butter light

in view of present disturbances within American fundamentalists quarters


from the past suitable for the present
in view of present disturbances within American fundamentalists quarters

{ you might also be interested LABELS and why they change with time }


I was sick this past week with pneumonia and thus have had a lot of time to read. I came across an old booklet in my library which captivated my attention in light of this recent controversy and trading of barbs (May 09) within the American fundamentalist blogosphere. Had I read the booklet a year ago it would have impressed me no doubt, but stumbling upon this now, at this time – well, it reminded me like when I was a boy – finding a five dollar bill in the middle of the sidewalk and the county fair opens the next day – the timing, the poignancy and perhaps even the Providence of God striking me as if between the eyes. (Although, I think my view of God’s Providence has advance since those youthful days.)

What I read was a lecture by C. H. Spurgeon. The value of what Spurgeon said nearly a century and half ago, especially at the beginning of his talk, seems so finely tailored to this present hour that the significance of it cannot be lightly passed over. The lecture is entitled, The Two Wesleys: a lecture delivered in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Lecture Hall on Decemeber 6th, 1861 by C. H. Spurgeon. When I read the title I said to myself – “This should be interesting. Why would Spurgeon, a Calvinist, be interested in talking at length about a couple of Arminians? Perhaps he has a few well-positioned shots across the bow.  You know – Arminians and Calvinists, oil and water, the Hatfields and the McCoys.”

But quite to the contrary, Spurgeon’s tack is much different than what I expected. Here are a few excerpts. I trust they will speak bold for themselves. Some notes or emphasis have been added.

“Last Friday night I announced a subject …The Companions of Whitefield [a Calvinist] …Seeing that John Wesley and his brother [Arminians] were the first ‘companions of Whitefield,’ and were entitled to the chief place, I begin with their lives…”

“When Whitfield first went to Oxford, he had little fear of God before his eyes and little thought of heavenly things. But he found John and Charles Wesley there and though they could not teach him the gospel, they could impress him with the importance of eternal realities and they did so…From that time they formed a very intimate friendship with each other; they were co-labourers, working side by side for many years.”

This next comment by Spurgeon is noteworthy since both George Whitfield and John Wesley were strongly outspoken on their opposite views of soteriology. In time their friendship was tested not by the harsh edge of life, but by the dividing edge of doctrine itself.  Here is how Spurgeon describes their situation (this is long before sermonaudio.com and the blogs).

“When, at last, the controversy sprang up concerning the Arminian and the Calvinistic doctrines, Whitfield conducted his part of the controversy with the kindest and most gracious spirit and, I think, I may add, Mr. Wesley did the same. They disputed one another as brethren, not as enemies; the both, I think, held each other in quite as high esteem when they differed as when they agreed.”

It is instructive to us that Spurgeon tempers his own criticisms of Wesley because he sees in George Whitfield an attitude of self-control and deference toward Wesley.

“Now I, who admire Whitfield as much as the Wesleyan admires Wesley, though I am not bound to close my eyes to his faults, think very highly of Wesley because George Whitfield did so…”

And on a certain occasion…

“…some Calvinist, who was exceedingly wrathful with Mr. Wesley, once said to Mr. Whitfield, ‘Do you think we shall ever see John Wesley in heaven?’ Whitfield stopped and said, ‘Do I think we shall ever see John Wesley in heaven? Well, I do not think we shall,’ said he. “So then [the questioner] thought that Mr. Whitfield quite agreed with him in his bitterness.

‘But,’ added Mr. Whitfield, ‘the reason why we shall not see him is this – I am afraid that you and I will be so far off the throne of Christ and Wesley will be so near that he will be lost in the brightness of his Savior and I hardly think you and I will be able to see him.’

“[The questioner] turned away in a moment, having got quite a contrary answer from that which he expected from the lips of George Whitfield.”

Such meekness – such deference – such Christian courage to keep the dagger sheathed and give due diligence to “overcome the opposition” with the gentleness of the Spirit. These men were on “the same team” were they not? Spurgeon further noted something else, an action which speaks more eloquently than words possibly could.

“In proof of this [mutual bond of kindness], you will remember that Whitfield chose Mr. Wesley to preach his funeral sermon and he did preach it in the Tabernacle [the seat of Spurgeon’s Cavlinistic pulpit] and a more loving eulogy upon a godly man could never have been poured forth by one who had perfectly agreed with him. But while Mr. Wesley differed in many very important points, yet he extolled and loved Whitefield from his very soul and spoke of him as only one could speak who loved and valued that man of God.”

My father was a physician. He used to say that he thought it was odd that two physicians could strongly disagree with each other and still remain good friends, but two preachers could disagree strongly and not manage to get along. He never shared with us why he thought this is so, but I think I have an answer. The two doctors never lose sight of the fact that they are working toward the patient’s improvement. Helping the patient is their ultimate goal. That is their stock and trade. The two preachers for whatever reason lose sight of this greater good – feeding the sheep, discipling them in The Word (John 21) and equipping them to spread the gospel of Christ.

When those who oppose the gospel attack its truth we must be ready to prise de fer, “take the steel,” of course. But, when church leadership opposes each other as though the other is the enemy itself we in effect oppose ourselves and truly we oppose Christ. There is no merit for the Body doing injury to itself, but we should instead give full energy and strength and prayer and creative effort to spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world is dying. They are marching headlong into a Christless eternity. We must spread the ‘good news.’

Those of us sitting in the pew and serving in the Church long for a vibrant church life which comes from seeing the lost converted by the gospel and the saints deepened in their faith-walk through discipleship in The Word and through Christian fellowship (Acts 2).

In this slice of Spurgeon, Whitfield and Wesley we see an ECHO of KINDNESS from the past that is perfectly suitable for the present. The cause of Christ is greater than any amount of turf you may wish to defend or opinion you wish to trumpet. Can we work as brothers in concert without rancor, avoiding misrepresentations and with patience and deference? By the grace of God may it ever be so.

My hope is that we can within our conservative circles, regardless of regional tendencies or theological persuassion, do two keys things:

1 – retune our FOCUS on the Gospel

(We should all be able to agree on this.  When we see our own church or group distinctives in light of the Gospel we should be able to see that some of those distinctives are secondary.  If we overemphasize or become defensive about these secondary matters, then such efforts will cast a shadow on the Gospel.  The Gospel is central to all that God is seeking to accomplish in time and eternity.)

2 – adjust our TONE to one of gentleness and deference

(There is more than one way to say the same thing.  We can still speak the truth without harpooning individuals, publicly flogging or mispresenting each other.  We are on the same team, right?)

What practical kindnesss tips can you suggest for when we disagree with one another?

for more on this subject check out LABELS and why they change with time

May, 2009

Psalm 133:1

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.

“an echo of kindness from the past suitable for the present” C2009Mark Olivero


9 thoughts on “in view of present disturbances within American fundamentalists quarters

  1. These thoughts are clear, concise and beautifully stated, Mark. Thank you for modeling appropriate tone.
    John 13:35

  2. Our Pastor has remarked more than once on the unimportance of asserting our own opinion over that of others. That would certainly be kindness in practice.

  3. I believe Wesley’s arminianism was long before (or at least before) Finney’s decisionism/revivalism. Therefore would it be correct to conjecture that the Arminianism of today is more dangerous because of the decisionism sphere and aspect that it brings? Of course, since I am not omniscient, perhaps not all arminians today hold to decisionism. To me, the debate today is even more important because the Calvinism and Arminianism really define the gospel.
    I do not deny though that there needs to humility in the discussion.

  4. “I am afraid that you and I will be so far off the throne of Christ and Wesley will be so near that he will be lost in the brightness of his Savior and I hardly think you and I will be able to see him.’”–classic!

    My thoughts are this quick run to sides is the opposite of what we should be doing. Are we condemning all Calvinists or all Arminians? …

    Is it our place to condemn either? If there’s an actual disagreement over heresy in their doctrine (which ever side you fall on), even then, how much will be won with name-calling and callous attitudes towards “brethern” we hope to enlighten? Somehow, some way the Lord works together for good even the foolishness of men’s preaching. I’m very confident all this will play out to His glory and not which ever camp I’m waving a flag from. Humility in our walk is far better than arguing someone to Christ.

  5. I have often wondered about this. It seems like so often, Bible-believing Christians get hung up on certain issues and start arguing with each other, even some to the point of not speaking to each other. Some even will use very negative speech towards the other group with each other.

    Could it be that this is one way that Satan has figured out to weaken the cause of Christ? If Christians are so busy fighting each other, then they won’t have time to share the good news, and if they do, those who have seen them fighting won’t really want anything to do with them and their “religion.”

    Sometimes it is perfectly acceptable, and godly, to agree to disagree (may I even say sometime compromise is a good thing, if it keeps the unity of the body of Christ?).

    What a great example of Whitfield and the Wesleys!

    • What a great analysis! Maybe “the powers that be” within conservative Christian circles are hearing this. Such great points. We shouldn’t let our disagreements be a distraction to spreading the Gospel. That’s the view from the pew.

  6. Excellent thoughts. The Whitfield and Wesley relationship has always been a stunning example of what God’s grace looks like when it is in action. I also appreciate your call to retune or focus on the gospel and adjusting our tone to speak the truth in love. These are surely truths that hold implications beyond the realm of this particular soteriological debate. Not just for the Calvinist or Arminian, but also for the “(new) Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist.” The message of a gospel focused ministry that lovingly proclaims truth should resound throughout all Christendom, regardless of what “side” you happen to take in any theological, practical, or philosophical discussion.

    • Phil,
      Thanks for confirming the importance of having a gentle response to each other when we Christians differ.

      It is true that at times Welsey’s followers and even Wesley himself pushed the envelope on treating “the other side” with grace. Whitfield tried his best I believe to keep “the conversation” on the issues and not on attacking each other.

      Ian Murray observed http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/wesley/murray.htm that “Whitefield teaches us a needful lesson. Doctrinal differences between believers should never lead to personal antagonism. Error must be opposed even when held by fellow members of Christ, but if that opposition cannot co-exist with a true love for all saints and a longing for their spiritual prosperity then it does not glorify God nor promote the edification of the Church.”

      Unfortunately, there are many examples in Church History where saints are harpooning each other. These instances are easy enough to find BUT what a delight it is to find gems such as Spurgeon’s spirit of affability (though he was a stauce Calvinist) which show saints putting forth the effort to let their “speech always be with grace” (Col 4:6). I have failed in this in the past, yet I pray that in the future we all can do better.

  7. A recent post linked back to this article. I have read it thoroughly as well as the article that prompted the post. I am not totally sure of how to delicately address this issue since my efforts at such tend to resemble an elephant in ballet shoes.

    The men mentioned in the original article had one common denominator: they all were out to win the world by the Gospel. They achieved renown and leadership by that one thing. Beyond that, most of them failed by attempting to build large works. Most of those works are now decaying monuments to their founders. That these men could not resist that fatal attraction is evidence of their humanity. Try as I may, I cannot find any Scripture to support their efforts. In fact, the entire New Testament model of the church is in direct opposition to any such attempt.

    So here we have the pivot: The Gospel vs. The Business. Influx of people means money. Money must be managed. Without fail, managed money means business. I challenge anyone to show me a church with a membership of more than 200 that has not left (or is well on its way) its first love. When a pastor cannot name every member in his church and tell you the individual needs of each person, the corner has been turned. Furthermore, if a church is out winning the same lost that our Savior came to minister to, the business model cannot sustain them. There is not enough generated income from that sector of society. If you really want to defend you work, answer me one question: How many cars are there in your church parking lot that obviously belong to families well below the poverty level? Few if any? Then the work which you sustain already has a tombstone in place with “Ichabod” inscribed on it.

    It amazes me to listen to sermons by the non-radical broad spectrum of Christianity today. What is being said from the pulpits is very similar. The obvious difference is how it is put into practice. And that practice is usually filtered by denominationalism and tradition. Where are the souls being won? I can’t find them. What I do see is the building of bigger and better works because we attract more like us. That is NOT the Gospel. I must decrease and He must increase? I don’t think so.

    If our works were His Work and not The Work which we have built or strive to sustain, we would not be so dogmatic on non-essential theological or denominational positions because we would all have the same work: bringing increase of souls into the Kingdom of Heaven. You will know them by their works! And this is His commandment, that we love one another.

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