The Damage of the Non-Essential Doctrine to the Gospel

Essential for what?

I'm sure he means well, but the reasoning is messed up... and putting all truth on the same level of certainty and importance is far more damaging than even incorrectly discerning how truths relate to one another.

Note...

  • That everything is not equally clear in the Bible is indicated in the book itself (e.g. 2 Pet. 3:16)
  • The revelation God has given us includes evidence of priorities. Since it relates ideas to one another, and encourages us to use reason to relate ideas to one another, what truths are essential and nonessential to other truths is part of what God has revealed.
  • It is impossible for everything to be essential for everything else. This should be self evident. You could be stranded on a desert Island with only fragments of Genesis and John and still be able to discover the gospel and come to faith in Christ.
  • "Essential" is a synonym for "necessary" and it can never stand alone as a concept. The question the term always begs is "essential for what?" The fact that Mary who sat at Jesus feet in Luke 10 is the same Mary who poured perfume on Jesus' feet in John 12:3 is essential for something or it would not be revealed. But you could definitely get your Marys mixed up and still fully understand and live the gospel.
  • Since violations of commandments in the Law of Moses have penalties of varying severity, yes, I have to accept that they do "rank commandments in heaven." (See also Matt. 23:23, in which Jesus clearly indicates that some matters are weightier than others... and that failing to see these differences is a serious error.)

 

Meaning well

Brandenburg means well? His continual beating of this dead horse is his Diatropheatic means to separate and isolate himself from both Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. His writings reek of superiority and snobbery. 

Ranking Doctrines

I've been meaning to comment on this for a week or so, but better late than never! I appreciate a lot of what this article says. I don't think anybody doubts that "the fundamentals" are important doctrines. But, I don't think anybody really thinks they're the only doctrines that are important. I was taught a pretty basic and common-sense approach to separation in Seminary - if it's an explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture, then it must be defended. It means something. For example:

  • I don't see the covenants of grace or redemption in the Bible. I think they're artificial and bogus. 
  • I think infant baptism is completely un-Scriptural
  • I think that the modes of sprinkling or pouring for baptism are un-Scriptural
  • I think that church membership is restricted to regenerate people who have been baptized after conversion by immersion
  • I think that folks who deny the New Covenant is in effect, in some form or fashion, are flat out wrong. 
  • I could go on, etc.

I think all of my positions are supported by explicit and implicit statements of Scripture. They're not negotiable positions. I think the Bible teaches it. I've read scholars who disagree, and I'm still not convinced. I think these positions are important enough to take a stand on, because I think the Bible is pretty clear on these (and other) issues.  

If you believe the Bible teaches something explicitly or implicitly, then you must believe that God thinks it's important, too - right? If you're a Baptist fundamentalist, would you really say that Jesus' virgin conception is a fundamental, but regenerate church membership isn't? The only reason you would say that is if you valued salvation more than sanctification. But, then you'd have to consider, "What kind of local church environment will this person be saved to?" Can a well-informed Baptist really sleep well at night knowing that his cooperative efforts resulted in a new convert becoming a member of (and being discipled at) a PCA church (or vice-versa)? If you say that doesn't matter to you, then you clearly don't value your polity very much; and, by implication, you think that God doesn't much care, either. 

  • If you believe the Bible teaches something explicitly or implicitly,
  • and you believe this doctrine is obviously important enough for God to spell out with such clarity,
  • then shouldn't you treat that doctrine as a "fundamental" too? 

This is why I'm sympathetic to the charge that distilling everything down to "the five fundamentals" is really more about coalition building. It's about a lowest-common denominator dilution of doctrine for the sake of fellowship. That circles back to the question of what, precisely, we want these coalitions to accomplish that local churches cannot do on their own. 

I'm thinking out loud here, so feel free to jump in!

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Is this what you think fundamentalism is, Tyler?

TylerR wrote:

This is why I'm sympathetic to the charge that distilling everything down to "the five fundamentals" is really more about coalition building. It's about a lowest-common denominator dilution of doctrine for the sake of fellowship. That circles back to the question of what, precisely, we want these coalitions to accomplish that local churches cannot do on their own. 

If yes, then I think you misunderstand fundamentalism. I think Kent badly misunderstands it also.

First, it is certainly not as simple as "five fundamentals" at all. There is much more at stake than a mere five bullet points.

Secondly, it isn't that we are trying to define the lowest-common denominator for the sake of fellowship, but to discern over which points and positions we will do battle royale. Liberals of various shades are extremely subtle. They deny fundamental truth in crafty and creative ways. We need to know how to expose them and also how to battle them ... and the extent to which we will go in the battle.

With you, I would strongly disagree with a Presbyterian who baptizes babies and doesn't immerse, etc. I wouldn't be able to cooperate with someone like that in a local church ministry. I would strongly warn any individuals who might be considering joining with those who taught such things.

But I would join with my Presbyterian brethren in a fight over inspiration, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and a whole host of ancillary doctrines.

Fundamentalism isn't about seeking the lowest common denominator for fellowship, it is a commitment to militancy when it comes to the essentials of the faith. The way you stated it, "lowest-common denominator dilution of doctrine for the sake of fellowship" gets it all backwards. If indeed that is what you think fundamentalism is.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Basis for fellowship?

Don Johnson wrote:

But I would join with my Presbyterian brethren in a fight over inspiration, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and a whole host of ancillary doctrines.

Fundamentalism isn't about seeking the lowest common denominator for fellowship, it is a commitment to militancy when it comes to the essentials of the faith. The way you stated it, "lowest-common denominator dilution of doctrine for the sake of fellowship" gets it all backwards. If indeed that is what you think fundamentalism is.


Don,

How would you distinguish "join(ing) with (your) Presbyterian brethren in a fight" from a type of fellowship?  What would joining someone in a fight that didn't involve some measure of fellowship even look like?

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Don

I do understand what fundamentalism is. Here is the basic challenge of the article: who gets to determine what doctrines are important enough to stand for or not?

I, along with nearly everybody else who is a product of fundamentalist institutions, was taught that if something is implicit or explicitly taught in Scripture, then it should be defended and, if necessary, separated over. That makes sense. That's a pretty simple principle to implement. 

Here is the problem:

  • The list of doctrines that your (and my) local church finds that are explicit or implicit in Scripture runs a lot longer than the "five fundamentals." I think we can all agree on that one, too
  • Therefore, to make the basis of fellowship the "five fundamentals" is to artificially decide, for yourself, what is important to fight for. You said it yourself: "it isn't that we are trying to define the lowest-common denominator for the sake of fellowship, but to discern over which points and positions we will do battle royale."
  • You must do this, by definition, if you join your Presbyterian brethren in a common cause (and vice-versa)
  • You wrote; "Fundamentalism isn't about seeking the lowest common denominator for fellowship, it is a commitment to militancy when it comes to the essentials of the faith." If that's true, Don, then feel free to take the name "Baptist" off your church and remove all references to Baptist polity from your governing documents. You don't need the congregation's approval - that kind of church government isn't essential anyway! None of it is essential! If you object to that proposal, then you're admitting that you believe God thinks Baptist polity is important. I'd expect any well-informed Presbyterian to feel precisely the same way in the same situation. 

​That was the challenge of the article, and I think it's a pretty valid challenge. I would also like to make an observation that I believe most fundamentalists would agree with, but might not want to say in public:

  • Despite all it's pious talk about the "fundamentals;" the fundamentalist movement has completely abandoned the public defense of the "fundamentals" to the evangelicals. Completely. Totally. They're the one's doing "battle royale." 

It makes you wonder what kind of future fundamentalism has as a coalition. What on earth do we seek to accomplish in the future, as a movement? Do we continue to look back with nostalgia at the fundamentalist-modernist controversies and have feel-good meetings to pat each other on the back? Or, are we actually seeking to accomplish something, as a movement, going forward? Perhaps we'd all be better off if we just focused our energies on the local church!? 

  • ANECDOTE: I attend a Pastor's fellowship with about 10 other men. Every single one of them are the product of fundamentalist institutions. Four of them are my age. Together, our alma maters are Maranatha Baptist Bible College (x1), Maranatha Seminary (x1) Crown (x1), Moody (x1) and BBC&S (x1). Every single Pastor my age gets a look of disgust on their face when the subject of "fundamentalism" comes up. They see no value in the movement. They don't think the movement has a goal or a purpose - other than to engage in civil war. They don't think the movement has a future. They think the movement has an embarrassing past. They want nothing to do with it going forward.

If these young and well-educated men, relatively recent products of fine fundamentalist institutions, have such disdain for their own movement - then you have an internal problem. Even worse, these men (and untold others just like them) are the future of a movement they think is a waste of time. This is a movement in crisis, for some of the reasons I outlined above. 

I am encouraged by the recent Baptist Congress because the scope of fellowship was intentionally limited ("Baptist" fundamentalists); that makes fellowship much simpler. I am curious to see what the goals are going forward.    

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

More later

I'm just coming off a night shift (side job), so probably not that coherent at the moment. I'll try to get back to you later, but a few comments now.

I was responding to your comment in your earlier post. It seemed to me to be an inadequate understanding of fundamentalism. I think your subsequent reply confirms my suspicion.

It is too bad some graduates of fundamentalist institutions disdain fundamentalism. That's shocking news. Never happened before just now. Why back in my day, all graduates of fundamentalist schools were perfectly loyal. No defections. Back then, we had us a movement!

ok, I'm being sarcastic. Sorry, but do you get my point? If you go back over time, you will find countless graduates of fundy schools who disdained fundamentalism. Somehow we've managed to survive. I suspect we might be able to survive your ten friends.

I don't have to drop my denominational distinctives but I'm not going to call my Presbyterian friends heretics because they are wrong on baptism. I will go after them if they deny inspiration, the virgin birth and such like, especially if they are in a position to influence the flock I am responsible for.

ok, enough for now. I've got to get some shut eye!

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Who gets to decide

On "who gets to decide what is fundamental and what isn't?"
The answer is that nobody really gets to, but everybody *has* to. Every believer has a responsibility to look at what God has revealed & then look at what's happening & decide what beliefs must be contented for and with whom & under what conditions.
Then you join your efforts with with those who come to the same conclusions.
It's really pretty simple.

The hubris of overconfidence

The hubris of overconfidence - knowing all of the answers! (HT to recent seminary graduates): eg Genesis 6:4, "when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them"

Or the danger of making something of supreme importance: eg must not have a Christmas tree in the church because otherwise is vulgar 

Or the moderate drinking issue ... or tithing ... or musical styles, et cetera

------ Or the age of the universe (thinking Ken Ham) ... see http://sharperiron.org/filings/122815/31617

 

Jim

Regarding Gen 6:4 - I think Heb 6:4-8, or the identity of Melchisidec (Heb 7:1-10) are tougher questions! But, point taken! 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Aaron

You wrote:

The answer is that nobody really gets to, but everybody *has* to. Every believer has a responsibility to look at what God has revealed & then look at what's happening & decide what beliefs must be contented for and with whom & under what conditions. Then you join your efforts with with those who come to the same conclusions.

I think that's an excellent summary statement. The crux of the matter is whether we are justified in deliberately downplaying a doctrine we honestly feel is explicitly or implicitly taught in Scripture for the sake of cooperative ministry. For example:

  • I have been looking into using CEF's Good News Clubs to get an after-school Bible club going in our local public school.
  • I've met with the state rep. and discussed the matter at length
  • However, this is a conservative but deliberately ecumenical organization. They're also very Arminian in their approach to evangelism to children. I'm not comfortable with it. I'm not comfortable with the idea of allowing this organization to train our workers to do the club, because I think that's my job as the Pastor, not theirs. I'm especially not comfortable with it because I think they have serious doctrinal issues. 
  • By the way, they agree with all of the "fundamentals" of the faith. By all rights, I shouldn't have a problem holding hands with them. Yet, I do. 
  • One of CEF's big selling points is that (1) they provide liability insurance for the club, and (2) they make the arrangements with the schools to get authorization for the Bible clubs. They act as the middle-man and use the weight of their organization to try to get the school to sign off on the club at their facility. I've already contacted our insurance folks, and verified that our existing policy would cover liability for this club. I am also pretty certain that I can arrange for the club myself. In short, I don't think I need CEF. 

This is the conundrum in action. My concerns had nothing to do with the "five fundamentals," but they had to do with other fundamentals - things spelled out so explicitly in the Bible that I don't feel I can ignore them and remain in God's favor. 

The problem is that the so-called "non-essentials" of the Gospel need to be redefined:

  • Conservative Christianity usually defines the "non-essentials" as "things not necessary for salvation"(e.g. things that aren't the five fundamentals). This broad definition is what makes larger Christian coalitions possible. 
  • I think a more Biblical definition would be "things the Bible isn't explicit or implicit about." This approach, however, would make larger coalitions impossible. This may not be a bad thing. 

I'm not writing all this as an angry critic, but as a Baptist fundamentalist who is thinking out loud and doing some self-examination. I hope everybody reads this in that light. 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Coalitions...

Well, I've always been a bit skeptical of "coalitions" in general. That is, unless a couple of churches are near eachother geographically, what do they need to "get together" for? In the case of para-church ministries, the situation is more complex because they usually require the pooled resources of lots of folks to get their work done. But even in their case, there is no reason to "join hands" with other ministries unless there is potential in that partnership to help further the goals of the ministries involved.

But "separation," on the other hand, if we're going to stick with what we find in Scripture, is punitive and either ends a partnership that existed or shuns one that had some chance of existing. Beyond that, it's meaningless because nothing is being separated.

So to get back to coalitions... how broad a coalition ought to be depends on the purpose of getting together. Of course, biblically whether getting together is possible at all, has some doctrine and practice limitations, beyond those relatively few (and I think quite clear in most cases) limitations, it's all about this question: "What is there that we need to unite to accomplish?" There are some things that require that/benefit from that, so the important-but-not-quite-show-stoppers that would divide under normal circumstances would not have to prevent cooperation for some shared goals.

This is what early fundamentalism was all about: a kind of agreement to cease hostilities over certain differences in order to produce a combined opposition to some bigger problems.  And the tacit (or in some cases probably formal) agreement to cease hostilities was very much a 'temporary and with reference to a particular relationship' cessation. That is, "within the scope of working together on goal A, we'll sort of mostly not talk about our differences over B." But, as far as I can tell, it was never a situation of "we agree that B was never important in the first place" or "we pledge to ignore B forever, even back home in our local churches.

So the pedobaptists kept on holding to that and the credobaptists kept on holding to that and, for the most part, neither group (when they worked together to fight "modernism") expected the other to stop believing these doctrines and practices are important or to abandon their other distinctive traditions and convictions.

This

Aaron Blumer wrote:

This is what early fundamentalism was all about: a kind of agreement to cease hostilities over certain differences in order to produce a combined opposition to some bigger problems.  And the tacit (or in some cases probably formal) agreement to cease hostilities was very much a 'temporary and with reference to a particular relationship' cessation. That is, "within the scope of working together on goal A, we'll sort of mostly not talk about our differences over B." But, as far as I can tell, it was never a situation of "we agree that B was never important in the first place" or "we pledge to ignore B forever, even back home in our local churches.

And the fact is, it wasn't so much about Baptists joining with Presbyterians in each other's fight (when it came to the denominational struggles), but it was joining in broader efforts (like the publication of The Fundamentals, for example) where some cooperative effort occurred. Generally, Baptists and Presbyterians were fighting the same fight separately on their own turf.

Since that time, fundamentalists have joined together for various reasons (mission boards, for example) in order to promote the cause of orthodoxy within their circles of influence. That's how I see the FBFI at this time, cooperating in order to promote orthodoxy as we see it and to provide fellowship within those parameters.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

On the fragmentation of Fundamentalism

Aaron Blumer wrote:

This is what early fundamentalism was all about: a kind of agreement to cease hostilities over certain differences in order to produce a combined opposition to some bigger problems.  And the tacit (or in some cases probably formal) agreement to cease hostilities was very much a 'temporary and with reference to a particular relationship' cessation. That is, "within the scope of working together on goal A, we'll sort of mostly not talk about our differences over B." But, as far as I can tell, it was never a situation of "we agree that B was never important in the first place" or "we pledge to ignore B forever, even back home in our local churches.

So the pedobaptists kept on holding to that and the credobaptists kept on holding to that and, for the most part, neither group (when they worked together to fight "modernism") expected the other to stop believing these doctrines and practices are important or to abandon their other distinctive traditions and convictions.

 

Today the situation has deteriorated so badly that not only do we now separate over such comparatively important (but arguably "non-essential") doctrinal beliefs such as the proper mode of baptism or the timing of the Second Coming, we also separate (it sometimes seems even more vehemently) over what are comparatively trivial matters.

The "coalition" members who collaborated to publish The Fundamentals  were able to work together despite practicing different modes of baptism, despite holding different beliefs about the timing of the Second Coming, despite organizing their respective churches in various hierarchical structures/polities, and despite numerous other relatively substantive differences.  Today, many won't even exchange simple pleasantries with someone who prefers a guitar over an organ as an accompaniment to their singing.  What has happened?

I've read the notable histories of Fundamentalism (e.g. by Marsden, Dollar, & the BJU historian whose name momentarily eludes me).  Fundamentalism (at least in its infancy) used to be known in terms what it stood for.  Now it is known primarily in terms of what it stands against.  (There is a marked difference involved.)  As Tyler R. pointed out in a post above: "Despite all it's pious talk about the "fundamentals;" the fundamentalist movement has completely abandoned the public defense of the "fundamentals" to the evangelicals. Completely. Totally. They're the one's doing "battle royale." 

 

Larry

Two things:

  • I don't think The Fundamentals was a pure, cooperative project in the sense that you're thinking of. I believe the editors simply arranged for individual authors to write articles. There was little to no collaboration between the authors at all, and I don't believe the authors themselves were even aware of who else was contributing to the project. That's the way Dr. Bauder presented it at a conference at Central a few years back, and I believe Beale gave the same account in his book. 
  • We really need to consider what a "non-essential" is. You wrote, "Today the situation has deteriorated so badly that not only do we now separate over such comparatively important (but arguably 'non-essential') doctrinal beliefs such as the proper mode of baptism or the timing of the Second Coming, we also separate (it sometimes seems even more vehemently) over what are comparatively trivial matters." This is the kind of re-definition of "essential vs non-essential" that I feel is a problem - that was the point of the linked article, too. 
  • I think a more Biblical definition would be "things the Bible isn't explicit or implicit about." This doesn't mean "things that good men disagree on." Robert Reymond was a good man - a good Presbyterian. I read his defense of paedo-baptism, and I thought it was pretty bad. 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Tyler

 

What I mean is non-essential in terms of being necessary for salvation.  We can disagree with others about when Jesus is coming again (as long as our disagreement is about "when," and not "if").  We can disagree about the proper mode of baptism, and still anticipate that one day we will worship together in Heaven with those who hold to the opposing view.  We can disagree about which translations of God's word are in fact the word of God (I say that grudgingly---I personally despise KJVOism; I believe it's a warped, distorted view of Inerrancy & Preservation).  Nevertheless, on those types of things we can disagree with others with whom we will one day share eternity together.

Getting back to the early fundamentalists, I didn't intend to allude in any way to the method of how The Fundamentals  was compiled---just the shared purpose.  (In retrospect, I may not have worded that aspect well.)  The contributors held in common a belief in the "essential" doctrines (there I go using such a term again!).

Using paedo-baptism as a personal example, I am 100% against it.  I see no scriptural basis for it, and I believe it's wholly man-conceived, nothing more.  Nonetheless, if a Presbyterian who practices it is a fellow true-believer in Christ, I personally am not convinced of the necessity to sever any & all ties with him.  But that may be just me here.      

Just a reminder...Paul

Just a reminder...Paul explicitly defined the Gospel as of "first importance." He prioritized and ranked the Gospel as #1, as essential, as first-level, however you want to say it. That certainly doesn't mean he thought no other doctrines were important, but as has been said many times before...if everything is of first importance, then nothing is. And it appears he thought the Gospel was more important than baptism (1 Cor. 1:13-17).

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Cloud

Not sure; I've literally never read anything by David Cloud! Brandenburg has written on this for a long time, however,  on his blog and in print - so I doubt he's channeling David Cloud. 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Jesus, too

NAU  Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


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