Archives for November 2006

on did I mention we don’t do snow?

We will have no sermon summary for tonight since we cancelled our service for this evening. We are having a bit more snow tonight and we didn’t want to risk any falls, especially for our seniors. The forcast tomorrow is to reach a high of 7 degrees Celsius, a number I don’t understand, except that it is above freezing. We should get some rain as well, hopefully the basement won’t flood! At any rate, we should be able to get rid of the white stuff and be back to our normal dreary rain in the next day or two.

We’ll be back at it Sunday, though, with a full slate of services. I’ll have to figure out whether to consolidate some of our material or not… just when I had everything nicely planned out!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on a bit more concerning expulsion for egregious sins

I am continuing to study this passage for a more solid understanding. The key verses for my contention concerning the nature of this discipline are vv. 3-5. These verses are one long sentence in the Greek, with the main idea captured in these words: “For I verily … have judged … to deliver such an one.” Paul made an apostolic judgement which he says the Corinthians should have made themselves. Charles Hodge notes that the sentence of judgement (vv. 3-5) is connected with Paul’s reproach of the Corinthians in v. 2 with the particle ‘for’: “The connection with what precedes is indicated by the particle for. ‘I would ye were in a state of mind to remove this offender, for I have determined to cut him off.'” [Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 83.]

Paul calls on the Corinthian church to assemble and to pass judgement. He does not call for confrontation on the part of one, consultation on the part of one plus elders, or for the church to gather and call for repentance (the Matthew 18 process). He calls for the church to pass judgement. Hodge gets it mostly right in this note: “The sentence was not to be passed or executed in secret, but openly. It was to have the solemnity of a judicial proceeding, and, therefore, the people were convened, though they were merely spectators.” [Hodge, p. 84.] Hodge misses the point of the assembly because of his Presbyterian polity. The people were assembled to pass the judgment as a body.

One last observation for today. In commenting on verse 2, on the words ‘be taken away from you’, Hodge says this: “It is a right inherent in every society, and necessary for its existence, to judge of the qualification of its own members; to receive those whom it judges worthy, and to exclude the unworthy. This right is here clearly recognized as belonging to the church. It is also clear from this passage that this right belongs to each particular church or congregation. The power was vested in the church of Corinth, and not in some officer presiding over that church. The bishop or pastor was not reproved for neglect of discipline; but the church itself, in its organized capacity.” [Hodge, p. 83.]

The issue in 1 Corinthians 5 is purity, both of the outward testimony and the ongoing life of the local church and its members.

In getting back to the comment that prompted my expressing these thoughts, it was suggested that a period of time must be involved to ‘work with’ an adulterer, attempting to effect repentance and restoration. I find no warrant for such in the text. If you use this approach, it seems to me that you are committing the Corinthian sin. There is ‘fornication among you’ and ‘ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned’.

When uncontrovertible evidence arises of egregious sins (such as those listed in verse 11), the church MUST expel the individual. This is the judgement of the apostle. From that standpoint, you can work with the man (or woman) to attempt to effect repentance. But to fail to expel is to tolerate the besmirched testimony. If true repentance is effected, I think there certainly is grounds for restoration, based on 2 Cor 2.4-11, but the apostle’s instructions are quite clear here.

Finally, as an aside, if you don’t have Hodge on 1 Corinthians, I highly recommend it. He is Presbyterian, so his polity is off in places (an example noted above). But he is an excellent expositor, with tremendous insight into the text. I have heard and read snippets of his personal testimony which reflect a life filled with devotion to the Lord and love of the saints. He was a worthy man.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on church discipline for egregious sins

In recent discussions over at Sharper Iron, we got off topic on a particular thread by observations concerning 1 Corinthians 5 and its teaching with respect to church discipline. I will try to reconstruct some of the discussion here, then offer a bit more argumentation concerning the topic.

Larry Rogier used this illustration in making a point:

Let’s use an example: You find out that a man in your church is committing adultery. Is your first response separation? Or “stay in and work”? It better be the latter. But after a period of time of repeated counsel and work, biblical confrontation and prayer, the former becomes the biblical response. If you, after a year or more of working with an unrepentant adulterer are still “staying in and working” with him, you are biblically disobedient.

I objected on a point of fine distinction with respect to his illustration by saying this:

Hey, Larry, I agree with the gist of your post, but I don’t think you are right in your illustration. The apostle Paul makes it clear that you kick an adulterer out immediately. Read 1 Cor 5 carefully. Shoot first and look for repentance later.

My friend Chris Anderson chimed in with:

Don, buddy, I disagree. I think Scripture teaches that you don’t really discipline for a particular sin; you discipline for obstinate refusal to turn from that sin. And I think that fits I Cor. 5. So if a man committed adultery and repented, he would not be a candidate for discipline.

Well, all of that set the stage for some back and forth on ‘what does 1 Cor 5 really mean anyway?’ I am going to include snippets of the conversation here, then give you my commentary on 1 Cor 5, from our Bible Study Guide that I am compiling for our church and close with a few thoughts on the subject. I invite comments from Larry and Chris either here or on their own blogs.

In response to my objection above, Larry said:

I think you are seriously misreading 1 Cor 5. The point there is that they willfully tolerated such without addressing it. As Chris point out, the basis for church discipline is not a particular sin, but the refusal to turn from it. The only way you know a person has refused is if you have counseled them biblically. Correlating that with Matt 18, Gal 1 and other passages, we see that we must confront and counsel biblically, urging repentance. Only “if he does not hear the church” should church discipline be carried out.

To which I replied:

Well, I obviously disagree. I don’t believe there is ANY correlation between Mt 18 and 1 Cor 5. I am not sure what correlation you see between Gal 1 and those passages. And this obviously is not the place to discuss it. I am planning to blog some on this on my own site later, or perhaps we can start a new thread. I think that we would see whether repentance was genuine or not if we booted the adulterers from the get go, though.

And then Larry offered a post quoting mine above and interspersing comments and questions:

Larry: So you are saying 1 Cor 5 is not church discipline? What is it?
Quote = Don Johnson: “I am not sure what correlation you see between Gal 1 and those passages.”
Larry: Those who are spiritual are to restore those who are overcome in sin. That is the precursor to church discipline. The goal is restoration in purity.
Quote = Don Johnson: “I think that we would see whether repentance was genuine or not if we booted the adulterers from the get go, though.”
Larry: How so? How can you see repentance if you are not there to see it? Repentance manifests itself in the life.

What follows is my commentary on 1 Cor 5. I attempted to make it appear in outline format as I have it laid out in Word, but Blogger just isn’t conducive to that. I have turned it into mostly paragraph format, but I think you can see how I am working through the text. Verse references are bracketed like this (1).

1. From the report of division within the church, Paul turns to another very serious report, a report of gross immorality within the church (1 Cor 5.1-2).

The particular offense that revealed the sin of the church was a man within the church who was immorally involved with a woman who was his stepmother (1). The wording of the text suggests (but doesn’t conclusively say) that the man’s father may have died, and that the man was now living with his stepmother in a ‘common law’ relationship. The barest of details we are given here give rise to more questions than we can answer. This particular sin was prohibited both by the OT law and by Roman law, it was considered extremely improper, even by pagans. The greater offense, however, lay with the church: in their arrogance they had tolerated this deed, perhaps even congratulating themselves on their ‘Christian love’. Paul instructs that they should have mourned and expelled the man from the assembly (2).

2. Paul pronounces the judgement that must occur (presumably immediately upon their receipt of this letter): they are to assemble and expel this man (1 Cor 5.3-5).

Paul pronounces his judgement as an apostle and exercises his authority as if he were physically present with them – there was to be no deliberation on this question, only obedience (3). The judgement of the apostle demanded immediate expulsion of this individual, delivering him unto Satan ‘for the destruction of the flesh’ (4-5). The full meaning of the phrase ‘destruction of the flesh’ is not explained. Various interpretations have been offered, but it likely means a deliverance into the power of Satan in a way different from the way Satan has authority and influence over everyone in the world today. In Job, we see that the righteous man Job was delivered to the power of Satan by God’s permission. This deliverance is something similar, but presumably with less restrictions. Satan hates God and his creation. A man delivered to his power in this way would likely find himself under severe physical affliction, perhaps terminating in premature death. In any case, it is important to note that the process here does not involve the ‘three-step’ process described in Mt 18.15-20. There, the issue is bitter unresolved personal offenses between brethren (much like the troubles described in 1 Cor 1-4). Here the issue is blatant immorality, a blight on the church and mark on the testimony of Christ – there is nothing to discuss, judgement must be made.

3. Paul’s concern in this matter is particularly for the church – the toleration of sin infects the spiritual life of the whole church and destroys the relationship between Christians and God (1 Cor 5.6-8).

Sin spreads in a Christian body like yeast does in bread (6). Paul uses the picture of Passover, one of the most important festivals of the Jewish calendar. At Passover, the house was scoured to make certain every particle of leaven had been purged from the house, an act symbolizing the purging of evil that Christ, the Passover Lamb provided (7). Continuing the metaphor, Paul urges the Corinthians to worship God in spirit and in truth, in purity and holiness, as partaking of the unleavened bread of the Son of God (8).

4. From the particulars of this case, Paul changes the subject to teach the proper relationship of the believer with fornicators (and other sinners) of this world, as opposed to those found within the church (1 Cor 5.9-13).

Here Paul alludes to his previous letter (see comments on ‘the rest of Ac 19’, just prior to the introduction to 1 Cor in Study Guide 13), where he had instructed them not to have company with ‘immoral people’. This letter no longer exists, though the fact of its teaching makes the sin of the Corinthians more serious: they had previously been instructed on this subject (9). Paul clarifies that by this instruction he had not meant to forbid all contact with immoral people (or other kinds of sinners) ‘of this world’ for that would mean total removal from society (10). What Paul means by his prohibition is that when a professing Christian is guilty of one of these gross sins demanding expulsion, he was to be completely shunned in every way by the believers, going as far as refusing to partake a meal together (11). It is not the business of the church to judge outsiders, but to judge insiders when it comes to these matters (12). God is the judge of those on the outside (13a). You (the church) are to judge those guilty of these sins on the inside, therefore the command is ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves’ (13b, Dt 13.5, 17.7, 17.12, 21.21, 22.21).

The most pertinent part of the commentary to this discussion is the last bit of Point 2, where I compare 1 Cor 5 with Mt 18. I would also like to submit a notion with respect to Mt 18, although I won’t take the time to prove it here. (I do want to write more fully on Mt 18 in a later post.) I think Mt 18 is largely misunderstood and over-applied. The Lord isn’t giving us a law of the Medes and Persians that must be followed in every case of church discipline. He isn’t giving us a template for dealing with errant teaching and errant teachers far and wide. He is dealing with personal conflicts and jockeying for position and place (politicking) among members of the local assembly. He is laying out principles to follow, not a law to be maintained or exactly followed in every case. We should follow it and apply it with WISDOM by faith without making it a LAW of the church.

To answer Larry’s last questions, then. First, I do see 1 Cor 5 as a church discipline passage. I just don’t think that Mt 18 and 1 Cor 5 are talking about the same thing. Church discipline in some cases requires Christians to employ wisdom in resolving disputes between themselves. They shouldn’t resort to the courts (Mt 18 and 1 Cor 6.1-8 are much more closely related than Mt 18 and 1 Cor 5.) They should try talking to each other, try to involve others, take it to the whole church if necessary. 1 Cor 5 has nothing to do with that. Paul is addressing a cancer in the body. You cut cancer out, you don’t keep it in. Certain egregious sins are a blight on the testimony of the church and simply cannot be tolerated.

As to correlating Gal 1 with this issue, I see where you are going Larry, that appears to be a ‘slip of the keyboard’ and you probably mean Gal 6.1. Again, I would find that passage more closely related to the wisdom of Mt 18 rather than the commandment of 1 Cor 5.

Finally, I made the comment that if you boot the fornicator out, you have an opportunity to see how genuine the repentance is. Larry wonders how so. Here is how: the fornicator who is coddled within the body may repent, but may only be doing so to protect self-interest. He can say the right things, change public perceptions, hide his sin deeper, and be even more deceptive than before. If you boot him out, he has nothing to gain by persisting in “repentance”. Now we can see if he really means it. Fence the table from him, put him under the church’s censure, insist on his expulsion from fellowship, and you will see whether he has been reformed. Many commentators suggest that this is indeed what happened in Corinth and Paul then instructed the Corinthians to reinstate the penitant. See 2 Cor 2.4-11.

The whole issue is complicated by 1 Cor 5.11, where Paul lists additional sins that fall under the category for which he gives the commands in 1 Cor 5.3-5. It appears that when a professing believer commits an egregious sin, he should be expelled from the assembly. Use the rod, and don’t be moved by the tears, until a test of time has passed and genuine repentance is evident.

The modern church is rather loose in its morality. I believe that one of the major areas where the church is lax is failing to obey 1 Cor 5. It makes me wonder if the Lord will find faith on the earth when he returns. Oh Lord Jesus, Come!

As I said, I do invite the comments of Larry and Chris, or anyone else interested in this discussion. I would like to work through these passages in detail, and the questions or comments that arise, especially pointing to specific features of the texts involved are most welcome. I may deal with such questions in future posts rather than in the comments section, however.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on only getting in two out of three (sermon summaries 11.26.06)

We don’t do snow here. We don’t do it at all. We hates snow…

And we got lots of it.

As we awoke Sunday morning, we had our lawns and roads filled with the white stuff and more coming down. We managed to gather a few of our folks together (23 all told) and held our morning services and lunch. One of our fellows went out during lunch and reported that the roads were getting worse and worse. (Did I mention we don’t do snow??) So we cancelled our afternoon service and sent everyone home. The kids built a snow fort, a requirement of childhood for them, and we stayed inside where it was warm.

We did have a blessed time in the two services we held together. The word of God is precious to the saints. In the first service, I preached 2 Thessalonians. The title was “Standing in spite of Great Apprehensions“, and the subject was spiritual stability, especially for a local church. As we considered this letter, we found three challenges to stability: Experiential – persecution (mostly discussed in ch 1), Doctrinal – confusion (over whether they had missed the Rapture, ch 2), and Incremental – contagion (produced by disorderly, especially indolent, brethren). Each of these challenges could rock the stability of a local church, so Paul writes to stabilize them, encourage them, and teach them the way through these challenges. He encourages them with at least six exhortations in the epistle, including this one near the end: “Be not weary in well doing” (3.13). Spiritual stability in a congregation comes from thorough doctrinal understanding, biblical practical policies and actions, and clinging to the blessed hope of the coming Lord Jesus.

Our second service looked at the close of the second missionary journey and the beginning of the third missionary journey. The apostle landed briefly in Ephesus on his way back to Jerusalem, promising to return if the Lord willed. Apparently the Lord did will, since Paul returned a few months later to a very fruitful ministry. The sermon covered Ac 18.18-19.20, and was titled “Great Opportunity in Ephesus“. The key to success, and the point of the sermon, was Paul’s submission to God’s will – Ephesus was the capital of the province of Asia, the place the Holy
Spirit prevented him from entering in Ac 16. Paul in his ministry was ever guided by the Spirit. He took James 4.13-17 to heart (I am sure he was well aware of its contents). The key for any success in the ministry is operating in and under the will of God.

Well, with that, we had lunch, then cancelled the afternoon. Did I mention that we don’t do snow?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on ‘abusive’ pastoral leadership

A good deal of recent discussion swirled around the idea of abusive pastors and the ‘suffering’ saints who sat under their leadership [also here]. I wouldn’t say that there have NEVER been manipulative liars in pulpits, it stands to reason that there have been many. But just as with secularistic social workers, I tend to look askance at most claims of abuse. First is the matter of perspective, as some have pointed out. Rebels always think they are being abused. Second is the matter of choice – church membership and involvement is based on voluntary association. Those enduring the alleged abuse do have minds, wills, and feet. They are not ‘trapped’ and can leave. And, again, this is certainly not to say that manipulative leadership does not exist. It is part of the human condition.

Besides these issues, there is something of a matter of social psychology and prevalent moods. The days in which we live are without a doubt much more anti-authoritarian than the days in which I grew up. My childhood years were the 60s, a turbulent anti-authority decade … among the teenagers at the time. Those of us who were children in those days still lived in the culture of the 40s and 50s for the most part. The rebellion and change began to filter down to us as the decade progressed and emerged full blown (but much less radical) in our teenage years, the 1970s. When we were in grade school and even into junior high, a high percentage of us still went to school in buzz cuts … I remember the scorn we felt for those sissy guys who came to school with ‘Beatle haircuts’. Of course, by the 70s, the restraint was long gone and hair was everywhere. (Not on me, though, I stuck to my tapered cut… but I did have long sideburns!)

My point in this little illustration is that the generation that is rising to leadership now is the fruit of an anti-authority generation, whereas my generation is the fruit of an authoritarian generation. Someone gave me a tape yesterday of evangelist Joe Boyd giving his testimony. Boyd is well known in some circles, was an All-American tackle on the 1939 Texas A & M national championship football team, winners of the 1940 Cotton Bowl. He rebelled from his Christian upbringing and went into secular life, by his testimony, a life of business, gambling, and drinking. After a few years, the Lord got hold of Boyd, he went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Theology degree in 1947. He then went into the Lord’s work as a pastor and evangelist. He was close to Jack Hyles and would tend to travel in those circles.

Listening to Boyd talk brings to mind the kind of preacher some folks would like to call abusive. Boyd is strong, rough, domineering in his speech, at least to some ears. One must remember, however the times in which he was reared. He is a product of the Second World War. Tom Brokaw called this generation ‘The Greatest Generation’. The men of this era built the continent. They were coming out of the horse and buggy era into the modern era of automobiles and ‘aeroplanes’. They fought the great fight of the war, or they were prepared to. (My own father was 18 when the war ended – had it lasted longer he could have been called into that struggle.) That generation built the interstate highway system, lived the oil boom, and brought an agrarian society off the farm to transform it into a society of cities. The men (and women) of that generation were strong, resourceful, opinionated, and successful.

Did they go too far? Are some of those preachers stuck in a time warp? I suppose one could say that. But are they entirely wrong? I am not sure about that. I expect that many of those crying ‘pastoral abuse’ today would have a hard time with the apostles. Too rough, too domineering. And what of the Old Testament prophets? Well! Suppose we had Amos for a pastor. How would our 21st century sophisticates hold up under his preaching?

The Scriptures teach that a pastor must not be a brawler, he must lead with love and serve the flock God has given him. But that doesn’t mean that he must be some kind of emotional lightweight who just lets people do what they want and never hear a word of rebuke either. The claims of pastoral abuse are much overdone and are symptomatic of our times. I am struck by some of the comments we are seeing at how much like liberal Democrats and the left of public society they sound like. Are these people for real? Is this the future of fundamentalism? Lord help us!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on great expectations (sermon summary 11.22.06)

We looked at 1 Th 4-5 on Wednesday evening, considering the topic ‘Great Expectations‘. Of course, the big thing that people turn to 1 Thessalonians for is the Rapture, found in chapter 4. I recall the tragedy of sitting at a funeral for a lost friend of mine, dead at 19 (my age at the time) who was killed in a head on collision just before I returned to BJU for my sophomore year. They read this passage at the funeral. But they had no hope. The funeral was held in the Elks Lodge, and conducted by members of the Royal Canadian Legion – well meaning, but no God and no Lord Jesus. What a tragedy.

When we consider these verses, and the whole of eschatology, we have to ask ourselves what they are intended to do for the believer. The context of 1 Th 4-5 gives us the answer. Paul says in 1 Th 4.1 that he wants to exhort the Thessalonians about how to walk and to please God. Then he proceeds to deal with two subjects, sexual purity and loving your brother. If a man lives clean and pure in both these areas, he will be well spoken of even in the secular world. But life isn’t just about success in the secular world, and our motivation isn’t the praise of men or the hope of the good life here and now. First, our hope is in the Lord who will come back with a shout (the Rapture – 1 Th 4.13-18) and our promise is escape from wrath (the day of the Lord – 1 Th 5.1-11). From eschatology, Paul turns to concluding with his wonderful exhortations in 1 Th 5 (the second reason people turn to 1 Th). All of these are meant to guide believers to a life ‘well pleasing to God’. Our motivation ought to be the hope of heaven and the promise of God’s approval for a life lived for him.

on defining the church (sermon summaries 11.19.06)

The first message this Sunday had the pivotal chapter, Acts 15, as our text. The title I chose was ‘How Should Christians Live?‘ The 15th chapter of Acts is the chapter that settled the Galatian question forever and really sealed the character of the Christian church for all time. The question the Judaizers were placing before the church was one of definition: What is the church? The answer was that the church is not a superior form of Judaism, nor is it simply another meaningless Gentile religion. It is an organism centered around faith in the living Son of God, separate from the world – the world that is Judaism and paganism at the same time.

The Old Testament religion of the Jews had long departed from God’s intent, first by centuries of dabbling with paganism pre-exile, second by a few centuries of idolizing the forms of religion itself through the rise of Pharisaism post-exile. Was there ever a pure Judaism? Only in the hearts of some individuals, sometimes more numerous than at other times, but really only on an individual, not a collective basis.

In Ac 15, we see the Galatian dispute arise in Antioch of Syria, after Paul has written the book of Galatians. He has no small disputation with the Judaizers, and the church in Antioch calls for a meeting of the apostles to settle the issue (the last meeting of the apostles as a group). In Jerusalem, once the dispute is engaged, Peter rises to testify in favor of Paul and Barnabas and the ‘anti-Law’ position. Peter does this, employing very similar language to that with which Paul rebuked him earlier (compare Gal 2.14-18 with Ac 15.10). Peter also points out that Jews will be saved by faith, just like the Gentiles (Ac 15.11), a not so subtle slap to the Judaizers, putting the Jews in second place to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas then testify, followed by James the brother of the Lord, whose proposal carries the day. Four requirements are placed on the Gentile church: no food offered to idols, no fornication, no blood, no things strangled. The blood and things strangled are rooted in the Noahic Covenant (Gen 9.1-6) and pre-date the law. The point of the decision is this: The church is going to be an organization where the only entrance stipulation is faith in Christ AND it is going to be an organization that demands separation from the world (all four issues were pagan practices). Today, the church needs to come to grips with this. It is not Galatianism to insist on separation from the world. It is paganism to insist otherwise. Today’s church is a pagan church and needs radical reformation.

Our second message dealt with the Third Missionary Journey, Ac 16-18, focusing on Ac 18.9-10, the Lord’s encouraging vision to Paul while in Corinth. The title was ‘Abased and Abounding‘. I began by surveying the frustration of Paul’s ministry as he entered Europe for the first time. In Philippi, he is beaten and imprisoned. In Thessalonica, he is driven out of town by a Jewish mob. In Berea, he is better received, but the Thessalonian Jews arrive to stir up trouble again, and he has to hotfoot it for Athens. In Athens, he is mostly mocked and ignored, with only a handful of converts to show for his efforts. When he arrives in Corinth, there is some success, but again rising opposition by the Jews. Paul knew what it was to be abased, he probably thought that he was about to be chased out of Corinth as well. But the Lord comes to assure him, giving him three commands: Fear not, keep on speaking, don’t be silent. The Lord also gives him three assurances: I am with you, you will not be harmed, I have much people in this city. This encouragement enables Paul to press on in Corinth where he stays an additional 18 months. During this time the Jews try to haul him to court before Seneca’s brother, the noble Gallio, who refuses to hear the case. The leader of the synagogue, Sosthenes, is instead beaten by the Greeks. Interestingly, a Sosthenes is named as an assistant of Paul in 1 Corinthians. It is possible that the Lord changed the heart of Sosthenes (otherwise why specifically mention his name?) At any rate, the Lord granted Paul a fruitful and succesful ministry in Corinth – much abounding. For our own ministry, we need the knowledge of the Lord’s presence – he guaranteed it in the Great Commission, this promise is for us all. The Lord may not keep us from trial, but he will be with us to keep us through trial if it comes to that. The knowledge of the Lord’s presence is the key to abounding.

Our last message covered the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians, ‘The Testimony of Growing Believers‘. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians after being rejoined by Silas and Timothy in Corinth. He longed to be with them, but was prevented, perhaps by the bond Jason posted in Ac 17. In any case, he writes them a warm and affectionate letter designed to help them grow in the faith, something he desired to do by his presence, but could only do by way of letter in his absence. The first three chapters are sort of a ‘love letter’ between Paul and the church where he thanks God for their encouraging testimony of evident salvation (1.2-5, 9-10), for the remembered testimony of receptive hearts (2.13-16), and last prays for the desired testimony of ongoing faithfulness (3.8-13). The Thessalonian news was an encouragement for the apostle. The growth of Christians in a local church are encouragement for the pastor, and for any other Christians that observe them. We ought to grow for the Lord’s sake, but the fact is your growth is a great benefit to those who minister to you.

We had a good day in the Lord with a few visitors who are former members. These folks made some poor choices in the past, and seem to be stuck in those choices at the moment, but we are glad for the opportunity to minister to them once again.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on sand in the lines (or, a look at the Sesame Street analysis)

The online fundamentalist world was buzzing last week over the ‘Three Lines in the Sand’ battle, instigated by the publication of articles on the blog, Sharper Iron. The ensuing discussion caught a good deal of attention by those fundamentalists who frequent the online sites of opinion with additional articles and comments appearing at several other sites as well. Here are links to Article 1, Article 2, Article 3 and other links here and here. For very negative reviews with not a lot of grace you can check these artiles here and here [hey, Kent, et al, I love ya, but ‘Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt…’, not the other way around. I know, I err like this, too].

I began to prepare a commentary on this issue earlier in the week, but as events have developed, I decided to simply re-write a comment from scratch. Before I really get into it, I should explain my term ‘Sesame Street analysis’. Joel Tetreau, the author of the ‘Three Lines in the Sand’ article, analyses fundamentalism by calling various forms of it Type A, Type B, or Type C. I have jokingly referred to Joel’s analysis as “Sesame Street analysis” this way: “This analysis is brought to you by the letters, A, B, and C…” If you are old enough, you will get the joke.

Now for my comments on the subject. I really am not so concerned with analysing Joel’s article per se. We have seen enough of that in the last week. But I want to make some observations Joel’s general thesis as I see it.

There is no doubt that there are at least two uneasy camps within self-professed fundamentalism. There is a more ‘traditional’ group, we’ll use Joel’s Type A for ease of reference, but I am not sure there is really a name for this group. This group tends to approach ministry with a more militant attitude than the second group. The second group Joel calls Type B. We have also heard of them being referred to as Young Fundamentalists or NeoFundamentalists. The men in this second group tend to be more recent graduates of fundamentalist institutions, whether it be fundamentalist Christian schools or colleges and universities. They tend to be more heavily represented by younger people who are between 25 and 35 years of age, although there are old fogies (my contemporaries) who sympathize with them and could be called part of this group as well.

Michael Riley’s comments are helpful, especially where he says the real issue is what to do about a group labeled by Joel as “Type C”. These men, the Type Cs, are not usually labeled as fundamentalists. For the most part, the Type C men would not want the label (there are some exceptions) and are not really looking for a common cause with fundamentalists. They represent conservative evangelicals who are willing to contend with other evangelicals over various issues. The Type B crowd apparently wants to label the Type C crowd as a ‘non-identifying branch’ of fundamentalism. The Type A crowd denies that Type C is fundamentalist at all.

The distinctions between Type A and Type B, however, are much more than simply ‘what to do with Type C’. One other major issue to understand with respect to the distinctions is who has the best grasp of fundamentalist history and historic fundamentalist philosophy. Both Type A and Type B would view themselves as having this understanding down cold, and the other fellows to be all wet. I suppose that if we can answer this second issue, the answer to the question of Type C is obvious.

Typically in these debates, we all seem to discuss a certain word when it comes to fundamentalism: separation. There is no doubt that fundamentalists have often and do often separate themselves from other Christians because of perceived compromise of the gospel. In the last few days, I am wondering if this word is obscuring the issues and clouding our understanding. In the past, I have said that if you won’t separate, you are not a fundamentalist. Lately, I am thinking that this description isn’t adequate.

I am thinking now about another word that we should emphasize more strongly than ‘separation’. That word is ‘militancy’. The early fundamentalists who fought modernism in their denominations were militant. They struggled mightily to preserve their schools, churches, and other institutions. It was a ‘battle royal’ in Curtis Lee Laws’ famous phrase. The battle royal led ultimately to separation, but some men stayed within their denominations, fighting a losing battle but still fighting. I wonder if we shouldn’t be charitable enough to say that those who continued to fight, even in a losing cause, should still be considered fundamentalists because they were militant, though not always separatists.

Let’s take this a step further, however. Is militancy the same thing as orthodoxy? Answer: No. One can be personally orthodox in theology but not militant about it, i.e., unwilling to do battle royal for the fundamentals (orthodox doctrine). You just go along with the flow, hoe your own corn, so to speak, and leave the politics alone. Many otherwise orthodox men have taken this position through the years.

The fundamentalist, in contrast, is militant. He is fighting for an objective: purity of the gospel, purity of the church. Historically, we saw fundamentalists agitating militantly for ecclesiastical integrity which inevitably createwd divisions with those unwilling to engage the battle. Sometimes these divisions led to complete separation, a refusal to associate, and I think this was, and is, right. The fundamentalist will also agitate militantly for the personal purity of Christians which inevitably involves repudiation of worldliness and worldly practices. This opens a whole can of worms that has been endlessly debated throughout the history church, but without a doubt the militant fundamentalist mindset will argue in favour of purging worldly elements from the lives of Christians. (The next question to decide is ‘what is worldly’, but we will leave that alone for this article.)

Are the Type Cs militant? Is militancy the same thing as saying hard things about the beliefs and practices of other Christians? In the ‘Three Lines’ article an example was given of Harold Lindsell and his book The Battle for the Bible. [This appeared in Part IV of the article which briefly appeared on Sharper Iron but was later taken down at Joel’s request. I managed to snag a copy of it before it was taken down. Joel has promised to publish it elsewhere ‘later’, but I kind of wish he wouldn’t. Let sleeping dogs lie, Joel. And this dog is one you need to put to sleep!!]

Joel refers to Lindsell this way:

Militancy to the Type C fundamentalist is kin to Ronald Reagan militancy. Reagan led our country through a rebuilding of a military arsenal that eventually led the Soviet Union to an economic implosion. They simply could not keep up with the arms race. “Fundamentalism” to a Type C is a verb. More specifically, it is an action verb. Fundamentalism is not something necessarily that describes their primary identity (Type A), nor does it really modify or explain where they are (Type B). Type C Fundamentalism is a description of what they “do.” These men are actively engaging the faith. They are actively contending within their associations, fellowships, conventions, or denominations. They are not attempting to “smoosh their way” (as in the new-evangelical ethos). They are actively doing “Battle Royal” for the faith. In my way of understanding, the rebirth of Type C Fundamentalism would have been in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Type C fundamentalists are those conservative men who contended in groups such as the SBC and CBA. Harold Lindsell came out with his work, Battle for the Bible. Often Type A’s will not want to give Type C’s the title because these men often demonstrate a disdain for the term “Fundamentalism.” This does not mean they do not fit the historical pattern of Fundamentalism. It is more likely that they had the unfortunate occurrence of bumping into a “fierce” member of A+ Fundamentalism and were offended by their rudeness, theological illiteracy, and/or just bad manners.

I give you that quote for the purposes of getting the context. There are a lot of things wrong with this paragraph and with Joel’s writing in general. Joel, I think it might be better for you to colaborate with someone when writing this kind of thing. It is often hard to follow your thoughts. I think I understand why, but you might be able to succeed better by collaborating with someone else to put your thoughts in a more coherent form. [I know Joel is going to be reading this and promised him my honest critiques. I like Joel and had an extra donut at Tims just this morning in his honour.]

What Joel seems to be saying is that we as fundamentalists don’t respect the work done by evangelicals to fight for the gospel. I think Joel might be saying here that Lindsell is a prototype ‘Type C’ as an example of a Type C who is fighting for the gospel ‘within evangelicalism’. If Joel isn’t saying that, he is at least saying that the Type Cs owe their heritage to Lindsell’s work, his books formed the basis for ‘conservative evangelicalism’. Either conclusion (and perhaps I am missing something)… but either conclusion really is a misjudgement of history.

When Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible came out, it did cause a sensation in the evangelical world, but is it truly an example of a militant mindset? It may be belligerency, but is it militancy? At the time the book came out, Lindsell was editor of Christianity Today. (He retired from that post two years later.) From what I have been able to discover of his life, he maintained his new evangelical position until the end. He is credited as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of New Evangelicalism, a lifelong friend of Billy Graham, biographer of Ockenga, etc., etc. While his book created a divide within Evangelicalism, leading to the Statement on Inerrancy, was it really an example of militancy, crusading to purify the evangelical church, or was it a reaffirmation of the New Evangelical status quo? The New Evangelical philosophy began as orthodoxy minus militancy. Was Lindsell advocating a change of that notion or a return to it?

This example perhaps highlights the differences we have very vividly. The Type Cs are occasional crusaders within their groups for issues that are important to them, but are we seriously trying to say that they have the same militant mindset of the 1920s fundamentalists? Where is the active battle against modernism? Where is the active battle against the allies of modernism?

Should we be making common cause with these men? That was the argument of Jerry Folwell in the late 70s and early 80s, with his Moral Majority movement. He went even farther, and united with very strange groups in hopes of achieving political ends. The fundamentalists of the day labeled him a pseudo-fundamentalist. While the Type Bs today are not advocating the sweeping alliances of Falwell, is there anything essentially different in their philosophy?

Further, we should ask if co-belligerency is a justification for cooperation and fellowship? We are co-belligerents, for example with many people on the subject of abortion, but we will not cooperate with many of them, probably not with the majority of them because co-beligerency does not equal ‘common cause’.

Above, I asked if the Type Cs are militant. Now I ask, are the Type Bs militant? They appear to be militant all right, but they are constantly fighting the Type As, not the modernists, not the compromised evangelicals, but their fundamentalist ‘cohorts’. I am constantly dismayed to see all the energy of these young men spent trying to justify an increasingly loose position with respect to personal purity and a definitely loose application of ecclesiastical association. They justify it, as was done here, by claiming that the Type A fundamentalism is dictatorial, abusive, etc. etc. Where is the equal militancy against the doctrines and practices that are harmful to a pure gospel and a pure church? I don’t mean that we should spend all day every day bashing MacArthur, Dever, et al. But don’t you think there should be a murmur of protest over the rap artist and Piper? Shouldn’t we speak up against incidents where one of these men disappoints us with a poor ecclesiastical relationship?

What we see in these debates is the political energy of the Type Bs being spent in fighting Type As. Why? Are the Type As, such as they are, the greatest threat to the current state of the church?

This is long enough already. I complained that Joel’s article was too long, so I will leave this one here. I gave this article the title “sand in the lines”. The current state of affairs are somewhat confused by the varying positions of the many players claiming the label ‘fundamentalist’. The lines are pretty blurred. It isn’t absolutely clear where everyone stands, but I predict that things will be made clear soon. Joel’s article, with its flaws, contribute to the clarity. The discussions and debates we are having in various spots of cyber-space are contributing to clarity. And then new controversies will blur everything again… more sand in the lines…

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

P.S. As I was mulling this article over, I see Sharper Iron published on its front page more on this from Joel under the header ‘Reflections on the Fight’ or some such. Joel, Joel, Joel, give it a rest man! It isn’t about you! Just shut up already! The more you talk about this fight, the more the pot will be stirred. You will get some oil in your wounds from your friends, but I guarantee you that you are just going to get more guys like me to pour salt in, instead of oil! You might want to look up the word, ‘narcissism’ and ponder its implications.

And, for the SI guys who might wander over here, what are you doing? Why keep this running? Most of the articles on your front page have achieved a certain quality. These are dragging you down. Are you thinking at all? Good night! You are only making yourselves and Joel look bad.

[See, I am a Type A!]

on my first fundamentalist heros discussing controversy

This will be the last installment on the contentions revealed by letters by my dad and by my uncle. The denomination in which I grew up had no sure touchstone by which to call men to account. One of their central mantras was ‘no creeds’. The end of the day sees many in that kind of persuasion having ‘no faith’. If there is no central accountability, there is nothing to measure by, and who is to say if one persons views are right or wrong. So the charming, feel-good unbelievers carry the day and infect a church group with grievous error.

These letters are personal correspondence between my uncle and my dad. The two previous letters were from my dad to officials in the denomination. My dad evidently sent copies to my uncle, who responded with the letter that follows. My dad then replied which I am posting below. I am again leaving out personal names and since these are personal letters I will add a bit of editorial comment in brackets [like this] to explain things that might not be obvious.

June 5th,1980

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your letter and the copies of the letters sent by yourself to the Editor of the Contact and to XXX XXXXX. I felt that they were well written and to the point. I have written XXXXXX on several occasions, one in response to the same article your letter was directed to, and have not received an answer. I have written XXX XXXXX several times concerning the school and with regard to one comment he made towards conservative brethren who did not go along with him. I did not receive a reply to that particular thing but he has replied to some of my concerns regarding the school.

I must share with you the information that I wrote Brother XXXXXXXX, a reply to his article in the Contact. I had just preached a sermon titled: The Holy Spirit and The Holy Word in which I declared Bible truth concerning it’s inspiration and how the Holy Spirit is received and companions us in relationship to it’s direct authority to us. I used text in II Timothy 3 where Paul speaks to Timothy words given by revelation of the Holy Spirit concerning apostacy to come. He calls Timothy’s attention to the Scriptures as “Holy” and thus a priority in direction of how to he saved and worship God in Spirit and in truth… Kingdom experience and Kingdom reality.

[The man mentioned here was a dear friend of our family, at this point in time sort of a senior statesman in the Church of God in Western Canada. He had been a pastor in the denomination and was a prolific author, championing especially amillennialism. He was a godly, saintly man, but quite loyal to the party machine.]

I pointed out to Brother XXXXXXXX the fact that Paul not only “Knew whom He believed” but what he believed and that many of his epistles to the churches were corrective of situations that existed in ethics and in doctrinal disarray. The Scripture does not just point to Christ it declares His authority and Lordship in all matters pertaining to godliness of mind, spirit and body. The idea of the power of opinions and existential discovery of truth apart from Scripture in these areas is dangerous and downright disobedient. His reply was cordial and appreciative of what I shared but he still seemed infatuated with his novel idea that the “Bible is a window not a Wall”. To me that is a term that relegates the Scripture to a “Reference book” to he used if necessary and in emergency.

I don’t believe he appreciated the fact I shared with him that God still has a witness in this matter and that He has raised up many brethren of insight and not particularly associated with the Church of God movement, although I have encounted [sic] some. Sad to say, some have already passed from the scene and are home with the Lord.

I have a distinct feeling that some of the pastors are beginning to view me with some suspicion and concern due to my conservative stand while other definitely are of like mind in many areas. Perhaps the Lord will turn some things around. It will not be without persistence and without a voice being heard. We must temper criticism with objective love declared for the Lord who bought us with so great a price and the Word He has given to be “The Faith once delivered to the Saints” of both covenant ages… that word of salvation and grace diligently heeded.


The following letter is my dad’s reply to my uncle:

June 12, 1980


I appreciate your letter, and encourage you in the firm doctrinal opinions that you espouse.

I recognize that you are looked at askance by the liberal minded and compromisers among your fellow ministers in the Church of God in Western Canada. My opinion is that they constitute about 2/3 of the fellowship between them. The liberals are always moving to the left as fast as they dare, and the compromisers, who constitute a majority with whichever of the left or right wing groups they choose to vote with, are too gutless and morally weak to take a position and root out the incipient heresy and declension that infects the organization.

The truth of the matter that you have been discussing with Mr. XXXXXXXX, and others, is that the Word illuminates and defends those who trust in the Word and are willing to be guided by it. Therefore the Bible is both a window, and a wall to these ones.

It appears to me that those who choose to compromise themselves considerably both as to doctrine and association, are rather firmly entrenched in the schools at Anderson & Portland and in Camrose, as well as in the management and distribution of the curriculum preparation for the Sunday School.

I believe that it is unrealistic to think that these situations can be turned around.

That is the major reason why my children are being educated elsewhere. The other primary reason is doctrinal emphasis. I believe that Arminianism readily lends itself to the trend to rationalistic, humanistic religious reasoning, due to its undue emphasis on the human part of the religious equation; and I believe that A-millennialism readily lends itself to a rationalizing of the Word of God and to minimizing the importance of an explicit adherence to the Word in doctrinal matters.

[These issues were bones of contention between my uncle and my dad. As a pastor in the denomination, he accepted their general theological framework. To the annoyance of many, my dad insisted on being premillennial. The CoG is fully Arminian, a church in the Wesleyan Holiness tradtion, teaching the Second Blessing of sinless perfectionism. I am not sure how much of the perfectionism my uncle would accept. In opposing the Arminianism, my dad is not asserting a Calvinist point of view. He opposed that as vigorously as he opposed Arminianism.]

I realize that there has been serious error and religious decline in many other religious organizations as well as the Arminian and A-millennial groups, but I believe that in these latter mentioned the trend is much more pervasive and pronounced.

Our primary responsibilities are first of all to God, Next to ourselves, and thirdly to our families, and after that to the Christian community. One cannot afford to sacrifice loyalty to God, to self and to family on the altar of an expedient relationship to any religious group. It just is not worth it and never can be. If we fail our God, ourselves, our families, who is able to recompense us for the loss. No man or group of men can do this.



T. W. D. Johnson

A little more on the issue of ‘creedlessness’ I was reading over at the CoG website today and found this explanation of their position:

As affirmed in condensations such as “The Apostles Creed,” the Church of God holds to the teachings of historical Christianity:

* The Trinity.
* The Bible as God’s written word, only rule of faith and practice.
* The Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
* Salvation by faith in Jesus and His atoning death on the cross.
* The gift of the Holy Spirit to those who receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
* The return of Christ at the close of the age.
* Judgment and Eternal rewards, heaven and hell.

Orthodox Christians may hold varying opinions on secondary or peripheral doctrine. Within the Church of God there is no insistence that everyone conform their ideas on minute points.

Allowing people with honest hearts and minds to search the Scripture’s leads, with the Holy Spirit’s help to an amazing consensus. Experience has shown that formation of the great historic creeds of the church served a purpose in delineating orthodoxy from heresy. Experience has also shown that creed formation has exacerbated divisions between Christians when it was not necessary. For this reason, in the interest of unity, the Church of God Movement has shied away from the drafting of an official statement of beliefs. Such works of systematic distillation of doctrine from Scripture have severe human limitations and tend to be dated. The Movement has preferred to confine itself to the spirit-inspired Scripture, treating our own interpretations of it with humility and those of others who differ with charity.


The problem with avoiding the divisions caused by creeds is that anything goes. If you search through the CoG newsletters you will find numerous women pastors. I don’t have access to any of the current positions of those teaching or leading the denominational school, I doubt that it has improved much since the days that prompted these letters.

My uncle passed away with brain cancer, my dad was one voice for conservative theology in a sea of opposition. As my dad aged, he was stricken by Parkinsons disease. His involvment has been severely limited since. They were unsuccessful in their efforts, but I applaud their efforts.

One of my uncle’s sons is a pastor in this group. He has apparently not taken as conservative a stand as his dad did.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on my first fundamentalist hero opposing modernism part 2

This is the second installment in my series exemplifying a militant spirit within a compromising denomination. Here you will see my dad taking on the editor of the denominational paper on the subject of inerrancy, a vital topic for orthodox Christianity.

April 22, 1980

The Editor
Gospel Contact
4703 – 56 Street
Camrose, Alberta

Dear Sir:

Re. your editorial – March/April issue as to the matter of belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

You suggest the matter of belief or disbelief in the inerrancy of the Bible as a standard of Christian orthodoxy is unnecessarily divisive and should be scrapped. You also suggest that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is not scientifically accurate and you stress the value of personal experience with person of Christ as the primary evaluation of personal Christian faith.

In effect you are saying there should no standard as to Christian doctrine, Christian belief or Christian conduct except the vagaries of personal experience and the self qualified claims of those who may claim to be “true Christians”, whatever that may be taken to be.

What would you or anyone know of Christ except for the revelation of Christ that is made known to man in the Bible? What is to be the qualification of a “true Christian” if the standards for belief and conduct set out in the Bible are not used? Whose “experience” is to be the authority in these matters, as personal experience is a very variegated thing? Many have been known to have had deluded experiences.

What is your motivation in taking the position that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible should not be a standard of orthodoxy? Are you an apologist for some person or persons who are unorthodox, and if so, what is their relationship to yourself? What are their supposed Christian qualifications and beliefs?

As to the “scientific” accuracy of a belief in the Bible, possibly you could explain as to what “scientific” accuracy is, and in so doing you might comment on the numerous “scientifically accurate” opinions that have later been invalidated by new discoveries in various fields of learning.



T. W. D. Johnson

The doctrine of inerrancy is usually at the heart of controversies with modernism and evangelicalism. This is the crux of ‘the faith’. If we lose ground here, we lose ground everywhere. Those who waver have wavered somewhere either in their belief in the inerrant Word or in their submission to it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3