Poisoning the Fountains of Truth: Part Two

July 28, 2009

This is part of an article originally published January 1922 in the Southwestern Journal of Theology by Dr. L. R. Scarborough entitled, “Poisoning the Fountains of Truth.” It was republished in the most recent Southwestern Journal of Theology, “Baptists and Unity.” You can find part one here. May a voice of our past speak to us today. Below is part two of a four part series reprinting Dr. Scarborough’s essay:

There are a number of ways by which we can cast the poison of erroneous teaching into the very fountains of truth and life among our people. I mention some of them:

1. By allowing the pastor of the church to assume the control and the management of the functions of a church; for instance, when he licenses young preachers or when he appoints unordained men as deacons of the church and allows them to serve without the church ever having elected them or ordained them, or when he or a committee of the church issues letters to members desiring to remove their relations, or when he himself or through a committee dismisses them from the church fellowship, or commits other acts of maladministration contrary to the Word of God. This is an assumption of authority and partakes of the nature of a self-appointed ecclesiascism and this conduct greatly poisons the life of the church.

Reprinted with permission, Southwestern Journal of Theology

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Chris Johnson

Brother Robin,

In the first article Scarborough said,…
Since the churches through their teaching service are commissioned to teach the “all things” commanded by Jesus Christ, and since this instruction goes Sunday by Sunday and week by week into the lives of the young, how very important it is that these fountains of life be kept pure from the poison of erroneous and false doctrine. It is far easier for us to correct false teaching in our schools, because the schools are under the control of our conventions, than it is to correct false teachings in our churches, because the churches are independent and sovereign and you cannot reach the false teachers, even though they be the pastors of the churches, except through the members of the churches themselves. This gives great emphasis to the importance of the right training for our young preachers who are to be pastors of our churches. (emphasis added)

It appears that Scarborough in his attempt to have right teaching is approaching it backwards (the bold above). Since the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, and where Christ has given His power, …it would seem that the church is the much more pure arena for teaching than the schools which do not possess this power or authority. Schools may be supplemental and can provide focused study on some subjects, but the church is a much more authoritative and pure institution by design.

This type of thinking by Scarborough goes on to support his theory of church governance which appears practical and somewhat biblical, but it also sacrifices what the church is to do at the same time. Titus was instructed to shun a factious man. Scarborough’s pattern doesn’t give room for such biblical discipline to occur, unless given approval to do so by the majority, while allowing the potential for this factious man to be approved for his deeds instead …simply if he has the votes. That outcome would be a bit of poison. Democracy has never been the authority in the church. Christ is and has given instruction to the church on how to be obedient to His commands. It seems that Scarborough is putting forward a fairly liberal view in this second article that is built off of the foundation he is attempting to lay in the first article.

Certainly Pastors do not use control and authority as a means to edify the church, but Scarborough seems to send us down a new trail as well.

Blessings,
Chris

Robin Foster

Chris

I don’t have the opportunity to respond in detail, but I think Scarborough would agree with your statement about the church being the primary place for teaching. I think you might have misread him. Concerning you second premise, I will follow up in more detail.

Robin

Chris Johnson

Brother Robin,

It is entirely possible that I may be reading and understanding his premises wrongly…

-Chris

Robin Foster

Chris

No problem, I hope I understand you correctly in my reply. :-)

I don’t have Internet at the house other than my iPhone, so my lengthy reply will be posted tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.

Robin

Robin Foster

Chris
In further detail I believe Scarborough would point to Matthew 18:15-20 and to 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul instructed the church to remove the man from the church. Ultimately, it is the church that acts on behalf of Christ under His authority. Yes, the church is not perfect, even when it comes to voting. But one man who acts on these matters concerning church removal or even appointing deacons has more potential to do damage than the church acting together under the Lordship of Christ. But that is practically speaking.

Biblically, the only commands to remove or reject a person are given to the church for their action, not a single man. The context in Titus is Paul telling Titus to “Remind them” (3:1), with “them” being the church. Later, Paul says he wants Titus to “affirm” (3:8) what he is instructing Titus. The object of this affirmation is the church. Paul is telling Titus to instruct the church on their activities. The instruction to “reject” or “shun” a divisive man is an instruction to pass to the church for her action. Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, and even 1 John 4:1 (where the CHURCH is told to test the spirits) affirm this activity. In matters of discipline, the church is the one that exercises Christ’s authority, not a single man.

As discussed, Scarborough’s view has biblical support. I don’t understand your statement of his view being “liberal” as it is also the view of the Baptist Faith and Message concerning how churches come to decisions through a democratic process. In fact, these actions, as described by Scarborough, being governed by and under the control of the church, are not practical. It would be far easier and more practical for one man to come to these decisions. Yet, the church is commanded to not be practical, but submissive to the commands and will of Christ. Likewise, Paul tells the church in Rome to “be transformed” by the renewing of their mind so that they may know the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2) In matters of church discipline, ordination, etc.. Christ ultimately works through His bride, the church.

Chris Johnson

Brother Robin,

I do not disagree with you that the church, not some man or men (singularly) is where the authority is vested. So, that is really not my point here. And I agree with the contexts that you have brought forward. I would not leap completely into a voting system (democratic)though as the most efficient system to have the church affirm the scriptures and handle unruly folks (although it is pragmatic in a non-pejorative manner), yet the involvement of the entire church is essential for its edification.

Maybe I just misunderstood his phrase concerning the role of a seminary when compared to the church.

Thank you for the response,
Blessings,
Chris

Robin Foster

Chris

I would disagree that a voting system is the most efficient. It would be easier for a committee or one man to make the decisions. For example, I know if a deacon body in another church that has given the pastor the authority to remove anyone from church membership. That system involves one man deciding which would make it pragmatic and efficient. A system where the whole church comes together to pray and seek the Lord’s will and voicing that will through individual votes is quite time consuming if not unefficient.

I guess my question to you is, if not a voting system, what would you suggest that is biblical?

Chris Johnson

Brother Robin,

To focus on the point I was trying to make. When Scarborough said…

“Since the churches through their teaching service are commissioned to teach the “all things” commanded by Jesus Christ, and since this instruction goes Sunday by Sunday and week by week into the lives of the young, how very important it is that these fountains of life be kept pure from the poison of erroneous and false doctrine. It is far easier for us to correct false teaching in our schools, because the schools are under the control of our conventions, than it is to correct false teachings in our churches, because the churches are independent and sovereign and you cannot reach the false teachers, even though they be the pastors of the churches, except through the members of the churches themselves. This gives great emphasis to the importance of the right training for our young preachers who are to be pastors of our churches.”

The liberal slant that I picked up on from his statement is that these “fountains of truth” (churches) “are” kept pure primarily by “controlled” teachings in our schools, since it is impossible for the convention of autonomous churches to have any impact on another. I guess I just disagree with that type of thinking because it is the seminaries that have been all over the map during the past fifty years. I just believe the church is the easier to correct and protect from false teaching because the Holy Spirit is the teacher and the corrector, not some school of thought.

Again, he may be trying to make another point…. because, I do agree with his statement that young pastors (and old ones alike) need right training. But, I would say that training is easier and more effective in and through the church, where seminaries are sometimes excellent supplementary education.

Blessings,
Chris

Robin Foster

Chris

Thanks for the response, I do want to explore this further, especially the point on seminaries. I hope you can answer my other question concerning voting. Right now ministry is calling me to OKC.

Don’t give up on me, I enjoy this type of interaction.

Robin

Jim

Robin,

Thank you for publishing these pieces. Dr. L. R. Scarborough message rings across the decades, perhaps more true than in his own time.

Regarding his comments from the first article:

“It is far easier for us to correct false teaching in our schools, because the schools are under the control of our conventions, than it is to correct false teachings in our churches, because the churches are independent and sovereign and you cannot reach the false teachers, even though they be the pastors of the churches, except through the members of the churches themselves.”

What I hear Scarborough saying is that within the school system there are mechanisms of accountability for the actions or conduct of teachers, through a higher authority, ie, principal, school board etc.

Scarborough’s following statement is near prophetic…”you cannot reach the false teachers, even though they be the pastors of the churches, except through the members of the churches themselves.”

Over the last ten years, the advent of the church growth movement has yielded hundred if not thousands of examples of church members privately pleading with their pastor to give up the merchandising of the pulpit to attract the “unchurched” and return to Biblical teaching and worship. These people quickly find out that they are marginalized, asked to leave, removed from positions of service, etc, at the hand of the CEO style pastor.

The Purpose Driven Church growth model advocates the concept of showing those who resist the “new way of doing church” to the door.

All without allowing the church member the opportunity to address the concerns to the church body.

Local church autonomy has been the excuse these pastors use for justifying “losing a few to gain more” in their “vision” of numerical growth.

One member resisting the pragmatism in the 21st century church doesnt stand a chance against such a pastor. But if the congregation was given the opportunity to hear the darkside of church marketing, the pastor would not stand a chance. But the CEO style pastor will use peer pressure, intimidation and manipulation to ensure that there is no public hearing on the matter.

Yes, Scarborough was absolutely correct. In the absence of elder rule and accountability, the false teacher is in control of the enterprise as long as the congregation is willing to go along for the ride.

Discernment is the responsibility of the church member. With all due respect to Chris’ comment regarding The Holy Spirit being the corrector of false teachers…Paul exhorted Christians to test the teaching, he warned of tolerating false teachers, etc.

Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but if the Christian fails to put it to work, it will only grieve the Holy Spirit. Christians are charged to contend for the faith.

In Scarborough’s secong article, he provides examples of how this CEO style leadership manifests itself.

“This is an assumption of authority and partakes of the nature of a self-appointed ecclesiascism and this conduct greatly poisons the life of the church.”

The CEO style rule not only poisons the life of the church, it puts the church on a slippery slope of compromise. Just as is the case for any sin, if left unchallenged or accepted, it will only lead to death.

Chris Johnson

Brother Jim,

Thank you for the entire comment, especially this line…..

“Yes, Scarborough was absolutely correct. In the absence of elder rule and accountability, the false teacher is in control of the enterprise as long as the congregation is willing to go along for the ride.”

I am not doing a good job of explaining my discomfort with “some” of what Scarborough has penned, because I don’t disagree with what Robin or you have said (minor difference in the context of Paul’s letter to Titus). But, your assertion above is absolutely correct. The absence of a plurality of elder/pastors has made the CEO Pastor possible. And not only that,…the absence of godly men leading the church has allowed the church to “vote-in and approve” doctrines of demons (as Jude and the letter’s to Titus bring reminders). What the church needs is a return to men of God leading the church affirmed by all the congregation (some call this voting).

Also, when I remarked about the Holy Spirit being the teacher…I never detach that from the responsibility of leaders to act. So, I am certainly not saying that some mysterious power (as some would think of the HS) will magically make things better. The Holy Spirit is the only teacher in the church though.

Blessings,
Chris

Chris Johnson

Brother Robin,

Jim is helping me out here quite a bit in an odd way. When he said….

“What I hear Scarborough saying is that within the school system there are mechanisms of accountability for the actions or conduct of teachers, through a higher authority, ie, principal, school board etc.”

Yes, that is what I hear as well. But that is also the problem with respect to the church, not the solution. Some seem to transfer the perfection of what the church “is” to other agencies. So, if the church is easily swayed, which it can be, then it seems pragmatic to form an outside agency (schools) to keep it steady. This is simply a Jonah type move; instead of obeying God, he had a better idea to keep the peace and do God’s business with the right people. The church, with all its swaying, is still the only institution that is perfected on Christ. So, instead of stating the obvious… like, “its easier to control something else”. Why not return to how doctrine is perfected in the churches…. through prayer, restoration, right teaching, and God honoring leadership.

The church is much easier to restore than an outside agency or institution. A seminary for instance takes years and years to turn from poison doctrines being taught because of tenure, lack of biblical restoration as a principle, etc. The church on the other hand is restored immediately as she obeys the commands of Christ through restoration (Matthew 18). Again, it seems pragmatically plausible to think that the seminary can be controlled. But that typically is the control of a board, group of men, etc. (can be very good, can be very bad) Where the church is always in perfect control by the person of the Holy Spirit, we simply obey Him and His promises are true. As we return to Him in the context of the church, it is immediate restoration and healing.

Maybe the bottom line is that Scarborough has modeled the accountability within the church as being more difficult when compared to the accountability that can be controlled in the schools. I simply disagree with that principle, because the power of men cannot match the power of God. That defeatest type attitude toward the church moves us away from the real solution to restoring our congregations.

Blessings,
Chris

Poisoning the Fountains of Truth: Part Three :: SBC Today

[…] Southwestern Journal of Theology, “Baptists and Unity.” You can find part one here and part two here. May a voice of our past speak to us today. Below is part three of a four part series reprinting […]

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