Concerning Associations and Discernment (part two)

Friday, October 14, 2011

While we’re on the subject of ministry partnerships, consider this situation with me:

Westboro Baptist Church, located in Kansas, has become infamous for picketing the funerals of American soldiers. According to their website ( they have staged 46,684 pickets to date, proudly waving signs spouting: “God Hates America,” “Pray For More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God For IEDs.” Led by “Pastor” Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist has become a self-made caricature of conservative Christianity and is one of the most despised groups in America.

However, Westboro Baptist Church has an orthodox doctrinal statement.

And in John 17, Jesus prays for the unity of His church.

Therefore, if given the opportunity, would your church partner with Westboro Baptist?

Of course not. And the reason, of course, is that the people of Westboro flat-out deny the truth of the gospel by their behavior. There is no grace in their speech (Col. 4:5-6), no humility in their actions (1 Pet. 5:5), no peace in their intentions (Rom. 12:18).

I point out the (admittedly extreme) example of Westboro to demonstrate that the wisdom or appropriateness of ministry partnerships is not merely dependent on the mutual signing of an orthodox doctrinal statement. Further questions must necessarily be raised regarding the consistent practices of a ministry. Do the practices of the ministry “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10)? Is the ministry leader worth pointing to as someone who walks “according to the example” we have in the apostles (Phil. 3:17)? Some famous guy named Paul seemed to think that one’s practices lining up with the gospel is a big deal – see Galatians 2:11-14.

In discussions regarding ministry associations an appeal is often made to Jesus’ prayer for our unity in John 17. A corresponding appeal is made for the lowest common denominator—assent to “grace alone through faith alone”—to be the only criterion for partnership. However, if you want to apply this argument consistently, you must thereby partner with Westboro Baptist given the opportunity. If they are picketing a soldier’s funeral in your town, by all means pick up an inflammatory sign and join them!

My point is this: all evangelicals practice some form of separation based on ministry practice. No evangelical truly intends to apply the ideal of unity toward every professing Christian group. Potential ministry relationships are regularly turned down not only because of doctrinal differences but also because of significant differences in practice.

Picketing funerals is a pretty far-out aberration. But sadly there are countless other God-degrading, gospel-contradicting ministry practices taking place in our day. And we have no desire to align ourselves with men who subscribe to right doctrine but whose consistent ministry practices do not adorn the gospel. We have no desire to align ourselves with men who subscribe to right doctrine but who have not shown themselves to be leaders worthy of imitation. Now please understand—we are not at war with men like this. We don’t spend our time thinking of ways to oppose them, and we hope that God is mercifully saving souls through their ministries despite their errors (Phil. 1:18). Public confrontation (Gal. 2:11-14) and private correction (Acts 18:26) are appropriate when possible. However, we consider it unwise to point our flock toward these men as examples of faithful ministry.

I realize that some would use this line of thinking to isolate themselves for no good reason. I realize that some would even use this line of thinking to separate themselves from our church based on issues of preference. I am not arguing for complete uniformity of style from church to church. Unity in Christ despite minor differences is a beautiful thing, worthy of our pursuit (Phil. 2:2). I am not arguing that uncharacteristic mistakes should go unforgiven. In some instances love must cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). I am grateful for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness when I fall short of His glory in my own ministry.

But don’t overlook the fact that our Lord has unambiguous standards for those who aspire to the office of overseer. Don’t overlook the fact that ministry practices are clearly spelled out for us in the New Testament. And please don’t use John 17 to try to convince me that I must partner with men whose ministry practices consistently undermine the very gospel they preach.

- Mike Moses

*Read Part One 


Anonymous,  March 8, 2012 at 2:55 PM  

3rd church leaves Harvest Bible fellowship....

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