Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Census, Consensus, and Censorship

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Census, Consensus, and Censorship

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:30-32).
Over the last 40 years I have been involved in many fellowships of churches or pastors. I won’t list them all, but each provided some blessings to me and much encouragement from other fellow Christians. I have never been part of a Convention of Churches because I believe that joining such an organization creates something larger than the local church and I believe that would be unscriptural. The associations or fellowships that I participated with, whether they were of local churches or pastors, never had any authority over the local church I pastored or any say in the decisions of those churches. We were bonded together merely by a chain of sand in like precious faith and in our missional purposes.
Although there are great blessings in being part of a fellowship/association of local churches or pastors, I have also discovered some things that I think can be very dangerous to both individuals and to local churches. I believe any individual or local church involved with these kinds or organizations needs to guard against three things that I see that develop and grow within these organizations:
1. Census
2. Consensus
3. Censorship
The central meaning of the word census is the counting of people and the accounting of their property holdings and wealth for the purpose of taxation. Census is about numbers. There is nothing wrong with counting things. The problems begin with what we do with those numbers.
Often, when I go to fellowship meetings, the first question other pastors ask me is, “How many are you running now?” In most cases, they do not really care how many people are attending church services where I pastor. They are keeping score. The mentality of this thinking is that a person’s importance is measured by the number of people that come to hear him preach, the size of the church’s budget and missions giving, and the size of the church’s facilities. Those with larger ministries are looked up to by those with lesser sized ministries. When I have pastored larger sized churches and had this happen to me, I was offended by it. I was especially offended by the fact that I was promoted in the eyes of others simply because of this, when there were many more noble, spiritually mature, and gifted men who were seldom given the opportunity to speak before the fellowship, or chosen for leadership positions.
One state fellowship of churches I participated in was an especially sweet fellowship because the leadership carefully guarded against this kind of nonsense. It was often said that this state fellowship of churches was superior because it did not have any big shots in it. Of course, it did have men who had large churches and most of those men were deeply spiritual men and very gifted. They were also very humble men. Perhaps that was the very reason their ministries were very successful in bringing glory to God and seeing much fruit.
State and nation wide Bible conferences often choose their speakers on the basis of the size and the success of their ministries as well. In an attempt to attract large numbers of pastors and people to these conferences, big name preachers are brought in to fill the platform. In a success oriented society we tend to gravitate to people who we view to have achieved what we are working toward. We think they will have a key that we have not discovered or some new program that was successful that we might implement to be our own springboard to similar results. All of this generates, or perhaps is generated from, very humanistic thinking that is separated from the true supernatural spiritual dynamic involved in true church growth.
It is important to interject here that in pointing out theses dangers that must be guarded against, we should not throw out the baby with the bath water. The vast majority of these big name preachers are humble, spiritual men who have amassed enormous wisdom over their years in the ministry. They have a great deal to offer to the masses that attend these conferences. However, we must constantly be on guard against hero worship and glory theft. Genuinely humble people manifest humility in very practical ways. They will refuse to receive glory for what God has done through them. There is a great danger in ego worship within pastoral circles and it tends to generate pride. The truly great men of God have always guarded against these things from within their peer groups and carefully guarded their own hearts from being pierced by the deadly arrows of pride and self-promotion, to which all men are susceptible.

The word consensus simply means general agreement or concord; harmony. Within most pastor’s fellowships or local church fellowships consensus is the basis for the existence of the fellowship in the first place. These people gather together because they share communion in doctrine and purpose. The central focus in these gatherings is upon edification and encouragement in the “work of the ministry.” These are very good and noble purposes that deserve to be promoted. Many pastors are discouraged and need encouragement. Many are struggling with finances, personal and family issues, and just the everyday difficulties of trying to teach sheep to fly. I do not want to criticize these very precious necessities of edification and encouragement within these fellowships of pastors or local churches. Holding up one another’s arms is often one of the most important things one Christian can do for another. When I attend these gatherings, I try to be sensitive to the other men around me and try to provide some encouragement if possible.
However, there is also a great danger within most fellowships that promotes Centrism. Centrism is a political word. It is the very reason many men refuse to be part of fellowships of pastors and local churches; they hate political maneuvering in that they view it as manipulative. Centrism purposefully adopts a middle of the road position, or course of action, that controls everything that happens within the fellowship. Centrism promotes Moderatism, which is just another word for progressive lukewarmness. The danger is in the promotion of unity in purpose above unity in doctrine. This forms a pseudo-consensus that tends towards inclusivism.
The very nature of true consensus is exclusivistic. In other words, to create a pseudo-unity with pseudo-consensus destroys the very nature of true consensus. Theological consensus in doctrine and purpose must be actual, not merely philosophical. Consensus that is manufactured by avoiding areas of disagreement in doctrine or purpose is artificial and false. Creating a pseudo-unity with pseudo-consensus removes the necessity for separation by individuals from the fellowship by avoiding the discussion of anything that might challenge the pseudo-unity. I believe this is why almost all fellowships eventually become New Evangelical. It is because they want to maintain a wide base of theological positions. Over the years this wide base grows wider and wider. They create a pseudo-unity with pseudo-consensus and then criticize those who leave the fellowship and label them as extreme because they refuse to be partners in the pseudo-unity and pseudo-consensus. Evil is inherent in these kinds of practices.
Bible colleges and seminaries are not immune to this kind of Group Think. In many cases they create the Group Think and write its syllabus. They understand that they draw their students from a wide stream of churches and they want to keep that stream as wide as possible. Many pastors, who are alumni of a college they once attended, falsely assume that the same things they were taught when they attended are still being taught. Alumni tend to have a loyalty to their Alma Mater that is above their loyalty to the Truth. This is a great evil. Pastors need to spend a day or, even better, a number of days in the classrooms of colleges and seminaries they recommend so they can actually hear and see what is being taught. They should personally question professors and teachers regarding their theological beliefs before they recommend a school. They should question school leaders about their views about certain theological positions and how things deemed as aberrations are dealt with in the student body and amongst the faculty. Inclusivism always breeds broader Inclusivism.
These kinds of fellowships and schools want to avoid being labeled. They will often avoid using a label that takes on negative connotations and narrows the base from which they draw their support. Many times they simply invent a new label that they define and then apply it to themselves. I believe this is what is happening in the use of the new label: Conservative Evangelicals. These individuals want to separate themselves from narrower and more exclusivistic labels in order to maintain a wider and more inclusivistic base within their constituency. This is why these types or organizations do not simply abandon the fundamentalism that they so adamantly and regularly criticize. They still want to be influential within fundamentalism in transitioning people away from that which they criticize to their kumbaya Conservative Evangelicalism. This is Rodney King Evangelicalism; “can’t we, can’t we just all get along!” Therefore, the critics keep one foot in Fundamentalism as they seek to destroy it and lead as many out of Fundamentalism as possible before they will finally and ultimately be abandoned by those they criticize.
Secondly, these kinds of fellowships and schools seek to redefine theological positions by changing emphasis and direction within theological positions. This can be seen in the following quote from Dr. Kevin Bauder from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN in an article from a few years ago:

“It has been suggested that we practice ecclesiastical separation because we are concerned about the purity of the church. Strictly speaking, that is not true. We practice ecclesiastical separation because we are concerned about the purity of the gospel.”[1]
When certain areas of theological discussion are purposefully eliminated from theological dialogue within a fellowship in order to create a pseudo-consensus, there usually develops a strong sense of covert censorship within fellowships. Certain voices cannot be allowed to be heard if the pseudo-consensus is to be maintained. The fact that this censorship is covert is especially evil.
This covert censorship is usually done through private assassination by innuendo. Another word for this is gossip. Covert censorship takes place when any person poses a threat to the pseudo-consensus of the Group Think. Such a person’s influence must be limited or eliminated in order to maintain the pseudo-consensus. This person then becomes a sacrificial lamb sacrificed to the pseudo-consensus. The wickedness of this all is that the person’s position that is being censored is often (usually) misrepresented.
This covert censorship is manifested in the another article by Dr. Bauder under the guise of presenting individuals or local churches with certain positions as abnormal, and like some kind of infection that needs to be removed from a fellowship.

“Much of what transpires under the name of fundamentalism is not the idea, but rather appurtenances. If fundamentalism is going to be made healthy, it needs a good expectorant. A few boils need to be lanced. Perhaps some tumors will require surgery. These procedures may cause discomfort, but they are done for the health of the body.
Someone who criticizes the phlegm and pus may not hate the body, but rather desire its health. Someone may lay a tumor bare because the tumor disfigures and threatens the body. The body is healthier without it.”[2]

The “phlegm and pus” in the “body of Christ” referred to in this article is anyone who believes that ecclesiastical separation is mainly about “purity of the church,” rather than just the “purity of the gospel.” This is a dangerous change and reduction in the historical position of Baptist separatism. In other words, there is no longer any need to separate from other religious organizations over errors in Pneumatology, Christology, Eschatology, Ecclesiology, Anthropology, or any other area that does not affect the “purity of the gospel.”
Covert censorship is certainly seen today in fellowships and schools in the discussion of textual preservation, Bible translations, and in the rise of Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and Covenant Theology within Baptist circles. In order to maintain a pseudo-consensus, there is covert censorship that just will not allow discussion of these issues. The influence of those who think these issues need to be exposed as heretical are covertly censored by taking away the credibility of their voice by labeling them as extreme. They certainly will never be allowed to be addressed from any platform or pulpit provided by the fellowship or school. These issues are divisive and therefore cannot be allowed to challenge the pseudo-consensus. The very fact that the discussion and preaching on these kinds of issues is covertly eliminated manifests a promotion of Inclusivism over orthodoxy. This too is a great evil. The consensus to allow this evil is in every way that which generates the pseudo-consensus.
I have no objection to censorship. Every pastor I know protects what is taught from his pulpit by censorship. However, it is unethical to do so covertly. If I disagree with what a man believes, I tell him so personally. He will not be allowed to preach from the pulpit the Lord has put under my guardianship, even if he agrees not to speak on the area we disagree on. A man who holds to heresy is a heretic. I have a responsibility to tell another man that I believe his beliefs will lead people astray if they are allowed to be preached. I may have friends who I believe are heretics, but I do not partner (“fellowship”) with them in the “work of the ministry.” They should do the same with me if they believe my beliefs are heretical. I will not be offended by that. However, I will be offended by the unethical practice of covert censorship in order to maintain a pseudo-consensus. I view this as extremely wicked.
Another aspect of this dynamic is self-censorship by the individuals within a fellowship in order to be able to hold leadership positions within the fellowship. I know of many men who strongly disagree with the acceptable and unacceptable norms (the pseudo-consensus), but who refuse to publicly address things they think will not be acceptable because of political reasons. They think they will not be asked to hold a position, speak at the fellowship gatherings, or be given recommendations to another pastorate should they need one. These men will totally avoid talking publicly or privately about divisive issues lest they be labeled divisive. This is an aberration in that Christ said, “34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:34-37). Neutrality is a position that is equal to unfaithfulness. To self-censor is to be silenced by selfishness and self-protection. Self-censorship because of fear of the consequences of speaking out is an act of cowardice.
I have often wondered how the Apostle Paul would have fared in many of these fellowships. I think we can be confident that he would never self-censor. I think we can also be confident that he would never minimize any doctrine to generate a pseudo-unity. In fact, I think we can be confident that this is exactly the substance of his warning to Timothy and all future generations of preachers.
What does it really mean when a person says, “We agree to disagree”? In my experience, that means two disagreeing people agree that they will not discuss those things they disagree about so as to have a pseudo-unity built upon a pseudo-consensus. I think God has a word for that; ABOMINATION! It can also be spelled C-O-M-P-R-O-M-I-S-E! Those willing to enter into such alliances based on this pseudo-consensus have sacrificed their spiritual integrity for pseudo-unity. This too is a great evil. When the voice of dissent is silenced by self-censorship, it becomes a voice of consent.

[2] Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, “Now about Thoses Differences, Part One: Why This Discussion?” In the Nick of Time, May 28, 2010
A PDF of this article is available upon request along with a Power Point presentation. Send request to: LanceKetchum@msn.com

Anonymous comments will not be allowed.Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at:http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist.He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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