club is not a biblical sin. It may be that a man is refusing to work and provide for his family and is instead spending time at his campanology club and that the Spirit may convict him that he needs to leave the campanology club and go get a job to provide for his family, but the sin of which he is convicted is the sin of refusing to work and provide for his family. The Spirit will not convict him of merely spending too much time at his campanology club. If the Spirit were to convict someone of such a “sin,” it would then be extra-biblical revelation because the Spirit would be informing the person that there is a sin that is not listed in the Bible. This is the very definition of extra-biblical revelation.

“Of course we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture. But according to whose understanding and interpretation of Scripture?”

I would encourage Goodman to conduct his ministry based upon his or at least his church’s interpretation of Scripture. If a person believes the Bible teaches a particular doctrine, he should live his life according to that particular doctrine. The problem is when this person starts requiring other people to live their lives in accordance with the particular doctrine that he believes the Bible teaches. This is called tyranny. There is a wide array of opinions within Christianity regarding non-essential doctrines, and no one has the right to force his opinion on anyone else. So, each person should live his life in accordance with the way he interprets Scripture, and he should do so with a clear conscience.

Next, Goodman says that he is not sure that God has a “specific will” for our lives. Apparently, Goodman does not think that God telling specific people that he wants them to go to specific places and say specific things to specific people is a “specific will.” If it is not a “specific will” when God reveals to a specific person what he wants or wills that specific person to do, then what is it?

Goodman then asks, “God hasn’t left us alone in His mission; why would we act as though He had?” Again, I have to ask, who is claiming that God has left us alone? I never made this claim. I don’t know anyone who has made this claim. Maybe Goodman is responding to someone else who said something that I don’t know about.

Lastly, Goodman deliberately points out a list of things that he deliberately avoids pointing out. He says, “I’ve deliberately avoided pointing out how few cessationists you’ll find on the international mission field. I’ve been careful not to refer to anecdotal evidence of the Spirit’s guidance in mission. I’ve intentionally ignored the many stories of those missionaries who were providentially given specific words, led into a particular village, or out of harm’s way.” Now that he has deliberately pointed out all the things that he has deliberately not pointed out, let me respond to these things that he both deliberately points out and deliberately does not point out.

First, it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of modern missionaries are mystics. Of the hundred or so missionaries I know, three of them are not mystics. But so what? Two hundred years ago, the vast majority of missionaries were cessationists. Does this mean that cessationism was right then but is now wrong? Of course not. The number of cessationist missionaries in the world has no impact whatsoever on the validity of the cessationist position.

Second, just because Goodman and lots of other people have some kind of spiritual experience in which the Spirit leads them in mission does not mean that everyone else has to seek the same experience. If the Spirit never guides me the way Goodman and others are guided, what am I supposed to do? Should I just sit in my room and wait for God to tell me to get up and go somewhere? How long should I wait? How do I know that I should be waiting in my room and not in my kitchen or on a mountain or in some other location? Until the Spirit leads me in the way Goodman and others are led, nothing I do would be considered Spirit-led. In this state, is it a sin for me to do anything? If not, is it a sin for me to do some things, such as approach missions using wisdom and logic? If it is a sin to do this, how do I know that it is a sin to do this? If it is not a sin to do this, then why should I not be permitted to do it?

Third, I think it is great that people are taken out of harm’s way or end up in a specific village. Good for them. But what do we make of the people who don’t receive such specific words and who aren’t led in such ways? Are they not qualified for missionary service? Are they less Christian? Or do they simply hold a different but still legitimate opinion regarding the way in which the Holy Spirit ministers to his people? This, to me, is the question of the day. Everything I have written during this process has been in defense of cessationists. I believe they have the right to hold their position and to conduct their ministry accordingly. I do not believe that anyone has to accept Goodman’s doctrine of guidance and his approach to missions. Goodman is free to do what he wants, but so is everyone else.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this process. I hope it has been as beneficial for everyone else as it has been for me. Again, if I have missed anything that anyone thinks I should have addressed, let me know so that I can address it either in the comment section or in another article.

A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 2

Roughly three months ago, I wrote an article criticizing the portrayal of cessationism by Ernest Goodman in his article, “The Spirit Incognito.” Goodman has written a three-part response to my article, which can be found at “Missions Misunderstood.” This is my response to Part 2.

Concerning the qualification and sending of missionaries, I have argued that men who desire to go and who are biblically qualified should be sent. There is no need for God to tell a particular church to send a particular person. In contrast, Goodman says that “our criteria for sending is not only some checklist of qualities and qualifications, but also a spiritual unity of the sending church.” I do not exactly know how to respond to this statement because I do not know what Goodman means by “a spiritual unity of the sending church.” What I do know is that Goodman believes this spiritual unity “is reached through prayer (and sometimes fasting), as the Spirit of God brings the opinions of the pastors in line with Christ” (If that is not mysticism, I don’t know what is). From this, I deduce that spiritual unity exists when the opinions of the pastors of a particular church are aligned. Goodman refers to Acts 13:2 as the precedent for this doctrine; but in that verse, the Holy Spirit speaks audibly and says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (NASB). There is nothing recorded in this passage about the opinions of the pastors being brought in line with Christ. I do not know of any biblical precedent for such a doctrine. If there is one, I would like someone to point it out to me. In the meantime, I do not see any biblical reason why a qualified person should not be sent based solely upon his qualifications.

Goodman then asks a series of questions, which I will answer.

“What are the criteria for ‘missionary?’ Where do these come from?”

The criteria for a missionary are identical to the criteria for an elder. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, the office of elder within the Christian Church had four main functions. Elders acted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (I consider pastor and teacher to be the same function). Some elders performed one function. Others performed more. My point, though, is that an evangelist is an elder who focuses his time and energy on the proclamation of the gospel to non-Christians. This is also the job of the missionary. Therefore, I consider the missionary role to be a sub-set of the evangelist role. “Missionary” is simply a descriptive term used to describe the evangelist who is sent across some kind of border to proclaim the gospel to a particular group of people. Since the missionary is an evangelist and because the evangelist is an elder, the missionary must therefore be an elder, and the qualifications for an elder are spelled out very clearly in Scripture.

“What if the candidate is qualified, yet doesn’t want to go?”

No one should be forced to travel somewhere he does not want to travel. Why would we ever send someone out as a missionary who doesn’t want to go?

“What if he’s both qualified and willing to be sent, but he is needed in his local church?”

The only instance in which a particular elder is needed in his local church is if he is the only elder in that local church. For him to abandon his flock would be a sinful desertion of his responsibilities. He would not have the right to send himself out as a missionary. If he wants to serve as a missionary, he must first appoint at least one other elder in his place. At that point he is no longer needed in his local church, and he is free to go out as a missionary.

“Why should we ‘pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:38) if God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people?”

Who said that God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people? I never said that. I have never heard anyone else say that. In my book The Great Enterprise from a Reformed Perspective, I devote a whole chapter to the calling and sending of the missionary and describe exactly how God calls and sets apart his missionaries. So, to be clear, God is very active in calling and sending missionaries. However, that does not have to mean that the Holy Spirit is telling particular pastors of particular churches to send particular missionaries to particular places.

Goodman then goes on to say that he is not as trustful in human wisdom as I seem to be. I do not know why Goodman thinks I am trusting in human wisdom. I have certainly never advocated that anyone trust in human wisdom. On the contrary, I believe Scripture exhorts us to use godly wisdom, wisdom that applies the commands of Scripture to our lives. Solomon’s judicial decision between the two women who came to him with the dispute over the baby is a good example of this. The Bible made clear that stealing a baby was a crime. Solomon then used wisdom and logic to devise a way in which to differentiate between the perpetrator and the victim. The Holy Spirit did not tell Solomon who the real mother was. He used his brain to figure it out. Is there any reason why we should not do the same thing today in the context of missions?

Goodman then asks these questions, “You can’t reach out in every direction at once. With which tribe, language, or nation will you begin? How does a church determine where to allocate resources and where to pass up perfectly good opportunities?” The answer is quite simple. God’s people only have to do what Scripture demands that they do, and they are free to do anything Scripture does not forbid. Therefore, God’s people have the freedom to answer these questions any number of ways.

Goodman also asks, “When is the work in a particular place finished?” Missionary work in a particular place is finished when one of two things happens, when a church is planted or when the missionary determines that he should not continue to throw pearls before swine and shakes the dust off his feet and leaves. The follow up question most certainly is, “When/how does the missionary determine that he should not continue to throw pearls before swine and shake the dust off his feet and leave?” This is a more complicated question over which there is some legitimate disagreement. Suffice to say for now that there are ways in which the missionary can make this determination without the Holy Spirit specially telling him that he should leave a particular place.

Goodman again makes the claim that some people “believe that God no longer interacts with His people in real-time.” Who believes this? God interacts with his people every day. Just because God does not speak audibly to me does not mean that he does not interact with me.

Lastly, Goodman explains some of the various ways a person can share the gospel. I agree with him. There are lots of ways to verbally proclaim the message of the gospel. This was my very point to begin with. All of these ways are legitimate ways to proclaim the message of the gospel. Missionaries are free to pick and choose from them. Missionaries have brains. They can decide which way they think is best for the time and place. There is not one right way of doing it. There are lots of right ways to do it. We do not need the Holy Spirit to tell us which right way to use. God just wants us to use one of them.

While Goodman goes on arguing that the Holy Spirit has to specifically tell us what to say to who, he says this, “How you present the gospel is a huge factor in how it’s received . . . Fortunately, the eternal destiny of the nations does not depend on my speaking ability.” Does this not seem like a contradiction to anyone else? What he says and the way he says it is a huge factor regarding whether or not the gospel is received, but whether or not the gospel is received does not depend on what he says. Maybe I have misunderstood what he is trying to say. If so, maybe he or someone else can correct me.

Stay tuned for my response to Part 3; and again, if I have missed something that you think I should have addressed, let me know so that I can address it either in the comment section or in the next article.