Paul's Passing Thoughts

Helping Tim Challies and Other Calvinists with Evangelism

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on September 29, 2016

Originally published January 29, 2015

ChalliesYesterday, I was sent the following article about Calvinist evangelism written by blogger Tim Challies: How To Offend a Room Full of Calvinists. Miffed by the suggestion that somebody knows better than me how to offend Calvinists, I immediately read the article.

Apparently, according to Challies, Calvinists get offended when people suggest that their soteriology hinders evangelism.  According to Challies, the argument goes like this:

Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Protestants en masse think Calvinism’s greatest sin is weak evangelism, and of course, that makes them very angry because it’s supposedly the last criticism standing. I could start with the fact that Calvinism is works salvation under the guise of faith alone, or progressive justification, or salvation by antinomianism. Pick one; any of the three will work. But I have a mountain of data on that subject already; let’s do something different. Yes, let’s use Challies’ own words in the post to refute his argument. Before we call on Challies to refute his own protest, we will address his take on church history.

We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission… There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

In the post, Challies argues that we know that a straight line can be found from Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal because of history. Supposedly, Calvinists throughout history were driven directly by this deterministic gospel to reach thousands. It is very interesting when you consider the examples given which will aid in making my point.

The Great Awakening had absolutely nothing to do with Reformed soteriology. We should know this as a matter of common sense to begin with because the Holy Spirit doesn’t colabor with a false gospel. The Great Awakening was fueled by the ideology of the American Revolution and was expressed to a great degree in churches, especially among African Americans. Fact is, guys like Edwards and Whitefield then got on their horses and rode around the countryside bloviating and taking credit for the freedom movement tagged with “The Great Awakening” nomenclature.

Fact is, the Great Awakening was a pushback against the Puritan church state driven by Reformed soteriology that came across the pond as a European blight on American history. I would liken Challies’ assessment to our present President taking credit for things he is against when the results are positive.

What about Spurgeon? That example is just too rich because it makes the last point for me. Spurgeon, who once said Calvinism was no mere nickname but the very gospel itself, was the poster boy for getting people to come to church in order to get them saved. That’s important, hold on to that because it’s our last point.

But before we get to the last point, let’s look at the major point: Challies argues against the idea that fatalism hinders evangelism, and then confesses that he doesn’t evangelize like all of the great Calvinists in history because of…fatalism. Calvinism doesn’t cause fatalism resulting in lame evangelism, but Challies doesn’t evangelize because of fatalism.

After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel… We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all.

So why does Challies not evangelize according to him? First, because he just doesn’t, but secondly, he is responsible:

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

He is responsible, but not often stirred. And what’s his solution? There isn’t one, it is what it is; he is responsible, but not called to evangelism. No corrective solution is offered in the post. Why not? Because, as he said, we are responsible, but unable. Responsibility and inability are not incompatible. So, Calvinism doesn’t hinder evangelism, but if you don’t evangelize, there is no solution. Others did it, and you don’t, the end.  Well, I suppose that approach doesn’t prevent evangelism either!

And funny he should cite Edwards. Susan is doing a session on Edwards for TANC 2015 and is studying his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. She approached me and wanted to discuss something about the sermon that she was perplexed about. Edwards spent the better part of an hour addressing the total hopelessness of man and his likelihood of ending up in an eternal hell, but in the end offers no counsel on how to escape. Why? Because if God is going to do something, he is going to do it, and man is responsible either way.

This now brings us to the final point with a bonus; we are going to help Challies with his evangelism shortcomings. There is, in fact, a solution for Tim’s lack of evangelistic zeal. He doesn’t properly understand Calvinism and its history. This isn’t about saving Tim from the false gospel of Calvinism, this is about being a good evangelist in the context of Calvinism. If I can’t save a Calvinist, I can at least teach them how to be a better Calvinist. Really, it’s disheartening when Calvinists don’t properly understand Calvinism.

This is how we will help Tim Challies. We will bring him back to the historical significance of Spurgeon using some of his own observations. First, let’s get a lay of the land; how does true Calvinistic evangelism work? First, it is the “sovereign” gospel which means the subject must not be told that they have a choice. This is some fun you can have with Calvinists. Ask them if they tell the recipients of their gospel message that they have a choice. Most will avoid answering because they don’t want to admit the answer is, “no.” By their own definition, that would be a false gospel speaking to man’s ability to choose God.

Secondly, if God does do something, if “the wind blows,” that puts the subject in two categories according to Calvin: the called and those who persevere.  The called are those that God temporarily illumines, but later blinds resulting in a greater damnation. Those of the perseverance class are the truly elect. So, the “good news” is that you have a chance to make it. But, if you don’t make it according to God’s predetermined will, your damnation is greater than the non-elect. God has either chosen you for greater damnation or the jackpot, but I guess it’s worth a try if God so chooses.

But hold on, and this is huge: all of that can be bypassed by Calvin’s “power of the keys.” What’s that? If you are a formal member of a Reformed church, and the elders like you, whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

Furthermore, according to Calvin, sins committed in the Christian life remove us from salvation, but membership in the local church and receiving the “impartations of grace” that can only be found in church membership supply a perpetual covering for sin. And here is the crux: one of those “graces” is sitting under “gospel preaching” of which Spurgeon was chief. In one way or the other, Spurgeon sold this wholesale and the results speak for themselves.

See, the solution for Challies is simple.  There is a solution for the disobedience he himself is responsible for: simply invite people to church in order to “get them under the gospel.” And that often looks like this…

Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Problem solved. That’s how Calvinism is a straight line from its theology to evangelism—you are saved by being a formal member of a Reformed church, and your salvation is sustained by remaining a faithful member of that church and obeying everything the elders tell you to do and think. But let’s not call it intellectual rape, let’s call it “keeping ourselves in the love of Jesus.” Let’s call it “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.” Let’s call it “being faithful to the church every time the doors are opened.” Let’s call it “putting ourselves under the authority of Godly men.” Let’s call it “trusting God with our finances.”

You’re welcome Tim, glad I could help.

paul

Helping Tim Challies and Other Calvinists with Evangelism

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on January 29, 2015

ChalliesYesterday, I was sent the following article about Calvinist evangelism written by blogger Tim Challies: How To Offend a Room Full of Calvinists. Miffed by the suggestion that somebody knows better than me how to offend Calvinists, I immediately read the article.

Apparently, according to Challies, Calvinists get offended when people suggest that their soteriology hinders evangelism.  According to Challies, the argument goes like this:

Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Protestants en masse think Calvinism’s greatest sin is weak evangelism, and of course, that makes them very angry because it’s supposedly the last criticism standing. I could start with the fact that Calvinism is works salvation under the guise of faith alone, or progressive justification, or salvation by antinomianism. Pick one; any of the three will work. But I have a mountain of data on that subject already; let’s do something different. Yes, let’s use Challies’ own words in the post to refute his argument. Before we call on Challies to refute his own protest, we will address his take on church history.

We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission… There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

In the post, Challies argues that we know that a straight line can be found from Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal because of history. Supposedly, Calvinists throughout history were driven directly by this deterministic gospel to reach thousands. It is very interesting when you consider the examples given which will aid in making my point.

The Great Awakening had absolutely nothing to do with Reformed soteriology. We should know this as a matter of common sense to begin with because the Holy Spirit doesn’t colabor with a false gospel. The Great Awakening was fueled by the ideology of the American Revolution and was expressed to a great degree in churches, especially among African Americans. Fact is, guys like Edwards and Whitefield then got on their horses and rode around the countryside bloviating and taking credit for the freedom movement tagged with “The Great Awakening” nomenclature.

Fact is, the Great Awakening was a pushback against the Puritan church state driven by Reformed soteriology that came across the pond as a European blight on American history. I would liken Challies’ assessment to our present President taking credit for things he is against when the results are positive.

What about Spurgeon? That example is just too rich because it makes the last point for me. Spurgeon, who once said Calvinism was no mere nickname but the very gospel itself, was the poster boy for getting people to come to church in order to get them saved. That’s important, hold on to that because it’s our last point.

But before we get to the last point, let’s look at the major point: Challies argues against the idea that fatalism hinders evangelism, and then confesses that he doesn’t evangelize like all of the great Calvinists in history because of…fatalism. Calvinism doesn’t cause fatalism resulting in lame evangelism, but Challies doesn’t evangelize because of fatalism.

After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel… We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all.

So why does Challies not evangelize according to him? First, because he just doesn’t, but secondly, he is responsible:

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

He is responsible, but not often stirred. And what’s his solution? There isn’t one, it is what it is; he is responsible, but not called to evangelism. No corrective solution is offered in the post. Why not? Because, as he said, we are responsible, but unable. Responsibility and inability are not incompatible. So, Calvinism doesn’t hinder evangelism, but if you don’t evangelize, there is no solution. Others did it, and you don’t, the end.  Well, I suppose that approach doesn’t prevent evangelism either!

And funny he should cite Edwards. Susan is doing a session on Edwards for TANC 2015 and is studying his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. She approached me and wanted to discuss something about the sermon that she was perplexed about. Edwards spent the better part of an hour addressing the total hopelessness of man and his likelihood of ending up in an eternal hell, but in the end offers no counsel on how to escape. Why? Because if God is going to do something, he is going to do it, and man is responsible either way.

This now brings us to the final point with a bonus; we are going to help Challies with his evangelism shortcomings. There is, in fact, a solution for Tim’s lack of evangelistic zeal. He doesn’t properly understand Calvinism and its history. This isn’t about saving Tim from the false gospel of Calvinism, this is about being a good evangelist in the context of Calvinism. If I can’t save a Calvinist, I can at least teach them how to be a better Calvinist. Really, it’s disheartening when Calvinists don’t properly understand Calvinism.

This is how we will help the Challies. We will bring him back to the historical significance of Spurgeon using some of his own observations. First, let’s get a lay of the land; how does true Calvinistic evangelism work? First, it is the “sovereign” gospel which means the subject must not be told that they have a choice. This is some fun you can have with Calvinists. Ask them if they tell the recipients of their gospel message that they have a choice. Most will avoid answering because they don’t want to admit the answer is, “no.” By their own definition, that would be a false gospel speaking to man’s ability to choose God.

Secondly, if God does do something, if “the wind blows,” that puts the subject in two categories according to Calvin: the called and those who persevere.  The called are those that God temporarily illumines, but later blinds resulting in a greater damnation. Those of the perseverance class are the truly elect. So, the “good news” is that you have a chance to make it. But, if you don’t make it according to God’s predetermined will, your damnation is greater than the non-elect. God has either chosen you for greater damnation or the jackpot, but I guess it’s worth a try if God so chooses.

But hold on, and this is huge: all of that can be bypassed by Calvin’s “power of the keys.” What’s that? If you are a formal member of a Reformed church, and the elders like you, whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

Furthermore, according to Calvin, sins committed in the Christian life remove us from salvation, but membership in the local church and receiving the “impartations of grace” that can only be found in church membership supply a perpetual covering for sin. And here is the crux: one of those “graces” is sitting under “gospel preaching” of which Spurgeon was chief. In one way or the other, Spurgeon sold this wholesale and the results speak for themselves.

See, the solution for Challies is simple.  There is a solution for the disobedience he himself is responsible for: simply invite people to church in order to “get them under the gospel.” And that often looks like this…

Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Problem solved. That’s how Calvinism is a straight line from its theology to evangelism—you are saved by being a formal member of a Reformed church, and your salvation is sustained by remaining a faithful member of that church and obeying everything the elders tell you to do and think. But let’s not call it intellectual rape, let’s call it “keeping ourselves in the love of Jesus.” Let’s call it “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.” Let’s call it “being faithful to the church every time the doors are opened.” Let’s call it “putting ourselves under the authority of Godly men.” Let’s call it “trusting God with our finances.”

You’re welcome Tim, glad I could help.

paul

“Against Church” Free Writing Notes: The Smoking Gun; Church Discipline and the Impartation of Grace

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 6, 2014

Against Church Cover    The idea of salvation via church membership, though vehemently denied in most evangelical circles, is for all practical purposes confirmed by the concept known as “church discipline.” The Catholic version known as “excommunication” needs no discussion here because as previously stated Rome is neither shy nor ambiguous about salvation being found in the Mother Church alone. Membership in the Catholic Church and the practice of its rituals virtually assures one of eternal life.

    In the Protestant version called “church discipline,” the subject can be “declared an unbeliever” by church leaders. Unfortunately, many evangelicals assume this to mean that the person is to be treated LIKE an unbeliever (as the text states grammatically) and use of the word declaration is just in a manner of speaking, but such is not the case. In authentic Protestantism from which all of its various stripes come (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, etc.), the church has the authority to “declare” a person unsaved because they are supposedly God’s authority on earth. The “church” is the God ordained institution that gets people from point A to point B. Salvation is a process, and when people within the church are not behaving according to the salvific process of a particular denomination, or even threatening the salvation vessel with their behavior, they must be ejected from the institution which also removes them from the salvation process. This is why church discipline is referred to as “redemptive church discipline” in some circles.

The Impartation of Grace?

    “Grace” is a word in the Bible that is very generic. Primarily, it means “favor.” It also has the idea of “blessings.” Some Bible scholars even suggest that the word merely means “help.”[11] The Reformers incessantly used the word in the strict confines of justification. This gives credence to the idea that Christians must operate within a given orthodoxy in order to receive a perpetual doling out of grace in order to remain saved. It’s justification on the installment plan, and the installments can only be received in the institutional church. As we have observed in former chapters, this boiled down to perpetual forgiveness of new sins committed as Christians in order to remain forgiven, and that forgiveness can only be found in the institutional church. Again, though Protestants have gravitated away from an outward admission of such, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree and they function that way accordingly. So-called “church discipline” is one of the practices that exposes this reality. Protestants are very much like professed vegetarians who take meat protein supplements, for practical reasons of course.

    Hence, everything in the “Christian” life becomes a question of the continued impartation of justification rather than change. We don’t change to be saved, and the Christian life is still about salvation if you are a good Protestant. This “impartation of grace” covers all of life, viz, the “gospel-driven life,” but the example here will be the impartation of grace via speech.  Let’s see how the original Protestant idea of justification on the installment plan manifests itself in contemporary teachings.

    John Piper, the “elder statesman” of the Neo-Calvinist movement (which is not new at all), spoke of the impartation of grace through our speech while preaching a sermon on Ephesians 4. The Reformed Charismatic Adrian Warnock wrote about the sermon in an article titled, John Piper Friday – Using Our Mouths to Impart Grace.[12] Piper is quoted in that article as stating,

Instead of proposing clean language, he proposes a whole new way of thinking about language. Instead of saying, “You don’t need dirty language to communicate your intention,” he says, “The root issue is whether your intention is love.” In other words the issue for Paul is not really language at all; the issue is love. The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace. You see he shifts from the external fruit to the internal root. He shifts from what we say to why we say it. That’s the issue… This is a revolutionary way to think about your mouth…It is not Christian just to stop swearing. It is not Christian just to put good language in the mouth instead. It is Christian to ask the deeper, internal question: am I speaking now to edify? The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace.”

In Sonship Theology circles, this is known as “speaking life into people.” Church is a place where we go to receive life installments, or grace installments on the roadway to heaven. Faithfulness to the institutional church pays our grace toll on the way to heaven and eventually gets us in. Contemporary Protestants state in no uncertain terms the primary means of grace: our original baptism that makes us official church members, and has an ongoing efficacious effect as long as we are faithful to the institution, the Lord’s Table, prayer, the Bible (as long as we see every verse in regard to justification), and sitting under the preaching of Reformed ordained elders:

Then, second, let me state what we do intend by “the ordinary means of grace.” To begin, here is the Shorter Catechism answer 88: “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.” I will unfold this answer in later articles, but for now, note the following: 1) by “grace” we intend the benefits of redemption; 2) only the elect are beneficiaries; 3) the benefits are communicated to the elect, by which we mean that they are appreciably received, for true communication cannot occur in ignorance; 4) the means are instituted by Christ, they are his ordinances; 5) there are three principal means: the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer; 6) by “salvation” we mean not merely the cross of Christ or our individual justification, but the whole work that begins in election and concludes in glorification. The means are of use subjectively, and not all at once, and most extensively in sanctification.[13]

    This is set against the supposed Catholic aberration that grace (salvation) is imparted to anyone whose body is dragged within the confines of the Mother Church, and that accusation does have some merit historically, but the Protestant version called “the ordinary means of grace” posits the exact same idea of justification on the installment plan through sacraments within the institutional church. That is the responsibility of church leadership, but according to Piper, and according to Protestant soteriology, parishioners have a responsibility to also impart the means of grace among each other. Therefore, proper sonship or kingdom speech that edifies is not the issue, but imparting salvation to each other is the issue. Let’s remove Piper’s nuance to show clearly what he is really saying:

“The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of [justification].” Or…

“The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of [salvation].”

The replacement word “grace” nuances the point, but Piper’s root and fruit paradigm and his justification instrument construct affirm what he means by the “impartation of grace.” And unequivocally, these are NOT Piperesque ideas, these are accurate portrayals of authentic Protestant soteriology.

    The idea that works in sanctification are the “fruits of justification” seems harmless enough, after all, justification makes sanctification possible. But possibility is not what is in view here; what is in view is the idea that sanctification is the fruit of justification. In other words, justification is like a tree that grows. Justification is the root, and sanctification is the fruit of justification. Therefore, justification is a growing tree, and all of its fruit must flow from the roots of the same tree. This is what Piper is talking about in the aforementioned sermon written about by Warnock; if we make a conscience effort to change the way we speak according to Scripture, we are making the fruit the root. We are fruit stapling. We are to merely speak justification to people, viz, “speak life into them,” and experience any fruit produced by the root of justification “subjectively” (see the last sentence of endnote 13).

    Another way Piper describes our active obedience as making the fruit the root; i.e., making our own efforts the justification root, is making our own efforts the working of fruits back into the instrument of justification:

One of the concerns that I have about justification, and in particular the biblical understanding of imputation (being counted righteous as distinct from actually becoming behavioral in our righteousness—which are both crucial), is that those who are jealous like I want to be for our holiness, our love, our justice and our mercy in the world can begin to build those fruits into the instrument of justification to make sure that it is not separated. But in the process they undermine the very goal that we are both after.

Here’s what I mean. I’m arguing, as I think historic protestant Christianity and the Bible argues, that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to me is through union with Christ, where he is for me all that he is, and I am attached to him in that union through faith alone. The only instrument by which I am made a participant in Christ’s righteousness is God’s acting through my faith. I am born into that relationship through faith alone, not through any of its fruits, like mercy and justice and love and patience and kindness and meekness and so on, which turn me into a useful person in the world.[14]

As seen in this citation, Piper is making our fruits in sanctification the same thing as being born into the family of God by faith alone. If we actually do works in sanctification, we are producing justification works, or “build[ing] those fruits into the instrument of justification.” The “instrument” is faith and faith only; it is the instrument of justification that produces its own fruit and not ours. Therefore, all of Christian life is keeping us united to Christ (known as the vital union, or the mystical union) through faith alone which produces the subjective fruit of justification. These works are “subjective” because we really don’t know when they are produced by the root of justification or not. Luther is married to Calvin on this point because Luther defined this subjective experience of justification’s fruit by mortal sin versus venial sin (The Heidelberg Disputation: Theses 3).  People are actually damned if they believe they can do works that have merit with God for sanctification or justification, but if one believes that even their good works are evil, they are only guilty of venial sin which is covered by the blood of Christ. And, in the final analysis, Christians have no idea when the works they are experiencing are from the root of justification. That’s the subjective nature of it. This narrows the Christian life down to interpreting everything through salvation, or justification, and leaving the subjective results to God.

    This is all a long version of simply saying that any efforts on the part of a Christian are works salvation because we are in the midst of a progressing, or growing salvation. Any effort on our part is an effort to participate in justification. Instead, we must merely partake in the ordinary means of grace administered and qualified by Protestant orthodoxy.

    This is where the Protestant version of excommunication comes into play. When people misbehave as members of the church, they are not only jeopardizing the church as the cosmic salvation vessel, they are derelict in their duty to aid the church in imparting grace upon grace unto final grace. In this instance, we are using speech as the example. When people question church authority, or “gossip,” they are actually jeopardizing people’s salvation. Hence, they must be removed for the protection of the salvation vessel and the salvific wellbeing of the other members.

    This is also where Protestantism clashes with American individualism. Remember, Protestantism is a European import, and not uniquely American as many errantly believe. The American Revolution invoked the first non-Collectivist government known to mankind. It has been stated in this book that the fruit does not fall far from the tree, but that doesn’t mean there is no distance whatsoever when it does fall. In the 20th century, individualism was in vogue among American Christians and so-called church discipline fell by the wayside. But in 1970, which marked the beginning of a Protestant resurgence in American culture, all of that began to change. Now, many popular evangelicals declare democracy to be “satanic.”[15] By 2009, controversy over heavy handed church discipline became a hot topic even in the secular media, and anti-spiritual abuse blogs began to saturate the internet. By 1986, sixteen years after the beginning of the Protestant resurgence, the problem was large enough that mediatory organizations funded by the institutional church began to emerge in an attempt to keep local churches from being sued in public court.

    The primary Bible text offered as a proof for church discipline is Matthew 18:15-20. Nowhere in this text does the idea of “church discipline” appear. Specifically in the Bible, there is a discipline by God within the church (Heb. 12:5-11), and self-discipline that prevents the need for God’s discipline (1Cor. 11:30-32), but a discipline by the “church” is nowhere to be found. There are two primary reasons for this: there is no such thing as formal membership in God’s body, and the assembling of the body together is based on fellowship, not formal membership.

    Matthew18:15-20 is based on fellowship issues, not an authority to proclaim someone an unbeliever. It primarily concerns disputes among believers, and a breaking of fellowship with those who are obstinate in regard to wrongdoing. The last resort is to treat the individual like a Gentile or tax collector of whom the Jews would not associate with. Not all Gentiles were unbelievers, and not all tax collectors were unbelievers; so, to make them synonymous with “unsaved” or the authority to declare one unsaved is completely without merit.

    “Church discipline” is perhaps the most significant smoking gun in regard to the institutional church being completely without merit. One may notice that elders are not mentioned in this text as well, only “witnesses” and the “assembly.” Even though the steps of resolution in this text are crystal clear, Protestant orthodoxy takes liberties with it for expedient purposes. In the institutional model, it is often barely less than impossible to involve a whole congregation in the situation if the subject will not listen to the offended party or witnesses. In other words, this is obviously not feasible in a church with thousands of members, or campuses in other cities as opposed to a small group meeting in a house.

    Also, this discussion between Jesus and His disciples was well before Pentecost, and probably pertained to the existing synagogues which were mostly small gatherings in private homes. Even in our day, synagogues in private homes are a Jewish tradition.[16]  Not only that, “witnesses” and “assembly” have been replaced with what appears nowhere in the text, “elders.” According to Protestant orthodoxy, only the elders have the authority to declare someone an unbeliever, but the text clearly assigns that authority, if there is such an authority, to the assembly with no mention of elders at all! Replacing “tell it to the church,” with an announcement to the congregation about what elders have decided to do is nothing more or less than presumptuous. Clearly, added to this text is the idea of formal membership over fellowship, and a supposed authority of those nowhere named to declare people unbelieving.

    One can add the following: institutional churches spend thousands of dollars for legal counsel in regard to church discipline issues. If a private home is in view, such issues do not exist. One of the biblical qualifications of an elder is that he is “given to hospitality.” This is because Christian fellowships were in homes. If a group decides not to fellowship with an individual, he/she is simply no longer welcomed in that home which is an indisputable right in any culture; that is, to exclude anyone you want from entering your personal home. If the assembly wrongly sides with the offender, the offended and the two witness can merely start their own fellowship until the assembly repents. That’s the point Christ is making in verses 18-20. In addition, if the offended is being thin-skinned or petty, that can be resolved by the two witnesses before the group is involved. Matthew 18:15-20 fits perfectly into any home fellowship scenario, but in context of an institution, it becomes a convoluted litany of social, personal, practical, and legal controversies.

    For instance, in most U.S. states, to humiliate someone publically for something that is not against civil or criminal law is illegal. So-called church discipline in commercial settings is a public announcement and at the very least defamation according to most state laws. A church is especially liable if the subject is employed by someone who is also a member in the same church. If a subject is told that they may not vacate membership because of the church discipline upon pain of public humiliation, that is technically kidnapping in many states. We must remember that the Protestant orthodoxy regarding church discipline was written under the auspices of European church states and will not fit well in a democracy without numerous controversies. Unfortunately, the hard working laity funds the attempt to fit a round peg in a square hole.

    Moreover, in regard to membership and church discipline, two questions emerge: What if an unseemly person insists on attending a church, but is not a member, and therefore not under the “authority” of the elders? Also, what if a person vacates membership by letter after first being confronted about an issue to avoid public humiliation? These two questions alone have created a quagmire of controversial debate in the institutional church. Furthermore, the church has applied the text to SIN in general and not what the text specifically addresses: disputes between Christians. The Bible addresses sin issues separately, and the prescription is often different from the Matthew 18:15-20 procedure. The prescription always pertains to an adjustment of fellowship, not an authority to have someone removed from the book of life.

    In short, an attempt to fit Matthew 18:15-20 into an institutional setting reveals the folly of Christ’s assembly as an institution of any sort. It replaces simple fellowship with membership, leadership with authority, and aggressive kingdom citizenship with salvation via institution.

Endnotes

11. Dr. Jay E. Adams: Nouthetic .org; Grow By Grace, November 6, 2013.

12. Online source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/05/john-piper-friday-using-our-mouths-to-impart-grace/

13. Rev. Bruce Buchanan: Puritan Board .com; The ordinary Means of Grace | Online source: http://www.puritanboard.com/f87/ordinary-means-grace-19104/

14. Online source: http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/Justification-AConcern-Piper.html

15. One example among many is an article written by Pastor James MacDonald. Online source: http://jamesmacdonald.com/jamestoday/blog/congregational-government-is-from-satan/ which has been scrubbed, but agreed with and restated by another popular evangelical ministry here: http://9marks.org/article/congregationalism-is-used-by-satan-like-he-uses-everything-else/

16. Online sources: http://www.myfoxdfw.com/story/24636702/dallas-man-suing-rabbi-neighbor-over

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/plano/headlines/20140228-neighbors-at-odds-over-synagogue-in-highlands-of-mckamy-home.ece

http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2014/02/far_north_dallas_rabbi_cries_d.php

 

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