February 11, 2011

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

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Several new articles are being prepared for publication next week at IDOTG. The first is a major article addressing one of the star personalites of the so-called conservative evangelicalism. Plus a related, short series to follow on biblical separation. This archived article A Pure Church or a Pure Gospel: Does it Really Matter first appeared on June 13, 2010.

In his July 2010 article There is a Difference and It’s a Name Changer Evangelist Gordon Phillips noted,
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 [Gordon Phillips] 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.

If it is, buyers beware because they are trying to sell us a lemon.

Gordon Phillips and his family reside in Harvey, North Dakota and he administers the Faith, Theology & Ministry blog.

For related reading, continue to:
Al Mohler Signs The Manhattan Declaration, Part 2: Was This a First Time Foray Toward Ecumenism?
Al Mohler Signs The Manhattan Declaration: Is This a Clear Case for “Gospel-Driven Separation?”


  1. Lou-

    I am not sure if this is the best article for this question, but since it goes in the separation pile and several men mentioned here are Covenantal, I figure this one is good enough.

    How many of these Evangelical/Ecumenical men ever favorably quote Dispensationalists in their writings or sermons? The only kinds of references to Dispensationalists I am aware of are denouncements exuding the utmost disdain. Generally, they seem to treat us the same as they treat heretics like Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, and the various cults. (Perhaps I am just not widely read enough and just don't know the whole of it.)

    How many of them ever appear at, or have, Dispensationalists appear at their conferences?

    How many of these Covenantal men ever show friendship to Dispensational men or institutions, except for the purpose of infiltration/"evangelism" (to their theological position)?

    When there is movement of the two groups "toward" each other, how far do the Covenantalists move, or is it ALWAYS the Dispensational men who do the moving?

    How is Dispensationalism and Dispensational truth STRENGTHENED and ADVANCED by these alliances? I think this is an especially important question in these (clearly) last days.

    Is it just me or does anyone else detect a theme here?



  2. One more question.

    Do any of these Evangelical/Covenantal men ever come to the defense of Dispensational/Fundamental men when they are attacked (for whatever reason), like Bauder, et al are coming to the defense of Mohler, et al? Or is this yet another (seemingly) one way street?


  3. Jan:

    At work, so a quick reply. Not sure on some of the specifics imbedded in your questions, but I do know this.

    The men in evangelicalism are NOT changing. They are still militant non-separatists, preach the false, works based, non-saving Lordship Salvation, you also have Charismatic theology and worldliness in ministry among them.

    So, we have and are witnessing, despite their denials and protests to the contrary, men in IFB circles becoming increasingly tolerant of, allowing for and excusing the various doctrinal aberrations and disturbing inconsistencies of the evangelicals to have fellowship and cooperative ministries with them such as Doran and Bauder at Lansdale next week to share the platform with SBC pastor, Mark Dever

    The rallying point is what some call a “pure gospel,” which is Calvinistic soteriology in the form of Lordship Salvation.

    This is a one way street, and it isn’t the evangelicals moving in our direction.


  4. Jan,

    A couple of quick answers:

    Regarding dispensationalism and covenant theology, MacArthur is a dispensationalist, and he speaks with some of the men listed as well so they are not completely antagonistic to dispensationalism. (though they are mostly covenant theologians)

    Regarding defense of fundamentalists, Piper has stated a few different times on his blog his respect for fundamentalists (in part because his dad was one)

    Examples: "Praise God for Fundamentalists" http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/praise-god-for-fundamentalists

    "20 Reasons I don't take potshots at Fundamentalists" http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/20-reasons-i-dont-take-potshots-at-fundamentalists

  5. Ed:

    I’ll allow for Jan to follow up with you, but you might consider this. In the 1989 IFCA interview with John MacArthur the panel moderator asked MacArthur,

    “This will be the final question on dispensationalism. It has to do with your book, The Gospel According to Jesus. The question states, ‘It's heavily footnoted with reform theologians as well as including two prefaces by reformed men. Could you find no one from the dispensational pre-mil, pre-trib position to write support for your views’?”

    MacArthur replied, “I'm sure we could. The publisher made the choices. We had a number of people write those forewords. Part of the reason for that is to show...and I quoted a lot of people because I think through the years the reformed theology that has come out of the reformation or the doctrine of salvation has been most carefully and thoughtfully preserved in reform circles.”

    For more see- The IFCA Interview With John MacArthur


  6. Ed-

    Those were decent things of Piper to say.

    On MacArthur, I find his "leaky" Dispensationalism (his word) to be the real reason Covenantal men are willing to be friends with him. In fact, Miles Stanford has a quote of something John Gerstner once said about MacArthur:

    It looks as if John MacArthur is getting out of the vine (Dispensationalism). He has a very special place in my heart. He is a man of real ability, and he is one of the dispensationalists who, in my opinion, is realizing the burden of that doctrine.

    So MacArthur's Dispensationalism doesn't really count for much.

    I also think it odd that for a Dispensationalist, he seems to have so few Dispensational friends. All his peeps seem to be Reformed. Plus, he has a history of writing against Dispensational scholars. So I am wondering if maybe he isn't really doing a little bit of deliberate separating himself, not only from the world, but from Dispensationalists too.

    Then there is Dallas Seminary going Progressive Dispensational and dialoging with Covenantalists. They have rewritten Dispensational theology in order to try to fit in with the "in" crowd, but I haven't heard anything about any changes that have been made to Covenantal theology. So, who moved?


  7. James Kime:

    Months ago you were banned from this blog for vitriol and personal ad hominem attacks. You are still banned! I noted how SI is very tolerant of your rhetoric, but you are not welcome to bring it here again. The comment you submitted will not appear here.