Every Member Ministry Means No Christian Soldiers

Only a few neo-Confederates and Covenanters may disagree, but most Reformed Protestants assume that men ordained to the ministry of the word may not serve in capacities that involve the use of the physical sword (police, military, and even civil magistrate). The logic goes something like this:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. (Confession of Faith, 23.3)

One could well suppose that if magistrates (who hold the civil sword) can’t have the keys of the kingdom, those who do have the power of the keys shall not assume the power of the civil magistrate. That fits with what the Form of Government says about ecclesiastical power:

All church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security.(3.4)

So imagine what happens to this delicate balance between civil and ecclesiastical power when all of a sudden every Christian is a minister. How could we ever allow a minister to fight in a war, to operate under the authority of the Department of Defense, to bring criminals to justice?

Pope Francis may have the solution — to turn Christianity into a pacifist religion by opposing capital punishment and abandoning just war theory.

If Christians may not serve as soldiers or as executioners, then we need to revise assertions like this:

Public life is not just about politics but all the areas of human activity — thefamily, the workplace, shops and restaurants, leisure and the arts. It is the specific role of lay people to sanctify each and every environment of the world.

Sometimes “every” and “all” make you wish for dualism.

62 thoughts on “Every Member Ministry Means No Christian Soldiers

  1. “every” and “all”
    The writer of Ecclesiastes would probably say, “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it…”


  2. “…most Reformed Protestants assume that men ordained to the ministry of the word may not serve in capacities that involve the use of the physical sword…”
    In PCA parlance, is it only teaching elders who may not bear the sword or would that include deacons and ruling elders? Where do military chaplains fit in?


  3. DG Hart says: So imagine what happens to this delicate balance between civil and ecclesiastical power when all of a sudden every Christian is a minister.

    All of a sudden? I thought the Bible was written almost a couple thousand years ago?

    2 Corinthians 5:18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

    1 Peter 2: But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.


  4. SDB, a chaplain who even receives weapons training can no longer serve as a chaplain. By definition they cannot do soldierly stuff. I do have a Navy chaplain friend who got to fire a helicopter machine gun into the water…just for fun.


  5. @Ali, sadly, fyi, DGH and OL fyi, people aren’t big fans of the notion of “every Christian is a minister”, rooted in the Reformation (and Biblical) concept of the “priesthood of all believers”. Doing ministry is something reserved for a chosen few, and further, usually just reserved for Sundays. As I write this, Zrim is likely organizing his neighborhood protests of summer vacation Bible schools.


  6. Petros says: @Ali, sadly, fyi, DGH and OL fyi, people aren’t big fans of the notion of “every Christian is a minister”, rooted in the Reformation (and Biblical) concept of the “priesthood of all believers”. Doing ministry is something reserved for a chosen few, and further, usually just reserved for Sundays. As I write this, Zrim is likely organizing his neighborhood protests of summer vacation Bible schools.

    oh, ok, thanks Petros. Wasn’t sure. There does seem to be daily energy and zeal about something sortof about God. Still trying to figure it out. Maybe, as you say, it’s energy for freedom -from His presence Mon-Sat, that is – which would be a good stategy for minimizing the potential of going awry on that claim of ‘ sin intolerance’ and’ intolerance of error’ applying to Sunday only?
    Anyway, on the positive, at least those few are thought to be chosen, as you say; Sundays are reserved, and Zrim is intolerant.


  7. Petros and Ali, what is so difficult about understanding that not every Christian is a minister of the gospel, or entertaining the possibility that the “every member ministry” mentality may have serious flaws? Figure out the meaning of 2 Timothy 2:4 and numerous other passages. Next, read and study T. David Gordon’s journal article “‘Equipping’ Ministry in Ephesians 4?” You may find out that Old School convictions regarding ecclesiastical office and authority are actually the result of exegesis rather than “cold-Harts.”


  8. Not tolerant, me? But when my unordained hipster eeeevangie niece and her husband describe to me how any number of their favorite activities are shoe-horned into a ministry, I just nod and smile. Sheesh.


  9. @Walton, leave it to argumentative Reformed folk to find reason to hair-split about the semantics of the term “ministry”.

    @Rook-the-cold-Hart, well, I appreciate that there’s a segment of the P&R group that has made “every member ministry” a pejorative phrase. That I understand quite well. The so-called exegesis behind it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s one thing to critique people who want to think their pie-baking is a “ministry”. Fine with that. But the idea that every Bible study leader or evangelist needs to be a paid ‘ordained’ professional , or that “ministry” is restricted to Sundays is, ahem, ridiculous.


  10. ” ut the idea that every Bible study leader or evangelist needs to be a paid ‘ordained’ professional , or that “ministry” is restricted to Sundays is, ahem, ridiculous.”
    Who thinks every teacher must be paid? I didn’t think ruling elders were generally paid. I find it curious that you think the church shouldn’t scrutinize who teaches and evangelizes.


  11. Peter, so you also conduct baptisms at the local swimming hole? It’s right there in the Great (not pretty good) Commission. Show your ministerial creds.


  12. Petros says:@Walton, leave it to argumentative Reformed folk to find reason to hair-split about the semantics of the term “ministry”.

    ‘course if we parse the word long enough (διακονία =ministry, service, serving and the dictionary= a diplomatic representative ) we can delay and divert ourselves from our hard task and call in the world to proclaim the Lord excellencies (1 Peter 2:9) and to beg people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20)


  13. Petros, “leave it to argumentative Reformed folk to find reason to hair-split about the semantics of the term “ministry”.”

    I know. You have no problem with the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ.


  14. Skipping English and going straight to Greek. Maybe a bigger problem than every member ministry is every member using a Greek lexicon.


  15. Petros, and what exactly is so wrong with a pie-baking ministry, Mr. Uppity-Pants? Don’t you know the many who have come to faith through good American apple pies? You discern standards? Why can you but others can’t without being Spirit quenching?

    But your reasoning is like saying the quack mayn’t practice medicine (OBviously), but the well meaning but yet untrained and unlicensed may. Something tells me you require your doc to evidence actual credentials.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. @cw thanks. Didn’t realize that about chaplains. Do you know if deacons and ruling elders blocked from being cops and political office? Does that include other members of the system as well (judges, DAs, etc…). Just curious…


  17. DG Hart says: Ali, then why aren’t you conducting baptisms (he typed worried about the answer)?

    Don’t worry DG! But now that you mention it, good question! I think I might study this – I mean who is it that is baptizing the explosion of Christian converts around the world?

    Zrim says: Petros, and what exactly is so wrong with a pie-baking ministry, Mr. Uppity-Pants? Don’t you know the many who have come to faith through good American apple pies?

    ‘course we could also parse the word ‘ministry’ about inside the church too (as well as outside), ‘cause we need still more and greater diversion from that still harder task and call to ‘serve’ brothers and sisters.

    1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.14 For the body is not one member, but many. 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 20 But now there are many members, but one body. ….
    And I show you a still more excellent way…….

    Dear Walton, I think your partiality is showing .


  18. Hey Zrim, you’re absolutely right. If people are coming to faith through pie-baking ministries, then AMEN, let’s have more pie-baking ministries! (Btw, I hope the vacation Bible schools are doing great in your neighborhood this year!)

    @Ali, you’ll discover that OL has a special way of parsing through the NT, so that Texts that you might think apply to all believers, in their mind only apply to a few authorized apostles/pastors.


  19. oh ok thanks Petros. I think I sortof knew that from some discussion awhile back re John 14 about whether every believer is orphaned or not and given the Spirit of truth or not ; I do appreciate there are distinctions to understand and be careful about ; also that some debate will continue for now, as we see in a mirror dimly, knowing only in part; waiting for the one day,face to face when we will know fully (1 Cor 13:12

    …and with thought of the next verse(1 Cor 13:13) ,it’s great some things we do know for sure -now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

    and eg,also, sure things about our great, perfect high priest –Jesus – and His intercession for all of us who are His: John 17:20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may]believe that You sent Me.22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

    Seems like we’re a long way in that unity having the Spirit and believing essential truths together-(eg: inspiration and authority of Scripture; the Trinity; Jesus’s full deity and humanity; substitutionary death on the cross; bodily resurrection; bodily 2nd coming; salvation by grace through faith alone, apart from works.)
    even as we other debate continues


  20. Peter, you might be interested to learn that the original Protestants (minus the Anabaptists) parsed the NT the way OL does on every member ministry. Doh!

    So that makes you and Ali Anabaptists. That denies you Edwards and TKNY, by the way.

    Mind the rakes.


  21. @DGH, you might be interested to learn that your hyper clergy-laity distinctions stand in the fine tradition of Rome. Careful about those rakes…..

    Ecclesia semper reformanda est.


  22. Petros, the difference is that Protestant authority derives from Scripture, Roman from bare apostolic succession. You haven’t been paying close attention. But you’re sounding Anabaptist–what’s next, infant baptism is residual Catholicism, haven’t gone far enough in the reforms, etc.?


  23. Zrim, you mean, what’s next, TKNY is residual Roman Catholicism since he baptizes infants?

    Move along. Nothing to see here (except the welt on Peter’s head).


  24. Zrim, it’s always curious to see the chasm (not merely a distinction) that you create between the Biblical obligations of clergy and laity. The Text itself, together with the record of church history, testifies that the gospel primarily spread through laity.

    Here’s wishing DGH a quick recovery from his nasty rake-hit…..


  25. Petros, right, Anabaptist. But if “the gospel is primarily spread through laity” then what in thee heck do ordained officers exist for? It’s like saying students learn primarily from each other (sorry for the academic analogy). And teachers are for what then?


  26. Zrim, best brush up on your church history if you think only a select few ‘ordained’ people spread the gospel. As to how you do the hermeneutical gymnastics required to create your clergy-laity chasm, I’ve no idea. The Biblical Petros sure didn’t seem to be writing to whatever an “ordained officer” is when he wrote his first epistle (I Peter 1:1 and 1 Peter 2:9). He wrote to every believer.


  27. Petros, Eph 4 is the go to didactic instruction and it obligates those who are so gifted with the building up and uniting together those who are called by Christ into his church. But if Gordon doesn’t work for you, here’s some Matt Henry maybe that’ll have some traction with you. Hey, it has scripture references too! Bonus.

    The apostle next tells us what were Christ’s gifts at his ascension: He gave some apostles, etc., v. 11. Indeed he sent forth some of these before his ascension, Mt. 10:1-5 . But one was then added, Acts. 1:26 . And all of them were more solemnly installed, and publicly confirmed, in their office, by his visibly pouring forth the Holy Ghost in an extraordinary manner and measure upon them. Note, The great gift that Christ gave to the church at his ascension was that of the ministry of peace and reconciliation. The gift of the ministry is the fruit of Christ’s ascension. And ministers have their various gifts, which are all given them by the Lord Jesus. The officers which Christ gave to his church were of two sorts—extraordinary ones advanced to a higher office in the church: such were apostles, prophets, and evangelists. The apostles were chief. These Christ immediately called, furnished them with extraordinary gifts and the power of working miracles, and with infallibility in delivering his truth; and, they having been the witnesses of his miracles and doctrine, he sent them forth to spread the gospel and to plant and govern churches. The prophets seem to have been such as expounded the writings of the Old Testament, and foretold things to come. The evangelists were ordained persons (2 Tim. 1:6 ), whom the apostles took for their companions in travel (Gal. 2:1 ), and sent them out to settle and establish such churches as the apostles themselves had planted (Acts. 19:22 ), and, not being fixed to any particular place, they were to continue till recalled, 2 Tim. 4:9 . And then there are ordinary ministers, employed in a lower and narrower sphere; as pastors and teachers. Some take these two names to signify one office, implying the duties of ruling and teaching belonging to it. Others think they design two distinct offices, both ordinary, and of standing use in the church; and then pastors are such as are fixed at the head of particular churches, with design to guide, instruct, and feed them in the manner appointed by Christ; and they are frequently called bishops and elders: and the teachers were those whose work it was also to preach the gospel and to instruct the people by way of exhortation. We see here that it is Christ’s prerogative to appoint what officers and offices he pleases in his church.


  28. Peter, so why does Luke so much stress Paul’s evangelistic efforts and why is Paul so keen to instruct pastors in the — wait for it — PASTORAL epistles.

    Clearly the rakes are effecting your ability to THINK. But you do still LOVE TKNY.


  29. @Zrim-and-Sean-the-cold-Harts, the question is about whether every believer in the church should have a “ministry” of sharing the gospel to unbelievers and using their gifts/talents/effort to edify the church. OR, whether “ministry” is reserved to the ordained few (who, of course, are appointed in accord with Article 31 of the Belgic.) I hope your eyes aren’t overly strained, as you have to read a LOT (into 1 Peter, or 2 Tim 2:2, Col 1:7, 1 Thess 1:8 – well, really the entire NT) into lots of texts to divine that either the precept or example in the texts was limited to clergy. (It’s readily conceded that the NT outlines roles/responsibilities of certain offices, and the qualifications of those who would occupy them. That’s a weak argument, from silence, for having only clergy do ‘ministry’, however.)

    How do you guys think that there were Christians in Damascus (you know, the ones that Paul was going there to persecute) in the first place? Or any number of other places where apostles didn’t go but where there are believers ? Best to find yourselves a good early church history book.


  30. ok, so I had to look up who we were, Petros. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/april/anabaptists.html ;( I am always glad to learn new labels about myself or others) ;
    also I see Scripture is a ‘bonus’ according to sean – you know, that more than required thing;
    and re: sean’s ” the gift of the ministry is the fruit of Christ’s ascension.” technically is the Spirit’s own ministry – we ought give credit where credit is due- not that He doesn’t use and work through every believer.. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12);
    ‘course based on the next verse v13, it appears a whole lot of prayer is supposed to be involved, so, no wonder Jesus wonders if He’ll find faith when He returns.


  31. @Ali, amen on the Anabaptist article. Fwiw, “anabaptist” is a pejorative term around OL, for reasons that seem to go beyond merely the credo-vs-paedo view of baptism.


  32. Petros, if that’s the question then nobody disagrees. It’s called witnessing or giving a reason for the hope that lies within, which is afforded every believer. No confessional Prot takes issue with that one iota. But witnessing isn’t ministry. Can you discern the difference? It’s actually pretty important. To use the medical analogy, a lay nurse isn’t a surgeon. or do you really want the one without particular gifts, experience, skills and license cracking your chest? I don’t. Then again, my heart’s cold, so…


  33. @Zrim, so, you’re good with high school kids teaching Vacation Bible school, a college kid leading a Bible study in his dorm room, the unordained guy in the neighborhood who goes to the local prison and leads a weekly evangelistic seminar, regular moms who help counsel troubled pregnant teens at the crisis pregnancy center, other volunteers who help wash dishes at the local soup kitchen, and the business guys who arrange luncheons with their secular colleagues to explain the gospel?

    If you’re not okay with those things, which some of us would describe as “ministry”, can you point me to the definitive Article in one of your confessions that provides the detailed definition of the term “ministry”, and defines the term’s use and misuse?


  34. Peter, truth be told, you haven’t yet notice that your man crush is on someone as guilty of the sins of Christendom as OL. Trying to get you out of that vicious Side Show Bob circle.


  35. Petros, your list is a mixed bag of things that would seem to fall under different categories: some kind of religious shepherding (VBS, prison work, luncheons) and general charity (prego moms, soup kitchens). The former may be done under the oversight of ordained officers in a local church; the latter is just plain old good works, needing no oversight so have at it. That you collapse the two is telling though.

    You okay with elders saying no to one or another of the former groups, maybe because it’s already covered by another effort? Or are all desires to do any parachurch work supposed to be categorically endorsed at the risk of being saddled as cold or otherwise impious?

    And I still don’t have a clue as to what you think ordained men are for if not advancement of the gospel? That evidently is for the laity. So what are the ordained for exactly?


  36. Peter, why teach in VBS, or lead a dorm room Bible study when the Bible itself doesn’t mention this? Do you really follow the Bible or do you do to it what Jefferson did?


  37. @DG-the-cold-Hart, you’re right, whether clergy-only or laity are supposed to do “ministry” is not the Bible’s “the question”. Exactly. It’s not a question. It’s a biblical imperative for both, in any variety of creative and diverse incarnations, according to each person’s gifts/talents. The question is why you would question it. Thx to you and Z for answering.


  38. Pete, how about this, I don’t appreciate paid clergy passing off their duties to me. I work full-time and volunteer. I don’t need to be scolded by paid ministry about how I’ve failed to do their job. And when they do their job, I’d like them to remember to do it better than I could in my spare time AND stay in their lane.


  39. @Z, I’m sure you can familiarize yourself with the Scriptural texts that speak to both the responsibilities, and qualifications, for overseers, pastors, teachers, deacons, etc. But realize that while Acts 6:4 might give an example of apostolic devotion to prayer and to the Word, it certainly isn’t to say that non-apostles should not be devoted to prayer and to the Word. And, if you want to ascribe whatever duties for teaching/evangelism etc to only elders, I’m not sure in what way, then, they are supposed to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

    But okay, I seem to get it. Your ecclesiology tends towards more of a micro-management hierarchy, which you feel provides more quality control, so to speak, against rogue individual or parachurch activities. You are welcome to edit and re-phrase that.


  40. Mr. Hart,
    I must say it’s really very much impressive note you written. But I’m mostly impressed with this note,
    “Public life is not just about politics but all the areas of human activity — the family, the workplace, shops and restaurants, leisure and the arts. It is the specific role of lay people to sanctify each and every environment of the world”
    Thank you.


  41. Petros, it’s already been freely conceded that laity are to witness and give a reason for the hope that lies within–devotion to prayer and Scripture certainly includes that.

    But a Reformed ecclesiology isn’t simply about guarding against rogues (cynical). It’s about receiving those the Lord has set up through his means. That’s not a guarantee that those he calls are always good (heck, Paul had to rebuke Peter). My own hunch is that an Anabaptist ecclesiology stems from some hyper-spiritualistic notion that the un-ordained can do better when the ordained aren’t doing well. Mix that in with American democratization and egalitarianism and voila, eeeevangelicalism.


  42. Petros say @DG-the-cold-Hart

    weell, at least you didn’t say DG-the-lukewarm-Hart which, interestingly, is apparently worse! 🙂

    not sure of the basis for the bias of your ‘hunches’ ,Zrim; and not to encourage labels, but the post I read yesterday after the ‘labeling’ said:” we confess that we seek to believe, study, and obey the Bible as our primary authority.”


  43. and btw, speaking of your word above ‘cynical’, Zrim, as the Lord’s authority does give instruction on authority, have you thought about the proper attitude for Tim Keller, for example; and as well, are you praying for authorities as He instructs because their responsibility and their need for the Lord’s strength is great.


  44. Ali, not sure what you’re referencing but “we confess that we seek to believe, study, and obey the Bible as our primary authority” sounds right. And?

    Re TKNY, you mean have I considered jumping on the amen bandwagon? Not a bandwagon type, sorry. Have you considered the merits of more thought and less sentiment?


  45. Zrim says:Have you considered the merits of more thought and less sentiment?

    Huh? Your bias and partiality is showing in that pat, predictable statement – did you want to add in English please too?

    Zrim says:Ali, not sure what you’re referencing but “we confess that we seek to believe, study, and obey the Bible as our primary authority” sounds right. And?

    And… re your ‘anabaptize’ accusation, I was referencing this reference : http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/april/anabaptists.html

    Anabaptists are experiencing a bit of a resurgence, which is interesting considering they are sometimes overlooked in the ecclesiastical histories. Many know what a Lutheran or a Calvinist is, but are less clear on Anabaptists. At the same time, others appropriate the term for their own use or agenda. It’s almost trendy– but ends up confusing at times.
    So, I was intrigued when I was asked to speak at a Biannual National Convention of a denomination of actual Anabaptists. In preparation of that meeting, Ed Boschman, Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, shared several documents with me to help me prepare for their meeting. I thought it might be worth passing on.
    So, what really is an Anabaptist? Here is some of what I am reading about the movement, from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and the Mennonite Brethren movement (MB). Perhaps it might be helpful to you as well.
    We use the terms “biblical theology,” “anabaptist,” and “evangelical” to describe our faith because these words also grow out of our history. Because MBs have been shaped by other movements that we have found compatible, a brief review of our story is helpful in understanding the context for such words as “evangelical” and “anabaptist.”
    We Mennonite Brethren have always considered ourselves a biblical people.
    We Mennonite Brethren have always considered ourselves a biblical people. While at times we use such statements as the Apostles’ Creed, we describe ourselves as confessional rather than creedal. That is, we confess that we seek to believe, study, and obey the Bible as our primary authority. Our confession of faith is a statement that describes how our reading of the Bible (as God’s inspired Word) connects us to the world in which we give witness. As a biblical people, we have instinctively tried to resolve theological and ethical questions by asking, “What does the Bible say?” or “How do we interpret Scripture as our authority for today?”
    We speak of a biblical theology in contrast to a systematic philosophical theology. We make this distinction because we seek always to be guided more by the Bible than by a particular theological system—be that systematic, evangelical, or even Anabaptist. Our norm should always be the Bible. We use the word theology because we recognize that we need to read the whole Bible—to avoid lifting any single verse as a proof text that silences other biblical words.
    At the same time we recognize the priority of Jesus’ teaching. We have tended to use the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as our first lens. We read the Gospels through the lens of the Sermon, the rest of the NT through the lens of the Gospels, and the OT through the lens of the NT. The term theology points to the need for interpretation. We seek to interpret the Bible within a world-wide community of faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    We seek to be a biblical people, but we recognize that our biblical interpretation has always been influenced by a range of theological currents.
    This biblical faith aims to rekindle the dynamic of the early church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we gather to study the Word together. As the early church discerned God’s will together at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, we pursue a community hermeneutic. The early church gathered around and evaluated the apostolic testimony of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter; so also we gather around the biblical text to discern together how its authority guides our lives.
    We seek to be a biblical people, but we recognize that our biblical interpretation has always been influenced by a range of theological currents. When our church formed in 1860, the first members expressed their agreement with Menno Simons. They were also strongly influenced by the Lutheran pietist movement with its emphasis on (1) group Bible study, (2) warm Spirit-filled faith growing out of personal conversion, (3) thoughtful faith nurtured by disciplined study, and (4) evangelistic witness. MBs also were open to influences from the larger evangelical church, especially Baptists who encouraged world missions and helped the young MB church develop its congregational polity. This openness to other evangelical churches continued in North America in the twentieth century and still characterizes MBs today.
    While we claim a biblical theology, we recognize that other Christians also claim that the Bible is the source of their distinctive understandings. As a community we interpret the Bible from within our community’s historical faith, seeking to minimize interference from influences that might distort our faith.
    Two labels have been used to describe our community’s understanding: evangelical and anabaptist. Both words have their origins in particular historical movements, but have taken on a range of cultural associations. Some find the labels positive and helpful while others prefer to avoid them. We use them here as a way of identifying the sources of the biblical perspectives that we affirm. These labels and the biblical perspectives they represent are somewhat overlapping rather than exclusive. What follows is a summary of what we have taken from each tradition—both evangelical and anabaptist.
    We share the following emphases of evangelical faith (the word evangel itself means gospel or good news). Individual Christians are born again through conversion, receiving the gift of new life through trusting in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross (John 3:16-18; Romans 3:19-26). Our theological authority is the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
    Discipleship in Christian life is nurtured through personal spiritual disciplines (1 Timothy 4:8). We understand our mission as a church to give witness to Jesus and to call others to new life (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). We sense that our mission can be strengthened by learning to engage culture transformatively as we cooperate with like-minded Christians.
    We also share some of the emphases of anabaptist faith (the word anabaptist was used by enemies of one group of 16th century reformers who insisted on believers baptism rather than infant baptism). God’s people are born again for the purpose of growing as disciples (followers and learners) of Jesus (Mark 8:27-38; Matthew 5-7). Followers of Jesus are incorporated into the covenant community through baptism and grow as disciples whose lives demonstrate faithfulness as we practice holy living and mutual accountability, worship as a community, and engage together in mission (Matthew 18:15-20).
    Our passionate commitment is to act as God’s agents in the world as we anticipate the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.
    Our theological authority, the Scripture, is interpreted within the community as illumined by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15). Our mission in obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:34-40) and to make peace through reconciliation with God, ourselves, our enemies, and God’s creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Matthew 5:38-42). We sense that our mission is always counter-cultural because our allegiance to the Lord Jesus and the kingdom that he proclaims puts us in tension with the culture around us.
    As Mennonite Brethren we give witness to a biblical theology that has at its center the following:
    • Conversion – receiving new life by trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
    • Believer’s baptism – baptizing believers who confess Jesus and enter church fellowship
    • The Bible – obeying the authoritative Word of God, interpreted by the community as illumined by the Holy Spirit
    • Church – living as a covenant community in worship, fellowship, accountability, witness
    • Discipleship – seeking to follow Jesus’ teaching and model
    • Mission – witnessing and serving in passionate obedience to Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission
    • Peace witness – reconciling all to God, ourselves, our enemies, and the creation
    To sum up, at MBBS we seek to “give witness to a biblical theology that is both evangelical and anabaptist.” We aim to reflect the MB Confession of Faith which is our church’s interpretation of the Bible at the outset of this millennium.
    We also hope to lead the church to faithful discipleship characterized by personal devotion to Christ expressed within the covenant community of believers. We continually seek a biblical vision of the redeeming and reconciling work of Christ for persons and the world in which they live. Our passionate commitment is to act as God’s agents in the world as we anticipate the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.
    And, now, you know a bit about who/what Anabaptists are (at least this stream of evangelical Anabaptists). And, next time someone shouts, “I’m Anabaptist!,” you might ask what they mean and if it is, well, Anabaptist.


  46. Ali, try Mathison for a brief contrasting of the traditions (think “Anabaptist” whenever you read “solo”):

    At the same time the magisterial reformers were advocating a return to Tradition 1 (sola Scriptura), several radical reformers were calling for the rejection of both Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 and the adoption of a completely new understanding of Scripture and tradition. They argued that Scripture was not merely the only infallible authority but that it was the only authority altogether. The true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei were rejected altogether. According to this view (Tradition 0), there is no real sense in which tradition has any authority. Instead, the individual believer requires nothing more than the Holy Spirit and the Bible…

    …The revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura has become so entrenched in the modern church that many Protestant Christians today will sympathize more with the sentiments of the liberal and sectarian clergymen quoted above than they will with the teaching of the reformers. The doctrine of “solo” Scriptura, however, is as problematic and dangerous today as it was in previous centuries. It remains unbiblical, illogical, and unworkable. Here I will address some of the more obvious problems.

    The fundamental problem with “solo” Scriptura is that it results in autonomy. It results in final authority being placed somewhere other than the Word of God. It shares this problem with the Roman Catholic doctrine. The only difference is that the Roman Catholic doctrine places final authority in the church while “solo” Scriptura places final authority in each individual believer. Every doctrine and practice is measured against a final standard, and that final standard is the individual’s personal judgment of what is and is not biblical. The result is subjectivism and relativism. The reformers’ appeal to “Scripture alone,” however, was never intended to mean “me alone.”

    The Bible itself simply does not teach “solo” Scriptura Christ established his church with a structure of authority and gives to his church those who are specially appointed to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4). When disputes arose, the apostles did not instruct each individual believer to go home and decide by himself and for himself who was right. They met in a council (Acts 15:6-29). Even the well-known example of the Bereans does not support “solo” Scriptura (cf. Acts 17:10-11; cf. vv. 1-9). Paul did not instruct each individual Berean to go home and decide by himself and for himself whether what he was teaching was true. Instead, the Bereans read and studied the Scriptures of the Old Testament day by day with Paul present in order to see whether his teaching about the Messiah was true.

    In terms of hermeneutics, the doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is hopeless. With “solo” Scriptura, the interpretation of Scripture becomes subjective and relative, and there is no possibility for the resolution of differences. It is a matter of fact that there are numerous different interpretations of various parts of Scripture. Adherents of “solo” Scriptura are told that these different interpretations can be resolved simply by an appeal to Scripture. But how is the problem of differing interpretations to be resolved by an appeal to another interpretation? All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation? People with differing interpretations of Scripture cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve their differences. In order for the Scripture to function as an authority, it must be read and interpreted by someone. According to “solo” Scriptura, that someone is each individual, so ultimately, there are as many final authorities as there are human interpreters. This is subjectivism and relativism run amuck. The proponents of “solo” Scriptura rightly condemn the hermeneutical tyranny of Rome, but the solution to hermeneutical tyranny is not hermeneutical anarchy.

    The doctrine of “solo” Scriptura also faces historical problems due to the fact that it cannot be reconciled with the reality that existed in the first decades and centuries of the church. If “solo” Scriptura were true, much of the church had no standard of truth for many years. In the first century, one could not walk down to his local Christian bookstore and buy a copy of the Bible. Manuscripts had to be hand-copied and were not found in every believer’s home. The first books of the New Testament did not even begin to be written until at least ten years after the death of Christ, and some were not written until several decades after Christ. Gradually some churches obtained copies of some books, while other churches had copies of others. It took many years before the New Testament as we know it was gathered and available as a whole. Even then, it too was hand-copied, so it was not available in the home of every individual Christian. If the lone individual is to judge and evaluate everything by himself and for himself by measuring it against Scripture, as proponents of “solo” Scriptura would have it, how would this have possibly worked in the first decades of the church before the New Testament was completed?

    One of the most self-evident problems related to the doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is the question of the canon. If one is going to claim that Scripture is the only authority whatsoever, it is legitimate to ask how we then define what is and is not “Scripture.” Proponents of “solo” Scriptura claim that Scripture is authoritative but cannot say with any authority what Scripture is. The table of contents in the front of the Bible is not itself an inspired text written by a prophet or an apostle. It is, in a very real sense, a creed of the church declaring what the church believes to be the content of Scripture. One way to illustrate the problem “solo” Scriptura faces in connection with the canon is simply to ask the following: How would “solo” Scriptura deal with a modern day Marcion? How, for example, would a proponent of “solo” Scriptura argue with a person who claimed that the real New Testament includes only the books of Luke, Acts, Romans, and Revelation? He can’t appeal to the church, to history, or to tradition. A self-consistent adherent of “solo Scriptura” would have no way to respond to such a view because, as one such consistent adherent informed me in personal correspondence, it is the right and duty of each individual Christian to determine the canonicity of each biblical book by and for himself. This is the only consistent position for a proponent of “solo” Scriptura to take, but it is self-defeating because it destroys any objective notion of Scripture. One cannot appeal to the biblical authority of Romans, for example, if each believer determines for himself whether Romans is in fact to be considered a canonical and authoritative biblical book.

    The question of the canon is not the only theological problem caused by “solo” Scriptura. Another serious problem is the fact that the adoption of “solo” Scriptura destroys the possibility of having any objective definition of what Christianity is and is not. “solo” Scriptura destroys the very concepts of orthodoxy and heresy. If the authority of the ecumenical creeds is rejected, and if each individual believer is to determine all questions of doctrine by and for himself, then the definitions of orthodoxy and heresy are completely relative and subjective. One man judges the doctrine of the Trinity to be biblical. Another deems it unbiblical. One judges open theism biblical. Another deems it unbiblical. The same is true with respect to every other doctrine. Each man defines Christianity as it seems right in his own eyes.

    Finally, it must be realized that “solo” Scriptura ignores reality. The Bible simply did not drop out of the sky into our laps. We would not even be able to read a Bible for ourselves were it not for the labors of many others including archaeologists, linguists, scribes, textual critics, historians, translators, and more. If “solo” Scriptura were true, it should be possible to give untranslated ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of biblical, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphal texts to some isolated tribe member somewhere on earth, and with no one’s assistance, that individual should be able to learn the Hebrew and Greek languages, read the various manuscripts, determine which of them are canonical, and then come to an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. The reason this is not possible, however, is because “solo” Scriptura is not true. It is an unbiblical distortion of the truth.

    The revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura has been a source of great damage to the cause of Christ. The magisterial reformers were right to reject the early versions of it that appeared in the teaching of some radicals. Contemporary heirs of the reformers must follow the magisterial reformers here. The fight must be fought on two fronts. We are not only to reject the Roman Catholic doctrine (whether the two-source doctrine of Tradition 2 or the sola ecclesia doctrine of Tradition 3), which places final autonomous authority in the church. We must also reject the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura, which places final autonomous authority in the hands of each and every individual.



  47. Zrim, “Anabaptist ecclesiology stems from some hyper-spiritualistic notion that the un-ordained can do better when the ordained aren’t doing well.”

    Except for Peter’s minister crush, you guessed it, TKNY.


  48. Hey Zrim, could you volunteer to meet up with Brian Cross and settle the solo vs sola scriptura issue once and for all?


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