December 12, 2017

What’s an Evangelical to Do? (5)

Mark Minnick

FrontLine • November/December 2008

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Resurrecting the Question: Two previous columns [broken into four Proclaim & Defend posts, see links above] in this series raised the issue of how Evangelicals should respond to unorthodox men within evangelical ministries. Admittedly, Jesus warned His followers that false prophets can be difficult to detect. They appeal for association with Christ’s true disciples as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). Yet our Lord taught that despite their deceptive facade, these non-Evangelicals can be detected by their fruit. A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit (7:17). But what is that fruit? Scripture identifies fruit to be, in the first place, a man’s heart beliefs. Evangelicals must begin discovering and dealing Scripturally with unorthodoxy at the root level of heart persuasion if they’re ever to terminate the debates over theological fundamentals which all too often characterize their movement.

Getting Down to Persuasions

Aberrant theologians who covet Evangelical pulpits, Evangelical professorships, and Evangelical readerships for their publications are compelled to employ Evangelical vocabulary. I heard one conservative Evangelical recount how he asked a liberal theologian teaching in an Evangelical institution how he could possibly subscribe to the creed required of its faculty. The reply was something like, I can make those terms mean anything I want to.

Theological terms. Godbreathed vocabulary. Words like resurrection, atonement, propitiation, justification, and redemption, and even son of God. Non-Evangelicals in Evangelical churches and ministries must ply their trade with these coins. But they’re passing counterfeit currency. The terms are gilding. Just below its surface is the slag of a non-Evangelical’s true persuasions.

This is why the first thing Evangelicals need to do in order to end the controversies in their movement over theological fundamentals is (as I suggested in the last column) to require that any organization to which they belong for Christian endeavor or any professing Christian theologian with whom they enter into any spiritual cooperation whatsoever give unfeigned, unqualified, dogmatic assent to every single fundamental of the Christian (that is, “evangelical”) faith. To be sure that it is assent which is unfeigned, unqualified, and dogmatic, institutions and individuals must be asked to define their terms.

For instance, if a theologian says he believes in Christ’s resurrection, what is his conviction about what resurrection is? Two years ago I had both a private and a public exchange (in our local paper) with a religion professor over the heralded discovery of an ossuary in which Jesus’ body was supposedly buried. Her take was that it wouldn’t disturb her Christian faith an iota if the ossuary in question held Jesus’ bones to this day. Resurrection transcends the physical. Her responses to my correspondence included, Jesus’ resurrection body is not easy to define, but I think we both can agree that it is the center of our faith. . . . I believe we are raised as Christ was raised. . . . I am certainly still a Baptist, and more importantly a Christian. . . . May God bless you in your work.

Here are apparent affirmations of standard Biblical terms and propositions. Resurrection body, we are raised, Christ was raised, Baptist, and Christian. But what do the mean to this theologian? I understand your viewpoint, she wrote, I just do not interpret the text exactly as you do.

Well, that’s what must be fleshed out. How does a leader we’re cooperating with on public platforms or from whom we’re accepting a May God bless you interpret the texts and their terms?

Isn’t it self-evident that when a man puts his interpretations into print he’s defining terms? Especially when his purpose for writing is to enter the stream of public dialogue over those very terms? It would seem, then, that he (or she) ought to be held most accountable, not for signing a creed, but for what he publicizes that he means by that creed’s terms and propositions. We cannot be entirely content with signed creeds. They’re certainly a first line of defense against error’s infiltration. But Evangelicals will have to plumb men’s heart persuasions about the terms in those creeds if they’re ever going to end debate, safeguard Christian institutions, and propagate what is truly the faith once delivered to the saints.

It would be utterly inconsistent not to consider momentarily at this point whether we Fundamentalists are prepared to accept the same accountability for holding one another accountable for fundamental theological terms. We’re not debating bodily resurrection, justification, or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but apparently we are torn over a doctrine equally fundamental, the inspiration of the Bible. What do we mean when we use the word inspiration in our preaching and in our doctrinal statements? What do we conceive inspiration to have been? Are some within our ranks actually teaching a repeated inspiration? And what do we mean by the Bible? Are some within Fundamentalism divisively restricting the definition of what a true Bible is to a particular edition or translation? There are few questions more fundamental than What was inspiration? and What truly is the Bible

There’s a Scriptural answer to these questions. There’s also an unscriptural one. At this critical moment in the history of Fundamentalism are both answers, the Scriptural and the unscriptural, being taught within its ranks? If so, what are truly orthodox Fundamentalists to do in order to terminate this controversy, safeguard our institutions, and pass on to the next generation an entirely orthodox position on one of the most foundational of all doctrines? At some point we’re going to need to hold one another accountable for a rigorously Scriptural creed and practice on the inspiration of the Bible. We all understand that the cost may be painful. But we rightly expect Evangelicals to be prepared to pay whatever is necessary to contend for foundational doctrines. Can we refuse to do the same? Whatever an Evangelical must do in order to correct error is what a Fundamentalist must do also. To refuse will be to betray a sacred trust and to forfeit a certain amount of God’s approval and blessing.

Offenses for Which to Discipline

We’ll return to the issue of a Scriptural response to aberrant theologians shortly. But as a help to understanding and really submitting to the Scripture’s further directives on that score, I want to mention briefly the second mark of a true man of God. It consists in his behavior, or his separated life. In fact, a consistently unholy life betrays an unregenerated heart.

No wonder then that in His Final Judgment our Lord will employ this reality as the clinching evidence for laying bare the true spiritual state of false prophets: I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:23). John the Apostle develops this same line of argument for differentiating true possessors of Christ from false professors (right through 1 John). So do Peter (2 Pet. 3:19–22) and Jude.

This being the case, how should leaders respond when other leaders fall into gross sin? Generally Evangelicals seem to concur on the answer: If the fallen leader is a pastor, president of an educational institution, officer in a theological society, or board member of a missions agency, Evangelicals almost always remove him from leadership in fairly short order. Seldom do they debate the issue, let alone protest when others take a firm stance. There appears to be nearly universal agreement that such a man disqualifies himself and should be disciplined.

Let’s hold on to that for a moment. Evangelicals generally practice some form of discipline upon leaders who fall into gross sin. At the very least, they discontinue public appearances with them. But now here’s a critical fact to help with the primary issue we’re considering. The apostle Paul dealt with aberrant theologians in precisely the same way as he dealt with immoral church members.

Compare these two statements. Concerning the immoral member of the Corinthian church, Paul directs, deliver such an one unto Satan (1 Cor. 5:5). Concerning Hymenaeus, who was teaching that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim. 2:17), and Alexander (whose error may have been the same) Paul writes, I have delivered them unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20).

This isn’t to say, of course, that every instance of moral failure or doctrinal aberration demands such a severe response. My point is simply that Paul’s response to the one sort of threat to the church mirrors his response to the other sort. He didn’t exchange perspectives with men who persisted in immoral behavior. Neither did he do so with those who persisted in serious theological error. He didn’t take pains to display deferential respect toward whoremongers. Neither did he do so toward heretics. The two kinds of threats to the welfare of Christ’s church were handled in an equivalent way.

Conservative Evangelicals seem prepared to carry out 1 Corinthians 5:5 in cases of gross immorality. They rightly regard such behavior as disqualifying men from spiritual leadership, if not calling into question their very salvation. Have they considered the fact that Scripture takes an identical position toward heretical theologians? Examples of such heretics include, but certainly cannot be limited to, those who pervert the gospel by adding works to faith (Gal. 1–2), who forbid to marry and command to abstain from certain foods (1 Tim. 4:1–3), who turn away from the once-for-all High Priestly work of Jesus Christ through His blood (Heb. 10:29), who deny the reality of the Son of God’s incarnation (1 John 4:3) or resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12), who abandon any of the cardinal doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ (2 John 9), who twist the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16), or who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned (Rom. 16:17).

What, then, ought Evangelicals to be doing when they discover these teachers of error within their ministry organizations? To be continued tomorrow.

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.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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