Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ministerial Ethics and the City Church (part 2)

I believe that the ethical guidelines included on my last post are valid and worthy of recommendation for any evangelical church or church leader around the world. They are not infallible. But, as far as I can tell, I see no reason why they should not be put into practice in any and every context.

At the same time, though, I do not see any need to put these guidelines into practice with respect to the Catholic parish down the street or with the local bishop or parish priest. Neither do I see any need to put these guidelines into practice with the local leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or with the Mormons.

Why? Because all of these groups, as I understand it, in their official position, teach a “gospel” that, in the words of Paul in Galatians 1:7 “is really no gospel at all.” That is, if you followed what their official doctrine teaches, it would not lead you to having your sins forgiven, a reconciled relationship with your Heavenly Father, or an eternity in heaven.

Where for me the rubber really meets the road on this is how do I regard other true born-again believers, and Christian groups that teach a gospel that leads to salvation, but do not dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ just like I do. Do I, for instance, treat the Presbyterian pastor on the other side of town in essentially the same way I treat the parish priest down the street? Do I treat the Pentecostal pastor in the next neighborhood over essentially the same way I treat the leaders at the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

I believe I should be friendly and kind to everyone. I believe I should treat everyone with dignity and respect. I also believe there are certain ethical principles that govern my relationship with all my fellow human beings. But I have a special relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The priest may be a wonderful human being, and I may enjoy his company and friendship. I may even get together with him for a weekly golf game. And, the Pentecostal pastor may be a real jerk, with some off-the-wall “looney tune” ideas.

But, the bottom line, as I understand it, is which one is really and truly a member of my spiritual family. Those are the people I have an inherent commitment towards mutually putting into practice the various guidelines included in the list on my last post.

Having said this, I need to make a small caveat. I recognize there is a possibility that the priest may actually be a sincere born-again believer. Though, due to my understanding of Catholic theology, I would consider his position to be somewhat of an anomaly, if I have reason to believe he really is regenerate, then, on a personal basis, I must treat him in accordance with the special relationship he shares with me as a brother in Christ. As far as his position as a so-called “church leader” is concerned, though, since he is not, as I understand it, a representative of a biblically legitimate Christian body, I do not think I have the obligation to keep to all the guidelines outlined in the list in my dealings with him, or with the “parish” in which he officiates.

I am aware that some might point out the similarities of my position here to that of the Landmark position. And I would concede that, to a certain extent, they would be correct. The big difference, as I see it, is that I accept as authentic churches, and as authentic church leaders, more than solely Baptist churches and Baptist church leaders. Doctrinally, where I draw the line, is where I understand Jesus Himself to draw the line. If I expect to spend eternity in heaven with someone, I must treat him/her as my brother or sister in Christ here on earth, with all of the implications that come along with that. If a purported Christian congregation is preaching a gospel that, when all is said and done, comes down on the side of being the true gospel, and not a “gospel” that is “really no gospel at all,” then I must treat this congregation as a sister congregation as well, with all of the implications that come along with that.

10 comments:

Grosey's Messages said...

Good post David.
Some years ago whilst pastoring in the Australian bush, I came across an intresting scenario.
The largely Catholic town had an old irish drunken priest.
1 of the 3 Catholic laymen had experienced evangelical conversion and remained a catholic (This was evidenced by his battles with the priest at his home over the Mass, Mary worship, prayers to the saints etc overheard by a Salvation army neighbour). I befriended the other 2 laymen through a community organisation (anti drugs and and anti underaged drinking) I organised. I didn't know or meet the evangelical. I organised the anti drug group for more contacts in a needy town with a problem with their youth.
There came a day when the 3 laymen wanted to organise a "renewal movement" for their parish. They contacted me to write the Bible studies for the 600 people they had organised into small group bible studies.
Those studies also became part of the Antiochean movement among Catholic young people in Australia, through another catholic friend I had made through the anti drug group.
Was there a need for ecumenical work there? No. it would have drawn an anti evangelical reaction from the catholic hierarchy.
Was there a need for a visible association from evangelicals? No, again it would have been counter productive.
All that is necessary is to see where the grace of God is working and assist as He allows.
2 Tim 2:10 This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
Would I have incorprated the Catholic layman into my church when he was first converted? Of course. Was it better for him to remain where he was and win the lost? Absolutely.
I think we have to do what we can, be unreservedly who we are, respect all men, and unreservedly trust God for what He is doing even when it doesn't suit how we would like it.
David, are you familiar with the Antiocheans movement among Catholic Young people, and how extensive is it in Spain?
Steve

Bart Barber said...

David,

So, are you saying that the Roman Catholic Church is a cult?? I mean, you seem to be putting them into the same category as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons.

Not to make argument, but to make understanding: What you are suggesting is that (to fall back upon Dr. Mohler's "tiers" framework) there is no such thing as a legitimate second-tier issue. There are first-tier issues that differentiate cults from evangelicals, and then there is adiaphora in the third tier. Is that a correct assessment of your view?

Alan Cross said...

Bart,

Again, if I understand Dr. Mohler correctly, a second tier issue would be one that we would consider the other group to be believers, but we would not work with them within a denomination, like Presbyterians who engage in infant baptism or Episcopalians. They might be truly saved through their faith in Christ, but we would not try and cooperate with them in a local church. Inter-church, yes, intra church, no.

I think that David is saying that the RCC is a first tier difference.

But, then again, I do not carry my handy Dr. Mohler's Three Tiers around in my back pocket, so I could be off on this.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

Thanks for sharing this. I think it illustrates well some of the "nitty-gritty" of putting "finer-tooth" elements of this into practice.

I, personally, am a bit hesitant, though about signing on to this line:

"Was it better for him to remain where he was and win the lost? Absolutely."

I think we are called to make disciples, not just converts, and part of discipleship includes obedience to the Lord's teachings regarding our church fellowship with other believers.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

I know that some people have a technical defintion of the term "cult," which would perhaps not include the RCC. In Spanish, for instance, the concept of "cult" and "sect" are very much intertwined. And "sect" is, by defintion, a minority group. In other words, decidedly not Catholic. We also make the difference between "normal sects" and "dangerous sects," the dangerous ones being those that tend toward brain-washing, manipulation, and psychological and emotional abuse.

In my opinion, some elements of Roman Catholicism down through the years have fallen into some of these things in one way or another. For that matter, some groups and leaders that are doctrinally evangelical have fallen into some of these things, as well.

The important thing, here, though, is whether or not the official teaching of a church or group will lead you to salvation. In that sense, I think it is correct to group the RCC and various cults together.

David Rogers said...

Bart & Alan,

I was just writing another comment in response to the question about 2nd tier issues, and, after wringing my brain about it, just lost the comment into cyber-space.

Since the next post I have in mind, to be entitled "Baptist Associations and the City Church," will deal with this same question to some extent, I think I will wait till then to give my attempt at answering this question.

David Rogers said...

Steve,

Just realized I never answered your question about the Antiochean movement. Anyway, no, I am not familiar with them here in Spain. What I am a bit more familiar with is the "Neo-Catechumenal" movement, also known in Spain as the "Kikos" (after the founder, Kiko Argüelles). They emphasize Bible study, and small group "discipleship," and attract a lot of youth. But they are also very hard-core on Catholic dogma. An interesting combination.

I wonder what the Antiocheans teach regarding the role of the sacraments in salvation, and Mary, etc. My experience has been that many Catholics give a "testimony" of faith in Christ and the gospel that sounds good on the surface. The problem is what they add to the gospel (i.e. the grace-dispensing nature of the sacraments, the mediation of the saints, the priests, Mary, etc.).

GuyMuse said...

But, the bottom line, as I understand it, is which one is really and truly a member of my spiritual family. Those are the people I have an inherent commitment towards..."

Why has this become such a difficult matter for us to recognize who is part of our spiritual family? Why are we so prone to draw lines and exclude brothers and sisters in Christ just because they don't dot every 'i' and cross every 't' like we do?

I personally think it is because we have failed to understand the implications of there truly being only One Body of Christ.

Either we are part of Christ's Body, the Church, or we are not. If we are part, then we must live in harmony as family, agreeing to disagree on those 2nd and 3rd tier issues wherein we have different understandings of Scripture.

When it boils right down to it, what united the early church was their common: JESUS IS LORD! When we begin to insist that our 2nd and 3rd tier issues be elevated to the same level of 'Jesus as Lord', we begin to fragment Christ's Body. Of course, as you have commented elsewhere on a related subject, the tricky part becomes determining what those 2nd and 3rd tier issues are. We are obviously not all in agreement about what constitute 1st tier matters in the Kingdom of God.

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

You're the first person that I've heard suggest that 2nd and 3rd tier distinctives should not be used to separate believers. I think your view is scriptural. It will be interesting to see how others respond to two tiers instead of three tiers.

-Alan

David Rogers said...

Guy & Alan (Knox),

Thanks for your comments. I'd be interested to see how you respond, in the light of this, to my new post on "Baptist Associations and the City Church."