A Response to NelsonPrice.com on “Church Discipline”
When offering a critique of a sermon or essay, it is truly my desire to do so in obedience to the God’s command through the Apostle Paul, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22)
In any given sermon or essay we may critique here at Strange BaptistFire.com, there may be much “good” to which we desire our readers would “hold fast.” Yet due to the nature of this website- which was started with the goal of providing a defense for attacks against Reformed soteriology within Baptist circles- the articles here tend to focus on the latter part of the command, i.e., “Abstain from every form of evil.” The “evil,” in this case, is that of unbiblical teaching. Usually, our critiques are in response to some charge that Reformed soteriology is incompatible with the Scripture; our goal is to show how such charges fail and to establish that any teaching which runs contrary to monergism (the heart of Reformed soteriology) is, in fact, unScriptural, and thus an evil to be avoided.
Please notice two things about our critiques, or responses:
- These are not meant to be personal attacks whatsoever. When we critique a sermon or article in the public domain, we do so with the hope of providing a resource so that the large audience exposed to the teaching may have opportunity to view a reasoned response. The focus is on the content of the teaching. There is a very real sense in which it simply does not matter what particular teacher gave a certain statement; if we are not showing favoritism (James 2:1) and we are being impartial and sincere (James 3:17)- as we truly desire to be- then our response will be the same no matter whose words are being addressed.
- These are limited to the particular teaching cited. Occasionally, we at SBF will critique a sermon or article that we believe to be in error in virtually every point. Much more often, though we may be in substantial agreement with many points the speaker or writer may make, yet there will be certain ideas that we think it necessary to address. Though SBF bloggers usually try to make this distinction clear in our writings, I would again like to stress that readers should not assume that the scope of our critiques extend beyond what is specifically indicated.
In this article (as obvious by the title), it is my intention to address the article on NelsonPrice.com concerning “Church Discipline.” As noted in a previous post, Dr. Price has established himself as an opponent not only of Reformed soteriology, but of the wider reform movement within the Southern Baptist Convention- a movement stressing not only soteriology, but issues such as biblical church leadership and biblical church discipline.
The Biblical Foundation for Reformation Within the Southern Baptist Convention
At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, the reformers challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church with the conviction that Scripture alone is the final authority for every Christian. This conviction concerning the authority of Scripture was buttressed by the doctrine of the necessity of Scripture- people must read or hear the Word of God in order to be saved and to live a life pleasing to the Lord (Romans 10:14)- and the clarity of Scripture- that the plain meaning of Scripture is easy to understand, especially in matters of salvation (therefore, in the Reformation context, it was unnecessary for the teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church to define sacraments and offer canon law,etc.). Finally, the original reformers insisted on the sufficiency of Scripture- that we have all we need for life and godliness in God’s Word. In the context of the Reformation, the doctrine of scriptural sufficiency was understood to mean that Christians do not need the Roman system in order to be justified before God and to grow in godliness. In our modern context, the sufficiency of Scripture can be applied to refute notions that certain music will help people make a decision for salvation or that the Church needs to learn from psychology in order for members to be sanctified.
During the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, the primary issues at stake were the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture- subdoctrines upon which the doctrine of the authority of Scripture is built. Little attention was given to the other doctrines of Scripture mentioned above- i.e., the necessity, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture. Neglect of these doctrines has led to the rise of the seeker sensitive movement and the emergent church movement which in various ways threaten to undermine the gains made for biblical authority during the Conservative Resurgence. Nelson Price’s article on church discipline offers examples of how the clarity and sufficiency of Scripture are often inadvertently undermined in the Church today.
Nelson Price on Church Discipline: Clarity
In the article under examination, Dr. Price cites Matthew 18:15-17 and gives an introductory paragraph. In the next paragraph, Price writes, “A surface reading of the passage is much more legalistic than anything Jesus ever said. A background of the day and the spirit of Christ helps understanding what it actually teaches.” As he explains this statement, Price seems to be guading against the notion that the phrase, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” means to indicate that the person under discipline is hopeless in terms of salvation. But this notion is not gained by “a surface reading of the passage,” but rather by unbiblical traditions people have added to the passage based on Roman Catholic ideas concerning excommunication. To call into question the ability of the average believing reader to understand and apply the text without going beyond the immediate context into historical and grammatical details (Price argues throughout that “church” does not mean “church”) is to make church members unnecessarily dependent upon the teaching office of the church- something utterly against the spirit of reformation.
Nelson Price on Church Discipline: Sufficiency
Since, as paranthetically mentioned above, Price argues that “church” does not mean “church,” the commands Jesus gave to the apostles are not directly applicable to believers today. In other words, whereas a simple reading of the text would view Jesus’ words as direct commands to the church- commands that could simply be followed- Price would have us read these words as principles, which may be understood as optional. Price writes, “The EKKLESIA does not mandate the entire church body as constituted today… However, if a local church insists on the entire congregation being involved that also is permissible… If a church congregation decides to bring a person before them…” So, just as Dr. Price insists that the New Testament gives the Church no specific model for her government, he also insists that Jesus gives the Church no specific commands concerning church discipline. Scripture is thus portrayed as insufficient to govern the community of believers in Christ. This denial of scriptural sufficiency ultimately undermines the doctrine of biblical authority as the commands of God are considered to be mere opinions.