17 May 2007

"In doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility. . ."

by Phil Johnson

The FIRE National Conference ended last night, and I'll be back in the office before noon today, Lord willing. I preached last night about how it's impossible to make a clean dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and neither one is either primary or optional. Defending the faith is part of holy living (not to mention getting the truth right in the first place —Titus 2:7), and holy living is the proper and necessary dress for sound doctrine (vv. 1, 10).

It made me think of this:


o one would argue that everything in the Bible is crystal-clear. The inspired text itself contains an acknowledgement that "some things [in it] . . . are hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16). But some of our Emerging friends give the impression they think most of the Bible is sheer mystery—so lacking in clarity that every interpretation and every opinion about every doctrine deserves equal (or automatic) respect.

That's hard to square with the many biblical commands urging us to defend the truth against those who twist it (Acts 20:28-31). There are plenty of people who do mangle vital truths, you know. Some of them drop by and post in the comment section of this blog from time to time—and one or two of them are regular gadflies here.

I'll go even further: As politically incorrect as this might sound to postmodern ears, there are abroad and within the church "many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . . . They must be silenced" (Titus 1:10-11). Or, in the more picturesque imagery of King James parlance, "[Their] mouths must be stopped."

How false teachers are to be silenced is one of those things in Scripture that is crystal-clear. It is not by physical force or auto-da-fé. But they are to be refuted and rebuked by qualified elders in the church who are skilled in the Scriptures, "able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (v. 8). That presupposes that vital truth is clear enough to know for certain. And it prescribes a clear remedy involving exhortation, reproof, rebuke, and correction.

This is to be done patiently, not pugnaciously: "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil" (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

And yet even within those boundaries, the defense of the faith sometimes requires a kind of spiritual militancy (1 Timothy 1:18; Jude 3). The Christian life—especially the duty of the leader—is frequently pictured in Scripture as that of warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-4).

So the defense of the faith is no easy task. But it is an indispensable duty for faithful Christians. Again, Scripture is not the least bit vague or equivocal about that.

Phil's signature

66 comments:

Nathan White said...

Phil,

It was great seeing you tonight. Your message was even better. I'll be posting a 'live blogging' summary of your excellent and timely message on my blog sometime within the next few hours. Have a safe trip back; hope you and your wife enjoyed your time here in the deep south.

SDG

steve said...

Defending the faith and getting the truth right is part of holy living (Titus 2:7), and holy living is the proper and necessary dress for sound doctrine (vv. 1, 10).

Well said!

When we diminish holy living and sound doctrine, we diminish our spiritual effectiveness.

Steve said...

Phil,

Great post; in agreement with it. You wrote, “I preached last night about how it's impossible to make a clean dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and neither one is either primary or optional.”

Wouldn’t you say, though one is not more important than the other, that orthodoxy must be the foundation for orthopraxy? So we wouldn’t say that orthodoxy is primary over orthopraxy but it is first in chronological sequence? If orthroxpraxy is not built on orthodoxy are we not just speaking of mere moralism?

Thanks!
Steve

Nauvoo Pastor said...

Great Post! Phil,

Your comments continue to encourage me to stay the course. Taking a stand is not an easy task in today's world, but that is what we are to do. As we find in Ephesians 6:13, 14 in the KJV:
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

We are also admonished not to heed the social climate that surrounds us either.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 2 Timothy 4:1-3 (KJV)

Popularity is not a virtue, but a burden. And if taking a stand for truth is not a part of the culture, than the culture needs to heed the one standing the tallest, not shouting the loudest.

art said...

Phil,

How would you encourage someone to talk to a person who believes that there is absolute clarity in a certain area when you believe that it either (a) isn't so clear as that person assumes or (b) the person is completely off base in thinking that it is clear and they obtain the Truth?

For instance, some people believe that Scripture teaches that alcohol is a sin to drink at any time and in all circumstances. Based solely on the text, however, this is not true. Scripture surely teaches us not to get drunk and that if we are in a leadership position in the church then we should obstain from perpetual drinking, but outside of those clear statements, the rest seems to be a matter of conscience. How do you talk to someone who believes that obstaining from alcohol is not a matter of conscience, but a matter of correct biblical interpretation?

goodnightsafehome said...

Very enjoyable post.

siminz said...

the FIRE national conference aye...
Anywhere I can download the messages?

theologybites.blogspot.com

centuri0n said...

Welcome home, Dad.

BTW, I haven't seen a decent auto-da-fe in ages.

centuri0n said...

Art:

Since Phil is in the air today let me stab at that for you since it is a pet peeve of mine.

One of the wrong approaches would be to have them over to your house for a beer and BBQ. The problem isn't that one of these people hasn't had a beer before: it's that they don't understand the Scripture, nor the power of God.

So the right place to go is, well, the Scriptures. For example, you could take them to Psalm 104 and talk about the complete picture of what the Bible says about Alcohol use. You can ever grant them that, all told, the "wine" they drank was probably a half-and-half solution which probably had the alcohol content of beer. That doesn;t change anything regarding the fact that the Scripture says that Alcohol is a blessing from God, and warns that it might also be abused.

You know: in the same way it is a blessing due double-honor to be a teacher of the word, but it might be abused. And none of those (ahem) Baptists who are demanding that no one drink any alcohol anymore would advocate that the word must not be taught in order to avoid abusing it, would they?

Maybe they would. Who can say ...

Hope that helps.

Nauvoo Pastor said...

Ah Cent.

I am one of those (ahem) Baptist that teaches that alcohol should not be used as a beverage. It is written that way into our church covenant. But I won't demand that you stop.

But I would ask that you not refer to me as an (ahem) Baptist. Just say it straight. Myself I am a Southern Baptist pastor. Now there. Doesn't that allow the rubber to meet the road without any question?

donsands said...

"That presupposes that vital truth is clear enough to know for certain."

Amen.

Very excellent post. Edified to persevere in the truth.

jsb said...

Centurion, this is fabulous:

"You know: in the same way it is a blessing due double-honor to be a teacher of the word, but it might be abused. And none of those (ahem) Baptists who are demanding that no one drink any alcohol anymore would advocate that the word must not be taught in order to avoid abusing it, would they?"

This is one argument in the great alcohol debate I'd never heard before. Loved it.

Re: Phil's post, I was reading 2 Timothy the other day, and was struck anew by 2:24-26 as well. One does hope those who need instruction will "come to their senses" through gentle instruction. But if they refuse, and begin to lead others, they take on the mantle of Diotrephes, and the church needs to act accordingly.

lawrence said...

good stuff

Jeremy Weaver said...

I know I'm going to have some rocks thrown at me for saying this, but...

Could it be that some of these who see the 'disperspicuity' of Scripture may not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who reveals God's wisdom in His words to us? (See 1 Corinthians 2.)

michelle said...

This is an awesome post. And very encouraging.

centuri0n said...

Pastor N:

I am also a Southern Baptist, and proud to be.

Why do you demand something from men which Scripture does not?

And to be 100% fair to you, I invite you to DebateBlog to hash out that question with me on a level playing field.

Here's the thesis I propose:

"Does Scripture demand that all Christians abstain from Alcohol as a moral principle?"

I would take the "no" position. If this thesis does not meet your liking, I am open to hear one which does.

art said...

Thanks Frank. That did help. Alcohol is one of those issues that many see "clarity" in on both sides of the coin. I think there are many issues like this: Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Paedo vs. Credo, Dispy vs. Covenant, etc.

I guess, at the heart of my question, is a question that I honestly have (and I'm am not, in any way shape or form, attempting to debate or fight or get under anyone's skin; simply being honest about my thoughts and seeking an explanation): how can we be sure that those things in which we see clarity, there really is, in fact, pure clarity?

In other words, many see the eschatological scheme of premillennialism as being clearly taught in Scripture. I do not see any such thing. So is it actually clear or not? And how do you go about talking to someone who does not see it as being clear when you do?

I hope my questions and concerns are clear (pardon the pun) because they are honest questions and concerns.

Tom Chantry said...

Art, let me ask you a question. Has anyone ever said to you, "Listen, Art, I don't mean to offend you, but..."? You know what comes next, right? Something offensive is inevitably said.

If you find that you have to too often qualify your statements with "I'm am not, in any way shape or form, attempting to debate or fight or get under anyone's skin," there just might be a problem with your comments. As in, they might be unnecessarily aggressive and irritating. Saying you don't mean to get under someone's skin doesn't mean you aren't doing it, and quite honestly it doesn't convince many people that you aren't trying to do it.

And just to be clear, I completely agree with you about the non-clarity of specific eschatological systems. Its just that, after the week we have had here at Pyro, I can't help but wonder where your comments are leading. I guess you just got under my skin.

Daryl said...

"...I think there are many issues like this: Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Paedo vs. Credo, Dispy vs. Covenant, etc..."

Seems to me that the choice of topics here indicates a fairly strong intent to get under some skin...

Daryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daryl said...

a little double posting happening there, my apologies.

Kim said...

Hope you had a good trip Phil.

But more importantly, I missed Darlene!!

Jason said...

I think we do well to remember that there are 3 levels on which Scripture teaches:

1) Direct commands (don't steal, don't murder, etc)

2) Implied teaching (the Trinity is a good example. Not explicitly spelled out, but clearly implied)

3) Creative constructs (i.e. don't drink at all, Calvinism/Arminianism, Eschatological systems)

The problem we run into is when we confuse #3 with #1. There are some things that are in #3, but if we treat them like #1 we create unnecessary dissension. On the other hand, I think the problem the Emergents make is thinking that too much is in #3.

Nauvoo Pastor said...

Cent,

Thank you for the invitation. Before I accept I should let you know something about the area in which I pastor. This might help to explain the teaching here.

I pastor a small church in an area dominated by the LDS church. Nauvoo is the burial place of Joseph Smith. With that in mind; the people who wrote the covenant of the church placed the prohibition of drinking alcohol within the covenant before I arrived. I feel that it is a necessary part of our congregational life if we are to be effective witnesses in this particular community.

With that said, I would be willing to debate this subject with you. Just let me know when you wish to start.

art said...

Tom Chantry and Daryl:

I am just asking an honest question. Feel free to read whatever motives you want into my comment, but they are not justified and, I believe, are not fair; especially when I explicitly lay out my motives.

And your comments are not contributing to the conversation but just seeking to point out that I was lying when I said I was not attempting to get under anyone's skin or start anything. I'm sorry you think I'm lying, but I'm not. Just asking honest questions. Are we allowed to do that here without people jumping all over us questioning our motives?

Tom Chantry said...

Nobody said you were lying, Art. Just that if you find you have to say, "I don't mean to get under your skin," it's likely that your comments will tend to do just that. And after a while, folks may suspect that you mean to do so. As a general rule, saying "I don't mean this to get under your skin..." doesn't convince anyone.

If you really want to convince people that your motives are pure, you may need to look to the substance of your comments. To do otherwise is potentially to point the finger in the wrong direction.

That's why I asked if anyone ever prefaced a statement to you by saying, "Look, I don't mean to offend, but..." What did that make you think? Did it possibly sound like that person was really saying, "Hey, I know what I'm about to say is offensive, but I want you to take responsibility for how what I say makes you feel."? And does that really help you to not take offense?

If you really don't want to get under anyone's skin, rethink your comments. Don't blame it on us if we find you something of an irritant.

art said...

If you would like to continue your attack on my motives and continue labeling me as an "irritant," then you can feel free to email me (my email is artbouletATgmailDOTcom). I don't think that its fair to read motivations into people's comments when they EXPLICTLY have said the opposite and then to call them names in a public forum while not contributing anything to the current conversation.

Tom Chantry said...

Exactly what did I accuse you of? And where did I assail your motives?

Phil Johnson said...

art: How do you talk to someone who believes that obstaining from alcohol is not a matter of conscience, but a matter of correct biblical interpretation?

See Romans 14.

I'm not really concerned whether someone lacks certainty about something so remotely peripheral to the gospel.

Seriously: I hope it's clear to regulars that in my occasional rants about certainty, what concerns me is not whether someone has a clear persuasion about whether it's a sin to pierce one's belly button or not. I really don't care about that.

What concerns me is the proliferation of people like McLaren who say they qaren't quite sure what the cross of Christ means and therfore they ARE quite certain no one else is entitled to speak with confidence on the matter.

The closer any truth gets to the heart of the gospel, the more I will bistle if you insist we shouldn't be sure of it.

Jim from OldTruth.com said...

Art:

What Tom Chantry and Daryl have done is neither accused you of lying nor of having bad motives. You've simply made the mistake of listing a few choice things that you feel others shouldn't/can't be certain about - on a blog in which many of us are. There are sceptics who can come with reason for doubting ANY belief, including the things in the early church creeds. But the fact that doubters exist does not render a belief uncertain for everyone else.

You never know, perhaps you may have too much certainty that those things can't certainly be known. And if they can, they might even be worth putting up a strong defense for.

Sincerely,
--Jim the Credo Covenantal Calvinist :-)

art said...

Phil:
What concerns me is the proliferation of people like McLaren who say they qaren't quite sure what the cross of Christ means and therfore they ARE quite certain no one else is entitled to speak with confidence on the matter.

This makes sense. Thanks for the response.

Tom:
I gave you my email. If you want to talk about it further, feel free to email me. I don't think this is the place to discuss that topic.

Jim:
I wasn't saying that people shouldn't or can't be clear about those things I listed. I said that many people on both sides see clarity in their view on those issues; not that clarity cannot or should not be found. I am a firmly grounded in the Westminster Confessions (Calvinistic paedo amillennial) and I believe their is clarity on those issues.

And I do feel that my motives have been twisted. I explicitly said that my questions/comments were not aimed to get under anyone's skin. Yet people insist that they were. I'm not sure how there is no clarity in that.

Jim from OldTruth.com said...

Art:

I think the point was made that by prefacing your remarks with a disclaimer - does not make what follows next an "anything goes - say whatever you want without anyone being able to take exception" situation.

You had originally said "How would you encourage someone to talk to a person who believes that there is absolute clarity in a certain area when you believe that it either (a) isn't so clear as that person assumes or (b) the person is completely off base in thinking that it is clear and they obtain the Truth?" then in your next comment you go on to provide further examples of that, by listing things that many of us here believe are neither (a) nor (b). That was my point.

Also in light of your (a)/(b) statement, and the specific examples that you gave, for you to later say that you hold to the Westminster Confession seems a little like someone trying to have their cake and eat it too. Very confusing.

art said...

Daryl said:
Seems to me that the choice of topics here indicates a fairly strong intent to get under some skin...

And that is why I said my intentions (motivations, however you want to phrase it) were being judged.

Jim:

I never said that I was the one who believed in the (a)/(b) distinction in specific regards to my later comments. The (a) and (b) were not mentioned in my later comment because, like I said said, I see clarity in those issues.

The first comment, like the example, had to do with issues that, like Phil said in his comment, are more peripheral issues and not central to the gospel.

The comment after that did not say that there was not clarity in the issues of baptism, eschatology, and theological frameworks. I said that people on both sides see clarity in their view. My question was how to speak to someone who sees clarity on their side of the coin when you see clarity on your side of the coin (in other words, how does a convinced Calvinist talk to a convinced Arminian without accusing one or the other that they are violating the perpescuity of Scripture). You made a mistake in thinking that my second comment was further about giving further examples of the first. They were different examples of a different nature which is why I didn't include it in the first comment.

Are you trying to say that I cannot possibly hold onto the WCF? You judging my theological beliefs based on a few comments that you obviously misunderstood is confusing to me.

Paul D said...

Hey all...I'm new here. In the name of self-interest, I've got to quickly defend poor Art. Maybe he's got a history here, I don't know. But i know I'VE prefaced with "I don't mean to offend..." in complete sincerity, especially when I know someone is prone to sentimental feel-good theology, or maybe as it seems from reading past comments, the club-theology where people are a bit prickly. Being covenantal-credo-phantom-5pointer Calvinist myself, I know how the club-theology works and I find it as faulty in it's lack of gentleness and respect as many other's are faulty in their understanding of truth.

That being said, I loved this post. My brother and I analyzed a trend we've noticed. http://greenergrassblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/myers-briggs-mbti-and-ministry.html
1) The knowledge/wisdom/teacher/prophet gifts tend to be all about truth...they are often more analytical and thus take things first through their minds and then send, if ever, through their emotions (this is me and perhaps many here). Think Mark Driscoll.

2) The pastoral/encourager/mercy gift people tend to be all about loving people and building peace, but they miss the truth often enough. They see truth only after they've filtered it through their emotional reactions and empathy. Think McClaren and Pagitt.

My brother and I believe we're both wrong in our approach. In our American quest to be an autonomous, strong individual, we think we are authorities unto ourselves. But we're SUPPOSED to be the body. We are to trust some on their understanding of the heart, they are supposed to trust us in our understanding of the truth. We sharpen each other to be both more loving AND more truthful. But we don't trust...and we like to pick camps and just sit.

All said, especially being married to one of the pastoral/mercy/encourager people, I find that she really doesn't perceive objective, patterned truth easily. More, she perceives what affects and reaches people way clearer than I ever will. I hope to learn from her, even as she is learning from me. And we can do this because we trust each other's giftings.

Culturally, we've been in the age of the mind (modernism) so long that now that there is a push for the accreditation of the heart (post-modernism). For we who perceive objective truth easily, it all seems foreign and offensive to us. We need both...the heart and the mind, to love God and our neighbors.

Thanks for listening.

Paul D said...

Sorry...the link didn't work before to the brief discussion about giftings and theological views.

gifts and personality discussion

Sewing said...

In Art's defense, I think he had his heart in the right place in his comments on this post.

centuri0n said...

Pastor N:

I need an e-mail address.

You can e-mail me at
pyromaniacs [at] iturk [dot] com

Phil Johnson said...

Turk: "I haven't seen a decent auto-da-fe in ages."

Isn't that one of those places where food is dispensed from vending machines—like Horn and Hardart?

johnMark said...

Phil,

It was nice seeing you and Darlene again. Though I am sorry I had to drive back to Atlanta early due to logistical issues. As always, this FIRE event was a great time of fellowship and encouragement.

You should have seen the lady's face who was serving breakfast when Bob Morey asked for the "kosher bacon". lol

The dear blog readers don't know the flack Phil got about his blog. It was a nice ribbing. :)

Mark

ps. Pastor Olive, I know you're lurking. It was great having lunch with you.

Sharon said...

Please! Cent & Phil, try and separate your comments. When you make successive remarks, all I notice is "Dueling Eyebrows!"

It's just . . . creepy!

donsands said...

"For we who perceive objective truth easily," -Paul

I think this is Phil's point, that we should all, who claim to be Christians and love Christ, be able to believe, know, and understand the essential truths of the Scriptures. (Always gicing space for the new converts, of course).

I do agree that our personalities do have a part in our overall theology, however the pure and simple truths of the Bible are what they are.

Sewing said...

Sharon, can we get that set to music? Dee-duh-DEE-duh-dee-duh-dee-duh-dee...

Paul D said...

Donsands,
If all are able to see truth easily, there would be no need for knowledge/wisdom/prophet/teaching gifts. Unfortunately, we are fallen creatures who are corrupted.

Things are easy for me to see, to predict. For others, this is not true. It was hard for me to accept that others weren't lazy or stupid...they just didn't have the gifts I did.

But then, they thought I was rude and boorish since I didn't see how my words and tones were causing harm. They saw this and I didn't. They would say to me "obviously, if he has the Spirit within him, he should now that he isn't being gentle or respectful."

Two different sides of the same coin I'm afraid. Bottom line, we need each other on this side of heaven. Unfortunately, humans don't like living in tension, therefore we tend to just right off some people or truth because it doesn't fit easily within our easy understanding.

Paul D said...

And to be clear, I feel that anyone who claims leadership, as does McClaren and the rest, SHOULD understand the truth. But, so should people who see the truth, as I believe people like Driscoll do, learn to deal gently and with respect.

donsands said...

Paul,

Do you believe the Holy Scriptures are the final authority to the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Do you believe the Scriptures state that man is a sinner, and that Christ is the only possible solution of us sinners being forgiven?

Do you believe the Cross is where the Savior died?

And that He rose again on the third Day?

That a person is saved by grace alone through faith alone?

And that He lives forevermore, reigning on high at the right hand of His Father?

These truths are what Christains have died for. These are just a few of the essential truths I'm speaking of.

I'm not speaking of some of the deeper truths: prophecy, tongues, and so on.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Anne Marie said...

Donsands:

"I do agree that our personalities do have a part in our overall theology, however the pure and simple truths of the Bible are what they are."

How does this line up with the Gospel of Christ Jesus?

Paul D said...

I do believe all those things...and I pray that if it came to it, I'd die for them.

I'd agree that some of the truths are VERY simple to see throughout.

Which means that those who claiming to be Christians would deny any of these truths, or some of the finer details of them are...
1) Not too intelligent or lazy and thus are confused or speak out of ignorance
2) Cannot get past the filter of their denominational heritage.
3)See the truths through some non-biblical cultural paradigm
4) See the truths through their own emotional desires, and thus find the truths too "stressful" to believe as stated.
5) Are wolves who seek to destroy the flock.

I think most of the emerging church can be split pretty evenly between these four categories. Particularly, the Emergent leaders probably are spread between #2-4, with some definitely in category #5. They all should be rebuked and corrected, regardless.

From afar, it is often too hard to determine if a person is a true, if young or foolish, believer or if they are a true wolf. We have to figure out how to respond with respect and gentleness, as the bible commands, in the hopes they will come to repentance. I'm just so thankful that Jesus will sift the wheat from the tares in the end.

Paul D said...

P.S., I don't mean to say that all emerging leaders are off theologically. Driscoll, one of the founders of the movement, is very strong theologically.

centuri0n said...

Johnson:

Exactly. That's exactly what I was thinking. There has to be one someplace in Tulsa. We should find it.

centuri0n said...

BTW, I hope you too a lot of fussing over the blog. If the FIRE guys aren't reading this thing, then we are just wasting our time.

Sewing said...

Wow. I wish auto da fe were nothing more than an automat (although with a name like that, it should be Santa Fe, not Tulsa).

Despite the fact that according to some people, I'm an unreconstructed fundamentalist (which was news to me), that's nasty, nasty stuff, and yet one more reason why those who have done the greatest and most shameful disservice to the gospel have been some self-professed practitioners of it.

donsands said...

"How does this line up with the Gospel of Christ Jesus?"

I'm sorry anne marie, I'm not understanding the question. Can you help me out a little?

donsands said...

"I do believe all those things...and I pray that if it came to it, I'd die for them." -Paul

Amen.

Sewing said...

I miss the good old days, like last week when defending the faith meant debating whether Fluffy goes to heaven.

jazzycat said...

Thanks for your view of our duty to refute gross error. After visiting some emergent church bloggers the past few weeks, I have been shocked at their views and code words. They seem to me to be post modern liberal activists that start with that as a world-view and affirm only Scriptures that fit this world-view. They also slander and attack conservative Christianity with gusto and have slandered Jerry Falwell almost as bad as the atheist blogs have.

Kent Brandenburg said...

What if they mangle just truths and not vital truths?

YnottonY said...

Phil quoted this verse:

"The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness."

This verse also comes to mind:

"ESV 1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."

When I think about these biblical qualities and how they should be adorned by elders, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson comes to mind. I remember listening to him when I was younger and wondering why he was gentle in his, nevertheless, firm rebukes of doctrinal error. I now view it as a virtue and something that is indicative of a mature and godly man. If one listens to some modern apologists, they are scornful and downright abusive in their denunciation of people they think are in error, even as they quote 1 Peter 3:15.

An elder should fear what scripture says. It's good to have confidence and boldness to confront those that would pervert important and clear biblical teaching, but one must do so with gentleness and patience. It's easy to compromise on either side and either become a coward (not firmly defending the truth) or abusive (scornfully treating your opponents to the point of pridefully mocking them).

Thanks for exhibiting a balanced and virtuous way to respond to serious errors, Phil.

Phil Johnson said...

Kent: "What if they mangle just truths and not vital truths?"

(I'm glad we can agree that certain truths are not "vital"—i.e., fundamental; essential to Christianity itself. Someone who doesn't follow your church's dress code or confine his iPod playlist to your approved list of songs isn't necessarily an enemy of the faith, right?)

You always have to make careful judgments about how serious is the truth being mangled, and how seriously it's being mangled.

If (for instance) someone teaches that foot-washing is an ordinance to be observed as regularly as the church observes the Lord's Supper, I don't agree, but I don't see any significant harm in it. If, on the other hand, he teaches that others who don't practice ceremonial foot-washing are not true Christians, then it seems he has made his sacrament instrumental for justification, and Galatians 1:8-9 applies.

Charismatic errors come in varying degrees. You have to evaluate them as fairly as possible.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I thought I would use your hyperbolic dress code and ipod illustrations, two fundamentals of the faith. Is any stipulation given to offenses for which one can be excommunicated in Matthew 18:17? Is nakedness (related to your dress code) an offense, for instance, that a professing believer might find himself outside of the church due to hardhearted impenitence, therefore, relegated to an evangelistic prospect (heathen and tax collector)? Doesn't this now relate any sin to the gospel?

1 John 2:3, 4 says, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." Isn't that what makes 1 John, for being so simple, such a difficult book? I don't see "vital commandments" in there. What I'm listening to on my ipod could break four different commandments---Romans 12:2, 13:14, 1 Peter 2:12, or 1 Corinthians 8:9. Causing someone to stumble seems serious to Jesus in Revelation 2:14.

Thanks for your time, Phil.

Doug McMasters said...

In addition to understanding when and having the courage to defend the truth, we must also know how to do so. I've found great help in reading a letter by John Newton titled "On Controversy." I've appreciated it so much, I read it to the church this week and posted it on my blog. I encourage us all to consider Newton's wisdom:

http://thelifeword.blogspot.com/2007/05/18th-century-guide-to-debating-doctrine.html

(Wish I knew how to make a hotlink)

Doug

Sewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sewing said...

Doug: Thanks for the tip. It seems so seductively easy to fall into the vice-filled world of blogosphere flamewars, which is no way to give just witness to the gospel. Praise the Lord if John Newton of all people gave pertinent counsel for this kind of thing.

To make a hotlink, use this as an example, except replace each '[' with a '<' and each ']' with a '>':

[a href="http://thelifeword.blogspot.com/2007/05/18th-century-guide-to-debating-doctrine.html"]Newton's letter[/a]

Thus:

Newton's letter

Doug McMasters said...

Sewing,

Thankful for the html lesson and that you found help from Newton's letter. Reading him helps me to see just how deeply Amazing Grace reached to and into him.

Sewing said...

Truly. I commend everyone to read his wonderful letter. I hope I'm not being so presumptuous as to suggest that others need the advice that I myself so desparately need, but that short letter has so much wisdom that is so directly applicable to our situation two centuries later.

Sewing said...

Bad grammar. "I commend his wonderful letter to everyone."

"The Captain" said...

interesting post.