Mark Dever makes some very helpful points in this sermon but he also draws a very strange application lesson out of the John 17 text. I say “Amen” to the first paragraph below but don’t follow the logic of paragraph two.
“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.”
“You are in SIN if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view.” WOW! On the basis of John 17 you make that strong of a statement? Really? Dr. Dever is not one to make reckless statements. This is clearly something he has thought about for some time before saying it ever so boldly.
I know a very mature Christian couple that use to attend Dever’s church (they were church members at CHBC). One of the reasons why they felt led to leave this congregation was over this very issue. Not every church member or local church pastor has the same (strong) doctrinal convictions over the same areas of Christian theology. It is probably one of the reasons why we have so many denominations & churches in America. For example, many believers could not attend a church that doesn’t practice “believer’s baptism” even though they would never condemn a gospel preaching infant-baptizing church as heretical. Some believers have spent many hours studying the text of Scripture and have developed strong convictions with regards to eschatology, pneumatology, church polity, etc. What may be a “third order” doctrine to some may be a “second order” doctrine to someone else. I think that is ok. It is never ok when a fundamental doctrine is wrongly understood.
On this topic I would suggest reading the many posts Phil Johnson has written on this topic like “What do common sense and Scripture tell us about the relative weight of different truths?” or “Why is the distinction between essential and peripheral doctrines so crucial?”; or for my favorite article on this topic, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” by Dr. Al Mohler (posted July 12, 2005).
In Mohler’s article he writes, “God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.” A recent trip to the Emergency Room helped Mohler come up with the triage concept. He goes on to say this, “First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christ faith…The set of second order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on second-order issues though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers…Third-order issues are doctrines which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.” Later Mohler notes, “A structure of theological triage does not imply that Christians may take any biblical truth with less than full seriousness. We are charged to embrace and to teach the comprehensive truthfulness of the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture. There are no insignificant doctrines revealed in the Bible, but there is an essential foundation of truth that undergirds the entire system of biblical truth.”
So back to Mark Dever’s BIG statement. I think what Dever said recently does not take into account the reality that not all “statement of faith” documents are applied the same way. I also don’t think he takes into account the point that not everyone agrees on what second-level matters are and what third-level matters are. For Pastor Dever’s church family, eschatology is a “Third-order issue” therefore CHBC has chosen not to include a specific millennial position in their statement of faith. Fine, but if another pastor or local assembly decides this is a second-level matter for their particular church body don’t call it “sin” brother. To be continued.