A controversy broke out in 1986 surrounding the teaching of John MacArthur, Pastor of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California, and one of America’s most influential church leaders. Based on some comments he had made in the 70’s, leadership at Bob Jones University accused him of being a heretic on the basis that he denied the efficacy of Jesus’ shed blood, and therefore the blood atonement itself. It was, of course, a completely unfounded slur and MacArthur had never said any such thing. What he had said was simply that it was not any properties in Jesus’ actual blood that were special, but simply that it was His blood, and therefore His life itself that was the price of our salvation. Fortunately MacArthur’s public rebuttal of the accusations was accepted by many more Christians than were taken in by them, and both his ministry and reputation survived intact.
It is an excellent illustration of the fact that it is the lot of anyone who has a public teaching function that they will at times be misquoted, misunderstood, misrepresented and even maligned. It comes with the territory and after nearly 40 years of public ministry I have become accustomed to it. If even a very small proportion of what I have heard about myself over the years were true I would have to excommunicate myself. So following MacArthur’s example, maybe the time has come for me to try and publicly set the record straight a bit.
I can’t, of course, respond to everything I’ve been accused of through the years or I would need to write a book. Having in my time been accused by Christian Ministers of just about everything from distributing drugs, condoning sexual immorality to being a proponent of occult practices, there is plenty to choose from. It is obviously inevitable, having for so long championed the founding of biblical churches, which by very definition are outside of the mainstream Christian system, that there will be those within it who misconstrue what I teach, seeing me as a dangerous and divisive subversive. In such circumstances what happens, as is so often the case amongst Christian leaders who feel threatened in any way, the cogs of the machinery of character assassination start to turn, and the accompanying accusatory whispers and rumors begin their rounds.
I will therefore limit myself to addressing some of the more contemporary warnings that are circulating concerning me, and which appear, surprisingly, to originate with folk who are also outside of the mainstream Christian system, and who would broadly share my understanding concerning what scripture teaches about church life. So precisely because accusations are being made by folk who, so to speak, occupy the same waters I swim in myself, and who therefore, to whatever degree, potentially have the ear of the same audience, it is to those accusations that I will attend. Being publicly condemned for what one does teach is one thing, but when denunciations and censure come from sources that are misunderstanding, or possibly even deliberately misrepresenting what that actually is, then some clarification is needed which might help to heal any rifts and divisions that have resulted. Even so, I cannot deal with everything being currently said but will address what I deem to be the most serious aspects.
Let me acknowledge right here and now though that there will have obviously been times when I have communicated things unclearly. After all, no one is perfect, and least of all me, so it is therefore virtually inevitable that there will have been occasions when I have inadvertently appeared to my hearers to be saying something I was not meaning to say at all. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why I am so insistent that there be opportunity for interaction in all circumstances of teaching, and that time is always made for people to ask questions, precisely in order that they are able to clarify anything that isn’t clear, or which seems erroneous, and which might therefore potentially be misunderstood. It is therefore, I would have thought, vital, if only in the name of fair play, to give anyone you are planning to publicly criticize a chance to hear what you are going to say before going public, thus giving them the opportunity to clear up any possible misunderstanding such as the critic might be laboring under. The critic is thereby given opportunity to consider whether or not their original assessment might actually be a misunderstanding, and therefore a misrepresentation, of what they were planning to criticize. Sadly, however, none of the folk making the various accusations I am going to clarify have done this, each having gone public without even alerting me in advance that they were going to do so, let alone providing any opportunity for me to clarify what they have misunderstood, and to counter the misrepresentations they have circulated as a result. Whether or not it has been their intention, they have spread suspicion and alarm concerning my ministry by accusing me of believing and teaching things that I most certainly do not. Indeed, not only are the claims factually incorrect, as I will demonstrate, they do seem to be actually designed to do as much damage to my reputation as possible, and to make me out to be not only somewhat of a nutcase, but a rather unpleasant and obnoxious one as well.
I am therefore going to clarify what I do actually teach regarding some of the accusations that have been made, and concerned parties can then decide for themselves. Our church website contains a good amount of my writings – www.house-church.org – along with video footage of various teaching events I have done, plus around 300 audios of my talks, all readily available. It is therefore pretty straightforward for anyone to establish what I do or don’t teach concerning the matters in question.
It is being claimed that I teach that learning has no place in the church:
It is strange indeed that anyone could say this of someone who has spent a lifetime both researching and teaching the Bible. Anyone who hears my talks would, I think, readily conclude that countless hours of research and study have gone into them over the years. Whereas that obviously says nothing concerning how right or wrong I may or may not be regarding what I teach, it at least makes somewhat of a mockery of the notion that I don’t believe in learning. It’s actually a bit of a silly thing to say as well, because if someone didn’t believe in learning, then why on earth would they become a Bible teacher in the first place? Why would anyone who denies the usefulness of the acquisition of knowledge dedicate themselves, as I have done, to lifelong study precisely in order to pass on to others such learning as they had thereby garnered? It’s bit like accusing a chef of not believing in cooking. There is more to this though, because accompanying this extraordinary accusation is the further assertion that I also believe and teach that educated Christians are second-class citizens whose learning has no place in the church.
This all stems, I think, from a misrepresentation of the fact that I have long been a critic of the Seminary system and a proponent of the idea that it is as misguided and unbiblical as the church system it both serves, and lies at the heart of. Nowhere in scripture do we see the process whereby potential future church leaders are removed from their local church situation and placed into a teaching institution in order to be trained for the fulfillment of that future leadership. As with the way in which most Christians practice church life, such a process is not only other that what we see in the pages of the New Testament, it is pretty much the exact opposite. But of course the fact that I reject such a system as being an unbiblical way of accessing whatever learning might be needed for whatever leadership a man might be called to, doesn’t in the slightest mean I reject the importance of learning itself. I am all for the academic processes that make it possible, but I nonetheless reject the Seminary system as being the biblical way to achieve it in the context of preparation for church leadership.
Creaming off young men from their local church situation and putting them in an elitist institution with other such young men, and then telling them they are the ‘future Generals’ of the church is, it seems to me, a sure-fire recipe for the instilling, however unintentionally, of arrogance, something young men already have in droves. (I know that because I was a young man once myself.) I am not, of course, meaning in the slightest to imply that everyone who has been thus trained is by definition arrogant. There are multitudes of godly and humble Seminary trained church leaders all over the world; but neither can it be denied that such humility has been developed in their lives in spite of their Seminary training, and not because of it. Yet who would dare to deny that there are, in fact, also a great many arrogant, dominating and bullish church leaders around? It is obviously too simplistic to say they are like that purely because of their Seminary training, but it is nevertheless perfectly reasonable to point out that such a system far more encourages self-importance and pomposity in those who go through it than it does minimize it. According to scripture, “Knowledge puffs up.” (1 Corinthians 8v1) Therefore, training people ‘officially’ to become ‘experts’ at following the Lord can only ultimately do more harm than good. The Seminary system, whether one cares to admit it or not, is one of those things concerning which the Church of Jesus Christ continues to think that there are better ways of doing things than what is exampled for us by Jesus and His apostles in the pages of scripture. (I am not, of course, suggesting that there is no place for elitism and hierarchy at all. God has built differing layers of human authority into certain areas of life, whether that of the authority of governments over the citizens they govern, employers over employees or teachers over students. Indeed, I am as against the modern comprehensive egalitarianism of Western cultural liberalism as I am against the Seminary system itself. But what the supporters of that system completely miss is that, according to scripture, church life is the one area in which both elitism and hierarchy are precisely expressly forbidden. In the church of Jesus Christ there is but one hierarchy, and one only, the Lord Jesus and everyone else!)
Further, I maintain that one of the inevitable results of the intellectualist thinking that produced the Seminary system in the first place, and which happened very early on in church history, is that Christian leadership became more about academic learning and theology, about ticking the right doctrinal boxes, than it did about actually growing in the Lord in an ongoing relationship with Him, loving others and enabling them to do the same. Not that the Seminary system doesn’t achieve this at all, but the balance is nevertheless badly skewed. I am all for sound doctrine – indeed, there are many, even in house church circles, who fault me for being too strident concerning my desire to be as comprehensively biblical as possible – but the purpose of the truth of scripture is that through it we come to know Jesus Himself, and not merely to acquire an intellectual understanding of the doctrine and theology that explain Him on an academic level. There are folk in house churches, just as there are in traditional churches, for whom the Christian life seems to be more about getting their doctrine and theology squared up and systematized than it is with actually getting to know the Lord better, thus becoming more and more like Him through His dealings in their lives. I call it doctrinalism and it results in a type of Christianity that is more about adhering to intellectual theological and doctrinal ideologies than actually growing in an existential relationship with the Lord Himself. I don’t for one moment mean to imply that such folk are not true believers, but I do suggest that it is a serious imbalance. Other Christians, of course, err on the opposite side of this, and downplay scripture so much they end up in a kind of irrational, and almost entirely subjective, mysticism. But of course the fact that there is error and imbalance on one side of a matter doesn’t excuse error and imbalance on the other.
Rest assured, then, that I am against neither learning nor academic pursuits. Further, the suggestion that I think academically minded and learned Christians are second-class citizens in the church is just too daft for words, to say nothing of the accusation itself being somewhat offensive. I think learned folk can bring unique vision in the Lord to others, as can those who are unlearned. All I ask, and surely my critics would agree, is that those who are learned don’t get too big for their boots and think that they should be listened to more than others merely because of their University or Seminary degrees. It is sobering for such to be periodically reminded that pretty much every heresy, everyspiritual stupidity, every deception and wrong practice throughout church history originated with Church leaders were ‘learned’ and who went to Seminary, or to whatever their particular historical version of it was. One writer even castigates me for simply pointing out that Jesus and the Apostles were, at least as far as having had anything even vaguely the equivalent of Seminary training is concerned, unlearned, when all I did was to quote the scriptures that actually state such to be the case:
“The Jews were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having studied?’” John 7v15 (In other words, they were observing that Jesus didn’t go through the Jewish equivalent of the Seminary system such as it existed at that time; that is, studying formally under a Rabbi.)
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4v13 (And neither, it would appear, did the disciples.)
Indeed, I would be so bold as to say that the idea that only Seminary trained men are capable of church leadership and of teaching ‘the whole counsel of God’ is itself a powerful example of the very arrogance the system precisely so often instills in those who go through it.
It is said I teach that Augustine was a twisted pervert and heretic:
Many believers consider Augustine of Hippo to be one of the most influential men in church history. I agree! However, I am candid about the fact that I consider his influence to have been, all things considered, more for evil than good. I have never, of course, stated that I think he was evil, merely that his influence has proved to be so. Clarification is very much needed on this, so here goes. Firstly, the statement that I teach that Augustine was a pervert makes it sound, when so phrased, as if I have made some kind of sexual reference concerning him. Secondly, the statement that I think he was a heretic, at least potentially, suggests that I don’t believe him to have been a genuine Christian. Both these points need addressing.
My use of the language of perversion is regarding his theology, not his sex life. We readily speak in terms of some one being perverse in some way without it even vaguely being a reference to sexual matters. For instance, one of his teachings was that it was legitimate to use violence against people both in the process of evangelism and the maintenance of the Christian life. This he deduced from the fact that Paul became a believer having been blinded on the road to Damascus. Augustine therefore concluded that if God used physical force against Paul (by blinding him) in order to bring him into salvation, then it is legitimate for the Christian Church to do likewise. Couple this with his teaching that the Christian Church should, ideally, be the political wing of a kind of renewed and robust monolithic world-wide Roman Empire-type society, and we can readily identify the theological origin and justification for not only the evil of, for instance, the Inquisition, but also the long and tragic history of the use of State violence by the Christian Church in general against those it regarded as its enemies. These two things, I maintain, are a perversion of the Bible’s teachings, and it is in that sense, and that sense alone, that I have used the terminology of perverseness concerning him. I have therefore never said that Augustine was a pervert in any sexual sense, but rather that he perverted Christian theology.
I refer to him as being a heretic, however, because there is virtually no distinctively ‘Catholic’ doctrine embraced by the full blown historic Roman Catholic Church that is not to be found in embryo in his theology. Whether it be prayer to the dead, the belief in Purgatory, the efficacy of relics, baptismal regeneration, the authority of the Church outside of whose Sacraments there can be no salvation, the Divine inspiration of the Apocrypha or the re-sacrifice of the body of the Lord in the Mass, Augustine believed and taught them all. Indeed, such heresies are what the Reformation was all about, and why it was needed in the first place. It is indeed for good reason that many Christian scholars, B. B. Warfield amongst them (though otherwise a big fan of Augustine), consider him to be one of the early founders of the Catholic Church.
So do I believe that he was a genuine believer? Well, as it happens, based both on what I know of him historically and such of his writings as I have studied, I actually do! Many godly and scholarly believers would, of course, take serious issue with me over this, but I personally see no reason to doubt it. Yet I nevertheless believe him to have been seriously deceived, and the fact that he was so brilliant in his teaching concerning matters wherein he was orthodox, for instance his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, as he equally was regarding his heresies, doesn’t change the fact that he believed and taught things that any conservative evangelical Christian today would consider to be false teaching. Ironically, those who appear to be so unhappy with my assessment of Augustine’s theology would never let anyone near their church Bible studies who taught such doctrines as, for example, Purgatory, the Mass and baptismal regeneration. Yet Augustine taught all three, plus a whole lot more besides. My detractors, precisely because they are Bible believing conservative evangelical Christians, can do none other than accept that the theological convictions to which I adhere, and to which they know that I adhere, make me far more doctrinally orthodox than Augustine ever was. Indeed, they are much closer to me in their doctrine and theology than they are to him – so why try to make me out to be doctrinally spurious, and Augustine orthodox?
It is being said that I teach that the Reformation was evil:
A sure sign of misrepresentation is when the phraseology given as the evidence of the supposed error has never actually been used by the one being accused. In all the years I have been following the Lord and teaching His Word never have I believed, said, taught, or in any way sought infer or communicate, that the Reformation was evil. Indeed, whether in my book, “Biblical Church: a Challenge to Unscriptural Traditions and Practice!” or in countless public talks over the years, I have always stated quite unequivocally and categorically that, not only was the Reformation a significant move of God in history, it is a move of God which, as far as the reforming of church life is concerned, is actually still going on.
What I have said, however, and which has been both misrepresented and twisted by my critics, is that the historic Reformation has been greatly romanticized by Christians, and that the Reformers continued to propagate an evil that had always been at the heart of the very Catholic Church they were protesting against. The evil was, of course, the Augustinian doctrine already alluded to, that is, the supposed validity of the use of violence and persecution by the Christian Church against those it saw as its enemies. Although still little realized by Christians, whilst the Catholic Church persecuted the Reformers and their followers, so did the Reformers persecute those who stood against them theologically, whether un-regenerate heretics, such as the legendary Servetus, or genuine believers such as the vast majority of the Christians insultingly referred to by the Reformers as Anabaptists. Throughout the years of the Reformation thousands of people, whose only crime was to disagree with the theology and practice of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin et al, were, at their behest exiled, imprisoned, tortured, drowned, beheaded or burned alive. This was especially the case over the doctrine and practice of infant baptism to which, though a serious deception originated by the Early Church Fathers, and adopted and propagated by Augustine, the Reformers were deeply committed. For the supposed ‘heresy’ of baptizing professing believers, the Anabaptists were labeled ‘monsters’ and ‘evildoers’ by such as Calvin, and treated with a brutality and cruelty hard to imagine. How much more striking is this when one considers that it was all done precisely at the behest of the very men who claimed to have rediscovered the grace of God.
That such as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were used by the Lord to recover the true Gospel, that is, salvation by faith through Jesus alone, and to expose the Catholic Church as being a demonic counterfeit, is a wonderful thing; but they were fallible sinners nonetheless, just like the rest of us, and retained much of the theological and doctrinal error of their Catholic heritage. That they taught, urged and orchestrated the death of thousands of innocents was a great evil, and no less a word, sentiment or description suffices for what they did in such regard. According to Jesus the measure of a man’s spirituality and godliness is not gauged by the nature of his relationship with those whom he considers to be his friends and supporters, but rather by the nature of his relationship, that is, whether he returns good or evil, precisely to those he does not consider to be his friends, and especially towards those he thinks to be his enemies. In such regard the Reformers not only failed, they failed both spectacularly and shamefully whilst, in striking contrast, the godliness of the far more biblically based Anabaptists shone through like the noonday sun. That supposedly godly men could conclude that the use of imprisonment, torture and execution against their detractors and supposed enemies was God’s will testifies not to the Reformers godliness as the supposedly ‘great men of God’ Christian history has made them out to be, but precisely to their cruelty and to how greatly they were deceived. But of course the trouble with a purely ‘historical viewpoint’ is that it lauds men as being ‘great’ according to the influence they had and the historical changes they brought about. But of course as Christians we must view everything from a biblical viewpoint that ‘greatness’ must be the greatness of godliness and not mere influence. Rather than embracing the traditional historical viewpoint, Christians should view history from the biblical angle that many historically ‘great men’ would also, in the eyes of scripture, be counted as evil ones too. Biblically, the test of whether or not anyone is truly ‘great’ is not how much influence they wielded and what massive historical changes they brought about, but rather how godly they were in their character and in the way they went about accomplishing their ends.
I respectfully submit that no one should utter a word about this little known aspect of the Reformation until they have read “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin, possibly one of the most important Christian books of recent times. What happened to the Anabaptists at the hands of the Reformers has been the subject of a Protestant ‘cover-up’ for far too long, and I think it important that genuine Christians, who have traditionally been so ready to expose and condemn the evil of the Catholic Church for persecuting its detractors, be equally willing to expose and condemn the Reformers, and their many successors, for doing exactly the same thing. I find it ironic that those who are so angry and offended at my willingness to be honest about what the Reformers did in this regard would, had they been alive at the time, either be on the run from them or suffering torture in prison, awaiting execution, at their behest. And for what reason would the Reformers be so treating them? Simply because they, as do I, believe and practice such (according to the Reformers) monstrous, evil and demonic ‘heresies’ as only baptizing professing believers, rejecting priesthood and adhering to the doctrine of the separation of Church and state. I must ask: What possible chance do we have of properly learning the lessons of church history whilst we cover-up and whitewash such aspects of it that we would rather just turn a blind eye to? It is sad beyond words that, when it comes to not only the Reformation, but to other aspects of church history as well, Christians believe the lies they find more preferable to the truth.
I am said to teach that the Reformers are comparable to Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe, and that they were theological thugs who acted like the Mafia:
Again, context is everything, and I refer you to the above-mentioned atrocities that the Reformers committed against those they saw as enemies and heretics. I obviously don’t for one moment believe that men such as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were, on a personal level, of the same ilk as tyrants such as Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe. The latter are purely evil dictators with nothing at heart but their own sinful desires. Neither do I believe, or have I ever even vaguely intimated, that the Reformers were, on a personal level, like Mafia gangsters. What I do maintain, however, is that State murder and violence is evil quite irrespective of who is instigating it, or for what purpose it is being used. Having people exiled, imprisoned, tortured and executed for no other reason than that they disagree with your theology and practice is to behave like a thug. Therefore, whether it be a Mafia Don having you beaten to death by one of his ‘enforcers’ for non-payment of protection money, or the Reformers having men and women tortured and killed in order to, as they saw it, protect the purity of the Christian Church and doctrine, it is still the behavior of thugs. Obviously, people like Amin and Mugabe use State murder and violence purely for their own personal and selfish ends, whereas the Reformers, I readily accept, used it in the belief that protecting the Church and it’s teachings at all costs was the best thing for society at large, but whereas the motivation is entirely different, it is State murder, violence and thuggery nonetheless. The State has the biblical right and duty to execute murderers, but the use of imprisonment, violence and execution against people for merely disagreeing with the manner of its governance, whether in the religious or civil arena, is evil. And although the Reformers were not the direct political power of those nations in which their churches were located, they nevertheless, precisely as the leaders of State Churches, exercised massive political influence, and they used it to directly and blatantly teach the governing bodies of those nations that God wanted them to use such methods against so-called heretics. And of course it does need to be remembered that is was the Reformers themselves who got to say who the heretics actually were.
That their motives were, in many ways, good I do not question, but the use of exile, violence, imprisonment and execution against those you, for whatever reason, dislike is precisely what State murder, or the control and violence of criminal organizations such as the Mafia, are all about. Therefore, although the Reformers were obviously motivated by nobler thinking than are the likes of an Amin, Mugabe or Mafia Godfather, the use of violence against, and the murder of, innocents is still sinful, and therefore evil. I therefore, in such respect, maintain that, in so far as the use of State murder and violence is concerned, the Reformers’ practice in such regard can legitimately be compared with any other nation State that behaves thus, whether governed by a Mugabe, an Amin or anyone else. I also maintain that, in so far as resistance resulting in violent retaliation and ultimate death at the hands of their ‘enforcers’ is concerned, the Reformers can indeed be legitimately likened to the Mafia; only in their case it was soldiers enacting the orders of the Magistrates who were acting on the teaching of the Reformers. After all, when you are in prison being tortured and awaiting death merely for disagreeing with the State, in what way does the fact it is Church leaders doing it to you make it different to if it were an Idi Amin, a Robert Mugabe, a Josef Stalin – or even an Adolph Hitler? And whether the hands that inflict violence and death on innocent people are those of a torturer working at the behest of Magistrates implementing the teachings of the Reformers, or a Mafia enforcer carrying out the orders of his Godfather, the evil being committed remains the same.
Those who want to whitewash the Reformers try to use the argument that they were merely children of their times, and therefore just behaving consistently with the surrounding culture. But of course that fact that this argument is only ever used to absolve the Reformers of what they did, whilst the Catholic Church remains condemned out of hand for its persecution of its detractors, is not only both disingenuous and hypocritical, it is also a complete giveaway. The Catholic Church, it would appear, should have known better, and is therefore guilty, but the Reformers were just doing what was thought to be culturally acceptable at the time, and so are absolved. It is, of course, the purest cant! Let’s be absolutely clear about this!
The Reformers were Christian priests who precisely claimed to be teaching the truth of scripture, as opposed to the evil and deceived Catholic priests who weren’t. Those who try to excuse them on the basis that they were only being consistent with the violence of their time, yet who nonetheless hold the Catholic Church guilty for doing the exact same thing, are, of course, only doing so because they accept than anyone who behaved in such a way today would be considered an unconscionable murderer and evildoer. Or to put it another way, any church leader teaching today that his detractors ought to be imprisoned, tortured and executed would not only be proclaimed as being evil and sinful in the extreme, he would also be considered a complete nutcase. Indeed, anyone who taught today what Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and others did would, quite rightly, be condemned on all sides. After all, no one excuses Amin or Mugabe on the basis that the African continent is culturally somewhat of a more violent and savage place than the West, and that they were only behaving accordingly. Yet even putting that completely aside, it must still be asked: Has the Bible changed? Were the Reformers not reading the same scriptures that we read today, and which teach that we are to do good to those we consider our enemies, and that those who err should be corrected with gentleness? Were they not aware that such simple commands, such as any ten year old can readily read and understand, are totally at odds with their desire to practice the terror-tactics of exile, violence, torture, imprisonment and the execution of innocent people? That such monstrous evil should be justified and taught by Christian leaders, and so-called ‘great’ Christian leaders at that, at any point in history, is a complete outrage.
Would we, I ask, tolerate Christians today who, for instance, tried to justify sexual immorality on the grounds that they were merely reflecting the surrounding cultural milieu of the day? Of course not! Any Christian who tried to argue such would rightly be countered and corrected on the simple basis of the clear teaching of scripture, and told that cultural considerations are rendered irrelevant thereby. They would be told that the final authority is God’s Word and not cultural conditioning, and that the fact that Western culture is shot through with sexual immorality and thinks nothing of it doesn’t in the slightest mean that any believer could be excused for behaving similarly. As long as the Bible teaches so clearly to the contrary, there could be no possible excuse. Such a one, we would rightly say, is going inexcusably and willfully against the Word of God. They are, we would maintain, in serious sin!
And so it must be said of the Reformers! That they lived in more violent times than we do today in the West is not in dispute, any more than is the immorality and depravity of our surrounding modern day culture, but they were no more without others imploring them from scripture that what they were doing was wrong than we would be today regarding sexual promiscuity, yet they turned a completely deaf ear to those who were trying to correct them, justified themselves all they could, and just refused to listen, repent and change. That they had the scripture was more than enough for them to know that their behavior was completely and utterly wrong, and the fact that others pointed this out to them at the time makes their behavior even worse. Other Christians sought to correct them from scripture regarding their use of persecution just as surely as there would be those of us today who would seek to correct any believers who were practicing sexual immorality. Indeed, the Anabaptists were far more biblically based in their teaching and practice than the Reformers ever were, yet were hunted down and persecuted by them for precisely daring to disagree with them, and for seeking to correct them concerning such issues. Further, the leaders of the Reformation faced objections concerning their use of such force from those within their own ranks as well as from the Anabaptists, yet still they refused to be corrected. Calvin, for example, went to the grave justifying his role in the murder of Servetus, even though challenged by others in his own churches concerning it. (See Leonard Verduin: “The Reformers and their Stepchildren.” His work is all the more powerful given that not only was he a respected Christian scholar, he was also himself a Calvinist. Moreover, that the work was commissioned by a Foundation that was also Calvinistic affords it even greater weight, credence and significance. Amongst a myriad of other extremely unpalatable facts, he presents clear historical evidence that Servetus went to his horrific death precisely because of Calvin, and not, as traditional Reformation history has always tried to maintain, in spite of him. Far from trying to save Servetus from death, Calvin quite deliberately engineered its inevitability.)
So if we accept, as I’m sure we all do, that sexual immorality is sinful, and that it would be inexcusable for any Christian to try and justify it on the grounds that they were merely acting consistently with being children of their surrounding culture, then it must be said that that the Reformers were actually worse. And I say worse because although it is obviously inexcusable for any of us to commit any sin, to go so far as to actually imprison, torture and murder innocent men and women whose only ‘crime’ is that they hold to a differing biblical viewpoint is, I think, among the worst!
I ask again: What possible chance do we have to properly learn the lessons of church history whilst whitewashing and covering-up those aspects of it we would rather just turn a blind eye to?
I am said to teach that Martin Luther was a Nazi:
Anyone who even thinks, let alone teaches, that Martin Luther was a Nazi must either be completely ignorant concerning what Nazism actually is or completely deluded about Luther. Nazism is a political philosophy that didn’t even exist at the time of the Reformation, being to do with a concept of racial Arian supremacy such as would have never even crossed Luther’s, or anyone else’s, mind at the time. I am therefore extremely happy to have this opportunity to reassure my reader that I have never, for even the slightest moment, believed or sought to imply that Martin Luther was a Nazi. Where this immensely mischievous and scurrilous misrepresentation and twisting of what I teach concerning him originates from is, I think, my pointing out of the simple, but quite undeniable, fact that, in the latter part of his life, Luther became appallingly anti-Semitic. Indeed, he wrote a book in which he stated it to be the duty of Christian society to destroy the Jews and to burn their schools. I have therefore, on occasions, because I think it helpful for Christians to have a clear understanding of such matters from both an historical and theological point of view, drawn attention to the simple fact of European history that Germany’s two best-known sons, Martin Luther and Adolph Hitler, had in common a hatred of the Jews.
This does not, of course, make Luther a Nazi, Nazism being but one of many historical manifestations of the multi-faceted and demonically inspired evil of anti-Semitism. No, it simply means that Luther came to hate the Jews, just as did Hitler generations later. Stalin hated them too, but of course that but doesn’t make Luther a Communist either, and my mention of Hitler in regards to him is simply because they both happen to have been of Germanic origin, the very cradle of the Reformation. And what an unspeakably terrible thing it is that Luther, one of Christianity’s most important and best known historical figures, shared with the Nazism of Hitler that emerged centuries later amongst his countrymen, and to which Christianity is in every way the complete antithesis, one of it’s most devilish and sinister characteristics: anti-Semitism!
So no, of course I have never said that Luther was a Nazi. I have merely stated my sadness and abhorrence at the terrible irony that, when the names Luther and Hitler come to mind, as they inevitably do as Germany’s best-known sons, what should be the primary and stand out fact, that their thinking and philosophies are forever utterly antithetical, is forever tainted by the tragedy that Luther, the Christian, just like Hitler, the demonically inspired Nazi unbeliever, was an anti-Semite. That the Nazi Party could find anything at all in Luther’s Reformation Theology to justify their Final Solution, which they both could and did, is both an outrage and affront to church history, albeit a sadly little acknowledged one. As with the persecution of the Anabaptists, the anti-Semitic tendencies of the originator of the Reformation – of which, incidentally, Calvin was innocent – should no longer be covered up and whitewashed by Christians whose loyalty should be rather to truth and justice.
I ask yet again: What possible chance do we have to fully learn the lessons of church history whilst aspects of it to which we would rather turn a blind eye get whitewashed and covered-up? Just as there are those who deny that the Jewish Holocaust ever happened, even though it is one of the greatest evils of modern history, so too are there those who deny these more sinister aspects of the Reformation. If there is any truth at all in the maxim that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them, then in how much more danger of doing so are those who simply deny that those historical events, such as it doesn’t suit them to acknowledge, even happened?
Just to show that I am far from being alone in my thinking here – indeed, that I am actually in some excellent company – let me quote Archbishop William Temple, one of the most beloved, respected and godliest evangelical Anglican Archbishops of modern times. During the Second World War he stated, “It is easy to see how Luther prepared the way for Hitler.” (The Archbishop’s conference, Malvern, London, 1941.)
I stand accused of being a Gnostic:
I don’t quite know what to say about this. On the one hand it’s almost amusing in its wideness of the mark, whilst on the other it’s actually insidious in its sheer willfulness and boldness in seeking to smear me both on a personal level, as well as the level of trying to completely discredit and impugn my public ministry. As any historical enquiry will quickly confirm Gnosticism, which became a massive problem for the early church insofar as its adherents did everything they could to pervert the true Gospel, is the belief in a secret knowledge that is non-accessible by rational means, and which can only be achieved by a subjective supernatural revelation that by-passes reason. Further, Gnostics were notoriously sexually immoral. It is therefore, by definition, both extra-, and anti-, biblical in the extreme! Moreover, Christian scholars are virtually unanimous in their assertion that the Gnostics were not, therefore, genuine Christians, and that they neither believed, nor adhered to, the doctrines of the New Testament. That Bible believing Christians could level such an accusation against a fellow Bible believing Christian can only suggest that the intention is to deliberately smear and falsely accuse. Indeed, those who have made this allegation against me are perfectly biblically, theologically and historically literate Christians, and are fully aware that a) I am a genuine Bible believing Christian b) that the Gnostics were not and c) that their suggestion that I am some sort of Gnostic will create maximum suspicion, alarm and distrust in the minds of other Christians concerning me.
Therefore, precisely because I am a conservative evangelical Christian, thereby believing, and adhering, to all the fundamental doctrines of the historic orthodox Christian faith, and fully reject any idea that there can be any doctrinal revelation outside of the Bible, it cannot, with any integrity at all, or with any possible latitude concerning the actual meaning of the term, be said that I am in any way a Gnostic. Should any of my detractors believe me to be heterodox in my beliefs and public teaching, then I simply ask that they have both the courage and decency to present actual evidence of this, as opposed to merely stating it publicly without any corroboration or examples of my alleged Gnosticism. To accuse a Bible teacher of being a Gnostic is about as serious a doctrinal smear as one could come up with, but to be doing so without presenting any actual evidence of the alleged doctrinal aberration or heresies is naked slander. Those who are publicly accusing me of this have never come to me regarding it, nor given me any opportunity or forum whatsoever in which to demonstrate the assertions to be false. I therefore invite them to act with integrity and to post this article on their websites and to send it to those in their address lists. But of course the reason they haven’t presented actual evidence is precisely because they know full well that I am no more a Gnostic than they are, and because there is therefore simply no evidence for them to present! Their purpose, it would appear, is simply to discredit and spread deliberate slander, and it is sad beyond words.
Mixed in with all this, however, is yet another accusation, and it is that I am propagating some kind of new false teaching, referred to by my critics as ‘being biblical’, to which I am alleged to expect people to adhere merely because I teach it. Three things: Firstly, it would be amusing, if not so sad, that fellow Bible-believing fundamentalist conservative evangelical Christians would try to discredit someone for placing importance on the concept of being biblical, and for putting the authority of the Bible above all else. By all means, correct, challenge and critique me concerning whether or not anything I do actually teach is biblical, that is both right and proper; but to assert that the mere fact that I do teach that we should be thoroughly biblical is somehow bad, as one writer has suggested, is just bizarre. If the earlier accusation that I don’t believe in learning can, as I suggested, be likened to accusing a chef of not believing in cooking, then this is like condemning a chef simply for cooking. (I am, it would appear, damned if I do and damned if I don’t!) Secondly, the content of this ‘new teaching’ which I am said to have come up with is nowhere actually stated or defined. Therefore, with no specific examples being given, there is nothing solid for anyone to actually assess, but merely an unsubstantiated and undefined assertion that there is something seriously wrong with what I teach. Add to that the aforementioned accusation that I am a Gnostic, and the result is some potent slander indeed. Thirdly, as anyone who is familiar with my teaching will readily confirm, one of the things I assert with almost tedious regularity is that I don’t expect anyone to accept anything I say just because I say it, and that my listeners should test everything against scripture for themselves. To therefore try and make out that I conduct my teaching on the basis that people should just accept and believe whatever I teach merely because I teach it is completely disingenuous. Indeed, one of the things folk say to me as I travel around is that they are greatly struck by that insistence, and that they find it a novel contrast to their more usual experience of Christian Ministers and teachers who precisely do seem to expect to just be agreed with, and who actually don’t seem to expect to be challenged in any significant or meaningful way.
It is claimed that I believe and teach that church history is irrelevant to the process of establishing doctrine and that there is nothing to be learned from it:
This is an interesting one and very much in the same category as the similar accusation I have heard against me, that I am “outside the flow of church history.” What my critics mean by this is, I think, that they understand me to teach that there is nothing to be learned from church history, whether doctrinally or otherwise.
Firstly, I have neither said nor thought any such thing. What I have said, however, and which seems to have been twisted into me allegedly teaching that there is nothing to be learned from church history, is that scripture itself is our final authority, and not what anyone says about it. This obviously includes creeds, statements of faith, church tradition, ecumenical councils and theological and doctrinal systems. Or, to put it another way, scripture, and not church history, or established systematic theologies, of whatever doctrinal flavor, is God’s infallible Word to mankind. That there is value and usefulness in all these things as teaching aids, not only have I never denied, I have actually always positively asserted; but I nevertheless insist that the only way we can establish the truth of any of these things is by the test of conformity to scripture, a test that each Christian must ultimately conduct for themselves and to their own satisfaction.
Secondly, when someone talks about ‘the flow of church history’ it does need to be asked which particular version they mean. Do they mean the Catholic version, the Protestant version, the Anabaptist version, or the version that says that most true believers throughout so-called church history have been outside of the visible church structure anyway, denounced, therefore, as heretics and their works destroyed, meaning that we very likely know hardly anything at all about the vast majority of Christians throughout church history anyway? So which version are you referring to? Indeed, there are groups of genuine believers who would say of other genuine believers that they are ‘outside the flow of church history’ simply because they subscribe to a different version of it. When it comes to understanding and interpreting church history one has to realize that there is an Augustinian/Calvinistic view, an Arminian view, a Dispensationalist view plus various others. For what it’s worth my own position is that I don’t believe that any of these views or theological systems have a monopoly on correctly understanding and interpretation church history, and we should not, for one moment, think that they have. When it comes to any aspect of history one has to constantly bear in mind the simple fact that to the victor goes the prize of precisely writing the history. Can we learn from church history? Yes, of course we can: but which one?
However, if one wants to assert that there are things that Christians have always believed, and which have been recorded and passed down to us in creeds, statements of faith, church councils and the like, and which in some way might either confirm or gainsay whether something is doctrinally right or wrong, then I partially, but not totally, agree. I agree to the extent that I am greatly encouraged by the fact that the fundamental tenets of Christian doctrine to which I hold have, it would appear, been preserved by the Holy Spirit throughout all these versions of church history, in a broad and, I would suggest, genuine Christian consensus. I am heartened that this consensus includes such doctrines as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement, plus a whole host more. But it must be said too that I don’t believe these things because of that consensus, and I hope that you don’t either. No! I believe them because they are what I read in the pages of scripture as being, at least to me, what it obviously and quite clearly teaches. However, that I find myself in agreement with this consensus regarding such things greatly heartens me, but it is nevertheless not definitive for me. I repeat: Scripture alone is our final authority, and I positively insist that God’s written Word is clear enough for any, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to understand without needing to reference any of the above by way of confirmation. Theologians speak of the doctrine of the Perspicacity of Scripture, by which they mean that the Bible is clear enough to be substantially, though not exhaustively, understood by all. I could not agree more! Let no man dare to say that a believer cannot know what he needs to know by just reading the Bible, alone with the Lord, and without the necessity of having to also access other particular books, Bible teachers, church histories or systematic theologies. To never avail ourselves of whatever help is available in such regard would obviously be folly of the highest order, but let us not think for one moment that anything other than scripture itself is our final authority in the Lord.
I disagree, however, because the fundamental problem with the idea that there is a divine ‘flow’ of church history, whichever version one subscribes to, and which ought to be referred to in order to settle doctrinal matters, is that there are things which have been believed by the Christian consensus throughout history, or at least by the consensus we know of, which not only I, but my detractors also, would claim to be seriously in error. For instance, the clear consensus of known church history has been the belief and practice of baptizing infants, something that many believers today, both myself and my critics ncluded, would say is completely wrong and unbiblical. Further, they would agree with me too that the Christian consensus throughout known history regarding ecclesiology; that is, church life, leadership, governance and structure, has been equally erroneous and unscriptural. If, therefore, the consensus of church history, such as we know it, has been in error concerning such fundamental and important biblical teachings, then in what way can it be said that it should have a defining role to play in formulating and establishing doctrine concerning anything else? The idea is complete nonsense! That such consensus as there is historically has an advisory role to play I fully accept, but a definitive one? Of course not!
Studying church history is best be likened to hearing a Bible study, reading a Christian book or hearing a word of prophecy. It’s all got to be tested by scripture. There is imperfection in everything that Christians do, teach, say and believe, and there is always good and bad mixed up together. Anything that any Christian or church teaches, and I obviously include myself in this, is going to be a mixture of truth and error. It will be biblical to an extent, and it will be unbiblical to an extent. So how does one handle that? Also, like any other Bible teacher, I precisely don’t know what I am yet wrong about! If I did then I would change my mind and wouldn’t be wrong about it any more. We are all in need of correction by scripture on an on-going basis, and no one has the monopoly on biblical truth. How, therefore, does one filter out the good from the bad, the truth from the error and the biblical from the unbiblical? There is one way, and one way only! By testing everything, whatever it is, by scripture, and for oneself as well.
It is therefore no use just going by what Christian leaders teach, and I include myself in that without hesitation. They/I might be wrong! (How will you know? By testing what they/I say by scripture!) And don’t just go by whatever statement of faith your church might adhere to either. Some of it might be unbiblical! (How will you know? By testing it by scripture!) And don’t go by some daft notion that there is a divinely orchestrated flow of doctrinal orthodoxy to be found through the study of church history. If there were then we would all have to be infant baptizing, state church attending, Mass-taking Sacramentalists. By all means, access the experts. It’s silly not to! We can learn much both from them and from church history. But just don’t, whatever you do, as with any set theological system such as one might buy into, go by such things as if they were our final authority. They are not even slightly our final authority. Everything must be tested against scripture, and nothing else, and by each of us individually too!
Let it not be thought, however, that I am saying that there isn’t any corporate and consensual aspect of the establishing of correct doctrine. In the abundance of counselors there is indeed safety, and precisely because a biblical church will operate on the basis of consensual decision-making, growing in knowledge of scripture will also be a corporate affair as opposed to being merely an individual one. The Reformers were correct in the principal of sola scriptura – scripture alone – but that doesn’t mean it is safe to adhere to the similar, but extremely unwise, idea of me alone with scripture. If a believer has no choice but to spend a lifetime in solitary confinement with their Bible, then the Lord will grant such a one grace so as to understand whatever they need to by way of scriptural truth, but outside of such extreme circumstances we are meant to be in significant fellowship with others in the church we are part of, plus with those from other churches as well. Solitary discipleship is not a biblical option outside of extreme and exceptional circumstances beyond one’s control, and so it is when it comes to growing in our understanding of scripture. Each believer must do so for himself, of course, but we still need the input, insights and expertise of others in order for such to be a reality. Whether it be those we know personally, those we don’t know personally but who are yet living, or those from the mists of church history, we need to learn from the understanding that others have in order to properly and safely grow in our comprehension of biblical doctrine and theology. To sum up! There is a rule I have taught for many years, and which I have myself tried to always, however failingly and inadequately, follow, and it is simply this: Whether it be establishing theological and doctrinal truth, or finding out how the Lord wants us to live our daily lives in every aspect, our sole and final authority is the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible!
So I trust I have managed to clarify things a bit. I have absolutely no objection to people, whoever they are, saying that they think me to be wrong about something, and then putting forward their own understanding of whatever it is. Indeed, I positively welcome it, and especially concerning biblical matters. People are then able to access varying viewpoints on things and, by testing it all against scripture, decide for themselves. I would be grateful, though, if those seeking to discredit me would desist from misrepresenting and twisting what I teach, and limit themselves to the job of refuting what I do actually teach, whether regarding biblical doctrine, church history or anything else. To inaccurately and falsely describe what someone teaches, and then caricature and attack them on the basis of that misrepresentation is the behavior of both cads and cowards. I can only hope that those who have been exposed to my detractors accusations see through what they are doing, and realize that I am not quite the doctrinally twisted, historically and biblically illiterate nutcase they are trying so hard to depict me as being.
Should you have not even been aware of the controversies to which I am here responding, then no matter! I hope you have nonetheless been both informed and encouraged by what you have read. But should you have been aware of what has been going on, then at least now, having access to both sides, you can make up you own mind.