To condone the use of strong language on his sites, chookwatcher recycles a piece by Conrad Mbewe, who advocates the use of polemics to decry poor doctrine.
‘Polemics’ he defines as ‘a strong verbal or written rebuttal of someone else’s belief’, and quotes some of the sayings of Jesus, who took to the Pharisees of the Gospels era.
Church leaders must be polemists
The Bible teaches that one of the responsibilities of a church elder is that of polemics. The apostle Paul said to Titus, “[An elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Notice that it is not only the positive but also the negative. An elder must positively give instruction in sound doctrine but he must also negatively rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine.
Why is this important? The apostle Paul said that this must be done because “there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:10-11). If we keep quiet, heretical teachers will continue to upset the faith of many because of their personal quest for shameful gain. So, it is the responsibility of those who are in charge of Christ’s sheep to silence them.
OK, that’s fine. I don’t disagree with the basic premise being made here. We need to have a strong voice against error in the Church. Polemics it is then. But there have to be some qualifying conditions laid out before we can apply this to our ministry with any credibility.
Personally, I don’t see rebuke as a negative. The desired outcome is very much a positive. And there are assumptions made in Ps Mbewe’s articles which reflect his own theological stance. But rebuke, I’m sure he’ll agree, comes from those in authenticated, authorised leadership, not those who are being led.
So let’s make it clear right here that using Dr Mbewe’s piece as a cover for the anger of the chookwatchers‘ minions is not an endorsement of their own stance, but, rather, shows that they are using it as a smokescreen for the bad manners displayed by themselves and their supporting followers.
These are masked, subterranean, unauthorised self-declared nonentities rebuking what Jude calls dignitaries. It is not on, scripturally. They are clouds without water threatening a deluge but delivering vapour.
There is a distinct difference between presenting a polemic and sowing discord amongst the brethren.
Note, also, please, that Dr Mbewe is addressing Elders, not anonymous critics on a nameless, faceless self-proclaimed discernment blog. Maybe we need a polemic on this.
If any of the chookwatcher entity is an Elder let them declare themselves so that we can observe for ourselves their credentials for eldership, and let them declare their own oversight, so that we can ratify with them the fact that they are accountable to some bishopric, and not merely to their own vague, hidden, multi-person-possessed, conspiratorial pseudonym.
In short, Dr Mbewe’s article doesn’t apply to them.
Law and grace
What was it about the circumcision party that, in Dr Mbewe’s view, demanded a polemic approach? They were Judaisers who denied the work of grace, mercy, faith and the Holy Spirit in the Church. They wanted to place restrictions on the early Church, and bind them to the law. They made law out of grace in many cases. Thus, their teaching was in error and they preached another gospel.
There is a comparison in this with those who make law out of scripture to rebuke those who view the Word from a contrasting viewpoint, particularly by those who oppose the modern day work of the Holy Spirit, who claim He is no longer working through the Church as He did in the book of Acts, against those who believe He is still Who He always has been, doing what He always has. Cessationists effectively oppose the understanding of the constancy of the Holy Spirit.
How far do we go with this? Is cessationist teaching a different gospel?
Ps Mwebe won’t mind me mentioning that he is a Reformed theologist. He is regarded by his peers to be the Spurgeon of Africa. He is also a cessationist. He is critical of movements like the charismatics. He has said he doesn’t like contemporary praise or dancing before the Lord in worship. He has an aversion to women in senior ministry.
Reformed theologists teach that we are regenerated sans faith, whereas scripture says we are saved by grace through faith. This is, when written out like this, a seemingly subtle difference, but, in fact, it is the difference between error and truth.
If we are saved sans (without) faith, then the preaching of the gospel is rendered unnecessary. Yet, according to scripture, it is the preaching of the gospel by which faith comes that receives grace to be saved. Should we devise a polemic that addresses this?
Further he has written that miracles do not happen today, and that present day speaking in tongues is error. In other words, he is an example of the Reformed camp that opposes most of what is not Reformed.
This is born out by his inclusion as one of the key speakers at last year’s Strange Fire Conference initiated and hosted by John McArthur, which was essentially a polemic against what is called the charismatic movement in the Church – a vast and varied movement which has issues, but is often closer to the truth than many in the Reformed fraternity would readily admit.
Perhaps John Piper, to his credit, is one of the rare examples of a Calvinist willing to dialogue with people from this section of the Body. I am not a charismatic, by the way, but would identify with Pentecostals.
But there are many kinds of charismatics. For instance, a great many very scripturally versed Baptists have come into the charismatic fold. They do not reject foundational Baptist teaching. Rather they have entered into the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, speak in tongues, prophesy, and retain their very solid Word foundations.
Charismatics are denominational Christians who are baptised with the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, believe in the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, and retain most of their former beliefs from within that denomination.
Claiming that, for instance, Baptists who come into the charismatic move do not teach or read the Word of God is clearly wrong, since it has always been their tradition and they do not leave it. In fact, it is likely that their searching of scripture led them to want to know about the works and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the first place.
Cessationists at large
Ps McArthur, the author of Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire, which are scathing rebukes of charismatic doctrine, teaches Reformed cessationist theology, and surrounds himself at his conferences with men who comply with his religious beliefs.
He is, in effect, a Word-only preacher, even though he would tip his hat to the indwelling Holy Spirit, he un/wittingly rejects the truth that Holy Spirit is the same as He ever was, and the gifts, callings and ministry that were released by Him through the Church of the Book of Acts continue today, including those outlined in 1 Corinthians 12.
He’ll accept the fruit of the Spirit, but reject the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, which, in fact, Biblically and practically, go hand in hand.
For these men the Day of Pentecost was an event that only pertains to the Book of Acts, and the outpouring of the Spirit ended some time in the first century at a time undefined by any of those who teach this doctrine. To them the outpouring no longer resonates. There is no need for the gifts and manifestations because we have the Word. Yet the Word speaks of the gifts and manifestations, and nowhere ends them.
Speaking in tongues, they say, ended when the last apostle ended, although there is no scripture for this. In their world, prophecy is no longer required. So, despite claiming to be Word teachers, they actually deny what the Word says on this vital doctrine of the Holy Spirit. What they mean, then, is that they adhere to selected verses of scripture. Solo seligo scriptura.
One rotten apple doesn’t reflect the orchard
I am sure Dr Mbewe is correct in many of the things he says about excess in some churches by some pastors in some situations, and he is good at coming up with examples of error and those who take advantage of what is genuine. There are churches in his region that overemphasise deliverance and operate poorly.
I have visited churches that are excessive in this regard too. They are in need of rebuke and renewal to reflect the real Holy Spirit, not a perceived Holy Spirit.
OK, let’s create a polemic about them and expose them. No argument there. But this doesn’t mean we exclude the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit.
We don’t dismiss the Holy Spirit simply because some ministries operate outside of His will. We need, all the more, to teach the correct ministry afforded by the Holy Spirit. We don’t stop doing what He says because some have gone into error. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
So, please, sir, do not lump into your mix every church or minister that is not cessationist and believes that the Holy Spirit is the same as He ever was and does what He always has, and still, today, works through His Church to fulfil His purposes using His Gifts and manifestations through whomsoever He wills. ‘Today, if you will not harden your heart!”
Have the gifts and manifestations ended? Clearly not. Does God still perform miracles. Absolutely. I have seen them first hand. I have witnessed the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking and the demon possessed being delivered, as the Bible says. To God be all the glory.
Has Christ ended His commission for the Church? No.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
In this same ministry Christ sent, not just His Apostles, but His disciples – those who believe and adhere to His Word, who are filled with His Spirit, who are led by His Spirit.
Is the gift of tongues still for believers? Yes. Is the outpouring yet being poured out? Yes.
Does the Word of God still mean what He says regarding the gifts, manifestations and callings of God? Yes.
If there is to be a polemic conflict, let’s examine ourselves first to see whether there is any plank in our eye that needs to be removed before we start applying the tweezers to someone’s splinter.
Rather than get angry and launch into a verbal denunciation of those of us who actually apply Solo Scriptura by believing that 1 Corinthians 12 and the outpouring of the Spirit are still relevant to us, why not first set up a dialogue to see whether or not you may, in fact, be missing something that God would like you to know and learn?
Or should we set up a polemic that addresses regeneration sans faith or cessationist errors?