Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The sinful premillennialists

Mark Dever preached a sermon in which he said it is "sinful" for a church to have a defined millennial position in their doctrinal statement. I personally think such a notion is hogwash, but that is just me.

Kevin Bauder weighs in with this appropriate smack down:

Those Sinful Premillennialists?

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Blogger P.D. Nelson said...

So tell me Fred if I came to your church and desired membership (unlikely I know since I do not desire to live in California ever) and held to covenant [baptist] theology with postmill eschatology would I be denied?

6:34 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

Where does the NT speak of church membership?

Do we "divide fellowship" or "engage in fellowship" (from the link, and it's comments)

My personal experience is that fellowship either is or is not. Not as much a choice as a state of being. Common purpose rather than common understanding.

Isn't our fellowship with God, and with each other based upon "the message" in 1 John 1? God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light we have fellowship, if we do not, we do not. Is it not more about how we live before God rather than how we define eschatology?

I have experienced fellowship with those who did not share all of my doctrinal beliefs, and been unable to experience fellowship with those who agreed with my doctrine.


7:07 PM, August 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if some of this is a misunderstanding over the use of statements of faith. BTW I write this as a premil who is attending a church with an explicitly dispensational doctrinal statement.

Granted, I haven't listened to Dever's message, but I do know that Capitol Hill Baptist Church has confessional membership. Their confession is the New Hampshire confession and my understanding is that all members have to assent to it. (IIRC I read this in the Founders Journal.) I think that it's much more common (at least in my experience) that only those in authority are required to subscribe to the church's confession and that prospective members are required to affirm a shorter list of essentials. (That's how the doctrinal statement at the church I'm attending is used.) I'm thinking it's possible that this is where the "sin" idea comes in--the idea that you shouldn't bar someone from church membership for not being a premil over some other "nonessential."

That being said, given the NH Confession's teaching on the "Christian Sabbath," I wonder what the understanding at CHBC is about that (i.e. what activities are allowed) and whether latitude is granted on that issue.

9:34 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger MSC said...

I assume you are married to Heather. Did you enter into a covenant bond with your wife obtaining a license that indicates a duly sanctioned commitment to her recognized by the governing authorities of the state you live in? If so, do you believe this is useful thing for those wishing to be married? Furthermore, why?

9:38 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

So tell me Fred if I came to your church and desired membership (unlikely I know since I do not desire to live in California ever) and held to covenant [baptist] theology with postmill eschatology would I be denied?

No, more than likely not. There are a several folks who hold to differing theological perspectives than the main doctrinal statement of the church. I happen to know three people off the top of my head who are amillennial in their perspective.

As long as you sign the membership statement knowing full well you respect and honor the differing points and that you promise not to be factious about those differences, they certainly would let you join.

5:46 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Highland Host said...

None of the historic Confessions (WCF, 2nd London, etc.) contain statements on the millennium, which is how it ought to be. The Millennium is an 'in-house' discussion, not one that should divide Churches - which is inevitably the case if the doctrinal basis contains a millennial position. Would you like to be in a Church that said you could not teach your position?

It is my experience that, while Churches whose statements of faith contain a particular millennial position will allow members to hold a different position, they will not allow men holding positions other than that held by the Church to be officers, or to teach. Personally I far prefer the spectacle of Premillennialist Horatius Bonar and Post-millennialist David Brown teaching in the same Church and helping in the same denominational mission to the Jews.

6:30 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Highland Host said...

PS. Everything I said goes for ANY millennial position.

6:31 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger DJP said...

So, HH, you would say that a church should set up so that leadership offices can equally be held by amill, postmill, "historic" premill, and dispensational premill? What's what you'd advocate? And your church does this?

BTW, Andy Naselli clams he attends such a church, and further claims it works just fine.

6:34 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Having a non-statement about the millennium sounds noble, but in the end is it wise? If I were a betting man, and with all due respect, I would say Dever would have much more problems with my premillennialism than he claims simply for the reason you state.

He may say it is a sin for a church to have a doctrinal statement with a defined millennial position, and boast of the "progressive" nature of his church not having a defined millennial statement, but I bet he would have a serious problem with me teaching it to an adult Sunday class, especially with all the trappings of discontinuity between the Testaments I would present.

Everyone talks about how they are so much better for not having a millennial position in their doctrinal statement, but tend to back peddle when the rubber hits the road.

And as far as what Dan says about that fellow saying all the elders in his church hold to a diversity of millennial positions, I bet there is more to that than what he is letting on. I am not saying the guy is lying, just that he is a bit naive as to the real ramifications and impact upon the congregation.

For that matter, would folks have trouble with a reformed cessationist and a reformed continuist both being elders of a church?


6:42 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

I am confused, what is the purpose of your question? Is it to get into a discussion about the pros and cons of legal marriage, or are you implying that it is similar to church membership? I am assuming the second. If so, I must say I don't see the correlation. I have never entered a covenant with any local body. I was a member of one church once, and then employment moved me to another town. Employment will never separate me from my wife. Scripture clearly discusses marriage. I am just asking where it discusses church membership.

I am an elder in a small church that has no membership rolls, no doctrinal statement, and the four of us elders all have different eschatology. However, we do agree on the core issues. Granted, we are a new church, and these things may wind up needing to be addressed at some time, however, they have not needed to be addressed yet. The families that attend have varied doctrine as well. We have arminians and calvinist, we have those who have come out of the Mennonites, and a man who used to attend John MacArthur's church.

Now before you think "emergent" stop. We are far from it. We are actually very conservative. We hold that Scripture is God's inspired word, we believe in the trinity, we believe in baptism, but allow for various forms of it. Have practiced more than one type in deference to each other, but have taught what we personally believed. We emphasize personal Bible study and rather than making clones of ourselves, we try to help our "disciples" study on their own.

Anyhow, I am not disagreeing here, just honestly asking. I want to do what is right, and I want to follow scripture. I make every effort to listen to those who pursue Christ, and then check what they say with my Bible and prayer. Am doing the same here.


6:47 PM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

"For that matter, would folks have trouble with a reformed cessationist and a reformed continuist both being elders of a church?"

Where does 2 Tim or Titus discuss this?


7:23 PM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger MSC said...

I was just wondering if you thought making a legal commitment to the bond of marriage was important. Perhaps you believe that 2 adults that consent to live with one another shows the same level of commitment as legalized marriage. I happen to believe that the latter does not.

The parallels to the local church are profound. We are the bride of Christ and each local church is an expression of the relationship between Christ and His bride. When someone shows disdain to make a duly recognized commitment to the local body red flags arise in my mind. I am inclined to think that such individuals are easily tempted to bolt from the local church as the first sign of personal dissastisfaction.

There is no direct prescription for local church memebership in the NT (although I believe the case can be made that membership was implicit from the available data of the NT). Along the same lines, there is no prescription in the Scripture for legalized marriage although it too is implied by the data. I don't think it takes much to see the corelation between the 2 realms. I recommend Josh Harris' book "Stop Dating the Church" to see why membership demonstrates a genuine commitment to Christ as His bride.

9:12 PM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Actually, so long as you are prepared to do all in love, it's not going to cause a major problem. Obviously if one of the elders decides all he's ever going to preach about is eschatology, you'll have a problem, but that goes for whichever elder it is. Of course, if there is a dispensationalist accusing amillennialism of causing liberalism, that's being factious, just like an amillennialist saying Futurism was invented by the Jesuits.

This is an issue that has been at question in the Church for more than a thousand years, it just seems to me that dividing on it is tragic. In practice few British Churches make eschatology a test of pulpit fellowship.

11:04 PM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

Yes, I believe it is important to make a legal commitment to my wife. Gen. 2 is the foundation if this idea, and Jesus quoted it as well. Living together outside of this commitment is fornication, which is clearly sin. In loving my wife as Christ loves the church, I am to work to present to myself a pure bride. (I believe this means - among other things - that I am to protect her reputation) It is my understanding that Christians are to be law abiding unless the law explicitly instructs me to disobey Christ. One of the ways I demonstrate this is legal marriage. I think this is implied in 1 Peter when it talks about being able to have an answer for my persecutors, and not giving them cause to disregard my answer by my life.

However, my wife has not made a covenant with herself. She is herself. You and I are the church. We are the bride, He is the groom. Our covenant is with Him, not each other. This is where the argument falls apart in my opinion. Those who try to say church membership is like the marriage covenant somehow transpose our relationship with Christ and our relationship with each other - the church. However, I have never met someone who truly believed church membership was a covenant and would stay until death separated them. Oh, we use the word covenant, but is it really?

I understand the need to be committed to the local body. But I tremble at the thought of imposing a covenant on someone that is not necessary.

One thing I struggled with in various local churches was this emphasis on church documents and covenants with each other. We say "sola scriptura" and then write extra scriptural documents and attempt to hold each other to them. Next thing you know we are fighting over them. Is it any wonder? Our documents are not living and active, sharper than a two edged sword . . I have been part of two small independent conservative churches that wrote their own bylaws and doctrinal statements. I attended a Nazarine church for a few years after high school. I noticed that while everyone would say their church documents were not on par with scripture, guess where they would always run to when push came to shove. It didn't matter whether the document was 3 pages long (as it was in one case) or an entire book, it was the source of argument. I don't believe there is any substitute for being a true student of God's Word and working to rightly divide it. In it is everything we need for life and godliness. Why would I attempt to hold someone to anything else?

I have gotten long winded here, but I wanted you to be able to hear my heart. It has torn me up inside for the last 30 years to watch godly men I respected rip and tear each other apart over documents that were outside of scripture. Documents they felt honor bound to defend because they were honorable men who had signed their names on the dotted line.

Which is the source of my original question. Where are we instructed to do this? I haven't found it. Have we studied Scripture so exhaustively that we don't need it anymore so we write other things? Shouldn't we take our problems and differences directly to scripture prayerfully and allow God's Holy Spirit to direct us as we pursue Christ together? Why go anywhere else? Does this not deny the very power of the Gospel?

Just my thoughts respectfully submitted,


3:54 AM, August 13, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Craig,
You raise some issues that is important to wrestle through, but providentially, I am unable to do it at the moment because of the restraints of other duties. I'll try to respond more in full at a later date, perhaps tomorrow.


5:56 AM, August 13, 2009  
Blogger MSC said...

I think the matter of church membership is an important one. Craig raises important issues, but I don't think he has made the case that membership is unbiblical. The Bible does not prescribe a lot of specifics when it comes to how to implement its principles. Membership can function in a way that upholds all that the Bible says about the church.

We should not isolate one metaphor the NT uses in describing the church at the expense of others. We are not only described as the bride of Christ, but also as the body of Christ. The latter metaphor has profound implications in terms of the individual componenets of the body and their interdependence. Thus we are not only committed to Christ but we are also committed to one another. To disregard one another is to disregard the body. To disregard the body is to disregard Christ.

Fred, I would love to see you post more on this matter, perhaps even a series like you are on eschatology.

11:09 AM, August 13, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

I find it fascinating that you use the body metaphor. This is precisely what I have been studying for the last couple of weeks in 1 Cor 12, Romans 12, and Eph 4.

First, let me clarify a couple of things. I am not saying that membership is unbiblical. I am saying that membership as it is currently practiced with signed rolls where we require people to covenant that they agree with us about extrabiblical documentation is just that - extra biblical and should be re-considered. Membership in the body of Christ is the result of what God has done in us in making us new creatures. It is not the result of a signed statement after a "membership class"

Secondly, I am not suggesting that we ignore the "one anothers" of scripture. However, I do think we tend to use the fact that someone has not signed my church membership statement to excuse us from the "one anothers."

The body metaphor in context has a two fold emphasis. It speaks of both unity and diversity. Furthermore, it ascribes the diversity to the gifting of the Holy Spirit. The diversity of gifting is to build each of us up together to maturity in Christ, and to exalt and honor Christ above all else.

I believe that when we divide up fellowship based on non-essential differences we in effect dissect the body of Christ and put all the eyes on one shelf, the ears on another shelf, and the hands on another. We do this for our own comfortability, not based on scriptural mandate. The picture I see in scripture is one vibrant body that is growing together. We are to separate from a false teacher, from the immoral, and from the divisive man. I do not see that we have permission to separate because another godly man honestly interprets eschatology differently.

To sum it up: I don't think the differences are accidental. I think God uses them to cause each of us to go back to the Scriptures and prayer as we grow up in Christ. Your comments have driven me to God's word and prayer, and by them I have spent more time with God than I might have otherwise. I hope the same has been true for you. The day will come when we will see things as God sees them. In the mean time, we are to endeaver to keep the unity of the body in the bond of peace.

You are correct that the Bible does not prescribe a lot of specifics. (I would fine tune that statement to say it of the New Testament - the Old Testament had a lot of prescribed details - but it seems God is treating us as adults rather than children now) While we have not been given specifically prescribed details, we have been given a specific purpose. When our details of practice do not achieve the purpose, perhaps we should re-visit?

Make sense?


6:42 PM, August 13, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

let me correct myself, I got interrupted and lost my place. I intended to say "we are to endeaver to keep the unity if the Spirit in the bond of peace." it goes on to say there is one body, and one Spirit. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

This is where our "fellowship" comes from. Our fellowship is centered on Him, not us.


7:41 PM, August 13, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


I would liked to have interacted more with the comments, but time constraints in life prevented me from doing so at any great length.

I think I will address this in more detail on the main page in the future sometime. Nothing immediate now, because I want to ruminate over how I would frame my perspective on membership. However, in response to some of what Craig has been stating.

He asks, "Where does the NT speak of Church membership?"

Though I would agree that there is no direct, explicit statement in scripture telling us we need to have Church membership, I believe there is plenty with in the NT epistles which lay the groundwork and provide the basic principles for the concept of church membership to develop, as well as become an integral part of church life. I believe it is simplistic and a tad naive to say that because the Bible doesn't say "church membership" we must not practice it. This is the same approach in argument Church of Christ people use to say we are not to have musical instruments in the Church. It is also the same approach exclusive psalmologists use to say we are only to sing the Psalms in worship, and no other written music.

Moreover, I would say that a prescribed doctrinal statement, or as we have at Grace a "what we teach" document, is not at all a divisive thing, but one that is wise, because it informs those who seek to join to the local fellowship where the leadership stands on specific issues. For what a church teaches and practices has real implications. That is why I would say Dever and others who think it is "sinful" for a local church to have a defined millennial position within a doctrinal statement are muddled. It may be a noble idea to say all our leaders hold to differing eschatologies, but a serious teacher will eventually have to deal with prophetic literature when teaching and discipling and how a Reformed, non-covenantalist handles the book of Revelation, or the Olivet Discourse, will be way different than how a preterist may handle the two books. In the long run, such a diversity of view points are not noble, but could very well be detrimental to the overall health of the church. A defined doctrinal statement and an agreement with people who choose to join to the church helps to wisely prevent potential and disastrous problems. The same could be said of a continuaist and a cessationist both being elders. One has an entirely different understanding of prophetic revelation than the other, and how that in turn plays heavily upon how we train Christians to discern, exercise their giftedness, determine God will. It doesn't matter what the books of Timothy or Titus declare. There is enough information provided by Paul to demonstrate this. Titus 2:9 says an elder must be able, by sound doctrine, to exhort and convict those who contradict. There has to be some standard by which to exercise this duty. Perhaps the easy thing is to say "we have the Bible," but a biblically sound doctrinal statement helps to summarize what a Church teaches on a given subject, in this case the continuation or cessation of spiritual gifts.

But, I make something of a distinction between demanding a member adhere to a doctrinal position and asking a member to respect and honor the doctrinal position. That is why I noted earlier that at Grace there are members who hold to differing eschatological positions, and it has been the mindset of the elders of our church that if the person can provide something of a biblical reason why and they are not disruptive with their position among the fellowship and Bible study groups, they are more than welcome to be members. The same could be said about those who are allowed to teach from the pulpit. We don't forbid a Presbyterian, or even a strict and particular Baptist to preach at Grace because the person may not agree with our doctrinal statement. Such would be absurd. There is a means to recognize membership within a given local assembly and fellowship with others outside that assembly who hold to the same essentials.

9:01 AM, August 14, 2009  
Blogger Craig and Heather said...

"It doesn't matter what the books of Timothy or Titus declare."

Are you kidding??? Aren't they the foundation for what an elder or overseer is to be measured by? "Sound doctrine" in this passage is not the church doctrinal statement. It is the ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

"There is enough information provided by Paul to demonstrate this. Titus 2:9 says an elder must be able, by sound doctrine, to exhort and convict those who contradict. There has to be some standard by which to exercise this duty. Perhaps the easy thing is to say "we have the Bible," but a biblically sound doctrinal statement helps to summarize what a Church teaches on a given subject,"

Honestly, (having experienced both) I think the doctrinal statement is the easy one. It is much more difficult to teach on a subject when you know someone who honestly believes another perspective is in the room. It forces you to avoid the "straw man" approach in your teaching. It also forces you to actually examine scripture and find out what it says, rather than just bone up on the WCF, or some other creed or church documentation.

Perhaps I am naive. I can see that if you are in the big city and deal with huge crowds of people, there are things you must do, and putting things down on paper may be beneficial. We are in a small town and deal more personally one on one in a much smaller population.

I have grown more in the last 3 years of my involvement with this fellowship than in any other 10 year period of my life. And it is because of the diverse opinions held by those who actually take scripture seriously and live godly lives - but at the same time love the body of Christ. Not saying this cannot happen in a church with a statement, just that it can be a distraction.

Again, I am not saying we will never put things down on paper. Not intending to draw a line in the sand to die over. It just amazes me that no one seems to question the idea in the first place. On one hand you have people proclaiming loudly "Scripture alone!" and then they attempt to summarize what God said. Strikes me as a bit audacious to presume I could restate what God said - better - and in fewer words. :) Once I step away from the actual inspired words of God, the words lose their power and timelessness.

I much prefer to do the hard work of actually studying what it says and applying it to life.

Look forward to your main page article.


4:50 PM, August 14, 2009  

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