Friday, October 19, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 5 - Reflections from two Independent Baptists—Kent Brandenburg and David Cloud

In this post, I will be re-publishing the reflections from two Independent Baptist pastors concerning the issue of unity and Christian Church. First, from Kent Brandenburg (originally posted January 6, 2012):

>>Last week, I happened upon a website (link) providing some 35 sermons from the last two years of the "Word of Truth Conference". One of the sermons in particular caught my eye: John 17 and Unity, delivered November 10, 2010 by pastor Kent Brandenburg (link). I have done a good deal of study on this chapter, so I sincerely wondered what an independent Baptist pastor had to say. What I learned from his sermon was that he agreed with my understanding on many key points. In an effort to stimulate others into taking in the entire sermon, I shall provide a few extracts:

Beginning ff-

John 17 and unity. Anyone who wants to understand unity between Christians must consider Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17. I think this is an important point: Biblical separation and Biblical unity will mirror each other. Obviously Biblical separation will never violate Biblical unity; Biblical unity will never violate Biblical separation.

8:54 ff -

What's the unity that Jesus Christ was praying for here? All right. If we're going to understand what unity is, that unity is the unity that he wants between people, is the unity in this chapter.

12:05 ff-

The unity we desire should be the same as what the Lord Jesus Christ prayed for here...

Do you want the unity that Jesus prayed for?

What was it?

13:27 ff -

Some believe Jesus prayed only for a spiritual unity. When I read commentaries on John 17, almost every single commentary differs on what they believe Jesus was praying for here. I'm talking about, if I read 25 commentaries, I can read 25 differences on what they think Jesus was praying for here. Is the Bible something we can't understand? Is the Bible not perspicuous? And I think it kinda drives me crazy; I mean, how, how is it that we can have so many opinions about what he is praying for here? How do I know that 26, let's say I am at number 26, why is 26 right? Why are the 25 wrong, and I am right? Can you know? Because I mean as you read the commentaries there are so many different viewpoints, how could people, how could we be sure that people can even know based on that.

15:01 ff -

Some believe Jesus prayed for a spiritual unity found in their position in Christ...Ummm so he prayed only for people in Christ to have spiritual unity is what their belief is in John 17. Others assert this is a practical unity among all believers. All believers have a practical unity. Some teach that. OK. But I'm just telling you some people teach that. In order to have it they concluded a need to coalesce around a few important doctrines with which true Christians should and will agree; and the number is shrinking. The number is increasingly smaller, until you can put the doctrines on the head of a pin that you have to agree on, basically to have what the Bible teaches on unity; and really what's on the head of the pin is blurry, you can't even quite make out what, what it is.

23:44 ff -

If there's unity between all believers, I don't see it.

[End of extracts]


The second is from David Cloud (originally posted December 9, 2010):

>>Now, back to Tuesday's email. The author of the email was David Cloud, an independent Baptist author, lecturer, minister. The email that I received was also published online at Cloud's "Way of Life Literature" website (HERE). Cloud, as so many Protestants of the period delineated above by Hollman, does not like Meiderlin's now famous phrase; from his email/online essay, we read:

The modern evangelical philosophy is often stated by the dictum, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”

Though commonly attributed to Augustine, it was actually first stated by the 17th-century Lutheran Rupertus Meldenius (a.k.a. Peter Meiderlin).

It became the rallying cry of the Moravians, who did many good things but retained such Roman heresies as infant baptism and a priesthood and promoted unity above the absolute truth of God’s Word.

It was adopted by the Fundamentalist movement of the first half of the 20th century. As a movement Fundamentalism focused on unity around “the fundamentals of the faith” while downplaying the “minor issues.” The objective was to create the largest possible united front against theological modernism.

This dictum has also been an integral philosophy of New Evangelicalism. They might stand for ten or twenty or thirty “cardinals,” but they refuse to make an issue of the WHOLE counsel of God. Particularly when it comes to one’s associations, they believe that there are “non-essentials” that should not get in the way of unity.

Many Independent Baptists are buying into this error.

And a bit later:

There is no support in the Bible for the “in essentials liberty” doctrine. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to teach converts “to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:20).

The Apostle Paul reminded the elders at Ephesus that the reason he was free from the blood of all men was that he had preached the WHOLE counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The more plainly you preach the whole counsel of God, the less likely it will be that you will join hands in ministry with those who hold different doctrine.

Paul instructed Timothy to keep the truth “without SPOT, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). A spot is a small, seemingly insignificant thing. That particular epistle contains commandments about such things as the woman’s role in ministry, which is widely considered a “non-essential” today. Paul taught Timothy to have an entirely different approach toward such teachings.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in ALL things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” This passage deals with hair length and the Lord’s Supper, which are widely considered to be “non-essentials” today, yet Paul praised the church for remembering him in all things.

We know that not all doctrine has the same significance and weight, but none of it is “non-essential” in any sense.

I challenge anyone to show me where the Scripture encourages the believer to treat some doctrine as “non-essential” or to “stand for the cardinal truths and downplay the peripherals.”

Some try to use Romans 14 to support this philosophy, but Romans 14 does not say that some Bible doctrine is non-essential. It says that we are to allow one another liberty in matters in which the Bible is silent! The examples that Paul gave were eating meat and keeping of holy days. Those are things that the New Testament faith is silent about. There is no doctrine of diet in the New Testament, so it is a matter of Christian liberty.

This reminds us that the only true “non-essential” is a personal opinion not based solidly upon Scripture.

Jude instructed every believer to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As Jude didn’t delineate what part of the faith is to be defended, the obvious meaning is that whatever aspect of the faith is under attack at a particular time, God’s people should rally to its defense rather than pretend that it is a “non-essential.”

Since the Bible doesn’t identify a “non-essential” doctrine, who is to say what this might be?

The fact is that once one adopts the “non-essentials” philosophy, his list of “non-essentials” tends to grow as time passes and as his associations broaden.>>

Kent and David have given us plenty to ponder...

Grace and peace,


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 4 - the Reformed tradition - Thomas Manton vs. Michael Horton

In this 4th installment of my series on unity and the Christian Church, I have chosen Thomas Manton, a respected 17th century Puritan divine, to represent the more moderate position within the Reformed tradition.  Of the many differing positions on the issue of Christian unity that exist within the Reformed paradigm, I believe that Manton's view is one of the most balanced. The following selections will be from Manton's discourse, A Persuasive To Unity In Things Indifferent:

[1.] There may be, and often are, differences of opinion about lesser things in the church; partly because of the different degrees of light. All barks that sail to heaven draw not a like depth of water. And partly because of the remainders of corruption in all. Inordinate selflove is not in all alike broken and mortified, and so their particular interests have an influence upon their opinions. And partly because of the accidental prejudices of education and converse, &c.

[2.] When these differences arise, we should take care they come not to a rupture and open breach. This is the course the apostle taketh here ; he doth not by and by despair of the dissenters, and reject them as heretics, but beareth with them, hoping in charity God will at length reveal their error to them by the ministry of his servants, through the powerful operation of his Spirit, and not suffer them to run on in dividing courses from the rest of his people. So should we do in like cases. Partly because when these differences of opinion breed division and separations, the church is destroyed : Gal. v. 15, 'For if ye bite and devour one another, take heed ye be not consumed one of another.' Backbitings, revilings, and reproaches make way for a total vastation of the whole church, a ruin to both parties. Partly because the whole is scandalised: John xvii. 21, 'That they may all be one, that the world may believe that thou has sent me.' Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world. Partly because there are enemies which watch for our halting, and by our divisions we are laid open to them. Our Lord and Master hath told us with his own mouth, that ' a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand,' Mat. xii. 25. Never was it so well with the people of God, but besides their divisions among themselves, they had common enemies ; and Nazianzen calls them ' Common Reconcilers,' because they should engage God's people to a unanimous opposition to the kingdom of Satan in the world. And partly because then mutual means of edification are hindered. As long as charity and mutual forbearance remaineth, there is hope of doing good to one another ; but when men break out into opposite parties, they are prejudiced against all that light that they should receive one from another, suspecting every point as counsel from an enemy : Gal. iv. 16, 'Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth ?' When men are once engaged in a way of error, whosoever is an enemy to their error is counted an enemy to themselves; yea, they can hardly bear that sound doctrine which doth directly cross their opinions, but are apt to cavil at all that is said by a dissenter. And partly because when men give themselves up to separating and narrow principles, the power of godliness is lost, and all their zeal is laid out upon their petty and private opinions, and so religion is turned into a disputacity. (Pages 68, 69 - bold emphasis mine.)

Manton goes on to delineate the need for "lenity" and "mutual forbearance" to prevent "open rupture" (p. 70). This "lenity" and "mutual forbearance" is "limited"; it does not mean that:

"...all things [are] to be tolerated, even blasphemy and fundamental errors, as if the scriptures were uncertain in all things. No; in things absolutely necessary to salvation, it is clear, open, and plain: 'The law is a lamp, and a light,' Prov. vi. 23, and Ps. cxix. 105. And in such a case we are not to 'bid him God-speed,' 2 Epist. John 10. In such cases of damnable heresy, the law of Christian lenity holdeth not; but if we agree in the principal articles of faith, let us embrace one another with mutual love, though we differ from one another in variety of rites and ceremonies and discipline ecclesiastical. If we agree in the substantials of worship, let us go by the same rule, do the same thing: though in circumstantials there be a difference, these are matters of lesser moment than separation, or the other division of the church." (Page 71.) [Entire discourse available in an online PDF HERE - see pages 68-78.]

Now, let's contrast Manton with Dr. Michael S. Horton. In the May/June 1992 issue of Modern Reformation, a provocative article by Dr. Horton under the title, 'Evangelical Arminians: Option or Oxymoron?' was published. The entire article is available online via the following sites:

In the article, Dr. Horton asks the question: "Is it possible to be an 'evangelical Arminian'?" He then immediately states, "In this article I attempt to defend a negative answer to that important question."

He went on to write:

What is an Evangelical?

One might think that the term "protestant" has been around a lot longer than "evangelical," the latter often associated with the crusade and television evangelism of recent years. However, the term "evangelical" is the older of the two. It appears in medieval manuscripts, describing a qualification of a good preacher: He must be evangelical. Until the Reformation, however, that adjective could mean anything from having a sincere love for Christ to possessing missionary zeal. When Luther arrived on the scene he was eager to employ the time-honored term in the service of gospel recovery. After all, what could be more appropriate as a designation for a man or woman of the Reformation? It was all about a recovery of the evangel itself.

Thus, the term took on a new significance, moving from an adjective to a noun. One was not only "evangelical" in the ambiguous medieval sense of being pious, zealous, and faithful, but an evangelical in the sense that one adhered to the Reformation's tenets. After 1520 an evangelical was a person who was committed to the sufficiency of scripture, the priesthood of all believers, the total lostness of humans, the sole mediation of Christ, the gracious efficacy and finality of God's redemptive work in Christ through election, propitiation, calling and keeping. The linchpin for all of this was the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Thus, the believer, declared righteous by virtue of God's satisfaction with Christ's holiness imputed (credited) to us through faith alone, is simul iustus et peccator--"simultaneously justified and sinful."

The evangelicals, therefore, whether Lutheran or Reformed, insisted that this was the gospel. It was not a peripheral area of abstract doctrinal debate on which Christians could "agree to disagree agreeably." It was not merely an implication of the gospel or a part of the gospel: It was the gospel!

Dr. Horton, as the article later demonstrates, does not believe that Arminians are 'evangelicals' in the sense delineated above, and that they teach a heretical gospel.

I truly wonder if Thomas Manton were alive today if he would side with Dr. Horton...

Grace and peace,