23 March 2012

Boundaries

by Phil Johnson



e're often told by gurus of church-growth and guardians of postmodern values in the evangelical community that we mustn't erect "boundaries."

I gather from the way such comments are often bandied about that the word boundaries is supposed to have totally negative connotations. Honestly: I don't see why. I can understand how worldly people whose minds are enslaved to earthbound, man-centered, self-indulgent thoughts might wish for a world without any lines or borders. But candidly, it's an attitude that's hard to reconcile with the whole tenor of the New Testament.

Contemporary evangelicals' resistance to boundaries is especially hard to reconcile with the fact that pastors (the word means shepherds) are expressly charged with guarding the flock and keeping predators out of the fold. And there simply is no realistic way to keep sheep in the sheepfold and wolves out if you refuse to observe any boundaries. In John 10:7, Jesus famously said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." I cannot envision any useful purpose for having a "door [for] the sheep" if there is no sheep-pen or enclosure of some kind with well-defined, secure barricades, sturdy fences, or a protected perimeter of some kind.

But mainstream evangelicals have been indoctrinated along with the rest of postmodern society to think walls and borders are inherently sinister. We're conditioned to favor a whole different set of more stylish and more politically-correct values: tolerance, openness, diversity, mystery, indecision, broad-mindedness, and liberality. It's considered humble and generous to entertain perpetual qualms about what we believe. We're not supposed to think any single perspective can righteously claim to be true to the exclusion of all others.

So today's evangelicals bend over backward not to sound the least bit dogmatic. Because certainty is perceived throughout our culture as a kind of cruel arrogance. Clarity, authority, careful definitions, and firmness are likewise looked upon with deep suspicion. Stating your beliefs with settled conviction is a sure way to start trouble these days.



Want proof? Just page through our blog and read any random comment thread where 30 or more people have replied. You'll see, I think, that the most common complaint we get from angry commenters is that we sound too sure of our position—or some variation on that theme. (We're too rigid; too reluctant to change our minds; too emphatic in the way we make our case; or whatever.) We're expected to qualify and over-qualify everything we say in a way that practically nullifies every critique and ultimately countermands every concern. We are told we always ought to look for things to commend if ever it is absolutely necessary to criticize something, and above all, we must be brotherly to everyone who comes in Jesus' name.

See: the concept of "unity" commonly touted today has nothing whatsoever to do with "being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2). Instead, it is a broad, visible, ecumenical homogeneity without boundaries.

And that is nothing like the biblical concept of unity.

For an audio recording of the complete message from which those thoughts were excerpted, click here.


Phil's signature


38 comments:

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

It is ironic that the Lord Jesus, far from being brotherly to everyone who comes in His name will say to some He never knew them (Matthew 7:20-23). It is obvious Jesus had boundaries.

Frank Turk said...

We prayed over DJP at the installation service, and I prayer this over him:

all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1Pet 3:8b)

The thing about this exhortation is that it doesn't exclude direct criticism when one is wrong: it is the context in which legit criticism can be received.

And it's lacking in the church at large.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I am listening to your sermon right now. What amazes me, though, is that I cannot find one Creed that includes the doctrine of JBFA.

This was discussed on the gty.org blog at one time, and I am trying to find where that is. This could be an all nighter.

Brandon said...

Thanks for the thoughtful article. After reflecting on your comment about the sheep and the fence, it seems that the purpose of the boundary is not ultimately to define who is in and who is out so much as it is to define who entered by the door and who did not. The sheep are saved (and by implication, are being made holy) by going through the door, not merely by being on the inside.

Many of us who think negatively of boundaries are worried that the point of all these fences is to keep thieves and wolves from entering through the door.

Katy~The Country Blossom said...

Very, Very well said!!!!!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Excellent and brief. Definitely needs to be linked, shared, re-tweeted, pinned, etc.

I've experienced the intolerance of criticism once when I was exhorting and correcting a sister in Christ who was fearful about what her life would be like after she had her first baby. The exchange happened on facebook (a place where these things tend to not go well, I've learned). She ended up deleting the thread not because she was offended, but because another so-called believer (who later left her husband and walked away from the faith) was offended that I would correct her so publicly.

The third party and I exchanged emails, and she accused me of basically attacking our friend with a diatribe of bible verses.

Her intolerance to hear the Word of God was obvious to me, and later did prove to be the reality.

I was disappointed that we three were unable (and they were unwilling) to finish the exchange publically. After all, there were unbelievers also part of the comment thread who could have benefited from seeing how sisters in Christ can come together and work out their differences and love and encourage one another.

I suppose reading this blog for the past few years has had that affect on me. Unfortunately not everyone I know and love reads here regularly.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I quote, "Unfortunately not everyone I know and love reads here regularly."



Yet.


(Some sentences are best when ended with the word yet.)

Robert said...

Even my kids understand the need and benefits of having boundaries. I hope that thinking stays with them as they continue to grow...

Nicholas said...

Perhaps you could speak to precisely what "boundaries" are being torn down? There's a big difference between "tearing down the boundaries of poverty" and "tearing down the boundaries of complementarian doctrine." I could get behind the first, but not the second, and some context would be helpful.

That said, I'd issue this warning: This blog exudes orthodoxy, which is to your credit. Sometimes, though, it lacks in humble orthodoxy, which is not very becoming.

Kerry James Allen said...

I guess it didn't take 30 comments Phil, it only took 9.

Marla said...

We're only at 9 comments (not 30 yet) and you've already hit the too-sure-of-your-position thing. What exactly is 'humble orthodoxy'?

Kerry James Allen said...

Phil defined "humble orthodoxy" well in his article: "We're conditioned to favor a whole different set of more stylish and more politically-correct values—like tolerance, openness, diversity, mystery, indecision, broad-mindedness, and liberality. It's considered humble and generous to entertain perpetual qualms about what we believe. We're not supposed to think any single perspective can righteously claim to be true to the exclusion of all others." Spurgeon: "Men of the world are apt to say, 'You are such a set of bigots; you think everybody wrong but yourselves.' Is it wonderful that if we think we are right, we do not believe that those who are opposed to us can be right also?"

David J. Dunbar said...

Actually, Phil is a great example of "humble orthodoxy". I've listened to him a lot, even got to meet his wife at the last FIRE conference. He, and the other writers here, stand for truth, without apology, and do it graciously and without arrogance.

Now if you define "humble orthodoxy" as "open to erroneous positions", then OK, they're not humble. But that's not what humility IS.

Keep up the good work, Pyro writers!
SDG

olan strickland said...

The gurus of church-growth and guardians of postmodern values are pitting grace against truth to remove all boundaries that hinder their ecumenical agenda. They do not make the connection between grace and truth (John 1:14) and set grace as superior. Then they can paint the one that loves truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10) in the light of an unloving Pharisee - i.e. orthodox without humility.

Kerry James Allen said...

Phil is an example of "humble orthodoxy" but not by the re-definition of what that is by those who are frightened out of their minds by certainty. "...if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" 1 Corinthians 14:8

donsands said...

The Church finds the greatest and most joyous liberty when we know the truth, and trust completely in the doctrines of the Holy Bible.God's Word sets us apart and sets us free.

Thanks for always sharing the truth here: TeamPyro Three Amigos.

Have a terrific Lord's Day in worship. And may the Spirit of Christ be full upn us all as we seek His righteousness.

dac said...

Boundaries are good. The best at setting boundaries were the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the example we should follow.

Following boundaries established by Jesus is good. Following boundaries established by modern day Pharisees is terrible. Arguably worse than no boundaries, at least based on the amount of time the Lord spent on the topic.

justsayin

Tom said...

Sometimes I wonder if you and the others here at Pyro would be as strident and short if you were seeking to communicate these truths to a congregant instead of the world wide web...

For example, I can't see the Sensei doing a "Next" segment with one of his congregants who's struggling with a particular question. "Figure it out on your own... Relisten to last Sunday's sermon because I can't be bothered with you if you don't get it." etc.

Tom

Kerry James Allen said...

Oh-oh. Somebody is going to wake a sleeping sensei at the dojo in Houston...

DJP said...

Phil: wasn't Gen. 3 a "boundary" issue?

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Dear Mary Elizabeth Tyler, is the following what you are referencing?

The Vulnerable Church

:-)

Marla said...

Kerry James Allen -- clearly we were thinking the same thing. My question was more rhetorical. :)

Bill Honsberger said...

Hey you are being rigid about your rigidity!

Well someone had to say it.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I just finished listening to the message and it did NOT seem to really be an hour and 20 minutes in length! It was that engaging.

The issue of mixing the metaphors of the wheat & tares with the sheep and the wolves got me thinking. Might a better way for us to look at it be sheep, goats and wolves? The goats might find their way into the flock and cause trouble, the Good Shepherd will one day separate the sheep from the goats, but the wolf is not to be tolerated at all.

We sheep might not recognize the difference in general between a sheep and a goat, but we sure better know a wolf when we see one. And pastor/shepherds even more so.

olan strickland said...

Is that a sheep-dog or a wolf playing leap-frog?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Joyce Burrows: "Dear Mary Elizabeth Tyler, is the following what you are referencing?

The Vulnerable Church?

No, Joyce, but I did find the articles. They are at gty.org, dated March 14th and 17th, 2010. The title of the article is Fundamental Doctrine, Says Who?

I do not know if John MacArthur wrote the articles, or if one of the admins did. All the men who used to write for that blog were very gifted writers. I miss that blog so much. :(

Thanks for asking. :)

mikeb said...

Brandon, seeing their fruit lets us know if they likely entered through the door or jumped over the fence.

FYI, to many people humble orthodoxy = generous orthodoxy = MacLaren theology.

trogdor said...

Actual Humble Orthodoxy: Aligning our thoughts to God's Word, because He's God and we're not. Understanding that what God says is necessarily true and what God commands is necessarily binding, and acting accordingly.

Humble Orthodoxy, Popular Version: Arrogantly declaring that God's Word cannot be understood, and therefore cannot overrule the perverse thoughts and whims of petulant creatures. Open defiance of the commands of the sovereign Lord of all, pretending he is an equal to be negotiated with rather than God to be obeyed. Taking every opportunity to proclaim that our rebellion is a sign of true humility.

donsands said...

"Open defiance of the commands of the sovereign Lord of all, pretending he is an equal to be negotiated with rather than God to be obeyed."-trog

Sounds like Simon Peter, don't it.

When Jesus says No, then no is the best possible, and only genuine way to go. But His grace for grace always amazes me. And I am growing, as peter surely grew. It's all about the Holy Spirit, and not a "spirit of bondage" isn't it.

DebbieLynne said...

After reading a blog post by someone whose "ministry" is to "build bridges" between evangelicals and the gay community, this post refreshed me. Thanks for helping clarify why this person is off-base.

James Joyce said...

Humble: Lowly; modest; meek; submissive; opposed to proud,haughty, arrogant or assuming. In an evangelical sense, having a low opinion of one's self, and a deep sense of unworthiness in the sight of God.

Orthodoxy: Soundness of faith; a belief in the genuine doctrines taught in the Scriptures.
Above definitions from the 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary.

Humble Orthodoxy: God is right (as revealed in the Scriptures). I am wrong.

Great post Phil!

Caleb Kolstad said...

The complete lecture is WELL worth your time. I've listened to it 3 times.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

You're welcome, Mary Elizabeth; am glad you found the articles you were remembering(and thanks for sharing). The GTY site is a blessing; am adjusting to the blog change. :-)

Grateful for the helpful and thorough, as always, teaching, Phil!

Esther said...

Trogdor: I hope you don't mind. I posted your comment as a facebook status.

chris goddard said...

I was actually thinking upon the same thing that you just wrote about. I,m tired of the things the church tolerates. What would the puritans say in this matter. I pray that we would have men that would have a puritan mindset, just like Phil johnson, and not tolerate the foolishness that goes on in churches today. We need to get a backbone and be tough when we have to be tough.

Cork said...

The Word of God is truly very clear on boundaries...The boundary is the Word...Paul warned the Ephesus brethren that men would rise up among them and draw away disciples after them...Draw them away from what? The "Whole Counsel Of God" that Paul left with the brethren over a 3 year period...Boundary Definition - If it's not in the Word, stay away from it...Matthew 24:24 is being fulfilled in our day...

Acts 20:27-31 -

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

2OFUS said...

Excellent sound thoughts, Thank you.

eb said...

Dear Brother,
I appreciate your thoughts on the topic and thank you for them. What happens when the Elders of a congregation give someone with this "no boundaries" type of thinking free reign among the people of their congregation? What if ideas for Church growth and modernization have them spellbound. What if they have been faithful to the Word for years and yet only a small number gathers on the Lord's day still. And though they haven't compromised the Word from the pulpit, in an act of desperation they decide to welcome this concept of liberality at least long enough to see if it will bring people in. My question is this; Is it, in your opinion, the role of the Elders to choose this kind of experiment or should they be obligated to present these ideas and changes to the body for approval? I read in the word of God that the charge to the Elders is to protect the doctrine of the Church and prevent the entrance of wolves among the sheep, to pray for the souls of those they have been entrusted with, and to preach the unadulterated word of God to them.Is it possible for them to presume to take on more than that? Or am I being too regulative? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
Thanks,