Dever’s BIG statement

Between Two World’s has posted the following article at  I think Pastor Mark Dever said some things that he should not have said in this sermon but I’d like to hear your thoughts on this?  Please remember to include your first and last name if you decide to comment here at Expository Thoughts.   I hope to share my thoughts on this topic later.  I would like to recommend the following book/website for your reading pleasure,

Justin Taylor writes, “As more than one blogger has pointed out, both Tom Schreiner andMark Deverhave been recently preaching through the book of Revelation. Dever is amillennial. So was Schreiner–until he prepared to preach through Revelation 20 and became historic pre-mill! (I have hope that Schreiner will come back, though! Full disclosure: I’m a-mill; for a helpful article on the problems with pre-mill, see Sam Storms’s Problems with Premillennialism.)

But…in Dever’s sermon yesterday on Rev. 20, he made a provocative but helpful statement regarding millennial views and church unity. The transcript and the added emphasis comes from A.J. Gibson:

I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation.

Notice that Dever also includes views of alcohol in this list. (Many do not know that though John Piper is a teetotaler and thinks this is the wisest course for all Christians, he put his ministry on the line at Bethlehem in his second year at Bethlehem in order to have an abstinence-only clause removed from the church covenant.)

Feel free to weigh in with your comments, but if you do, let’s keep the discussion focused on the issues here (i.e., this is not a debate about whether it’s wrong to divide fellowship based on views of baptism).”

HT: Andy Naselli

23 responses to this post.

  1. First, let’s put this discussion into its proper perspective. At the city library yesterday I witnessed a short dialogue between a 7 or 8 year old girl and her mother. “Look mom! Saw II!” The girl went onto explain some of her favorite parts in this gruesome horror movie DVD. Her mother’s response? “Shut the **** up and get it!” As our culture grows darker and darker may Jesus’ Church shine bright and fervently proclaim the saving gospel message.

    Second, I really like Mark Dever. I have heard him preach at T4G and at the Shepherd’s Conference. I use his “9 Marks” book for our men’s leadership training and development class. I would love for him to come and preach at our church anytime on almost any topic.

    With that said, I think Mark Dever misunderstands the complexities of a church doctrinal statement (or statement of faith). Obviously, not all churches operate the same way. Not all churches view the function of their statement of faith documents the same way either. Some think it is best to have a more ‘minimalistic’ statement of faith while others prefer a document that is more ‘precise’ and lengthy. The church I pastor has been around for 159 years. Our current statement of faith is quite long and in a few places very detailed. Apparently, the founding church members decided to include a paragraph or two about eschatology in the doctrinal statement. However, just because a church decides to do this does not mean they would never let a professing Christian join their local fellowship with different doctrinal positions. In my opinion, this matter should be determined on a case by case basis.

    For example, if a person came to our church with a different view on “end time’s theology” but really wanted to join our local assembly I would recommend to our leadership team that we present that person to the congregation (with that doctrinal difference noted) for a church vote.

    Even though I think it is totally appropriate for a church to include their position on eschatology in their doctrinal statement I also echo Dever’s opening statement; “I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together.”

    This comment will be continued as time permits.

  2. Posted by Peter C. Bogert on July 14, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I am pastor of a church that does not ask people to adopt a certain millennial view in its constitution. However, the millennial question is the outgrowth of a larger discussion on how the OT promises are interpreted in relation to the church. While a person’s views need not exclude him from membership, I do feel that some of these differences between godly believers are significant enough to make it necessary for a church to have a position by which its teaching ministry will be characterized. We’ve done that for a number of years and we feel it has been helpful. While some of these issues (I call them the “major minors”) are not appropriate as bases of fellowship, it is a good thing to have consistency in teaching. Churches are not colleges.

    With regard to Dever’s comment that having a statement on the millennium is sin, I’d like to respond by saying that while I have enormous regard for Mark’s ministry and continue to be blessed by him, I’d like to see him lighten up a bit. He indicated a few months ago that paedobaptism is a sin. While what he said then made sense in the context in which he said it, and while I understand what he is saying with regard to the millennial issue, I’d be wary of using words like “sin” to describe doctrinal differences like this. And ironically, a case could be made that the same hermeneutic that leads to an affirmation of believer’s baptism also leads to a premillennial view.

  3. I also appreciate Pastor Dever’s Ministry. I was recently blessed by attending a Weekender. I too use his 9 Marks book to help our church think more Biblically. However, I am confused about something. If it is a sin to divide the body of Christ, how is Pastor Dever uniting us by saying it is a sin to have a documented millennial view? I know he is arguing in a local context. I agree with the statement of Mr. Kolstab. I believe my church would have no problem accepting someone into membership who did not agree with our pre-mil stance. But is it really sin for me to have that in our doc. statement?

  4. For what my opinion is worth, I don’t understand why churches make eschatology a dividing issue. I understand Dever’s argument that is sinful to divide in this way. I guess it does beg the question of where the line is drawn. What are the majors and what are the minors? Why is eschatology such an important issue that it is worth denying membership to someone? Is it because it reflects a certain hermeneutic. Personally, I use women in ministry as a benchmark for someone’s hermeneutic, but I wouldn’t deny membership to an egalitarian. I would warn them that they will get frustrated, however.

    I’m not saying that I completely agree with Dever calling this out as sin, but I do think that there is value in asking folks who do divide on this issue to take a step back and think about why they think it is worth dividing over. I also wonder how many folks agree with Dever’s ministry in the main because they generally agree with him, but when he starts pointing at them then there is a problem. Is it possible that he is right and that it is wrong to divide over this?

  5. Jason,

    Thanks for your comments. I think the word “divide” is too strong to describe this discussion. Please see my new post and the first comment I made under it for further explanation.

    Grace to you

  6. Posted by David Carlson on July 14, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I think there is some confusion about an underlying assumption in Dever’s comments that ought to be made explicit to help the conversation. He said: “you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view.”

    I believe Dever is operating under the assumption that a member must agree to the church’s statement of faith to be allowed to join — it is a requirement for membership. Therefore putting a particular end time view into a statement of faith is effectively including or excluding people as members depending on their end time view. He believes that using that doctrine as a means to exclude is a sin, and since disagreeing with the church’s statement does exclude, it is a sin to include it in the statement.

    The commenters above, at least Kolstad and Patton, and perhaps Bogert, seem to not necessarily require agreement with their church’s statement of faith for people to join membership. With that understanding, I don’t think Dever would think it a sin to include an end times statement in the church statement — since it isn’t used to exclude people.

    That makes me wonder though, if churches in general require agreement with their statement of faith before one can join the church.

  7. The faith you talk about has been inculcated by parents and teachers over the centuries – based on their own beliefs. If we questioned we were told ‘it is a matter of faith’. The realitl may in fact be very different that we have been told. In the most ancient of times, when the night sky was not screened from us by reflection of electrically powered light, the stars seemed much brighter than they do today. Northern latitudes spent much of the winter day was in darkness and the wise men and priests were able to see that some unique stars did not set below the horizon and rotated around the ‘pole’ position in the sky.
    This group of stars gave birth to the idea of God in a variety of aspects and to his or her home in the heavens.
    The stories that the priests told of these aspects of God were strong and powerful and included allegories about the birth of mankind and the Paradise that we all aspire to. So strong were these stories that they transcended time as they were passed from parent to child and were prosecuted by chains of fervent religious fanatics. They formed the basis for organised religions whose doctrines have been violently evangelised throughout history. So strong have been these movements that today there exist ‘believers’ who continue to forcefully promote their orthodoxy in the name of ‘God’ and ‘Truth’.
    The God Secret shows clear and irrefutable evidence of these astronomical irreligious origins. It illustrates links to the popular and enduring myths and exposes much of popular ‘belief’ as questionable at best and gobbledegook at worst.

  8. Posted by Adam Leavelle on July 14, 2009 at 11:34 am

    The ENTIRE issue that divides people in their eschatology is what one does with Israel as a Nation. Those who feel that a future Kingdom belongs to a National people (Israel) will not fellowship with those that believe that Israel is the Church. It’s really that simple.

    I love John MacArthur, but that’s his entire issue and why he sides with “dispensationalism”. He refuses to see any correlation in scripture between the Church and Israel. Here are his own words saying as much.

    • Posted by Peter C. Bogert on July 14, 2009 at 11:39 am

      Adam, that is absolutely not true. While you are right that the Israel question is at the heart of the debate, it is not a test of fellowship among any reasonable evangelical. MacArthur and Sproul are friends and speak at each others’ conferences despite huge differences in eschatology.

  9. Posted by Peter C. Bogert on July 14, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Responding to David Carlson: Our church does require agreement with a statement of faith. But that statement is a broad statement based on core orthodox theology that any true Christian would assent to.

  10. Posted by Scott Christensen on July 14, 2009 at 11:40 am

    It seems to me that it is an issue of wisdom not sin. I think it would have been more appropriate for Dever to say it was ‘unwise’ to make eschatological views a requirement for membership. At that rate, I would probably still disagree with him. Labeling the matter ‘sin’ seems a bit of a stretch and unsubstantiated by reality. It is certainly a sin to divide the church, but it is far from certain that requiring members to adhere to an eschatological position necessarily causes division. I have been apart of churches most of my adult life that took clear eschatological stands and required members to adhere to it. Never do I recall that it created an atmosphere that fostered division. Having said that, I think the church does need wisdom in dealing with differing views on the matter. I think it requires a more nuanced approach and may vary with particular situations and circumstances.

    My other problem is it seems that Dever’s comments communicate that matters of eschatology are not important and therefore we should not commit to a particular view. It is like saying, “Go light over these portions of scripture, they’re not too important.” I think failure to commit to a view shows disregard for due diligence in the study of the scriptures and may prove to foster confusion within the congregation. Believers in the pews should expect authoritative answers on such important matters even if there is widespread disagreement. It teaches them that we can obtain an objective understanding of the scripture even though there is disagreement among godly interpreters. I happen to think that the scripture is clear on the matter. I am pleased to see Schreiner changed his view. My guess is he read Matt’s book on Rev. 20.

  11. David Carlson’s question leads into a larger discussion that would probably be off-the-point here, but that needs addressing somewhere. How do we balance submission to our elders with freedom of conscience? How can we know whether disagreement on a theological point is sin? What do we do when we recognize that our pastors are godly men (more godly than we are), but we disagree with them on one or more “major minor” points?

    All of those questions have a bearing on how a church should deal with a disagreement about eschatology.

    • This is something I continually wrestle with. I suspect this is what makes Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and others with a defined ecclesastical structure roll on the floor laughing at Baptists and independents.

      Take the recently feted John Calvin for example. From what I understand, he was a-mil. I’m not saying that is right or wrong, but my point is that to me it is pretty bold to take a different view than Calvin. Of course, he was a man and subject to error like everyone else. Nevertheless, I don’t see why we would divide the body over a subject that so many very learned men have disagreed about over the centuries.

      I also understand that defined structures have their own problems. They are just a bit higher up than the local church level. Nevertheless, I often find myself wrestling with the questions that Jim brought up. Where does discernment end and pride begin? Where do we go from being “noble Bereans” to being the guy who wants to make a big deal over every jot and tittle?

    • Posted by Peter C. Bogert on July 14, 2009 at 12:11 pm

      Pastors are not necessarily more godly than you are, Jim! :-) We do try to be godly, though.

      We provide prospective members with our statement on the “major minors” for just that reason. We recognize that there are valid differences among evangelicals and we want to represent where we are honestly for prospective members. I’ve gladly recommended sister churches with whom we might differ so that a person who is looking for a church home can find one that best fits their own understanding of Scripture.

      If a person who is a member of a particular church begins to have different views than the church has, I think it best for that person to find a different church. For a person to be in a Baptist church and begin to argue over mode of baptism would be wrong. You know going in where that church is. Go to a Presbyterian church where you would agree with the doctrine. Ditto on spiritual gifts and eschatology.

      The existence of denominations and different fellowships may not be ideal, and in some cases have caused harm, but one of the benefits of having different “kinds” of churches is that we can find a church that fits us. What is important is that we don’t devalue each other over these issues. And that is one of the things that I like about Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition. We can agree to disagree on some things – even things that make our churches different – but can affirm gladly our unity in Christ.

      • “we can find a church that fits us”

        But doesn’t that put the authority on the individual and not on the church? How poorly must a church fit before we can leave it and find one that fits better? How much is on the congregant to conform his beliefs to that of his church with the trust that his pastor has studied and thought through the issue more deeply and is therefore worthy of trust?

        I don’t claim to have answers to these questions, but I’m interested in what people say.

      • Posted by Peter C. Bogert on July 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm

        Not sure how to reply to what you ask, Jason. If evangelicalism was like conservative catholicism that would make the question easier, because the dictate would come from the top down. But none of the guys I know who are pastors want to be Pope. (Well, we don’t admit it on blogs – ha ha).

        Ultimately Christ is our authority. We who serve as undershepherds can do our best to guide our flocks. But I could have lunch with you and bring along a dear friend who holds different views on eschatology and baptism. You could listen to both of us give our perspectives, but in the end neither of us has authority over you to command you to come to our church. Who would you submit to?

        In short, I think that there is some individual responsibility. I have good friend who is a dispensational baptist but attends a Presbyterian congregation. This prohibits him from serving as an elder, but he has submitted to the leadership of the church, works heartily in the ministry, and does not make an issue over his disagreement. But if the day came when he could not deal with that any longer, rather than assert his view, submitting to his elders would probably require him to leave there without sowing discord.

  12. Peter —

    I agree that Christ is our authority, but what does that mean in practice? I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture to a degree, but I also think that there is value in a seminary education for teaching others. I am well-aware of the fact that were I to get a pastorate someday the only thing that separates me from the congregants is a structure where I’ve had a chance to think through some issues more deeply with some good guidance. I don’t think I’ve had a special dispensation of the Spirit to give me insight into the Word that others cannot have. Yes, I’ll be better-educated, but that education will have been influenced by the system of my seminary.

    My mother is Roman Catholic and she raised me that way until I was 12 when she and my dad split up. My inclination is to rail against much of their structure because I think it is extrabiblical and sometimes wrong. I do not believe in apostolic succession from Peter to Benedict; however, as a Protestant in seminary I still live it to a degree. After all, I learned my Greek from Mounce and Wallace and that leads me to exegete passages a certain way. They learned their Greek from someone. There is an exegetical tradition there. That’s just one piece of my education, but I think it applies to all the elements to a degree.

    I may not recognize the authority of the Magisterium, but for some MacArthur is a kind of pope. Others set Piper in the chair. Dever’s voice is maybe not quite as loud as the others, but he certainly has the respect of many. There are a lot of young guys who are ready to put octagons in their youth rooms because of the influence Driscoll has had on them. And so on.

    I think Dever’s statement really brings all of this to light for us as Protestants. Here we have a godly brother whose teaching has benefited many over the years. Now he is saying something that is very unpopular with some. Why is some of what he says worth hearing, but this is something where he has erred? The bottom line here is that Dever thinks folks are dividing over a third-order issue, which I think most would agree is sinful. Therefore, the real question is what makes eschatology second- instead of third-order?

    Who gets to make this decision? We can talk about sola scriptura, but how can we be sure that the way we’re reading it is correct? I guess this is what they warned Luther about when he started the Reformation and put the Bible into people’s hands. How much independence should each individual believer have? Should the Bible be read without any commentaries? I think if we do that we are likely to keep revisiting all the old heresies. But if we agree that we need commentaries which ones do we use? ESVSB? MacArthur Study Bible? NIV Study Bible? Scofield?

    Or, to use another example, why should Mark Driscoll care about what John MacArthur thinks of his style? Why should anyone care about what Mark Dever says about their statements of faith? Yes, they are respected men, but with the priesthood of the believer we all get to decide who we will or won’t listen to based on how we read Scripture.

    As I wrote before, these are things that I’ve been wrestling with and I appreciate any feedback on how folks here deal with these things. I assume that after finishing seminary and having a pastorate you have had to wrestle with them to some extent. I apologize if this is outside the discussion that Caleb wants to have here. I’d love to exchange emails as well.

  13. Posted by Peter C. Bogert on July 15, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Jason – feel free to email me at pc and then my last name (all one word) at google dot com.

  14. […] (HT: Justin Taylor, Ben Wright & Caleb Kolstad) […]

  15. I am premillennial and dispensational (with a strong view of the covenants), but I have always held to the position that the only thing required for orthodoxy is that you must believe in a physical return of Jesus Christ to earth. We can disagree as to how it will all go down.

    Having said that, I do have a bit of a problem with those who would join a church knowing full well what their doctrinal position is on a subject, and then agitate for change once they’re a member. I am not for a moment suggesting that anyone here is doing that, but I have seen it happen.

    The Evangelical Free Church took the position they did on eschatology for a reason. I would be very distressed if that position was abandoned. There are plenty of amilennial churches out there. Why force a premilennial church to abandon an historic stance? We’re not talking heresy here.

  16. I should also clarify my earlier comment…the EFCA is premillennial, but does not make it a test of fellowship. My own church in Freeport has amillennial people in membership. We accepted them as members, and they knew going in what our position was on eschatology. They’re not making a bone of contention out of it, either. I think that’s a good model for how things ought to be. If premillennialism was such a bone in their throat that they couldn’t abide it, then the EFCA might not have been a good choice for them.

  17. […] pm Recently the local preacher, in a message supposed to be an exposition of 3 John, expressed a Mark Dever kind of attitude (and see further discussion at this post also) in his inability to distinguish between true lesser […]

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