To Dr. Richard Gregory,
National Executive Director of the IFCA
To the Members of the National Executive Committee of the IFCA
This letter is to inform you of the decision of the Middletown Bible Church to withdraw its membership from the IFCA. This is based on the unanimous decision of the official board (both elders and deacons) and on the unanimous vote of the membership of this local assembly of believers at its Quarterly Business Session (7/18/96). At the same time we thank our God for our affiliation in times past with the IFCA, both in the New England Regional and on the national level, and we rejoice in the historical doctrinal position of the IFCA. By God's grace may we continue to stand thereupon.
Years ago one of this century's great preachers, Dr. H.A. Ironside, wrote a history of the Plymouth Brethren movement. In this volume he mentioned an American Bible teacher, a follower of F.E.Raven, who denied eternal Sonship:
More recently the so-called Raven meetings have been divided over the teaching of an American leader who denied the truth of the Eternal Sonship of Christ. This most serious error caused many to take a definite stand against it and led to another separation. But sadly enough by far the greater majority saw nothing wrong in such views and have gone on with the promulgator of them. This puts these meetings entirely off the ground of the early Brethren who considered a true confession of Christ the very first consideration.
(H.A.Ironside, A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement, Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux, 1985, page 131).
In view of this statement some observations should be made: (1) Dr. Ironside, recognized as a man of keen doctrinal discernment, considered the denial of eternal Sonship a "most serious error"; (2) some took a definite stand against this error and a separation resulted; (3) Dr. Ironside was grieved not because of the necessary separation, but because "the greater majority saw nothing wrong" with such teaching and they continued to follow this Bible teacher; (4) Dr. Ironside as well as the early Brethren considered the denial of eternal Sonship to be incompatible with "a true confession of Christ."
History often repeats itself. (1) The leadership of the IFCA does not consider the denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ to be a "most serious error." (2) A minority of men and churches in the IFCA, including our local assembly, took a definite and public stand against this error and a separation resulted; (3) The greater majority, including all of the members of the National Executive Committee, saw nothing wrong with such teaching and strongly criticized the minority for being "divisive"; (4) the minority considered the denial of eternal Sonship to be totally incompatible with the very clearly worded, historical IFCA Doctrinal Statement (Sections 2 and 3a).
If a church, mission agency, school, or organization has a doctrinal statement that is based on the clear teachings of the Bible, this document must be upheld by those in leadership. Honesty and integrity require that they believe just what they say they believe. Those who sign the doctrinal statement must do so only if they are in hearty agreement with the entire document. Membership must be denied to any who are not in hearty agreement with the statement of faith. Consistency and doctrinal integrity demand this. If the doctrinal statement does not accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible,the statement should be changed so that it is an accurate representation of "those things which are most surely believed among us" (Luke 1:1).
Not too many years ago the director of Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry made it known that he no longer embraced the pretribulation-rapture position. This change in his thinking put him in conflict with the doctrinal statement of the mission. He could no longer be in wholehearted agreement with the statement of faith. The board of the mission had to make a decision. They could follow the wishes of the director and change the doctrinal statement to allow for his new view on the rapture, or they could abide by their stated doctrinal position. They refused to change and as a result the director felt he had to resign. The director was wrong to abandon the Biblical doctrine of the pretribulation rapture, but he was right to remove himself from the mission since he could no longer sign the doctrinal statement.
If our doctrinal statement says, "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man..." and "We believe in one Triune God, eternally existing in three personsFather, Son, and Holy Spirit..." then how can a person sign the statement if he denies the eternal Sonship of Christ? To be consistent, a person should not sign such a doctrinal statement if he holds the Sonship-by-incarnation view. Inconsistency is serious and the issue becomes even more serious when a person's published writings set forth a doctrine that contradicts the clear doctrinal statement of the IFCA.
The doctrinal integrity of an organization is compromised when its leaders knowingly allow and tolerate deviant and contrary doctrines that contradict the clear wording of the official doctrinal position. In effect such leaders are saying that the doctrinal statement does not really mean what it says. This approach is dangerous. It makes the doctrinal statement a meaningless document. Norman L. Geisler made the following keen observation:
This is precisely how denominations go liberal, namely, when their doctrinal statements are stretched beyond their original meaning to accommodate new doctrinal deviations
....We cannot allow this crucial doctrine [of the bodily resurrection] to be watered down by accommodating deviant views, no matter how much we personally like those who hold these positions. The simple truth is that brotherly charity should not be used as an excuse to neglect doctrinal purity. Eternal vigilance is the price for orthodoxy
....It is a sad day indeed when we allow the original meaning of our doctrines to be changed without ever permitting the church representatives to vote on it. (Open Letter entitled, Why I Left the Evangelical Free Church Ministerial," July 5, 1988).
The well-documented case of Fuller Seminary's departure from the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy illustrates what happens when doctrinal integrity is compromised. Fuller's original doctrinal statement was very clear. The Bible was said to be "free from all error in the whole and in the part." One professor could not honestly sign that part of the statement of faith and as a result he left the institution.
There were, however, other professors who signed the statement of faith even though they did not believe in the doctrine of inerrancy. They clearly violated doctrinal integrity. How can a doctrinal statement have any credibility if those signing it have mental reservations and do not really believe what they sign? The statement becomes a meaningless document. About a decade after the controversy began, Fuller Seminary changed its doctrinal statement so that it no longer said "free from all error." The leaven of doctrinal compromise leavened the whole lump.
Spiritual leaders must not tolerate and must not accommodate doctrinal positions that are contrary to God's Word and contrary to their organization's stated doctrinal position. Integrity and honesty demand that we hold fast to what we have said we believe. Even God's Word is of no profit if we refuse to believe it, adhere to it, and practice it (Hebrews 4:2).
Our decision to withdraw from the IFCA has not been made in haste. It has been over 4 years since the National Executive Committee made its fateful decision at the November 1991 Mid-Year meeting which in essence said that the denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ was in harmony with the IFCA doctrinal statement. We have patiently waited these 4 years, but this decision has never been reversed. Apparently the course has been set, and we are unable to travel down the same road.
We will continue, by God's grace, to uphold the historic IFCA position and doctrinal platform. We have not moved from where we have always stood. It is sadly ironic that in seeking to defend an organization's doctrinal statement we are forced to leave the organization whose doctrinal statement it is.
Sincerely in Christ,
John Graham, Church Clerk, On behalf of the Board and membership of the Middletown Bible Church
Question the eternal Sonship of Christ, question His deity, question His unspotted humanity, and you have opened the floodgate for a desolating tide of deadly error to rush in. Let no one imagine, for a moment, that this is a mere matter to be discussed by learned theologiansa curious questiona recondite mysterya point about which we may lawfully differ. No; it is a vital, fundamental truth, to be held in the power of the Holy Ghost, and maintained at the expense of all besideyea, to be confessed under all circumstances, whatever may be the consequences. [C.H.Mackintosh, Genesis to Deuteronomy, p.295]
The following document might be helpful: The Eternal Sonship of Christ-A Brief Summary of this Vital Doctrine
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