Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The church is defined by the gospel

In this series of posts, James White interacts with a group of evangelical infant baptists who apparently believe that unless you believe in infant baptism, you should not be fellowshiped with, and your church should not be recognised as a legitimate church. White graciously and clearly makes the unanswerable point that it is a serious mistake to define the church in terms of anything except the gospel. Part one, two, three.


Ned Kelly said...

This exchange is one of the reasons I struggle to find harmony in established churches. It is ironic that the Reformists set out to re-establish the precedence of Scripture over tradition, yet in this article, James White’s critics retreat to tradition. As someone who has only recently submitted to the will of God, I find these debates quite irksome, not so much in content as in tone. To my mind, some churches are usurping God’s authority and deserve the same criticism that Jesus levelled at some Pharisaic practices. I have read extensively over recent years, and so much of what I read is not so much a cogent argument of what Scripture reveals, but over the definition of various terms such as covenant theology, dispensationalism, reformed, and the like. As a neutral observer, how is one to know who is right, from Catholicism to liberal evangelicals? The modern church shows all the symptoms of the divisions between the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and so on. I agree with White that we must anchor our faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospels. Public conflict between Christian communities does little to advance the Gospel, because in hearing conflicting doctrines, one can reasonably ask: which Gospel?
I have identified 83 references to baptism in the New Testament, and eliminating the duplication of essentially the same wording, have isolated 24 separate, and at times conflicting, ideas conveyed. To my mind there is no clear statement regarding infant baptism. In the spirit of Christ, competing factions ought to humbly agree to disagree, and get on with advancing the common cause.

David Anderson said...

There seems to be three things genuine believers in the gospel need to learn to do; 1. study every jot and tittle of God's word so that they're convinced about what it teaches, so that they practice that and 2. fellowshipping with other believers on the basis of the gospel, and not on the basis of additional doctrines and 3. applying wisdom in what other projects we co-operate together on; if we do 2. rightly then it should be clear that 3. is truly based on applying *wisdom* to the particular situation and not upon having anathematised them for not agreeing with all our distinctives.

There are of course complexities in the above. Some believers' distinctives may have led them into sinful compromises (e.g. with denominations that deny the gospel, though they themselves do not); our fellowship with them may take the form of brotherly exhortation to turn around, and further fellowship may not be right until they've heeded that call.

One more thing; there are no "neutral" observers of course; when we read Scripture, Scripture reads us. Some people can't see through the fog of confusion because they have no heart to do it. The gospel has an irreducible core, and those who explicitly deny key gospel doctrines such as the atonement (e.g. Rome and liberal theologians) aren't included amongst those we can work alongside. Ecunemnists want to make the boundary lines of fellowship into anyone who self-defines as a Christian and suspend all discernment; clearly, neither Jesus nor the apostles applied that approach. Someone might say that the second paragraph above withdraws the first, if it's up to me to decide what a sinful compromise is, then won't it all amount to the same old divisions in the end? The answer to that knot is the progressive work of the Spirit to sanctify those who truly love Jesus, and the truth that "there must be divisions amongst us, so that those approved of the Lord may be made manifest".