Reflections, Part 3- Theological/Practical Concerns
by Greg Linscott
Another common objection that has been aired is differences in doctrine and practice between churches like those in the MBA and the positions and practices of MacArthur and Johnson. I will list and address some of the most frequently cited ones.
- Speakers who have Charismatic/Continuationist leanings. GCC has in relatively recent days used C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries to speak from the GCC pulpit and be featured as a main speaker for a conference directed toward college-aged people. John Piper would be another example of a well-known individual who has articulated a continuationist position.
- Matters of Polity. John MacArthur and GCC are unapologetic advocates of elder rule, a modified system of Presbyterianism that does not include a human authority structure over multiple local congregations.
- Theological Points of Disagreement. Well-publicized issues over the years would include the Lordship salvation issue, the blood/death of Jesus, and the eternal sonship of Christ.
- Music. Need I say more?
The first matter is, like Mohler’s, complicated. There have been a lot of things I have heard and appreciated that have originated from people in the Sovereign Grace Ministries orb. I use and recommend Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say I Do, for example, as a good resource for marriage or pre-marital counseling. How Can I Change? by Mahaney and Robin Boisvert is another good counseling resource. Many of the materials authored by Joshua Harris that I have read have value, and I would generally commend them to you. It should also be noted that things in that group are in a state of upheaval due to a couple of highly-publicized scandals, which I will not address here, not because they aren’t important, but because the point here is doctrinal/practical position, and not the conduct and behavior that deviated from their own established principles based on God’s Word.
One thing I think has to be taken into consideration is how John MacArthur (and Phil Johnson) have confronted the Charismatic matter directly. If you are going to do any reading or preparation on the matter at all, if you don’t go to Charismatic Chaos, you do yourself a disservice. It is a great resource, and JMac’s position comes out very clearly in it. To build on that, next month, their church is hosting a conference (and will publish a subsequent book on the theme) under the title of Strange Fire, confronting these matters quite directly. Their overall position as unapologetic champions of cessationism is well-documented and well-established.
Another consideration overlaps into the next matter. As prominent as MacArthur is nationally, he is not, in the end, a supreme dictator on all matters, but is one of several elders. My understanding is that the original invitation to Mahaney was not MacArthur’s personal idea. Putting it another way (though it isn’t a fully even parallel)- there are men in the leadership of the MBA who were not in agreement with the Phil Johnson invitation, and though that decision met the overall approval of the executive board, it was not, in the end, a unanimous decision. We Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones who have to live with decisions we aren’t always fully supportive of. I expect that would be to some degree applicable to the matter at hand.
The idea of polity differences is another frequently cited concern. As independent Baptists, we tend to favor some form of congregationalism (the “P” in B-A-P-T-I-S-T, of course, being the priesthood of the believer!), usually coupled with a single pastor/several deacons arrangement. In the interests of full disclosure, this is currently the arrangement at our church, and we have no immediate or long-range plans to alter it.
At the same time, I know of several settings where Fundamentalists have had a form of polity similar to what is advocated and practiced at GCC. There are Bible churches in New England I know of, whose roots are in the IFCA, who have basically the same kind of polity structure as GCC. They used to invite some of the professors from my alma mater to speak at their Bible conferences all the time.
One of the knocks against TMC/TMS graduates can be that they have a reputation for going into a church with a long-time established history and practice of Congregationalist polity, and quickly bringing it to a point of upheaval and division because of their quick implementation of plural elder governance. This is a perspective I have heard from more than one GARBC pastor in the West. In my conversations with Phil, interestingly enough, he acknowledged the problem, saying that 1. The reputation was well-deserved, and 2. It was a problem. “I counsel these guys all the time to back off,” Phil said to me very candidly, noting that while they were convinced of the position, it did not rank high enough to divide a church over.
Without trying to make a hard case for one position over the other, one frequent objection I have heard communicated on this specific point is, “Well, they aren’t Baptist!” Whatever else I might see in our MBA documents, the only pertinent passage in our Confession of Faith says that a “gospel church” is to be “governed by (Christ’s) laws,” and “that its only Scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the epistles to Timothy and Titus.” However more specific any of us would get in our application, I do not think there would be anything there that would preclude a church that practiced either of the models I have referenced. In other words, it is possible to be a Baptist congregation and advocate some forms of plural eldership.
There have also been objections where Theological Points of Disagreement have been cited. I’ve mentioned some of the specific issues above. Without taking the time to analyze each one thoroughly, I have heard positions advocated by MacArthur in his “Lordship” materials, for example, from others in decidedly Fundamentalist settings (such as the FBFI, for one example). While not everyone would support everything he has said in these areas, I doubt every Fundamentalist Baptist would want to identify with every single, specific position someone like Mark Minnick has championed over the years, either. There are going to be some differences in our conclusions. Unanimity on every issue ought not to be a requirement for any form of collaboration.
I’ve said enough for now. I’ll give music its own post, next.