Monday, July 13, 2009

"I'm saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular Millennial view."

Revelation 20 didn't convince Mark Dever on Premillennialism as it did Tom Schreiner. Nevertheless, our disagreement on that exegetical question does not preclude our ability to live as members of the same local church. In fact, Dever spoke forcefully on that point. No matter how we disagree on our eschatology, I couldn't agree with him more when he says:
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 for us 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 nearly (in a congregation) or more at length (in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up in 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 on 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 with one another is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore 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. [The context begins about 25:00 into the audio; emphasis mine.


Some will no doubt misunderstand Dever, thinking that he denies that fidelity to Scripture ever demands that believers withhold some level of fellowship from other professing believers who are unfaithful to Scripture. Those folks would merely display their naivety. To the contrary, the clear implication of his words is that people who deny or compromise the gospel have themselves divided the body of Christ. And people who, for example, disobey Christ's command to baptize believers are sinfully dividing the body of Christ, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned their errant beliefs and practices may be.

The point is this: When we are forced by human blindness to truth to grapple with disagreements among believers, we have to make judgment calls whether those disagreements preclude fellowship (at the very least) at the local church level. That's simply unavoidable. Those judgment calls are not always easy, but far too often good judgment gives way to recklessness and pettiness. Like Dever, I do not understand why churches must demand uniformity on the timing of the Millennium. I have not heard anything approaching a compelling argument to that end, and it is utterly incomprehensible to me when I hear of godly, fruitful men who lose their positions in ministry over the timing of the Tribulation. May God grant us repentance when we needlessly divide the body of his Son.

31 comments:

PT Barnum said...

amen brother! I understand what Pastor Dever is saying--many of us have a knee jerk reaction to separate and/or require those we fellowship with to agree with us on every point (regardless of Scriptural support). Thanks for the post.

Matthew

greglong said...
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greglong said...

I think you and Mark Dever are needlessly dividing the body by calling the practice of including a view on a millennial position in a doctrinal statement a sin.

Ben said...

Greg,

Of course you're welcome to stipulate that if you like, but surely you realize that you haven't offered any argument. And if it is sin to divide over Premillennialism, then surely it's not a sin to say so.

In any case, it seems as though the burden of proof to offer some compelling rationale is on those who think we should be divided over the timing of the Millennium (and the Tribulation/Rapture). I look forward to hearing that rationale.

greglong said...
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greglong said...

I think the burden is on those who want to say that an autonomous body of believers is acting in sin for specifying its belief in a millennial view.

Ben said...

Greg,

No one's saying that an autonomous body does not have the right to act sinfully.

Again, I'd love to hear a rationale for the position to which you're so clearly committed.

Dan Greenfield said...

Hey Ben,

Out of genuine curiosity (i.e. no red herring at all), would Dever/CHBC also have the same attitude and practice with regard to other "divisive" doctrines such as the sign gifts? E.g. tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.

Ben said...

Dan,

Cessationism is not in our statement of faith. I don't want to speak for Dever or CHBC beyond that because neither have expressed their convictions on that point, so far as I'm aware.

Obviously, I believe that disagreements on some matters that are non-essential to the gospel DO preclude fellowship at the local church level (believers' baptism being the prime example).

I haven't thought through varying levels of understanding within the "open but cautious" view, and I haven't thought through everything related to cessationism. It does seem as though varying understanding of sign/revelatory gifts has less impact on life together as a church than baptism, but more than Premillennialsm.

And in any case, a person who is divisive in words or behavior (whether regarding gifts or the Millennium) is in sin and should be admonished.

greglong said...

Is it a sin for CHBC to specify two scriptural offices of pastor and deacon?

Is it a sin for CHBC to specify that the Lord's Day is the "Christian Sabbath", and is "to be kept sacred to religious purposes by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God"?

Using the same logic, aren't those unnecessarily divisive statements?

Pastor Steve said...

I understand what Dever is saying, but I think he takes it too far.

Does your millennial view affect how you interpret other passages of Scripture and how you live your life and practice your faith? I most certainly think it does, and therefore your millennial view can also lead to other errors that a church feels like they must separate from.

I guess I might call millennial views a slippery slope. If someone wants to hold to a different millennial view than I do, fine, but I then also expect them to live their life differently than I do.

The fact is that many people don't live by what they believe, so their millennial view is of no consequence, but it really should be.

greglong said...

Ben, I have great respect for Pastor Dever. I have been to his (your?) church and benefited greatly from his resources.

There are some who would say including justification by grace alone through faith alone is unnecessarily divisive and a sin. We would both obviously disagree with them.

There are others who want to include everything in a church's statement of faith down to a belief in the proper interpretation of the sons of God/daughters of men in Gen. 6. We would both obviously disagree with them, as well.

So, it is then a matter of what is essential to the faith and practice of that local church. I simply disagree that specifying a millennial position is sin. I believe his statement to that effect is unnecessarily divisive.

Ben said...

Greg,

The easy answer is, if we do, and we're wrong, then yes, we are in sin. In other words, we do believe that Scripture teaches that the two offices for the church are pastors and deacons, and we do believe Scripture teaches the Lord's Day should be set aside in a unique way for spiritual purposes. If we're wrong on those things and prohibiting people from joining with us on those grounds, then yes, we're sinfully dividing the body of Christ.

Meanwhile, I continue to hope for an explanation from you on why a church has to demand uniformity on the Millennium

greglong said...

Ben, I never demanded uniformity. Pastor Dever is the one who made the rather bold statement that my church is in sin because we have a view on the Millennium specified in our doctrinal statement.

My first post was hyperbole intended to bring out the point. Of course I cannot prove that you are needlessly dividing the body, and so I would not say you are in sin. But neither can Pastor Dever prove we are needlessly dividing the body, and so to say we are in sin could be called unnecessarily divisive.

A commenter named niles made the following comment on BTW:

"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?"

How would you answer his question?

greglong said...

The easy answer is, if we do, and we're wrong, then yes, we are in sin. In other words, we do believe that Scripture teaches that the two offices for the church are pastors and deacons, and we do believe Scripture teaches the Lord's Day should be set aside in a unique way for spiritual purposes. If we're wrong on those things and prohibiting people from joining with us on those grounds, then yes, we're sinfully dividing the body of Christ.

By the way, you didn't answer my question. It's not a matter of whether you are right or wrong. Obviously you wouldn't put anything in your doctrinal statement you didn't believe was right.

The question is, if good Christians disagree over this matter that could be considered non-essential, aren't you in sin for including it in your doctrinal statement and thereby excluding Christians who don't believe in the Christian Sabbath?

Ben said...

Steve,

I'd be interested to see you explain what you mean by how divergent Millennial views lead people to live their lives differently. I think that's true in some cases, but not all. You seem to believe that's always true. How so?

Ben said...

Greg,

In regards to your comment about justification and Genesis 6, I think we have quite a bit of agreement. Some matters will demand uniformity, and others will not. Churches will need to weigh whether a particular matter demands uniformity or not. When a church demands uniformity unnecessarily (whether concerning Genesis 6 or, IMO the timing of the Rapture or the Millennium), that church is sinfully dividing the body of Christ.

Ben said...

Greg,

Does your church demand that members affirm your statement of faith? If not then you're not dividing the body of Christ over Premillennialism. You might not be a congregationalist either, but that's a separate issue.

greglong said...

Ben wrote:

Does your church demand that members affirm your statement of faith? If not then you're not dividing the body of Christ over Premillennialism. You might not be a congregationalist either, but that's a separate issue.

Yes, we do demand that members affirm our statement of faith.

Yes, I am a congregationalist.

greglong said...

The key with your above post is "IMO". In your opinion, it is sinful to divide the body over premillennialism.

You have every right to your opinion, and of course we'll agree to disagree.

James Kime said...

I wonder about the wisdom of Dever coming out and saying this sort of thing. There is no doubt that the gospel is important, but I wonder sometimes if Dever hasn't put it in a category all by itself in an unhealthy way.

Was it sin for Paul and John and the other apostles to demand a specific view of the millenium or was it okay for people to hold differing views even after they were taught the correct view?

The splinter to Christ's body is not found in those insisting on premillenialism. The splinter is found in those who reject it.

Paul charges Timothy that the men teach NO OTHER doctrine. Paul did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God to the Ephesians.

Dever's counsel is that we should not insist on this doctrine and maybe even shrink back from it.

I have never been a fan of doctrinal reductionism. This is what it seems Dever has done.

Ben said...

Greg, the IMO actually applies also to the Genesis 6 issue and the justification issue as well. I inserted the IMO there because you and I agree on the other points. The fact that we agree doesn't change the fact that they're our understandings of Scripture—in some sense our opinions. And the fact that we disagree on the Millennium issue doesn't mean that division over it isn't sin.

I appreciate the discussion, but I don't plan to pursue it further unless you're able to articulate some argument for while your church demands uniformity on the Millennium for membership.

greglong said...

I appreciate the discussion, but I don't plan to pursue it further unless you're able to articulate some argument for while your church demands uniformity on the Millennium for membership.

Because we believe the Bible teaches it and that it is an important component of biblical doctrine.

Ben said...

Ok then, just to clarify, your statement of faith contains everything that you believe the Bible teaches and that is an important component of Bible doctrine?

Ben said...

James,

What is doctrinal reductionism? Would you suggest that ANY disagreement on ANY point of doctrine precludes fellowship on ANY level? Because if your definition of reductionism is believing that not all disagreement demands cessation of all fellowship, then I'm pretty sure you're a doctrinal reductionist yourself.

Will Hatfield said...

Ben,

Being from the same group of churches as Greg, I would say that an amill. vs. premill. discussion usually ends up in a discussion of allegorical vs. literal interpretation which is tied to biblical authority and therefore one of the reasons (besides an effort ot articulate what you believe) an eschatological position shows how one views the interpretation and authority of Scripture which is much more important than one's view of alcohol (at least historically this has been the issue). I do think we are moving toward articulating the positions without going to that level of importance, but I don't think we're there yet.

Joshua said...

Right on!

I have been asking myself this exact question, and would appreciate any insights. The question is, why I would bother arriving at a specific belief about millenial view? Some views seem incorrect, others seem plausible, so from the plausible ones, I choose to "act as if" the view that is most urgent to my moral spiritual development is the "correct" one.

In other words, is there anything wrong with taking the most conservative plausible opinion, knowing full well that it might be wrong?

Josh Gelatt said...

For starters, I am rather non-committal regarding end times views. I lean towards pre-mil, but have great respect for the amil position.

With that said, it is hard to know how to take Dever's statement. He feels the freedom to require a certain view on Baptism (I seem to recall him disagreeing with Piper on this issue). Piper at least consistently applied the line of argument, but Dever is quite selective in its application.

We could go offer other examples (as others have done): Communion, Church Government, Gifts of the Spirit, Calvinism/Arminianism, etc. Is it a sin to take a position on any of these issues?

Dever loves many of his Presbyterian brethren (rightly so), but he would never join their church---nor would he let them join his. Is this not also sin, according to Dever's argument?

James Kime said...

Ben, it isn't that Dever takes the amill position here. It is that he is aggressively going after those who believe in premill and insist that their church hold it.

On what biblical grounds does he call a church sinful for embracing the premill position?

If cooperation is the supreme goal, then his take that a wrong view of baptism is sinful, is, well sinful. He was in sin by insisting on a doctrine that splits the body of Christ.

Dever wants it both ways. He just picks and chooses his pet topics.

So again, would Paul and John have been okay after teaching the premill position for people in the church to demand acceptance with an opposing view? The answer is no.

The church should seek to find as much in common as possible and teach the truth that others come into the light. It is not the duty of the church to just accept that false views are a reality and to just cave to it.

LCMS said...

Of the Millenium

http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=578

Bobby said...

How about this;
I believe Scripture is quite explicit in stating the restoration of the (physical)nation of Israel
I think that to deny the Scriptures explicit teaching that Israel as a nation will eventually be saved/restored is heresy.
In other words, "replacement theology" can be considered heresy can it not?