Monday, January 21, 2008

I am glad to report that the issue I need to deal with next is almost a muted point…in fact…so muted is this issue anymore that as I have indicated in recent posts…I think a new imbalance is emerging…an imbalanced/hyper ecumenicalism. We’ve seen since the 90’s a much larger scale acceptance of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and even in some circles (believe it or not) Mormonism among churches and denominations which at one point fell within the greater Reformed tradition. People who follow this blog have been at times “shocked and awed” at the strong language used in describing Roman Catholicism for example…such language was not considered shocking 20 years ago I assure you. I can remember when being a “fundamentalist” was a GOOD thing! And I am not an old man! (Of course, fundamentalists have done a great job ending their influence by their insistence upon extra-Biblical dogmas which if you think about it…is very hypocritical!)

So anyway…”denominationalism” is not nearly the issue it was decades ago. But I still want to deal with it…even a little leaven will leaven the whole lump.

Do you understand that no group, tradition, church or denomination is inerrant or infallible? And if you find yourself in such a tradition or denomination which tells you they are I would advise you to FLEE! I grew up in a fundamental Baptist church. We were so fundamental that we would not even have a joint church picnic with other Baptist churches that were not part of our association. I can remember as young kid the church discussing the invitation of another Baptist church that was not in our association, located about a mile up the road, to join them for a picnic and southern gospel singing. And buddy…let me tell you…that idea was not long entertained. It got shredded! “God called us to be separate from the world and to not associate with churches not of like faith and practice! This church is going to stay PURE!” one old deacon shouted (and I mean, shouted). And that was that. There was not 1% difference between the two churches…the problem was that the Baptist church which sent the invitation was independent and not part of our association and so therefore they were not of like “practice” so we couldn’t fellowship with them.

And God help the one who ever suggested we associate or fellowship with a SOUTHERN BAPTIST church! Good grief…such a suggestion would have slingshot you onto the fast track towards some kind of discipline! If you taught a class you’d be in jeopardy of losing it I’d bet! Southern Baptists were LIBERALS and not true Baptists! Same with Billy Graham! Now, this was not the case in the church I grew up in…but one of those churches in that association stopped their Awana program once they found out that Awana was allowing SBC churches and non-denominational churches to host Awana clubs. The church I grew up in never did anything that extreme and from what I gather that church is not like that at all anymore. They are still Baptist…but from what I understand they no longer maintain an isolationist position. And let me also say that I am glad I was raised in that church…those people believed the Bible (even with their silly imperfections) and stressed something which has immensely benefited my personal life and ministry life…Scripture memorization.

Let me ask you...are you willing to walk on the wild side and really listen to other Christians who differ with you regarding “tongues”, the “security” of the believer or who understand the book of Revelation different than you? Do you believe Evangelical Lutherans have anything to teach Pentecostals? Can Pentecostals help or be of benefit to the Brethren or Presbyterians? Can Baptists teach Pentecostals or can Nazarenes help balance the Baptists?

You better believe it. Of course as I have wrote here recently, tearing down denominational walls would be an awful idea. I want the Pentecostals to stay put in their own churches, same with the Nazarenes and Presbyterians (unless they know upfront that those convictions can not be part of their “agenda” in our church). And believe me…those groups would want me to stay put as well. There is nothing wrong with that. But there is a problem when we treat other Christians from different traditions and denominations as second class citizens in the Kingdom. I know my sister-in-law was asked several times by some in her family if my brother Steve “was filled with the Holy Ghost” or if he “had the Holy Ghost”…they were Pentecostal. They quickly fell in love with Steve…but he being a “Baptist” was something which brought a few of them a moment or two of caution. I know several Pentecostals who have told me personally that they would never, ever, date or certainly never marry a person who was not a Pentecostal because their families would have an absolute melt down. To be sure, more than one Baptist father has went “ballistic” when he found out his daughter was dating a Pentecostal…it goes both ways. This is crazy to me. You are either in the Kingdom of God or you are not…there are no second class citizens. If I had a daughter who wanted to marry a Pentecostal I would certainly debate with him about the secondary doctrinal divisions between us…for the rest of my life. Other than that, I’d give him as much hell as a Baptist young man, and if he met my (naturally unattainable) standards I’d let him marry my girl.

There is a real danger of idolizing our tradition and finding our security based upon the type of church we were raised in. God’s Kingdom is not the Southern Baptist Convention and neither is it Pentecostal or Evangelical Lutheran. Denominations are earthly tools to help us work in day to day harmony. Don’t forget that…they serve to assist us to live in HARMONY with other Christians…not disharmony! It would do you tremendous good to listen to people who disagree with you about secondary theological issues and really to “get” what they believe, why they believe it and what historical process has led them to believe it. That doesn’t mean you’ll be convinced…but your hard edges will round off (and that’s a good thing). You’ll begin to appreciate and relish the diversity found in the Kingdom of God this side of eternity. Because each tradition within the true Church of Christ contains valuable insights even if their insights are over inflated or out of balance…there is a core of truth within that imbalance that you can really learn from…don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." 1 Peter 3:8-12 (ESV)


Zac said...

Dear Gary,

I'm just wondering where all of this is coming from-- part of me thinks I'm walking in on a discussion in the Protestant world of which I didn't hear the beginning. Some of it, therefore, seems a little backward to me: "denominations exist, therefore they are good" for reasons a, b, and c. That's fine, but it sort of starts with the conclusion. The protestants have denominations because there are significant doctrinal emphases or divergences. These have been a cause for various divisions over the last few centuries, especially in consumer-culture America.

At least when it comes to the Orthodox, we view the divisions of Christians as a tragedy. The ideal is for unity, precisely because this is what our Lord prayed to His Father on the night in which He was betrayed, "That they may be one..."

Now, unity's price is that it must be based upon truth-- so like for us when a body will not renounce heresy or when they choose to be divisive, they separate. But this isn't viewed as God-pleasing, but as a tear in Christ's "seamless garment" so to speak.

How do you understand the Lord's prayer for Christian unity and its relationship to denominations?


irreverend fox said...

zac, great questions!

very simply put...the unity of the body of Christ is relational...not directly with each other but with Christ and from that personal relationship with Him we are related to one another. This is why (partly) why the majority of us do not baptism infants (or any other unbeliever). We do not enter into the covenant people until the moment we receive the gift of faith. We relate to Christ FIRST and then at that point become part of the invisible community of faith.

We believe the Church is nothing more than a spiritual family. as in all families there are certain realities upon which the relationship exists. we hold certain things in common...but not all things in common. We see no need to hold every doctrine in common because people understand things differently. Obviously there is not more than one truth…but not all parts of truth are essential for SAVING faith. Obviously false doctrine hinders our spiritual growth. But we are SAVED by grace through faith in Christ. When it comes to our family we follow Paul’s lead and are “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” That’s why I try to explain that for us the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and Justification are “the essentials” because Paul seems to indicate that here as well.

denominations (when used and considered correctly) work to maintain unity within the family...instead of constant hard feelings and division within one local household of faith over secondary issues "the family" has come up with a way to agree to disagree and to regularly fellowship with the members of the family which we are in most harmony with...without breaking ties with or denouncing the rest of the family (there is only one family, one Church). We believe in personal study of Scripture and that interpretation of it is both an art and science. We believe that there are certain doctrines (basically 2) that all of His people not never renounce, yet other doctrines which are not as “core” and are not, we don’t believe, essential for Salvation or “family” membership. So honest Christians can disagree…and if the pastor is pounding against something you honestly believe week in and week out that will become a problem. Debate will likely spill into fighting…and unless you pull a “we’re the Church so shut up and submit” card denominations are the best option. They’re great and I praise God for them!

all of this steams for our rejection of the "infallible Church" doctrine which was forced upon Christendom for 1,500 years by fallen men. we believe those were dark ages and we rejoice that the glorious beams of illumination blazed and brought Reformation!

we believe our unity is mostly (although not completely) INVISIBLE.

irreverend fox said...

also...if you are referring very specifically to this post keep in is one in a series...which I have been outlining the great benefits of denominations.

irreverend fox said...

let me also mention, that we believe there are certain few doctrines essential of salvation. then there is a tighter circle for orthodoxy. (for example…I would suggest that “open theists” might possibly be “saved” by otherwise totally unorthodox. Same with some of the wild eyed hyper-Charismatics like the ones we met with late last year. Same with hyper-Calvinists or full blown Armenians) there is even a tighter circle which is essential for direct fellowship (for me that circle would be Baptists I guess…but I’m a weird one cause my circle for direct fellowship is pretty wide and shaped weird. Our church supports an Assemblies of God missionary couple in the Far East for example. But I could not be in direct fellowship with Presbyterians because they baptism infants…but I believe they fall within orthodoxy).

we honestly all have this basic understanding. I'm not just making it up.

Zac said...


Thanks. I think I'm understanding more about your viewpoint. Of course, hyper-calvinists or other branches of the family might define that circle differently... but you're correct that in modern times no denomination claims for itself to be the una sancta, so to speak.

I think what has held Orthodoxy together for these last 20 centuries is this agreement among all nations, tribes, and tongues within her to mutually defer to the legitimate tradition of the fathers. It's not the idea of shutting up and "submitting"-- in fact quite the opposite for Orthodoxy: theological reflection continues, but it is accountable to the Christians who in every age lived out the saving faith in Christ... otherwise we could not honestly claim to be in their family. A Roman Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton once put it: "Tradition is giving our ancestors a vote." Maybe in a familial sense its about honoring father and mother, I don't know.

But this is good, and I gained a good understanding of your beliefs by your explanation-- I just wish maybe you could exegete that prayer of Christ for the unity of his disciples, and maybe how the reformers have viewed those words of Christ or how you personally see this fulfilled. Of course there is also, "Behold how excellent it is for brothers to dwell together in unity" etc. Is all this simply invisible, and do those who work for confessional unity among protestants misunderstand these texts?

Oh, also, what do you think of the seventh-day Adventist folks? Here's why I ask: they pretty much hold to your dual doctrinal standard for "saved" but then they also believe this crazy lady was a prophet and all sorts of other ideas. Any thoughts?


irreverend fox said...

hey zac,

btw, thanks for commenting...tbese comment sections are so streaky! sometimes I get hammered with questions...but so far this year it's just you!

I'm glad that you can hear me, even if you are not (at this point or ever) convinced.

this is why I am positive that EVERYTHING boils down to "authority". which also touches on the nature of the Church Christ established.

you see...we don't believe that doctrine is about "consensus" nor should it be. that is why we would suggest that not only should the ancient believers not have a vote (ultimately) but neither should we. for true "church" or "denomination" or individual believer for that matter will reject the statements which poured out of the first four ecumenical councils of the Church. the reason we do not reject and for the most part receive those confessions is NOT because the majority in attendance voted in the affirmative. that means almost nothing (ultimately) to us.

those confessions are true because they clearly spring from a logical synthesis of Scripture. they are true even if those councils rejected them.

we don't believe Scripture is given to us by the Church nor do we believe true doctrine comes from the Church.

so we therefore have no problem saying that the vast majority of Christendom could have totally blown it for 1,500 years. they, like us, are fallen and we are sure that in ways we don't see now we are blowing other issues. illumination is on going we believe, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei!

this is not to say that the Church has no authority of course and that one would need a MOUNTAIN of Scriptural and logical evidence to bring rebuke to her. And I mean that. You can't just ignore the consensus of confessing believers! but it is not impossible...the majority may be backslidden and only a remnant might remain. we see this in Scripture itself.

The influence of western scholasticism brought tremendous footing upon which the Reformation was able to proceed. I think modern logic when balanced with ancient mystery is a tremendously powerful Reforming mix. I do not believe western scholasticism was or is a bad thing at all...I guess we disagree there. I see the majority of the fruit and rejoice...both in theology and in society. the United States and all her greatness is a result of how God used "western scholasticism"...we put men on the moon for crying out loud!

I will surely take time to exegete that prayer of Christ...and let me say...I do believe that prayer will be ultimately fulfilled in all aspects (as He and the Father are one...both in relation and in thinking). I do not believe there will be conflicting doctrines on the new earth among His people.

about the 7th Day Adventists. hmmm. I think it depends on the sect. years ago they were certainly a cult, I believe. but...from what I hear...many of their groups have moved more into the direction of orthodoxy. I'm just not sure...I have never interacted with them. certainly if Ellen Whites writings are considered "Scripture" and equally authoritative as the Bible then they are not orthodox. BUT...again...Sola Scriptura (and all the implication of it including inerrancy and infallibility) is not generally considered "essential" for Salvation but is certainly "essential" for orthodoxy.

for Salvation we simply say "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". we believe the "baptism" spoken of when we are commanded to "repent and be baptized..." is better translated "repent and be Baptist"...ok...that's a joke. but seriously, we believe that is referring to Spirit baptism which happens at conversion. it does not say "in water" and there were many, many ways in which the word "baptize" was used in those days. also, the word "for" as in "for the remission of sins" is also an interesting word (I'm no Greek I'm going off second hand opinion/analysis) can also mean "because" so it might possibly work to say "repent and be baptized (because of) the remission of sins..." but I'm not so sure about that.

If water baptism was part of Salvation then we find it very odd that Paul would be so emphatic with Corinthians when he said, “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Of all that statement the “For Christ did not send me to baptize…” is the most confusing if water baptism is part of the gospel. To say that he is “thankful” that he didn’t baptize anybody but just a few just seems very strange.

I don’t know how I got off on that tangent…sorry…lol…

since we don't believe there is any earthly "headquarters" or whatever that we can point to and say "THAT is THE Church" we see diversity among brothers very natural. but...there are ties that bind. just like not all scientists are in 100% agreement...there are certain realities that sound scientists all agree (and those who don't are considered "quacks"). same with politics I guess. not all Conservatives agree on everything...yet there is a core philosophy which all Conservatives hold...yet we would not say there is complete uniformity.

irreverend fox said... are also right about the "circles" of essentials. we all agree they are there...and we all agree on the first circle which deals with Salvation (for the most part I would say, the majority does) but even the circles of "orthodoxy" are not all at the same...and then of course the fellowship circles vary drastically.

Zac said...

Good stuff. I would only add a tiny clarification to my own post-- only that the majority or consensus doesn't "make" something true, only that Orthodox trust the witness of the patristic consensus as a way of finding the truth.

Also, tangential I know, but "scholarship" is different from "scholasticism." Scholarship and the discovery of things like the scientific method are great-- like you said, they got us to the moon. Scholasticism, though, as a spiritual trend in the west, is something different which no doubt deserves more time and learning than I presently have. Suffice it to say that the Orthodox saw it as yet another divergence from the Orthodox way of doing theology: not that categorization or systemization is bad (many many Orthodox saints of every age have been no strangers to the world of academia) but it is the exaltation of rationalism and reason over revelation and experience that the Orthodox found to be unacceptable. For people like Aquinas, Aristotle's logic became superior to God's special revelation merely because logic is self-authenticating-- it lost the apophatic way of approaching God, something which was quite prevalent in the West before then (see books like The Cloud of Unknowing for example).

So I guess I would just caution you from equivocating these two terms.

As far as ecumenical councils, I don't think most protestants know of these, and I think that you are exaggerating a bit when you say that protestants accept these first four. First, the Nicene Creed clearly does have belief in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" and in "one baptism for the remission of sins." Disputed meanings of Scripture aside for a moment, there is absolutely no controversy that the bishops assembled who composed this had in mind the visible unity of a single entity, and that "for" meant "for the purpose of". Also, there would be a problem with the filioque, which wasn't written in the Creed by a council.

Then there would be problems with the proclamations and dogmatic decrees of the Third Ecumenical Council, which defended the unity of Christ's person against Nestorianism and Mary's title as Theotokos. These might in theory be acceptable to most protestants, but not the Council's adoption of St. Cyril's Thirteen Chapters. Look them up and you'll see why.

So I don't know about all this "council" stuff-- I wouldn't agree to anything so hastily.

Concerning baptism. Yes, there is a lame modern argument that "eis" ("for") means something like "because of" when you get to all the verses that seem to plainly read baptism remits sins... this is non-sensical for a number of reasons which I'm sure you can find online if you really want to know. No Greek speaker would ever have understood it that way, but why get confused with stuff like history or linguistics or the "clear meaning" when the clear meaning is unacceptable?

Paul's response does not really oppose "baptize" to "gospel" but "baptize" to "preach" ... this in fact might refute the idea that somehow ones baptism should be a public demonstration of ones faith, or a "preaching" of the gospel. But surely the Gospel can be preached, and it can be practiced, and it can be accepted (baptism being the biblical manner of entrance into the covenant) No, this is the same apostle that spoke about baptism as being "buried with Christ" and "baptism into death" and "putting on Christ" "crossing the Red Sea" and any number of other things. But baptism's efficacy has nothing to do with who does it-- Paul, Apollos, or whoever else. And Paul didn't want people to think their baptism had more power since it was done by him.

And btw, when Paul talks about baptizing "households" like those of Stephanas or the Philippian jailer, you don't think those households included babies? This is a stretch to me-- ancient households were not like the little nuclear families of modern times, and women often had many many children of different ages... a household naturally would have included infants and young children. Also, we have clear allusions to baptism as being a "circumcision" which clearly was enjoined by God upon infants-- so it seems likely to me that Jews would have had no problem putting the sign of the New Covenant upon their babies as well, just as they had with the sign of the old covenant.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac,

your qualifications are acceptable...but I still find value in scholasticism.

again...the issue is not so much 'for'...but 'baptize'...what is meant by the Apostles when they said we must believe and be 'baptized' which is the crucial issue. there is a danger in reading 'water baptism' into the text off the bat. reading our doctrines back into Scripture is very hard to avoid, I admit. Again...our view of Authority and how Tradition and Church witness plays into the mix matters immensely.

as far as "households" I don't believe it is a stretch, either way. I don't think it would be a stretch to say that it possibly included babies necessarily. I think the rest of Scripture dealing with baptism must be referenced to bring clarity. I believe it could go either way, logically, if all we had was that passage.

this is a great dialog btw...I appreciate it very much.

irreverend fox said... more thing...we believe that the two basic doctrines "essential" for Salvation occur (in their hearts) to the saved AFTER their Salvation...

there are no people who believe and are not saved.

again...we do not believe Salvation is a result of doctrine or dogma...proper doctrine and dogma are a result of Salvation (justification/regeneration). That is a massive distinction worthy of serious consideration if you really want to “get” what we are saying (even if you don’t know or ever agree).

Zac said...

Hmm... I think I understand what you mean. God's election, etc. Good stuff. I'm still here, still reading.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac,

of course the way election is thought of and articulated varies within the greater "orthodox" sphere.

what is for sure is that no one believes that it is possible to understand (deep in your heart/soul) a doctrine apart from the indwelling of the Spirit...we believe He guides all of His people into truth (at various rates...continuing into glory and beyond). so since this is a result of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit...and since non-Christians do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them...then we all agree that spiritual orthodoxy is not possible prior to Salvation (while "dead" or fruitless orthodoxy via tradition or whatever is possible of course).

I would suggest and firmly believe that only "Calvinism" or perhaps "Augustinianism" gives the most logically consistent explanation in this regard. Arminianism (or anything less than “5 point Calvinism”) fails I believe the test of exegesis and plain logic.