Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Do the T4G Guys Believe Scripture Demands Separation from Disobedient Christians?

It has recently been implied that the answer to this question is "No."

Chris wrote:
Most of these men have gone on record saying that they don't believe that separation from disobedient brothers is a biblical mandate. Some have written off separatism as a dead or dying idea.
Whether by accident or providence, I know not, but a short while ago I came across this article by Al Mohler when I wasn't even looking for it (HT: Nate Busenitz). Mohler is the member of this group whom I have found most often to be castigated for his unwillingness to affirm the mandate to separate from disobedient Christians, and yet he writes:
The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident . . . Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy.
My perception is that the tendency to deny the separatist convictions of other believers is not that they are not separatists, but that they are not separatists like us.

20 comments:

tjp said...

I wonder if hyper-separatism is really a conviction for the Greenville and Detroit sects or simply a mesmerizing bauble. I know they see separatism as a principle of the highest order, as truth born of very clear and compelling exegesis. But I wonder if it's something they'd die for, or is it only a rag to chew on, a flag to fly? After all, one of their own, even a prophet named Innes from San Francisco, said a conviction is something we should die for. Well, if that's the case, and if we take Innes at face value, then I fear many fundies have lost their hyper-separatism and their pact with death because a good many showed up at the Together for the Gospel rally, a rally sporting (according to the hypers own standards) some of the most filthy and disobedient brothers in Christendom. What gives?

Dave said...

Ben,

I am not sure that you are handling that comment properly. The phrase "separation from disobedient brothers" has an established meaning when this conversation is had among fundamentalists (and former ones). To my knowledge, I have never heard a fundamentalist accuse evangelicals of denying church discipline or church membership.

It won't work to equate what Chris is talking about with what Mohler is talking about. They are not addressing the same issue.

BTW, TJP has motivated me to write a book. I am thinking about tapping into the success of Mahaney or Piper. How about these for possible titles, "Sects, Remnants, and the Glory of God" or "Sects and the Supremacy of God." Has a sizzle to it, doesn't it!

Ben said...

Dave,

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but Mohler is not limiting the boundaries to church membership and discipline. In the section I quoted, he refers to implications for denominational relationships as well as those within the local church.

TJP,

You really need to cool it. I'm not seeing how your approach is wise or constructive. I don't profess to know what's going on in fundy-world or why so many are showing up at these fundamentalist-evangelical conferences all of a sudden, but I do know that one of the leaders of your "Detroit sect" was defending Dever, Mohler, and Duncan on another blog today. Perhaps you might consider excising the rhetoric and adjusting your worldview.

Ben said...

P.S.

Dave, I would definitely buy that book for myself and also pass on a copy to Mark for you. You might even get another T4G blog shout-out.

Dave said...

Ben,

I could have made my list longer, but I was only trying to show the difference between what Chris was talking about and what Mohler is talking about. They are not the same thing. According to Mohler's triage, the only thing which calls for separation is first order problems, and it seems that his first order problems are the boundary line between true and false gospels/churches/teachers.

After that, he says we may be barred from some fellowship by virtue of doctrinal differences, but I have read nothing of his that would suggest that this is separation. I have read, and heard, things that would suggest otherwise.

Ben said...

I'm surprised you would say that what Mohler describes is not separation, since it sounds remarkably like Bauder's "levels of fellowship" matrix. Granted, Mohler's specific choices will not look just like Bauder's but I think the methodology is the same.

You might well disagree, but doesn't this reveal some foundational differences between your approach and Bauder's? Perhaps I'm missing something. I'm sure I'm about to get absolutely shredded, perhaps by both you AND Bauder (if I'm very lucky), so I'll be retreating to the deepest recesses of the Qumran caves for a while.

tjp said...

Ben,

Approach? I have no approach. I'm simply telling you what THEY affirm. They affirm separation is a conviction. They affirm convictions are beliefs for which we must die. Innes says in his paper, "Categories of Truth We Teach and Preach," that a very clear truth is "a conviction--a belief for which we would die." He further says that a very clear truth (and hyper-separatism is to the BJ and Detroit groupies a very clear truth) is a "divine command with no option" and that it requires "necessary obedience" which, if not met, lands one in "heresy or willful rebellion against God."

Again, it's not my approach. It's theirs. Let them explain it. If Innes reflects hyper-separatism, and there is every reason to believe he does, then what he teaches and what happened at Together for the Gospel doesn't jive. Someone is in disobedience, or perhaps all are (at least according to the hypers' standards). But one can't hold the views of Innes and worship with the very ones he tags as filthy, defiled, rebellious, and disobedient and not raise eyebrows. I'm not a Dever fan. I'm not a Mac fan. Neither am I a Mohler or Duncan fan. I have no interest in there club, and I have no intention of either visiting it or joining it. I'm sure they are all good men and enjoy a large measure of God's blessing on their lives and ministries. But their new-found union is not for me.

I am a fundamentalist of the Hamilton Hotel Resolution variety. I do not believe the separatist leaders who took in the conference were wrong in doing so. I read Chris Anderson's personal reflection on it and thought it was quite good. I do believe, however, the smell of hypocrisy is very strong in this matter among fundies, especially given their track record. If hypers are now, for whatever reason, seeing the wisdom in encouraging brothers with whom they disagree on significant points, well and fine. But if my experience serves well here, know this: Behind the smile and kind words of the separatist you mention are iron teeth. And don't forget it.

Dave said...

Ben,

Not a lot of time, so let me just do some quick "mopping up" before our conversation gets too muddled.

First, my basic point is that I don't think Chris and Mohler are speaking about the same things. I recognize that the accusation could be made that I am guilty of the very point of your post, but I don't think that is the case. Chris is speaking of a very specific concept that has its own history and literature, and Mohler is referring to something different. Another way to say it is that Chris affirms what Mohler does, but Mohler would stop short of what Chris affirms.

Second, given the statements I have just made, I don't think that the logic about Mohler, Bauder, and me holds. In other words, Chris isn't really talking about any kind of separation from other brothers--he uses the specific language of disobedient brothers which is tied to the fundamentalist-new evangelical controversy.

Bauder simply makes the case that we have de facto separation happening all the time, so it is impossible to argue against it. I am pretty sure that he would affirm Chris's position (or something close to it), whereas I do not believe Mohler would. That suggests that those men know the difference between these views.

If you are correct about Mohler, then one wonders if the gospel is really more important than some second tier issues. How can one sponsor the ministry of someone who has clearly betrayed the gospel for half a century, but not separate from a paedo-baptist by denying him church membership? I believe Mohler would say that he is not separating from the paedo-baptist in the sense that you and I normally use that term.

tjp said...

Ben,

I thought you might enjoy some of the following tidbits taken from
David C. Innes. They'll give you an insight into the separatist mind. I gleaned them from Innes' paper called the "Basic Axioms concerning Separation." In it he lists seventeen axioms (or self-evident truths) of separation. In themselves these "axioms" are fine, even commendable. A problem arises, however, when Innes and his fellow extremists apply them.

Consider some of these axioms (along with some basic commentary):

Prophet Innes: "Man is never benefited when God is dishonored" (Axiom 6).

tjp: In its ordinary sense this statement is true. But hypers exaggerate it and say if we fellowship with those even tangentially associated with disobedience, then we dishonor God and glorify rebellion. For the true separatist everything at T4G Conference was suspect, for it sprang from those who walk in open disobedience and uncleanness, ignoring the separation mandate. According to the hypers a neo-fest is a neo-fest, and God is not pleased with it. If separatists attended the fest, they defiled themselves.

Prophet Innes: "It is never right to do wrong. There is never a good reason for doing a wrong thing" (Axiom 8).

tjp: Given the above axiom, the separatists who attended the T4G Conference sinned. Period. They did wrong, and it's never right to do wrong. Attending a conference of this flavor--one clearly dominated by and sponsored by the key purveyors of compromise--is a sin of the first order, at least in the minds of the separatist faithful, of which Innes is Exhibit A. Of course certain separatists may have had good reasons for doing so, but that's no excuse. Reason doesn't trump revelation, and divine revelation demands separation from the unclean and disobedient. How much clearer can 2 Thess. 3:6-15 be?

Prophet Innes: "Partial obedience or selective obedience is disobedience" (Axiom 9).

tjp: It's easy to see where this is going. When hypers apply it to separation, it comes out meaning secondary and even tertiary separation. In hyperspeak selective obedience means fellowshipping with T4G types or taking in a Shepherd's Conference or speaking well of the GARB, all of which are anathema.
Prophet Innes: "It is always wrong to add strength or numbers to an apostasy" (Axiom 12).

tjp: In other words the separatists who slipped into the T4G Conference added numbers to apostasy. Thus, they sinned, at least according to the prophet Innes. By aiding and abetting the schmoozers of apostasy, the wayward separatists who attended T4G violated their own axioms of separation.

Josh said...

Did anyone else notice that the T4G guys were implicitly (MacArthur more explicitly) critical of the "neo-evangelical" agenda? If the biblicists in evangelicalism no longer think of themselves as the heirs of Henry and Ockenga, if T4G was not a "neo-evangelical" conference but an evangelical one, how is the present discussion impacted? Have the separatist fundamentalists lost their raison d'etre? It seems the biblicists on the left edge of fundamentalism and those on the right edge of evangelicalism are finding they agree broadly in many areas. I think (hope!) this reapproachment is exactly what has been happening in the blogosphere, at Shepherds' Conference, and now at T4G. I think it's called "paleoevangelicalism".

Bob said...

JMN (whoever that is)makes sense to me.

Ben said...

Dave,

As much as I've tried to grasp your perspective on this, I'm still falling short. I'll try to explain why very concisely (and no doubt fall short on that too). I'll also have some more thoughts on Mohler in my final post in this series.

Here goes: I think 2 Thessalonians 3 is the crux of the argument for separation from disobedient brothers. It's not the only relevant passage, but it's the hinge on which the door turns.

Paul is talking about a very specific response to a very specific area of disobedience to some very specific obligations that are directly related to specific theological errors that stood in opposition to some very specific and direct teaching from Paul. Fundamentalists want to apply this specific response broadly to apply to "all biblical teaching."

Having learned my hermeneutics from a professor who used Dr. McCune's notes, which quite wisely emphasized the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic, I have some reservations with that broad—one might say universal—interpretation, but for sake of the argument, I'll play along. As best I can see it, if one applies this text to ALL biblical teaching AND says that it demands separation from any brother who refuses to obey this biblical teaching, then I don't see how there can be ANY level of fellowship with anyone with whom we disagree on ANY point of doctrine or who refuses to obey what we are convicted to be our biblical obligations in any area.

We've had this discussion before, and you've said that fundamentalists have always acknowledged "levels of fellowship." But I think you'd agree that the simple fact that they have always been acknowledged does not mean that exceptions to the rule of separation are permitted by the biblical text.

Perhaps I'm misreading Bauder, but I thought he was arguing that the sum of NT teaching on separation points toward levels of fellowship on different issues and in different contexts, which seems to me to be precisely what Mohler is saying, even if their specific applications would be different (or inconsistent). As Dever has said, he considers Duncan to be disobedient to the Christian teaching on baptism. This does not preclude their fellowship and cooperation on some levels, but it certainly does on others. This is he position of historic fundamentalism. Dever has said it. Mohler has said it. Bauder has said it (unless I'm misunderstanding him.)

Regardless, when we talk too much about Mohler and Bauder, at some point we get into speculation about people who are (unfortunately) not present.

Back to your last paragraph about Mohler. You obviously raise a clear inconsistency. I've heard what he told you about his decision, which is disappointing. Yet I have every reason to believe that this would not happen again (if it were possible), not the least reason of which is the primary purpose and benefit of the T4G alliance. I have every confidence that the people with whom he is now specifically aligned would admonish him that such a choice would be unwise. I hope he would hear them. Or perhaps he already has. And surely I, as a fundamentalist, need to be just a bit careful when I imply that someone like Mohler is being inconsistent, since we fundamentalists have tolerated so much compromise on the gospel among ourselves.

Ben said...

JMN,

Did they explicitly use the term "new evangelical" last week? I do agree that they repudiated the historic NE strategy, and they have done so before, as I documented here. see part 1 of that series for links to the interview. So I think you make a good observation.

I also recently listened to Al Mohler's radio program from last Friday, in which he provides some commentary on the article that dealt with gospel over denomination. I'll share links in posts to come.

Dave said...

Ben,

I have a meeting in two minutes so this will be hasty:

1. I believe we are talking past each other. My basic point is that Chris is using what has essentially become a technical term in the phrase "separate from disobedient brothers" and it has a very definite meaning that Mohler would not accept.

2. That meaning is not what you have said it is, i.e., separation from any brother over any disobedience. I have never heard any fundamentalist define it this way. Never.

3. Mohler told me that he would do it again, but that isn't really the point I was making. I was trying to show you that he can't mean what you think he does or he would be incredibly inconsistent, and I don't think he is being inconsistent. I think he is doing what he believes, and that he doesn't believe what you think he does. That's my point.

Dave said...

Tracy,

I have been made curious by your often negative references to hyper-separatists, Detroit, etc. Can you help me understand where you are coming from a little better?

I believe you are a PCC grad. I know you took one summer school course at DBTS, and I think you mentioned somewhere that you did some study at MBBC (and maybe even Central in Minn). Did you finish your education at either of those schools?

I think Bauder mentioned, at his blog, that you were in Minn for ministry for a while, and I think you were a pastor in Surprise, Arizona for a while too. Where are you currently ministering? Were you ever in a ministry here in the Detroit area?

I hope you don't mind my asking these things, but I am trying to get a better idea of where you are coming from and what has led you believe that we (DBTS) represent a sect of some sort. Thanks.

Ben said...

Responses to Dave's points:

1. I'll concede that Mohler would not accept the idea of "separation from disobedient brothers" as fundamentalists have typically defined it over the past five decades. However, that does not mean they do not separate from disobedient Christians, as is implied by the unqualified use of this "technical term."

Ultimately, whether we are interacting directly with Chris' definition is somewhat tangential to the larger point, which is that Moher DOES believe in separation from believers, just not in the same way fundamentalists do (as I pointed out in my original post). Of course, Chris used my earlier comments to buttress his point, so at the very least, following your analysis, he was misusing my comments.

2. Fundamentalists, of course, cannot define separation in the way I have, or they would be forced to deal with their own inconsistencies. There is a massive disjunct between the way the texts are exegeted and the way they are applied. Minnick's sermon last fall is a perfect example. Fortunately, he admitted that he hadn't fleshed out how to apply his exegesis. His willingness to refrain from dogmatism was refreshing.

In other words, when folks say that the 2 Thessalonians 3 mandate for separation applies to all biblical teaching (as Minnick and others do), I simply cannot see how we can pick and choose which areas of doctrine and practice demand separation and which do not. Apart from the kinds of "levels of fellowship" matrices Bauder and Mohler have advanced based on the sum teaching of Scripture, it seems to me that we have disconnected what we actually do from what we say 2 Thessalonians 3 teaches, and thereby become rather arbitrary.

3. I don't know what he really believes. I know what he did a few years ago, and I know what he wrote a few months ago. They don't seem to fit. But then there are fundamentalists who used to have certain youth evangelism programs or certain guest speakers who no longer do so because of the theological problems related to the gospel. We can hope Mohler has adjusted his perspective, as well.

Dave said...

Ben,

Just so I am clear, what did Mohler write that would make you think that he would not chair a Graham crusade in the future?

His employment of the triage imagery is not new; he explained it to me in the same conversation in which he was defending his participation in the Graham crusade. And there is nothing in it that would prevent him from doing exactly what he did in that case. Unless I am misunderstanding what he stated to me and wrote in that article, there is no reason for him to not fellowship with Billy Graham. Do you understand his point differently than that?

Josh said...

Ben,

Nah, the T4G guys didn't reference NE directly but I was think of some of the quotes in your latest post when said they were critical of NE agenda. With the exception of MacArthur, perhaps, I think those guys respect and admire Henry, et al, in a lot of ways. They just think NE was naive and don't think it earth-shattering to say so.

Here's a thought:

If Fundamentalism as a movement began as a REACTION to neo-evangelicalism, and neo-evangelicalism is dead or dying, then Fundamentalism must die with it - just as abolitionism died with slavery and the women's suffrage movement died when the 19th Amendment was passed.

If it wasn't a reaction but a CONTINUATION of the biblical Christianity which existed before neo-evangelicalism, then we must at least acknowledge its right to exist now. This doesn't mean the fundies shouldn't renew fellowship with evangelicals like the T4G gang.

tjp said...

Bro. Dave,
Please note my comments to your inquiry. I trust they'll help.
******

Dave: [I have been made curious by your often negative references to hyper-separatists, Detroit, etc. Can you help me understand where you are coming from a little better?]

tjp: I'll try.

Dave: [I believe you are a PCC grad.]

tjp: That's correct. I graduated from PCC in '81. In those days, believe it or not, we used the Critical Text in Greek class and the King James in all others. At that time I believe the school was pretty much following BJ in that regard.

Dave: [I know you took one summer school course at DBTS]

tjp: That's correct. I took a two week class on Dispensationalism from Dr. McCune. We used Ryrie's book, Dispensationalism Today; Alva McClain's book, Law and Grace; and McCune's own notes (which were excellent). The class was outstanding, and I learned much. (Oh, and I still remember some negative comments he had about Central at the time. But I digress.) My paper for the class addressed the issue of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

At the time I took the class I was pastoring full time (for 9 years) in Upper Michigan and also overseeing a traditional Christian day school. Over the years I've tried to do some grad work as time and circumstances favored. So it's been sketchy. I actually planned on taking another course the following year, but we entered into a massive building program (a new auditorium, school, and parsonage), and unfortunately I never got to it. My loss.

Dave: [...and I think you mentioned somewhere that you did some study at MBBC].

tjp: That's correct. After I left Upper Michigan, I moved to Watertown to do some more grad work before considering a church plant. I took two classes while there, both from Max Barnes; and both were pathetic. I especially disliked his view on Heaven (at the time he didn't believe in literal streets of gold and often mocked the whole concept). I also found the then president to be virtually incoherent when he spoke. I listened to him several times in chapel trying to explain inspiration, and I walked away in complete disbelief at his inability to articulate fundamental concepts. It was disgraceful. (I've since learned he was going through serious marital problems at the time; perhaps that explains it).

Dave: ("...and maybe even Central in Minn).

tjp: That's correct. I took a summer class (not for credit) on the English Bible from Doug Kutilek (sp). It was rather disjointed and unorganized, but he gave some solid historical info, which I liked. And I liked Central. Years earlier I had recommended my wife's nephew go there. He did and enjoyed it, as well.

At the time I took the class at Central, I was planting Grace Baptist Fellowship in St. Cloud, MN. We began the work from scratch in '98 and left it in '02. When we left, the church had a fulltime pastor, five acres perfectly situated, and a new church building. God blessed, and the efforts of many paid off.
I must say Fourth Baptist Church (bro. Mac) really helped us. They sent canvassing teams, singing groups, and summer Bible school helpers. In addition, they helped financially with tracts (hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth), mailings, phone programs, and in many other ways.

Personally, I think Fourth Baptist demonstrated what biblical fundamentalism is and can be perhaps more than any other church or group I've ever worked with. But, sadly, their spirit isn't universally shared among MN separatists. That place has its share of headcases, and I experienced the worst of hyper-separatism while there.
Dave: [Did you finish your education at either of those schools?]

tjp: No. My grad work has been piecemeal. In fact, I'm taking some courses right now from Tyndale Theological Seminary out of Fort Worth, TX.

Dave: [I think Bauder mentioned, at his blog, that you were in Minn for ministry for a while, and I think you were a pastor in Surprise, Arizona for a while too. Where are you currently ministering?]

tjp: Correct. Correct. Cottonwood. I came to AZ with another brother (bro. Jeff Benner) in '02. We began with three families. The church is Oasis Baptist Church. It now meets at the Chaparral Center in Sun City Grand, and Bro. Benner is pastoring it fulltime (they run about 50). The church has some beautiful property a few miles outside of town in a highgrowth area and, the Lord willing, is looking to occupy it in the next few years.

I left Oasis last year and took up with a couple families already meeting in a town about 110 miles from Surprise, about 40 miles south from Flagstaff, AZ. (My family and I commute back and forth every Sunday and Wednesday; we still live in Surprise.) The church is Cottonwood Baptist Church. In the past year we've seen some incredible things, not only have we added folks to the church, but we were able to purchase some facilities to meet in.

This past Sunday Cottonwood voted to begin a search for a fulltime pastor. That was exciting. They asked me and my family to stay on, but we've not had the liberty to do so. We believe the Lord would have us remain in church planting and perhaps establish one more church. Where? I don't know. But we're open.

Dave: [Were you ever in a ministry here in the Detroit area?]

tjp: No. I've ministered in Maine, Upper Michigan (above the bridge), Oklahoma, South Carolina, Minnesota, and now Arizona. I've been involved in five church plants and two pastorates.

Dave: [I hope you don't mind my asking these things, but I am trying to get a better idea of where you are coming from and what has led you believe that we (DBTS) represent a sect of some sort.]

tjp: No, I don't mind. In fact, I appreciate it. Most of the fundy schools I've attended have been okay. In my experience the ugly side of fundamentalism flourishes among the preachers and their fellowships, even cliques. I've witnessed my share of separatist strutting, preening, chest-pounding, and wholesale damning. And I've seen the snottier forms, too: the arrogance and self-assured righteousness. By far the sourest attitudes I've seen come from BJ and Detroit men. In every why they reflect an unhealthy sectarianism. And by "sectarian" I do not mean cultish; I mean an undisciplined militancy, a fervency to further a fight on the narrowest of grounds.

Of all the mutations of Fundamentalism, I perhaps identify most closely with that expressed in the Hamilton Hotel Resolution. To me that was fundamentalism and separatism at its best. Clearly, I believe we should separate from unbelief. No question about that. Further, I believe we should separate from everything God says we should. Again, no question about that. But beyond these directives, and in all other cases of separation, I believe we should do so wisely and prudently, being careful not to bind the consciences of others nor leave them in the shadow of disobedience and uncleanness because they disagree.

I believe the separatists who attended the T4G Conference were correct in doing so. I don't see them as compromisers. I see them as brothers enjoying one another and affirming the great principles of the Christian faith without necessarily entangling themselves in mutual ministry. Although it's not something I'd do, it's not something I'd oppose, either.

Oh, well, I've rambled enough.
Dave: [Thanks.]

tjp: You're welcome

Ben said...

Dave,

It's not anything he's written that makes me think that.