John MacArthur Requested to, and Resigns from the IFCA

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Probably a good decision by

Probably a good decision by both parties. it does seem that his position has changed over the years and he is quite emphatic about limited atonement these days. It sounds like it was a friendly process. 

I am glad that this has

I am glad that this has happened.  The IFCA position on the atonement is clear and Dr MacArthur differs from it.  This action was important because of the mixed message that was being sent through Dr MacArthur's remaining in the Fellowship.  Whichever position one takes on the extent of the atonement (and I respectfully differ from MacArthur, who has made no secret of his acceptance of definite atonement), this friendly parting of ways is for the best.    

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Handled well

It sounds like this was handled well by all parties, and I commend Dr. MacArthur's integrity for resigning and the IFCA's integrity for adhering to their founding documents and not compromising for the sake of associations and influence.

This is the way Christians ought to handle these kinds of disagreements, and I hope this sets a model for others to follow.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

"Separation"

Is this "ecclesiastical separation"?

It's an interesting test case for various views on what "separation" is. My own view is that in the NT, separation is always punitive and censorious. It's either the result of a disciplinary process or a pre-emptive rejection of cases of obvious apostasy (though the latter kind of stretches the boundaries of language a bit... since things that "separate" must first be together).

You have the case of Paul and Barnabas as an example of limiting fellowship based on disagreement. But this is not "separation," since neither intends to communicate that the other is certainly disobeying God/Scripture.

Maybe It Depends on Who You Ask

Is this ecclesiastical separation? I'd agree with my brother Jim and say no. If you asked JM I'm fairly certain that he would not consider it ecclesiastical separation. I also suspect that there may be a few who see this as the IFCA creating separation between itself and a brother who holds to what some of them see as a false doctrine. To them the answer would be yes.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

More Nuanced Position

Here is my own deep, nuanced take on this - who cares? Smile

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

Perhaps the right decision,

...but it strikes me that an implicit message here is that the rejection of limited/definite atonement is a fundamental of the faith.  Their organization, their rules, but this is part of the message being sent.

I wonder

how many IFCA members are graduates of The Master's Seminary, which is limited atonement in soteriology. Will there be a mass exodus of them?

Good for both sides I suppose

Good for both sides I suppose. 

A Christian group has a perfect right to be for Unlimited Atonement; for Limited Atonement; or for including both. 

And that organization has a right to expect members to live up to their standards. 

Of course, I pray that John MacArthur will one day come to realize the biblical position is Unlimited Atonement :-).  

David R. Brumbelow

My conviction is.....

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Good for both sides I suppose. 

A Christian group has a perfect right to be for Unlimited Atonement; for Limited Atonement; or for including both. 

And that organization has a right to expect members to live up to their standards. 

Of course, I pray that John MacArthur will one day come to realize the biblical position is Unlimited Atonement :-).  

David R. Brumbelow

.....that the Atonement was Unlimited.  Based on my study of the question, that's what I believe.

I think it's really unfortunate that the question of Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement has to divide Christians in any capacity, however.  Why must we make what are "disputable matters" such as this (which is the category I put this question into) something that will divide us?

I appreciate Central Seminary's faculty stance on this question:

"Since God commands all people everywhere to repent, we all believe that the offer of the gospel should be extended to all. Some of us [ed: among the faculty] believe that Christ has provided the benefits of salvation for all people, while others believe these benefits may have been secured only for those whom God intends to save."

http://www.centralseminary.edu/about-central/foundational-documents/statement-on-salvation-and-sanctification 

Unless I am misinterpreting the intent of that statement, I gather that the question has adherents on both sides among Central's faculty.

Why?

"I think it's really unfortunate that the question of Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement has to divide Christians in any capacity, however.  Why must we make what are "disputable matters" such as this (which is the category I put this question into) something that will divide us?" - Larry Nelson

Well, to put the cat among the pigeons, it's because for many advocates of limited and unlimited atonement it is not disputable.  For me, I am convinced that Scripture clearly says that Christ died for all sinners but that only those who believe will be saved.  I also think that for Christ not to have died for "all the world" distorts the meaning of the word "kosmos" (see any lexicon or theological dictionary), and leads to the irrepressible conclusion that a sinner for whom Christ did not die could logically claim that in not believing in Christ he was doing the will of God, and that it would be unjust therefore for God to condemn him for doing God's will.

For the limited atonement advocate, they would claim that to teach a "hypothetical" atonement takes glory from God, gives the power of salvation to man, and logically entails that Christ somehow failed to atone for those He might have saved.  It's one of those areas where both sides feel justified in taking a strong stand.  

Hence, MacArthur's gracious resignation while standing his ground is a commendable example of how to disagree amicably.      

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

It matters

TylerR wrote:

Here is my own deep, nuanced take on this - who cares? Smile 

Well, I don't have a whole lot of time for it right now either, but I definitely want to file it away for some future use. In brief, the separation question matters for a couple of reasons. One, because many individuals and ministries have made something they call "ecclesiastical separation" the centerpiece of their identity, but when they go to Scripture to support it, they use texts about local church discipline and texts about avoiding obvious apostates to support a practice that resembles neither of these scenarios. So we have a situation where a practice is upheld as of near-supreme importance, but it is neither church discipline nor rejection of false gospels...   It's an aggressive rhetorical resistance to other believers with whom they have never had any relationship at all, because they perceive them (often correctly, but that's not the point) to be in error.

Now I think there is a need for a fair amount of aggressive teaching against various forms of error, and certainly selective fellowship is necessary (based on things as trivial as geography if nothing else), but where is this in the NT? (It's there... just not in passages about church discipline and shunning apostasy... and "ecclesiastical separation" is not the word for it... I don't think it's any kind of "separation" at all).

Aaron I am inclined to agree

Aaron I am inclined to agree with you that it's a question worth asking. I would call it more of a lack of fellowship than separation. Maybe it would fit under the discussion (Bauder) of levels of fellowship. I also agree that separation has to be viewed as punitive. If I "separate" from someone that I have never even met I have not done anything. We are told to "mark them that cause divisions....and avoid them." Pretty hard to do that with someone I will never be in the same room with. 

While some would see the IFCAs action as making more of unlimited atonement than necessary, I say if that's their doctrinal position than more power to them. I don't think it's separation, they have a doctrinal position and they expect that those in their fellowship should hold to it. For the same reason I doubt I will ever be a member of a church (again) that references the KJV in their doctrinal statement. If they see fit to include that as sound doctrine that is their prerogative, I just don't see it that way. 

Serious question

I'm not sure about this, so I'm going to ask because I haven't found links to the source documents...

What is the precise disagreement between the two?  Is it that MacArthur believes that salvation is only available to and efficacious for the elect and the IFCA's position is that the atonement is unlimited in scope but effectual for only those who will believe?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

True Story

I know a guy who used to believe the lies about MacArthur and "the blood." I explained that the man was believing a lie, and referred him to an old article Phil Johnson wrote explaining the issue. Here was the response:

  • Him: You were right. MacArthur isn't wrong, after all.
  • Me: Yeah. I told you he was being misrepresented.
  • Him: Yeah. But, I'm still going to separate from him.
  • Me: Separate from him? He doesn't know you exist! There was no fellowship to begin with!

People can be funny, sometimes.

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

Separation... identity, distinctives and hyperbole

I'm inclined to think that much of the separation rhetoric I heard during my education and a few years beyond was really about maintaining fundamentalist (a particular version thereof) identity and distinctives. Sometimes it was even almost framed that way. There was talk about loyalty to fundamentalism sometimes. That didn't resonate with me, but at least it was more on the mark as far as what all the passionate diatribes were really about...  But a good bit of the time the conflicts between who had perceived and real ties to "neo evangelicals" etc. was couched in terms of biblical holiness, and the assertion was that if you didn't "separate" (i.e., verbally criticize on a regular basis, with the expected amount of vehemence) you were violating biblical principles of holiness.

I have a lot of respect for some of the guys who looked at the situation this way, but it really didn't fit the real-world choices we were facing at the time very well. Nor does it now.

In cases of groups/leaders that are claiming to be Christian and are flagrantly denying what the Bible unmistakably teaches (by any reasonable standard), you have a holiness principle. It may call for a kind of preemptive "separation"... But among believers with whom you have interpretive differences and differences about application of principle, but also have no contact...   there is no holiness issue involved and no separation dynamic. It's about maintaining your distinctives.

One can maintain distinctives, even with contact:

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But among believers with whom you have interpretive differences and differences about application of principle, but also have no contact...   there is no holiness issue involved and no separation dynamic. It's about maintaining your distinctives.

I gave the example above of Central Seminary, at which faculty members disagree on the extent of the Atonement.  (See the quote & link in my post above.)  Yet these same men, despite their individual "interpretive differences and differences about application of principle" regarding the extent of the Atonement, still manage to teach together at the same fundamentalist seminary.  They obviously do not believe their lack of consensus on this question requires them to disassociate from one another. 

There's Always Hope

MacArthur believed, promoted, and vigorously defended unlimited atonement for many years.  But he kept studying, and...

G. N. Barkman

Sad

I find this sad.  I am not a member of the IFCA but I respect their posision.  I am a fan of MacArthur, have hundreds of his sermons, almost all of the books he wrote, his study Bible, and have listened to him for years.  I do not however agree with him on limited atonement.  I believe he is putting much more emphases on Calvinism than he used to.  Over the years his position might not have changed but I believe his emphases has.  I am pleased the way both the IFCA and Mac have handled it but I wish it didn't have to come to this. 

Richard E Brunt

Richard

I understand what you're saying. But, to quote a famous almost world leader, "what difference does it make?"

It is meaningless that IFCA asked MacArthur to resign. It is meaningless that he accepted. It's a meaningless gesture from both sides, even though it was handled with dignity and grace by both parties. What real difference does this make, in practical terms? None. The IFCA didn't need MacArthur, and he didn't need them. It's a pointless gesture - about as noteworthy as my friend announcing he would continue to "separate" from MacArthur. It is about as meaningful as me posting an "open letter" on my blog. That is to say, its meaningless . . .

That is why I'm more amused about this announcement than anything else. I'm certain MacArthur broke out the sackcloth and ashes when he received the notice from the IFCA. Likewise, I'm certain IFCA brethren across this fair land are grieving, even now, as they contemplate the future of their fellowship without MacArthur's active involvement . . .

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

I can see your point

Tyler, I can see your point.  What I am sad about is that Dr. MacArthur now feels so strongly about his position on limited atonement that he can no longer sign the doctrinal statement of the IFCA.  Apparently at one point he felt he could.  

Richard E Brunt

Richard

Got it. I understand now.

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

Wayne Grudem on LA

Whenever this debate comes up, I (as a 4.25-ish person...meaning leaning unlimited atonement) love to quote Wayne Grudem, who is a 5 pointer:

Wayne Grudem:

"Finally, we may ask why this matter is so important at all. Although Reformed people have sometimes made belief in particular redemption a test of doctrinal orthodoxy, it would be healthy to realize that Scripture itself never singles this out as a doctrine of major importance, nor does it once make it the subject of any explicit theological discussion. Our knowledge of the issue comes only from incidental references to it in passages whose concern is with other doctrinal or practical matters. In fact, this is really a question that probes into the inner counsels of the Trinity and does so in an area in which there is very little direct scriptural testimony--a fact that should cause us to be cautious. A balanced pastoral perspective would seem to say that this teaching of particular redemption seems to us to be true, that it gives logical consistency to our theological system, and that it can be helpful in assuring people of Christ's love for them individually and of the completeness of his redemptive work for them; but that it also is a subject that almost inevitably leads to some confusion, some misunderstanding, and often some wrongful argumentativeness and divisiveness among God's people--all of which are negative pastoral considerations. Perhaps that is why the apostles such as John and Peter and Paul, in their wisdom, placed almost no emphasis on this question at all. And perhaps we would do well to ponder their example" (Systematic Theology, 603).

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

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Greg

You've got it all wrong. We must all be on exactly the same page, even down to natural vs. federal headship, or else the other is a heretic schismatic. There can be no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, right . . . Smile

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

I'm inclined to think that

I'm inclined to think that much of the separation rhetoric I heard during my education and a few years beyond was really about maintaining fundamentalist (a particular version thereof) identity and distinctives. Sometimes it was even almost framed that way. There was talk about loyalty to fundamentalism sometimes. That didn't resonate with me, but at least it was more on the mark as far as what all the passionate diatribes were really about...  But a good bit of the time the conflicts between who had perceived and real ties to "neo evangelicals" etc. was couched in terms of biblical holiness, and the assertion was that if you didn't "separate" (i.e., verbally criticize on a regular basis, with the expected amount of vehemence) you were violating biblical principles of holiness. -Aaron, yesterday

Yeah, that's why the Convergence articles in the FrontLine magazine were so fascinating.  But if your identity is based in your relationship with Christ, then the importance of identifying as a "Fundamentalist" drops correspondingly.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Groups & distinctives

"But if your identity is based in your relationship with Christ, then the importance of identifying as a "Fundamentalist" drops correspondingly."

I dont see any correlation on that. People of similar convictions & priorities who want to pool their efforts form groups with distictives. And without effort to maintain identity in relation to those distinctives, the group ceases to exist.

Local churches work the same way... and there is always some kind of designation for who is in vs. who is out--typically the term "member."

There's no conflict between that and identity with Christ.

Interesting

Interesting to me that this had to be made public at all.  Why not just file away the resignation correspondence and let the matter rest internally?  I'd be surprised if IFCA publicizes every resignation.

John B. Lee

I wondered the same as well ... and

JBL wrote:

Interesting to me that this had to be made public at all.  Why not just file away the resignation correspondence and let the matter rest internally?  I'd be surprised if IFCA publicizes every resignation.

I wondered the same as well ... and:

  • Tweeted to the IFCA
  • Called their office (yesterday)
  • And emailed the office  (yesterday) (I have the email in my sent folder) 

Have heard nothing back

My take...

....is that the publicity is simply due to the fact that MacArthur's membership had been noted by many members who also knew of his defense of limited atonement, so that doesn't bother me at all.  What makes me uneasy is what a lot of others (Greg, Jay, Larry, among others) have noted; is this really a place for separation?

Now granted, there are all kinds of other silly separation we fundamentalists practice, so I guess I should get used to it, but ...seriously?

 

Well Jim

You officially care more than I do!  

But seriously, IFCA's doctrinal position is very clearly stated.  They do not make public their membership roster.  I would have never known MacArthur was on their membership, and would probably never have known had it not been made public now.

I would never care if I found out that someone on their membership roll did not fully ascribe to the positions on their doctrinal statement.  I would have never assumed that IFCA's position was changing just because someone on their membership did not hold to the same confessional beliefs.

I just don't see what's to be gained from an external perspective from making the announcement public.

John B. Lee

Well known

It's been well known in the IFCA for a long time, I'm pretty sure. Not sure how I came to know he was a member, but I can't remember any time I didn't know that. Perhaps the membership is not published, but it's also not at all secret.

On another point. I want to clarify that my observations earlier in the thread about the verbal distancing from Christian brothers we disagree with being couched as a matter of holiness and "separation."... I don't mean to say that the men trying to make that case were being dishonest. I don't think that's the case. When I say the calls for loyalty were more honest... would have been better to say more accurate. I suppose in some cases, a few probably sensed at some level that they were overstating the situation and not being forthright about the distinctives/loyalties matter. But for the most part, I believe the confusion to have been (and still be) honest confusion.

The problem is a mixing and matching of categories. When we disagree with a brother's interpretation and/or application, and have no verified to reason to believe he is acting in knowing disobedience, this is not a situation in the same category as either (a) a sinning brother who has been brought through the discipline process in the NT, or (b) an apostate who claims the faith but has denied it.

So on the whole, it's just not helpful to call all of these things "separation" when they are so dissimilar.

In the case at hand, IFCA has a distinctive on the matter of particular/limited atonement. It's not a distinctive I would choose, personally, but as a group that values that distinctive, they're acting quite reasonably to maintain it as a boundary for being part of the group. There are only two alternatives: revise and eliminate the distinctive or keep it in writing but ignore it in practice. The latter could lead to a similar posture on other distinctives and that sort of thing always undermines a group's integrity.

Don't have to agree with the distinctive to see the value in maintaining it.

IFCA / MacArthur

I think the reason why this became public is because:

  1. MacArthur is probably their highest profile 'member' (or at least he was...)
  2. Lou Martuneac noted the discrepancy and pushed for clarification on it, which was probably a good thing since there was confusion.  

As for the exchange I had with Aaron yesterday - let me go back to that for the last time and then I'll move on.

What I meant is that if your Christian identity is wrapped up in being "A Fundamental Baptist", you will behave and act in ways that are different from someone whose identity is tied up in who we are in and because of Jesus Christ. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

And the Benefit to the Body of Christ is ???

While I know IFCA members who quietly hold to particular redemption and are content to enjoy the benefits of the fellowship, I agree that JM's gracious departure is for the best. Yet I too fail to see the benefit of making this action public. Does it strengthen the IFCA? Are people rejoicing that a stand has been taken?  Are they now in some way purer having established the difference between themselves and JM? Will they pass a resolution against particular redemption and require members who hold that position to do the right thing and follow JM's example?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ron

Will they pass a resolution against particular redemption and require members who hold that position to do the right thing and follow JM's example?

You shouldn't go asking practical questions like that . . .

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

Integrity

Integrity is important. I think both MacArthur and the IFCA are demonstrating it and it is worth making it known so that the nattering nabobs of negativity can be silenced. Although that doesn't stop folks around here, apparently.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

It doesn't seem t me that the IFCA

did make a big deal of it. Lou Martuneac is the one who pointed it out. If you google "Macarthur IFCA resign", the only hits are SI and Martuneac's In Defense of the Gospel. I don't even think the IFCA put out a press release on it.

So, stop blaming the IFCA. If anything, blame Lou Martuneac! He is why you know MacArthur was kicked out.

Paul and Barnabas again

It's a bit like the P and B parting in Acts in some important ways, but imagine if the P & B disagreement went like this: Somebody noticed P & B weren't working together anymore. They contacted Barnabas and Barnabas says "We disagreed over an issue and decided to split and form separate teams." Somebody then told the Jerusalem Gazette, "Paul and Barnabas aren't on the same team anymore." Ensuing buzz.

Maybe "somebody" shouldn't have bothered, but it's not a secret either. And readers of the  Gazette are certainly capable of forming their own opinions about whether it matters or how or why etc.

A Spectator Sport

Methinks that some spectators are enjoying this more than the participants. I believe that we're safe in assuming that this will have no impact on neither JM nor the IFCA.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

What's an "IFCA"?

Ron Bean wrote:

I believe that we're safe in assuming that this will have no impact on neither JM nor the IFCA.

Man on the street:

"John MacArthur I know ... but what's an IFCA?"


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