Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I really think it would be completely out of order for someone to stand up and “speak in tongues” in a congregation full of people who all speak the same language. I’d also get angry and would probably walk out of the church building if they started to baptize a little baby. I would not submit to a woman pastor of my congregation, she'd be gone or my family would be gone in short order. There is a distinct possibility I would shout out loud in protest, on my way out of the back door, if my pastor stood up there and taught that the Lords Supper was anything more than a memorial meal. At this point in my life, I would not sit under the authority of a pastor who taught that salvation was not by grace unconditionally secure and eternal for those in Christ Jesus.

You see…those of you who call out for the pulling down of denominational walls really do not know what you are talking about, frankly. You live, apparently, in a bubble. And, it would seem, your only real theological conviction is that theological convictions are bad. I know such thinking is very nice and idealistic, but it is terribly naïve.

What needs to be understood is that there is no sterile machine out there that spits out denominational convictions and distinctions. Denominational distinctives evolve from the study of Scripture, reason, maturity, immaturity experience and values…of real people. There is a core of doctrines which no Christian church or individual denies…that core is very small (in quantity, not quality). Just like there is a DNA within families which biologically binds people together so there is a DNA within the Church which super naturally binds God’s people together.

But let’s not fall under the false perception that issues not directly related to ‘the core’ of Christian theology are unimportant or insignificant. There are many issues worthy to debate and even separate over. Make no mistake…Paul and Barnabas separated over the application of theology.

How well would someone who reads the Bible, believes and teaches that every Christian has the right and obligation to seek and receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues, do in a church I pastor? How much would they appreciate it when I teach that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a one time event but is a continual baptism which begins at Salvation with many subsequent infillings or baptisms throughout the Christian walk? How would he like it to hear a doctrine he holds dear “shot at” by me? I don’t believe tongues are the evidence of anything necessarily and I certainly don’t believe that gift is for every Christian. Imagine if that was one of your most precious doctrines and you had to submit to my preaching against it whenever the topic came up? (We’ve had Pentecostals in our church, even leadership, before…but they knew up front where we stood and they were willing to not cause division…it worked out great).

How kindly would I take to such a one contradicting me regarding this issue in the church hallway? Should I command that he cover his mouth and never speak the truth if what he believes is truth contradicts what I believe is truth?

I’ll tell you what I would do if this became a problem right now. I would go to him with my Bible. I might even take an elder or two with me. I would engage with him and do my best to teach him the proper doctrine of tongues by explaining the Scriptures and by answering his questions the best I could. If we did not come to an agreement I would then give him an option. He could stop contradicting my teaching authority and at least bring balance by saying, “this is what I believe and why…this is what pastor Gary believes and why” (I’m ok with that approach, I’m into education…not indoctrination) or, if his agenda was to promote this doctrine and if he felt that by not promoting this doctrine he was not honoring God…I would introduce him to Pastor Templeton who is the pastor of Radiant Life Church in our town. Radiant Life church is an Assemblies of God church which maintains and promotes Pentecostal distinctives. I would advise him to go there first and if that church didn’t fit to have Pastor Templeton help him find a Pentecostal church that would best fit his family (because I am sure Pastor Templeton would be aware of far more Pentecostal options than am I).

The reason I’d do this is simple. You can’t have competing theological voices in a local church. The church will split if that happens. Discussing tertiary theological issues or even having irenicly spirited debate over them within a local household of God is one thing. It’s actually very healthy. But arguing and dividing over them is sinful…and that is what will happen. It’s so sinful to argue, fight and divide over these things because they are not primary doctrines and they are all distracting issues which so easily take our eyes of the ball. They are roads to nowhere, ultimately. None of them have anything in the world to do with the nature of God, the means of Salvation, defending the downtrodden or the helping of widows.

And that is what would end up happening if we did not have denominations. There would be constant fighting, arguing and distraction by unofficial fractions all under one roof. The pastor would obviously have a conviction about each issue...it’s not possible to be neutral about anything…and so major chunks of the congregation would feel that the pastor was teaching false doctrine or at the very least was not intelligent or spiritual.

What a mess!

Not only would this be a practical mess…but God forbids this kind of chaos! The Bible is clear…there are not to be divisions among us. We are to live in harmony and tolerance with our brothers. Denominations allow this to happen in an orderly fashion. They serve as a generous way to say, “brothers, we are all part of God’s family. We have all been saved by His grace. This bickering must stop. Lest any of us be forced to live with the burden of appeasing compromise upon our shoulders, let us follow the examples of Paul and Barnabas and part ways for the advancement of the gospel…despite our secondary differences we can work for the Kingdom best this way”. The parting of company, as it did with Paul and Barnabas, can allow God’s people to focus on the primary Commission of Christ without a weekly or even daily antagonizing of their secondary theological convictions.

All of this call to end denominations reminds me of when the politicians stand up and call for the end of partisanship. The only way for that to happen is for someone to give in. When you hear a Republican talking like that what they are saying is that Democrats should give up their liberal convictions and be conservative capitalists like them. When a Democrat talks like that what they are really saying is that Republicans should give up on their capitalist and conservative convictions and become socialists like them. That’s all it is…”let’s stop all the bickering…think like me and we won’t argue anymore!” It’s the same with theology…

So now you see and have an abiding understanding of the great benefit of denominations. They work to maintain the unity of the local church which is visible and the Church which is not. They serve as a tool to keep local bodies focused on the gospel and gospel work without weekly fighting over less than essential issues. Like any tool…they can be and are abused. But the issue is the abuse, not the tool.

As we progress I believe we’ll touch on the problems with “non-denominational” church government. There is also the problem of what can be called “denominationalism” which is arrogant allegiance to ones denomination and not the Kingdom. I’d also like to end with an article explain why I’m planting Southern Baptist churches. Oh…it’s gonna be great fun around here!

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29 ESV

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Bible is a source of authority for the Church, but it was not originally its ONLY source of authority. Consider the fact that early Christians did not even HAVE the Bible as we know it today. The authority of the early Church was found in written Scripture (for those who could read), oral tradition, sacred traditions and customs, etc.

The integrity of these things was safeguarded by the Church Fathers. Individual believers did not interpret things for themselves. The Church was one, and its unity was derived in part from respect for, and obedience to, all that had come before, via Christ and His apostles and saints.

The Bible points us back to our original spiritual "source", but more than the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit and bequeathed to us by Christ. If anyone says that ONLY the Bible is divinely inspired, then the early Church (which did not have the "Bible", and which as an institution gathered together and approved various books to MAKE the Bible) was then wihout authority and Divine inspiration, until, when, the Reformation?

irreverend fox said...

anonymous,

you're very good at reciting all the right talking points.

-Sola Scriptura is not a doctrine which claims the Bible is the ONLY authority.

-the Scriptures were complete in the late 60's I believe. my dispensationalists friends would argue that Revelation was completed in the 90's. even at later date we're still talking about the first century. most if not all the books were being circulated to one degree or another. of course the Old Testament had been complete for hundreds of years BC.

-who said that the Scriptures were the only divinely inspired vessel? we know there were prophets in both the days of the OT and NT which we have no record at all as to what they said or did.

-your last question was good for a well needed chuckle. thanks.

(oh...nice job with the well placed "bequethed". nice touch.)

Zac said...

Gary,

I just read this-- I'm sorry for having apparently drawn so many Orthodox to your blog!

- zac

irreverend fox said...

zac,

no problem at all! I'm glad their are here!