I have read the entire post by Pastor Silva and I am prepared to make some remarks about it in a longer post later. I’d like to make another quick observation about what I believe to be the Pastor’s main issue and the point of his writing.
The main question the Pastor seems to be trying to answer is this: What is the foundational and functional basis of unity in the Body of Christ? I honestly believe this is a valid question to ask. In this particular essay by the Pastor seems, on the one hand, to be very discontent with Roman Catholic theology only he does not spend any time at all actually critiquing Roman Catholic theology. I don’t happen to disagree that Roman Catholic theology is wanting in a lot of ways, but I can also make a strong case that the Pastor’s so-called Reformed Theology is too–as many in the evangelical world have.
On the other hand, the essay seems to be mostly concerned with ecumenical movements that are afoot and seeking unity with the Roman Catholic church. I don’t happen to be familiar with them (except the ECT that moved among us for a short period of time a few years ago) and so I won’t comment on them except to say that in many ways they are meaningless gestures and that in other ways ‘who knows what the Lord has in mind’.
So the main question is: What is the foundational and functional basis of our unity in the Body of Christ? This is important because the Church has been struggling with it since the days when Paul wrote to the Ephesians that Christ had destroyed the dividing wall that existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians and the Jerusalem council struggled over how to include Gentiles and Paul wrote in Galatians that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be fully incorporated into Christ. For Pastor Silva, the foundational and functional basis of our unity in Christ seems to be doctrinal purity. I will quote his words:
What applies here in relation to our discussion of unity in the Body of Christ is the phrase–‘all those who believe in him by the doctrine of the apostles.’ [He is quoting from the footnotes of the ‘famous Geneva Bible used by the Pilgrims who founded this nation…’] This would be someone who believes in Christ according to what His Apostles taught. And this ‘doctrine of the apostles’ is what we Protestants now refer to as Biblical doctrine. Someone who believes in Jesus Christ according to what the Holy Scripture teaches is the one brought into that unity the Master is talking about in John 17:23…[Quote]…So we can see here that someone who holds firmly to the dogmas and sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church has excluded themselves. [All emphases belong to Pastor Silva.]
But have they? I don’t disagree with Silva that there are serious errors in Roman Catholic Dogma and Catechism. What I do disagree with is the idea that ‘true unity in the Body of Christ’ is based on some supposed doctrinal purity or a point by point agreement in every theological dogma. I say this for a couple of reasons.
First, whose dogma shall we all line up and subscribe to?To which theological formulation shall we rise and fall? The Apostles’ Creed? Westminster Catechism? Nicene Creed? Church Dogmatics? Lutheranism? Silva-ism? Presbyterianism? Papalism? Shall it be Charismatic? Pentecostal? Ephesians? Galatians? Nazarene? The Way? Baptist? And then, which kind of Baptists? Free-will Baptists? Southern Baptists? Do you see the point? Is Pastor Silva suggesting that the only way any of us can achieve unity is by giving assent to a theological formula that he develops? Are all of these divisions lost because they do not all share a point by point agreement with the Apostles’ teaching [Edit] as formulated by any particular teacher, say a Pastor Silva.
Second, who is the arbiter of ‘correct’ theological formulation?The ‘Protestants’ that Pastor Silva refers to have no final authority as Roman Catholics do. We have no pope, nor do we want one (which is why such things as ECT can never work). So who then becomes the arbiter of this theological doctrine to which we all must subscribe? There are so many variations of ‘protestantism’ that it is impossible to decide which theological formulation is the ‘correct’ one. And how shall we decide? Who will decide? It is my contention that this is why God gave to the local church Holy Spirit gifted leaders who will humble themselves under His Word and teach it properly in accordance with His will. [Edit] And that is a ‘risk’ that the Lord is willing to take. That’s why later I will argue that at it’s core, Christian unity centers on the fact of the Atonement (Justification) and our trust in the Person (Jesus) who did the work and not necessarily man’s theological formulations of it. (And I think there is a difference.)
Third, even Pastor Silva does not do this, that is, agree at all points with a particular theological construct. I will give a mere example. First, Mr Silva evidently thinks he is a Reformed theologian (pastor-teacher) who subscribes to the ‘historic orthodox Christian faith that Luther and the Reformers risked their very lives to recover and defend.’ Mr Silva would then, evidently as a consequence of this position, he would accept the teachings of John MacArthur (who is noted for his dangerous pre-millenial eschatology and otherwise rather orthodox point of view) and D James Kennedy (RIP) (who used his pulpit to bully people into a political position instead of preaching Christ Crucified; preached a “Gospel in the Stars” series of sermons; and more. But he was orthodox!). Then, being the good Reformed pastor-teacher that he is (I wonder if he knows what a ‘pastor’ is in the NT), he denies one of the fundamental tenets of Reformed Theology, namely, the perseverance of the Saints: “The sad and pitiful fact is, there are so many of those today who consider themselves Christians [later he acknowledges that we should ‘examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith’] because they attend the Mass, keep the sacraments, do nice things for poor people, or once walked down an aisle, said a little prayer and they think–‘I’m in now, so now I can just do whatever I want to.” You know–the old ‘once saved; always saved.” He then quotes Scripture ‘proving’ that we are not ‘once saved, always saved.’ (Here we see Evangelical, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Reformed. Whose theology should we all buy again?)
My question is: What theology are we supposed to abide by? And since Mr Silva cannot make up his mind which one to follow, how are us ‘little folk’ supposed to know? Mr. Silva, would you please become the protestant pope and tell us? I don’t understand how someone can accept ‘Unconditional Grace’ and in the same breath deny the ‘Perserverance of the Saints.’ Of course that is easy to do when you are accountable to absolutely no one but yourself.
Fourth, there is no church hierarchy to make these decisions which is why the local church matters and has the ultimate say in their theological formulations and ultimately Christ will judge each person. It is at this point that the Roman Catholic Church most miserably fails. My question is this: Mr Silva, what authority did Christ give you to be the judge and jury of who is and is not Christian, to monitor every single congregation on the planet? Do you really visit every congregation you criticize or do you just ‘surf’ around until you find something that really irritates you personally? Do you think that because you have a blog on-line and read stories and write about them that somehow you are suddenly an authority on all matters theological? I really don’t get where it is that you gather such hubris, but I doubt it is from Christ or the Scripture. If you belong to a local Church, you should use your skills to govern the local Church. That is what a pastor does. As it is, you are trying to act like a protestant pope. In the local Church the Lord Jesus has entrusted faithful men to do the work of feeding and shepherding the flock. Not every flock, but only the one entrusted to them; the local church. I need to say more on this later because the Pastor’s issue is that he doesn’t understand how a church is organized according to the Scripture thus he assumes he has a right or an authority to make the judgments he makes.
Fifth, if I dropped a bible on an island, what would the church look like after the people read it and started to develop in Christ (assuming they all accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord)? I don’t know either. After they read the book they would probably say, “Wow, we need to repent before this holy God!” I doubt seriously they would say, “Wow, we certainly hope this God performs a miracle in our heart to save us.” They would say, “Wow, we are sinners. This Jesus died for our sins. We owe Him our lives.” Sola Fide!
The issue is this: What is the foundational and functional basis of unity in the Body of Christ? I contend that it is not doctrinal purity; it cannot be doctrinal purity. A look at the denominations present in this world demonstrates abundantly that doctrinal purity is not the basis–even if there is such a thing as ‘the faith once delivered.’ If it is doctrinal purity, then there is not a single saved person belonging to the Body of Christ; not even Pastor Silva.
So what is it? Is there something more substantial, something more objective? Yes. “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:9-13) It is not doctrinal purity that binds the Church as one in Christ; it is not doctrinal purity that saves a person from the coming wrath. It is only God’s grace that saves us. Sola Gracia! Not sola doctrinal purity which there has never been since the inception of the Church at Pentecost 2,000 years ago!
Pastor Silva cannot possibly know what is in the heart of every single person he condemns to hell. Only the Lord knows this and ultimately the Lord will judge each person according to their works. I wonder if Pastor Silva’s works will hold up too? Or is he building a house of straw because there is no room for Grace in his ‘reformed’ theological position? I conclude that Pastor Silva is seriously misguided theologically and needs to go back to work and see if the Spirit has anything to say about the Grace of God.
Later, I will go through his post and critique a few of his more salient comments and also point out a couple of areas where I am wholly in agreement with Pastor-teacher Silva.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS-I can state this rather simply: What matters most in our unity? Is it the fact of Christ’s atoning death on the cross and our humble acceptance of that work by faith? Or is it our theological formulations of that work? I contend it is the former, not the latter which is not to say that there are not theological formulations we should avoid. There are.