The Gospel Coalition


As more than one blogger has pointed out, both Tom Schreiner and Mark Dever have been recently preaching through the book of Revelation. Dever is amillennial. So was Schreiner--until he prepared to preach through Revelation 20 and became historic pre-mill! (I have hope that Schreiner will come back, though! Full disclosure: I'm a-mill; for a helpful article on the problems with pre-mill, see Sam Storms's Problems with Premillennialism.)

But...in Dever's sermon yesterday on Rev. 20, he made a provocative but helpful statement regarding millennial views and church unity. The transcript and the added emphasis comes from A.J. Gibson:


I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation.


Notice that Dever also includes views of alcohol in this list. (Many do not know that though John Piper is a teetotaler and thinks this is the wisest course for all Christians, he put his ministry on the line at Bethlehem in his second year at Bethlehem in order to have an abstinence-only clause removed from the church covenant.)

Feel free to weigh in with your comments, but if you do, let's keep the discussion focused on the issues here (i.e., this is not a debate about whether it's wrong to divide fellowship based on views of baptism).

HT: Andy Naselli

Update: Andy is interviewed on the radio about this here: Are Millennial Views Essential?




Comments:

founderandperfecter

July 15, 2009 at 12:37 AM

The doctrinal statement of the church needs to clearly display what the members will be subject to church discipline for.

If you make doctrinal statements and do not qualify that there is room for disagreement between church members on certain issues, then you are responsible to discipline those who are outside of it.

This means if you say "premil" then amil is subject to church discipline. I *think* this is Dever's point. Church discipline about that is trivial and divisive.

About other issues, it is actually much more important, and there should be church discipline involved, with stuff like the gospel, the Trinity etc.

This is where it takes wisdom and discernment. What about baptism? What about complementarianism? What about Calvinism? The church should be clear where they stand, but it should also be clear about what responsibilities members hold. It is not fair to let an Arminian join the church and then subject him to discipline for not being Calvinist.

You can see the issue getting muddier, but God will work through the church and she will endure!

G N Barkman

July 15, 2009 at 09:47 AM

Michael, I have enjoyed this exchange. I agree that it will matter little when we are in Heaven. Since we are not there yet, it does matter, as we struggle to be faithful to God's Word, as best we are able to understand it by the Spirit of God.

If we are going to be very careful about distinctions, perhaps we should say that a profession of faith in Christ IS an implicit confession of regeneration, whether it is genuine or not. It is what it is, a profession. Whether it is a true or false profession remains to be seen.

Your statement regarding God's profession of faith in us seems to me to be beside the point, and only continues to highlight the size of the divide that launched this exchange. Credo-baptists require a personal profession of faith by the prospective member as a requirement for membership, and pedo-baptists do not. Are we agreed on this?

michaelmcclenahan

July 15, 2009 at 08:59 AM

Dear Mr Barkman

Perhaps it is an overly fastidious concern with distinctions but I tend to think that confessing one's trust in the Lord Jesus as Lord and Saviour and confessing that one is regenerate are two quite distinct things.

Moreover, when one professes faith in Christ it is an implicit (I think not 'indirect) confession of regeneration *if* the confession is authentic. And only the day of judgement will reveal that for certain. To require any confession of one's regenerate status for communicant standing in the church is simply an absurdity. So I am glad we both disavow such error. We confess Christ's work done for us and outside us - that we trust, not his work for us and in us.

Finally, and perhaps just a little tongue-in-cheek, there is a profession of faith at a covenant baptism: in the Reformed faith it is the Lord God who professes his faith/confidence in us and our children. Such are his enduring covenant promises.

Warm regards in the Lord Jesus, I doubt any of this will concern us when we see him face to face.

MM

G N Barkman

July 15, 2009 at 08:31 AM

Michael, It seems that the exchange has become a bit "nit-picky," if not silly. However, I will endeavor to answer your last question, and assume it was an honest inquiry.

In most credo-baptist churches, a membership candidate testifies to his faith in Christ alone for salvation. He would not usually specifically testify to having been regenerated, although he could use such language.

Since we believe that faith in Christ is the fruit of regeneration, such a statement is a testimony of regeneration, albeit indirectly. The original point is that credo-baptists require a credible and personal testimony of the new birth before baptism and membership. Pedo-baptists are happy to baptize those who give no testimony of faith in Christ. That is a pretty big divide that effects the very nature of the church and makes practicle partnership within a local church extremely difficult.

Bible_Reader

July 15, 2009 at 03:41 AM

"Believers baptism by immersion is a prerequisite for participation in the Lord's Supper."

What could be more divisive and unbiblical than this??

Paul

July 15, 2009 at 02:43 AM

To come back on a couple of points I made at the very top...

Josh and Frank - on Nicene only Christianity.

1. I'm not at all denying that churches should have a much more detailed confession of faith, which they should teach and elders/deacons should be held accountable to. Bring on the WCF or LBC, 3 forms of unity, 39 articles etc.

2. If someone is a Christian (eg. baptised, professing a belief and not under church excommunication) then I think they ought to be allowed membership into any true church. So the question here is "what do you have to believe to be a Christian?", not "what should all Christians believe?"

3. You're quite right about the purpose of the Nicene Creed. One could hold justification by works and still believe the Nicene Creed, or open theism as you point out.

But are there true believers who mess either of these doctrines up? I think so, because justification is by faith not by faith in justification by faith.

4. The best place for someone who has been baptised, professes belief in Christ but who is messed up on any doctrine, major or minor is the church. If anywhere's going to put them straight it's in the context of full membership where they have responsibilities and people have responsibility over them.

5. So the only remaining question, if you agree with the above is if the Nicene Creed contains all the essential Christian beliefs. I think so, but won't begrudge you if you think a few other issues should be added; but add to it with great caution.

6. One final comment - there've been lots of suggestions in this thread that unity comes through believing the same thing. That's a totally false idea of Christian unity.

The kind of unity where everyone believes the same thing is common; in political parties, charitable causes and so on.

Christian unity is formed by being united to Christ and through him to one another. It was bought by Christ's blood.

Beliefs play a role in how you get united to Christ, obviously, but when we think Christian unity we ought to be thinking baptism, communion and the realities that they point to.

YnottonY

July 15, 2009 at 02:26 AM

I'm also presently reflecting on how these issues touch on our professed belief in the clarity or perspecuity of scripture. If a doctrinal statement is absolutely necessary to sign to be a "member" of a local church, then, apparently, the scriptures are not sufficiently clear enough on what is required for admission into a local assembly, so that a believer can freely partake in the Lord's Supper with other believers.

YnottonY

July 15, 2009 at 02:01 AM

Why even make it mandatory for a church member to sign on [or agree to] a non-inspired extra-biblical doctrinal statement to begin with? It seems that, when approaching this topic in the first place, we're uncritically granting the premise that

1) it is more important for a church member to sign such an extra-biblical, non-inspired document than to

2) believe a particular millennial view.

Dever would have to say #1 is a more important secondary issue than #2. One thing is for sure: The bible argues a millennial position, and Paul spent a considerable amount of time teaching the Thessalonians his eschatology when he initially visited with them. We all agree on that. But does the bible take a position on the need for church members to agree to some extra-biblical document? That is entirely a post-Apostolic tradition, unlike millennialism. Granted, the Apostles had early creedal statements that they delivered to the churches before they wrote them down, but even those creedal statements were inspired, and therefore binding upon all.

Either it's the case that:

A) #1 is EQUAL in importance with #2, or
B) it is MORE IMPORTANT than #2, or
C) it is LESS THAN important.

If A, then Dever has implicated himself in sin by mandating the signing of a doctrinal statement in the first place. Or, if A is the case, then he could just drop both #1 and #2 as not being necessary for a church member to agree to.

If B, then he has elevated and mandated a post-Apostolic tradition to be more important for a church member to engage in than agreeing to something we all think the inspired Apostles themselves taught, i.e. a version of millenialism.

If C, then, again, Dever has implicated himself in sin by mandating the signing of a doctrinal statement in the first place.

It seems that Dever's only option is B. He must say that it is MORE IMPORTANT for a church member to agree to sign a non-inspired and extra-biblical doctrinal statement [for easier functional purposes] than to believe in a particular millennial view.

michaelmcclenahan

July 15, 2009 at 01:41 PM

Dear Mr Barkman

I agree regarding the 'implicit confession' as long as it is understood that it is an implicit confession of every aspect of revealed truth. The confessor need not know anything about the implied truth, in fact they may never have heard of it. I agree that my confession of faithin Christ as Saviour and Lord is an implicit confession of my regeneration in the same sense that it is an implicit confession of the communicatio idiomatum.

Regarding the Lord's confession at our baptism I think it is quite the point. The traditional Reformed understanding of baptism points me away from myself to my blessed Redeemer: I fear there are tendencies with my credo-baptist brothers to look away from Jesus crucified and risen to the work of God in us.

Finally, paedo-baptist Reformed churches require a confession of faith before adults come into communicant standing (we had one just t'other week) but a recitation of the apostles' creed would be perfect on such an occasion. In fact far more than would be required.

When the subject is not an adult we would never consider allowing that child to be a member of the covenant people, unless one or both parents made a profession of faith. At that point we are constrained by the covenant promises and commands of God to acknowledge that they already belong to our Lord Jesus.

Regards, in the service of Christ,

MM

SBC

July 14, 2009 at 12:22 PM

Lance,

I agree that Dever went too far: see my earlier post.

CR

July 14, 2009 at 12:16 PM

Josh: The former is strictly regulated to the preaching/teaching sphere of the church, while the latter also impacts the ministry sphere. Thus, having a congregation full of members (or even leaders) that hold different end times views has no functional effect upon "doing ministry" together. Baptism certainly does.

Josh - I guess it depends on what you mean by ministry. I'm a credobaptist and serve in a pedobaptist church. I'm very active. It doesn't affect doing my ministry together with the other saints in the church - share the gospel, pray, disciple, etc. etc.

Lance M. Roberts

July 14, 2009 at 11:59 AM

SBC,

Certainly there is room for variation, and your comments make my point (i.e. a difference in interpretive method).

Dever's statement really bothers me. For someone to say a pastor or church is in sin for having a defined doctrinal statement on a particular doctrine is nonsensical.

Every church I have been a part of has had a defined doctrinal statement that was developed using an agreed hermeneutic by the church leadership. Does that mean everyone in the church believes exactly the same? No. If Dever is truly saying this stuff I am shocked. You could say this about any area of theology.

I hope he recognizes it was over the top. What chapter and verse does he use to say that a written position in a church doctrinal statement is sin?

Stan McCullars

July 14, 2009 at 11:46 AM

Ken Stewart, Our church recently had about a 20 part exposition of Revelation and what do you know: Christ's return and the Last Judgment got hardly any emphasis at all from an amillennialist pastoral team. Why?

I find it hard to believe that breaking Revelation down in a 20 part series could be considered exposition. An introduction maybe.

Topher

July 14, 2009 at 11:21 AM

As long as a conciliar approach to church issues is ignored by men such as Dever, we will get these kind of unbalanced and extreme statements. He needs to debate this on a forum with other men who differ with him, and get a hold on a more classic approach to church issues.

I am post-mill, because I believe it comports with the whole of the Scriptures. I have many friends who differ with me, and we rib one another about it and argue in the spirit of friendship. But, if unity is going to happen at some point in history, which as a post-mill I expect, then at some point we will agree and have a "doctrinal statement" on it.

To call it sin now, as though sin shifts with the times, is short-sighted. Someday it will be a glorious sign of maturity. Let God define sin.

michaelmcclenahan

July 14, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Mr Barkman,

Actually, I think on reflection I could have said something stronger to support your view.

Thank you for your clarification regarding the church. Just one further question, which doubtless reveals my own baggage.

In a "credo-baptist" church surely the adult convert testifies to their repentance from sin and their faith in Jesus Christ? Is it required to 'testify to their regeneration'?

Regards, etc

MM

Chin Wee

July 14, 2009 at 11:11 PM

I don't know what's the big fuss about. Many of you are misreading Dever. He's saying that it's a sin if a church requires its members to believe in any of the millennial views to be a member of the church. But he never said that it's a sin for a church to have a statement of faith to have a millennial view. It's only when it's a requirement to be a member, then it's a sin.

niles

July 14, 2009 at 11:07 AM

@Fuego: There’s confusion here because some go further than the Scriptures on certain moral mandates; for instance, those that view permitting drinking as an endorsement of immorality. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, not the alcohol. But the religious go ahead and make a hard-line rule anyway. (Hopefully with good hearts) There should be proper perspectives given to rules and principles.

As it’s been alluded to already, one’s hermeneutic will determine one’s doctrine on these issues. (e.g. how one interprets apocalyptic lit vs. narative) Churches should divide where the Bible describes sin (i.e. what we know) and give grace to unknowns (i.e. Christ’s return).

For each Church, there should be much prayer, meditation, research and advice sought on an issue of dispute. Either way, Fuego, I get what you're saying. I agree there are necessary divides, but some get it wrong. Which is, I think, what Dr. Dever is saying too (albeit much better than me).

SBC

July 14, 2009 at 11:06 AM

Lance Roberts,

I assume that you are Premill? So am I.

Having said that, I'm not so sure that different millennial views necessarily evidence fundamentally different hermeneutics.

I can certainly see how PM guys, such as ourselves, might assume as much... However, a little further thought rules that out, in my mind:

We all recognize tensions in Scripture, and we all engage in the analogy of faith when we meet them.
One guy understands universal desire passages in light of election passages, and another guy understands election passages in light of universal desire passages, etc. They are not necessarily using different hermeneutics; rather, for a whole host of reasons, one guy sees a stronger case for one and lets that shape his understanding of the other. We all do it.

So, a brother looks at Jesus' statements regarding a present and spiritual kingdom, and understands OT kingdom passages (and Rev. 20) in light of those statements. Another brother understands Jesus' statements in light of OT passages and Rev. 20. Some of us take them both at face value and arrive a structure in which both fit.

All conservatives take clear teachings at face value.
Among conservatives, many disagreements can be cracked up to the analogy of faith.

Alan Kurschner

July 14, 2009 at 11:04 AM

Shed all this millennial confusion and attend the National Pre-Wrath Conference this weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for a sober, Biblical teaching on the Lord's Return :-)

http://www.prewrathrapture.com/2009/04/registration_for_2009_prewrath_conferenc.php

Christopher Lyon

July 14, 2009 at 10:54 AM

I think it's interesting to read through the statement of faith for Capitol Hill Baptist where Mark Dever pastors. Should we assume that he believes these are the essentials over which a we should (must?) break unity?

http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/we-are/governed/statement-of-faith/

G N Barkman

July 14, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Michael, I don't think you could have said anything to more strongly support my point, of the difficulty of those with differing baptismal views to function together in the same church. It's hard to even raise the issue without getting into debate over the intended meaning of terms.

For the record, I do not believe there are many congregations in which all members are truly regenerate. Nor do I believe that all children are unregenerate. But in churches that practice pedo-baptism, many children are unregenerate, even though baptized. In credo-baptist churches, no one becomes a member without testifying to the church that he has been regenerated.

See how difficult it is to bring these opposing views together into practicle partnership in the local church?

Caca Fuego

July 14, 2009 at 10:25 AM

Niles said, "Fuego, Not that it's this easy on every issue, but one helpful perspective on your question is to determine what the Scriptures say about the given issue.

"One should meditate on: Do the Scriptures condemn Alcohol? Homosexuality? ... Etc."

Right. The point is that some Christians disagree on the substance or details of these moral matters. Does the Bible condemn alcohol? A good number in the SBC think so, while others in the SBC and outside of it like Kenneth Gentry think it does not. Does it condemn homosexuality? Some - mostly liberals - think not, and some give it a low-tolerance policy akin to 1 Cor 5, while others, who also believe it is wrong, give it more leeway. Some think the Sabbath is fulfilled with the Old Covenant, while others think it is part of the persistent moral law that is being violated by "sabbath breakers" (implementation of it is, of course, another matter).

I'm just saying, these things are hard. Should we separate on any sin? No, I think we'd all agree. Yet some have broken fellowship over, say, alcohol because they view permitting drinking as an endorsement of immorality.

So which sins should we separate on? Are there any rules of thumb? Does relatively wide-spread disputation by Christians of like mind indicate there should be more leeway? Sabbath breaking, as an example, seems to be a pretty severe moral offense to God in the OT. Should those who hold it is still a sin under the NT separate from those who don't, or should they temper their moral purity (as it were) since there is considerable disagreement over it?

michaelmcclenahan

July 14, 2009 at 10:18 AM

Sorry, this is my real ID. Apologies for using an old blogger account!

Michael McClenahan

July 14, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Just a couple of observations

First, I would like to know Dr Dever's reasoning that allows him to plump for latitudinarianism on this issue and not on others. He is a good and godly man and if someone could point me to his reasoning on confessional subscription and its limits that would be a great help.

Second, Mr (?) Barkman, regarding your comments on the nature of the church, I hope (as a Presbyterian) that there might be other options, in addition to the two you highlight.

I know I have to keep my skepticism under control, but I find it hard to believe there are many congregations where all the adult members are regenerate, or many where all the children are unregenerate. Not that I can judge the hearts of men anyway.

Lance M. Roberts

July 14, 2009 at 10:10 AM

That's ridiculous. It shows that Dever doesn't really understand what he's talking about. The reason people have different views on eschatology is rooted in the difference in heremeneutic that they use. If the local body can't agree on how to interpret Scripture they will have no true unity. The problem is rooted in bibliology.

R W S

July 14, 2009 at 10:05 AM

I think these are wise words from Dever. In my home church we are primarily pre-mil , with some dispensationlist . I'm in a minority spot of being a A-miller but when this topic came up in a bible study , the one thing we all agreed on and left it at that is Jesus is coming again. I agree with Dever to force one to hold to a specific view that will lead to hostility and disunity is wrong.
In our Church statement of Faith it clearly states that the Lord will return bodily,the resurrection of the dead , final judgment ,the casting of Satan,demons and unbelievers into eternal hell and the new heavens and earth . No time frame or elaborate systems.

SBC

July 14, 2009 at 10:02 AM

Like founderandperfecter, I plan to make such distinctions in the church I shepherd (although it will probably take the form of a shorter and a larger statement, the latter being required for elders).

However, I think that Dever's statement goes too far:

If you pastor the only decent church in your area, and require a certain millennial position of members, then yes, you may be keeping sincere brothers out of church life! This is serious, indeed.

However, in many American cities, the situation is simply unlike anything envisioned in the NT-- there is a veritable smorgasbord of church options.
In this unique situation, do pastors cross the line by specifying their communities of faith more exactly? Not necessarily.

founderandperfecter

July 14, 2009 at 09:47 AM

I almost did not distinguish 1&2, but i think that perhaps on a few rare issues there is need to.

for example, if we don't believe in baptism the same way, we would force one another to compromise our consciences (as a credo, parents would against their conscience have unbaptized babies).

kevin

July 14, 2009 at 09:47 AM

Justin,

Andy Neselli is going to be my guest on Today's Knowing The Truth radio program (from 1-2:00pm EST - see the live webcast at www.SermonAudio.com) to discuss this post (re: the Millennial Views). Your readers are invited to join the discussion by 1.888.660.9535

Mike Riccardi

July 14, 2009 at 09:32 AM

Ken,

Yeah, not sure if it was clear, but I was agreeing with you.

Ken Stewart

July 14, 2009 at 09:29 AM

GN Barkman & Mike Riccardi:
In the abstract, what you say is true. If one expounds the Bible consecutively, every doctrine taught on the pages of the Bible should eventually be taught. But in actuality, quite different things happen. The 'perceptual net' in the mind and heart of the preacher is prone to select some things and leave others. Our church recently had about a 20 part exposition of Revelation and what do you know: Christ's return and the Last Judgment got hardly any emphasis at all from an amillennialist pastoral team. Why? It was certainly in the text.
I was taught in seminary by Edmond Clowney that the way to avoid these blind spots is for a preacher to regularly take the table of contents from a good hymnal and to go through the topics. The preacher must ask himself: "When did I last preach on this doctrine?" (The table of contents of a systematic theology works just as well). I think that the current widespread emphasis on consecutive exposition needs this corrective very much. One could use the phrases of the Apostles Creed to the same effect.
I am not crusading for premillennialism; I simply remember from my growing up years that it fostered a connection between Christ's imminent return and evangelism, Christ's imminent return and holy living, that I do not observe under amillennialism.
I do not mean for a moment to suggest that this is Mark Dever's problem. But I do caution that a well-intentioned gesture meant to keep secondary doctrines secondary can have unforeseen effects.Our age needs more emphasis on "righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come" (Acts 24.25), not less. Let's beware that a well-intentioned "lid" over secondary doctrines doesn't serve the law of unintended consequences.

Frank Turk

July 14, 2009 at 09:24 AM

Ken --

I think you make an interesting point re: the immanent return of Christ. I think the real irony of that, though, is that the majority of these premils who are urgent to see Christ return are also afraid the church age is ending, the church itself is not a pure entity and therefore we have to flee and seek a gospel bunker, and generally wind up being neither in the world nor of the world (as they see it).

I hear the complaint that the amil position tends to have (to be charitable) a more-patient view of Christ's return. I think we shouldn't see that view as somehow lazy or lax.

And to be totally above-board, I'm an a-mil with a post-mil sympathy for the presence of the chruch in the world as a means of Christ's triumph.

Mike Riccardi

July 14, 2009 at 09:17 AM

But isn't that frequency quite greater than Rev 20? I mean, you have the Olivet Discourse, 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Thess 1, 2Pet 3 and Revelation (perhaps among others) in the New Testament discussing eschatology. And then you have OT prophecy, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel, etc., all concerning the kingdom, and promises to be fulfilled in/through/for God's people concerning this kingdom.

It seems that if you were committed to a verse-by-verse, consecutive exposition of the Bible, you'd have to grapple with this issue more than people think.

Frank Turk

July 14, 2009 at 09:15 AM

I don't think Mark Dever is advocating for some kind of "mere" Christianity in this sermon -- some kind of "only-nicene" christianity as some in this thread suggest.

An "only-nicene" confession would allow for open theism; it would allow for all manner of scriptural configurations and epistemological approaches.

What I think Pastor Dever is approaching here is the harmonization of the book of Revelation with Jesus' own statements such as "no one knows the day or the hour". That is: there are all manner of things which faithful people can read into these passages as still agree with the necessary-to-the-Gospel affirmations: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

G N Barkman

July 14, 2009 at 09:01 AM

Ken, If the pulpit pursues consecutive, expository ministry, the return of Christ should receive the same emphasis as it claims in Scripture, no more, no less. To those raised in a strong pre-millenial context, as I was, a Biblical balance probably seems like neglect. But we cannot properly determine the "right" balance by comparing to what we used to hear, but with the frequency that Scripture emphasizes this subject.

chris e

July 14, 2009 at 08:58 AM


But premillennialists feel (with some degree of justification) that they have kept the home fires burning on the doctrine of the return of Christ when others have neglected it.


I used to believe this - but no longer. I think they (and I was once one of them) have obsessed with the return of Christ.

Believing and stating that Christ will return has been done faithfully by post/amils/historic pre-mils. What was new was the dispensationalist strand of pre-milleniarian viewpoints that led to a pin the tail on the donkey approach to trying to work out exactly when Christ was due to return.

Caca Fuego

July 14, 2009 at 08:56 PM

Stan McCullars said... Such teachers should be patiently instructed in the truth regarding both alcohol and schisms. If they refuse the truth they should be rebuked and called to repentance. Refusing that they could be considered schismatic.

But what about the plethora of other moral issues Christians disagree over? Take the sabbath breaking example. It's hard to rebuke either side since both have many respected persons on them both now and through history, and yet I can't help but feel that sabbatarians have a point that if the sabbath is still in effect, the "breakers" are in serious moral error.

Also, one could conceivably call nearly any doctrinal difference a moral problem since, for instance, baptizing or refusing to baptize certain persons constitutes a violation of the command of God in the Great Commish or some covenant or other. (I know JT said not to go there. Is bringing up baptism like mentioning Hitler in an argument?)

niles

July 14, 2009 at 08:51 AM

Fuego, Not that it's this easy on every issue, but one helpful perspective on your question is to determine what the Scriptures say about the given issue.

One should meditate on: Do the Scriptures condemn Alcohol? Homosexuality? Abortion? Polygamy? Divorce? Sabbath keeping? Greed? Etc. (Not that I'm looking for anyone's answer directly - just something to think about.)

I would suggest that one would start to find distinct issues of necesarry division and unecessary.

Caca Fuego

July 14, 2009 at 08:41 AM

Alcohol is an interesting test case since prohibitionist Christians see moderationism as an endorsement of immoral, sinful behavior. (Piper is an abstentionist, not a prohibitionist, in Kenneth Gentry's terminology from God Gave Wine.)

In John M. Frame's ethical framework, it seems like we are morally obligated to obey God in every detail, including holding to right moral doctrine. Certainly we recognize that our fallibility should make us humble and cautious when drawing bright lines for division. But at the same time it is clear that immorality/sin must cause separation sometimes (1 Cor 5).

Which issues, then, are significant enough to cause separation? Alcohol? Homosexuality? Abortion? Polygamy? Divorce (I'm thinking of easy divorce with no ecclesiastical repercussions)? Sabbath keeping? Greed? Etc. etc. Does the percentage of Christians who dispute any of these make them inherently less significant?

niles

July 14, 2009 at 08:31 AM

Ken, Mark's logic seems to be the following: stating a specific escotology in the by-laws can divide the church unnecessarily > Jesus says to not divide the church > thus to state a specific escotology is sinful. Is it hyberbole or bad logic, or am I just mistaken on his position?

Ken Stewart

July 14, 2009 at 08:22 AM

As one who was raised in a premillennialist setting (and who still appreciates some of that emphasis)I think I can understand why no premillennialist would likely utter the sentiment Mark Dever has uttered (even if he or she inwardly leaned in that direction). The sad fact is that for a lot of the last 150 years, it has been left to premillennialism (in its various strands)to 'beat the drum' about the return of Christ. Amillennialists and Postmillennialists have not disputed that Christ would return bodily at the end of the age, but they have often given pride of place to a whole host of other things (which are also biblical).
To the extent that this perspective is valid, it is not really a matter of indifference as to what millennial view a certain pastor or congregation endorses. In my current largely-amillennialist setting, the return of Christ and last judgment get very short shrift.
Of course, in the abstract, these views are all acceptable because of the things they affirm in common: Christ will return from the right hand to judge the world in righteousness. But such consensus (in the abstract) does not ensure the healthy emphasis on last things which the NT writers insist on.
Therefore, it is a piece of hyperbole to insist that staking out a particular millennial view in a congregation's statement of faith is a sin. It may be regrettable and to be lamented. But premillennialists feel (with some degree of justification) that they have kept the home fires burning on the doctrine of the return of Christ when others have neglected it.They need to know that a generic statement of belief will not douse the fire.

Stan McCullars

July 14, 2009 at 08:19 AM

William Lynch, You stated: The concern I have is when a person's millenial view lessens Christ's sovereignty, and subsequently my authority...

Could you elaborate on that?

Thanks.

G N Barkman

July 14, 2009 at 08:18 AM

Another big difference between baptism and millenial views is this: Baptismal views shape the way we understand church membership and indeed, the very nature of the visible church. Is the church comprised of born again, baptized believers only, or of baptized believers and their children, who are unregenerate? This is a HUGE issue, and it is very difficult to "do" church among people who have such opposing views of the church.

niles

July 14, 2009 at 07:49 AM

One big difference, guys, between baptism and your eschatology is that one is commanded and one is not. Hence a prime difference between what is essential and what is not. As if it was written, "Now go therefore and made disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit teaching them all about the thousand year reign - oh, yeah, there's no rapture - but don't worry, it's all good..."

Josh Gelatt

July 14, 2009 at 07:21 AM

Paul,

You wrote: "But to require anything more than the Nicene Creed is a mistake, I suggest."

I totally get where you coming from on this--and I held that view for quite a while. But, I think once we begin to understand the nature of and reason for Creeds then that belief becomes almost impossible. The only reason we have the Nicene Creed is because it was a response to heresy. The Nicene Creed was not intending to set the entire Core of essential doctrine, but rather was a response to an attack upon a specific Core doctrine. To refuse to move past the Creed is to deny that other doctrines have been attacked in the last 1700 years of church history.

I'm not advocating that we require something so detailed as the Westminster Confession, but the minimalism of the Nicene certainly proves to be inadequate as well.

I'm still searching for that blessed balance...

LOL

Josh Gelatt

July 14, 2009 at 07:15 AM

CR,

I agree with your assessment to a large decree. Ultimately, despite JT's wish to focus the conversation, this issue cannot be detached from the larger issue you cite (which necessarily includes discussion on baptist, etc).

However, there are some differences between views on End Times and views on Baptism. The former is strictly regulated to the preaching/teaching sphere of the church, while the latter also impacts the ministry sphere. Thus, having a congregation full of members (or even leaders) that hold different end times views has no functional effect upon "doing ministry" together. Baptism certainly does.

Audrey

July 14, 2009 at 07:13 AM

I struggle with determining which beliefs are essential. Am I not to stand firm on and defend all my biblical convictions?

Loren Eaton

July 14, 2009 at 07:10 AM

I'll toast to that!

SBC

July 14, 2009 at 07:03 PM

Topher,

As one who, like you, has come away from his dispensational background (at least, in any traditional sense of the word; I happen to think that Blaising and Bock's proposal isn't that far off base), I might suggest that dispensational eschatology doesn't deserve as bad a rap as it gets.

Honestly, I'm not sure that it necessitates any more "pessimistic" an outlook than any other variant of futurism.

Now, I can't speak to your dispensational pastor. Perhaps he used that system in a way that impeded spiritual growth; but, that wasn't my experience at all.

I'm sure that dispensationalists also could lob apparent corroborations between amillennialism and the impediment of spiritual growth.

niles

July 14, 2009 at 06:34 PM

Stan just saved me about 15 minutes.

William Lynch

July 14, 2009 at 05:56 AM

The concern I have is when a person's millenial view lessens Christ's sovereignty, and subsequently my authority (as a believer in VChrist) as described in Ephesians 1:20-23, and inumerable other places in NT scripture. It's the oldest heresy in the world, deny some aspect of Christ as God, whittle away at his claim to power just a little bit, and there you have it, a seed of sin has been planted. Now your salvation is at question, and death has not been defeated, Satan wins...That is not unity, that's apsotasy.

Stan McCullars

July 14, 2009 at 04:52 PM

Caca Fuego: The tricky part is that these brethern don't think they are going beyond what the Bible teaches on alcohol, but rather believe that they are teaching precisely what the Bible teaches and that it is moderationists, and abstentionists to a lesser extent, who are calling evil good and good evil.

I realize they don't think they are going beyond what Scripture teaches yet they don't have a biblical leg to stand on.

Such teachers should be patiently instructed in the truth regarding both alcohol and schisms. If they refuse the truth they should be rebuked and called to repentance. Refusing that they could be considered schismatic.

Pastor Bob Leroe

July 14, 2009 at 04:43 AM

Wow, I just preached on this. My denomination (Conservative Congregational Christian Conferencee) is Reformed but does not have a set eschatology because we don't regard it as an essential ("deal-breaker") doctrine. God is in control of history; exactly how things play out is a matter of interpretation and good Christians differ in their views.

Chris

July 14, 2009 at 04:38 AM

I think Dever is right on about this. I once was a member of a church that required it's members to believe in a pre-tribulational rapture. I have never believed in a pre-tribulational rapture, but I did not know it was in the by-laws of the church until nearly 3 years into my membership there. There are schools that require it's faculty/staff to believe such a doctrine (Dallas Theological being one of them.). I, like Dever, have problems with that. Thanks, JT, for posting this.

Caca Fuego

July 14, 2009 at 04:14 PM

Niles said above: There’s confusion here because some go further than the Scriptures on certain moral mandates; for instance, those that view permitting drinking as an endorsement of immorality. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, not the alcohol. But the religious go ahead and make a hard-line rule anyway. (Hopefully with good hearts) There should be proper perspectives given to rules and principles.

The tricky part is that these brethern don't think they are going beyond what the Bible teaches on alcohol, but rather believe that they are teaching precisely what the Bible teaches and that it is moderationists, and abstentionists to a lesser extent, who are calling evil good and good evil. This is accompanied by (a rather strained, AFAICT) argument about how the word for "wine" means "unfermented juice" in all positive contexts and "fermented juice" in all negative contexts.

In other words, the disagreement over alcohol as a sin is not a case of setting up a fence beyond Scripture to protect one from potential danger, which is more what abstentionists like Piper do, but of defending what they perceive to be the literal command of God against those who say doing the opposite is good.

The sabbath is the same way: some people see it as being an important imperative from God, and others think it is no longer applicable. It's not a matter of the first group erecting fences (though the implementation of some sabbath keeping regimen probably could be), but of them attempting to hold to God's literal command against those who are gainsaying it.

So when do these issues become something to divide over? Should the percentage of disagreement at all influence how important we make it out to be, even if we believe God thinks it is quite important?

YnottonY

July 14, 2009 at 04:00 PM

I think Dever would have been better voicing his opinion as follows:

"I believe it to be UNWISE for a local church to put a millennial perspective in their doctrinal statement for the following reasons..."

At the very least, I think he was unwise for saying such an inclusion is definitely sin.

Daniel

July 14, 2009 at 03:52 PM

I also think Dever went too far. If we are to follow his logic, Dever is also in sin.

1. Not every Christian agrees with the statement that "you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view."

2. Making such judgmental statement that's not clearly taught in the Scripture causes division among Christians (as we can see from the comments here).

3. Dever's in sin for causing division.

YnottonY

July 14, 2009 at 03:51 PM

Ok. If I understand the responses correctly, Dever is distinguishing between two kinds [at least] of non-essentials: 1) those that are secondary issues and those that are 2) tertiary. The non-essentials in his own statement of faith are secondary, and he deems millennial views to be tertiary. As far as I can tell, that is the only way to escape my point, i.e. that he would be implicating himself in sin if it is a sin to include non-essential doctrines in a statement of faith.

I will think about that further.

Thanks,
Tony

p.s. I am assuming that Dever did NOT mean to say the same thing about ALL seminaries, or para-church organizations. If his millennialism and sin statements also were meant to apply to seminaries, I think he would have very serious problems defending his position, and he would certainly be wrapped up in self-contradictions, given the T4G doctrinal statement, etc.

Topher

July 14, 2009 at 03:25 PM

"But millenial views/homeschooling/etc don't affect the running of the church at all."

How did home-schooling get in there?

On the contrary about eschatology: it affects everything. If you have a particular view of history, and how it is going to unfold, you will live it out, both in the church and outside. Eschatology is everything, because the whole of Scripture is eschatological.

One the primary reasons I moved into the Reformed church back in 1994 was because Dispensational Eschatology was killing my life outside the church. "Why polish the brass on a sinking ship" was the mentality. It has deeply affected American church life, as well as American foreign policy.

Will

July 14, 2009 at 03:19 PM

I think the difference between a subject like eschatology and a subject like Baptism is how sure we can be about what the Bible says. With eschatology, we're (presumably) talking about what is going to happen in the future. And just like 1st century Jews argued about what the Christ's coming would look like, we're confused about what his return will look like. But unlike most 1st century Jews, we ought to recognize it when it happens.

Also, eschatology comes from symbolic genres, while views of Baptism mostly come from epistles and the gospels. Point is, we can't be as sure about our eschatology as we can be about our views on some other issues.

Also, 9Marks has a recent journal that lays out pretty clearly what they see as points of division, and points of lesser importance. Also, D.A. Carson makes some similar points to Dever in his lectures on Revelation (find them at thegospelcoalition.com).

Josh Gelatt

July 14, 2009 at 03:08 PM

CR,

It wouldn't affect ALL aspects of ministry, certainly. But it would impact the ministry of baptism (and probably to some degree the larger issue of discipleship).

Caleb Kolstad

July 14, 2009 at 03:08 PM

My full response to this sermon has been posted here http://expositorythoughts.wordpress.com/ but here is short version.

I think what Dever said recently does not take into account the reality that not all “statement of faith” documents are applied the same way. I also don’t think he takes into account the point that not everyone agrees on what second-level matters are and what third-level matters are. For Pastor Dever’s church family, eschatology is a “Third-order issue” therefore CHBC has chosen not to include a specific millennial position in their statement of faith. Fine, but if another pastor or local assembly decides this is a second-level matter for their particular church body don’t call it “sin” brother.

Thomas C Bullock

July 14, 2009 at 03:02 PM

I don't know how many of you listened to Dever's sermon, but right before the part JT quoted, he essentially explains how he separates divisive issues vs not divisive issues, and someone hit the nail on the head a few posts down - I'm not going to transcribe but he basically said that it has to do with which issues determine *how we run the local church.*

Therefore baptism, elder government, spiritual gifts, obligation of the church to cultural renewal (to use the examples Dever did) are worth dividing over, because without agreement over those things we can't actually function as a local body.

But millenial views/homeschooling/etc don't affect the running of the church at all. The only issue that's been brought up that sort of straddles the gap would be alcohol, in the event that some church (wrongly) considers it a disciplinary issue.

Paul

July 14, 2009 at 02:30 AM

Although I disagree with Dever on Baptism, and his position on church membership, there *is* a difference between that issue and the millennium. Dever doesn't split the congregation on what they think about baptism, but over whether they have been baptised (in his eyes). That's a different issue.

In general, what founderand perfecter says is helpful. I would just go slightly further and say there shouldn't be any doctrinal differences between 1 and 2. There could be practical issues, such as whether they've been baptised and are they committed to this group of people, elders etc. But to require anything more than the Nicene Creed is a mistake, I suggest. Although I understand why Congregationalists would want to discriminate more there.

Topher

July 14, 2009 at 02:22 PM

Oops, I meant Ken. Sorry brother.

Topher

July 14, 2009 at 02:18 PM

Stan,
I would like to take a shot at answering your question.
Here is a quote from Hoekema, a good representative of the Amill view:
“The greatest eschatological event in history is not in the future but in the past. Since Christ has won a decisive victory over Satan, sin and death in the past, future eschatological events must be seen as the completion of a redemptive process which has already begun.”

And again, on Revelation 20:
"“The millennium is now in the process of realization.” According to Jay Adams, another Amill advocate, Rev. 20:4-6 describes the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven.

Revelation has been interpreted in four different ways, based on historical context. The Amill understands the book as non-futurist. It describes the present state of things. And, the 1000 years is not literal, as much of the book is not literal.

On many points both Amill and Post-mill agree: (a.) the reign of Christ during the millennium is not visible/personal; (b.) the millennium is not exactly a thousand years; (c.) the return of Christ is after the millennium. The primary differences between these two views are the persons denoted by Rev. 20:4-6, the post-mill takes these as both on earth and in heaven, and the degree of the kingdom’s advance on the earth during the millennium.

I hope this helps.
In Christ,
Chris

CR

July 14, 2009 at 01:52 AM

JT: Feel free to weigh in with your comments, but if you do, let's keep the discussion focused on the issues here (i.e., this is not a debate about whether it's wrong to divide fellowship based on views of baptism).

You cannot answer the question on whether it is sin to divide the fellowship (local church body) on millennial views unless you answer the question whether it is ever sin to divide the fellowship, period.

The definition of the fellowship (or should be) are those that have embraced the one and true gospel that assemble together.

Mark Dever correctly notes that it is sin to divide the body of Christ that Christ pray would united.

He correctly applies that principle with millenial views. He does not, however, consistently apply that principle on other issues and that is the problem with him calling one issue to divide on sin, but other issues to divide on, not sin.

By the way, I have a deep respect for Mark Dever.

YnottonY

July 14, 2009 at 01:49 AM

I may be mistaken, but it would seem that Dever's line of thought would lead to the view that we shouldn't have any non-essential doctrine in a local church's statement of faith, not even credo-baptism, elder rule, etc. If it is sinful to have a congregation's statement of faith advocate premillennialism, then it would seem sinful to have have it make any point about any non-essential, for that would "divide the body of Christ." Where am I wrong?

Badgerland Bible Quzzing

July 14, 2009 at 01:36 PM

I pastor an Evangelical Free Church. Many of you know that our denomination spent several years "refreshing" our doctrinal statement. The first draft REMOVED premil, but it was eventually placed back in FOR THE SAKE OF UNITY, which by the way was the same reason we planned to remove it. Some would say that we got weak in the knees and bowed to a vocal minority. I disagree. I am premil but would be happier w/o it in the SOF. It will probably be removed at some point. I love Dever, but think he is very wrong on this point.

YnottonY

July 14, 2009 at 01:35 PM

In reading Dever's doctrinal statement, one can see that he makes points on many non-essentials in his own statement of faith. If it is necessarily a sin for a church's confessional statement to make an issue over the non-essential of millennialism, then it would seem to follow that Dever has implicated himself in sin for having his confessional statement make points about the following non-essentials:

1. Only two officers in the local church: Bishop/Pastor and Deacon.

2. Believers baptism by immersion.

3. Sunday is the "Christian Sabbath."

4. Believers baptism by immersion is a prerequisite for church membership.

5. Believers baptism by immersion is a prerequisite for participation in the Lord's Supper.

The Rainers

July 14, 2009 at 01:16 AM

What about a denomination that has a millenial view? The Evangelical Free Church in America's statement of faith states, "We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission." It is #9 on this list: http://www.efca.org/about-efca/statement-faith

founderandperfecter

July 13, 2009 at 11:47 PM

I plan on church planting, and what I have resolved thus far is to have a few "circles" of doctrine:

1) Essentials to be a Christian
2) Essentials to join the church (There will be mostly overlap between 1 and 2)
3) Essentials to be an elder
4) What we consider to be absolutley correct

The church will have in writing what we believe about issues. This way we can have egalitarians as members, but not elders, or we can have Arminian congregants, and so on, but our elders are further unified.

I currently don't have any possition on the millenium, but supposing in the future we came to a firm decision, it would be in group 4, not even a requirement amoung elders.

This way we can "let everyone be fully convinced in their own minds" and united as a body.