16 September 2005

Why is the distinction between essential and peripheral doctrines so crucial?

I've read and appreciated all the comments over the past two days, even though time does not permit me to reply to most of them. Many have given extremely helpful feedback. My sincere thanks to all who have participated.

We've been talking about the distinction between (on the one hand) truth that is so essential to the gospel—so vitally important—that you must affirm it or be condemned; and (on the other hand) lesser truths, where there may be more room for misunderstanding or disagreement. How does one tell which category any given doctrine fits into?

Some have suggested (and I quite agree) that Scripture may be deliberately vague on these issues for good but hidden reasons, so that some of the questions we have raised are answered in the Bible with stark black-and-white clarity; while most of the answers we're looking for are sketched out in indistinct lines and with varying shades of gray.

On the other hand, some who have commented have wondered aloud whether any distinction between essential and peripheral truths is really even necessary.

It seems to me that even a few moments of cursory thought would quickly drive us to the conclusion that we cannot simply erase every distinction between primary and secondary doctrines. This is true for all the biblical reasons I outlined in my first post on this subject Wednesday. It's also true for the reason I gave yesterday: Scripture commands us to contend earnestly against error when the faith once delivered to the saints is at stake; and yet, when the unity of true saints is at stake, we are commanded to receive people who are weak in the faith without indulging in doubtful disputations.

We're expected to make sound judgments about which is which. Remember, Jesus sternly rebuked the Pharisees for failing to distinguish between vital and secondary legal principles—even though no distinction between "gnats" and "camels" was ever spelled out explicitly in the Old Testament law. They were held responsible to apply rational, sensible judgment to the biblical data—and there was plainly enough data so they should have understood that justice, mercy, and the love of God are bigger spiritual principles than counting out little seeds for a tithe (Luke 11:42).

Notice what Jesus said: "These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matthew 23:23). Recognizing a proper taxonomy of spiritual principles doesn't give us permission to abandon whatever principles are deemed secondary. I think that's a misunderstanding that causes some to shy away from speaking of "secondary" truths. But "secondary" doesn't mean "optional." It does, however, mean that all truths aren't of equal import. Not every point of truth is an occasion for all-out battle, especially between brethren who agree on the major points.

That's one of the huge practical realities of real-world ministry that sensible people who want to be faithful to the commands of Romans 14 simply must understand. We may not always agree on which issues are worth fighting for, but it's an evil mind that rejects the distinction completely and fights with equal vigor over every issue, gnats and camels alike.

Nasty gnats

I do, in fact, know people like that. I already mentioned that a small cult of them live not far from me. Nearly every week of my life, I have to deal with the fallout of confusion and ruined lives they have left in their wake.

A few years ago, we excommunicated the leader of this group from our church because he became hypercritical and began labeling every Christian leader under the sun (not to mention every significant figure from church history) a "false teacher."

Of course, some of the people he criticizes are indeed false teachers who ought to be exposed and refuted with careful, thoughtful, credible, biblical arguments. But this guy lumps the heretics and the best of men together, and his complaints against godly leaders are always just picayune and insignificant differences of opinion. (For example, years ago, when he was just beginning this campaign, he found a workbook with premarital advice for engaged couples that included a worksheet outlining personality characteristics. He labeled it "demonic idolatry" and declared the author a false teacher because he associated personality profiling with secular psychology.)

For nearly a decade, this guy has been building his own cult. It frankly amazes me that anyone would be confused by his teaching, because I listened to several of his tapes when he first began his Crusade Against Everyone Else, and I can only describe his style as the Barney Fife school of discernment. (On one of his tapes he called psychology "the most worst heresy that is in our day today." He labeled James Dobson "The worst enemy of our soul today." It's that sort of rhetoric. I'd pay him no mind at all, but I am in touch with people from families he has destroyed, and I hear weekly from people who have encountered him and are terribly confused and want advice from someone who has dealt with him.)

Anyway, when I first confronted him, I warned him that he must not fail to distinguish between doctrines that are fundamental and those that are secondary.

He replied that he can find no such distinction in Scripture. Truth is truth, he said, and all truth in Scripture is equally important. He suggested that if Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, any idea that is in discord with a true understanding of God's Word is a rejection of Christ, who is the embodiment of all truth.

That's one extreme that looms large in my mind—the notion that all truth is equally essential. If that perspective were correct, we'd all be in big trouble, because I don't know of anyone whose understanding of biblical truth is flawless. I certainly don't make that claim for myself.

Gnarly Camels

But there's another danger on the other side of the fulcrum. This is undoubtedly one of the most pressing dangers in the church today. It is the minimalist tendency of defining the true faith in terms that are far too broad to rule out false doctrines that masquerade as true Christianity. (See last week's posts on Mormonism for a classic example of how this plays out.)

More and more Christians these days seem to think it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you label it Christianity. With the possible exception of a few cults that blatantly renounce the Trinity, almost everything taught in the name of Christ is now accepted by evangelicals.

Chuck Colson gave this trend a huge boost a few years ago in his book The Body—a book that was critically acclaimed but in my view seriously flawed. one of his central theses was the notion that the Apostles' Creed plus four or five "fundamentals" (none of which include the gist of the gospel) pretty much give us a complete list of primary doctrines. Beyond that, Colson seemed to suggest, no article of faith ought to be a point of serious division between "brethren," loosely defined.

Of course, he insists that Roman Catholicism must be regarded as a legitimate, faithful expression of biblical Christianity, because Catholicism affirms the Apostles' Creed.

So "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" naturally came hard on the heels of that book. The ECT document itself seems to echo Colson's declaration that the Apostles' Creed is a sufficient statement of essential Christianity. Certainly, some of its signatories understand it that way.

Next Tuesday, if time permits, I want to take a critical look at that claim. As I said in one of my comments after yesterday's posts, I affirm the Apostles' Creed. But I don't for a moment believe it is a sufficient statement of essential truth. Historic Protestantism has never believed the ancient creeds are sufficient. But when Colson began promoting the idea, his view quickly became the dominant opinion among evangelicals.

How is it that a non-theologian, a layman who came to faith fairly late in life, wields so much influence over the evangelical movement's theological consensus? I realize, of course, that Colson hasn't done this single-handedly, but there's no question that his voice has been the dominant one in bringing about this shift in evangelicals' thinking.

It's one more evidence of the pathetic shallowness of the late twentieth-century evangelical movement. I'll repeat what I said in Wednesday's post: evangelicals must hang up their Hawaiian Shirts (so to speak) and get back to some serious thinking about pivotal theological issues. This whole question of which doctrines are of the essence of the gospel would be a perfect place to start.

Phil's signature

40 comments:

SJ Camp said...

Phil:

Very good insights here... when is your book coming out? Sign me up.

One interesting thought for you.

You wrote: How is it that a non-theologian, a layman who came to faith fairly late in life, wields so much influence over the evangelical movement's theological consensus?

Answer: ECT was initially the brain child by renowned sociologist, Peter Berger. I believe it was Berger who orchestrated the preliminary meeting between Charles Colson and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to ecumenically unite for cultural co-belligerence (cp, "Stand Together, Stand Apart").

The reason for Colson’s rapid rise to influence, was that he was riding the crest of fame as the repentant Nixon-White House insider from Watergate; and having sold a boatload of books beginning with "Born Again" he was the cultural, political, and evangelical icon "they" needed to bring the intellectual/media sizzle to the table and sway notables such as Knoll, Packer, Land, Robertson, Bright, Mouw, Kreeft, Oden and White (John not James) to participate and endorse this “ecumenical jihad.”

From there, once the fire was lit, the desiccated state of evangelicalism was ready fuel for the flames of ECT and as history now records, they spread quickly and devastatingly. Sadly, a fine man and voice for the gospel, Timothy George, drafted ECT 2 “The True Gift of Salvation” and several other evangelicals jumped into the fray. This was even more wanton than ECT 1 – for it was less political, but more theological.

Berger was the behind the scenes "leader of the band" of this ongoing tragic slice of evangelical history.

Thanks again for your post and for letting me share a few thoughts on your excellent blog. I always appreciate you (we missed you on the cruise…hopefully next year).

Campi
Eph. 4:13

Mataikhan said...

Hmmm... I've been looking for a topic for a paper I need to write for my "Theology I" class. You may have given me something to work with.

Steve said...

Phil...very, VERY well said. These last three blogs have been superb. And the examples you gave regarding the potential for damage--i.e., the fishites and ECT--affirms the crying need for thought and discernment in regard to essential and peripheral doctrines.

You know, reading about Darwin Fish was so heartbreaking. It's tragic how so utterly blind people can be to their own ignorance and pride and persistently wreck lives, hurt others, and dishonor God in the way he is doing (and he's just one small fish in a bigger pond of others who do the same...pun intended). I just shake my head and think, How God must grieve over it all! And how daunting it must be for you elders to go to Grace on Sunday, wondering if you'll have to deal with him or his followers yet again.

Very sad...and yet a very powerful reminder of the urgent need to for Christians to be workmen who know and handle God's truth with clarity and accuracy.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Hi Phil
These entries over the past couple of days have been incredibly stimulating. The sentiments you express reflect many of the issues I have been thinking through pastorally here in Ireland.

At the risk of mentioning Iain Murray's 'Evangelicalism Divided' in every comment I make on your site, his final chapter 'From the Quarries to the Temple' casts important light on what you share today.

Murray engages the parallel problems of tight fundamentalism and loose 'evangelicalism' and draws out conclusions which are both faithful to Scripture and gracious in approach. I really recommend the whole chapter (which I'm sure you've read), but here's an extended quote which is very pertinent to your writings:

"The differences among Christians often arise from disagreements over what is 'gold, silver, precious stones', and what is 'wood, hay, straw'. To our eyes the two may sometimes look very alike. It is not that Scripture is defective in light, the defect is in our own understandings. The deduction to be drawn from this fact is not that all opinions on beliefs not essential to salvation are to be laid aside...What may be called secondary differences among Christians are not of no consequence, and they may be sufficiently important to prevent the formal unity of Christians in the same denomination. Freedom of conscience to interpret Scripture is far better than an external unity imposed upon all.
At the same time it is essential to recognize, as evangelicalism has sought to do, that differences of understanding among Christians are never to be allowed to transcend the truth which makes them one in Christ".

I could quote the rest of the chapter, but you'll probably bar me from your comments section on copyright grounds! I think Murray gets the balance right in his chapter overall.

I suppose that my concern is that the definition of 'gold, silver, precious stones' and 'wood, hay, straw' is getting fuzzier by the moment. Tony Campolo's pronouncements about the sexuality debate, along with those of a local 'Christian' think tank (www.zero28.org) here in Ireland make my blood run cold. I have a similar reaction to Steve Chalke's caricature of penal substitution. How can we know where the thin end of the wedge begins with writers and thinkers like these. Has compromise on other more 'secondary' issues, led them to a position where everything (including matters of profound moral significance and doctrinal gravity)is up for grabs? Which thread begins the unravelling process, that ultimately ends in moral equivocation and the compromise of God's standards?

I feel deeply troubled by this as a pastor at the moment. As an undershepherd I have to care for sheep who are listening to prominent 'evangelicals' who are in actual fact false teachers. You're spot on in saying that we need to gird up our minds.

God bless you for all that you're doing for the honour of Christ's Name,
Andrew

Sara Kristmundur said...

On this subject and in this exchange why do you set a condition that you're not looking for a "list" of primary doctrines? Isn't this the practical, ditch-digging end of all this querying and pondering?

So the moment someone makes a list they get jumped by a pack of rabid critics...of course. Inevitable. Matt Slick has put together a grid:

http://www.carm.org/doctrine/grid.htm

of what you're talking about (and he goes into just why and how he chose what he chose, I mean, that is what you said you're looking for; in Slick's case he uses the criteria of what the Bible itself says is necessary for salvation, or something like that). But you're not interested in lists of 'fundamentals'. What's the point then?

My approach: I tend to see different levels - or orders, if you will - among Christian believers. Paul talks of hierarchy of level of being. It sounds immaculately vain to most Christians, but I don't care. I'll always sound arrogant to Arminians when I explain to them why I'm a five-point Calvinist and what it actually means, etc. They thinking me arrogant won't make me not hold what my discernment has led me to see.

If you can know the truth, and you've made the effort to know the truth, then just present it, defend it, don't care what the world demands of you regarding it. Doctrine, ultimately, becomes your being. If doctrine is firmly established on the foundation of the Word of God (and you truly value the Word of God as authority) it becomes your being.

Five solas, doctrines of grace, covenant of redemption. Practicing Jesus' two great commandments and recovering by degree the full image of God lost in the fall. That's what I stand on.

Jim Crigler said...

In 2002, at the "pre-conference seminar" (really a kind of mini-conference) of the Ligonier National Conference, RC Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, and RCJr spoke on just this subject. RCS talked about humility in thinking about our differences; Ferguson on discernment in when to speak (his text was from Proverbs: "Answer a fool ... Answer not a fool ..."); RCJr on frankness and honesty in talking about our differences. Much good stuff.

Peter Bogert said...

I recently read an interview with Tony Campolo at http://www.crosscurrents.org/CompoloSpring2005.htm.

He would hold that the Apostles Creed is the doctrinal foundation of evangelicalism, along with a high view of Scripture and a "personal relationship" with Christ. However, when you read the article and see what he does with the "personal relationship" he essentially reinvents the Gospel.

The Apostles Creed is a fine statement of faith, but cannot be "enough" in determining major and minor.

Ben said...

"Evangelicals must hang up their Hawaiian Shirts . . ."

PHIL YOU HYPOCRITE!!!! You're WEARING a Hawaiian shirt in your picture on your profile. You are a FALSE TEACHER!!!

Seriously, thanks for a great week of posts. They've shoved me off the dime to think about some things I knew I needed to think about but didn't know quite where to start.

Phil Johnson said...

WARNING: A certain person who is posting here lately is sounding more and more like the harpy formerly known as "Carolyn Trace."

To "c.t": If you are even thinking of posting on my blog again, please don't. If it becomes obvious you are posting here, I'll simply remove all your comments anyway. You have broken the posting guidelines here so many time, you don't get any more chances. I'm sorry about that, but I have a zero tolerance level for people who post profanities and blasphemies on my blog.

If you've been hanging about my blog and posting under a different name lately, please go away now before your hostility level reaches the level of sin again. I also suggest you get some spiritual help.

To all oithers: please carry on and simply ignore this message.

ambiance-five said...

I have to disagree with any puffed up attempts to root out tares.

It is not the place of men to root up tares..the angels do it at the end of the world.

Matthew 13:27  So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
Matthew 13:29  But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
Matthew 13:30  Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.


This does not mean we don't preach the entire gospel..it simply means don't let the flesh get in the way in the process.

Ray said...

ambience-five -- I am curious how you would exegete the following:

1st Corinthians 5:12, 13 -- "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you.""

Many use Matthew 13 to turn a blind eye towards any type of heretical teaching in the church -- hence the current state of the church...

Are we not supposed to expose and/or deal with this type of heresy? Or, is it the forum that you disagree with? I am truly just curious...

Levi Nunnink said...

Bo and I ran into Darwin Fish (that's such an unfortunate name) and his band o' followers outside of a Calvary Chapel Harvest Festival. I remember being confused about their beef. They had signs reading: "God Kills!" and stuff like that and for some reason were really down on Greg Laurie, calling him a heritic.

We finally figured out that they weren't your usual cult but they were just really picky Christians. Reformed jerks on steriods, so to say. Not exactly a touchy-feely sort of cult.

Good post, Phil.

Frank Martens said...

I agree, and here is just one more of those places that wants to get rid of the "thinking seriously" part...

http://www.churchformen.com/CFMSummitFAQs.pdf

Makes me sick :(

Phil Johnson said...

Ambiance, if you mean you don't think Christians ought to have Inquisitions and subject people to death and torture as a remedy for heresy, I fully agree. But, then, no one here is advocating that.

If you're ruling out excommunication and refuting error of any kind, I have to disagree strongly. And I seriously doubt you yourself would be willing to hold consistently to that point of view.

If everything done in the name of Christ could never be challenged or exposed as error, then anything and everything evil would be brought into the church.

In fact, that is precisely what is happening today. There are "Christian" nudist camps, "Christian" white supremacists, churches whose identity is defined by their tolerance of homosexuality, and on and on. The "tolerance" that refuses to confront such errors and twists Matthew 13:27-30 to justify itself is a sinful tolerance.

If you agree with any of that, you're right back to the issue I initially raised: we need careful, biblical guidelines for determining what must be confronted and openly rebuked, and what ought to be accommodated for the sake of peace.

I for one, think if we used biblical guidelines rather than feminine intuition, we'd realize that the former category is much larger than most Christians imagine.

pilgrim said...

This points out the importance of Church history, general history and context.

I had a friend who left our church over similar issues-including his extreme guilt by association stance.

He also blurred the distinction between essential & peripheral doctrines.

He made many points, that if true would have been very serious. They had little or no foundation. The issues with any foundation were dealt with.

We did not excommunicate him as he left on his own, but the process did start as he met with the session.

He was however excommunicated from the next church he attended, and now has started his own where he is the pastor. He does have a Bachelor's degree from a Bible college though.

The parallels between him and Darwin Fish are eerie, although I am grateful he has not gone as far.
I think I should be praying for him.

I have not spoken with him in a long time, but we have mutual friends and acquintances. His new Church has a web site.

So while others may not be as extreme as Darwin Fish. there are others who have gone down some of the same path (And they would count each other as false teachers.)

Steve said...

Ambiance-five: I don't believe Phil is advocating we tear out and thus JUDGE the tares. Ultimately, what Phil is doing here is no different from what Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John did all through the New Testament--they constantly warned about false teachers and the dangers of their teachings. In order for us to heed these warnings, we need to develop discernment in regard to various doctrines. That these warnings show up repeatedly says something, and they were given with good reason--to help protect and preserve the church. This is just a small sampling of some very explicit commands about how we're to respond to those who are in error:

1 Thessalonians 5:14 "...WARN the unruly..."

2 Timothy 2:15-16: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God...but SHUN profane and idle babblings.

Titus 3:15: Speak these things, exhort, and REBUKE with all authority...

Titus 3:10: REJECT a divisive man after the first and second admonition...

2 John 10: If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine [of Christ], do NOT receive him...

For us to warn, shun, rebuke, and reject does NOT mean we're letting the flesh get in the way. It's merely to do what God Himself commands us to do.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil, another issue that makes this even more difficult is the neophyte naiveté versus cultured choice scenario. Though a doctrine may be primary, does one have to have a full, orthodox understanding of the doctrine (be able to articulate it) in order to be saved?

For example, I absolutely believe that the Gospel is inherently Trinitarian and primary, but I also believe that most people who enter the faith do not have a proper understanding of the Trinity, nor could they articulate it. I have found that most new believers would be borderline Modalistic (neophyte naiveté). Are these people believers? Yes, I think they are.

Then there are those who claim to be Christians for years, but subsequently reject the doctrine of the Trinity (cultured choice). Are these people heretics? Yes, I think they are.

Joanna Martens said...

I always enjoy reading blogs from Pastor Johnson, I'm always learnign something more. I was curious though a little off topic (maybe not), does anyone have any biblical convictions on Benny Hinn and his ministry?
Maybe Phil could talk about it in a future blog...

Jeremy said...

Just to throw my hat in the ring...

If the Apostle's Creed is the creed by which all true Christians should rally around and define as primary doctrine, with the rest being merely secondary or terterary doctrine, would that not make "heretics" like Arius actually a believer because He affirmed that creed? Or is there something more (as Phil has suggested) that we need to take into consideration.

I think we need to be wise to look at the doctrines that were fought over by the early church (and through the Reformation) to help us discern what is important to fight over, and what we need to lay aside and fellowship with other believers about.

A helpful book that I have used in my thinking through this is Mark Noll's Turning Points as well as Lutzer's Doctrines That Divide. I think both give a good historical perspective, as well as why these doctrines must be fought over.

Johnny said...

Phil,
I would be curious on a practical example of this topic concerning baptism and church membership. It seems that Piper is advocating that if one has been baptized as an infant that they should be admitted into membership. What do you think of this?

Thanks,
Johnny

Matthew Hoover said...

I think we ought to make the distinction here between churches determining what is real heterodoxy, churches determining how to discipline and nurture their confused and ignorant congregants, and individuals deciding with whom to fellowship with.

Starting at the back, I don't see any warrant for individuals to be doing this sort of thing (judging and dividing). Darwin Fish is the case study here. Ephesians 4 tells us that God has given us the offices of the Church so that the entire body can grow up together into maturity, not getting blown around by the winds of doctrine.

The second situation (churches shepherding their flocks) reveals why there is no list or primary and secondary doctrines, and never will be to define the boundaries of the faith. Anybody who's ever grown as a Christian (or at least known someone who has), will remember the weird stages that we all go through, trying to figure out how the Scriptures fit together, and getting rid of all the nonsense we've learned prior. The issue for individuals is always heart attitude of obedience rather than correct doctrine. God is patient with us and knows our frame.

The first issue (churches separating from churches), is really where the action is at. And there I have no more answers, except for what I wrote yesterday.

Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

Promulgating errant theology is bad enough. But does Fish have to add insult to injury by doing it wearing a Michigan sweatshirt? I mean, for crying out loud...

Having been a GCC member since '88, I ran into Darwin numerous times prior to his being shown the door. We chatted many times; he used to sit in the section in front of the organ, to the right of the pulpit, a few rows back from the front. I used to sit in that area as well.

He had this sort of determined, intense demeanor even before he went off the deep end. Sort of a quasi-military, persona; the kind of countenance that screams, "I am serious and you need to take me seriously."

Though I thought he was a bit odd even then, now I see how far out he really went. Wasn't he in the seminary for a short period of time?

Bhedr said...

Wow! you'd be shocked to know how timely these last few posts have been for me. Thanks for your insight. I'm really going through a struggle right now on the Virgin Birth. I covet your prayers. I have been agonizing over this.

ambiance-five said...

[quote]"Purge the evil person from among you.""[/quote]
Hello Ray, I would think that as long as you are truly preaching the gospel the evil person would run like bats.

Preaching and puffing up are not one in the same.

ambiance-five said...

Phil and others you are right if it means humble discipline.

I am not sure I totally agree with the manner in which churches excommunicate...Some of these wild persons have children that really need the church since they don't get much from home.

I think that is part of what the Lord meant by rooting up wheat along with tares..full families.

Jeremy Weaver said...

The tares looked like wheat.
Unrepetant heretics don't.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Sorry "Unrepentant":-)

CalvDispy said...

Phil:
These posts have really caught my eye. As a young pastor of a church for less than 2 years I wrestle with this problem almost daily, though perhaps in a different way. This is certainly no armchair theology for me, it is what I live and breathe day in and day out. It is a pastoral question to the core. The perennial dilemna for me is how does one maintain the unity of the church which is unaccustomed to Biblical teaching while at the same time guarding the integrity of Scriptural teaching?

Where is the line drawn in terms of ascertaining what issues are worth raising hair and which ones unecessarily create division in the church and perhaps the seeds of distentegration. Many immature believers have no sense of the importance of particular issues that we long since have clarified in our minds. Seeking to identify what is of greater weight for the health of the church and trying to instill that sense of importance to the congregation is a daunting and sometimes terrifying task.

I am passionate about the truth (all truth) and want desperately to feed my flock and for my flock to be satisfied. But how do I determine what is milk (needful for the moment) and a hardy steak (which many will choke on and seek to dine elsewhere) as well as all intermediate food stuff? Already, I have had many leave the flock. Some would say good riddance (perhaps rightfully so), but it is never my desire to see anyone leave because they accidentally(?) choked on some meat when perhaps I should have been feeding these little ones milk.

Phil Walker said...

A thought struck me. I think it dovetails nicely with Jonathan Moorhead's post above.

The doctrine of the Trinity doesn't seem to be explicitly taught in Scripture -- we know it because, like an underwater mountain range, it pokes through the surface every so often. Given that Scripture never lays out in direct, propositional terms what the doctrine of the Trinity is, and famously doesn't use the word, how then could we expect Scripture directly to tell us that it's primary?

But none of us expects to see Servetus in heaven -- I think we would all see the Trinity as a doctrine that a true believer cannot deny.

There must, then, be discernment required to understand Scripture's teaching *on* the gospel before we can declare certain beliefs as essential *to* the gospel. (And that "list" may grow and clarify as time goes on and the Church gets to grips more with what the gospel is. It certainly did for the first few centuries of Christianity.)

ambiance-five said...

[quote]The tares looked like wheat.
Unrepetant heretics don't.

[/quote]


Dox, I don't understand what you are saying here. Are you saying that unrepentant persons might not have children that need the church?

Are you saying that the tares( ones that look like wheat) are less damaging as ones that don't look like wheat?

Not sure what your point is in your statement.

Ray said...

ambiance-five (sorry for the previous misspelling of your moniker!)

quote - "Hello Ray, I would think that as long as you are truly preaching the gospel the evil person would run like bats."

I wish it were so! Unfortunately in my experience, which seems to be much like Phil's, there are those who stay in order to mislead others down their path. And in that case, there is little choice, but removal. Yes, some of these people may have little children, but in pastoral ministry, you must decide between the flock as a whole, and a heretical problem, who may or may not have children. Pastoring is not easy, and some decisions are very difficult -- hence the caution regarding wheat and tares which speaks of not being overly zealous in the locating and removing of all who may disagree -- but when it comes to heresy and the health of the flock then a pastor is faced with two choices; allow for the heretic to continue to spread his/her poison, or protect the flock.

We see in our society, many churches destroyed by a lack of decisiveness, and an overly 'ecumenical' attitude by the leadership, who feel that all beliefs are somehow OK. There is a group for that: UUA.

Two passages that I keep at the forefront of my mind:

Hebrews 13:7 -- Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

James 3:1 -- Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.


In both of these I find that Phil did the right thing:

1. He took his responsibility seriously and dealt with an issue.

2. A man claiming to be a teacher was adjudged to be causing an issue and was dealt with.

I believe that excommunication is the absolute last step, but when all else fails it is clear that we, as pastors, have a greater responsibility. Pastoring is filled with difficult decisions, and none is more difficult that this one (IMHO).

wordsmith said...

Aw, Phil -

After a late-night reading of your FAQ about the Fishites, I had a bad dream about a similarly controlling, manipulative, and abusive cult.

However, a far greater danger (imho) comes not from small, wacko cults, but from liberalism/modernism, ecumenism, pomo thought (and its brainchild, the emerging/emergent church), ECT, open theism, NPP/Auburn Avenue theology, and other pretenders to the true Christian faith. The appparent quality of these sheepskins makes it easier to conceal the vicious wolves hiding underneath. It's a wonder I don't have more nightmares about *these* guys.

What all these groups share is an undeniable contempt, if not hatred, of God's Word. While some may pay greater lip service to sola scriptura than others, the common denominator is that they all listen to the voice of the serpent: "Yea, hath God said...?" Once someone abandons the safety of Holy Writ and jettisons sola scriptura, the floodgates are opened to any and all kinds of heresy and wickedness.

What's even more dismaying is the head-in-the-sand attitude of too many believers. Content to have bread and circuses, they deny that the Church is just as much under assault from within as from without, and as laxity regarding church membership and discipline grows, so will the canker within.

May God have mercy on us and grant us a renewed, fervent love for His Word.

wordsmith

ambiance-five said...

Ray, You have explained your position with much love it seems and I can't dis you for that.

I know it must be hard.

Will be praying for you.

MTG said...

The distinction is crucial because if you don't get it figured out correctly...you start telling people they are on the fast to track to hell for having a KITCHEN in a church building. (Church of Christ)

Char said...

Ambiance-five:
I appreciate your concern for otherwise innocent family members of a heretical teacher, but what of all the innocent children of the orthodox christians who are being led astray by the heretic? The pastor or elders of a church must also protect all of them. Sometimes the only way to do this is remove the heretic-and yes unfortunately probably send his family packing along with him. But though they are outside of our care, they are not outside of God's.
It's a mistake to fail to do what is right out of concern for a few people (as noble as that may be); we act as if we don't believe that the LORD can make it right. We are trying to do his job insead of simply obeying him. There were many people in the bible, who though well-intentioned, failed to obey and were punished for it!

This is an interesting series of posts. I'm finding though that it really splinters off into more and more issues and possibilities the longer one ponders it...

ambiance-five said...

Char,
It is all a puzzle to me.
This is my instruction from the Lord to fight evil.

James 4:7  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

If the devil isn't fleeing...what is wrong with this picture?

Char said...

Resisting sometimes includes not allowing teachers who are under Satan's influence to remain in postitions where they may influence others.

Fred Butler said...

I remember one time coming to Grace for morning services and Darwin and his crowd were across the street protesting John and warning people about going into a cult. As I walked past Darwin, I took a look of surpise on my face and exclaimed, "Darwin! You're still alive!? I thought you and your buddies drank the purple cool-aid." He cursed me.

Fred

Hip and Thigh

Denise said...

Temple War,

Not sure who you are (for all I know you could be Matt Slick himself) but I can assure you his little 'Doctrine Grid' is sorely lacking in biblical thought. He has taught that a person can be a Christian and a Universalist and as well has stated a Christian can be an Open Theist at the same time, even if they are in error.

This is wrong. Universalism strikes at the heart of the gospel, and both do not declare the God of the Bible. Open Theism's god is mutable, ever learning, and wholely man-centered, not God-centered.

According to Slick's own testimony, he did not know Jesus was resurrected until two years AFTER being 'saved'. So according to his own "suggested" Doctrine grid, he didn't pass.

I dealt with his view here: http://surphingside.blogspot.com/2005/08/how-many-times-have-i-heard-people.html

Slick doesn't list these under Primary essentials, Secondary Essentials or Primary or Secondary non-essentials. In ranking order (presumably) he lists these as of last importance under "Christian Heresies". So God's immutability is a non-essential? God's attribute of omnicence is relgated to what, just a minor issue? Here's what Slick says in his "Doctrine Grid" about Universalism and OTV (among others):

"Liberal interpretation problem Examples of bad biblical interpretations" He then says:
"These do not contradict the essentials, but do contradict non essential teachings." His comment on these (he has a larger list for this) as "Affirming the doctrines in this grey section are signs of significant lack of understanding of biblical theology.Nevertheless, believing them does not negate salvation."


Isa 40:13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

Universalism denies God's wrath, coming judgment, eternal torment, God's holiness, and God's true Word.

Rev 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

There are many verses that address these issues, but little space to deal with them. Many more here can deal with them better than I ever could.

What the essentials are must at least include the true God who is revealed to us in Scripture. This would include the ressurected Lord Jesus Christ. Anything less is a false God. And when one has a false God, one has a false gospel.

Andrew said...

I'd argue that Darwin Fish has a point ... truth is all true (by definition).

Confusing major and minor doctrines--and the import each consequently demands--is another thing altogether.