Posts Tagged ‘heresy’

Last week I began a new series in the Letter of James to examine the Community of Faith.  My plan is to move quickly through the letter.  As a result, I’ll be using larger chunks of text than I am used to for a letter.  I should have anticipated what followed, but didn’t.

I had 4 commentaries on my shelf (5 if you include Calvin).  I started with my new commentary by Doug Moo from the Pillar Commentary Series.  I also had Alec Motyer’s Bible Speaks Today volume The Message of James, as well as John Blanchard and Thomas Manton.  Since I was covering some of the introductory matters as well as the text, there was a whole lot of reading to be doing IF I was to use all 4 commentaries.

I had to remind myself why we read commentaries in the first place.  There is a fine line that needs to be walked by the pastor.  We can become too dependent on commentaries.  We can also begin to think we don’t need to use commentaries.  We should walk in the tension regarding commentaries.


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In The Letters of John Newton, the last letter to Rev. Symonds concerns the differences that exist among Christians.  Some of those are differences in belief, and some are differences in practice.  Newton’s comments lead us toward charity on the non-essentials.

He had recently moved from Olney to London.  There in London his sphere of influence was greatly enlarged.  This mean that a wide range of people were coming to hear him preach.  He mentions “Churchmen and Dissenters, Calvinists and Arminians, Moravians and Methodists, now and then I believe Papists and Quakers sit quietly to hear me.”

I know that in the churches I’ve served, this can often be true.  There have been a hodge-podge of backgrounds and present views.  And you just never know where that visitor is coming from.

What he says in the rest of the letter concerns our brothers with whom we disagree.  Don’t take them as applying to denominational standards.  The greater the bond the greater the agreement must be.  Denominations do well to have statements of faith that are binding (even if I disagree with many a denomination’s’ particulars).

“Whoever wants to confine me to follow his sentiments, whether as to doctrine or order, is so far a papist.  Whoever encourages me to read the Scriptures, and to pray for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and then will let me follow the life the Lord Jesus gives me, without being angry with me because I cannot and will not see with his eyes, nor wear his shoes, is a consistent Protestant.”

He accuses those who demand that others believe as they do, and do as they do of acting like a Pope.  Such people, though often claiming to be Protestants, condemn all who disagree with them.  For instance, this is the issue the Ray Ortlund, Jr. has with the “Truly Reformed“.  In their zeal for truth, particularly Reformed Theology, they condemn all who do not believe (and do) as they believe (and do).  They have lapsed into functional papacy.

This does not mean we should not expect others to hold to essentials of the faith (unless we start thinking everything is essential, which is what these folks do).  He continues:

“The depravity of human nature; the deity of the Savior; the influences of the Holy Spirit; a separation from the world, and a devotedness to God- these are principles which I deem fundamental; and though I would love and serve all mankind, I can have no religious union or communion with those who deny them.”

There are certain minimal beliefs that make one an orthodox Christian.  Newton does not deny this.  But he does not want to hold people to the maximum standard before admitting them as brothers.

“Though a man does not accord with my views of election; yet if he gives me good evidence that he is effectually called of God, he is my brother.  Though he seems afraid of the doctrine of final perseverance; yet if grace enable him to persevere, he is my brother still.  If he love Jesus, I will love him; whatever hard name he may be called by, and whatever incidental mistakes I may think he holds.  His different from me will not always prove him to be wrong, except I am infallible myself.”

Newton looks for evidences of the grace of God in them, not theological consistency.  The key word is “incidental” mistakes.  For instance, Rob Bell’s increasing syncretism is not an “incidental mistake”.  Rob needs the real gospel.  But Protestants can disagree on issues regarding baptism, the Table, election, the covenants, the millennium etc.  I did say Protestants since the Roman views of baptism and the Table depart too far from Scripture as to be heretical.

Newton gets to the main point at the very end.  We cannot expect everyone to agree with us, submitting to our view of things unless we somehow mistakenly think we are infallible- that we are the Pope speaking ex cathedra (from his chair on matters of faith and morals).  No mere man is infallible, but we all err.  And this ought to humble us as we interact with brothers on matters of dispute.  Treat them as brothers, not enemies.  Grant one another grace and continued love.

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Considering Size

Today, the “miniscule” Dustin Pedroia (whose heart is like the Grinch’s post-Christmas) won the AL MVP.  He’s the first “small” guy to win the award in quite some time.

Jared Wilson has a great post today on whether size matters in churches.  He was attending a conference, noticing that all the speakers had BIG churches, which is why they were invited to speak.  Here’s one part of the struggle all of should reckon with:

One of the Catalyst speakers in his address said that every church has the Holy Spirit but that some churches have that something extra that makes them special. The crowd ate this up, and indeed, this seems to be the implicit message of all conferences, kits, consultations, and systems of this kind: You may have the Spirit, but do you have _______?

This not only implies that God isn’t enough, it only feeds and stokes the insatiable idolatry for that “x factor” the fans of these programs are operating out of. “Sure, I’ve got Jesus. But I need the tips, techniques, and know-how to take it to the next level!”
The level above Jesus? There is a place that is better or more “successful” than having Jesus?
Do we need the Spirit plus something?

Similar to the Galatian heresy: turning Christianity into Jesus + __________.  The difference being that in Galatia it was about being a Christian, and here it is about “growing a church” but the implications are pretty much the same.  Who gets the glory?  We are all too ready to give credit to the pastor if the church grows (and blame if it doesn’t- does a congregation repent because they didn’t take the Great Commission seriously or just fire the pastor?).  We worship success in this here country, and can’t understand why a church doesn’t grow.  So we add all kinds of things to the gospel, and often obscure the gospel, so the church will grow.

He was told about a small church conference which which wasn’t really a small church conference.  I’ll let him explain.

And then the respondent recommended we small church dudes check out The Sticks Conference. And he elaborated. The Sticks Conference is for pastors in small towns.

What wasn’t said, but was nevertheless something I “heard,” was that small church equals small town. Because, again, if you have a small church in a big town, it is not successful. The implication is that the only acceptable reason for having a small church is that you are in a low populated area where there aren’t a lot of people.

So I checked out the website for The Sticks. It is indeed for pastors of small churches in small, mostly rural, towns. And the speakers are all pastors of megachurches that are in small towns. Each of the speakers’ bios glowingly related how large they had grown their churches, as if that is the point of the conference: get big.
<> Thanks, Sticks, for dispatching with the preoccupation with size.

Even the concept of The Sticks, which was suggested as an alternative to the success-obsession of the other conferences, is that if you are in a small church, your job is to get bigger.

Justin hits the nail on the head in what follows- we worship numbers.  There is a whole “industry” designed to feed our idolatry.  We ignore blatant heresy because the “pastor’s” church is big.  You can’t argue with success, right?  Yeah … what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul.  This is what many of us are doing- losing our grip on the gospel (and our soul) so we can gain a big church, becoming famous.

But it isn’t just pastors and church leaders.  The average search committee worships success.  They want the guy with the “proven track-record.”  Godly men are passed over because they don’t pass the success test.  You can talk about this in terms of providence if you want.  Okay, God often gives churches over to their sin just as he does individuals and cultures (Romans 1:19ff). In their quest for successful men, the church suffers extended periods of time without a godly shepherd.  And often the mini-messiah is not what the Shepherd ordered.  Churches around our land have been ravaged by moralism and pragmatism in this worship of success.  Where is the gospel?  Why do we think the gospel is insufficient?  Obviously we need means to present the gospel (small groups, SS, youth groups etc) but they are a means to the end of preaching and applying the gospel.

Whether you’re a tall, grande, or venti church, if your overriding concern is numbers, you’re an idolatrous church.  Be faithful, and God will give the increase in his measure and in his time.

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