Count it all joy when you face various trials. --James the brother of Jesus

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

John Gill: Advocate of the Use of Means in Evangelism?

John Gill is usually considered to be the father of the hyper-Calvinistic Baptists. There is a very long tradition of calling Gill a hyper-Calvinist. A 900 page dissertation has even been done on the subject of Gill and hyper-Calvinism. However, my own reading of Gill has uncovered several passages that make me question this common assumption. I will not argue one way or the other, because honestly the issue is very technical and it is not the specific area of his theology that I am studying, but I want to post a few quotes from Gill here just for others to see--and you can judge for yourself whether John Gill was a hyper-Calvinist:

From His Commentary on Song of Solomon II:14:
It is reported of the dove, that it will allure wild doves by its familiar converses into the dove-house with it: those who are called by grace, will use all proper ways and methods to allure and gain others to Christ, and to compliance with his ways and ordinances, as the church does the daughters of Jerusalem in this Song.

Do these sound like the words of someone who doesn't think that evangelism matters? Do they sound like the words of someone who opposes evangelism? It seems very clear to me that in this passage, Gill was advocating the proper "use of means for the propagation of the gospel to the heathen."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Forthcoming Blog Posts on John Gill


I've been working on my Th.M. Thesis on John Gill for the past few months and I was just directed to this blog, Helm's Deep: December, for some forthcoming posts on Gill in January.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Election of 2008 and the Comming Apocalypse

As election day draws near. Premellinnial Dispensationalism is looking a little more plausible to me. As I think of what might happen on that day, visions of the seven seals come to mind like something you might see in a "Left Behind" book.

However, I must be reminded that I have nothing to fear. For one, if the end times are upon us, believers can rejoice in the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can also remember that our God sets up kings and tears them down at his will. He holds the hearts of kings in his hands and turns them which ever way he wishes. Regardless of how bleak the political situation seems, our God reigns and His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John 3:16 and Particular Redemption

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

Probably no verse is used more as an objection to the Calvinist "L" (LIMITED ATONEMENT) than John 3:16. Those who object quote the verse and point to the word "World." They say that Calvinists try to make the word "world" mean "elect." The accusation is that Calvinists are not taking the plain sense of the word "world" here. However, I don't think that this is a fair objection. For one, this is not how Calvinists understand the verse. Maybe some do, but a better understanding is to accept what the text actually says. God loved the whole world--EVERYONE--Universally. This is not saying at all that Jesus died in the place of every person in the same sense. All this part of the verse speaks to is God's LOVE for the world--not who was purchased in the transaction that took place on the cross.

The second half of the verse (in my view) is actually in the favor of a Calvinistic interpretation. "That whosoever believeth...." Now, some emphacize the "whosoever," and emphacize the unlimited nature of that word. However, that word is not alone. It says, "whosoever believeth." The word "whosoever" is limited by the word "believeth." For this reason, all Christians have to "limit" the atonement to some extent. Not everyone is saved--only those who believe.

In the end, John 3:16 is no verse to use as an objection to particular redemption. It is untrue to claim that Calvinists have to go against the plain meaning of the "world" in this text. What the text does imply, is that anyone who believes can be saved. This is something that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can agree on. We all must preach the gospel in the power of God, knowing that the gospel is freely open to anyone who believes. God is powerful enough to soften the hardest heart and open blind eyes, and to breath life into dead men.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Are You Old Enough to Be a Church Member?

Upon completion of my M.Div. I went to another state and served as a full time pastor for the first time. While in the interview process I discovered something that I had never seen before in their constitution and by-laws. This particular church required that individuals must be 18 years old before they could join as church members. I thought it was odd, and I expressed my disagreement with such an idea, but I agreed to go along with it in hopes that it would change after I had taught what I believed the Bible says about church membership. In God's providence, I wasn't at the church long enough to lead that kind of change, and I really never thought of the issue again . . . until yesterday.

Yesterday I visited a baptismal service at one of the mega-churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The church was not a "Baptist" church, but it did hold to baptism of believers alone by immersion. As I looked over the bulletin, I noticed on the back it gave the church's requirements for membership. The statement included the same requirement for membership that I had seen before. A candidate for membership must be 18 years of age before being considered for membership.

Upon seeing this statement, my mind began racing to think of all the reasons why I disagree with such a position. I think that I will list these reasons in case anyone else that reads this runs into a similar situation. However, I must admit many of the reasons overlap and run together.

1. This just seems to be a business understanding of how to conduct church life, rather than a biblical one. Nowhere in the Bible does it give us any warrant to withhold church membership to someone because they are a "minor." I can understand that the motivation may be good. This policy may be in place in order to keep decision making in the hands of those who have the maturity to understand what is involved in many areas of the business of a local church. Or, it may be in place in order to prevent manipulation when it comes to church votes. However, at the root, it is an arbitrary age that depends more on business than the Bible.

2. Membership in a local church ought to be closely tied to baptism. If a church does not believe that individuals under 18 years old are competent to be church members, then they ought to withhold baptism as well. I'm not advocating withholding baptism, but rather, I'm just showing what should be the logical implications of a policy like this one.

3. If membership is reserved to those over 18 then there is no biblical recourse to follow when church discipline is needed for those who are younger. Matthew 18 and the Corinthian letters give us clear instructions on how and why to practice church discipline. But if we do not recognize baptized believing children as members, we have no biblical recourse to follow when a professed believing child falls into unrepentant sin. It may be that this is one of the reasons for such a policy. In our society it would be shocking to think of practicing church discipline on a child. However, in my mind, if someone is old enough to give credible evidence of conversion and to follow the Lord in baptism, then they ought to be held accountable just as any other church member.

4. The policy goes against a biblical view of what church membership is about. Church membership is the covenanting together of a body of believers to worship together, agreeing to hold one another accountable in the pursuit of following Christ. Such a policy excludes from membership many of those who need this accountability.

Conclusion

I must admit that there is a dual danger. On the one hand, we must be vigilant to make sure that those who we baptize are of an age that they are competent to understand and embrace the gospel. I do not want to advocate infant baptism by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, I see no biblical warrant to withhold the benefits of church membership from any baptized believing person--so long as they are not under discipline.

Off the top of my head that is about all of the reasons I can think of. Anyone reading is welcome to add reasons, or to challenge the reasons that I gave.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Position on Women in Ministry and a Biblical Justification

I recently had an interview with a church where I was asked what my position was on women in ministry. I answered with what I thought to be biblical, though I knew that it would be an unpopular answer. I tried to be gracious and loving, yet I do not thing that I could avoid offending some that were in the room. Later, someone who I love very much and who loves me very much asked me how the interview went, and they were shocked to find out what my position was. So I thought it would be good to post on my blog what my answer to that question is.

My Position

The first thing that I must say is that I believe that there are countless opportunities for women to minister in the church in a biblical way. I believe that the Bible permits women to serve in just about any serving capacity that you can find within the church. Teaching children, teaching women, hospitality, and even counseling other women are all biblical ways that women can serve. However, I do believe that the New Testament gives a limitation when it comes to certain things—that is, teaching or exercising authority over a man. Basically, I do not believe that the Bible permits a woman to be a pastor, or an elder. I also believe that in regard to Sunday School or other discipleship classes within the church a woman should not be put in a position of teaching or exercising authority over men. There are those that take offense to that saying, “why do you think that I can only teach other women and children?” However, I don’t believe that teaching women and children is any kind of put down. That kind of ministry is vitally important and of great value to the church and to the kingdom of God—it should never be looked down on as if it were subordinate to the teaching of men.

Biblical Justification

Brace yourselves. To modern and post-modern ears that have been thoroughly saturated with the feminism of our day, the biblical text that I’m about to quote is quite possibly one of the most offensive passages in the Bible. I must remind you that this is a direct quote and it is not my own words. This is what Paul said to Timothy:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
(1Ti 2:11-15)

What are we supposed to do with a Scripture text like this? There are really only three options available:
1) You could say that Paul is saying exactly what it sounds like Paul is saying—that women are not aloud to teach or exercise authority over a man—but that we know better now and that Paul was wrong. This is often the tactic that liberals will try to take. After all, to a liberal, the Bible is a human document where men wrote about their experience with God. If our experience with God is different then the Bible must be outdated. However, I don’t think that this position could be accepted by those who want to accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Those who want to allow women to teach men in the church today, but who still hold that the Bible is authoritative will usually go with option number two below.
2) You could say that this passage in 1 Timothy doesn’t really mean what it says. Commonly they way that this works out is there will be the explanation that Paul was dealing with a church that had some women that were being disruptive, so he was writing to correct that specific error. Since we don’t have that problem today, then what Paul said must not apply to us. I think that the problem with this is that nowhere in the text does it ever tell us that the church was having that kind of problem. This solution is merely a conjecture. Modern interpreters have accepted that we know that it is perfectly ok for a woman to teach men, so they read back into the text a hypothetical situation in order to get around the plain meaning of the text. Another way of saying exactly the same thing is that Paul’s situation was culturally conditioned. According to this view, there were cultural reasons in Paul’s day for why he said what he said. However, this is problematic because Paul actually gives his reasons for saying it in the next verses. He does not name anything to do with culture but he grounds his teaching in the created order, and in the order of the Fall. This is extremely unpopular and offensive to modern ears. We just don’t argue this way anymore, but this is what Paul said, and I believe that he was inspired by God and inerrant when he wrote those words. Therefore, I believe that option number three is the most tenable option available if we want to be faithful to Scripture.
3) Paul meant exactly what he said, and that is still authoritative and binding for the church today. Therefore, any role within the church that consists in teaching or exercising authority over men ought to be limited to men only.

Conclusion

At the heart of this issue is not a chauvinistic agenda to keep women in their place, and it is not about who can teach a mixed Sunday School class. The heart of the issue is the authority of the Bible. If I didn’t believe that the authority of the Bible was at stake I would drop the issue and I wouldn’t care at all. But at the heart, I don’t think we can get away from the fact that we have a clear statement in the Bible about the issue. If we want to go along with our culture into the blurring of gender roles so that there are no distinctions, then we have to follow one of the two first options I gave. Either we must say the Bible is wrong, or we try to find some explanation of why we don’t have to obey this clear command.

I know that my position is unpopular, and I know that I’m at disagreement with some of the people who have always been closest to me throughout my entire life. However, in order to be faithful to the Bible and to my Lord Jesus who inspired those words, I must submit to him and not to social, traditional, or even familial pressures.

Friday, July 18, 2008

They Don't Speak for Me: Part II (revised)

3. Calvinism Makes People Into Robots.

This too is an unfair straw-man mis-characterization of Calvinism. No true Calvinist believes such nonsense. The most common explanation that I know of for human freedom given by Calvinists such as myself is what is called "Compatiblist Freedom." Basically, it means that man makes real free choices and God is sovereignly in control of all things and that those two truths do not conflict with one another. There are two common examples of this truth: 1)Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and at the end of the Joseph story it says that though his brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good. The brothers made real choices that they were responsible for yet God was the one who sent Joseph ahead for the salvation of many people. 2)The book of acts says that Jesus was crucified by wicked men but that they were carrying out what God had determined would happen. The men who crucified Jesus were making real choices and were accountable for them, but they were ultimately doing what God had planned.

This may be a hard thing to understand, but I believe that it is what the Bible teaches, and the Bible doesn't seem to teach that the two contradict one another.

More on Calvinism to come.

ADDITION: I will add one other example of this truth that is very important in regaurd to the authority of the Bible. I belive in that God breathed the very words of Scripture. If the human authors of Scripture had complete and total freedom, then we can have no confidence that the Bible says what God wanted it to. A veiew that sees God as the ultimate cause of human actions is vital to our being able to say that the Bible is God's Word--otherwise all we have is man writing about his experiences with God.

Friday, July 11, 2008

They Don't Speak for Me

I've written before on this blog concerning the "issue" of Calvinism in the SBC, and I think my views are fairly clear. However, in the interest of being clear, I want to address a few things that are commonly assumed about Calvinists that do not describe what I believe.

1. Evangelism is unimportant since God has already chosen who will be saved.
I hold to a form of evangelical Calvinism that was held to by Baptists such as William Carey and Adoniram Judson. Carey is considered the father of the modern missionary movement. It is just not based in history to think that Calvinism is either anti-missionary or lacks zeal in evangelism.

Rather, I believe that God ordains both the "ends" and the "means" in salvation. He not only has ordained to save each person who will be saved, but he has also ordained the means by which they will be saved--the preaching of the gospel. The fact is that the lost world is dieing and going to Hell, and the only hope that they have is that they hear us preach the Gospel and believe. We don't know who is going to respond and who isn't, but if we don't preach lost sinners will die and their blood will be on our hands.

2. Calvinism is for Presbyterians

This is also not true. Baptists have had two streams from almost the beginning of the English speaking Baptist movement--General and Particular Baptists. Among the English Baptists most of the General Baptists fell into heresies such as Arianism--denying that Jesus was God. The Particular Baptists were the more enduring form which American and Southern Baptists trace their roots. The Particular Baptist confession that was most held to was the 2nd London Confession of 1689. This was brought to America as the Philadelphia Confession, and it was probably the most common confession of Baptists both North and South before the New Hampshire confession was written. This confession is a clearly evangelical Calvinistic document--which has been widely (though not uniformly) embraced by Baptists for over 300 years.

To calm any fears of a form of Presbyterian church government, I will say that I stand with the traditional Baptist church government of "congregationalism." I believe that it is taught in the Bible and I have written a lengthy paper defending this view in a previous post. To make it short and clear--I believe that the hightest authority for making decisions for any local church is the gathered congregation. No outside man made body can impose it's will against the will of the congregation, and no elder or church officer can be given the authority that belongs only to the gathered congregation. A gathered local church of Christ is ruled by Christ through the Biblie and by no other human authority.

I have more to say about this issue, but my time runs short. I will post again soon with some more common misconceptions about Calvinism in Baptist life.

Video: This Too Shall Be Made Right





Found this video on Saidatsouthern.com. It's an unofficial video of Derek Webb's song, "This Too Shall Be Made Right."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Argument for Congregational Polity

This is my paper for the Ecclesiology course that I took with Dr. Patterson this Spring:


This paper will argue that congregational church government is revealed in the Bible, is theologically consistent, and is practical for implementation in the local church today. That is, the Bible teaches that the highest ecclesiastical authority on this earth is the local church, and that the authority of the local church is seated in the congregation as a whole. This thesis has been argued before by many Baptists of the past, as well as others in the Free Church tradition. In fact, it is not likely that any new ground will be covered in this paper, yet it is an important argument to be made. It needs to be heard again today.

The conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention has brought about many wonderful results. One of these results has been a reinvigorated widespread sense of urgency for biblical fidelity. Along with this urgency has been a renewed interest in ecclesiology. This can be seen in the many conversations about Baptist identity, in the emphasis at the seminary level on Baptist distinctives, as well as in the ministry of the Center for Church Reform based out of Capital Hill Baptist Church. Mark Dever has labored there to encourage theological reform and the recovery of an authentic Baptist (and biblical) polity.

However, even with this renewed interest in historic Baptist polity, some “Baptist” churches have had doubts about the practice of congregational church government. Some have seen abuses of congregational authority and reject it on that basis. Others dismiss congregationalism as the effect that American pragmatic philosophy has produced in church life. However, it is almost humorous to think that authority for making decisions resting in a large collective group could be considered practical. It would seem that authority resting in the hands of just a few would be much more pragmatic. Such critics of congregationalism within Baptist life have maintained the practice of believer’s baptism and have striven for regenerate church membership, yet making a break with historic Baptist polity they opt for what might be called “elder rule.” John Hammett comments that “To a pastor who feels his congregation is obstructing his attempts to lead them in godly ways, elder rule might be very appealing.”[1] Such a church might still be considered congregational in the sense that it is independent of outside ecclesiastical authority; however, they reject that church authority is seated in the whole congregation. In such churches, the elders make the final decisions, and they are responsible for maintaining membership and discipline. This paper will argue that this understanding of church government (which may even be called semi-Presbyterianism) is deficient.[2]

The scope of this paper will be limited to the issue of congregational authority. Some congregationalists maintain that the Bible also mandates that a plurality of elders should lead, while others maintain that there is a general pattern of leadership by a single elder or pastor. This debate is outside of the scope of this paper. The more important concern for this paper is the seat of authority—not the structure of leadership. Though there is a pattern of plural leadership that seems evident, there is no explicit command in Scripture concerning the number of leaders that a congregation should have. However, this paper will argue that there is an explicit biblical command for local congregations to exercise congregational authority, and any form of church government which circumvents this command by delegation is in conflict with a Scriptural command.

There is also a terminology confusion that must be addressed here. This paper will not be able to fix the confusion that exists, but hopefully anyone who reads it will at least understand what is meant in this argument. By “elder rule,” this paper means a form of church government where elders make the final decisions, with or without the wisdom of congregational input. By “elder led” this paper means a form of government that has a plurality of elders, yet the final decisions are still made by the congregation jointly. The issue at hand is where authority is seated—in the elders, or in the congregation.

Biblical Basis

Congregational church government is the pattern revealed in the Bible and as such ought to be implemented today in churches that desire to pattern themselves after the New Testament churches. The texts used to argue for congregationalism have been well worn. This paper will use the same texts that are always used in this endeavor and will seek to gain insight from other able interpreters.

The idea that congregational church government is taught in the New Testament is not beyond being contested. Those who practice Presbyterianism and Episcopal forms of government would clearly reject that. Presbyterians would argue that the Bible teaches elder rule and connectionalism. Episcopalians and Catholics would likely argue that the Bible is ambiguous about church government. Over a period of years, God led the church to establish a hierarchical structure. In fact, Peter Toon argues that “the modern Anglican . . . does not see any blueprint for the polity and government of the church written in Scripture.”[3] Toon basis almost his entire argument for Episcopal government on church history and his claim that God divinely guided the early church to adopt that model. In contrast, Baptists have historically believed that congregationalism is a revealed doctrine. As noted by Baptist historian Gregory Wills, “They held authority immediately from Christ and administered it according to the pattern revealed in scripture.”[4]

Discipline Texts

The texts most commonly used to argue for congregationalism by 18th and 19th century Baptists were Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, and 2 Corinthians 2:6.[5] These texts all treat the issue of church discipline. The biblical pattern for discipline demonstrated to earlier Baptists that congregational church government is biblical.

First, in Matthew 18 Jesus gives his disciples instructions for dealing with a brother in error:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt 18:15-18).[6]

The key phrase here is “tell it to the church.” This is only one of two places in the gospels that the word ekklhsia occurs.[7] According to Jesus’ command, if the brother in error does not repent, the final redemptive measure is to bring it before the church. As Craig Blomberg has stated,

Ultimately, if the sinner remains recalcitrant, the entire church community must in some sense be made aware of the offense so that the rebellious individual has nowhere to hide. If even this procedure fails to bring repentance, then as a last resort Jesus commands the entire community to dissociate itself from the individual.[8]

Church discipline cannot be done in a corner. It is presumption to think that this practice can be delegated to anyone other than who Jesus specified.

In a government where authority resides in elders, the authority to discipline does not reside in the members jointly, but it is delegated to another. This kind of delegation may have good intentions. It may be motivated by a desire to prevent a scandal for the church. Yet, this clearly violates the pattern that Jesus commanded. Even a good motivation is not a warrant to abandon the command of Jesus in regard to discipline. Samuel Waldron makes this argument against Presbyterianism:

[Presbyterians believe] that the board of elders of a church legally and representatively is that church. Their decisions, therefore, constitute the decisions of the church. The consent of the church is not necessary to confirm or consent to such decisions, because the church has already given its consent in the decision of their representatives, the elders. . . . [M]atters of church membership and discipline may be decided by the elders alone. They are the church representatively in this matter. No vote of the assembled church membership is necessary.[9]

Waldron argues that this delegation of discipline has no biblical basis, is purely arbitrary, and actually contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. Nineteenth century Baptist churchman, J. M. Pendleton, affirms the same thing: “the power of a church cannot be transferred or alienated.”[10] The other church discipline texts demonstrate the congregation’s authority to discipline even more clearly.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives directions to the Corinthian church to expel an immoral man who claimed to be a believer:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. 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” (1Cor 5:9-13).

The first observation is that this letter, like most of the Pauline letters, is addressed to the whole church at Corinth. This is probably the plainest evidence that exists. Almost all of the Pauline letters were addressed to churches. In addition to discipline, Paul “saw doctrinal purity as a congregational responsibility.”[11] Paul does not delegate obedience in the matter of discipline to any other body, but it is to be the action of the whole congregation jointly. Specifically, the last sentence says “Purge the evil person from among you.” Paul, in no uncertain terms commands the whole congregation to perform this action. Richard B. Hays observes that Paul did not scold the immoral man or woman involved in the sin, but the whole congregation for being complicit.[12] Hays states, “The Corinthians are to gather as a community and take solemn action to exclude the incestuous man from the church.”[13] Responsibility for action lies with the gathered congregation.

Second Corinthians gives the most significant evidence for this joint authority for discipline. When it appears that the immoral man from 1 Corinthians has repented, Paul gives instructions for his readmission to fellowship. In this instruction he states, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough” (2Cor 2:6). This text begs the question, “majority of what?” The command to discipline in the first letter was given to the church as a whole. There was no direction for the elders to expel the man. Therefore, this text seems to indicate that the decision to discipline was made by a majority vote of the gathered congregation. However, Ernest Best rejects that this text indicates a majority vote. Rather Best argues that, “All the word signifies is that there was no serious opposition to the decision.”[14] Whether a formal vote was taken may not be knowable. It is clear that the action was taken by the whole congregation—not a committee. However, the idea of a congregational vote should not be thrown out. The concept of a majority lends itself to this idea. Margret Thrall states,

It may simply be that Paul had been informed of the taking of a congregational vote, which had resulted in support for the line he had urged (or demanded?) in his letter. If so, the phrase uJpo twn pleionwn may have come naturally to mind, without any emphasis on those who might have dissented from the decision, whether they supported a harsher sentence or a more lenient one.[15]

David Garland concurs that a congregational vote may possibly be what the term “majority” refers to here.[16] A majority implies an identifiable body from which the opinion is discerned. This may or may not imply dissent, but it does imply that the will of the whole congregation was clear.

Not only does this support that the authority for discipline resides in the congregation jointly, but it also supports the mere concept of church membership. Since church membership is not directly mentioned in the Bible, some might question the practice of keeping track of any membership role at all. However, this text clearly shows that the church of Corinth had some means of recognizing who they considered a part of their local body. It also indicates that they had some means of knowing the majority opinion on matters of membership and discipline. Whether they collected ballots, raised hands, or merely voice voted with a resounding “amen” may be in question, but clearly some means of voting must have been in place.

The clearest evidence for congregational authority is found in the fact that the New Testament congregations had the authority to maintain their own membership and discipline. This was held by such a notable Baptist theologian as John L. Dagg who said, “Each church for itself has the responsibility of admitting to its own membership. A single church may exclude from its own fellowship, as in the case of the incestuous member excommunicated by the church at Corinth; and the power to exclude implies the power to admit. The pastor has not the power; nor is it possessed by any ecclesiastical judicatory except the church itself.”[17] Mark Dever similarly sums up the common argument given by Baptists for congregationalism based on church discipline as follows:

Advocates of Congregationalism understand that the Bible teaches the local congregation is ultimately responsible for its discipline and doctrine. Disputes between members (Matt. 18:15-17), as well as matters of doctrine (Gal. 1:8; 2 Tim. 4:3), church discipline (1 Cor. 5), and membership, (2 Cor. 2:6-8), are all recognized as congregational matters. No other authority may obtrude itself into the position of giving final correction to the congregation or overruling them on such matters. Nor may the congregation delegate this authority to an elder or bishop or any other structure, thereby deferring their own accountability before God for doctrine or discipline.[18]

Baptists of the past clearly saw that the Bible teaches that congregations jointly held the responsibility for maintaining membership and discipline. The preceding biblical texts establish that the churches bear this responsibility with a reasonable measure of certainty. As J. M. Pendleton argued, “if the New Testament churches had the power and the right to receive, exclude, and restore members, they must have had the right to transact any other business coming before them. There surely can be nothing more vital to the interests of a church than the reception, exclusion, and restoration of members.”[19] The evidence already given in regard to church discipline has already made a sufficient case for congregational government, but this is not the only data available.

Selection and Commissioning of Leaders

Another biblical evidence for congregationalism is the indication within the biblical text that congregations called their own leaders. In Acts 6, the apostles called on the congregation to select from among themselves men to serve. Taking care of the physical needs of the church was distracting the apostles from the important work of preaching and prayer. This text has often been cited as the origin of the office of deacon, but it is not necessarily so. Whether it refers to deacons or not is irrelevant to the point that is at issue here. What is important is that they were selected by the congregation. The text says: “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering” (Acts 6:2-5). Here the apostles addressed “the full number of the disciples.” That would most likely be all the believers or the whole congregation. New Testament scholar John Polhill comments, “Even though the Hellenists had the main grievance, the problem involved the entire congregation; and the apostles wanted total participation.”[20] The congregation is told to select men “from among” themselves. The congregation had a role in selecting their own officers. Finally, the process culminates when the text states that it “pleased the whole gathering.” If anyone had the authority to mandate a decision it would have been the apostles, yet Scripture records the important note that the consent of the congregation was gained before moving forward. Polhill also states, “It is important to note that the congregation made the selection. The apostles assumed the leadership in making the proposal, but they left final approval to congregational decision.”[21] Was this a vote similar to modern methods of ballot taking? That is unknown, and probably irrelevant. Luke’s account just indicates that consent of the congregation was given in some fashion.

Related evidence comes from Acts 13 where it records the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas. John Hammett states that “it seems that the church was involved in commissioning Paul and Barnabas to their work as missionaries, and upon their return, Paul and Barnabas reported to the church (Acts 14:27).”[22]

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3).

John Polhill comments that “In v. 2 ‘they’ likely refers to the entire Antioch congregation gathered for worship.” Then he states that “It is not clear who laid hands on Paul and Barnabas, whether the other prophet-teachers, the elders of the church . . . or the whole congregation.” It is possible that it was a smaller group who laid their hands on the two missionaries; however, in contrast to an ordination by elders, Polhill continues, “The gesture was more a symbol of the congregation’s endorsing the work of the two.”[23]

The final biblical evidence considered here will be from the counsel of Jerusalem, which is often pointed to by others to advocate connectionalism. At the counsel the apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem church met to seek the Lord’s direction on how to handle Gentile converts. Upon reaching a decision the text states, “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 15:22). When the apostles spoke, it was affirmed by the congregation. C. K. Barrett says that the Jerusalem church was virtually the only church represented: “Here they meet sun oJlh th ejkklhsia, the whole body of Christians, that is, of the Jerusalem church; the church of Antioch had sent only a small delegation (15.2), and no other church seems to have been represented.”[24] According to T. C. Smith, “The opinion of James was judicious enough for the concurrence of the assembly. It seems that the final decision rested with the general assembly of the church in Jerusalem.”[25] It is evident from the text that “the church was involved in the discussion (vv. 4, 12) and decision (v. 22) of the group there.”[26] From this involvement an argument can be made for congregational authority.

The fact that churches are to call their own leaders has been recognized among Baptists from the beginning an is reflected in the 2nd London Confession which states, “The way appointed by Christ for the Calling of any person, fitted, and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the Office of Bishop, or Elder, in a Church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the Church itself.”[27] If early Baptists saw this principle as important enough to include it in a confession of faith it could not have been seen as a pragmatic approach but as a command of Christ.

Theological Arguments

This section will discuss the doctrines of the “priesthood of believers,” “regenerate membership,” and the kingship of Christ over his church. Each of these doctrines has implications for congregational government.

Priesthood of Believers

The priesthood of believers has been advocated by Protestants, including Martin Luther and others, since the reformation.[28] However, it is an often misunderstood and abused doctrine. It has been used by some to argue against any kind of theological or moral accountability within the church. If someone believes something heretical, or practices some kind of immoral behavior, they may seek to justify what they believe and to avoid church discipline by invoking the doctrine of the “priesthood of believers.” They claim that because of this doctrine, Christians ought not to judge one another in these matters. This was a major claim of moderates during the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. Gregory Wills claims,

Throughout the twentieth century, [Southern Baptists] had placed the ideas of soul liberty and the priesthood of the believer near the center of Baptist theology. These doctrines, many Baptists urged, established the inviolable character of the individual conscience in matters spiritual: No person had a right to sit in judgment of another’s religious convictions. They meant that each person was free to embrace Christianity according to individual judgment and that churches and denominational organizations should tolerate those diverse judgments.[29]

However, the “priesthood of believers” is not a doctrine releasing people from accountability—in fact, the opposite is true. The priesthood of believers is a doctrine of responsibility.

This doctrine basically means two things. First, believers need no human mediator apart from Jesus Christ in order to be in right relationship with God. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, and no other is needed—believers can go directly to him. There is no need for the priestly system or confession to priests of the Roman Catholic Church. Second, believers are all priests. Therefore, the “kingdom of priests” that Christ has redeemed is to act as priests in interceding for the lost world and in holding one another accountable. It takes no special ordination or spiritual power in order to hold fellow believers accountable—all it takes is the brotherhood involved in the New Testament church. In summary, the “priesthood of believers” means that believers have access to God directly through Christ, and that all believers are priests to one another and to the lost world.

If all believers are Spirit indwelled and have been given this responsibility of priesthood, then it logically follows that the basic unit of local Christian community, the Church, is collectively responsible and competent to make decisions. This doctrine is evidence that all believers in the community are equal and together they equally bear the responsibility for governing the decisions of the church. John Hammett states that “The priesthood of all believers is seen by many as the strongest support for congregational government.”[30]

It is true that “each individual believer is also fallible.”[31] It is not probable that every decision of the congregation will be unanimous. It is probably the case that sometimes the majority of the congregation may be wrong. This is probably why many have chosen to abandon congregational government. However, in spite of human fallibility, the whole congregation is still held accountable for what goes on in the church. Not only will leaders be judged when a church abandons the gospel, but the whole congregation will be held accountable. This responsibility for a congregation will not be avoided by a claim that they merely followed the directions of their leaders.

Regenerate Church Membership

A commitment to regenerate church membership is why congregational government actually works best in Baptist settings. Though other denominations may have believed in only admitting members who had experienced conversion,[32] Baptists have been the most consistent in this principle. Baptists have historically sought to maintain regenerate church membership by baptizing only those who have given a credible profession of faith. The more closely the membership of the church resembles those who are actually regenerate, the less likely it is that the church will move in sinful directions. However, even in Baptist life, regenerate church membership has not always been guarded closely.

It is obvious that in a setting where regenerate membership is not emphasized and not implemented, congregationalism will have problems. If many or most of the members of a congregation are lost persons, there is no reason to expect that congregational decisions will in any sense resemble the revealed will of God. It is reasonable to assume that those who have abandoned congregationalism in Baptist life have done so because they have seen examples of churches run by the decisions of lost people. This is a legitimate criticism of congregational government; however, if congregation is biblical, its weakness is not a good reason for abandoning it. Rather than abandoning congregational government, Baptist churches need to reemphasize regenerate membership and church discipline. In the past, Baptist churches had been so committed to this principle that they were called bigots by other denominations. Though this is not a pleasant thing, within it was a “hidden complement.”[33] It would be better to be called a bigot for obeying the commands of Christ, than to compromise on biblical principles and be loved by everyone.

The Kingship of Christ

The argument for congregationalism does not maintain that a local congregation is the final authority, but that it is the final human ecclesiastical authority. This is recognized in the 2nd London Confession of Faith in the statement, “The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, in whom by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order, or Government of the Church, is invested in a supream [sic] & soveraigne [sic] manner, neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof,”[34] Ultimately the congregation is ruled by Christ through the instrument of his Word. No man can usurp Christ’s authority. Paul said to the church of Colossi, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:18), and to the church at Ephesus, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:23). No congregation is free to make any decision which is in conflict with the commands of Christ the king and head of the church.

This has been understood and taught among Southern Baptist from at least the time of its founders. William B. Johnson, the first president of the S. B. C., argued as follows: “Each church as an independent body, so far as the control of any other body on earth is regarded, acts freely. To Christ, her only Head, Lawgiver and Ruler, is she accountable; no other authority may exercise any control over her. For her government, Christ has enacted a perfect code of laws for every possible case.”[35] The church, each individual congregation, is immediately held accountable to Christ.

This fact is relevant in the argument for congregational government because if the authority of the church is seated in any delegated authority, then there is an intermediary authority between Christ and his church. Such an intermediary authority is absent from scripture. Introducing intermediary authorities is an act of presumption because it has not been commanded. For churches that recognize the validity of the regulative principle, congregational government ought to be the only option. Christ is the head of the church, and no one else may take his place.

Practical Arguments

A few objections to congregationalism have been mentioned that seem to be based on how unpractical it may seem. While the most convincing evidence for congregational polity should be biblical and theological, there are practical reasons to implement congregational government as well. In fact, if congregational government is biblical, and if it really is commanded by Christ, then it should be expected to be practical in maintaining the health of the church. Pragmatism is never a good test for truth because methods might give the appearance that they work, yet be in conflict with the truth. However, if something is true it should be expected to work. Such is the case with congregationalism.

Drawing from Mark Dever and James Leo Garrett Jr., John Hammett identifies three specific benefits of congregational polity. Dever argues in his work A Display of God’s Glory that one of the practical benefits of congregational polity is that it provides a safeguard against a drift toward doctrinal and spiritual decline. He states,

Friends, the verdict of history is in. While it is clear that no certain polity prevents churches from error, from declension, and from sterility, the more centralized polities seem to have a worse track record than does congregationalism in maintaining a faithful, vital, evangelical witness. (Congregationalism’s record is particularly enhanced in the case when the purity and visibility of the church is protected through a biblical practice of believer baptism and a rejection of infant baptism.) The papacy has wrought havoc on self-confessed Christians. Bishops have hardly done better. Even assemblies, conferences, presbyteries, synods and sessions, when they have moved from being advisors to being rulers, have overstepped their scripturally-warranted authority and have brought more trouble than help.

Could it be that the gospel itself is so simple and clear, and the relationship that we have with God by the Holy Spirit’s action in giving us the new birth is so real that the collection of those who believe the gospel and who know God are simply the best guardians of that gospel?[36]

Dever raises a significant point. The conservative resurgence in the S. B. C. would have been impossible in a setting where authority resides at the top of the structure. Hammett comments, “The power that changed the course of the Southern Baptist Convention was the power of thousands of grassroots Baptists. They were mobilized and directed by very able leaders, but the determining factor was the actions of thousands of average believers.”[37]

This works on the denominational level, and it ought to work on the level of the local church as well. If a pastor is preaching heresy or living an immoral lifestyle, under congregational government the church can vote to remove that man. However, if the authority resides in the elders, either the church will suffer along until the man resigns or is removed by the other elders if they are willing and able to do so, or the members just leave and let go of any investment that they had in that church.

Dever also argues that in some sense all churches are congregational: “Every local congregation in Christendom, from Greek Orthodox to Pentacostal, from Roman Catholic to Baptist, from Episcopalian to Lutheran, from Presbyterian to Methodist, is congregational in nature. They only exist as the people continue to participate in their activities.”[38] The leadership of a local congregation may have the ability to make all the decisions for the congregation, but if all the people leave, there will be no church. This is recognized by those who want to practice elder rule in Baptist life. It is simply wisdom to receive input from the congregation before making major decisions. Yet it is best if this input is more than just recognition of wise leadership principles. Given the biblical and theological basis above, the documents of a local church ought to acknowledge that final ecclesiastic authority resides in the congregation.

Hammett’s final stated benefit of congregationalism is an increased congregational loyalty. He states, “a lack of involvement and participation in discerning the direction of the church seem likely to weaken the sense of loyalty and commitment among the members of the congregation.”[39] If authority does not reside in the gathered congregation, but in the leaders, it seems that the result will be a loss of the idea that the church is the believers who gather. Instead, a top down authority structure would seem to result in spectators who “go to church,” rather than members who are the church.

Conclusion

This paper has argued on biblical and theological grounds in favor of congregational polity. An attempt has also been made to show that this structure is not only theologically correct but that it actually works in practical life. Biblical evidence is given which centers on church discipline and the selection of leaders. Theological evidence is given which uses the concepts of the priesthood of believers, regenerate church membership, and the Kingship of Christ.

If congregational government is truly the polity that is revealed in scripture then it should be expected to work, and it will benefit the health of churches. This paper is intended to be a brief articulation of this principle. It is hoped that others who may have opportunity to read this may join in advocating congregational polity and in trusting local congregations—led by the Spirit—to make the right decisions concerning whatever business that comes before them.




[1]John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 2005), 156.

[2]Ibid., 155.

[3]Toon, Peter, “Episcopalianism,” in Who Runs the Church? Four Views on Church Government, ed. Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), 28.

[4]Gregory Wills, “The Church: Baptists and Their Churches in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life comp. Mark Dever (Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001), 20-21.

[5]Ibid.

[6]All Scripture quotations will be taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[7] Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David Hubbard, vol. 33B (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1995), 532.

[8]Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary, ed. David Dockery, vol. 22 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992), 279.

[9]Samuel Waldron, “Plural-Elder Congregationalism,” in Who Runs the Church?, ed. Steven Cowan, 118-19.

[10]J. M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1966), 102.

[11]John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 147.

[12]Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation, ed. James L. Mays (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997), 82.

[13]Ibid., 83.

[14]Enest Best, Second Corinthians, Interpretation, ed. James L. Mays (Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1987), 23.

[15]Margret Thrall, II Corinthians, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton, vol. I (Edinburgh, Scottland: T & T Clark, 1994), 176.

[16]David B. Garland, 2 Corinthians, New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 29 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 126.

[17]John L. Dagg, Church Order: A Treatise (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: American Baptist Publication Society, 1871), 268.

[18]Mark Dever, “The Church,” in Theology for the Church, ed. Danniel Akin (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadmand & Holman, 2007), 835.

[19]J. M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual, 107.

[20]John Polhill, Acts, New American Commentary, ed. David Dockery, vol. 26 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992), 180.

[21]Ibid., 181.

[22]John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 148.

[23]John Polhill, Acts, 290.

[24]C. K. Barrett, Acts, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton, vol. II (Edinburgh, Scotland: T & T Clark, 1998), 738.

[25]T. C. Smith, Acts-1 Corinthians, The Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton Allen, vol. 10 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1970), 93.

[26]John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 148.

[27] William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1974), 287.

[28]John Hammett, “Human Nature,” in Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel Akin, 378.

[29] Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Chruch Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 (New York, New York: Oxford Press, 1997), 4.

[30]John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 149.

[31]Ibid.

[32]Gregory Wills, Democratic Religion, 5.

[33]Ibid., 6.

[34]William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 286.

[35]William B. Johnson, “The Gospel Developed,” in Polity comp. Mark E. Dever, 175.

[36]Mark Dever, A Display of God's Glory (Washington, D. C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001), 38-39.

[37]John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 150.

[38]Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004), 225.

[39]John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 151.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Homless and Me, Part VI (Mormon Edition)

Yesterday was interesting. A couple of Mormons came to the front of the mission asking to see a resident yesterday. I let them know, as I would for anyone, that I cannot release any information about who lives at the mission--even whether the person is there or not--but that I could leave a message if they were there. When I walked away from the door, the person that they were looking for was already in the lobby and recognize that they were there for her. She went out to meet with them.

I could not just let it go at that. She was about to go out alone to face three Mormon elders, and I could not in good conscience let her go out to face these cult members by herself. I did the only thing that I knew that I could do. I asked them to find a different place than right in front of the mission--on mission property to talk. They were very defensive about this and they asked me why. Since they asked, I told them something to the effect of, "This is a Christian mission, and Mormons aren't Christians." This made them bad, and they became even more combative. The three of them started ganging up on me for a theological debate. I challenged them on what I could, but I was clearly outnumbered, and they knew Mormon theology much better than I did. I did clearly get them to admit though that they do believe that men can become gods. But with all the badgering that I was getting from the three of them, two more came up and I became outnumbered 5 to 1. Finally one of my fellow managers came and said that they needed me inside and I left. They soon left as well.

I've not been left in a situation quite like this before. I found myself to be a poor debater when it came to this type of thing--not because I was deficient in my knowledge of Christianity, but because I simply cannot think quickly enough to respond to 3 to 5 questioners at a time--and because I've not studied Mormonism itself that much. I've studied the Bible enough to know what Christian theology says, and I've been informed enough about what the differences are between Mormonism and Christianity, that I could keep my bearings and understand that what they said and the terms that they used don't mean the same things as when I use the same words.

Being in a position like that is not easy. I cannot depend on my own intellectual ability to make it through. I can only trust that Jesus will give me words to say, and that through the power of the Spirit, he can work the work that he desires to do. I pray that my encounter yesterday--as unprofitable as it may have seemed--might have results that I never see.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Homeless and Me, Part V

Last night was fun. I was promoted to a manager position starting last Wednesday, and last night I put out and banned my first resident. I had a report of some obscene behavior (the likes of which I won't even mention in this forum). I went to investigate what was going on and when I found the person in question I just asked him his name. He responded, "I'm not telling you. You have no right to question me!" I assured him that as long as he lived in the mission I could at least ask him his name. I was going to tell him that he would have to leave for the night and come back the next day and talk to a case manager--since I didn't actually see what was going on. However, he got angry and started to cuss at me. He also threatened to shoot me. I told him to leave and started to dial the police and he was gone before I finished the call. We marked his file so as not to let him back in to the facility for any reason for at least 6 months.

I love my job.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Baptism and Eternal Security

A couple of years ago there was some controversy concerning alien immersion. Should a baptism administered in a church that does not affirm that a true believer cannot loose their salvation be considered valid--even if it is by immersion as a believer with no understanding that baptism in any way is salvific.

This issue was brought up in my class last night and I think I've had a change of mind. Earlier I would have accepted a baptism as valid as long as it met the other qualifications I listed above. However, Dr. Patterson described the qualification for a valid baptism is that it be administered by a New Testament church. The thing that he maintained was necessary for a New Testament church was that they be clear on salvation by grace through faith alone.

I'm not exactly sure that drawing a line at eternal security is necessarily the right place to draw a line. However, there is one thing that makes me think it is probably a good place for SBC entities to draw the line: "Perseverance of the Saints" is probably the only one of the 5 points of Calvinism that Southern Baptists can almost all agree on. If a church rejects perseverance, chances are they don't clearly teach salvation by grace alone either.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Praise God! He Gives Boldness for Evangelism

The Lord did something wonderful this morning. I had two witnessing encounters this morning where God was clearly guiding me and giving me more boldness that I usually have. First, an older man eating breakfast at the shelter started talking to me about the Seminary and saying how “they don’t believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” and “they tell you there that the ending of the book of Mark shouldn’t be there.” Then he said, “Yeah, preachers all say that people have to believe before Jesus would heal them, but I think he heals first and then people believe.” Of course for this Calvinist, that was like saying sick’em. I told him I agreed. I said you have to be born again before you can believe. We talked about that for just a little bit, and then I said, “Are you born again.” Immediately he said no, but then backed up and said, “well I might be, I believe that Jesus died and rose again,” to which I responded, “Is he your king? Is he your Lord?” To which again he said immediately “No.” I pressed the issue of Lordship until he eventually finished eating and left the shelter. I don’t know his name. Then another guy which I have been getting to know, named David, had been listening to the conversation, and I had already agreed to give him a ride to a place that wasn’t far out of my way. So when I left I picked him up at the curve, and I didn’t even have to get the courage to say something, he started in saying that what I had said didn’t sound right to him. In a nut shell he told me that he thought that God would forgive people because of his love and that people have to obey to earn God’s favor (not in so many words). To which I clearly told him that each of us is dead in our sins, deserving hell, and we can’t do anything to save ourselves but to cast ourselves on the mercy of God trusting in the payment that Jesus secured in the Cross. Then we obey because we have a changed heart, not in order to earn God’s favor. He told me he could see how what I was saying was different, and said that he would think about it through the day. I went home and called Amy to tell her about it and as I was telling her I began to weep for joy because I don’t thing God has ever given me that kind of boldness in witnessing before, and as far as I can tell I think that I clearly communicated the Gospel faithfully and without compromise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Trouble with Calvinists


OK. That title was a hook to get people to read this. I don't really have a problem with Calvinists. In particular, Baptist-Calvinists. In fact, I am one. I'm a genuine, convince, consistent, 5-point Baptist-Calvinist. I believe in:

Total Depravity--We are born sinners, and totally unable to do anything to save ourselves apart from God's work on us.
Unconditional Election--I believe that God chooses us not on the basis of any foreseen goodness in us, but out of His mere pleasure. He does not choose us based on our supposed advantages such as ethnic background or socioeconomic status, but rather He chooses anyone, anywhere, out of His mere pleasure.
Limited Atonement--I prefer the more accurate term "particular redemption." I believe that on the cross Jesus did more than make salvation available, but that he actually secured the salvation of everyone who would believe.
Irresistible Grace--Once again, I prefer the term "effectual calling." But I believe that God is strong enough that he overcomes any resistance that those who he chooses can put up. God speaks through His word, and spiritually dead sinners come to life and are enabled to believe. It is like a blind man who is healed by God from his blindness--there is no way on earth that the man would then resist the healing that he has just received. In the same way, when God saves a person, he reaches down to a spiritually dead, rebellious sinner, and changes his heart so that he wants to please God.
Perseverance of the Saints--I believe that all who God saves have been brought from death into eternal life and true Christians will persevere until the end.

Like I said, I am a Baptist-Calvinist. But is there something true to the title of this blog entry? Well, I purposefully titled it the "trouble with Calvinists" not with "Calvinism." I affirm all 5 points of Calvinism, but there may be trouble with some of my brethren who share this commitment with me. I will just give two things that I see as a common temptation that some (and I don't even think that this is the case with most or even a lot) Calvinists have:
1) There may be a temptation among some to break fellowship with other true believers, who have a genuine desire to be Biblical, who do not see things the same way we do.
2) There also may be a temptation for young pastors who embrace Calvinism to push too fast to change there churches--and this may end up blowing up in the face of the young pastor, as well as giving a bad taste for Calvinism to those in the church.

I must say three things in response to these two temptations:
1) These temptations are not limited to Calvinists. Some (and probably not most and maybe not even a lot) non-Calvinists are very antagonistic toward Calvinists and might push to break fellowship. Also, young non-Calvinists also have a problem some times with trying to change their church too quickly. So clearly these issues are not so much about Calvinists but about the personal temperament of the person who holds the doctrine.
2) I would encourage my Calvinist brothers to seek common ground and foster brotherly love with those who disagree on one or more points of Calvinism but who clearly desire to follow the Bible.
3) I also encourage my Calvinist brethren to be patient as you teach your people. It is highly unlikely that a young convinced Calvinists who holds to the regulative principle (as I do) and to a biblical pattern of plural-elder congregationalism (as I do) can go into a church and make any kind of progress until he first spends years and maybe even decades laboring to show his people that he loves them.

With all that said, I'm sure that I might get a few comments from both sides. I don't know what to expect. Will I get attacks--maybe, but I've spoken what I believe to be true.

God bless you all, and may He help us all to work toward preaching the biblical gospel so that we might see men and women be brought out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

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