FrontLine • March/April 2009
To recap, Part 7, posted yesterday, covers Dr. Minnick’s discussion of Romans 16:17 and 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1. He continues in today’s post with further discussion from 2 John and concludes the series of articles below.
A third New Testament passage addressing the issue of relationship with unorthodox persons is 2 John 9–11.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
The persons in view here are those who do not remain within the bounds of orthodox Christology (abideth not in the doctrine of Christ). Within the immediate context, John is referring to those who deny the incarnation (v. 7). But verses 9–11 cannot be restricted in their application to only incarnation-deniers. This is apparent from the description in verse 9 of the person who is the opposite of one who is not abiding in the doctrine of Christ. As might be expected, John describes him as he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ. But it’s the next statement that is especially helpful for clarifying the person who is the opposite of those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ. He is a person who hath both the Father and the Son.
We know from other New Testament passages that in order for a person to have both the Father and the Son, in other words, to be a Christian, he must believe more about Jesus Christ than simply His incarnation. So John’s condition to possessing salvation, expressed as abideth in the doctrine of Christ, would necessarily include embracing the entirety of the Christology required for salvation (such as the blood atonement, the resurrection, the Lordship of Christ, etc.). And as those who hold to these truths (abide in the doctrine of Christ) are those in direct contrast to those who abide not in the doctrine of Christ, the latter description could describe persons whose Christology is aberrant in a number of ways, not merely on the matter of the incarnation. Therefore, anyone who departs from orthodox Christology on any point necessary to possessing for oneself both the Father and the Son is the opposite of someone abiding in the doctrine of Christ. Such a person, John says, hath not God.
This text mandates that the Christian response to such a person be twofold. We are neither to receive him into our homes nor to even greet him. A certain amount of interpretational clarification is necessary regarding these commands. For instance, in view of the fact that the early churches met in private homes, it may be that John is not prohibiting a Christian’s ever inviting a heretic into his house (even for the purpose of evangelizing him) but that he is forbidding receiving such a one into a gathering of worshiping believers. Further, by receive not, he is probably not directing believers to bar the doors of their churches to such persons (so that unorthodox persons are never even found in attendance) but directing us not to accept them as Christians if they approach. That is, not to extend our welcoming fellowship to them as if they were truly believers.
Similarly, by neither bid him God speed, a translation of a phrase that translates literally, do not speak to him a greeting or a welcome, John may not be forbidding our saying hello or good morning to an unorthodox person. He is, however, most certainly forbidding our speaking to him in the warm, welcoming way with which we greet those who are truly brothers and sisters in Christ. People universally know the difference between the two kinds of greetings, the one merely acknowledging a person’s presence and the other expressing our pleasure about it.
The one other matter that must be clarified is that in view of the Great Commission, 1 Corinthians 5:10, and other such passages, it ought to be clear that John’s restriction is limited to a certain kind of unorthodox individual. He cannot be prohibiting our association with every unbeliever who has wrong views of Christ. The whole point of evangelism is to get people’s Christology corrected!
The kind of individual John is referring to is described as transgressing and not abiding.
Literally, he is proagōn, going before. Why John uses this particular characterization is unclear. Perhaps he sarcastically quotes the false teachers’ own claim for themselves — “we are progressive; we’ve gone forward theologically.” Be that as it may, further insight is afforded us by John’s saying that this person does not remain in the doctrine of Christ. It would seem, then, that the person in view has some acquaintance with what Scripture teaches concerning Christ, is perhaps even studying or teaching it, but is extending his own Christology beyond Bible bounds.
John Stott’s Position
In the last column I concluded with a brief account of the 1966 clash between David Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott and J. I. Packer over how Evangelicals ought to respond to unorthodoxy in their denominations. Forty years later, both Stott and Packer are still arguing that their position of remaining within their denomination with unorthodox and apostate ministers is the right one. In a recent publication (The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor [IVP, 2007]), Stott states the conditions under which he would feel he must separate from the Church of England.
Such an extreme situation might be
- when an issue of first order is at stake, such as deserves the condemnation “antichrist” (I John 2:22) or “anathema” (Galatians 1:8–9)
- when the offending issue is held not by an idiosyncratic minority of individuals but has become the official position of the majority
- when the majority have silenced the faithful remnant, forbidding them to witness or protest any longer
- when we have conscientiously explored every possible alternative
- when, after a painful period of prayer and discussion, our conscience can bear the weight no longer
But Stott seems to have disregarded the kinds of texts we’ve just examined. Those passages provide Divinely described circumstances necessitating separation. Stott’s list of circumstances doesn’t appear to take them fully into account. His qualifications, such as, has become the official position of the majority and when the majority have silenced the faithful remnant aren’t found in these texts or in any others to my knowledge.
Would it not be more Scriptural to conclude that separation is the only right course when orthodox men discover that the nature of the organization of which they’re a member precludes the possibility of their obeying passages such as Romans 16:17, 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, and 2 John 9–11? And that whether they’re in the majority or not? And whether they’re silenced or not?
In other words, if the structure, the constitution, or the by-laws of an organization make it effectively impossible to obey Scripture, isn’t it apparent that I have no recourse but to walk away from that organization? To put it simply, it would appear that to be Scriptural an Evangelical must either unyoke the unbelievers or unyoke himself. Any yoke that precludes the former seems to necessitate the latter.
The Unresolved Controversy
In a previous installment of this extended discussion I recommended Iain Murray’s The Unresolved Controversy: Unity with Non-Evangelicals. That title sums up the Achilles’ heel in Evangelicalism. Until it resolves this controversy Scripturally it will not only continue to be a theologically confused movement but, more tragically, one continuing to dim many of God’s glories to the world’s eyes.
Every Evangelical should come to a final verdict. What is the Scriptural thing for him to do about his organizational and ministerial associations with unorthodox religious leaders? Lest the arguments of cautious scholarship freeze his response, let me conclude with a warning issued recently by a man who is himself a notable Evangelical. Though the context of his comments concern another issue, they apply aptly to the one addressed here.
More and more evangelical churches and institutions are overthrowing their heritage, sometimes on the superficial basis that scholars are divided on the issue. The truth is that scholars are divided on most theological issues. … In other words, giving up a doctrine on the basis that scholars differ in their opinions shows no doctrine is secure and the more liberal perspective or practice will prevail. … As followers of Christ, we must always submit our heritage and authority, as well as any cultural consensus, to Scripture lest we make Scripture void (Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 236).
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2009. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)