Ordinary Disciple-Making

The Command: Make Disciples

If we are going to study evangelism and discipleship, then we need to be sure it’s actually an obligation. Why study it, if it’s not something required of us? Making disciples is in fact a command.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The entire “evangelism & discipleship” course is comprehended in this text.

Notice exactly what is contained in the Great Commission. Jesus doesn’t just tell us a goal. He doesn’t just say “make disciples” and nothing else; he doesn’t give us the goal, and then leave us to decide how to achieve that goal. No. He actually tells us how. So if you want disciple-making according to Jesus, here it is. He says “make disciples.” That’s the goal. And he tells the disciples how to achieve that goal.

  • Goal: make disciples
  • How to achieve it: 1. Baptize 2. Teach everything.

How do you make disciples? Baptizing and teaching everything. That’s it! It’s doesn’t get simpler than that. And we see exactly this in the book of Acts. We see the inspired, inerrant, authoritative record of how the Apostles understood the Great Commission and their obedience to it. And it’s what Jesus said: Word and Sacrament. We see disciple-making in more detail in Acts 2:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2:41-42

Peter preached the Word, and baptism followed faith and repentance. Then, they devoted themselves to more of the Word, and the other sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. This is obedience to the Great Commission.

Again, not complicated. The picture is simple. Making disciples may be hard work, but it’s not hard to understand. If disciplemaking is complicated, then it’s because we have made it that way. That’s not by Christ’s design.

What does disciple-making look like? What does obedience to the Great Commission look like? It looks like what the Apostle’s did in the book of Acts. It’s ordinary “means of grace” ministry.

To quickly apply this: if our method of making disciples doesn’t look like that [Acts 2:41-42], then we’re doing it wrong.

Hence, our Westminster Shorter Catechism asks:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.  (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-42)

Notice the proof texts! The texts we have studied. The Catechism has simply formulated what the Scripture says. This is what making disciples looks like in Scripture. It’s what Jesus commanded, it’s what the Apostles carried out.

You see, God in his Word has not just given us a mission: make disciples. He has also given us the means of making disciples; the instruments to carry out the mission. We don’t need, nor are we at liberty to, invent our own means for making disciples. As if God has left us unequipped to accomplish the mission. We are not at liberty to ignore his means in favor of “new measures.” As if we are wiser than God. “Thanks, Lord Jesus, but we have a better way.” The Lord Jesus has not just given us optional tools, but he has ordained, commanded that we use these outward and ordinary means.

*Side note: this should be really encouraging to you who are studying evangelism and discipleship. If Scripture actually prescribes something, then we are actually limited in what we need to study. The subject has been simplified, for us.

The Lord Jesus has ordained the means to make disciples. And these means are consistent with the theology of Scripture. That should make sense: God will not contradict who he is and what he has said. And so, as we look at and discuss methods of evangelism and discipleship, we must remember that they must never contradict the doctrine and practice of Scripture. That’s why our Standards formulate both doctrine and practice (such as the Shorter Catechism, above). Theology must drive methodology.

God has ordained the means of making disciples. There is a divinely established relationship between the salvation of sinners and the outward means. They are not identical (that’s Rome), but they are distinct. Meaning, God is not dependent on the means. Case in point: the thief on the cross was saved by faith, apart from baptism. They are the ordinary means, but not necessary (i.e. God is not bound by them, grace is not attached to them).

However, if you think the inward grace and the outward means are separate (like most evangelicals), obviously that will result in a different methodology. Evangelicalism has effectively replaced the ordinary means with other rituals.

[A] lack of belief in the divine nature of the Church, the ordinary means of grace, and the pastoral office, lead to the belief that these things could be safely abandoned or ignored when they don’t seem to be working. This led Finney to seek better methods in the form of specially designed meetings and methods that, in Finney’s estimation, were more effective in producing converts and advancing the Gospel. Special revival meetings and other novelties were continually needed to advance the Gospel. Because the Church has so little life and power, and no divine mandate for her traditional methods, new excitements must therefore be continually sought.

—Dahlfred, Karl . Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the Theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin (p. 109).  . Kindle Edition.

We’ll look briefly at one of these ordinary and outward means: the Word. This is the primary ordinance, which defines the others.

Again, from our Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.  (Neh 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Rom 10:14-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17)

Just like Jesus said: teach the Word. And just as the Apostles did: the Word was preached and 3,000 were convinced and converted, then they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.

What does the catechism mean by “effectual to salvation”? Effectual means it actually gives the effect, it actually achieves the result for which it’s designed: salvation. The instrument will actually work. How then, do the instruments work? How are the outward and ordinary means made effective? The Holy Spirit makes them work. See, they don’t work on their own (as Rome says). Neither does grace ordinarily come apart from them (evangelicalism). The effect comes from the work of the Spirit of God.

It’s God the Holy Spirit that makes the Word work. Without him, there will be no effect, no salvation. The Holy Spirit works by and with the Word, as our Confession says. Notice, that especially the preaching of the Word is made an effectual means of salvation. Preaching has priority over reading. Preaching happens in church, on the Lord’s Day. The vast majority of the emphasis is placed on preaching, in the New Testament. Also, it’s simply a historical fact that the public preaching of the Word has always been a part of the Christian life, while personal Bible reading has not. What percentage of believers throughout history have even possessed a personal copy of God’s Word? When was the printing press invented?

To quickly apply this: an method of discipleship that puts all the emphasis on personal Bible reading and study is not only out of touch with the Westminster Standards (following Scripture), but with church history as well.

The Holy Spirit makes the Word effective in convincing, persuading, changing the minds of the sinner. Of converting them, turning them away from sin and towards Christ. After they have been “evangelized,” the Word is continually made effective to build them up in holiness, sanctifying them. That’s the rest of the Christian life (discipleship). The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God effective as the primary means of making disciples.

That’s just a taste, as we will go more in depth later on.

Another Reformed Creed says the same thing:

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

Canons of Dort 1.3

If you want God-given results, you must use the God-given means. As G.I. Williamson says, “What we need, then, is not only to seek eternal life, but to seek it in the right way.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes, Kindle Location 3184). As I told my high school students: seek God’s grace in God’s way.

And now to you: seek the salvation of sinners, but seek it in the right way. Offer God’s grace to sinners in God’s way. Make disciples of Jesus, and do it Jesus’ way.

As Francis Schaeffer famously said: “we must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.”

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“Papa Jesus” Debate

(Try reading that title with a straight face)

You can’t get any more basic than the doctrine of God. But apparently, for some, that is still asking too much.

My opinion: the “evangelical” brand of Christianity has fallen so low below the bar that even the most basic doctrines of the faith are thought of as advanced, academic, and not worth the trouble. Like when a person gets “high” all the time, what was once normal for the body now feels “low.” Evangelicalism is something like the opposite of that. It has fallen so low, for so long, that to even expect accurate speech about the nature of our Triune God is rejected as silly, not a big deal, not major, and “high-horse.”

I learned that (again), yesterday.

The day after Christmas, I was scrolling Facebook. What do I see? “Happy Birthday Papa Jesus.” Oh my. I have known for years that it was a thing. And here it was. So what did I do? I posted a status of my own:

To everyone who said “Happy Birthday Papa Jesus” yesterday, it’s really simple: the SON is NOT the Father.

Simple. Concise. To the point. Most importantly of all, biblical.

When I posted that status, I was making a correction that should have been above disagreement for Christians. If anyone was going to disagree with me, it would have to have been a nominal Roman Catholic or someone who denies the Trinity. A non-Christian, in other words.

Lo and behold! People who claim to believe the Bible were half of the ones disagreeing.

Biblically, the post was really simple. I even said that. Not complicated in the least.

One thing that did complicate the issue was losing sight of the words themselves and the simple correction based on the facts of Scripture. Debate is fruitless when the focus shifts from the facts of the matter to speculations about feelings, attitude, motives, etc.

Anyway, after disagreement began mounting, and as the “likes” of the post multiplied, others came in to defend it. And I thought to myself,

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Soon enough, there was a debate.

I actively avoid debating on social media. Debate is good, as evidenced by the Apostles, I just don’t find social media a helpful medium for it. Rarely will I give a response or go back and forth with someone. It’s that I don’t believe social media is conducive to healthy debate. So, I go and chain myself up and resist the impulse. Hence, the small total of 3 comments from me on my own timeline under my status. One of them was a smiley.

However, this issue is “absolutely necessary,” as a friend put it. For that reason, I will now give a run down on various angles of this issue.

To a Trinitarian, my post was self-evidently true. To someone who takes Scripture seriously, my post was self-evidently true. To someone who understands that God’s Word, rather than sentiment, is the norm of our speech, my post was self-evidently true.

Since there turned out to be a debate over it, that was evidently (!) not true of everyone. Hence, this long explanation you are beginning to read.

And I’m still flabbergasted that I need to defend the impropriety of saying “Happy Birthday Papa Jesus” to people who believe the Bible, among others. But, here we are.

Biblical Norms

God requires us to worship him, the true God, alone. And in the way he says. Also, we are speak of him, or regard his self-revelation, in the way he says. Those are the first 3 commandments of the Law.

God does care about our thoughts and words regarding him. If he did not care, then I’m not sure why he gave us a library of inspired writings (66 books of the Bible) to reveal himself to us. And the Word of God is the only infallible rule for faith and life.

That is why little phrases like “Papa Jesus” need to be corrected. It may not seem like a big deal. But our perception is not what matters. If God has revealed himself, then we are obligated to think and speak of him according to that revelation. If God has told us that we will give an account of every word that we speak (and he has), then we had better speak the truth about him.

If I was referring to your spouse in a way that contradicted who they actually are, then you may care a little bit. That scenario only passingly resembles our referring to Jesus Christ incorrectly. He is an infinitely bigger deal.

Context?

The cultural and religious context of this phrase is irrelevant regarding its falsity. Truth is not relative, culturally or otherwise. “Papa Jesus” isn’t wrong for some people in one country and acceptable for different people in another country. It’s inaccurate, period. It is likewise irrelevant whether the one uttering such nonsense is a nominal Roman Catholic. “Oh, okay.” What if a Protestant said it? What if a Unitarian said it? Is correction suddenly not allowed, in their cases?

I was reminded of one Sunday “worship experience,” in an evangelical church, in the states, where I heard a similar statement. It was Father’s Day. The “worship pastor” was jamming away and said: “Happy Father’s Day to Jesus.” I couldn’t believe my ears.

Now, because of the different context, would correction have been inappropriate?

The context of the “Papa Jesus” saying (a Roman Catholic country) doesn’t change the fact that to call Jesus Christ “Papa” (like, Father) is wrong. The personal property of the Son is sonship, obviously. The Father is the father, and him alone. Jesus is our elder brother by adoption, as he has made us heirs. Christ don’t have any babies. Jesus is the only begotten son of the Father. Jesus was always the Son, eternally, even before the incarnation (Merry Christmas, again). Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father.

What is really ironic is that Roman Catholics should be agreeing with everything above stated. Orthodox Roman Catholicism is Trinitarian! Where does that “Papa Jesus” nonsense come from, then? I actually don’t know. Perhaps it is just superstitious babble. Like many common phrases, there may not be a reason for it that anybody remembers. And it’s wrong, no matter what the rationale or the origin was.

Who I am talking to is irrelevant. It is inaccurate for anyone to refer to the Son as the Father. Either God has set norms for how we speak, or he hasn’t. The fact is that God has revealed himself as one God in three distinct persons, so that the Son is not the Father, and the Father is not the Son (and the Holy Spirit is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit, etc.). To contradict that revelation is unbiblical, and untrue. Again, very simple.

Some may excuse it as “not knowing any better.” But, has not God spoken, and clearly? Then “not knowing any better” is wrong in itself.

Such correction could be seen as condescending. However, the only “condescending” that happened is God’s condescension to make himself clearly known, which was a fact clearly being ignored in the objections and dismissed as unimportant. What was seen as important was sincerity, and that people were expressing how they felt about God. That would be missing the point.

Truth

All that being said, wrong is wrong. False is false. Jesus Christ revealed the Father, as he declared himself the Son. To call Christ “Papa” is to contradict what he’s said. Christ has told us who he is in his Word. Now, are we going to accept that, or keep referring to him as we please? Are you going to tell the truth, and uphold the truth, and consequently correct error, or not? To call Jesus “father” is simply not true.

The issue is not complicated.

I could simply ask, are you calling Jesus a liar? He said he’s the Son of God, and throughout the Gospels keeps distinguishing his own person from this other Divine Person he calls Father. I think we should adjust our language accordingly.

Or, perhaps you feel like expressing yourself and expect Jesus to be okay with that? Even if it contradicts what he said.

Last time I checked, God is the one who decides how we address him. God is the one who has the right to say how we must and must not to use his name. Hence, the 3rd Commandment. We are not to take the Lord’s name in vain. See? We cannot speak of God any way we please. We address God according to what he has revealed of himself to us. Those are the guidelines. Period.

If God doesn’t really care how we address him, then why did he give the 3rd Commandment? It doesn’t make sense. And all that is needed is that one example to show that God does, in fact, “mind.”

One may object, “But, God understands.” God does know all things. He’s certainly not confused by this unbiblical phrase, “Papa Jesus.” But, that doesn’t mean he is pleased by it, honored by it, or spoken of truthfully by it. Do not confuse understanding with accepting. Those are not synonyms. “I punched you in the face because I was so angry.” “I understand.” Does that mean I am okay with being punched in the face? Not at all. God may understand you, but it is still wrong, and to be corrected. Thank God for his grace. And as you should know from Paul, grace is no excuse to go on sinning.

God determines how we are to think about him and speak about him. If you are a Christian, you will agree that what the Bible teaches should make a difference in your everyday life, yes? Then let’s bring the theology down to street-level, for a minute: if you take God’s Word seriously, it will even determine how you talk. That’s an acid test for your theology. If the Bible is dwelling within you, it will change your language. Like about these common phrases that no one thinks about, like “Papa Jesus”? If the Word dwells in you richly, you will speak differently.

If you are filled with the Word of God, you’ll talk like it. It will provide the categories you think with, and determine the way you speak about everything. You will develop that oft neglected practice of thinking before you speak. Theologically, in this case.

Are you thinking God’s thoughts after him? Are your words true to God’s Words?

Consequently, if you don’t know the Scriptures, you will talk about God however you feel. Neither will you mind when others talk unbiblically about the Lord Jesus. You will be your own standard for how you speak.

The reality, however, is that God holds each and every person accountable for their thoughts, words, and actions. God’s Word is still the standard. You are either thinking and speaking according to God’s standard, or some other standard. And only one of those is acceptable.

The Implications

Still don’t think it’s a big deal? Well then, the next time you pray, thank the Father for dying on the cross for your sins. See how you feel about that.

Exactly.

I can hear the objection now: “But that’s different!”

Oh, so there’s a line somewhere that was crossed? Where is it, pray tell? Because once you say “Papa Jesus” is okay, I’m not sure how you can say “Father on the cross” is not. I’m thinking that line might be arbitrary.

Or, celebrate the birth of the Holy Spirit for Christmas. “But, it was the Son of God….”

See, once you allow a little compromise on the identity of Christ, there’s no logical stopping point. As a friend of mine very astutely noted, “Happy Birthday Papa Jesus” is “A half-step away from Sabellianism.” He was correct. What about “Papa and Spirit Jesus”? Ridiculous, you say? Logically, not at all.

There’s no line that you can then draw and say, “no further.” That line was way back at “the Son is not the Father.” And you said it’s not “a big deal.”

Not that I intend to sound snarky, but to me, Jesus is a big deal. Either God’s infallible revelation, the Word of Christ, is the authority over our language, or it is not. Choose your side of that line.

Oh, and once you say it doesn’t matter how we refer to Jesus Christ, you have surrendered all ground from which to defend against unitarianism, the belief that the one God is one person. Does that sound like a leap? It shouldn’t, for if we are not allowed to correct the “little” thing (Papa Jesus), then we are not allowed to correct the “big” thing (the Son = the Father). If we can’t simply correct a so-called “mistake” from Scripture, then we can’t correct the consciously developed heresy, either.

They believe in one God. They believe Jesus is God! So, if we are being consistent, that should be good enough, right? If the true God “doesn’t mind,” then I suggest you not evangelize anymore. After all, the Trinity-denying cult and the Trinitarian believer will end up in the same place, right? And we can just ask God to clear things up, together, right?

No. God has spoken clearly about that, already. So should we.

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The Gospel Cannot Be Altered

To put the question in another shape, “For what if some did not believe?” Will God alter his revealed truth? If some do not believe, will God change the gospel to suit them? Will he seek to please their depraved taste? Ought we to change our preaching because of “the spirit of the age”? Never; unless it be to fight “the spirit of the age” more desperately that ever. We ask for no terms between Christ and his enemies except these, unconditional surrender to him. He will bate not jot or tittle of his claims . . . If you wait till there is a revised version of the gospel, you will be lost. If you wait till there is a gospel brought out that will not cost you so much of giving up sin, or so much of bowing your proud necks, you will wait until you find yourself in hell. Come, I pray you, come even now, and believe the gospel. It cannot be altered to your taste; therefore alter yourself so as to meet its requirements.

—C.H. Spurgeon, “God Justified, Though Man Believes Not”, The Sermons of Charles Spurgeon: Vol. 1 loc. 2325

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Making Men Lords 

Westminster Larger Catechism 105:wlc-vos-cover

Q. What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the first commandment are . . . making men the lords of our faith and conscience. . .

1. What is meant by “making men the lords of our faith and conscience”?

This means making; mere human beings our authority in religion, so that we believe and do what they tell us to believe and do, not because of the teachings of God’s Word, but merely because of the influence or instruction of men. . . .

5. Are members of Protestant churches ever guilty of this sin?

Yes. Undoubtedly there are multitudes of careless Protestants who can give no better reason or higher authority for their faith and practice than the customs or teachings of their church, or the statements of their minister. To accept and obey the customs, teachings, and rules of a church, or the statements of a minister, without satisfying ourselves that they are in accordance with the Word of God, is wrong, for it amounts to making churches and ministers the lords of our faith and conscience. It is every Christian’s duty to search the Scriptures for himself, to learn whether the statements of his church and minister are true or not.

6. Are there Protestant churches that try to exercise authority over people’s faith and conscience?

Yes, there are. It is one of the evil signs of our time’s that some large and influential denominations which formerly regarded God’s Word as the only authority over men’s faith and conscience now are coming, more or less, to regard the voice of the church as equivalent to the voice of God. Such denominations are coining to demand of their ministers, officers, and people an absolute and unquestioning obedience to the decrees of conferences, General Assemblies, church boards, and agencies, and, it would even appear in some cases, to the utterances and orders of individual men who hold high positions in the denomination’s organization. . . This whole tendency is thoroughly perverse and wicked. As the voice of the church becomes more and more important, the Word of God is regarded as less and less important. In reality the voice of the church has weight and authority, to be believed and obeyed, only when it is in accord with the written Word of God.

—Johannes Geerhardus Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (ed. G.I. Williamson) loc. 3695-3712

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The Bible Tells Me So

All the Andy Stanley stuff (so far) in one place. This is for me as much as anyone else. Instead of tracking down each resources in this conversation each time I want to review, here they are, easy to find. This conversation isn’t over, so as developments continue, I’ll continue to add them to this post.

Why do I care? Why should you?

Because, this shows how foundational your view of Scripture is. And, how your theology will determine your apologetic. The way Christians treat the Scriptures is no joke. It’s a serious thing.

What is the church? What is apologetics? What’s the relationship between the church and the Bible? An unbiblical theology of the nature of God results in a sub-biblical apologetic, then that decays the highest view of Scripture, as James White says. These things go together.

That’s why this discussion, with the excellent criticism, is so important. James White’s evaluation of this issue on the Dividing Line is the main event, here. As James White points out in the 9/19 episode of the Dividing Line, this Andy Stanley thing provides the opportunity to talk about the intersection of so many things. Non-Reformed theology joins with a man-centered apologetic, together with “mere-Christianity.” It all comes together to form the weird things Stanley says on stage.

When someone with a global platform, talking to 32,000 people, says if the Old Testament vanished it wouldn’t undermine Christianity, there must be a response. “Liberal garbage,” says James White (How Theology Determines Apologetics, and So Much More, 2:01:01). I agree.

I think this post is appropriate first, regarding publicly addressing public error. Fittingly, it’s actually in response to flak the author received about critiquing Andy Stanley!

Read: Matthew 18 and the Universal Church

Andy Stanley has positioned himself to the far left in recent days regarding his approach to Scripture and his position on other key Christian doctrines.

—Josh Buice

Now, a bit of background. This issue isn’t coming out of the blue, just now. It’s merely the latest. Read: Andy Stanley’s Problem with the Bible

Finally, “The Dividing Line” with James White. Regarding the interview of Andy Stanley by Russell Moore at a conference and the sermon of Andy Stanley’s that started this whole thing, James White shows both, and critiques them point by point.

Here are the Dividing Line episodes, in order:

Then, James White actually went through with his idea, and preached “Unashamed of Inerrancy” at his church (Part 1, and Part 2).

Continuing with the Dividing Line:

Read this excellent article by David Prince, written the day after:

Andy Stanley’s Statements about the Bible are not Cutting Edge—They’re Old Liberalism

Now, the last episode of the Dividing Line, where James White examines Andy Stanley’s follow up, clarifying sermon. Also, the contrast of Frank Turek’s and James White’s response to the problem of evil is especially helpful.

“Liberal garbage,” says James White. I agree.

Dr. Frank Turek’s wrote an article in response which came out the same day as the last episode of the Diving Line:

Why Andy Stanley is Right About the Foundation of Christianity and How to Defend It

James White’s short comment about that article, on Facebook:

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-33-01-pm

That’s it, for now.

Update! James White reviews Dr. Turek’s article (above) in his first session of “Apologetics in the Sight of God” cruise:

On board the Celebrity Infinity as James R. White teaches the group.

Posted by Rich Pierce on Monday, September 12, 2016

 

Update: 9/19

“Finally the fuller portion of Russell Moore’s interview with Andy Stanley where Andy reads a letter from a lady who now considers herself to be “a part of” Stanley’s church. The lady is an atheist.”

Update: 9/20

Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, joins the conversation!

To put it differently, a person doesn’t have to believe in the truth of the Bible to be saved, but the Bible has to be true for them to be saved.

Read: Is the Bible Foundational to Christianity? Engaging with Andy Stanley

James White put out another episode of the Dividing Line, and actually mentions Michael Kruger’s article: “We’re saying the same things.” The part related to Andy Stanley begins at 22:55, “back to the Russell Moore/Andy Stanley discussion, once again noting fundamental issues of ecclesiology and Scriptural authority lying at the root of the topic.”

Update: 9/22

Update: 9/26

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an essay on this issue:

This is an apologetic disaster and would leave Christians with no authoritative Scripture. Instead, we would be dependent upon historians (among others) to tell us what parts of both testaments we can still believe.

Those parts will inevitably grow fewer and fewer. This is what must happen when the total trustworthiness, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible is subverted.

We are back with Friedrich Schleiermacher, trying to convince the “de-converted” of his day that Christianity can be retained as an intellectually defensible morality and spirituality without its central truth claims and doctrines.

Andy Stanley is no Friedrich Schleiermacher, but the path he charts for the church is a road to abject disaster.

—”For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denied … Again

This essay is also be a reminder of why church history is important. If we are not students of church history, then we’ll be surprised that the church has been down this road before.

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Christian Education is about Obedience

michael-%22grandpa-mike%22-lawson-dts-photo
dts.edu

I don’t know how many of you were raised in public school, that’s where I spent my “imprisonment.” Nobody ever asked me whether I actually used anything. They just, you know, you would get to pass to the next grade, and closer to parole, if you pass the tests. That’s all anybody cared about. So you just pass the test, you just pass the test, move from one year to the next.

That is not Christian education. Christian education is about obedience. So when we assess how we’re doing in Christian education, we cannot just assess knowledge. . . “Well how are we going to figure out if you’re obedient?” Well you’re going to have to get a lot closer to people.

—Mike Lawson, CE102-05-03 – Unique Features of Christian Education Part 1, “History & Philosophy of Christian Education

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Stop Worshiping

Previously: Keep the Truth, or Keep the Peace? and Unity by Sacrificing Truth

Leaving a church is a big deal. It’s a serious decision, not one to be taken lightly or made hastily. There is a huge, blurry, gray area between the extremes of never leaving a congregation no matter what and being promiscuous with Christian community (neither of which are biblical).

There are many factors at play in this decision. J. C. Ryle helps out with one element: the doctrine preached.

True Doctrine

He who deliberately settles down under any ministry which is unsound, is a very unwise man. . . . But I do believe, if false doctrine is preached in a local church, a Christian who loves his soul is quite right in not going to that local church. To hear unscriptural teaching fifty-two Sundays in every year is a serious thing. It is a continual dropping of slow poison into the mind! I think it almost impossible for a man willfully to submit himself to it, and not be harmed.

—J.C. Ryle, “The Fallibility of Ministers

Since stating the obvious is always helpful, I’ll say this: the local church does not replace your brain. The pastor does not replace your personal judgment. You do not surrender your responsibility to discern. God in his word has made it clear that you are personally responsible to distinguish between truth and error.

Now, the church is supposed to help with that, and actually train the people to do that. But, sinful as we are, sometimes the opposite is done. Sometimes false doctrine is being peddled to the congregation. And you as a student of Christ with the Bible in your hand are responsible to detect when the teaching is contrary to sound doctrine.

Do you think it might be a good idea for you to stop worshiping at that church, then? J. C. Ryle thinks so:

I see in the New Testament we are plainly told to “Test everything” and “Hold on to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I see in the Book of Proverbs that we are commanded to “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27). If these words do not justify a man in ceasing to worship at a church, if positively false doctrine is preached in it, I do not know what words can.

Does any one mean to tell us, that to attend your local denominational church is absolutely needful to a person’s salvation? If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

If false doctrine is being preached, then you are justified in leaving that local church, according to the mandates of Scripture.

Notice that question of Ryle’s regarding a denominational church. He’s pointing out an objection that is still around today. There are believers, who out of loyalty to their denomination (or non-denomination), will never leave their local congregation no matter what. Even if false doctrine is preached, it would be wrong to leave the church, because it’s our denomination! Non-denomination, movement, whatever label you prefer, that tendency is still there. I know first hand. I’ve seen it.

Ryle asks why would you stay even in the face of the preaching of false doctrine? Will leaving the denominational church compromise your salvation? If anyone dares make such a preposterous claim, please, step up to the microphone so everyone can hear you.

Now, if that wasn’t far enough, Ryle points out this ugly fact of life:

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than Roman Catholicism. Ought the congregation of such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly? They ought not. And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

Ouch. That hasn’t changed since Ryle’s time, either. I was just reading yesterday this excellent article by K. Scott Oliphint. Evangelical seminary graduates are sliding over to Rome, partly because they already have epistemology and synergism in common. As Oliphint says, “In agreement with Rome, these authors were taught that “God is not a divine rapist” (p. 53); conversion is not a monergistic work of God, but is synergistic.”

Evangelicalism (in the theological sense of the word) is very similar to Roman Catholicism. “By evangelicalism we mean . . . the general non-Reformed Protestantism” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Edition, pg. 308; also Defending the Faith kindle loc. 36). In other words, Arminianism. So there are not only outward similarities in evangelical practice (like moralism, the authority given to pastors), and preaching (Law without Gospel), but also presuppositionally. If you want to look into that, read The Defense of the Faith (4th Edition) by Cornelius Van Til, where he says “evangelicalism has retained something of Roman Catholicism both in its view of man and in its view of God” (pg. 102). Some of the essays in the book were first published as a six-part series which is available for free: Defending the Faith.

The migration of Evangelicals to Rome would not be so easy if evangelical churches weren’t already teaching like Rome. I know of a Roman Catholic who visited a large, popular, local evangelical church. After the service concluded, she commented: “it’s not that different.” That’s the kiss of death, right there.

That’s not even as bad as Christians, who believe in justification through faith alone, choosing to remain in the Roman Catholic church and attend the mass.

J. C. Ryle keeps going:

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than morality. The distinctive doctrines of Christianity are never clearly proclaimed. Plato, or Seneca, or Confucius, could have taught almost as much. Ought the congregation in such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly? They ought not. And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

I’ve been there. It was emotionally difficult to come to grips with, and admit it to myself. But I had to conclude at one point that the church I was a part of was not marked by the preaching of the Gospel. The preaching was morality. Some friends and I labeled that “Mosque.” Bryan Chapell says “Synagogue sermons.” The point is, you could take many evangelical sermons and preach them in a synagogue, a mosque, the kingdom hall, or the Mormon church, and walk out of there alive. Why? Because what makes Christianity different from them is entirely lacking in that preaching. It’s just morality. Ryle says we should not sit quietly with that. Make some noise. Because the truth is more important.

Division!

But division! That dirty word. Forbear everything, anything, to avoid even being remotely associated with divisiveness. The unforgivable sin, that is. Keep the peace, at all costs!

Yet, Christ said he brought a sword, to divide. Jesus Christ’s coming to earth caused division. Another classic case of “What Would Jesus Do?” that everyone seems to forget. What is worth dividing over? As in, detaching from your congregation? Truth. Remember, truth before peace. As Ryle says, returning to the matter of loyalty to a denomination,

But it is useless to expect attachment to the denomination, when the minister of the denominational church is ignorant of the Gospel, or a lover of the world. In such a case we must never be surprised if men forsake their denomination, and seek truth wherever truth is to be found. If the denominational minister does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, the conditions on which he claims the attention of his congregation are virtually violated, and his claim to be heard is at an end. It is absurd to expect the head of a family to endanger the souls of his children, as well as his own—for the sake of “the denomination.” There is no mention of denominations in the Bible, and we have no right to require men to live and die in ignorance, in order that they may be able to say at last, “I always attended my local denominational church.”

And all the non-denominational types said, “Amen!”

But honestly, all are addressed, here. Whether you want to admit to being a denomination or not, whatever label you choose, this is just as likely to happen. If the preacher, in any church, part of any “movement”, does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, his claim to be heard is at an end. Seriously, saying at last, “I always attended my local non-denominational church” doesn’t sound any better.

But division is bad!

Is division always bad? Not according to Ryle, based on all the Scriptural reflection up to this point.

False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue—and not a sin.

There you have it. Separate. Without fear, but with confidence that the Scripture itself promotes truth before peace. Separating from your congregation is a serious thing. But false doctrine and heresy are also serious. Peace is a good thing and something to pursue, but not at the expense of truth. Disruption needs to happen when the God’s truth is at stake, as Paul did with Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-16).

Just because it is the right thing to do doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. Just because you should get out, doesn’t mean it’s easy. It may be painful. To have remained silent and still would have been easier. Things would be more peaceful. False teaching is toxic.

To separate from a church that teaches false doctrine is wisdom. To sit still, be content, and take it quietly is harmful and demonstrates that the truth of God’s Word is not valued. Rather, to separate is a virtue, and praiseworthy. Indeed, we should show ourselves as disciples of the one who is Truth (John 14:6).

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