04 October 2007

Why I left

by Frank Turk

After yesterday's meta, it seems to me that a lot of people need help wrapping their minds around the fact that the church is God's plan and that the Christian life is not ever intended to be a one-man sport. And while I thought my metaphor of Coleco electronic Quarterback was a brilliant comparison, apparently many of you have never seen one.

I guess being born after 1985 has its disadvantages. Of course, none of you wake up in the middle of the night hearing that sound in your head from that little pocket QB you had in 6th grade, so one man's blessing is another man's curse.

To help you wrap you mind around this little project, I'm going to line out what a lousy example I am, and then we can get back to things like Scripture and obedience and your personal holiness and so on. See: I can't sit here and tell you that I have only belonged to one church since I was baptized as an adult in 1993 -- because I haven't. My family has belonged to no less than 6 churches in the last 14 years, so on-average we might qualify as church-hoppy.

The major contributor to that, as you might imagine, has been ...

... now see: you thought I was going to say, "lousy preaching and a lack of doctrinal fortitude in the churches because America is an evangelical void full of sad, sappy churches." But that's not what I was going to say at all: I was going to say, "relocation due to work circumstances because my employers have never had the same commitment to my local church that I have." That's a major contributor to my volatile church life, and I'd bet it has been one in many of yours as well.

My friend James White has been on-record several times in his web casts and elsewhere as saying that this is probably not a great reason to leave your local church, and I agree with him for this specific reason: what is the Gospel? That is, is the Good News an ornament in our lives like a plastic fish so we are certified professional capitalists but amateur disciples of Christ -- or are we, as the Bible says of true disciples, sojourners in this world who are passing through it who are committed first to Christ and His kingdom and Gospel, and after that we wind up being good laborers for secular bosses who agree with Paul when he says, "if you don't work, you don't eat"?

I admit that I am a person who has been the former -- for the sake of money and promotion, I have been something of a nomad, and I thanks God that my family and I have someplace we now call a home town where we have been in the same place for 5 years and have actually put down some social roots.
So one reason people leave churches is that they move away. And not all moves are created equal, so I'm going to let you work out in your own mind whether or not your reasons for moving around are valid or invalid, and I'm not really going to answer any "whatadabout me" questions in that regard. You have an obligation to feed your family, and you have to work out whether or not feeding them with steak and lobster and giant turkey legs is necessary, or if hamburger and chicken is as satisfactory, and whether or not there's a local church involved in your life.

A second reason I have personally left a church is that it was dying -- it was in fact dead and I was an immature believer who did not have the equipment or the gifting to be the last man standing there. When we started attending it, this church was a smallish congregation of about 25 families (about 75-100 in service on Sunday), and over the course of 2 years it dwindled down to about 6 or 8 families where there wasn't enough money to support a FT staff anymore. My wife and I had our first baby, the church was a 40 minute drive one-way each Sunday, and we went to church to wind up alternating duty in the nursery with our son and one other child.

We weren't equip to turn that church around, and frankly it didn't really have any inclination that it ought to turn around. It was kinda shambling toward its grave in spite of being in a location near Pittsburg, PA, which gave it access to literally thousands of people in a 15-minute radius. Since we were effectively about to become part of the default PT staff without any leadership, we chose to find leadership -- which turned out to be 10 minutes from our house.

So the second reason -- the only theologically-relevant reason -- we ever left a church was that the leadership evaporated. The church could not govern itself, and the one-man staff was ineffective to train the church how to lead itself, so the church was really just waiting for someone to lock the doors because the lampstand was already gone.

The first reason we left churches was wholly my fault -- my fault due to youthful zeal for professional success and a failure to see priorities. But the second reason was frankly painful, and disturbing to me. I hated that we left that church, but in the end it wasn't so much that we left it as there was nothing left to go to.

And one of the upsides of that experience was the determination that it would never happen again if I could help it. That is, I recognized something that I think many people do not recognize: that when my church fails, I am at least partially responsible for the failure. I wasn't equipped; I wasn't eager to serve; I didn't even know what a church should really look like. I could frame all the apologetic arguments on Earth in 250 words or less, but I had no idea whether the church was even useful -- let alone necessary -- for God's plan for this world.

Frankly, that's pathetic. And one of my reasons for being this intent on talking about this subject is so that none of you make the mistakes I did, and all of us at that little church in a giant city did, because we think a might fortress is our doctrine.

Don't get me wrong: doctrine is necessary: we need to have healthy doctrine, the one Gospel in Jesus Christ who came to save sinners. But that doctrine must cause us to follow the behavior with accords with sound doctrine. And being a member of a church is behavior which follows after sound doctrine.

This post is about to get triple-long here, so I'll stop at this natural break. But before you resort to the meta, thing about this: is the local church necessary for the Gospel to be manifest in this world?

63 comments:

Ben said...

I go to a Church that has 7,000 members and to tell you the truth it feels dead to me. We never get any preaching from the Bible. Instead it is usually a verse or two read and then the Pastor goes on about different stories or statistics that they found. One leaves the place knowing the same amount of the Bible as when one got there, none.

This post did convict me though, in that I need to get more involved with the church.

Ben

david rudd said...

is the local church necessary for the Gospel to be manifest in this world?

assuming we're understanding the word "local" the same, YES.

stratagem said...

You still haven't explained how being a member of a church where the elders and pastoral leadership has suddenly decided that everyone is saved regardless of belief, and believes that the 2nd coming has already occurred, is behavior that follows after sound doctrine.

All you can say is "there's no Gospel in your post(s)." Either explain this vacuous statement, or please stop saying it.

If your modus o. is to shoot first, get the facts later, please also stop doing this. the world will be a better place if you do.

VcdeChagn said...

is the local church necessary for the Gospel to be manifest in this world?

Well, yes and no. I'm sure God could make the rocks cry out (sorry, couldn't resist).

But has God given us the mandate to spread the Gospel? Definitely.

And the local church is absolutely essential in this mandate, equipping the saints for every good work. Scripture is clear on this.

What I don't feel scripture answers clearly is when to stay and when to go in a particular section of your local (assuming this means all believing "assemblies" in your area) church.

BugBlaster said...

I had a friend that arranged a work transfer to another city because he wanted to leave our church, but didn't want to do it for the wrong reasons. Not kidding.

Libbie said...

Well, I thought the reason we have different denominations was because of the many-coloured wainbow that is humanity and all our different expressions.

You seem to be saying that we should attend a local church that preaches the gospel and serve there, and only leave if we're sent out, or pushed after standing to our last breath for that gospel.

What if I don't like drums in church? You're so narrow.

david rudd said...

oh yeah, one other thing...

my wife got me a coleco football game for christmas last year. it was the best gift i ever got!

i've gone through an innumerable number of nine volt batteries...

strategem,

it's not apples to apples, but consider elijah, hosea, etc...

centuri0n said...

Strategem:

Can you point to the place I have said anything like what you are objecting to? I'd like to see it.

centuri0n said...

VcdeChagn:

How doctrinally and pragmatically pure were the churches planted by Paul? I'm curious because I think his letters to them answer your question in a bold and clear way, but many of us miss the point because we think the first century church was perfect because, after all, it had apostles leading it.

centuri0n said...

Buggy:

Case Closed, dude. ;-)

philness said...

I think someone just needs a hug Frank.

Rono said...

Several years ago I was baptized in and attended a Baptist church in a near by community. However, the deacons decided that they had the authority to dictate our pastor's sermons. When he resisted they made false aligations against him and drove him from the church.

After that fiasco I left the church. At that time another pastor who used to fill in for my former pastor once in a while started a church, so I joined his new church. Unfortunatelly, the new church failed. Once again it was because of people becoming offended.

I was incharge of the library and tract rack ministies. I love Dr. John MacArthur. He is one of my heros of the faith and I stocked many of his books in our church library. I also have a burden for Roman Catholics. Many of my relatives and friends are enslaved to Rome's false gospel.

The county in which I live is heavily Catholic, and the protestant churches are very ecumenical. They are also Arminian in their soteriology. Many who were in both of the churches that I attended disliked MacArthur and because of my holding to Calvinism they disliked me. In the last church I attended one gentleman demanded that the pastor kick me out of the church because of my Calvinist convictions. When the pastor refused the man and his wife left the church. Others in the church didn't like the material in the track rack that challeged Roman Catholic theology and demanded that the pastor have me remove it. He saw nothing inappropriate with the material and refused to make me remove it. Those who were offended then left the church. We couldn't keep church membership up unless the pastor tickled ears and he refused to do that.

I've been churchless for a few years now. I refuse to listen to the theological pap that passes for sound doctrine ofered up by the evangelical churches in my area and I certainly am not going to attend apostate churches that preach a false man-centered gospel.

I'm physically handicapped and a long drive out of my community to attend church services is out of the question. So I guess until the Lord raises up a decent church near by for me to attend I'll continue to stay home on Sundays.

centuri0n said...

Rono:

Can I suggest something to you? I suggest that your unwillingness to attend a local church is exactly the same kind of unwillingness as those who would leave a church over your personal convictions regarding calvinism.

Ask me why.

Gummby said...

VcdeChagn asked a question on the previous post. It's at the end for anyone who wants to read it. But the principal I think is worth exploring if Frank has the time.

Frank: If the church you attend refuses to practice biblical church discipline, is this a valid reason to leave? And if not, what do you do?

stratagem said...

Centuri0n wrote:
"Strategem:
Can you point to the place I have said anything like what you are objecting to? I'd like to see it."

In a comment on your Coleco article, I advised people to get out of a church where the leadership has gone heretical on key doctrines and refuses to correct themselves, despite it having been pointed out to them by many people. We have been in that situation ourselves, lately.

You in turn said that vacuous phrase you keep saying over and over again without explaining it "there is no Gospel in your posts", suggesting that there was something wrong or anti-Christian about my advice. It makes me seriously wonder if you've ever been in a similar situation where you are charged with protecting your family from serious error.

Now, apparently you are either denying having made such a charge, or are realizing that you have once again shot first, asked questions later. I don't know which. I just think that you would not get so sideways with so many people, so often, if you would stop doing this. After all, there is nothing "Gospel" about needlessly provoking people without sufficient facts, either.

Rono said...

CenturiOn,

Sorry, but with all due respect I don't understand your comment.

Surely you aren't suggesting that I attend just attend any church. If that's the case I have a Roman Catholic church only a few blocks from where I live. I wonder how the priest would like having a Baptist of the Reformed persuasion attending his homilies on Sunday mornings. ;-)

lordodamanor said...

Ben- Shhh! quietly start a rumor that the Church is seeking several hundred families who want to plant a church in a neigboring community. Enlist men who really have a heart to hear more meal than grist.

When the leadership pick up on this, they'll propose their idea of a plant. When the church is planted, the remaining members of the mother church, when they hear of the fine preaching and teaching going on at the plant, will come on over. That will leave the mother's pastor wondering what he said that didn't keep them home.

Stratagem- get a stratagem. If your church is teaching heresy, does it have a working govenmental structure? Cent already said that if that is dead, then maybe it is time to go. I was not kidding about making yourself the target. Do the Pauline thing and demand a trial befor Caesar! That is where the Gospel, should you get the chance, will be preached. Unlike my case where we were treated to a lynching, honestly I didn't call it that one of our Elder/Deacons did, I hope that your constitution is still in force. Carry out its charge of discipline if it ever existed, and if it still remains. If it doesn't, then it is not universalism that is the only problem, its more like Nicolaitanism.

I don't know what Cent means by "no Gospel," either, but it may be, "what is your stratagem for reconciliation?" Pehaps you have exhausted all possible avenues...I do not know...in the end the question must remain, is what you want to know among these people is Christ and him crucified, or is it the advancement of doctrine for doctrine's sake, which translated means self.

And, I am not just defending Cent, he thinks I am off my drugs and have slipped on my grey matter, anyway....

Daryl said...

Rono,

Is the only church in your community Roman? Is there no protestant church there at all?
A protestant Arminian church, while in error, is hardly apostate.

Sewing said...

I think it's fair to say a Catholic priest would love to have a Baptist in his midst! We are their "separated brethren," after all (when they're in a charitable mood).

Sewing said...

Not that I would suggest for a moment that you go there...!

Drew said...

Good post. And in good Presbyterian fashion I will answer the question with a good Presbyterian word: Ordinarily.

God ordinarily uses the local church to manifest his Gospel in this world, but God can do it another way if God so chooses.

One thing: The city in Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh, with an "H." I'm a native of said town, and we love that H.

My story: I left a church, and a denomination, even though I thought they were faithful (at least on the BIG ISSUES). However, I was called to ministry, and I knew that ministry in that denomination would be a series of fights over little issues. Some people are called to fight those fights--I do not doubt this, but I was not. So I found a denomination where I could be a pastor and a preacher, and--when I had to be a fighter--a fighter about things worth fighting over.

VcdeChagn said...

How doctrinally and pragmatically pure were the churches planted by Paul? I'm curious because I think his letters to them answer your question in a bold and clear way, but many of us miss the point because we think the first century church was perfect because, after all, it had apostles leading it.

They weren't very pure at all. I think the letters answer the question as well, but it must not be clear? (if it was clear, we would be in agreement, right?) 1 Cor 5 and 2 Cor 6 are excellent examples of such answers. These answers appear to conflict with what you're trying to say in your blog. That is why I'm questioning it.

How much more plain can this be?

But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

My reasons for leaving a church:

1. Apostasy
2. Unrepentant, open sin (such as specified in 1 Cor 5) in the leadership. Per Paul's message, you can't "keep company" with them.

Rono said...

Daryl,

No there are a few evangelical churches and main-line Protestant churches within a 10 mile radius from my home. However, I have the choice of the following:

A couple of "evangelical" non-charismatic Protestant churches in which I can sit quietly in pain while enduring semi-Pelagian sermons on a regular basis. Places of worship where the pastors think that ecumenism and doctrinal tolerance is the highest form of Christian charity. Where the pastors loathe to confront rank heresy. Where Scripture isn't considered sufficiant to deal with people's emotional and spiritual "needs". Where Dr. James Dobson is thought to have more insight to the human mind than the Apostle Paul. Where Moralizing the country is on par with preaching the Gospel, and all that counts is getting a lost person to parrot the "sinner's prayer". Where pastors embrace as brethren and commrades in arms Roman Catholics instead of considering them candidates for salvation.

I'm sorry, but as the old saying goes, been there done that. I won't do it anymore. I'm tired of enduring spriritual swill and poison every Sunday.

terriergal said...

This is going to be kind of rambling -- I apologize. It's somewhat train-of-thought.

I have been talking to four lovely ladies who are really TRYING very hard to turn a church around after a seeker sensitive pastor basically ruined it, and they're reaping the slings and arrows that go with that. They were also instrumental in bringing about the seeker sensitive pastor's resignation.

My question is-- when do you call it quits on something like that? Now they have a new "he's only interim" pastor who is quickly becoming the shoo-in for full time pastor. Every time you dare to disagree on ANYTHING (even something as small as where the confirmation should have their classes on Sunday morning, in the church office or down the street at the youth center in the middle of a Minnesota winter) with the pastor, you are labeled as 'part of the critical spirit in this church.' Of course there is no mention of the fact that the new pastor is demanding to use his office during the Sunday School hour despite the lack of space which requires the confirmation class to go down the street to have classes. A major inconvenience for the class, and pastor isn't volunteering to teach. It's so he can be 'visible.' Any request for his accounting for his time during the week -- your motives for asking are suspect so he won't tell you. If you suggest another candidate might be better, the opposition actually CRIES at the sighting of your 'mean spirit!'

Why bother, in a case like that, when most of the council thinks he can do no wrong just because he's 65 something years old and served there 15 years ago? I think this kind of case parallels closely your story about the lack of leadership. But can these four women who labor so hard to save the church really be called "partially at fault"? (*especially when the men in the church, even their own spouses, have not stood by them, let alone take the initiative in saving the church?)

Daryl said...

Look at the bright side Rono, at least they're non-charismatic.

stratagem said...

Lordodomanor: I appreciate your attempt to decipher Cent's confusingly-worded riddles.

You said: 'I don't know what Cent means by "no Gospel," either, but it may be, "what is your stratagem for reconciliation?"'

Fair question. I'm not sure in the case of false teaching (I mean, seriously false teaching, not eternal security, predestination etc etc) that we are supposed to reconcile. There are, as I'm sure you're aware, places in the NT where we are told not even to listen to false teachers. (I'm not sure that the fact they may be a pastor, elder or weren't always false teachers has much to do with it).

I also wonder why certain bloggers feel it is OK for them to criticize both other popular teachers and their own readers, but then expect everyone else to reconcile?

In the personal case I am talking about, I would say that church governance was not working, because 1)the pastor would not acknowledge his Rob Bell teachings as being errors. 2) the elders were hand-picked by the pastor 3) the whole group 'played dumb' everytime anyone would question them about the teachings they were introducing.

Unlike Cent, I am not going to toe the line to false teachers simply because a building has the word "church" on the marquee, and the false teacher has the title of 'pastor'. When everything (doctrines, beliefs, teachings, people, practices) has changed but the physical address, it's time to change that, too. Fortunately, I don't (yet) have to keep bloggers or church authorities happy in order to do so.

David said...

"God, I thank Thee that I am not like those Purpose-Driven churches."

P.D. Nelson said...

Frank I appreciate that post its good to feel the wounds from a friend. I've needed that particular word lately.

Pastor Michael said...

Well I’ve thung about it a little, and believe the answer to the question at the end of your post is a hearty yes based on these two passages:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22, NASB)

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
(Ephesians 4:14-16,NASB)

Twice Paul tells us we Christians are supposed to be fitted or joined together (sunarmologoumenë) and he compares that joining to the manner in which parts of building fit together and parts of a human body are connected. The purpose for this joining is nothing less than becoming a container for God’s presence.

He’s saying then, God’s plan is for individual Christians to get close to one another, becoming united and growing into a dwelling place for God’s presence, or manifestation.

I can’t see how this can occur unless Christians physically congregate and follow God’s directions together, which to me sounds like a fair definition of a local church.

Gummby said...

Frank is very Socratic in his responses sometimes. I think it's that Cartesian pre-understanding that keeps peeking out.

centuri0n said...

Sorry -- got trapped in meetings here at work. Will be back tonight to clear out the question backlog.

Rono said...

Daryl,

I'm afraid that there is no bright side to my situation. Those local churches that I previously decribed are just as spiritually deceptive and dangereous as any charismatic church.

While I'm commanded by Scripture to go to church, and I know that there are no perfect churches, but that doesn't mean I must go to just any professing church. Otherwise I may as well throw discernment out the window and start going to the local Roman Catholic church or Benny Hinn style charismatic church or main-line liberal Protestant church.

centuri0n said...

OK -- Where was I ... ?

hicko said...

Interesting thoughts and I am going to read over this again.

centuri0n said...

Get a bag of chips or something. This one's a long one.
____________________

Cent Said:
|| I see: pastors have to stick with their
|| churches, but the lay-people are
|| spiritual nomads who can throw in
|| with a guy until they judge him to be
|| actually a snake-oil salesman rather
|| than the one with an annointing.

and then VcdeChagn replied:
|| Red herring alert. I only asked what
|| the context was. I assumed that the
|| context was everyone, not just
|| leaders. And that's fine.

Fair enough -- I apologize for any offense in my reply.

|| I still disagree with you and feel that
|| the whole body of scripture supports
|| not taking communion (an integral
|| part of "church" IMO), eating, or
|| yoking with idolators, etc.

That's an interesting affirmation which appears, on its face, to be completely uncontroversial. The problem is by what means are non-elders called to come to the conclusion that person "A" is an idolater.

If you want to make this about those who are abandoning God and form whom the Gospel is of no use, let's talk about how the same Scriptures say that people who are not leading but are in fact being lead, but still share in the responsibility of being the church, ought to come to the conclusion that some person in the congregation is an idolater or what-have-you.

Any suggestions? I have one, below.

|| In addition, how do you feel about
|| the three situations I provided?
|| Should a mormon continue attending
|| a mormon church? A catholic mass?

Was a Mormon "church" ever actually a valid demonstration of the Gospel, calling people out of the world and into Christ? So why exactly should a person feel like they have an "ecclesia" obligation to an organization which is, at best, not an "ecclesia"?

As for the Catholic mass, let's think about something: in 1530, The Augsburg Confession was written in both German and Latin, and was presented by a number of German rulers and free-cities at the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had called on the Princes and Free Territories in Germany to explain their religious convictions in an attempt to restore religious and political unity in the Holy Roman Empire. It was an attempt, really, at establishing the theological protests of the German churches for the sake of coming to terms with Rome, as they wrote, "so we may be able also to live in unity and concord in the one Christian Church." (thanks, Wikipedia) You should read it here, even if you have no inclination to be a Lutheran, for the sake of being an informed and balanced Protestant.

The response from Rome was, frankly, the deal-breaker. The Lutherans called for unity of purpose with diversity of opinion; Rome responded by the end of 1563 with the anathemas of Trent, effectively doing to the Protestants what it did to the Greeks church 500 years earlier -- splitting it by banishing those with dissenting views rather than either receiving correction or finding common ground.

The Protestant response was simply to accept what the Pope and his council wanted to admit: they are of separate faiths. However, the Protestant rejoiner was that the one who places himself above Christ, on the throne of the Church, and declares himself to be the source and foundation of the church to the point where he can also decide who is and is not in the faith, is the one who embodies the spirit of antichrist and makes his own church a synagogue of satan.

In that, it is the affirmation that the bread and wine are themselves God and that they re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the hands of the human priest invested by Rome which repulsed the reformers. And that idea, while present in even Augustine, was made necessary and undeniable dogma at Trent -- making the rift between the two sides wider still.

The reason to reject the Catholic mass is much wider than the somewhat-self-centered affirmation, "the mass is idolatry". It is a rejection of the authority of Rome to replace Christ in any way.

In that, one who comes to the realization that Rome seeks to supplant Christ ought to reject Rome -- not just that small altar where a few crumbs of bread are allegedly worshipped.

|| And in the first case, when idolatry is
|| not confronted from the pulpit, and
|| the Word says not to yoke or eat
|| with idolators (especially in this
|| case...as I know the people
|| involved...unrepentant ones)are you
|| supposed to attend church and
|| refuse communion or to participate
|| in fellowship activities within the
|| church?

Let me suggest something here, and you can take it or leave it: the Bible does not call for anyone to be his own independent arbiter of all things in the local church. It doesn't even call for you to be an independent auditor. You are certainly responsible for doing the things you will do -- but you're not called upon to be Elijah unless you know you can call down fire, if you see what I'm saying.

So in the first place, I have (above) made the clear distinction between "local incarnation of a cult or an anti-christian camp" and "local church"; in this second place, I am saying as clearly as possible that you can only tell the tree by the fruit it produces. In this case, the "tree" is the local body itself -- and unless the local body takes action to do something like, for example, establishing some other text as equal to or superior to the Bible, or rejects a Mt-18 type complaint about doctrine or morals, you're not granted the right to walk away. You are to cling to the church and seek truth for the sake of unity.

There are great examples of this in Scripture. The man who has his father's wife in 1 Cor is active in the church, and the church is doing nothing -- and Paul doesn't tell the people there, "FLEE THE CHURCH! IT IS AN ABOMINATION TO GOD!" He says instead that the power of the church is not in words but in power (that is, authority to correct), and in that way they must discipline this man.

The interesting thing there, btw, is that the church must discipline this man, not just the elders, and the elders who apparently didn't know how or didn't want to handle this case are not given a separate rebuke by Paul.

And the church in Corinth has far more problems than the average church today -- open adultery, sects, lapses toward idolatry (and not subtle idolatry but the plain "meat offered to an idol" kind), impious Eucharistic celebrations, and a failure to comprehend the Gospel. But Paul doesn't order people out of that church! He orders them to recognize each other as temples of the Holy Spirit, and to stand in and under that unity for the sake of Christ.

This is the Gospel-centered view of the church, btw: that God calls out and we obey God's calling. The Presbyterians sprinkle babies for that sake -- to mark off God's calling. We baptists, who also mark off people, but allegedly only the regenerate believers, ought to take that aspect of being a local church more seriously.

But you are supposed to follow Mt 18, and follow it to the end. If, at the end, the church bears bad fruit, it has done (in a smaller scale) what Rome did at Trent, and by abiding by their judgment you wind up doing what's right.

You take it up with your pastor, for example, that his citation of Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis" is a violation of the ministry of the pulpit, and you plead with him in love to not mix truth with error. He rebuffs you and says that he has gotten a lot out of the Nooma videos, and this book really cleared his theological head. But you ask your sunday school teacher about the matter, and something interesting happens: he tells you, "it's not your place to question the pastor; he knows what's best for our church."

How do you follow through with Mt 18 if that happens -- because suddenly, maybe you don't have 2 or 3 witnesses. Maybe you're the only guy who heard Mark Driscoll's talk at the Convergence conference within 100 miles of your church. Where do you go from here?

Listen -- that's a hard question -- but I suggest to you that while the door to leave is unlocked, it's not open yet and you're about to jump through spiritual broken glass (the wrong thing to do) for what seems to be the right reason.

It is right to want to press the truth -- but only in love. If you press the truth in indignation, or superiority, or anger, or because of hurt pride, you have gone the wrong way.

The end of Mt 18 is to press to resolution, and that resolution is either reconciliation or the judgment of the local body. If the body behaves conspiratorially to prevent you from pressing the truth in love, it has made its judgment -- and revealed what kind of body it is. I think the door is open then -- if you have behaved in love and not in retaliation.

And when that is the case, you have not become the arbiter of the church: a church behaving as the bride of Christ vindicates itself with this process, and a church which is a spiritual whore implicates itself in this process.

|| These are difficult questions to
|| answer for one who takes the
|| position of staying no matter what.

I have never said that, and I would never say that. I just don't think that leaving is something you decide in one or two weeks, or even after you are merely tired of listening to spiritually and biblically soft sermons.

Hope this helps.

centuri0n said...

Pastor Michael:

Great answer.

Expect people to give it a hard time because your answer is also the harder answer and the more self-sacrificing answer.

Welcome to the blog.

centuri0n said...

Strategem:

If the affirmation "there is no Gospel in it" is vacuous, what is the basis for anyone ever leaving a church, in your opinion?

That asked, let me point something out: Here's the comment you made which started my inquisition against your view --

[QUOTE]
I think that a lot of churches are asleep as to what is going on in youth ministry. And I think a lot of pastors and elders give passive support to many of the disturbing trends CarolCzech listed, by doing nothing about them. The person in the pew is powerless. My own opinion is that if you find yourself in such a church (as we did a year ago, almost exactly what she was describing), GET OUT. Stop supporting things you have serious disagreements with, or you'll actually be part of the problem by enabling those who are promoting Nooma, etc. I know it's hard to leave, but there's no middle ground.
[/QUOTE]

There is only one thing in Carol's list which is a deal-breaker: Nooma videos. The rest are stupid, lazy, careless, reckless, self-aggrandizing and frankly consumeristic -- to say the least. But that doesn't make them ground to leave a church. Because let's face it -- we're all stupid, lazy, careless, reckless, self-aggrandizing and frankly consumeristic, and if one denies that one is also a liar.

If they are showing Nooma in your church, find ways to demonstrate why those videos are antithetical to the Bible and to the Gospel -- because they are. Do that -- in love, for the sake of the love you have for those people and for Christ who is savior. Don't leave! If you're the only one who knows the truth there about those things, and you leave, where's the truth going to go?

And if you want to know when I think it's time to leave, see above. I'm not retyping that 50 times.

The Gospel demands that we seek unity in truth. That's not a call to demand people agree with you or you leave: that's a call to face up to the fact that every one of us is stupid, lazy, careless, reckless, self-aggrandizing and frankly consumeristic, but in different ways which, by God's grace, gives others the ability to be wise, enduring, kind, gentle, selfless and self-sacrificing when we are not. And vice-versa.

The Gospel does not call us into monastic caves or nuclear-heresy-proof bunkers. It calls us to be ambassadors and also a family -- a new nation under one king.

Not only is your "get out now" tactic Gospel-free, it makes people who are Gospel-proof -- that is, they can never give the Gospel or gain any of the great temporal benefits of the Gospel -- because every weaker brother becomes an object of disdain.

Please rethink your views. Liberal carelessness about doctrine and revelation is one enemy of the Gospel: hyperconservative atomism where the Christian lives in a personal theological casket waiting for Jesus to take him out of this world which is beyond being reached is another.

centuri0n said...

Reviewing the rest of the thread, I think the answers I have given here in one way or another respond to the concerns voiced.

In the hope of getting most of the rest of the loose ends, let me suggest something else as well: if you are dissatisfied or even appalled by your church because you just read the Heidelberg Catechism or something and you finally have a rudimentary systematic theology, stay with your church for another year and pray daily for your pastor/elders, volunteer for the most basic and "practical" ministries you can find (like washing the baptism robes, or vacuuming up after AWANA, or just serving cold drinks before and after the worship service), and seek to serve the personal needs of someone on the staff.

In the worst case, God will teach you something about how to be patient and loving; in the best case, you will find yourself in a position to speak the truth in love because of your credibility in service.

VcdeChagn said...

Let me suggest something here, and you can take it or leave it: the Bible does not call for anyone to be his own independent arbiter of all things in the local church. It doesn't even call for you to be an independent auditor. You are certainly responsible for doing the things you will do -- but you're not called upon to be Elijah unless you know you can call down fire, if you see what I'm saying.

I see your point here. However, we are all called (aren't we?) to rightly divide the Word. And to some extent this requires making judgments. And acting on them within the context of Matt 18.

The interesting thing there, btw, is that the church must discipline this man, not just the elders, and the elders who apparently didn't know how or didn't want to handle this case are not given a separate rebuke by Paul.

So what you're saying here is this when you resort to Matt 18. To quote without quoting your words from earlier, when the church "ought to come to the conclusion" but does not due to lack of discernment, etc...then it's time to fire up Matt 18, right?

And the church in Corinth has far more problems than the average church today -- open adultery, sects, lapses toward idolatry (and not subtle idolatry but the plain "meat offered to an idol" kind)


I consider Masonry to be one of the most obvious forms of idolatry that we see today. Of course the SBC would differ, but they're wrong. But then again, they've got Paul Washer :). Maybe he'll fix it. (OT>)Now there is a man who never wastes the pulpit.(OT)

The end of Mt 18 is to press to resolution, and that resolution is either reconciliation or the judgment of the local body. If the body behaves conspiratorially to prevent you from pressing the truth in love, it has made its judgment -- and revealed what kind of body it is. I think the door is open then -- if you have behaved in love and not in retaliation.

Then in the end, we are in agreement. Your meta post is almost worthy of its own blog entry. I expect a nice treatise on Matt 18 in the context of the local church by next week :)

And, to the best I can see it (God and the people involved can see it better obviously) in the case I am referring to, Matt 18 attempt at resolution happened.

Thanks for your effort in better explaining your position to me.

Rono said...

CenturiOn,

Thanks for your imput concerning local church participation. It's helpful food for thought. I've been reading Pyromaniacs for quite some time now and this topic is the first time that I have ever responded to a blog comment post. Teampyro has certainly been a blessing to me. I'm not sure yet on what I'm going to do as far as joining up with one of my local churches. I've got a lot of thinking to do.

TheBlackBaron said...

"If they are showing Nooma in your church, find ways to demonstrate why those videos are antithetical to the Bible and to the Gospel -- because they are."

O.K. My church is showing these videos to a twenty something small group and is going to start showing them to the high school group.

Can anyone point me in the right direction so that I can "demonstrate why those videos are antithetical to the Bible and to the Gospel"?

HELP PLEASE.

centuri0n said...

BlackBaron:

Your first self-help step is to listen to this talk from Mark Driscoll given at the SEBTS Convergence conference last month. About half-way through he does a spectacular job deconstructing McLaren and Bell, and his insights into why Rob Bell has jumped the rails (if he was ever on the rails) are frankly brilliant.

You should also get informed by watching Nooma on-line and reading Bell's "velvet Elvis" so you're not perceived as someone who's merely following bloggers over a cliff.

Your second step is to get your heart right and make sure that you are trying to do something for these people out of love and not out of wrath or self-fulfillment. I'm not saying I see you have a lousy heart motive, but we (you, me, etc.) who are the self-appointed warrior caste of the christian world need to make sure we aren't destroying the church in order to secure the church, so to speak.

Your third step is to offer something better in its place. Frankly, listening to an audio Bible would be lightyears better than Nooma, but the people who get all taken in by Nooma think they have "been there, done that". If you're serious about getting people to engage in serious Bible study and discipleship, you can't just say, "don't so that". You also have to say "but instead do this".

I also have a suggestion: our church is about to start a 3-year study through the Bible using a curriculum called Life Bible Study. It's engaging, easily taught, offers a lot of resources for the class/group leader, and is adaptable to a variety of settings.

And don't go alone. You don't have to be Elijah or Isaiah -- you could be Barnabas, or Silas, or Luke. What if we, as apologists, thought we could be more like Luke rather than like Paul in a desperate moment? Would we be better at our work and maybe getting better results?

I'll be praying for you. This is a hard thing to confront and correct.

centuri0n said...

The Driscoll link in the last post doesn't work. try this one and scroll down the list of speaker until you find Mark Driscoll's talk dated Sept 21, 2007.

stratagem said...

Cent:
Please confirm that you have ever actually been a member in a church that has gone from sound, to Nooma-new-age-ish, so that I'll know that you know whereof you speak. Frankly, your responses are naive enough about how this actually occurs, to convince me otherwise.

Here's the process reality of how these conversions of churches occur:
- The pastor, elder(s), or whoever is leading the transformation becomes convinced that the Emergent/Universalist/Hyperpreterist view etc. is true and that the church needs to see the light on this new theology, too.
- However, the person in charge is also smart enough to realize that to come out with what they now believe all at once, in the open, they'll be in trouble or at least, seriously at risk.
- Practices (not doctrine) are changed incrementally over time to reflect the new theology, before the theology itself is ever introduced. The idea that one can confront entrenched leadership's heretical ideas head-on, is naive on your part. Try convincing the average person in the pew of anything about contemplative/mantra prayer, Nooma videos, icons, yoga, labyrinths or any of the other practices that precede introduction of new theology, and you'll get a blank stare. Ditto, try convincing them that the omission of repentance and God's eternal wrath for sinners from evangelical messages, is anything other than an honest oversight. Good luck on those, brother. Definitely been there, done that - have you?
- Eventually, the new theology itself is introduced, but by that time people have literally been transformed by the practices into accepting the philosophies behind them.

In other words, spiritual deception is deceptive - do you understand this? It does not reveal itself so that it can be easily confronted in the light of day. I think you are quite naive on these points, but I admit that if I had not experienced them, I would still be naive on these points, as well.
Stratagem

centuri0n said...

Wow -- so your argument is now not that people should leave because the Bible tells them so butthat they have no defenses against deception? That the Bible's method of dealing with wrong-doing is not sufficient?

You just dig yourself a deeper hole every day, Strategem. For the record, my current church had a previous pastor who was trying to leverage the church into a more seeker-friendly, looser-doctrinal, hyper-relational model of organization and activity, and over the course of 2 years -- 2 years, dude -- the body and the deacons counseled with him until he realized that his view was rejected. He resigned, took two year off from ministry, and now has opened a new non-denominational church which is exactly what he wanted -- and the handful of people who wanted that have left out church to join his self-help group.

Again, let me plead with you that your view is simply absent of any of the practical outgrowths of sound doctrine. There's no love in it, and there's no discipleship in it. Not every case will turn out as well as ours has -- many will result in people being asked to leave by the instigators of liberal (and worse) theological hijinx. But the process the Bible tells us to follow is a process which gives us the opportunity to, as the book of James says, turn a brother away from sin.

Does your process do that? How?

TheBlackBaron said...

centuri0n,

Thanks for your advice and your prayers.

Gummby said...

If anyone else was having trouble downloading the audio, try the subscribe to the SEBTS Audio Podcast button on this page. It brings up iTunes & a list of chapel messages, and you can download it from there.

stratagem said...

Cent: OK, I think I finally see where you are coming from on this. I'm willing to admit that I have been formed, perhaps even disfigured by a horrible experience involving subversive spiritual deception by the church leaders who we formerly trusted. I should also tell you that we spent three agonizing years trying to get the attention of the church leadership on the dangerous road we felt the church was heading down doctrinally, before we finally discovered that it wasn't that they didn't know what they were doing, they did know and just weren't willing to admit it and bear the consequences.

My advice to "get out" was actually reflecting love for those who are in the pews, wanting to spare them the pain we went through and are still going through.

I admit that in a case where there is a independent, functioning church governance process, the cause of putting the brakes on the slide toward Emergent-ism is not futile. I can tell you that the case we were in was futile, and if only we had known it, we would not have put ourselves through hell for 3 years trying to strengthen the things that remain, and making some enemies in the process. We cannot find any basis to "reconcile" with them, because they are continuing to pursue the same unbiblical path.

Perhaps my advice should be modified to say, assess whether the church governance process is independent and discerning. If it isn't, then get out rather than fighting city hall; if it is, support those who are in leadership and advocating a return to sound doctrine and practices.

Sewing said...

Frank: Thank you very much for the link and historical background on the Augsburg Confession.

Totall off-topic tangent, but Article 10 thereof asserts "that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present" in the Lord's Supper...so it can't have been the Lutherans who were miffed by any formalization of this assertion by Rome....

But wow, there's lots of good stuff in there. Looks like it's the origin of the term "doctrine[s] of Grace" (Article XXIV, 2nd paragraph). And (almost/over) a full century before the second-layer Canons of Dort, WCF, First LBCF, etc....

centuri0n said...

Sewing:

You need to brush up on your Lutheran theology or your Roman theology. The Augsburg confession doesn't make the mass into a sacrifice for sin.

Pastor Brian said...

Is the local church necessary for the gospel to be manifest in this world?

This is a question that Christ has already answered. It is not really left up to us to ask, is it? He has established it. He has promised to build His church. Who are we to ask if it is necessary. Even if we do not understand fully WHY it is necessary, we must commit ourself to it, and strive to understand its importance.

I believe we can understand its importance better (even if not fully) by understanding the metaphors chosen (body, household, family, ekklesia, etc.). My fellow pastor, Craig Johnson, has posted a helpful strain of articles on the importance of the local church. I recommend it. Its truths have served to motivate and energize our local church to a greater level of commitment to one another and to the ministry Christ has called us to.

http://cafebiblia.com/?cat=18

Find them here.

Sewing said...

Ironically, my atheist mother was key in making me see that church attendance was key to Christian life. The first time I got into studying the Word of God, she asked me (cynically?), shouldn't I be attending a church to be in a community of believers?

Sewing said...

Sorry, Frank...I jumped on a single sentence in a linked article and ran with it uninformed...something that never happens in the meta of this blog! ;=P

centuri0n said...

Pastor Brian:

Exactly. Thanks for posting.

Jim Pemberton said...

There seems to be agreement on the following:

1) Christians ought to desire to meet in local groups as corporate entities (churches).

2) No church is perfect, therefore the Christians of each church ought to work to correct their church's ills.

3) There are some corporate entities that call themselves Christian churches, but teach and behave as anything but Christian. These are to be avoided.

The question seems to be, "What line separates a church to be avoided and a church to be worked within?"

That answer is not so easy.

I was in a decent church with my wife and children. As I studied, I found that I didn't fully agree with the doctrines of the denomination. The doctrines were debatable, so I sought to teach with charity understanding the differences and being sensitive to the denominational standards.

However, the denomination slid ever slowly toward apostasy and the older power mongers in the church sought to remain faithful to the denomination rather than the truth of the scriptures. I sought to remain and teach the truth, but the purpose of the church became increasingly self-serving.

With an eye on the spiritual atmosphere my children were exposed to, my wife and I sought membership at another church that was healthily involved in missions around the world, which normalized better ministry for our kids, and with which was closer aligned with what I understand to be true (a conservative SBC congregation that is at least mostly Reformed). I still go back and minister in the old church. My parents and my wife's parents are still there, but I'm not trapped to ministering only inwardly. It is an outward ministry now.

Interestingly, most of the membership of my new church are not historically Baptists. Many are former Presbyterians and Lutherans among other things. You can't say we swam the Tiber - how about the baptistery? :)

centuri0n said...

Jim:

The key phrase in your testimony is this:

[QUOTE]
the denomination slid ever slowly toward apostasy and the older power mongers in the church sought to remain faithful to the denomination rather than the truth of the scriptures. I sought to remain and teach the truth, but the purpose of the church became increasingly self-serving.
[/QUOTE]

There's no question this has happened in our lifetimes. It will happen in our childrens' lifetimes. And ultimately, those denominations will lose anyone who asks questions. So let's be clear that I think what happened to you was probably inevitable -- even if you took the matter to the end of Mt 18.

The question, really, is "why take it to the end of the Mt 18 method?"

The first reason is obvious: obedience to God. God says this is how we handle the problem, and it's a little snippy of us to say, "yeah but ..." to God.

The second reason is that it will persuade others to turn away from sin. Part of this process, I think, is that we are doing what James says we ought to do, which is be clear with a brother who is sinning for his sake.

The last top-shelf reason to do this is to have the matter settled in our own minds in order to have a clean conscience. Paul preached to the Jews until they tossed him out of the Synagogues, and when he was tossed out he had a clear conscience toward them. If we do not bring the truth in love to our brothers and sister in church, how can our consciences be clean no matter how poorly they treat us.

So I concede that what you did was probably inevitable, but I wonder what good might have come from pursuing what God asks us to do when we are faced with those who are doing wrong inside the church.

Is that fair?

stratagem said...

Cent, I have given this even more thought since my last post, ,which you did not comment on. One thing that continues to confuse me is the following: If I'm reading you correctly, you are stating that the person in the pew (not in the church leadership) is somehow responsible to stay around and correct errors being introduced by the church leadership, even though they have no authority to do so. To me, that seems inconsistent. If the person in the pew has no authority, how can they have responsibility? Isn't it the responsibility of the board of elders, pastor, etc., to correct these errors? How DOES a church member correct the elders when they have decided that 'pomo' theology is the way to go?

On a slightly different note, in the interview that Phil did with John MacArthur on the Emergent church, John stated that he'd go so far as to say that if you are in a church without a doctrine statement, you should leave that church. That seems like throwing the towel in pretty quickly (obviously, much more quickly than we did in our situation). Do you think he was in error on this point?

centuri0n said...

stratagem:

I'm not trying to ignore anyone, so no offense meant.

I'm saying the person in the pew has an obligation to be faithful to what God commands. In that, there are dozens of places in Scripture where we can see Paul, Peter, James and Jesus calling the church (that is, the people who are called out to be together) to unity in truth. That's not unity in spite of truth: That unity because of truth.

In that, the person in the pew has the obligation to stand up and exercise Mt 18 when he sees the train coming off the rails.

As to Dr. MacArthur's affirmation about churches without doctrinal statements, I have to ask: how does one call it a "church" in the NT sense if it doesn't have a doctrinal statement? I'll be glad to take flack over that from people with specific questions, but what Dr. MacArthur said (as you paraphrase) is akin to saying that someone does not have a moral obligation to belong to one social club or another -- and I agree.

A church without a doctrinal statement -- in one form or another -- is just a social club. I'd say that you have better things to do with your time.

stratagem said...

Cent:

Well, you and I may not be that far off in some ways, I now see.

I would ask you to think about how the context of Matt 18 seems to suggest it is written to church leaders, only: At one stage (when the person who allegedly sinned refuses to listen to two or three witnesses) we are told:

"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

Exactly how does a church member cause "the church" to tell the Sr. Minister and Elders anything about where they've gone off the rails doctrinally, especially while doing it without usurping their authority? This is the essence of my question about the "duty"' of the non-leadership church member in a developing apostate church situation.

I'm a little surprised to hear you say that a church without a doctrine statement is just a social club. I suspect you don't really believe that entirely. Whether you really do or not, I would like to hear you build upon this subject in some future article and tell us of all the criteria that you believe qualifies a church as a church, as opposed to being a social club. I can't remember the 'doctrine statement' as being a Biblical qualification for a church body - were you merely expressing your opinion?

I admit that the church we were in that went adrift did not have a doctrine statement, and that probably didn't help things any; but on the other hand Rob Bell's church does have a fairly solid doctrine statement, and it hasn't saved them from error because in fact it has evolved into a personality cult.

centuri0n said...

| Well, you and I may not be that far
| off in some ways, I now see.
|
| I would ask you to think about how
| the context of Matt 18 seems to
| suggest it is written to church
| leaders, only: At one stage (when
| the person who allegedly sinned
| refuses to listen to two or three
| witnesses) we are told:
|
| "And if he shall neglect to hear
| them, tell it unto the church: but if
| he neglect to hear the church, let
| him be unto thee as an heathen
| man and a publican."

If you fragment Scripture, you can take a lot of views which the text doesn’t support. That's not to say anything but that particularly in this case, Mt 18:15-20 has been abused by many of the centuries to mean almost anything.

In deference to your preferences, here's the whole passage in NKJ:

]| “Moreover if your brother sins against
]| you, go and tell him his fault between
]| you and him alone. If he hears you,
]| you have gained your brother. But if
]| he will not hear, take with you one or
]| two more, that ‘by the mouth of
]| two or three witnesses every word
]| may be established.’
And if he
]| refuses to hear them, tell it to
]| the church. But if he refuses even to
]| hear the church, let him be to you like
]| a heathen and a tax collector.
]|
]| “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever
]| you bind on earth will be bound in
]| heaven, and whatever you loose on
]| earth will be loosed in heaven.
]|
]| “Again I say to you that if two of you
]| agree on earth concerning anything
]| that they ask, it will be done for them
]| by My Father in heaven. For where
]| two or three are gathered together in
]| My name, I am there in the midst of
]| them.”

The process here is any brother with an offense against any brother. No distinction is made between elder or non-elder here, and the audience in Mt 18 is an unnamed and unnumbered set of disciples – not the apostles or "the twelve" only. So my first suggestion is that this is for all believers, and that we are instructed here by Christ to take a long and serious view of sin and conflict.

I say that because, as the NKJ points out here, Christ is talking about "sin" here against a brother and not merely being thin-skinned. So if the order of service changes, that's prolly not sin; if the teachers in your church get together and stop having 12 different Bible studies going on and decide to teach from one set of curriculum for a specific spiritual objective (like Biblical literacy), that's probably not sin.

And not liking your pastor's depth of substance, btw, is not a sin. Just because he has a superficial view of Scripture or preaches superficial sermons is –not- a basis for packing up the tents to see if anyone can preach as good as David Jeremiah or whatever.

"sin" is a serious problem, not a superficial one, and not merely a "personal" one. It means "to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong". The other guy has to actually be wrong.

So here's one part of Mt 18 which, it seems to me, we often overlook: if we think our brother has sinned against us, and we can't find 2 or 3 witnesses, maybe it's time for self-examination rather than switching churches. Maybe we have made a mistake. And maybe the Mt 18 process gives us an opportunity to learn something rather than to offer a lecture on how much smarter we are than those who have committed their lives to leading God's church and God's people.

But that said, you have really asked if the church itself can speak to its own leaders, and the answer is unequivocally "yes". But again, the consequential matters are, "where is the sin?" and "will both parties accept the consequences of sin being exposed?"

The church –must- speak to its leaders. It does not have authority to abandon or supercede Scripture, or to simply boss people around, but as this passage says the church has the right to listen to the charges of sin by a brother against a brother and decide what is right. Paul reiterates this in 1 Corinthians. This includes leaders, but is not limited to leaders.

| Exactly how does a church member
| cause "the church" to tell the Sr.
| Minister and Elders anything about
| where they've gone off the rails
| doctrinally, especially while doing it
| without usurping their authority?
| This is the essence of my question
| about the "duty"' of the non-
| leadership church member in a
| developing apostate church
| situation.

I am 100% confident that the Bible does not give us a checklist for how to do this in every situation. I am equally confident that it tells us –generally- how to approach this matter, and that the church must rule itself. I think this is especially evident in a passage like 1 Cor 5-6 in which both judgment about sinfulness and judgment about other matters (like civil matters which are normally resolved by lawsuits) ought to be made within the confines of the church.

The question is whether or not a church is formed with this sort of thing in mind, or if it is a place where people come to listen to pep talks every week. If a church is formed the latter way, it's bound to have trouble doing what Paul says it ought to do in 1 Cor 5-6, or what Jesus says it should do in Mt 18.

| I'm a little surprised to hear you say
| that a church without a doctrine
| statement is just a social club. I
| suspect you don't really believe that
| entirely.

Try me out.

| Whether you really do or
| not, I would like to hear you build
| upon this subject in some future
| article and tell us of all the criteria
| that you believe qualifies a church
| as a church, as opposed to being a
| social club. I can't remember the
| 'doctrine statement' as being a
| Biblical qualification for a church
| body - were you merely expressing
| your opinion?

Here's my problem as I start talking about this with you, stratagem: you want to condemn "emergent" type churches for being doctrinally broken or dirty, but you think that somehow a confession is either unnecessary or maybe even unbiblical. That's simply ruling out almost all the options a church has, except to be nothing at all and hope they have some kind of end-time ratification of their spiritual state without some kind of now-times demonstration that they are inside the gates of grace.

Here's what a church doesn’t need: it doesn’t need something as complicated or nuanced as the WCF or LBCF to be a church. That's good – it may even be better than what's necessary (meaning: a very mature form of what's necessary) – but it's not what makes a church a church.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul says to the church, "you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone". To Timothy he says, "If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself." And he (Paul) makes these statements repeatedly in most of his letters in the NT.

The –mark- of the church is the confession of Christ the Savior, Christ who is God, Christ who suffered, died and was raised [list truncated, so if I left off your favorite Trinitarian leg of lamb, don't panic]. That's a "doctrine statement". Any church which will not confess at least this much in the way Paul affirms these things is posing as a church. So if a body will not make a confession, is it a "church" or is it something else?

Doctrine is the cornerstone of right action, as Phil has plainly said in the last 7 days, and I agree with him. If it cannot be bothered to say what it believes – maybe it's only in a slogan on the cover of its bulletin or worship guide or whatever – it's probably not a church.

| I admit that the church we were in
| that went adrift did not have a
| doctrine statement, and that
| probably didn't help things any; but
| on the other hand Rob Bell's church
| does have a fairly solid doctrine
| statement, and it hasn't saved them
| from error because in fact it has
| evolved into a personality cult.

I'm not sure you read the same "doctrinal statement" I did from Bell's Mars Hill church. The one-page PDF I read could mean almost anything. I don't know how a Mormon would deny what's there. It has some messianic christianese in it, but those words aren't entirely clear in what they mean.

After that, my opinion is that at least they gave it a shot – and if what they affirm is not what I'd affirm, at least we can agree that we are not in the same camp. It shouldn't be a surprise that I agree with Dr. MacArthur about the usefulness of doctrinal statements as I can't think of anything except eschatology about which we would disagree.

Does that help?

stratagem said...

Cent, yes, it helps, thank you. I totally agree with you that actual sin is the best, and perhaps the only, correct reason for leaving a fellowship. Now, let me expand on that a bit.

I think it is relatively easy to see how Matt 18 applies when someone in leadership is committing a gross, tangible sin (adultery, criminality, addictive behaviors, lack of integrity).

However, when the leadership is delving into faulty teachings without any apparent gross sin accompanying it, how does one convince "the church" that the teachings are so faulty that they have crossed the line into sin? Sure if someone came in and flat-out denied Christ, that would be easy. But generally, false teachings these days have just enough nuance thrown in that they sound good (kind of like the Rob Bell doctrine statement you referenced). False teachers have gotten awfully good at packaging their wares.

The case we were faced with had lots of seminary-inspired justifications, given by staff members with impeccable academic credentials, for why universalist teachings aren't really faulty. Many of these resulted in simple omissions, rather than outright denials of, sound doctrine. This confused a lot of good people who didn't have a good handle on the Bible, and in the end, we just ended up looking like doctrinaire mutineers. The few Elders who did know that something was wrong were outclassed by the academics, and couldn't rebut their arguments very effectively, and basically gave up.

I have spent a lot of time wondering what I should have done differently, since this happened a year ago. The deck was stacked so far against us in this, that humanly speaking, it's very tempting to think that we should have just abandoned ship. A lot less feelings would have been hurt, if we had done so. There are a lot of clever, high-minded doctrines out there these days that are difficult to refute. They are unbiblical, but they sound so good.

Finally, I hope you don't think I am objecting to doctrinal statements or confessions; believe me, after what we've gone through, I'm all for them, because it at least gives one a tangible reference point from which to object to false teachings coming from above.

Thanks for your comments.

stratagem said...

Oh, and I just remembered one other anecdote involving doctrinal confessions: In the situation I was describing, when some of us asked for a doctrine statement to be drafted, that too was refuted as follows (paraphrase) "The whole Bible is our doctrine statement, doctrine statements are just the writings of men." The real reason of course was to avoid being smoked out on doctrinal issues, or avoid having anything objective to be held to, but just try to prove that one.

As I said, it's hard to refute some of these things, they sound so good, but the intention behind them is another story...

Jim Pemberton said...

Cent,

Thanks for your response and I apologize for not getting back sooner. I understand what you are saying about Matthew 18 and I want to make it clear that I was on the council of the church right before we left and indeed brought up in council the issues I had. I fulfilled my obligations on the council before we even thought about visiting another church. Finally, I sat down with the pastor and fleshed it out with him in prayer. I kept him updated as we visited other churches and he went so far as to send a letter on our behalf to the church we planned to join although I had not asked him to do so. He and I are still friends.

It was not without trepidation that we left. I firmly believe in being committed and active within one's congregation. Yes, our leaving was inevitable. Did Matthew 18 come to fruition? When you have a church full of willing participants in errant ecclesiological practice, who do you confront first? And who do you take with you when they are unrepentant? That's why I brought it up in council. The pastor was locked into the demands of the denominational hierarchy with his retirement only a couple of years away. Ultimately, my concerns were summarily ignored.