Archive for March, 2010

Restore the Centrality of the Local Church? Yes!

If you’ve been following my posts regarding the present statement of the fundamentalist movement, you probably have noticed that I am not big on that idea any more. In case you have not been following, here’s the quick summary: (1) there is no identified, singular fundamentalist movement, but clusters of relatively like-minded people who claim to represent the fundamentalist movement; (2) these clusters often do not recognize the validity of the other clusters’ claims to be fundamentalists; and (3) some (many?) of the clusters really show very little likeness to historic, theological fundamentalism. Instead of movement-itis, my suggestion is that we:

Restore the local assembly to the center where God intended it to be. When your local assembly engages in Great Commission work outside its walls, find some folks you agree with and get busy doing it. Unity is built on agreement about the truth, not by politics. Few things are as political as trying to preserve movements once they have fragmented theologically.

It was somewhat surprising to find Dr. Jeff Straub seeming to disagree with this suggestion. I think that Dr. Straub and I mainly agree about fundamentalism and separation, but it seems like we disagree about the centrality of the local church to God’s work in this dispensation. He writes, “We are told that part of the current problem in fundamentalism and evangelicalism is that we have moved away from the centrality of the local church. Come again?” While he does not say that too much emphasis on the local church has been fundamentalism’s problem, he certainly doesn’t agree with me that restoring the local church is the proper way to move forward. We probably share common ground on some of the concerns that he expresses about churches which self-absorbed.

I suppose the center of our disagreement hinges on the meaning of 1 Timothy 3:15. Dr. Straub takes it, I assume for his allusion to it, as referring to the Universal Church—“It is The Church (Universal) that is the pillar and ground of the truth, not a particular local assembly. Local churches come and go but the pillar remains unmoved.” This caught me offguard because I have always understood this text to be referring to the local church. My reason for this is how the verse starts, “but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself…” IOW, Paul’s letter is intended to give specific instructions about how life in the church is to be conducted. About what has Paul written up to this point in the letter? The place of prayer among God’s people (2:1-7), the conduct of men and women in the assemblies (2:8-15), and the qualifications of overseers and deacons (3:1-13). This doesn’t sound like instructions for the Universal Church, but for the conduct of local churches. Is Paul concerned about women quietly receiving instruction in the Universal Church? Does the Universal Church have overseers and deacons? No, I think this Pastoral Epistle is written regarding life in the local church.

There really is no conflict between restoring the centrality of the local church and cooperative ministry. I don’t hear anybody arguing that we have no obligation outside of the local church. The Great Commission calls us outward into cooperative effort and we should be large-hearted in our commitments to obey our Savior. But I see nothing in Scripture that calls for the establishment of a supra-church movement. Churches don’t exist for movements, associations, mission agencies, and educational institutions. All of these, if they have any value, serve the churches.

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Politics and Beliefs

This was an interesting article from a historical and philosophical perspective. Not endorsing, advocating, or whatever. Just passing along something to engage the mind on the topic of what role a politician’s religious beliefs should play in his political decision-making.

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Can Two Walk Together…

I’d like to push the discussion a little farther on the matter of labels and basing our fellowship and partnerships on agreement rather than labels. In part, learning about two conferences serve as provocation for these musings, so I’ll need to provide a little background on these conferences in order to give context to my point(s).

The first conference, the 2010 Regional Bus and Soul-winning Conference, was held at the Faith Baptist Church of Avon, Indiana, where Marc Monte serves as the Senior Pastor. One of the keynote speakers was Jeffrey Fugate, pastor of Clay Mills Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Fugate also took over leadership of Beebe Publications and the Church Bus News after the death of Wally Beebe. Fugate “made news” last year when he announced that he was separating from Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, mainly over the Schaap’s failure to claim that the KJV is inspired. Fugate wraps his position in the fundamentalist flag—“In light of these things, it appears to me that you are moving to the left of the stand we, as Fundamentalists, have taken for these many years. I am not interested in moving to the left in any way. I want to remain firm in my positions on the King James Bible and our Baptist Heritage.” Marc Monte, host pastor, also clearly affirmed all of the conference speakers “are fundamental, independent Baptists—from several ‘camps.’ All of them want to win souls, preach Christ, and build great churches to the glory of God. These are sincere fundamentalists with a real burden to reach the lost.”

The second conference, Independent Baptist Friends International, is being hosted by Clarence Sexton and Temple Baptist Church. The purpose of this conference is to rally Independent Baptists for the cause of world evangelism. The words truth, friendship, and world evangelism seem to be the controlling concepts and burdens that have motivated Pastor Sexton to organize this conference. He is clear, though, that the circle of truth within which friendships can be formed must include commitment to the KJV—he calls it a conviction that only the KJV should be used for ministry. Pastor Sexton seems like a genuinely gracious, kind man, so he recognizes that not everybody agrees with that conviction, but he is clear that this meeting of fundamentalists will be made of men who share this conviction. The full roster of speakers is interesting, but of particular note is the presence of Jack Schaap.

Observations:

  • The label fundamentalist is being claimed simultaneously by people who would deny it of each other.
  • The label fundamentalist is being hijacked by those who are making a claim (exclusive use of the KJV) which flies in the face of fundamentalist history and theology.
  • Efforts like these which ostensibly display and promote fundamentalist unity actually misrepresent it (by the KJV claim) and pose one of most serious threats to the genuine biblical Christianity. The ministries of men like Fugate and Schaap are blights on the cause of Christ and should not be welcomed by anyone with an earnest commitment to biblical theology and ministry. I know that is a strong statement, but the former has abandoned the biblical doctrine of inspiration and the latter presides over a bizarre sideshow of theological quirks and ministerial abuses. Calls to separate from unbelief and ungodliness ring hollow when glaring errors like these are ignored.
  • The fact is, though, that not all separatists agree with me on this point of judgment—look at the list of speakers and you’ll see good men who don’t agree (I assume) with Fugate and Schaap. Their presence in conferences like these is genuinely baffling to me. Don’t agree with it at all. That someone would be involved in conferences like these is significant to me, but seems not to be to others. And this is the problem of our day—because there are no clear boundary lines, men will have to make their own judgments and others will have to wrestle with what ramifications those judgments have on current or potential relationships. The fact that someone wears an outdated label really means nothing.
  • The real issue of our day is theological and ministerial agreement, not label or membership card in some club. It does not bother me at all that I would be unwelcome at both of these conferences simply because I would not want to be at either of these conferences. In spite of the presence of some good men, we simply don’t see eye to eye on some very important theological and ministerial issues.
  • Fellowship means you share something and the more you share the stronger the fellowship. These conferences, and the claims made about them, show that the name fundamentalist no longer serves effectively as a summary of mutual agreement. Fugate doesn’t think Schaap is a fundamentalist. Sexton thinks Schaap is. Monte seems to think anybody who loves the KJV and souls is. I think that Fugate and Schaap are not. Frankly, it is a waste of time.
  • Throw away the labels and ask these two questions: Of what are you in favor? To what are you opposed? Agreement on those two items will more likely produce workable partnerships and real fellowship.

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A Brief Interlude

For those among us who have interest in things political, I found this to be a good post on the so-called Slaughter solution that some see as a way to force the socialization of health care upon us.

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Five years later…

Five years ago Phil Johnson, of Grace to You, and I had an exchange over a presentation that he did which was entitled, “Dead Right: The Failure of Fundamentalim.” I’ve copied a portion of my initial response to Phil below (the full interaction can be found here.). It seems pertinent for two reasons: (1) it is fair to say that five years ago I was still trying to say something like, “Those other guys that you’re (Phil) critiquing are not really fundamentalists, but a distortion of genuine fundamentalism” whereas I’ve given up on that argument, not because it’s invalid, but it’s a waste of time; and (2) this section is basically what I’ve been saying on this blog (and other places) repeatedly in the past year or so. What’s interesting about that second point is that some of the folks who are alarmed by what I’ve written on this blog were quite positive about this response to Phil. Anyway, here’s a blast from the past.

Are We at a Realignment Stage?

            The history of Fundamentalism can be viewed as a series of challenges that provoke a response from committed believers. The first challenge was modernism. This happened within the denominations and was eventually met by resistance from those who held to the fundamentals of the faith. The first step of resistance was an effort to remove the modernists. When it became clear that this effort had failed, the next step was to leave the denominations.

            The second challenge was the rise of New evangelicalism. In reality, New evangelicalism was a reaction to Fundamentalism (not vice versa). Some orthodox believers came to the conclusion that separation was a mistake. They wanted to return to a position of fellowship with liberals in order to win back the denominations and influence the culture. They embraced forms of ecumenism that had been previously repudiated. Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and Billy Graham formed something of a New Evangelical triumvirate—a school, a publication, and a voice—that set the pace and tone for the movement. Profs at Fuller, like Carnell, turned their guns on the Fundamentalists. Graham deliberately drove away the Fundamentalists by including known apostates in his New York Crusade. Christianity Today tried to shape the hearts and minds of its readers according to the new ideology. The Fundamentalist response to this new movement held pretty solidly until the 1960s and then gradually began to unravel as the new movement grew in popularity and influence. By the early 1970s the unraveling reached something of a crisis over the question of how to respond to those who reject the New Evangelical agenda, but don’t break from the New Evangelicals. The movement fragmented and has never really recovered. On this point I agree with Johnson, although I believe he draws the wrong conclusion that one segment actually represents the whole.

            In my mind, this was the third distinct challenge, and the movement stumbled. I don’t know that it could have been avoided, and I certainly believe that God is in control of even this. I wonder, and it really is an unsettled point for me, if the coming battles within evangelicalism and fundamentalism don’t present a new challenge to biblical separatists. I believe there is a growing awareness that evangelicalism suffers from the very problems that Johnson has pointed out in Fundamentalism, namely the lack of definition, doctrinal clarity, and any clear system of due process. Open Theists are claiming the label of evangelical, so how can that movement be well-defined or have any doctrinal clarity? And they can’t figure out what to do with these non-evangelical evangelicals within groups like the Baptist General Conference and the Evangelical Theological Society (to name only two). When I read what Phil Johnson writes, I hear the growing realization that evangelicalism cannot exist for long like this (if it still does even now). The concept of separation is showing up in the writings of men like MacArthur, Grudem, Bock, and Carson. They are not all agreed with each other, but all seem to be realizing that the idea of separation from unbelief is a biblical subject and must be addressed. This is a good thing. I believe they find themselves in the midst of a 21st century version of the modernist controversy. If they do not drive it out or pull out of it, their whole movement will be lost.

            A growing number of Fundamentalists who occupy the historic mainstream also realize that certain segments of professing Fundamentalism have soiled the name and have abandoned some of its truths. The time of toleration has past for these men simply because the Truth is at stake. Johnson is correct to call us to consistent application of our separatist principles and to point out that such consistency demands some housecleaning of the kind described in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. It is time to get this done. We need a fresh articulation of the fundamental doctrines, clearly identifying what these do and do not mean. Biblical truth must lead the way and set the standard.

            Would these simultaneous developments produce a new movement that is united on the fundamentals and a common commitment to separation from unbelief? Possibly, but it is not probable. There are still too many unresolved issues, some of which I have already alluded to. The historical reality is that there are no clear lines of separation anymore because both movements are something less of a movement than they were when Fundamentalists pulled out, for example, of the Northern Baptist Convention to form the GARBC. The day of associations is probably past. We have entered into an era that values networking, not formal organizations. I agree with Johnson on this point—independence is good. My local church beliefs lead me to conclude it is even more than good; it is the best option.

            What this new development may mean, practically speaking, is that the standard labels could lose some of their significance. If some of the conservative evangelicals become committed separatists (i.e. in belief and practice), repudiating the position of the old New evangelicalism, then we may need to view them differently than we have. Likewise, if some of the currently professing Fundamentalists continue on as they have been, then that label will mean nothing in terms of whether fellowship with them is proper. I recognize that the prospect of either of these is unsettling to folks across the board, but changing times demand discerning application of timeless biblical truth. If neither group recognizes this, both seem headed for serious trouble.

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These are not the movements you’ve been looking for…

I am going to grab my sticks and beat this drum again—as we stand here in 2010 there is no such thing as a fundamentalist movement. There is also no single conservative evangelical movement and no coherent and distinctive new evangelicalism either. There are remnants of the older movements, but many of them are severely mutated and, therefore, clearly different than the original movements. The constant need to affix modifiers to whatever “movement” we are addressing should be clear enough indication that we’ve got a taxonomy problem.

If you don’t get ulcers easily, take a few minutes to work through the comments that follow Kevin Bauder’s essay at SI. Here’s what stands out to me: (1) it is impossible to make accurate categorical statements about such a broad collection of people and ministries; (2) there is no agreement on what principle would serve as an effective means for categorizing people and ministries (hence the introduction of things like Lordship Salvation, cessationism, translations, gimmick-driven ministry); and (3) the glaring hypocrisy of what is tolerated under the banner of fundamentalism (though I applaud the comments that called on folks to reject this).

For sake of argument, let’s suppose I attempt to rally the troops to the fundamentalist movement. What happens then? Bob and Lou think I teach a false gospel. Jeff Fugate believes I use a perverted Bible. Ron Comfort thinks I’m the poster boy for Calvinism. I could go on, but I am sure you get the point. And I haven’t stated it in terms of my concerns (which are many!). There will never be unity in a group like this. Never.

You say, “Right, so work with the guys you do agree with.” I reply, “Correct, that’s what we’re doing. But why even bother trying to argue for something larger than that which is a pipe dream? Why waste the time and energy chasing an illusion?” In reality, I think the answer to that is that too many folks are using fundamentalism as a means to an end. They are concerned that something specific which matters to them (a mission board, an educational institution, a fellowship) will die if the concept of a fundamentalist movement dies. So they have to keep making everything about fundamentalism so that they can rally people to what they think is the true expression of it. IOW, it is more like a faux call to fundamentalist unity and really a call to support whatever entity is issuing the call. And the same thing can be done by those who are constantly in attack mode on fundamentalism, i.e., they aren’t really interested in some broad based unity like historic fundamentalism, but are after some more narrow theological or ministerial agenda.

Let’s be clear about this—I don’t have a problem with anybody wanting to promote a ministry or idea that they believe in. Go for it. But I think it is time to stop couching it in terms of saving the fundamentalist movement or as forming some new emerging middle. Restore the local assembly to the center where God intended it to be. When your local assembly engages in Great Commission work outside its walls, find some folks you agree with and get busy doing it. Unity is built on agreement about the truth, not by politics. Few things are as political as trying to preserve movements once they have fragmented theologically.

As far as I’m concerned, you can have the movements. I want friends and ministry partners who agree on what the Bible teaches about itself, the gospel, the nature and mission of the church, and separation. Time to move along.

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Nip it in the bud!

As the newly minted Barney Fife of Fundamentalism, I present these practical tips for your enjoyment and for instruction about we can maintain the sobriety we need for the task at hand.

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Time for a group hug?

Just when one might think that the waters were getting calm, Kevin Bauder decides to do a cannon ball in the fundamentalist pool! Since I imagine the conversation will pick up quickly, let me say right up front that I agree with most of what he wrote. I would imagine that most of what we agree on is recognizable to those who are familiar with this blog. So, I’ll jump right to the place where I slightly differ with what seems to be his main point, which I take to be the claim that conservative evangelicals are not new evangelicals. I’ll state my difference right up front—I believe that this discussion is too complicated to make that assertion at this point. Let me suggest at least two reasons for why I think this.

First, it is not very clear what constitutes conservative evangelicalism. Among the names cited by Dr. Bauder are men with beliefs and practices that differ significantly in relation to classic new evangelicalism. John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC), for example, seem to take a position quite similar to many of the original new evangelicals on matters of ecclesiastical separation and social issues. Namely, they will speak out for biblical truth, but have chosen to maintain ecclesiastical partnership within an association of churches which formally declined to expel the error which Dr. Piper spoke out against. Also, BBC was fully engaged in the Rock the River Tour last summer that was put on by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Others in Dr. Bauder’s list would no doubt feel uncomfortable with both of these moves.

If one uses the signing of the Manhattan Declaration as any kind of measuring stick, it would seem to me that there would be at least four distinct kind of responses found among the men listed by Dr. Bauder as conservative evangelicals: signers who don’t see a problem with signing it; signers who signed hesitantly and defend it with careful qualifications as to the secular nature of it; vocal opponents of signing the document; and silent non-signers. I’m not trying to nitpick here, just trying to show that there doesn’t seem to be a conservative evangelical position that is clear. And if the conservative evangelical position isn’t clear, then it seems hard to make definitive statements about how it is different from new evangelicalism. I, like Dr. Bauder, am encouraged by many of the signs that I see, but it seems premature to come to firm conclusions yet.

Second, and something of the flip side of the first reason, is that it is not really clear how we are defining new evangelicalism in the main assertion of Bauder’s article. If it is being defined strictly based the matter of separation from false doctrine and false teachers, then most of the men, ministries, and movements cited are different to some degree from classic new evangelicalism. The question really comes down to what degree they differ from the original position. The early new evangelicals like Ockenga and Henry, even Carnell, were very much opposed to Catholicism, for instance. The original faculty at Fuller was very staunchly inerrantist and a main motivation for Lindsell’s Battle for the Bible was to argue this point. The original new evangelicals were more theological solid and prone to vocally defend that theology than we fundamentalists sometimes give them credit. What they originally were repudiating was any necessary change of relationship when men and ministries persisted in theological error. I wonder if there is anything like consensus among the conservative evangelicals about this point, and I wonder how some of them differ from the early new evangelical views (i.e., those which held sway between The Uneasy Conscience and Graham’s 1957 NYC crusade).

And if the full original agenda of new evangelicalism (as articulated, for instance, by Ockenga) is used as the standard, then I would suggest that many of these men and ministries are much closer to new evangelicalism than fundamentalism. IOW, they agree with the original vision and are intent on fulfilling it. The Gospel Coalition was very clear about its desire to do so. Russell Moore (of Southern) has written very aggressively in defense of Carl Henry’s views and the very title of the book seems to make his view clear—The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.  Al Mohler too has written clearly in defense of the idea that evangelicals may engage in co-belligerence outside of gospel boundaries for the sake of social issues.

It is beyond my point here to engage the question of whether the other stuff on the new evangelical agenda was acceptable or not, but I think it is worth noting that the issue of separation was not the only thing that mattered to either the new evangelicals or the fundamentalists.

I guess I find myself back at a spot where most of these discussions end for me these days. I think they are all handicapped by the use of labels from the 20th century which no longer fit and, therefore, don’t serve the discussion well. By thinking of three circles—new evangelicalism, conservative evangelicalism, and fundamentalism—all of the energy of the discussion goes into who’s in and who’s out. The unavoidable problem, though, is that nobody can define in and out at this stage of the game. So, where I differ with Bauder is that I don’t think that we can say anything definitive about a group. We need to look at individual men and ministries, find out what they believe and how they apply those beliefs, and then draw our conclusions.

Dr. Bauder is certainly correct in reminding us that these men are not our enemies. We may not agree with one another on important issues, but these disagreements are between brothers. Some disagreements, though, can adversely affect fellowship even among brothers.

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Rice Fundamentalists?

I’ve noticed something recently in discussions about Fundamentalism that is intriguing—the issue of cessationism vs. continuationism comes into the discussion as a basis for either rejecting or calling into question whether someone is a Fundamentalist or not. While I personally believe that this issue is a very important one, I also believe it is inaccurate to include it into the rubric for defining Fundamentalism simply because it was not historically. (This, by the way, is one of the challenges in defining Fundamentalism—does theological-historical or historical-theological control the process?) To be clear, I am making a distinction here between defining Fundamentalism and practicing separation (i.e., I am not treating those as co-equal).

Anyway, I saw something recently that touted John R. Rice positively as a Fundamentalist hero and aggressively denounced others for not taking a strong vocal stand against non-cessationists. That combo was funny to me because it represents the kind of historical blindness that often seriously distorts conversations about Fundamentalism. The fact is that John R. Rice: (1) was unmistakably clear that he believed the doctrine of “secondary separation” was dead wrong; and, therefore, (2) was open to fellowship with non-cessationists. Substantiation of the former point would only take a little time to track down the load of articles that he wrote about it for the Sword of the Lord or the books that addressed it (e.g., Come Out or Stay In? or I am a Fundamentalist). John R. Rice helped paved the way for Jerry Falwell and Jack Van Impe (though Rice is not responsible for how far they went).

What about John R. Rice’s view on the cessation vs. continuation issue? He did not think it was a matter that called for separation:

You say, “This person talks in tongues.” Well, personally I prefer the English tongue! But a man who talks in tongues—is he saved? Does he believe the Bible? Does he love the Lord? Is he right on all the essentials about Christ and the Bible? If he is, I can have fellowship with him, provided he does not make for doubtful disputations (Come Out or Stay In? p. 181).

In I am a Fundamentalist, Rice has a section which discusses Oral Roberts which acknowledges some very unflattering things about Roberts, yet concludes, “God bless Oral Roberts. He is one of God’s sheep” (p. 107). When Rice was criticized for publishing a sermon by Dr. C. M. Ward of the Assemblies of God, he responded, “Now I must, of course, help people see what the Bible teaches on the tongues question, and I must feel free to teach the truth as I see it. But can’t I recognize an earnest Christian man who loves the Lord?” (I am a Fundamentalist, p. 93).

Now, what I am pointing out doesn’t really speak to the fact of whether one ought to extend fellowship to non-cessationists or not. It speaks to the fact that it is either historical blindness or dishonesty to hold up John R. Rice as an exemplary Fundamentalist while chiding others for allowing the same things that he allowed. Frankly, I find it just plain odd that some of Rice’s biggest fans are actually embracing and articulating positions that he spilled a lot of ink rejecting and attacking. It is a sad combination of revisionist history (e.g., on the separation issue) and theology (e.g., on the KJV issue).

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Preaching Truth, Not Opinions

“Preaching is not the proclamation of a theory, or the discussion of a doubt. A man has a perfect right to proclaim a theory of any sort, or to discuss his doubts. But that is not preaching. ‘Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any. Keep your doubts to yourself; I have enough of my own,’ said Goethe. We are never preaching when we are hazarding speculations. Of course we do so. We are bound to speculate sometimes. I sometimes say: ‘I am speculating; stop taking notes.’ Speculation is not preaching. Neither is the declaration of negations preaching. Preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the truth as the truth has been revealed” (G. Campbell Morgan, Preaching [New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1937], 21).

HT: Kairos Journal

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