Monday, April 21, 2008

Contending for the Faith?

We were at our small group gathering last evening at some friends' house, where we've been studying through the book of Acts. We were in chapter 15, just beginning to look at the account of the Jerusalem council. I had just read the first half of the chapter, where we see some Judeans coming to Antioch and teaching that circumcision according to the law of Moses was a necessary condition for salvation in addition to faith in Christ. And Paul and Silas of course "had great dissension and debate with them", and were sent to take the matter up with the other apostles in Jerusalem. And Peter makes that great statement about attempting to be justified by keeping the Law: "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" This was a critical point in the life of the early church, one of the first occasions of having to define orthodoxy and defend it publicly.

So right in the midst of reading this passage, the doorbell rings. It's our senior pastor and his adult daughter. As they come in they seem very agitated. The daughter tells us that she and her father have been arguing about a doctrinal issue all afternoon and they needed to bring it to someone's attention in the church. So our pastor proceeds to tell us that he's come to the conclusion that water baptism is a necessary condition for salvation, and presents a couple of Scriptural references for support. The room was dead still, and as I looked around at the people gathered for the small group, there were all kinds of confused and uncomfortable looks on their faces. I could almost read their minds: "Is this really happening?" "What is he thinking?" "Oh, this is gonna split the church to pieces!"

Now, I've ministered with this pastor for over ten years, served as an elder with him, been through some extremely difficult personal and ministry situations with him. He's a friend and a brother who would die for the truth of the Gospel. I knew something wasn't right here. As I sat in the silence I realized that this was an act, planned by the small group leader with our pastor to illustrate the situation we'd just been reading in Acts. He's a great homiletician, but his act in this role wasn't convincing me. So I sat for a few moments and waited to see how the other group members would respond. It was pretty obvious that most of them thought this was real. One man tentatively tried to dissuade the pastor by pointing out the Biblical meaning of the Greek term for baptism. But he wasn't persuaded. I waited a few more moments. Still no response from anyone else.

So I decided to call his bluff. I told him flat out that he was wrong, that he was determining to teach a wrong doctrine that could not be supported by the whole counsel of Scripture. And with that the ruse was over. The small group leader assured everyone that the whole thing was a put on, an attempt to bring the situation in Acts 15 into our own church and time. You could hear the sighs of relief around the room.

We went on to do some further study and discussion based on the passage, but never really came back to the situation we had been faced with. Now obviously the Acts 15 situation is not the same as a pastor who decides to teach heresy today. But I've been thinking about this all day. What if it had been real? What if our senior pastor had truly decided to publicly declare his support for such a teaching? How would we respond? How should we respond? Everyone in the group knew that this was wrong teaching. Everyone knew that if this was real it would destroy our pastor, possibly our church. But what was the response? I mean, after all, this was our senior pastor! We couldn't just tell him he's wrong, could we?

My response is - yes, we can and we must. When the truth of the Gospel is so clearly at stake, when heresy is being proposed to be put forth by anyone in a teaching or leadership role, our response has to be to contend for the faith. To do otherwise is to fail to love our Savior and His truth, to fail to love His Church, to fail to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. My mind goes to Paul's words in Galatians 2:11, where he says that he "opposed him [Peter]to his face" for hypocritically denying the truth of the Gospel by his actions.

But how many real situations like this in many churches are instead dealt with by ignoring the issue, hoping it will go away, not wanting to cause dissension or division, and finally perhaps just quietly leaving the church in question? How committed are we, every one of us that fill the pews each week and call ourselves members of the church, to speaking truth when faced with a situation like this? I pray that most of us never have to. But I further pray that if we do, we do as Jude says and "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." As I was reminded more deeply last week at T4G, we have no other hope. As R. C. Sproul said, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope we have. But it is enough!

6 comments:

Strong Tower said...

Do you really read all those blogs you link?

Interesting situation. If your pastor had been truthfully persuaded and after you had taken the mild steps, do you think it right to use a word like bradus and anoetos when confronting him to his face? What if he persisted in acting a certain way and after having been warned, taught clearly repeatedly, and he remained recalcitrant, would you call him a stupid fool?

Just wondering, because that is what Jesus did with the two on the road to Emmaus.

When I am saying this I am not suggesting this as the norm. It becomes necessary though as it is conditioned by circumstance, doesn't it. Jesus' emotive state is a broad spectrum, but most people view him as the gentle shepherd and not a whip snapping teacher. He was both.
The question that is begged out of Ephesians 4 is how do we get angry, give vent to wrath, and do so in love? When Jesus was confronted by the hypocracy of the Jews, Scripture says that he became really angry. As you have mentioned Paul resisted Peter to the face.

I know that beyond the cold letter of Scripture there is wisdom to know application, the what, where, when, who and why...

So, I am not proposing a formulistic view, just wondering about yours.

And since I came over here from Pyro (your fault) how does this relate in the blogoshere, or even between brothers in communion and elsewhere? Isn't Ephesians 4 a general admonishment? If so, how?

The Doulos said...

Strong Tower: This is a comments section, not a questions section!

In answer to your whole "what would you do" question, I have thought about that a lot. My first inclination is to apply the Matthew 18 process. That is, first correct and confront one on one. If there is no recanting/repentance, then confront with one or two others, most likely other leaders. If still no response, take it to the elders and the church.

But I'm still not sure that's the proper approach, since Matt 18 is focused on sin and discipline in the church, not on correcting and rebuking heretical leaders. Correction and restoration of one caught in sin is one thing, dealing with dangerous doctrinal error is something different. I don't see Paul doing the Matt 18 thing in Galatians with Peter. I don't see him do it in Acts 15. In both cases the false teaching was confronted and withstood directly and publicly. So, as a leader in the church (like Paul was) I would probably directly refute and confront as I did. And I would also take the matter directly to the other elders of the church. The whole process done in love and seeking restoration due to the relationship we have, but also with no room for compromise.

How does this relate in the blogosphere? Gotta think about that one for a while...

Strong Tower said...

Sorry for all the questions. Did you think them redundant? But, hey, what can I say? Okay I'll stop if you mean it? You want a peanut?

Phil placed it all within the context of the church as an organized unit. But that doesn't answer questions about what is to be done on an individual, person to person level which is why I asked about blogs where there cannot be an authoritative oversight. The individual situation can be taken to a church in many cases, but I have had friends that are not members so there is no more than the Word and fragile human personality. I have confronted leadership directly and in the presence of other leadership. And, interestingly went through what donsands related and about Copeland too...back when I was a babe... Not to ask another question: doctrinal issues do, it seems, amount to sin when and if they are critical. Across the broadband though, there is no way to arbitrate the situation which is why it really is more "conversation", heated and friendly, than not...

Thanks for the answer. I liked your post by the way.

Jesusislife said...

Hey guys:
Nice fighting spirit, but what if you're wrong? Where are the verses to condemn baptism? Peter said at pentecost, Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus said he who believes and is baptised will be saved, why did He say that? Really, why, oh why did the King of Kings and Lord of all true bond slaves say that?
Were not the protestant popes, calvin and luther, the perfect theologians, baptismal regenerationists?
Why did they teach this as well?
I am not a calvinist at all, but I think he was more right here than you guys are. But you sound so smug, so sure. Have you looked at all these verses? Why in the world did Paul and Silas baptise the Phillipian jailor and his family in the middle of the noght? Would you have?
I would have, and I am not sure I am a baptismal regenerationist, but I am very convinced of much of the truth presented there. I believe god can make exceptions for the false teaching given out(You don't really need to be baptised) and for people getting saved on crosses and in deserts and such. But I would not be so certain, if I were you guys.
Check the book, Check the Lord, Jesus said "Just do it", amen, doulos brethren!

Strong Tower said...

"calvin and luther, the perfect theologians, baptismal regenerationists"

You can substantiate this?

The Doulos said...

jesusislife:

First, this is not a post about baptismal regeneration, and I don't want to make the comments into a debate of that topic. So I will address just a couple of your remarks.

I agree that the clear command of Christ is "repent and be baptized." Baptism is an ordinance and a responsibility of every believer. It's a public identification with Christ, and a profession of the reality that has occurred within the repentant sinner. However, the entire testimony of the OT and NT is clear that justification is by faith alone, in Christ alone. Regeneration through baptism is categorically excluded by this doctrine, supported by Jesus' overall teaching, as well as that of Paul.

Regarding Calvin & Luther. They were not "perfect theologians", there is no such thing. I do not agree with all that either of them taught and did. However, they did not hold to baptismal regeneration. They did retain the RC's practice of paedobaptism, as a sign of the covenant. That's one area in which I disagree with them.

Sorry if you think I'm being smug or arrogant. That's not my attitude or intent. But I do have confidence in the plain truth of the Word.