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Article 2: On the Whole Counsel of God

BookCoverImageThis is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.” Purchase a print edition of A Conservative Christian Declaration here.

We affirm that the center and apex of Christian faith and fellowship is the whole counsel of God, including right belief, right living, and right affection (Deut. 6:1–9). We further affirm that the transmission of biblical Christianity necessarily involves the preservation and cultivation of the entire system of faith (Acts 20:27).

We deny that belief in the gospel alone is adequate for healthy Christian worship, fellowship, and devotion.

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The gospel forms the boundary of Christian fellowship: outside the gospel, no Christianity and no Christian fellowship can exist. Those who agree on the gospel, however, still disagree about many issues. Some of these issues are relatively trivial (for instance, the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6); others have greater importance.

About these issues, we affirm that two ditches must be avoided. On one side are those who raise every issue to the level of the gospel. Disagreements on secondary matters (such as views of the ordering of events during the end times) are made tests of Christian fellowship. This kind of “everythingism” diminishes the importance of the gospel. It writes everything in characters that are bold and uppercase; by emphasizing everything, it emphasizes nothing. Consequently, the “weightier matters of the law,” the “first and greatest commandment” is brought down to the level of the least important matters.

On the other side are those who grasp the central importance of the gospel and therefore insist that all else is inconsequential. In such cases, views of baptism and the table, church order (including polity, membership, and discipline), eschatology, and many other doctrines and practices are minimized. We wish to push back against such essentialism: these “secondary” doctrines and practices, while not always necessary to the being of the church, are of vital importance to its well-being.

We contend that “gospel minimalism” harms churches, not because of what it emphasizes, but because of what it neglects. Therefore, while affirming the place of the gospel as the boundary of fellowship, we insist that the whole counsel of God is the center of fellowship, and that pursuit of this center is of irreplaceable value for worship, fellowship, and devotion. Furthermore, this center is not merely doctrinal. It includes elements of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy.

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About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.

3 Responses to Article 2: On the Whole Counsel of God

  1. Kent Brandenburg says:

    Hi,

    This is a very strong statement relative to evangelicalism and even fundamentalism. I commend you. You will likely be opposed for such strength. The churches that reflect this would be comparably very strong. The mood or spirit of the worship of our church would parallel this.

    I recognize that men probably don’t want to argue about this, because it would “just go on and on and on.” But I would be open to someone showing me from the Bible the doctrine of secondary matters. You can scour history and find very little. I know what’s written, and it doesn’t equate exactly to this. I believe there are doubtful disputations, preferences, and mere circumstances of worship that are matters of liberty. I dive in with you there. I won’t blink over those — allow them. But you are going to have a difficult time finding this doctrine in history. It’s just not an emphasis at all, which is ironic, because the doctrine of secondary matters has become primary today. And it’s not really that doctrine per se, but a view of unity that I’m not convinced of and find indefensible.

    And then the idea that standing on everything the Bible teaches diminishes the gospel, I just don’t see. I see just the opposite. It’s a strong statement that it is a ditch in the first place and then that the people who take that very biblical position are diminishing the gospel with it. I am read enough to know that the new doctrine that the gospel is diminished with an emphasis on these “secondary matters” comes almost solely from the idea of “first in importance,” which itself is questionable (another irony). I believe the context of 1 Cor 15 fits “first in order” or chronologically first or at least foundationally first, and not this new shibboleth of evangelicalism.

    It seems your major defense is “weightier matters” (barus). Barus isn’t speaking of less important matters, but more difficult matters. The Pharisees reduced their doctrine and practice to what was easy for them to keep. They made up rules that would enable them to keep them in the flesh. The more difficult things, the weightier things (think a heavier weight) were those things that you couldn’t generally fake, like tithing of tiny herbs or vegetables. When Jesus spoke of the first and great commandment, He was answering the question of what the greatest law is, which was again responding to this reduction position that is what we’re talking about. They tried to reduce the numbers of commands to a number that they could keep on their own. Loving Jesus, He himself said was keeping all of what He said. Paul quoted Deut 30 in the context of confessing Jesus as Lord in Rom 10, which was the children of Israel saying “Yes” to everything that God said — that is loving God in Deuteronomy, which is where the loving God concept originated in Deut 6.

    Your chief critics believe you are violating this yourself, because you are turning music into a “major or primary doctrine.” It’s going to be barus for you to explain this. It seems subjective when you get to choose that music is weighty enough, but the things that you don’t prefer to emphasize, well, those are lesser. And of course, this means you are not diminishing the gospel, because you let some things slide through — that’s how you do it, that is, not diminish the gospel, by letting people get away with about anything except for a handful of things that are important. Just label them a lesser thing.

  2. Kent Brandenburg says:

    Hi,

    Here’s how to think through it, among other ways, because it is Bible. Paul says that any gift without love is nothing and ends that epistle saying that cursed (anathema) is any man who loves not the Lord Jesus Christ. Only they that abide in God abide in love. And what is loving God? Keeping His commandments. What is a basis of love? Denying self. He’s on the throne and not you. This is a rightly ordered affection. At the root of your response to Jesus’ work is His way rather than your way. You don’t love your self, but you love God. You can’t and should not separate loving God from obeying His Words. When you separate love from obedience, it becomes mere sentimentalism — which is, I’m afraid, where we are at when it comes to love today.

    No one disobedience alone condemns us, but that one disobedience might be the idol that keeps us from repentance and faith. If we think or say, I’m going to follow Jesus, except for this “secondary matter” or these “secondary matters,” because that happens to be the one matter is the issue of idolatry or of self-denial—I have to bury my father, I have to marry a wife, etc. He is has my all in “primary matters” but not in “secondary ones,” really ones I’ve deemed secondary perhaps because they clash with my own self-desire, and He doesn’t have me at all.

    What I see is a desire to expand the boundaries. There is a lot that people don’t like about the Bible or Christianity. Make those secondary matters and then people will come in to the boundaries. He’ll be an acceptable Jesus now. This is the same strategy the Pharisees employed in reducing the laws to what they could keep. Salvation doesn’t pick the parts it wants to obey and the parts it doesn’t, but still get Jesus.

    The theory being espoused is that by teaching and believing everything, we diminish the gospel. The gospel can’t be separated from everything. When you say “yes” to Him, you aren’t being selective. So I’m going to push back and say that the diminishing of the gospel is on the side of the reductionism.

  3. Kent Brandenburg says:

    Hi,

    I’ve written a critique of the first two articles at:

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2014/02/incremental-conservatism.html

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