Tag Archives: body of christ

More on handling theological differences between brothers in Christ

In a recent conversation via Google Buzz between a couple of Reformed brethren and myself I was told the following:

Nathan White – Wes-
I don’t see Calvinism starting with philosophy because it starts with what scripture explicitly says, that we were chosen, predestined, and even that God created vessels of wrath and mercy for His specific purposes, and then moves on from there and forms compatibalism based upon statements of God’s love, and inferences that God holds men accountable for their actions. Molinism cannot exegete a text in context and form a doctrine, and let that doctrine help interpret other tough passages, but Calvinists can easily do so with the explicit statements of Romans 9.

Scripture says that God is sovereign completely, and that man is held responsible for his and Adam’s sin. Those are two seeming contradictions, but not so in the mind of God. Molinism, at the end of the day, leaves sovereignty in the hands of man…completely.

Aaron Sauer – Only the Holy Spirit will open Wes’ eyes to the deep truths of scripture. Lord willing, one day he will realize that salvation is 100% of the Lord

Here’s my reply:

Aaron, come now. Please don’t be so disingenuous as to place foreign words into my mouth. I have never said that salvation is not 100% from the Lord nor will I. As Nathan has rightly stated, our differences lie not necessarily in our commitment to Christ or the truth of Scripture but in philosophy.

Nathan, I don’t see how you can claim philosophical immunity for your theological system and I don’t see how quoting Scripture we both agree is Holy and inspired helps your case any.

Molinism is built (as the Calvinist Alvin Plantinga states) on the twin notions of sovereignty and the limited free will of humans. I know it is popular to claim that Calvinism holds to a higher view of sovereignty than any other theological system (including Molinism) however I ask that you do Molinists like myself the charity of not redefining our words for us and simply accept it when we say that we in fact do hold to God’s complete soverignty over all of His creation.

Again, the issue here is in how we define sovereignty and what philosophical presuppositions we bring to bear on the texts. You seem to think (along with most Calvinists) that Romans 9 is wholly unanswerable from anything short of a hard causally deterministic view. I believe men like Geisler and Yarnell have done an excellent job of pointing out how, while the Bible does teach and confirm the doctrine of election, Romans 9 is not an apt text to use for God’s willful violation or robotic control of mankind’s will (which was given to him by God as beings created in His image).

I think a helpful place for us to start from would be to acknowledge and accept that Calvinism is built on a particular (no pun intended) philosophy (which I would argue is closely related to the Stoicism that Calvin wrote his doctoral dissertation on).

The question then is how well the underlying philosophy which guides the exegesis from a Calvinistic point of view answers all the questions raised by Scripture vs competing theological systems such as Molinism. The question is not, however, which one is “based on philosophy” vs “based on scripture” as the notion of a theological system devoid of philosophical input is simply incoherent.

The bottom line is that we really have to learn how to disagree and fight strenuously but fairly if we want to see the broken body of Christ healed in a real and meaningful sense.

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How ought brothers in Christ disagree?

I was asked a couple of questions recently regarding unity and how I believe we ought to pursue it in regards to the Church of Christ. Since these questions cut to the heart of many of the struggles that occur in the body of Christ (unfortunately, often in the name of Christ) I figured I’d share them here. Enjoy!

“Do you affirm that unity is not to come at the expense of truth?”

I think this is a red herring as people can disagree on various theological points and still remain united by their commitment to Christ. Further, I find the very question here to be an implicit concession of my point above regarding the Calvinist tendency to treat the ideological position as of primary importance (something, I might add, which is also carried over into too many Churches) rather than our common commitment to Christ.

In other words, you are not a sum of your ideas and your value is not derived by adding up all of your ideas and subtracting the bad ones.

Our commitment to Christ and each other IN Christ is not predicated on our possession of right doctrine.

“Do you affirm that we can disagree and yet have unity?”

Are you asking if we can disagree and still remained united in our commitment to Christ? If so the sure, I don’t see why not. That is, as long as you DO place your commitment to our common Lord and Saviour as of primary importance.

Before you stroke out at my above statements or attempt to reply with the oft-used but seldom-understood refrain of “postmodernist!” let me hasten to add that I’m not saying that objective truth doesn’t exist or matter or that we ought not to vigorously state and defend our respective theologies.

All I’m saying is that past the very basic confessional creed laid out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (also captured in the ΙΧΘΥΣ acrostic) we have no reason to attempt and throw others out of a body and bride that is not our own.

In regard to camps, I try very hard not to have one so I find your question regarding “my camp” to be pretty spurious at best. If you are asking if there are non-calvinists who have acted poorly, then my answer would have to be yes. Even I have failed to attain to the ideal of unity Christ commanded us to uphold. However the beauty of the Christian message is redemption so my continued hope (no matter how dismal or unattainable it may seem at times) is that we would stop stabbing each other in the back (which includes trying to throw each other out of the Body of Christ) and work towards what Jesus told us would be a sign to the nations that He was sent into the world (what Schaeffer called “the final apologetic”).

In our search for unity, we need to give up the common refrain of “well you are coming from a philosophical position whereas I am coming from a _Biblical_ position” argument. If we can agree to forgo such infantile arguments or lines of thought then, and only then, will our conversations and debates become more fruitful than a mud slinging competition.

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On Pat Robertson’s thoughtless remarks about Haiti

Haiti was recently hit by the largest earthquake in nearly a hundred years.

Here’s what Pat Robertson had to say about it:

I’ve heard many atheists and anti-Christians take Pat’s comments above as reinforcements to support their belief that Christians are intolerant, bigoted, and wholly devoid of compassion. It’s this group of people I want to address..

There are many of us whose hearts do break for the pain, suffering, and evil that has been unleashed upon the people of Haiti. While we do maintain that God is wholly sovereign over the world we also vehemently deny assertions like the one made by Pat Robertson.

We don’t consider him to be unsaved or a devil in disguise. Since we are all members of a much larger family which includes those hurting in Haiti, we simply maintain that men like Pat are like the black sheep that run in all families.

Except, we also recognize that in this family we were all black sheep at one point in time.

Yes, we are all very much aware that there is a cancer in the body of Christ and we are desperately trying to fight it.

But where does that cancer come from? We know full well it comes from the hearts of sinful men who are still in need of a savior.

No, we aren’t perfect. We just know someone who is.

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The unbiblical clergy/laity division

Daniel,
Thanks for taking the time to ask to clairify my words from earlier, and I trust that you understand that because my statement was made to the general clergy/laity split it was not directed at you personally. At the outset I want to acknowledge that there are clergy like yourself and Christ Wyatt who
There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.
1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.
In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.
2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.
You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.
No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…
3.) (I’m hurrying because I need to get going for work.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?
How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?
How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?
In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).
There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close my letter on another note by saying that I hope you don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine about my position on the common practice of dividing the body of Christ between two distinct classes (castes?) of members, namely the clergy and the laity1. Since this is one of the most notable differences between a simple church and a legacy church I felt it worthy of a somewhat detailed treatment here.

There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.

1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.

In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.

2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.

You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.

No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…

3.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?

How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?

How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?

In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).

There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close this post on another note by saying that I hope pastors don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

For anyone seeking a more in-depth treatment of this subject I highly recommend and of Frank Viola‘s works, particularly Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. Also, if you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to leave them below!

  1. Helpfully defined by Wikipedia as “anyone who is not in the clergy“ []
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