…in matters of denominational divisionIt is a serious matter to divide the Body of Christ. In the New Testament we find both the longing of Christ that division might not take place (John 17:20-23), and the accomplished fact of division as the necessary consequence of discipline in the church and the task of contending earnestly for the faith (e.g., 1 John 2:18-19; 1 Corinthians 5:13; Jude...in its entirety; Revelation 2:2, 6, 14-16, 20-25). In every case, the only grounds for division in the New Testament were as a response to the continued, unrepentant sin (either in doctrine or in practice) of fellow members in the church. Every age of Christianity has understood this simple truism: Division is to be avoided and unity is to be prized in the body of Christ. The only appropriate time to cleave the people of God is in response to unrepentant sin.
- When Christiantiy divided East and West, the leaders of the two factions mutually excommunicated one another. If they had not considered it a matter of sin, they would not have divided.
- When Martin Luther left Roman Catholicism, he did so over what he regarded as profound, unrepentant sin in the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. If he had not considered it a matter of sin, he would not have divided.
- When John Smythe and company separated from their congregation of English expatriates, Smythe declared the faith and practice of the Anglican Church, the Ancient Church, and all of his former spiritual kindred to be "Antichristian." If he had not considered it a matter of sin, he would not have divided.
No, our church would not call a paedobaptizer as pastor, but it isn't because we would say he is an unrepentant sinner. That I know of Faith Baptist would not allow an unrepentant sinner to knowingly speak from the pulpit. We also discourage unrepentant sinners from partaking of the Lord's table (though we don't always know who they are, so that is often left to their own consciences). But again, we would not consider our Presbyterian brother an unrepentant sinner. . . . . . . . . The reason would be that we are a Baptist church and he is a Presbyterian. We believe in believer's baptism by immersion and he does not. We practice congregationalism and I would presume he does not.Littleton's underlying point here is that he considers "Baptist" and "Presbyterian" to denote personal religious preferences—that being one or the other does not amount to a sin. Certainly, I can comprehend coming to the conclusion that Baptists and Presbyterians are divided by mere preference. Christian history is replete with churches split, individuals alienated, and battles waged over things that, in the long run, history has adjuged to be less than substantial. Perhaps, someday, somebody like Paul will convince me that the distinctive beliefs of Baptists are not matters of biblical obedience, but instead are merely points of private interpretation. It's possible. But when I am so convinced, I shall know what I must immediately do—at that moment, if I would be faithful to Christ, I must immediately renounce the separate existence of such a thing as a Baptist church and repent of ever being a member of such a church. Why? Because it is a sin to divide the Body of Christ (or to perpetuate division) over matters of mere preference. Thus my reply to Littleton:
Put me in the same category as John Smythe, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Clarke, et al. If it would not be a sin for me to merge with the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Romans, or whomever else (i.e., if to do so I would not be joining them in their unrepentant sin), then it would be a sin for me not to do so. Anything less fails to take seriously Christ's plea for Christian unity.
…in matters of church leadership.It is also a serious matter to deny to any person the opportunity to exercise what the person believes to be a calling from God. Jesus Himself warned us about hindering people in the pursuit of Christian ministry (Mark 9:38-40). The Bible also provides us with a full set of qualifications by which we admit or bar people into the offices of the church (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:9-3:13; Titus 1:5-9). When we apply these biblical qualifications, we know that we are limiting the offices of the church not according to our personal prejudices but according to God's command. Who are we to restrict the calling of God? If we limit the offices based upon anything other than biblical authority, we limit them based upon illegitimate authority and are guilty of a grievous sin. Enter a recent post by Wade Burleson (click here). Burleson's post spun off from a post by R. L. Vaughn (click here), which in turn found its origin in the comment stream of a post by Emily Hunter-McGowin (click here). Burleson's position appears in his own words in comment #137 at the original post, where he said:
Finally, I have said publicly that I would not personally lead my church to hire a female pastor, would not be a member of a church where the senior pastor was female, and I have no problem personally with the BFM 2000 on this issue. However, I am honest enough to say that my discomfort is personal and cultural—and not Biblical.Someday, somebody like Wade Burleson might convince me that the Bible does not prohibit women from serving as elders/pastors/overseers. Better men than I have reached this conclusion. It's possible. But when I am so convinced, I shall know what I immediately must do—at that moment, if I would be faithful to Christ, I must disavow my former affirmations of The Baptist Faith & Message, must campaign to alter the policies of FBC Farmersville to permit women to serve as pastors, and must give my personal benediction to women called to serve as pastors. Why? Because it is a grave matter to obstruct anyone in the pursuit of what they believe to be God's calling upon their lives. For me to dare to tell anyone, based upon nothing but the authority of my own mere preferences, that that person must not comply with what they believe to be God's calling upon their lives, would be a heinous act of sin. Either I have sound biblical grounds to say that they have misunderstood God's calling—that it would be sinful for them to pursue their plans contrary to the commandment of God—or I had better keep my opinion to myself and prevent my opinion from being legislated into the tenets of my church. But, in both of these matters (denominational division and qualficiations for biblical offices of the church), what if I am not convinced either way? What if I can see both sides of the matter? What if I have not come to any sound conclusion? Then I must preserve liberty on the matter. But liberty doesn't mean "I'll go arrange my church according to my view, and you go over there and arrange your church according to your view." Liberty means staying in the same congregation together and not making my uncertain preferences a test of fellowship. God prevent me from tying the hands of my own closest brethren over matters that I find entirely unimportant beyond the bounds of our local congregation. If I have matters of mere preference in view, my own congregation—my next-of-spiritual-kin—are the very last people upon whom I should impose my commands rather than the commandments of God. To divide or restrict the body of Christ over matters of mere preference (personal, cultural, denominational, or otherwise) is a pernicious evil.