The Quest

Is Requiring of Members a Certain Millennial View Sinful?

Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. Currently he is preaching through the book of Revelation, and in one of his recent sermons he made the following provocative statement [transcript provided by paleoevangelical]:

I am suggesting that what you believe about the Millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order for us to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course, all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us.

Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians, whether nearly (in a congregation) or more at length (in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up in the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ, for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is a sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united.

Therefore, for us to conclude that we must agree on a certain view of alcohol or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the Millennium, in order to have fellowship with one another is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore unwarranted and, therefore, condemned by Scripture.

So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular Millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation. [Listen to the full audio.]

Those of us in the GARBC, which zealously endorses a dispensational pre-Millennial view, certainly raise our eyebrows when we read such comments. Dever, who personally holds an amillennial viewpoint, held no punches in this sermon. Before we are tempted to have a knee-jerk reaction, there are a few things we should keep in mind.

  1. Mark Dever is a conservative Baptist brother who supports and upholds baptistic distinctives.
  2. Mark Dever cherishes Scriptural authority and aggressively insists that our church doctrines and practices must conform to its clear teachings.
  3. Mark Dever loves the local body of Christ and has dedicated his life and ministry to making the local church Biblically healthy.

Therefore, Mark is a brother who is to be respected, cherished, and honored. With that said, I still hold some major disagreements with his comments. While I could perhaps be convinced that he is right when applied to church membership, I would argue that such an approach for church leadership is tantamount to confusion in the pulpit. It is one thing to say to the membership, “We understand that you may have a different ends times view than us, but that won’t bar you from membership.” However, it is an entirely different matter to say, “We are so open about this that you will probably hear different perspectives from the pulpit.”

The job of the pastor and elders is to teach the “whole counsel of God,” which necessarily requires that they take a certain eschatological view. Certainly they can (and should) do this charitably, but the function of their role and office requires gentle leadership on teaching matters. I can see the wisdom in allowing the general membership some flexibility, but only on the condition that they understand and will not undermine the teaching position of that local assembly.

Feel free to comment.  Dever has done us a favor by bringing an important conversation to the table.

Josh Gelatt serves as pastor at Indian River Baptist Church, Indian River, Mich. Follow Josh on Twitter.

8 Responses to “Is Requiring of Members a Certain Millennial View Sinful?”

  1. Will Hatfield says:

    Thanks Josh for bringing this up. I was thinking about doing it too.

    I definitely agree you want to present a unified position from the pulpit.

    Other questions: Has he necessarily proved that dividing the body of Christ (John 17) is the same as having a local church decide how they want to articulate what they believe? I don’t think so. They are not necessarily dividing from the rest of the body. So I don’t think his argument necessarily holds that weight. At least his argument isn’t well enough developed for me to see it.

    We’re talking about levels of importance in regards to doctrine. Ben at paleoevangelical challenged Greg about why we believe it’s important enough to put in a doctrinal statement. I think it goes back (for dispensationalists primarily) to the idea of literal interpretation of the Bible. They view especially amill positions as allegorical and essentially dangerous to Biblical authority – which is much more important than just what your eschatology is. Personally I think we are moving toward the possibility where you could articulate positions and not necessarily be touching those crucial areas, but I dont’ think we’re there yet.

  2. This quote from Dever is disappointing. The thing that stuck out to me was he seems to place a doctrinal issue with hermeneutic implications on the same level as some cultural application issues. His thoughts are usually more nuanced and careful than this seems to be.

    In my opinion, it seems that Dever approaches fellowship and separation questions in an all or nothing way. I would question his assertion that denying congregational membership to an individual with a differing millennial view is disruptive to Christian unity. I would still be able to fellowship on a personal level and even perhaps in some ministry endeavors with someone with a different position. However, I still want a cohesive church membership when it comes to doctrine.

  3. Ken Fields says:

    Scott,

    I think you have misunderstood a few things about Dever’s view. And although he does not need me to speak for him, let me offer my opinion of what his opinion seems to be!

    First, I don’t think that Dever is “placing a doctrinal issue with hermeneutic implication on the same level as some cultural application issues.” It appears Dever is stating that doctrinal issues exceed hermeneutic issues in regards to importance. If that is what he is saying, I agree with him. The method of biblical interpretation must not trump clear doctrinal teaching. Perhaps some–notice I said some–dispensationalists raise hermeneutics above theological and doctrinal issues. So I interpret Dever’s comments to mean that he will not break fellowship with someone who holds to a different hermeneutic–even within his own church. Doctrine (in this case, the bodily return of Christ) trumps the hermeneutic (regarding the timing and particulars of the return–or for dispy’s, “returns”–of Christ.

    Secondly, I don’t think Dever holds to the view you attributed to him–namely that he “approaches fellowship and separation questions in an all or nothing way.” He views fellowship and separation in much the same way as Bauder–that where we can fellowship, we should; and where we can’t, we should separate. This is one of the driving forces behind Together For The Gospel.

    Thirdly, I’m certain that there are members of Capitol Hill Baptist who hold to a premillennial view. Dever does not deny congregational membership to others with a differing eschatological view. In fact, it appears that he is arguing that a church should not make a particular eschatological view a prerequisite for church membership.

    All of us would agree that there are differing levels of importance when it comes to doctrinal issues. It seems that all Dever is saying is that (in his opinion), one’s view of the millennium should not preclude anyone from membership in a Baptist church. We may disagree with him regarding the importance of a millennial view, but we must agree that there are some doctrines that we allow latitude on in a local church context–and choose not to separate over (i.e., dichotomy vs. trichotomy; one nature vs. two natures; seminal vs. federal headship).

    Again, take my comments as an opinion of somebody else’s opinion!!

  4. Ryan Thomas Lowery says:

    I agree that this doctrine probably requires a unified position from the pulpit. But I would also say that denying church membership definitely disrupts Christian unity, especially in small, scattered communities where solid Bible teaching is very rare. If the individual is so spiritually young that they have not formed enough of an opinion about the millennium to affirm it, we shouldn’t deny them membership (spiritual maturity is no prerequisite for membership). If they understand your view yet hold a different view based on personal conviction and study and STILL desire to be a part of your local church while respecting your collective doctrinal position and spiritual direction, on what grounds do you deny them? THEY are the ones conceding the right to teach their view. THEY are overlooking their personal view in order to affirm the collective view of the church stated in the doctrinal statement. In what way does this harm the body? I see strength.

  5. Greg Long says:

    Ryan, I’m not sure that most pastor would require all new members, especially new Christians, to have a complete understanding of all items on their church’s doctrinal statement. Affirming a doctrinal statement when joining a church, in my opinion, simply means that I agree with the points stated as much as I understand them and agree not to teach or persuade others to follow doctrine contrary to the statement.

    As to the second part of your statement, what if the prospective candidate holds a different view on justification by faith alone based on personal conviction and study and still desires to be a part of your local church while respeting your collective doctrinal position and spiritual direction? On what grounds do you deny him?

  6. Ryan Thomas Lowery says:

    On the grounds that he is not a member of the body of Christ. I think we all agree that the gospel is an indispensable doctrine. The point is, why must they agree with every item in the statement if they are willing to yield to them? If a true believer is willing to forgo minor personal belief in order to gain solid teaching of the Word, godly instruction, opportunity for active/ministering membership, and accountability, do you decline the responsibility to shepherd such an individual? And upon what Biblical grounds?

  7. Greg Long says:

    Again, Ryan, your argument could be used for ANY part of a church’s doctrinal statement.

    But as I said earlier, if a person is willing to submit to the doctrinal statement and agree not to teach contrary to it, I think there is more “wiggle room” on some points.

    (Note: I am thinking only of potential members, NOT of pastors who should be in agreement with the entire doctrinal statement.)

    I think your primary point is that a view on the millennium is not an indispensible doctrine. I understand your position, but I and others would submit that it is more important than Dever makes it out to be.

  8. Ryan Thomas Lowery says:

    You’re right. It’s a question of how strict of a degree of agreement do we require. (What I was trying to say in my argument was that we should be strict on the Gospel and more gracious on other areas.) If you draw the line at the Millennium, I respect that. And the Millennium is very important to me. It is far too connected to all the other issues (that I’m sure we both agree on) to dismiss.
    But remember, we’re shepherds ministering to believers who need to learn what it means to truly abide in Christ and to live a life filled to the measure of all the fullness of God according to His power working in them. And if I can truly teach THAT to my flock, then I’ve accomplished more than if I persuade them that the Millennium occurs after the second coming but before the new heaven & earth. Though I have an obligation to teach both, I can’t let the one become a roadblock to the other.

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