07 March 2008

Two religions in stark contrast

by Dan Phillips

In a very long post, I contrasted Luke Timothy Johnson's notion of religion with the Bible, and did some Proverbs 21:22-ing to it. Not everyone would want to wade through such a treatise, and I don't blame anyone who didn't. What I want to do here is give you the heart from a different and more constructive angle, without all the demo work and analysis. (See the other post for fuller analysis and documentation.)

Luke Timothy Johnson simply represents the latest head of a very old Hydra. It took life in the Garden, when our great-great grandma somehow found herself in the one place she knew she had no business being, looking at the one fruit she knew she need never eat. She already knew everything she needed to know about that fruit: God said it wasn't for her. Yet there she was.

If she were hoping for another perspective (than God's), she got it. The Tempter started out by insinuating that God's viewpoint was narrow and parochial. When she took him up on this, he took the next step of full denial and the rest, as we say, is history.

Thus began a millennia-long series of human-viewpoint religions ranging from perversion of truth to outright formal denial. In Judaism by Jesus' time the former had morphed into formal acceptance of the Torah, but in-practice denial, as a series of horizontal ideas had functionally displaced the vertical revelation (see Mark 7:1-14).

Though decrying Pharisaism, Johnson is in that line. In the name of the vertical, he is concerned solely with the horizontal: what are people's profound stories, passions, yearnings. The flesh is
renamed as the spirit, and it trumps the Word of God. This, I say, is just one form of the same process which, in and out of "Christendom" broadly so called, displaces the genuinely vertical by the actually horizontal.

Let's just contrast that with three passages from the Word. The first is from Jeremiah, who has so much to say to our age. It's one of my favorites. The prophet is in prison, and "
King Zedekiah later sent for him and received him, and in his house privately asked him, 'Is there a word from the LORD?' (Jeremiah 37:17 CSB).

Were he a Johnsonite, Jeremiah might have responded, "You tell me." Or he might have said, "Yes there is. I listen to the voice of God in our people's profound stories, and I find that God is expressing Godself in many forms, in the joyous festivals of Baal, Marduk, Dagon, and a host of other names God uses to embody Godself in our day."

Instead, we read this:
"There is," Jeremiah responded, and he continued, "You will be handed over to the king of Babylon."
Wow. And ouch. But there it is. Jeremiah did not always like what he was constrained to say, but since it did not come from within himself or his contemporaries, but instead came from God above, there he stood. He could do no other. God help him (Jeremiah 20:7-18).

Fast forward. God the Son Himself has come to earth, lived, taught, died, been buried, been resurrected, and is about to return to Heaven. What are His marching orders, charting the course of His church in the age to come? Does He say, "Go out and tell the deepest tales of your heart! Search within, discern the whispery, mumbly voice of God as you think God expresses Godself! It will fundamentally change and mutate from culture to culture, but whatever you think it is, share it, see how it goes!"? Is that it?

Not at all. God incarnate says:
..."All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
Once again, their proclamation is to be backward-looking and upward-looking. They are to teach what He taught them to teach. They are to teach His word, as a fixed and objective body of revelation; as well, the Spirit had more objective and inerrant revelation to give through His apostles (John 14-16), but even that was a fixed amount. There could be no tampering or diluting or perverting or "improving," because it issued from Him who had all authority in heaven and earth. It was non-negotiable.

Fast forward to Paul, giving an apologia to the Corinthians. He says this:
...we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:2-6 ESV)
Paul would have bristled at and abominated the very suggestion that what he preached originated from within himself to any degree (cf. Galatians 1). It was not, at bottom, his "profound story." Paul was absolutely insistent that his message came from without and from above, from the throne of God Himself. That is why it could not be tampered with (cf. all of Galatians), why he would proclaim it without apology or equivocation of any sort, and why anyone who proclaimed anything different should just go to Hell where he belonged (Galatians 1:8-9).

And that is why the focus of the church had to be above all, through all, always and only the Word of God (cf. Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 4:1-2, etc.).

In spirit and in specifics, this could not be more chasmically distinct from and contradictory to Johnsonian horizontalism, or any variation thereof.

Machen told us 80+ years ago that it wasn't a variation of Christianity. It was another religion. The PCUSA didn't listen, it jumped the shark, and it's never jumped back.

Will we listen — not to the latest poll of sinners frolicking below, but to the extrinsic and transcendent word of God?

God grant we so listen, so believe, and so speak and write and live.

Dan Phillips's signature


Strong Tower said...

"And that is why the focus of the church had to be above all, through all, always and only the Word of God"

What! No programs, no life studies courses. Who's gonna stick around just to hear from God?

donsands said...

Another good word for us to take to heart. Thanks.

"Give me that old time religion,
It was good for Paul and Silas,
And it's good enough for me"

DJP said...

A remnant, Strong Tower.

James Scott Bell said...

I like what Al Mohler said at the Shepherd's Conference (as summarized over at Pulpit):

"Let’s be clear. According to the Bible, exposition is preaching. If it’s not reading the text and explaining it, its not preaching."

Unknown said...

I'm glad to see this post has the "heresy" tag. That is exactly what this "new" understanding is. And better it be called that openly.

Mike Riccardi said...

I'm also glad that this and the last one on LTJ had the "merciless beatings" tag.

Gotta love it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I guess I need to find out who Luke Timothy Johnson is. He must be important, since he has three names. (By the way, I didn't know "Johnson" was a name from the New Testament).

DJP said...

I've been trying to remember whether he's one of Hugh Hewitt's "authorities" (do note the quotation-marks). He's partial to trinomial personages: David Allen White, John Mark Reynolds, Joshua Micah Marshall, etc.

S.J. Walker said...

Thanks Dan,

Another TSM
(for future reference, this will aways refer to a Tent Spike Moment)

A Lion Has Roared!

Dorian said...

I don't quite understand the parallel of Johnson and the Pharisees. Can you help me out?

Mike Riccardi said...

Dan will do a better job, Dorian, but here's how it shows up in my mind:

"...teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."

ezekiel said...

Isiah 2:22 Stop regarding man

in whose nostrils is breath,

for of what account is he?

Strong Tower said...

'But I have {this} against you, that you have left your first love.

This church persevered, worked works, it had purity, and they even had discernment, all in the name of Jesus. But they had abandoned something fundamental, primary. It is called a first love. The word love relates to communion, fellowship, love feasts. Communion harkens back to what Jesus said about eating and drinking Him, the Word. The leaving, they had done is a word related to divorce, but also relates to the abandoning of mutually held claims, and also the idea of sending away teachers, writers, or speakers, by omission or neglect. This seems such a small thing at first. All other things are commendable, even sharing with the Lord his loathing of things contrary. Still, the Lord's warning is just the same for this gooder church, as it is for the most grossly heretical. The solemn warning of removing the Lamp Stand also reminds us of the Word of God which should be center table, not hidden, but giving light to whole. Of course then, if the light is removed, who will be able to see their way to do any good work? All things begin to be done in darkness.

Its such a small thing for so harsh a punishment. Everything else is being done, rightly. Beside what is more important, creeds or deeds? Surely we're not like those other churchs?

At times I wonder about the parable of the leaven, if it does not carry this meaning also, that a little neglect will not bring about the demolition of all? "A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing."

One seems to flow from the other.

'Is there a word from the LORD?'

DJP said...

Yep; it's in the passage I cited just before that, Mark 7:1ff., and the explanation that follows.

DJP said...

Reminder: this site does have rules, they're on the home page, we really mean them.

Aside: hope that regulars understand, if you comment on a post that is then deleted, your comment may be deleted as well simply because it is now without context.

Strong Tower said...

A question not necessarily related, the ho theos, of this current age, in 2 Cor. 4.4. Why is the definite article used here, when that construction usually means The God, not the god. I am just curious. Because there is no doubt that Paul looks back to the Garden and sees the effect of blinding the mind all the way forward by the enemy. But, Isaiah and Jesus reveal to us that it is God, who has blinded the understanding.

Just picking your brainmass. Is it the "this age" which is rendered world, that qualifies it?

John H said...

The problem with LTJ's views is not that they are "horizontal" rather than "vertical", but that they are the wrong type of horizontal.

To Christianity as a "vertical" as opposed to "horizontal" religion is to erect a false dichotomy. God doesn't relate to us purely in the vertical axis (that would be Islam you're thinking of, there). Rather, he comes among us in the incarnation of his Son, and in the continuing presence of his Son in the church by the Holy Spirit. He doesn't supersede or abolish the horizontal in favour of the vertical; he redeems the horizontal dimension.

It's not that we are to ignore human experience and the "profound stories, passions, yearnings" of humankind. Rather, we are to understand those in the light of the true humanity of Jesus Christ. That's where LTJ goes wrong: in allowing a broken, sinful and distorted form of humanity to trump the true humanity found in Jesus, whose own "profound stories, passions, yearnings" are the basis for our hope, and the only source of healing for that brokenness, sinfulness and distortion.

John H said...

Oops, word missing in my second paragraph. Should read "To present Christianity..." Or something like that, anyway. :-)

DJP said...

Away from my texts, but I'd say the article is acting as it often does in one form or another: as a specifier. In this case, it specifies which "theos" — specifically the "theos" of this age.

DJP said...

Well yes, John, I suppose if you don't actually read either article, lift out that one phrase, make it mean what you want, and then reject it, that makes sense.

But back in the context in which I tried carefully to argue it, where the issue is authority, the phrase I used makes perfect sense.

And it is his central problem.

Chris said...

Spot-on my friend! Thanks for performing such precise theological surgery on this one! You provide several succinct gems of insight in this post I wish I had in the months leading up to the decision we made to leave our last church that was going down the emergent road...from the (vertical) mountains and vistas to the (horizontal) flatlands and desert. However, Phil's posters provided many of the same encapsulated insights I needed at that time, as I knew something was terribly wrong, but just couldn't put my finger on it. Thanks again.

John H said...

Dan: as it happens, I did read this post (not, I admit, the previous one), and understand pretty well what you mean by "horizontal" and "vertical".

My point was just that those are potentially unhelpful terms, for the reasons I set out in my comment.

But whatever. I bowled, you batted, over and out.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Two religions in stark contrast

"Machen told us 80+ years ago that it wasn't a variation of Christianity. It was another religion. The PCUSA didn't listen, it jumped the shark, and it's never jumped back."

Let's say there's two religions in the same denomination. Or the same church for that matter.

Hypothetical. Suppose LTJ is in the same denomination/church as DJP. Should DJP give a public rebuke to LTJ just as he's done in the last two posts? Why or why not?

What are the costs/benefits to administering a polemical rebuke? Further, suppose one administers the truthful rebuke in love, but the other party and the other bystanders say that it wasn't done in love, and therefore your rebuke is disqualified. What then?

Has there ever been a situation where a polemical and truthful rebuke was administered, but the cumulative negative by-product was so large that it overwhelmed all the positives of delivering a truthful rebuke?

Basically, what should be the prayerful considerations and factors one should think over in deciding whether to administer a rebuke or whether to keep silent?

P.S. These are general questions. For the purposes of DJP's posts on LTJ, I totally agree that DJP's analysis was spot-on, and that the Body of Christ would have been poorer for it, if he had not written them.

Chris said...

John: I couldn't disagree more; I think horizontal and vertical are excellent terms if you look at them in the larger context of prominent heresies today, such as all forms of emergent/missional, ecumenical, contemplative spiritual, and so on: they are all horizontal--centered on man--in their focus.

Mike Riccardi said...


Would you say, though, that Christianity is first and foremost vertical, and subordinately horizontal?

John H said...

Would you say, though, that Christianity is first and foremost vertical, and subordinately horizontal?

In Dan's usage of "where does the authority come from?", I'd agree.

However, I would say that, more broadly, we come to the "vertical" (God) only through the "horizontal" (the incarnation of Christ, and his presence in the church today), not vice versa. So in that sense, you could say that Christianity is first and foremost horizontal.

donsands said...

"Hypothetical. Suppose LTJ is in the same denomination/church as DJP. Should DJP give a public rebuke to LTJ just as he's done in the last two posts? Why or why not?"

"When therefore Paul and Barnabus had no small argument and debate with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabus, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and ELDERS about this question." Acts 15:2

Denominations need to have elders, who are proven, and who rule well. Leadership in the Church is needed for these sorts of things, with the Holy Writ as our final and all sufficient authority.

Mike Riccardi said...

Good call, Don. And I agree with Polycarp, that these terms are useful.

But John, in light of the great commandments, I cannot agree that it's first and foremost horizontal. First priority is to love God. Second we're to love our neighbor.

About the incarnation, the only way we know about that is because of the vertical. I only know that Jesus came in the flesh because God decided to reveal His Word to men, preserve it, and give me the Holy Spirit to illuminate it.

I don't mean to derail the thread, so I probably won't comment further on this topic, but I think Dan's use of those terms is an extremely helpful distinction, as even the way one uses them says a lot about where they're coming from.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John H said...

Mike: I agree we should probably end this discussion before it derails the thread, and I don't think we are in any major disagreement here.

I'm not denying, for example, the primacy of the commandment to love God. I'm just saying that it is a mistake to make the equation God == "vertical", precisely because that terminology tends to end up marginalising the profoundly horizontal nature of the incarnation.

In an extreme form, this can tend towards saying, "God is mainly concerned with the vertical, but for a brief period he got mixed up in the horizontal". No, the incarnation means God is now permanently involved in the horizontal dimension. That is why there are problems with using vertical/horizontal terminology in this way, however carefully defined.

John H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

John: I deleted my last comment because your last comment clarified your perspective. Thanks

John H said...

rememberpolycarp: no worries, I've done the same with my further reply to you. :-)

DJP said...

To try to keep things clear, the Incarnation was also strictly verticalin the sense in which I define and use the term in these posts.

That is, the Incarnation was not initiated, dreamt up and devised by man, and it did not condense man's viewpoint nor express a consensus of human self-revelation stamped with divine authority.

The Incarnation was the Word becoming flesh, speaking the very words of God to man. It was strictly vertical.

In terms of authority.

Which was my sole focus.

Stefan Ewing said...

I'm too drained from commenting on the last thread.

I never thought I'd see "Machen" and "jumped the shark" in the same paragraph together—even if they are referring to two different sets of people!

Stefan Ewing said...

I mean, early 20th century high Presbyterianism versus retrospective, Internet-age 70s pop-culture allusions....

Chris said...

John: after taking a few minutes to reflect on your perspective, I just realized that bringing the incarnation into the discussion is important to pursue further. Such mention of the incarnation appears to suggest that our role on earth is the same as that of Jesus who is God. We are followers of Him, we are not Him, and our challenege in this life on earth is to focus on Him--the vertical--and draw close to Him amidst our place in the horizontal swamp of humanity in which we find ourselves, not think for a moment that we can--or should ever seek--to achieve what only He did on this earth through the incarnation (or through Hids sinless life for that matter). We are mere and small and desperately in need of the vertical escape from this present age and our condemned nature, whereas God is magnificent and holy, and capable of being both horizontal and vertical at the same time. As for our role, we have been instructed to spread the gospel of Truth to the whole world--the truth of our newfound, unearned citizenship and assigned ambassadorship of the Kingdom of God, which is vertically yonder and not horizontally present.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Sorry if I broke the rules, DJP. Regards, Strat.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Denominations need to have elders, who are proven, and who rule well. Leadership in the Church is needed for these sorts of things, with the Holy Writ as our final and all sufficient authority.

Yes Don Sands. We agree.

However, my question is directed at a less idealistic, and more realistic scenario. What happens when one or more elders teach a false doctrine (say like LTJ did) and the other elders issue a rebuke. Say the rebuke was done in private even. But let's say that the one rebuked, rebukes the rebuker. A quarrel ensues. Word of division amongst the elders spreads throughout the congregation. And it divides the congregation.

Is that scenario within the realm of possibility? Has it ever happened?

If so, did the one who did the rebuking of the false teaching in the first place do the right thing? It split the church. Was the cost of splitting the church worth rebuking false teaching?

What say thee?

Strong Tower said...

"For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God."

This all goes along with Jesus in John saying that it is the commandments, that is the vertical which is primary, first, numero uno. As was said, the first commandment, then that second which is like it. The horizontal, counts for nothing, except that it flows from the first. It is not obedience to the commands, merely, but the commands themselves. Light is because it was commanded so to be. It is not light that is why the commandment is. It is first the word which goes forth from the mouth of God, then when it has passed by we have community in its effect. We do not learn that from community, we learn it from God, and specifically Christ who has revealed him. Community is simply the means by which God gives himself. And, differently from the world's perspective, God is not within the community, but community is in God: "In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’" We are his offspring, that is, community is only found by abiding in the Eternal Word of God. It is necessarily the vertical first. It is not the branches that suport the tree. It is not the horizontal that supports, nor gives life, but the vertical. Central to the cross is not its branches but the tree. But the two have become one flesh, that is, in Christ.

"In an extreme form, this can tend towards saying, "God is mainly concerned with the vertical, but for a brief period he got mixed up in the horizontal". That is a caricature.

God's attitude toward the horizontal is all about the vertical. Since when does soli deo Gloria, mean that God is not mainly concerned with the vertical? The horizontal was made for only one purpose. The two are reconciled in Christ. Was it for man's vindication, or God's that he sent Christ? His brief mixing with the horizontal is the glorification of God, it is the only reason that he came. And it is not brief at all, but eternally now residing, not here, but on the throne of God, present here by his Spirit. All things flow out of his Glory. To invert the cross to make it to be to the glory of man, or pointing to man at all, is to pervert the central message of the cross. When that is done we find that the horizontal becomes the substance of praise. It becomes what God has done for man first, and not what God has done as God for his Glory. This faith we have by grace, he has given it to us by his Word, manifest in the flesh and all to the glory of God. Christ himself makes it clear that it was not for us first that he entered the horizontal, but for his Father's glory. And the Father does that by glorifying the Son, and that vindication was his crucifixion, in which he asks the Father that we might be there with him to share that glory by which the Father is glorified: John 17. Community is the outworking of the declaration of the Gospel so that for us community is the desire to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. Vertical, lifted up.

"For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another."

The benefit that falls to us is the outworking of the Word glorifying the Father. It is not about us, not about community that is the horizontal. Community is merely the house that God built. We did not build the house so God would come and live in it. He built the house, and being the builder of his own house has so much more the glory than the house as its owner and builder.

djp has already said this in so many words. Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. That does not diminish the profundity of the incarnation, at all. He is however, the wholeness of the purpose of his coming, such that who ever has seen him has seen the Father. Community is given flesh in the incarnation, in that sense. For in him we live and move and have our being. So, the relationship is profoundly vertical, for it is that relationship which give definition to everything else.

The contrary position is given by Johnson. The whole genre of that religion, places the community first, and God becomes as defined by it. It becomes God's focus and the remediation and glorification of the creature becomes the meaning of the cross. Jesus comes for man, rather than Jesus came for God's sake.

There is never the possibility of becoming too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, when the true and proper emphasis is placed upon the adoration of Christ as revealed in his word. That word was not created by man upon blank pages issuing out of his own imaginations. It is God's as revealed by Him to men carried along by the Spirit not given for private interpretation.

It does not imbalance the cross to exalt God, that is what the cross was all about.

If what the thinking is, is that a "spirituallity" is first and formost, then I understand the complaint. But, that is not what I believe djp was meaning. But, simply in this current post-modernism, the moderns having vacuumed the centrality of the revelation of God from the boundary of Scripture, the emerging mentality is to appeal to everything but the Word of God, as central and authoritative. It is as great a mistake to appeal to community first as it is to claim equality with the vertical. The vertical is only available in the Word. Therefore:

"the issue is authority"

All our authority for community issues from the Word. The vertical is the central message.

Mike Riccardi said...

If so, did the one who did the rebuking of the false teaching in the first place do the right thing? It split the church. Was the cost of splitting the church worth rebuking false teaching?

Absolutely. If there's error being taught, it's our duty to confront it. If those in error refuse to listen to private rebuke, a rebuke with others in a small group, and a rebuke of the church, then we're called to put them out. That's God doing a gracious work of cleansing of His church for which we should be thankful and pray for more often.

Sure, it's sad when a church splits. It's a terrible testimony, and lives are involved. But truth should never be sacrificed at any cost.

I think of 1 Corinthians 11:19: For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

Mark B. Hanson said...

The unity of the church is only worthwhile if it is a unity around the truth. The church must be careful to define which false teachings can be tolerated, and which make someone a wolf.

But remember, it's the wolf that seeks to divide the flock -- into the living and the dead. If he succeeds despite our best efforts, it is still his fault, not ours.

Michelle said...

Those who have truly been given spiritual life I believe are compelled, and can do nothing other than submit in absolute humility, to the authoritative and all-sufficient Word of God - the very Word by which their sanctification is being accomplished.

Those who play fast and loose with the Word, twist and stomp all over it, make their professed regeneration very questionable in my opinion.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Absolutely. If there's error being taught, it's our duty to confront it. If those in error refuse to listen to private rebuke, a rebuke with others in a small group, and a rebuke of the church, then we're called to put them out. That's God doing a gracious work of cleansing of His church for which we should be thankful and pray for more often.

Sure, it's sad when a church splits. It's a terrible testimony, and lives are involved. But truth should never be sacrificed at any cost.

I think of 1 Corinthians 11:19: For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

Thanks Mike Riccardi. I can't argue against that. It does raise an observational question however. (Although I'm not a fundamentalist) Why are aspersions and stones cast towards fundamentalists? Aren't they doing exactly what you're prescribing Mike?

donsands said...

"Is that scenario within the realm of possibility? Has it ever happened?"


It happened to me in my last church. Wasn't genuine heresy, but doctrine was partially the cause of an ugly and hard situation, which I pray I never have to go through again.

Being an elder really can be a horrible experience, though there were wonderful benefits as well.

Satan will always fight, and his ministers can surely be within the eldership. And even false disciples can cause much strife within the Body of Christ, with there ways of gossip and slander mainly. Seen it, and it ain't pretty.
However, God will be faithful to His elders, and if comes to remove the lamp-stand, then this removal may be the elders and pastors leaving the church, that is the genuine shepherds of God.

That's my thinking. But it's not totally clear in Scripture.

ezekiel said...

Mark b hansen,

" The unity of the church is only worthwhile if it is a unity around the truth. The church must be careful to define which false teachings can be tolerated, and which make someone a wolf.

But remember, it's the wolf that seeks to divide the flock -- into the living and the dead. If he succeeds despite our best efforts, it is still his fault, not ours."

Can you fill this out a little more so that I can understand it. Do you have any scripture to support it?

Anonymous said...

"Machen told us 80+ years ago that it wasn't a variation of Christianity. It was another religion. The PCUSA didn't listen, it jumped the shark, and it's never jumped back."

Are there any PCUSA members posting here?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"But it's not totally clear in Scripture."

Thanks for fighting the good fight in a previous church Don Sands.

Here are some Scriptural passages that might illuminate:

Luke 10:11, Eph. 5:10-11, 1 Tim. 6:5.

Repeating previous question: (Although I'm not a fundamentalist) Why are aspersions and stones cast towards fundamentalists?

donsands said...

Luke 10:11, Eph. 5:10-11, 1 Tim. 6:5.

Thanks. I'll check 'em out.

Stefan Ewing said...


On the question of separation (since that seems to be what you're getting at), doctrinal purity, etc., Phil wrote a series of posts last spring on the issue. Here are the links:

1. Sola Scriptura and the Proliferation of Protestant Denominations
2. Sectarianism and Separation
3. The Wrong Kind of Unity
4. Unity across Denominational Lines

Stefan Ewing said...

Also, in the middle of that series, the "weekly dose of Spurgeon" was on the same general topic:

False "Unity" and the Duty of Separation

There may be legitimate reasons for a church split (critical questions of biblical truth) or for unity (in some cases). On the other hand, sometimes the Adversary causes churches to split for selfish, man-centered reasons; or he encourages churches to join together on a false premise of "unity."

And lest we forget, despite the many Protestant denominational splits over the centuries—some done for sound reasons, some not—one of the first critical acts of the Reformation was Rome's excommunication of Luther (rather than his leaving the Roman church of his own will).

Evie said...

All this vertical and horizontal making me dizzy. I know about the two mysteries though and I test everything by these. -
The Mystery of Iniquity and the mystery of Godliness.
Lucifer proclaimed his now infamous "I Will's"
Isaiah 14:12-14
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou has said in thine heart —
I WILL exalt my throne above the stars of God:
I WILL sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north;
I WILL ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I WILL be like the Most High.


The Mystery of Godliness however, is the opposite of the Mystery of Iniquity.

Man can ascend and be like the Most High,
God descended and become a man in order to save us who are desperately lost, completely bankrupt, and unable to save ourselves.
This is the spirituality that originates from Heaven and which requires an incarnation; "God was manifest in the Flesh.” There can be no compromise, nor mixing of these two religions.
Scriptures warn us that these two Spiritualities would coexist, mature and come to their fullest expression in the last days before the bodily return of Jesus Christ.
Vertical or horizontal whatever you call it my position is on my knees.

VesselOfWrath said...

Hi Dan,

Long-time reader, first-time poster. I should probably say up front that I fear I'm what ye Pyros would call a "weakly-professed Christianoid". But I enjoy y'all's blog(s) and find much wisdom there.

Here's my question: In the previous post and in this one, you're whacking LTJ pretty hard for picking and choosing his scriptures, but honestly, doesn't everyone do that? I have yet to visit a church that requires women to wear hats when they pray (per 1 Corinthians 11:4-5) or counsels Christians to forgo the use of savings accounts (per Psalm 15:5).

Thanks, and keep up the excellent blogging.

DJP said...

Thanks for the kind words, Vessel.


1. LTJ says, "This is what Scripture says and means, and we reject it outright"
2. LTJ does not find the locus of authority in God's Word speaking through the totality of inerrantly-inspired Scripture
3. LTJ finds the locus of authority in the "profound" stories, feelings, passions of man, interpreted in his own idiosyncratic way and stamped with Divine authority

No, "everyone" doesn't do that. And when Christians find themselves doing any part of it, insofar as they are striving to walk with the Lord on His terms, they repent.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks for the links Stefan! I actually read that excellent series by Phil some months ago and it's in my toolbox, ready to come out when I'm in discussions with Roman Catholics!

I think these following items are all kind of jumbled up in my head and I'm trying to sort them out: False teaching, "essential" doctrines, confronting/rebuking in love, how to rebuke in love, whether to rebuke at all, counting the costs/benefits of admonishing an erring brother holding pastoral office, when or whether to separate, etc....

You see, I mentioned before about how blogging about false teaching is one thing, but having to deal with it in real life in your own church or denomination is entirely another. I think the difficulties are magnified tremendously.

I was just doing a thought experiment and imagining how things might or would be different if LTJ and DJP were in the same church! LTJ published his comments. Would DJP have written his posts on LTJ's analysis in a public setting also if they were both serving as pastor-elders in the same church? Or would DJP have handled it differently?

I was trying to put real-life application into these matters. TeamPyro authors Phil, DJP, and Centur0n all have great posts. But I was thinking about what I would do if I had to confront false teaching in my own life. But it's not as easy as blogging is what I thought.

For example, suppose your senior pastor jumps on the Purpose-Driven church model or the Willow-Creek model. Is that an "essential" doctrine worthy of disputation, possibly leading to quarreling, a church split and separation? Let's say there's a church web site and the senior pastor puts up rationale for the vision he'd like the church to adopt. Do you respond in TeamPyro fashion on the same church website debunking his vision?

Making it real makes it harder to do.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Vessel of Wrath,

Thanks for the link to "Terrorism in the Church" post by DJP. I just read the article and it's excellent!

In a sense, and in the case of severe false teaching, DJP is advocating a "loving confrontation" between undershepherds, and which honestly and potentially could lead to civil war within a church. And as such, it seems like almost a moral obligation and duty to God to root out and expose the false teaching by the spiritual terrorist who's holding pastoral office.

Anyone ever done it here on TeamPyro? If so, care to share how it all shook out?

Stefan Ewing said...


If it's happening within one's own church, then it's a church discipline matter, isn't it? Then the church's procedure for discipline (which should be modelled on Matthew 18)—or Matthew 18 in its absence—applies. In other words, the first step would be to handle it privately, then take it from there.

Actually, haven't you been through a "hostile takeover" of your old church? (Or am I thinking of Stratagem? Or both of you?)

Stefan Ewing said...

...I'm working on the presumption that Matthew 18 works both ways: at least in a believers' (credobaptist) church, even the senior pastor is a fellow believer whom God happens to have blessed with the gift of teaching. If he's drifting away from or outright rejecting biblical teaching, then one should be able to go to him and plead with him—with the ultimate hope of repentance and reconciliation, or escalation if he's unrepentant—the same as if a pastor or fellow lay believer were caught up in serious sin.

Stefan Ewing said...

(Someone correct me if I've got anything wrong here....)

And I agree that talking about it on a blog must be much easier than having to actually deal with it. But I hope that by discussing it, we will be able to do it in a way that does not dishonour Christ, if the situation ever arises.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...


Actually, when it involves a pastor/elder, the verses to look at are not Matthew 18. I don't remember off the top of my head, but it's in one of the epistles. And to bring a charge against an elder, you MUST have solid evidence, and preferably credible witnesses. To bring a charge against an elder is a very, very serious matter. To assert and argue that a pastor/elder is teaching falsely (in effect, a "spiritual terrorist") is fraught with much, much difficulty and danger. The Father of Lies salivates over these opportunities to exploit it for his own divisive schemes.

Stefan Ewing said...


You're right. I stand corrected. 1 Timothy 5:19-21 is probably the passage you're thinking of.

And of course, I agree with you that it is a path fraught with grave danger. I didn't mean to flippantly suggest that it's just a simple matter. And again, it's easy for us to discuss it here in the comfort of our figurative armchairs; quite another to actually have to confront it (or decide to confront it) in a real-life situation.

VesselOfWrath said...

(Responding to DJP)

You're right, LTJ rejects particular bits of scripture outright. And (for a few paragraphs anyway) avoids the use of the "perverteneutical rack" (LOL) to try to pretend that the whole counsel of scripture agrees with him. And I further agree that the standard of authority he does try to set up is... well, squishy, to say the least.

But I mentioned the two verses I did because I think they're instances where people who ostensibly take the whole Bible as the Word of God Written indulge in the same sort of thing as gay-marriage proponents.

The Bible says don't loan money at interest. So if I want to obey God on this point, do I liquidate my 401(k)? Or do I adopt a hermeneutic that somehow turns this into "don't engage in loansharking, but feel free to loan money at reasonable interest for responsible investment"?

Mike Riccardi said...


Fundamentalists, if I understand correctly, seek to divide on every issue. Matthew 18 talks about confronting a sinful brother.

With someone who will listen, we're instructed to teach them, not put them out on the street till they have their doctrinal statement together. For those who are teaching heresy and refuse to be reproved, corrected, and instructed, these are the sowers of discord who have no part with us.

DJP said...

So, VoW, since you're persisting in this, is it your charge that the entire professing Bible-believing church accepts your position on what the Bible teaches on those two areas, and openly rejects it, because they find the voice of God in profound human stories and disdain fidelity to the text of Scripture?

If not, there is no parallel, and my counsel would be to step away from the deceased equine.

I will now accept my own advice.

Chris said...

Stefan and TUAD:
Since you've asked for situations, I'll try to describe what happened with my wife and I at a church we needed to leave, and doing so was not without ugliness that marked the whole experience. Now, I'm not sure just how blatent or extreme false teaching needs to become for someone to leave a church, which is just one of the many frustrations we encountered in our own decision-making process, as it would be an easy decision with no looking back if our pastor(s) were clearly Olsteenesque, Warrenesque, McLarenesque, or Pagittesque, but it wasn't that cut and dry. There were definately things wrong, but it was not that cut and dry. There were major differences in the way we approached scripture, church leadership (role of), worldliness, tolerance vs. truth, etc (the stuff discussed on this blog regularly). You guys of all people here can certainly see how each of the areas just named contains numerous dimensions and/or manifestations.

Well, we attended the church for nearly two years, and there were always things that just sounded odd to me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I would race home from church on Sundays for months on end spending hours online trying to find answers to so many questionable things I heard in both pastors' sermons, activities/announcements before the service, and in the various items listed throughout the bulletin. While so many things were in sharp contrast to churches I was involved-in for 23 years as a Christian, much of what I saw/heard was actually quite familiar because I saw all of it in my secular college experience in both my undergraduate and graduate programs! This juxtaposition made me feel like I was in the Twilight Zone! Furthermore, my "scratch test", beyond scripture itself, was to contrast what I was hearing with my favorite sermons by pillars of the faith such as Lloyd Jones, Spurgeon, MacArthur, and my all-time favorite radio pastor, Alistair Begg. Again, I knew something was wrong, but just couldn't peg it exactly.

However, if it were not for that church, I would not have found this site nor would I have known much about the ECM chaos at all. Those experiences, week after week, drove me to conduct extensive research into the matter until I finally found Phil's posters on that preordained day (I remember it vividly) wherein all of the issues I wrestled with for as many months appeared so clearly in those precise, encapsulated, and rightfully witty gems! It was there I discovered what this movement is all about, and much of it was at that church...but NOT BLATENTLY, which is the real problem, as we never heard the ECM discussed or named, yet its terms and ideology were! This led to my asking the pastor, via email, "to what degree does this church accepted or rejected the EC?" My inquiry was met with a non-answer really, citing the complexity within the ec, the importance of recognizing the distinctions between the "ing" and the "ent" suffix, yadayadayada. He stressed that just because the terminology is used, it does not mean the movement is entirely embraced, etc. and that I should trust that God is directing the leadership (I certainly trust God, but not man). Anyhow, the answer was hardly satisfying, which prompted me to request a face-to-face meeting. This request was rejected several times, and even a good friend I have who is an elder there was not able to make that meeting happen. Well, the indifference expressed towards my concerns, along with an outright rejection of a meeting, became just as disturbing to me as the issues I initially wanted to meet with him about.

Concerning books and authors the pastors used in sermons: while I'm not a theologian, I'm a layperson with a fairly decent library and a general familiarity with at least most of the credible names of authors/teachers within orthodox, historic Christianity, even if I haven't thoroughly read them (i.e. I know who supports who generally, and from which camps of peripheral doctrinal distinctions authors come). Well, in this church, there were so many names I had never heard of being quoted from (lots of social science, cultural anthopology, psychology, liberal theology profs from places like Princeton and such) who were clearly very smart, but hardly in keeping with, or related to, the doctines of the reformers, puritans, teampyro or general orthodox, historic Christianity on anything beyond the bare essentials...which, even then, were recognized only in the contexts by which they were presented and packaged--including some pretty significant omissions/voids. In other words, church so often seemed no different than a very "progressive" and intellectually stimulating lecture by a professor in a secular graduate program quite honestly, with very appealing interpretations of all scripture all the time and never a mention of anything politically incorrect (offensive), sin, or the problem of worldliness. Lots of abstraction and cognitive-centered speak...following some very excellent music/worship from talented musicians I might add.

With regard to the authors named by the pastor, the ones I just described were not merely used as some sort of anecdotal example to kick-off a sermon; they were used actively and their advice, viewpoints, or general worldview was accepted and incorporated into the message. BUT, here's the thing: it was not explicitly that emergent, and sermons were not without quotes from guys like CS Lewis, John Stott, Jerry Bridges, RC Sproul and various puritans occassionally (followed by some sort comment like "you've gotta love those puritans"). So, what you have on the one end of the spectrum was the absence of men like Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Barnhouse, or MacArthur or anyone from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals named, yet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you never heard a direct reference to a McLaren, a Driscoll, or a Kimball cited either. For what it's worth, there was never a mention of that whole category of modern mainline evangelicals, like Swindoll, either. Thinking back on it, we did hear Keller named quite frequently, and I have a feeling the pastor is really trying to emulate keller's whole deal. On this note, is it just me or do you find Keller to be a rather enigmatic figure, as I can't really define him one way or the other. To me he seems entirely emergent, yet he has the respect among reformed Christians? His whole missional thing and the heavy-duty emphasis on the horizontal seems very man-centered, despite all of the comments about using all of this to "meet people where they are"

Well, I knew this attempt would get quite long very quickly, and I feel like I've just scratched the surface of that experience. To sum up, after my request for a meeting was rejected, we left the church. The enemy did use this experience to bring out my sinful nature, as I failed miserably. I sent a few regrettable group emails to our small group members to "warn" them (I use quotes because while I may have truly needed to warn them, my own heart was sinful and I was venting my own anger over what I saw as something sneaky and very much emergent). I sent numerous emails to the pastors afterwards, not intended to edify, which only caused our departure to be more pronounced and known to many who would have otherwise never asked why we left. One a particular morning many months after we left, I felt the conviction of the spirit telling me loud and clear to write a card of apology to the pastor, which I did, for the WAY in which we left and for the subsequent communication to people in the church about him. He forgave me, saying he held nothing personal against me, but stressed that a Biblical definition of forgiveness is of course restoration. He then explained that such restoratation could not really occur unless we return back to the church where people have loved us and understood us. That went through my heart like a daggar, and knowing that returning is impossible becuase of significant differences in belief, the message I keep hearing in my mind from the enemy, the accuser of the Brethren, is that full restoration is also impossible.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Since you've asked for situations, I'll try to describe what happened with my wife and I at a church we needed to leave, and doing so was not without ugliness that marked the whole experience.

Wow!!! Dear RememberPolycarp, that was truly a remarkable recounting of your journey!! I am SOOOOOO impressed with all aspects of your retelling of the journey, from your due diligence research to your letter of apology and contrition on how you left.

Thank you for having a soft heart for relationships whilst being tough-minded about the whole gospel and counsel of biblical truth.

I should imagine that there might have been some conversations with your wife about the whole process.

Thank you so much for sharing about your difficult leave-taking experience. God bless you.


Truth Unites... and Divides

Chris said...

Thanks for the kind words...and for your patience in reading such a rambler!

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...


That was quite something. There have been several comments by various folks on this blog over the past year, describing churches in which ECM doctrine has been surreptitiously slipped in, with a similar refusal to pay any attention to concerned members. Hard to tell from your description if these guys were emergent or not. It definitely sounds like they were churned out of a liberal seminary, though!

I've only been reborn a year and in my short time as an evangelical, have only attended a single church, which is blessed by a commitment to sound doctrine. Therefore, I don't feel qualified to comment on your leaving your former church, but I hope you're in a church with godly pastors now.

By the way, I liked this bit: "...the doctrines of the reformers, puritans, teampyro or general orthodox, historic Christianity...." Let's see: Luther, Owen, Johnson....

VesselOfWrath said...

Dan, fair enough.

Sorry for straying off-topic. Looking forward to your next post.

Chris said...

Stefan: Great connection...I like that parallel...as I'm sure Johnson likes the company he's been placed in! Only a year as a reborn believer huh? Wow...your degree of wisdom and Bible/church history knowlege for such a new believer is impressive! The spirit is clearly at work in your life!

Stefan Ewing said...

Pshaw! Anyhow, I absorbed a lot over the many years God was working on me while I was still a non-believing caterpillar. Now, the Holy Spirit is catalyzing it like a butterfly emerging from its coccoon, and using it glorify God.

Okay, the language is way too flowery, but anyhow, anything I write here is no credit to me, but to Him alone from Whom all truth flows, and to Whom all praise is due.