Puritan Gems

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Should One Leave A Church?

Churches are more or less apostolic, that is, doctrinally pure or orthodox, according to the degree the gospel and doctrine of the apostles are taught and embraced by them; and while some churches are more faithful than others in confessing the system of doctrine taught in the holy Scriptures, even the purest churches are subject to error and do indeed err at times.

Error in the church should always be of concern to the Christian, and he should charitably labor to rid the church of error. But a Christian should not lightly repudiate his church even when there is perceived error in it. Differences of opinion over nonessentials should not be made the basis for division in a local congregation or denomination. Such division for light causes is "schismatic," schism being understood here as formal and unjustified separation from the church. Paul speaks against such unjustified separation in 1 Corinthians 1:10: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions [schismata, schismata] among you" (see also 1 Cor. 11:18; 12:25). If a Christian's church is faithfully proclaiming the Word of God, administers the sacraments according to the institution of Christ, and faithfully exercises discipline, his church is a true church of God, and a repudiation of it is wicked and a denial of God and of Christ, even though it may have some error in it.

But the Bible recognizes that there are some circumstances that may arise in a church which will compel the Christian to separate himself from the church. The Greek New Testament employs two nouns in the main to describe dreadfully sinful situations in the church: apostasy (apostasia, apostasia) and heresy (airesiV, hairesis)

2 Thessalonians 2:3: "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion [apostasia, apostasia] occurs."

1 Timothy 4:1: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon [aposthsontai, apostĕsontai] the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."

2 Peter 2:1: "[False teachers] will secretly introduce destructive heresies [aireseiV, hairesis]." (see also 1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20; and Titus 3:10)

In general usage "apostasy" has come to refer to total renunciation of the Christian faith, with "heresy" being viewed more atomistically as any subversive doctrine professing to be Christian (of course, "systemic" heresy is hardly distinguishable from apostasy).

The New Testament lays down the following principles to protect the church in such a situation and to maintain its doctrinal purity:

1. Elders are charged to guard the church by guarding the truth (Acts 20:28-30; Tit. 1:9; see 1 John 4:2-3). The New Testament is realistic about the problems the church will have with false teachers. The passages cited presuppose that the Christian faith has a definite content, and that there are certain pivotal truths which are absolutely necessary to it.

2. Apostates and heretics ought to leave the church (1 John 2:18-19). It is not schismatic, indeed, it is quite appropriate, for antichrists to separate themselves from the Christian church. But more often than not, they set themselves up in the church. What is to be done with them then?

3. Unrepentant heretics who do not leave the church should be disciplined (Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:10; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 John 10-11; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20). As there were false prophets in Israel, so there are and will be false teachers in the church. As the former were subject to discipline, so the latter should be as well, mutatis mutandis, that is, by excommunication rather than execution.

4. Separation from one's local church or denomination is appropriate if it will not discipline heretics (2 Cor. 6:14-18). If a church rejects discipline for theological errors that subvert the foundation of the gospel and becomes theologically pluralistic in practice (even though it may retain an orthodox confession by which it promises to be guided), that church has become "heretical" in that it no longer stands under the authority of God, and the orthodox are compelled to separate from it to bear witness to the marks of the church.

(from Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pp. 890-891)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dispensationalism vs. the Bible

I have stated on many occasions that the Dispensationalist approach to Scripture, if consistently applied, would eventually lead one away from Christianity altogether in favor of Christ-rejecting Judaism. Rodney J. Decker's latest article (Why Do Dispensationalists Have Such a Hard Time Agreeing on the New Covenant?) related to the September 2008 Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, is a classic case in point. Decker has come to the conclusion that the church is not in covenant with God. Instead, Decker concludes, the new covenant is made only with the Christ-rejecting nation of Israel.

The disagreement between Dispensational and Covenantal Theology can be best solved by asking the following question. Whom shall we trust when it comes to the correct interpretation of Old Testament prophecy? Shall we trust the inspired writers of the New Testament, or should we trust Bible Baptist Seminary? Decker, Professor of NT and Greek at Bible Baptist Seminary, makes some surprising claims that put Dispensationalism clearly at odds with Scripture.

After assuming a priori that the Mosaic law has a "lack of legal standing in the church" (p.1), and that the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant is yet future1 (p. 1 - see Acts 2:25-32), Becker ask a series of questions concerning the method of Bible exegesis. "Does the text determine our theology or does our theology determine our understanding of the text? How does our hermeneutical framework - our theological system- affect (and sometimes effect!) our exegetical conclusions? Which takes priority, text or theology? We all know the "correct" answer to such questions: the text must determine our theology." (p. 2). All good so far, but this approach dissolves into mere rhetoric once he begins to delve into Old Testament Prophecy. He writes, “If God does not fulfill the promises of the new covenant with Israel exactly as he promised and as the prophet understood God’s promise, the God has failed.” (p. 20). This statement clearly begs the question. Becker never tells us how we are to determine the way "the prophet understood God’s promise". What insight does he have into the mind of the Old Testament prophets? Does he have any more than Jesus, John, Peter, or Paul? By rejecting the New Testament fulfillment as the actual fulfillment, Becker has clearly let his theology determine his understanding of the text. In addition, the Dispensational hermeneutic fails to focus on all of Scripture as a story of Christ's redemptive work. It pits Scripture against Scripture, and focuses on Old Testament shadows instead of the substance in Christ. (John 1:45, John 5:46, John 8:56, etc.). Furthermore, if we were to apply Becker’s standard to the Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament, we would become Judaist, who were blind leaders of the blind (Luke 6:39).

If nothing else, Decker should get props for consistency in terms of the new covenant in Dispensational theology. He also soundly refutes the modern "dual covenant" heresy propagated by John Hagee and others. Perhaps I can answer the question as to why Dispensationalists have such a hard time agreeing on the New Covenant. Because, contrary to Galatians 3:28, they insist on erecting racial walls in order to separate fleshly Israel from the Church. As such, they cannot figure out how to include both in the New Covenant. Like other dispensationalists, Decker cannot come to grips with the fact that there is no covenant without Christ, and there never has been. Thus Decker concludes, based on his flawed hermeneutic, that the New Covenant is made only with the present nation of Israel, not the church. However, he does suggest that the church participates in the blessing “in some way” (p. 19). He further defends the exclusion of the church from the New Covenant by boldly telling us that “...the church is never mentioned in the OT" (p. 17). Hmmm...

The redemptive work of Christ is the center of both the Old and the New Covenant, both covenants being made with the elect and them only. As for the correct interpretation of Old Testament Prophecy, why do we need to go any further than the interpretation given us in the New Testament? Indeed, Dispensationalism has been weighed in the balances and found wanting.


1 I give Becker the benefit of the doubt concerning this approach, as he was addressing fellow dispensationalist concerning his view of the new covenant. He didn't address Covenantal views, which I have done many times here.