young? conservative? Hold on!

My on-line friend, Jon Gleason, wrote me in response to the current controversy. I thought it would be worth reposting here with his kind consent. His embrace of separatistic principles is not unlike mine. Both of us came out of evangelical backgrounds. Those who are moving leftward are perhaps naïve about the problems they will encounter as they join up with evangelicals. May this current controversy be a “Hold on!” moment for them as Jon describes below:

Dear Don,

I am glad you commented on your blog on Thabiti Anyabwile’s recent article. I’ve been watching events with great interest, because Pastor Anyabwile is saying many things I was saying and thinking some 22 years ago. While some may think nothing is going to come of this, I’m not so certain.

As a student at Biola University and then at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, I held a position which is virtually identical to many who would today be called “conservative evangelicals”. If I could sum up what I believed back then, it would be thus: “I’ll hold to the truth of God’s Word; I’m absolutely committed to it. I oppose apostasy – but I’m not one of those wacky second degree separatists.”

God’s Word is powerful, and so is obedience. If you obey, you occasionally have those “paradigm shifts” as new areas of obedience open up to you. We might call them the “Hold ON!” moments. That can happen when you realise, “I’m in fellowship with those who are dabbling with heretics!” My “hold ON!” moment came when Biola invited a music minister from the Crystal Cathedral to speak at a music seminar. I couldn’t overlook the fact that he was aiding the propagation of Robert Schuller’s heresy, and Biola thought it was acceptable to bring him in.

I decided to stay within non-separatist evangelicalism, but move to a more “conservative” brand at Western. In my second term, Western provided my second “hold ON” moment by inviting the music minister from the Crystal Cathedral to speak at a music seminar. I concluded that it is untenable to absolutely reject separatism: lines have to be drawn somewhere. I went to the Scriptures, and things began to come clear.

This controversy over T.D. Jakes is providing, for many, a “hold ON” moment. Phil Johnson recently sounded like he had a “hold ON” moment over some things Mark Driscoll said. Phil Johnson/Thabiti Anyabwile (2011) sound just like Jon Gleason (1989). Lines have to be drawn. Conservative evangelicals, for the most part, are serious about Scripture. When you get serious about Scripture, the Word of God starts to straighten out your thinking – including your thinking on separation.

Once you wake up to the fact that associational lines have to be drawn, you realise you need to do exactly what Anyabwile says he hasn’t done – work through and apply a good separation doctrine. To obey the Word, you have to learn and apply what it teaches in this area, too. Many of our non-separatist evangelical brethren, I believe, are being forced (in God’s providence) by the Jakes controversy to think about separation in ways they’ve never had to think about it before.

They’ve already crossed an important bridge – an acknowledged need to draw lines. Next comes the question: what Biblical principles determine those lines? When faced with the implications of those principles, some will decide they’ve crossed a bridge too far, and retreat back across it. Others, maybe only a few, will do what I did – begin to work through where the Scriptures are taking them, and follow, even if it means you have to change your associations.

It’s all been nice and “comfy” for them so far, because we’re “together for the Gospel”, after all. But all it takes is someone to bring the wrong people into your circle, to endorse (Anyabwile’s word, and a good word for it, as you noted) those who aren’t sound, and it gets very much less comfortable. I’m endorsing this man, and just WHO is he endorsing?

What you do when we’re not together impacts how closely I can associate with you when we are together. This principle applies to moral or ethical failures, but it is just as true with ministry endorsements, especially of heretics. No one can reconcile this “Elephant Room” invitation with II John, and Anyabwile and other conservative evangelicals know it.  Jakes does not have the doctrine of the Son, and we should not be giving him a platform to defend his heresy.

Are they separatists? No. I’m not ready to jump on the same ship with them as if we are entirely like-minded. Will some of them end up as separatists? If my personal “journey” is any guide, some of them will. They may never “draw the lines” the same way I would as far as where they will associate. Who cares? I will be thrilled if they begin to engage with the Biblical principles that guide right practice in this area.

Will they ever come out and say, “The separatists were right and the broad evangelicals were wrong?” Maybe, but who cares? That’s a question for those who want to be personally vindicated in the eyes of man. To see them do right would be good enough for me. They aren’t there yet, but they are being confronted with a choice between Scripture and the disaster of evangelical associational fuzziness, and some of them, I believe, will choose Scripture.

Anyabwile wrote truth, and I’m thrilled with it. The disavowals such as “I’m not being a separatist like fundamentalists” shows he knows the import of what he wrote. When I decided to become a separatist, I said I wasn’t a “fighting fundy”, either. I was just going to be Biblical, drawing lines only where I must, with charity and patience. I discovered that more than a few separatists do it exactly that way.

I believe Kevin Bauder is too generous in his thoughts of where these brothers are, but I think he might well be correct in regards to their direction. I have more hopes of someone like Anyabwile, who appears to be moving in the right direction, than I do for a lot of guys who are currently to the “right” of him but moving left. Direction matters a lot more than current position, in my thinking. Once you let the Lord start moving you in the right direction, He may take you further than you thought when you started. That’s what happened to me.

If I could sit down with Thabiti Anyabwile right now, I would point to this comment: “I’m no Fundamentalist with well-established separation doctrines.” I would ask him, “Isn’t it about time you forgot about labels and started studying that doctrine?” The Bible does teach about separation. If you want to keep yourself pure, and if you want to protect the flock entrusted to you, you need to get a handle on which principles determine when and how we separate. Understanding the Biblical teaching on separation doesn’t immediately turn you into an uncharitable thug. It does help you make decisions based on principle rather than shock when someone with whom you’ve associated invites ‘the wrong guy’.

Since he mentioned “endorsement”, I would point him to I Timothy 5:22. This Scripture, after my “hold ON” moments, was very influential in changing my entire view of ministry associations. In it, Paul warns Timothy to avoid incautious ministry endorsements, lest by doing so he partake of the sins of others. He must keep himself pure.

I pray that Anyabwile, and many others like him, will continue to consider what God would have them do. I am cautiously optimistic that, as God worked in my life, so He is working in theirs. The Scriptures forced me to say, “I was wrong,” and change my direction in regard to separation. By God’s grace, we may be seeing the beginning of a movement among at least a few of our non-separatist brethren towards a more Biblical practice and position in this area.

In Him,

Jon

Comments

  1. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Thanks Jon, greatly appreciated that insight in your walk with the Lord and how you and Don have at some point sought to be consistent with Scriptures and were willing to make direction changes based on those Scriptures. It’s never easy and we are most often misunderstood, but they are necessary in our walk with the Lord. Indeed, I would like to see these men move in the right direction as they grapple with these issues and pray that they will.

  2. Don:

    Thanks for hosting Jon to bless and encourage us with this article. Jon, it boils down to these men discovering and discerning what God would have His own do and then deciding to do what He commands.

    Thanks,

    Lou

  3. Brian, thanks for the comments. You are right about being misunderstood. That may be, in part, because too many separatists have behaved uncharitably, and others get tarred with the same brush. Mostly, though, it is simply because we have an adversary that sows confusion.

    Lou, maybe I’ll preach that some day. Discovering, Discerning, Deciding, Doing. :) Some of these men, I believe, are in the discovering/discerning phase. What they will do remains to be seen. Speaking out is a good start, but only a start.

  4. Thanks Jon. That theme just came as I typed. All you need now is a touching stanza of poetry to close and the altar call and you are a bonafide Fundamentalist. ;)

    Lou

  5. Since we’re talking about changes, I think you meant “alter call”.

  6. So Macdonald resigns from The Gospel Coalition. Does that mean the “Hold On!” moment really took hold with these men? Very interesting days in conservative evangelicalism.

    • Interesting. I’ve been out all day and your comment was the first I heard of it.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

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