June 13, 2010

A Pure Church or a Pure Gospel: Does it Really Matter?

On June 4 I published Kevin Bauder Discussing: Al Mohler’s “Occasional Inconsistency?” Dr. Bauder’s remarks on Al Mohler signing the Manhattan Declaration (MD) reveals a drift toward compromise under the banner of tolerance. A drift very similar to that of another self described biblical separatist who determined signing the MD was merely a “wrong decision based on bad judgment.” In the thread Evangelist Gordon Phillips contributed a comment that I excerpted and added to the main article. He wrote,

I disagree with Dr. Bauder that Dr. Mohler was inconsistent to his own principles in the matter. On the contrary, I believe that Dr. Mohler revealed to us his principles by signing the MD.”
Afterward Brother Gordon developed additional commentary in regard to Kevin Bauder Discussing: Al Mohler’s “Occasional Inconsistency?” With his additional commentary, that serves as a companion article, I am welcoming Evangelist Gordon Phillips, a first time guest contributor.

I recently ran across this statement from Dr. Kevin Bauder,
It has been suggested that we practice ecclesiastical separation because we are concerned about the purity of the church. Strictly speaking, that is not true. We practice ecclesiastical separation because we are concerned about the purity of the gospel. Christian fellowship and unity are created by the gospel, and they cannot exist where the gospel is denied. (Thinking About the Gospel,
Part Five: The Gospel and Christian Fellowship, In the Nick of Time blog, accessed June 7, 2010.)
In reading those words I initially sensed that it may contain an intentional, but very subtle swipe at the work of one of his renowned predecessors at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Ernest Pickering. Dr. Pickering’s book, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, would be considered a primer for this generation on the Biblical principles and historical context that are the foundations of Fundamentalism’s belief and practice of ecclesiastical separation. Now if Dr. Bauder’s words were only that, it would be sad to see but not worth mentioning. There, however, appears to be more to be concerned about in his statement than just what may be a veiled swipe at Dr. Pickering’s work.

Have we and do we as Fundamentalists practice ecclesiastical separation because of concerns for a pure church or a pure Gospel? Does it matter which it is and is there any appreciable difference between the two?

Is it possible this may be a purposeful narrowing of the definition of ecclesiastical separation, which if widely adopted by Fundamentalists would result in a paradigm shift in our practice of and fidelity to the God-given mandates?

For his part, Dr. Pickering in his book acknowledges his complete agreement with this statement from Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, The Basis of Christian Unity,
My contention is that the teaching of the New Testament is quite clear about this, that there is an absolute foundation, an irreducible minimum, without which the term Christian is meaningless, and without subscribing to which a man is not a Christian. That is “the foundation of the apostles and prophets”—the doctrine concerning “Jesus Christ and him crucified” and “justification by faith only.” . . . Apart from that there is no such thing as fellowship, no basis of unity at all. (p. 182.)
While there may be wide agreement that belief in the cardinal doctrines of Jesus Christ and salvation are an irreducible minimum for recognition of someone being a Christian and, therefore, the beginning point of Christian fellowship and unity, are they a sufficient enough basis in and of themselves for fellowship and unity? It would seem that nature itself would instruct us that irreducible minimums, though true and real beginning points, are hardly points from which most things properly function.

Dr. Fred Moritz in Contending for the Faith writes,
To this point, Jude has emphasized the theological nature of New Testament faith. God has revealed Himself to men in His Word. Christians must earnestly contend for that faith and stand against those who pervert God’s grace and deny God’s Son. But that is not all there is to Bible Christianity. New Testament Christianity also demands an intimate walk with the Lord. (p.133)
If there is more to fellowshipping with someone other than that they are barely within the irreducible limits of being a Christian, ecclesiastical separation that is concerned with the purity of the Gospel seems to fail in acknowledging that fact. I see at least two possible gaps created by focusing on a pure Gospel as opposed to a pure church. First, it seems that it would encourage far ranging fellowship and unity with all groups and sects within professing Christianity. While it is true that all professing believers would by default be on record concerning the Gospel, we are not even remotely rowing in the same direction after that point. If the Gospel is important, and it is, then what is built upon it after we are saved must be important too. If not, then just being saved would be an acceptable end to itself. Secondly, if ecclesiastical separation is focused on the purity of the Gospel, then it would seem that believers could join with non-believers in endeavors under a larger religious banner where the purity of the Gospel is perceived to not be at risk.

Dr. Al Mohler, Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary appears to say exactly that in explaining why he could with a clear conscience sign The Manhattan Declaration (TMD). He wrote,
I signed The Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity. I cannot and do not sign documents such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together that attempt to establish common ground on vast theological terrain. I could not sign a statement that purports, for example, to bridge the divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on the doctrine of justification. The Manhattan Declaration is not a manifesto for united action. It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues — the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the defense of religious liberty.

My beliefs concerning the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches have not changed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches doctrines that I find both unbiblical and abhorrent — and these doctrines define nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But The Manhattan Declaration does not attempt to establish common ground on these doctrines. We remain who we are, and we concede no doctrinal ground. (Why I Signed the Manhattan Declaration, Nov. 23, 2009, (accessed June 7, 2010)
Meanwhile, fellow conservative evangelical, Dr. John MacArthur cited his primary concern over the purity of the Gospel as why he could not sign the same document.
Here are the main reasons I am not signing the Manhattan Declaration, even though a few men whom I love and respect have already affixed their names to it:

Although I obviously agree with the document’s opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion. . . the document falls far short of identifying the one true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity’s moral ills: the gospel [emphasis JM]. The gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration. . . Yet the gospel itself is nowhere presented (much less explained) in the document or any of the accompanying literature. Indeed, that would be a practical impossibility because of the contradictory views held by the broad range of signatories regarding what the gospel teaches and what it means to be a Christian.

The Declaration therefore constitutes a formal avowal of brotherhood between Evangelical signatories and purveyors of different gospels. . . Thus for the sake of issuing a manifesto decrying certain moral and political issues, the Declaration obscures both the importance of the gospel and the very substance of the gospel message.

In short, support for The Manhattan Declaration would not only contradict the stance I have taken since long before the original “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document was issued; it would also tacitly relegate the very essence of gospel truth to the level of a secondary issue. That is the wrong way—perhaps the very worst way—for evangelicals to address the moral and political crises of our time. Anything that silences, sidelines, or relegates the gospel to secondary status is antithetical to the principles we affirm when we call ourselves evangelicals. [Emphasis added except where noted otherwise] (The Manhattan Declaration, Nov. 24, 2010 (accessed June 7, 2010)
Though these two men came to different conclusions about TMD, they both primarily considered the same matter in their individual decisions--the purity of the Gospel. Now the purity of the Gospel should be an important consideration in whether to sign or not to sign such statements; however, a statement of belief or unbelief in the Gospel within a document should not be the only consideration. The Scriptures command us not just to avoid being linked to unbelief, but also to associations with unbelievers. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14) It appears that neither man believed that by signing TMD he or anyone else would be in an unbiblical union with unbelievers. For his part, Dr. Mohler believes he remains who he was before he signed it, and Dr. John MacArthur affirms as much by still giving those that signed it his respect. Biblically, however, we are to keep ourselves pure; we are not to be partakers of other men’s sin.

Finally, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the ministry of the Gospel is more than delivering a pure Gospel to the lost. The ministry of the Gospel must be in power, in spirit, and in much assurance. (1 Thess. 1:5) These necessary things fall within the concerns of a pure church, but they can be off the radar screen when we reduce our concern to a pure Gospel. I intend to concede no Biblical ground away from a pure church to retreat to a position of a pure Gospel. I trust others would be willing to join me in holding this ground as

this narrow definition has all the appearance of a subtle attempt to sell a repackaged, Evangelical-style ecclesiastical separation to Fundamentalists.


    From D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, volume 2, Jan. 23 entry:

    One of the most striking evidences of sinful human nature lies in the universal propensity for downward drift. In other words, it takes thought, resolve, energy, and effort to bring about reform. In the grace of God, sometimes human beings display such virtues. But where such virtues are absent, the drift is invariably toward compromise, comfort, indiscipline, sliding disobedience and decay that advances, sometimes at a crawl and sometimes at a gallop, across generations.

    People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

    We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated
    .” (bold added)

    I could not help but recognize that Carson’s comments (in bold above) describes the drift we are seeing from men like Kevin Bauder and Dave Doran when it comes to the men and actions of the so-called conservative evangelicalism.

    To dismiss Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan signing the Manhattan Declaration as merely a, “wrong decision based on bad judgment,” (Doran) and “occasional inconsistency…single episode,” (Bauder) has the look and feel of a “downward drift toward compromise” of the Scriptures (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Rom. 16:17), in the form of calls for tolerance.

  2. Gordon:

    Dr. Moritz wrote another book titled Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation, which has elements that enhances your commentary in this article. Here is an excerpt from pp. 82-83,

    “An objective study of the New Testament leads first to the conclusion that the New Testament teaches that there are times when local churches and believers must reluctantly take the action of separating themselves from other believers. The purpose of such separation is purity. The local church is to take the extreme action of separation from a disobedient brother when necessary in order to preserve its purity of life and testimony. Restoration is to always be the goal, and the act of separation is to be the last resort.

    The second conclusion is that the New Testament also sets clear standards for that separation when it must be made. Those standards include the following . . .The sinning brother (Matt. 18:15-17)…The immoral brother (1 Cor. 5:11)…The unequally yoked brother…(1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14)…The lazy brother (2 Thess. 3:6-15)…The disobedient brother…(2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6-14)…The heretical brother (Titus 3:10).” [bold added]

    The excerpt above is directed to the local church. Why this is relevant is because we have men in Fundamentalist, separatist circles who would not hesitate to make a personal application of the principles for Christian separation, defined above by Dr. Moritz, if a member of their local church crossed into one of those categories. Some, however, are calling for and themselves opening the doors to our churches, colleges/seminaries and fellowships to so-called conservative evangelicals who can be numbered among the disobedient as Dr. Moritz defines them above from the Scriptures.

    Isn’t this at its worst the compromise of scriptural principles for the sake of tolerance and a selective application of the principles for the sake of fostering fellowship with preferred favorites?


  3. Lou,

    You wrote, "Isn’t this at its worst the compromise of scriptural principles for the sake of tolerance and a selective application of the principles for the sake of fostering fellowship with preferred favorites?"

    It use to be. What this makes plain is that the proper objective in separation should not be a matter of indifference to the faithful because according to this purity-of-the-Gospel vantage point of separation such actions are no longer viewed as compromise. When the principles are changed, the outcomes are too. Since the Scriptural commands have not change, the only way to have change is to stand in a different spot, gain a "fresh" perspective, and be surprised at how one can now do things that before he could not.

  4. Lou, in your addendum you brought out the two critical passages that we must use for our light in this issue of what to do with the CE men. Romans 16:17 and II Thess. 3:6, 14, 15. Paul is very clear in telling these two churches (not individuals, but a local assembly of believers) who they are to separate from within the realm of professing believers. The Scriptural criteria is "the doctrine," from Rom. 16:17; "the tradition," and "our word by this epistle." Rom. 16:17 by itself is enough to warrant a separating from anyone of the current CE leaders for they fail "the doctrine" test that I understand when I see what I profess compared to what they profess. Our "doctrine" is different at various junctures which the Scriptures then tell me I must mark and avoid these men. Too many men who profess to be Fundamentalists throughout the decades have tried to change, or reduce the criteria for separation in order to allow some sort of association with the more conservative elements within New Evangelicalism. This has commonly been called Compromise and rightly so. The only one compromising is the supposed Fundamentalist because he is the one loosing ground, the New Evangelical doesn't move from his position. Sadly, it is the younger generations that are damaged the most by this compromise because they will take greater strides than their mentors in compromising their beliefs for the sake of fellowship, cooperation, etc.

  5. Brian:

    I really appreciate your insights here, they are spot on.

    Too many men who profess to be Fundamentalists throughout the decades have tried to change, or reduce the criteria for separation in order to allow some sort of association with the more conservative elements within New Evangelicalism. This has commonly been called Compromise and rightly so.

    The only one compromising is the supposed Fundamentalist because he is the one loosing ground, the New Evangelical doesn't move from his position.”

    You are right in that it is the self described Fundamentalist or separatist who is, “loosing ground”, i.e., surrendering ground. He is the one that is giving ground to have fellowship with the ce men. There is NOT one of these so-called “conservative” evangelicals I am aware who is moving in the direction of fidelity toward the mandates such as 2 Cor. 6:14; 2 Thess. 6:14-15; Rom. 16:17. In fact quite the opposite with Mohler signing the MD and Piper’s invite of Rick Warren to DG being two recent stark examples. We do, however, see a shift a way from these mandates by men like Bauder and Doran to have their fellowship with the ce men. As Gordon noted in regard to ecclesiastical separation it appears there is a paradigm shift taking place to redirect and redefine the boundaries, i.e., the center ground.

    So, who is moving; who is compromising? The men who claim a heritage as Fundamentalists and/or biblical separatists are drifting. This is irrefutable and IMO it is only going to get worse because once you get on a downward trajectory typically you never reverse course or recover from it.

    Sadly, it is the younger generations that are damaged the most by this compromise because they will take greater strides than their mentors in compromising their beliefs for the sake of fellowship, cooperation, etc.

    It’s been said in child-rearing what you (the parent) allows for in moderation the children will take to an extreme. The same is and will continue to happen as some of the more mature lead the next generation to the extremes through these incremental steps of compromise today.

    Thanks for raising these concerns.


  6. Brian and Lou,

    Yes, it is the younger generation that must be instructed in the soundness of Biblical separation less they be swept away by the “good words” and fair speeches” of men whose deft philosophical analogies of separation and fellowship sound good but which will in the end only prejudice men against the plain truth of the Scriptures.

  7. Lou,

    I think that a few quotes from Dr.Pickering's The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism are in order. Both of these quotes come from under the heading Special Issue--Ecclesiastical Separation.

    Dr. Pickering wrote: "One of the chief differences between New Evangelicals and fundamentalists concerns the views of each regarding what we call 'ecclesiastical separation.' Fundamentalist separatists believe that there should be complete separation from all churches and fellowships of churches that tolerate unbelief or compromise with error. In contrasting fundamentalism and evangelicalism, [J. Randall] Peterson observed, 'The spirit of evangelicalism . . . is more amiable. We consider it important to maintain fellowship with other Christians, even if they are mistaken on certain issues, especially if they can join us in advancing the gospel.' This observation is quite typical of the general attitude of New Evangelicals--'let us compromise doctrinal matters for the sake of evangelism.'

    How are Peterson's observations of the NE's MO on fellowship around evangelism (i.e. the Gospel) at the expense of the overall purity of the church appreciably different from what we are witnessing today from the CE's or even Dr. Bauder and Dr. Doran?

    Dr. Pickering also wrote: "In further exploring the reason that early New Evangelicals steered away from the principle of ecclesiastical separation, we need to note the fact that their concept of the purpose of the church was different from that of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists have generally held what is called the 'Donatist' concept of the church over the 'Augustinian' view. That is, they place a primary importance upon the holiness of the visible church over the unity of the visible church. Augustine, an early leader and scholar of the church, fought against the Donatists who were separatists and who would not fellowship with elements of the visible church that they deemed as compromising. Augustine's concern for unity within the church tended to undermine the scriptural goal of purity within the church. Fundamentalist separatists today believe that the purpose of the visible churches is not merely to maintain an outward unity at all costs but to preserve and defend the truth of God and the purity of the body of Christ."

    Do Dr. Bauder's words reveal an Augustinian view or a Donatists view of the church? Historically, the answer to that question defined in which movement men were. Is this no longer the case? Dr. Bauder's present series on the differences between fundamentalism and the CE's lacks this real and precise line of demarcation. Why?