Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One for all and all for one

Mark Dever recently may a statement which is getting some buzz:

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.

I don’t know whether I agree or disagree with this statement, because it’s rather vague. If, by “requires,” he means that you’re required to affirm every jot and tittle of a statement of faith to be an active member of a church, then I’m inclined to agree.

Even then, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with like-minded Christians who form a like-minded fellowship. It’s a free association.

But assuming that this is not a requirement for active church membership, I don’t see why a statement of faith can’t include something that individual Christians don’t see eye-to-eye on.

For example, a pastor has a theological viewpoint. He thinks his interpretation is right. And he’s trying to convince his congregation to see things his way. In that sense, he thinks the Bible, rightly understood, requires a certain belief. And that’s something he urges on the congregation.

I don’t view that as inherently divisive or exclusionary. It’s a statement of his opinion. And if enough parishioners share that opinion, is there some reason they shouldn’t express their common conviction in a corporate statement of faith?

We need to avoid two extremes. One is to disfellowship other Christians over differences of opinion which are not a sufficient basis for excommunication.

The other is to be so worried about offending people and hurting their feelings that we can’t bring ourselves to say what we believe.

1 comment:

  1. Dever is an advocate of a fairly simple sort of confession in the local church...the New Hampshire Confession vs. the longer, more involved Second London.

    With that said, however, I don't think that's his concern. Rather, he's reacting to the tendency in Baptist circles to not leave room for scrupling at the local church level when it comes to church confessions. For example, there's a lovely Calvinist church where I live that I'd love to join as a member, but they have premillenialism written into their confession. I'm Amill, ergo, I cannot (and will not) in good conscience join the church. Presbyterians, ironically, are fairly good about allowing scrupling. I also like the way John Piper's church operates, with one confession for the membership, another for the leadership. One is broader; the other more narrow. I can live with that. Being Baptist, Calvinist, and finding a good church these days is extremely limiting. Either the churches are functionally Arminian, riddled with disuputes, or the ones that I'd be able to join as a member comfortably are so far away as to be unmanageable financially or with respect to giving my time or they write these silly things into their confessions that, while not precluding attendance, preclude membership qua membership.