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Individualism: The Church or the Island?

by randy on October 31st, 2009

After my previous post concerning the “verse by verse” boast of Calvary Chapel I was asked the question, “would you have come to your current state of understanding had you been put on an Island alone with your Bible?”

I was thinking about that statement and it truly reflects the individualistic mindset of the post-modern church.  Honestly, if I was put on an island alone with a bible and no prior knowledge of Christianity I am not quite sure I would come to an understanding of the trinity, the deity of Christ or MANY of the doctrines of the Church… and the reason?!  Because Christ established a Church, not an island!  Not even the Ethiopian eunuch could figure out how to be saved on his own.  “What must I do to be saved?!”  He had the scriptures to read, but Philip needed to be transported to his aid. (Acts 8 )

The Church was established to teach, instruct and to care for the saints.  The Bible is not organized as a textbook with a table of contents for doctrine.  The church was also established to protect and derive biblical doctrine.  A clear example of this is when Peter began teaching the error that gentiles must be circumcised.  Paul refuted Peter to his face and now here you have one apostle against another.  Who was there to decide the truth?  The CHURCH!  The Presbyterian (elder) model of church was in effect.  There are no individual final authorities, popes or islands.  Elders gathered from many churches to form the Council of Jerusalem.  Their task?  To search the scriptures, debate and derive doctrine!  They went back and forth, preached to one another and finally came to a conclusion.  The counsel’s decree, derived from scripture, stood as the authority. (Acts 15)

The believer is not an island, and neither is the Church.  If left to ourselves, any individual or church’s Christianity would be error prone, surface level and divided.  The test of good doctrine is not, “would we have come up with this if left alone.”  We are called to unity and every part of the church is called to be subject to authority.  This was a major point of the reformation.  The believer is under the authority of the local church.  The local church is united to the orthodox historic church and makes up today’s church as a whole.  Today’s church as a whole is tied to the generational church at large.. and the Christ of the scriptures trumphs over all. We see this example in scripture.  Ironically, the so called “Moses model” was a picture of the collective elders appeal to Christ, not a pope.

Many councils have met since the Council of Jerusalem.  Ironically modern evangelicals presuppose the canon of scripture without recognizing the source.  They would like to imagine that God selected the books to be included in the Bible and hand delivered it to every publishing house that prints them. Truth is, it was a council, that did very much like what was done in Acts 15.

The Church throughout History has derived doctrine from the scriptures and has passed down knowledge throughout the generations.  Elders and Pastors were not self appointed, they were appointed by a Church “by the laying on of hands.”  This indicates continuity.  The post-modern Church rejects the generational church, knowledge and scholarship and claims they have done it all and can do it all on their own.  In so doing, modern evangelical’s individualism is the cause of division.  Not only do they lack the biblical model of leadership, but in their individualism they have set their church and their followers on an island.

  1. Dear Randy,

    I stumbled across your blog. Let me just say I have a ton of experience with Calvary Chapel. I have fellowshipped at many different Calvary’s in Southern California (note that some are better than others). I know most of the pastors at CCCM. I went to CCHS.

    I also have experience with other denominations (primarily Lutheran, Missouri Synod).

    In reading some of your other blog posts, I agree with your emphasis for the need for Jesus to be both Lord and Savior of one’s life. Indeed this is what Calvary Chapel teaches by and large, as it is clear from CC sermons that without genuine repentance from sin there is no forgiveness. (A few pastors do not emphasize this, and I am irked by it).

    By and large, Calvary Chapel is a good mainstream Christian organization that has done much to bring people to Jesus Christ, myself included.

    I would implore you to reconsider your criticism of Calvary Chapel and determine whether this criticism is in line with God’s word and will. Lots of godly people in other denominations are “in cahoots” with Calvary Chapel, including:

    Billy Graham
    John MacArthur
    Allister Begg
    Jack Graham
    Chuck Swindoll

    Even if you disagree with a doctrinal point, perhaps consider the probability that your interpretation is in error. For instance you make the following point which seems to be in error:

    Paul refuted Peter to his face and now here you have one apostle against another. Who was there to decide the truth? The CHURCH!

    I was actually reading Galatians 2 for devotions this morning, and came upon Paul’s refutation. It wasn’t the church that “decided the truth” — in fact, the other Jews in the church went along with Peter’s “dissimulation”. It is the “truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14) that should be the barometer. The Bible is the final authority.

    Imagine the improbability of reading Galatians 2 this morning and then stumbling across your blog this afternoon. Perhaps Christ wants to work in both of our hearts and remind us to speak the truth in love with a humble heart.

    take care

  2. You misunderstood my post. I said that scriptures are final authority and trumph over all. The church does not mean the congregation, it means the appointed elders. And it is the job of the church, not the individual members of the congregation to interpret the scriptures.

    Again, it is possible for a modern evangelical to completely miss the point I am making because all they know is this individualistic, self-centered, my little bubble world. The church is not set on an island. The church is not just ONE local congregation out of millions. The church is NOT and island.

    The Church is generational, passes down knowledge throughout the generations and is subject to the word of God. It is NOT the job of each local congregation to re-interpret scriptures for the first time individualistically.

  3. The Church is generational, passes down knowledge throughout the generations and is subject to the word of God.

    I’m not sure I buy this argument completely, Randy. Think of the game of telephone ( Information can become corrupted especially when lots of fallible humans are inserted into the chain. That is why the Bible is there as an anchor.

    The church may espouse certain theological points, but it is the duty of each believer to “be an island” and assess that claim on the merits of scripture, as the Bereans did with Paul’s teaching.

    That said, I agree that there are benefits to studying the cumulative aggregate of knowledge passed down by the church over the centuries. It is important to be a serious student of God’s word and to consider the insights of other godly people. But much of that cumulative “knowledge” can actually be contrary to God’s word. Think of the great tree that Jesus talked about where birds made their nests. Lots of heresy can creep into the church and can be codified as official church doctrine.

    And it is the job of the church, not the individual members of the congregation to interpret the scriptures.

    I would posit that this is the job of every believer and not just the elders. 2 Timothy 2:15 is a call to all believers to study the scriptures. And of course the Holy Spirit is there too to illuminate the Bible, whether one is in the context of a large community of believers or one is literally stranded on an island.

    I can’t help but think that the Church is a global church that spans many languages and cultures. Wycliffe and other organizations have spent decades translating the Bible to languages of countless tribes in remote regions. Imagine — many of these folks don’t have access to the libraries of commentaries and general church knowledge that has been aggregated throughout the centuries. But on the basis of having basically only the Bible as the guide, these churches are certainly thriving and probably are a lot stronger than the American church. I think of stories in China, and how much these people treasure even a single page of the Bible (memorizing it by heart so that they can pass it on to the next person). I think the more important issue is to be a doer of the word. The basics are so easy to grasp that a child can know it.

    thanks for listening

  4. You are still missing the point. Not once did I say the bible is not the anchor or the final source of authority. I am not speaking of blindly following tradition and I did not say individual believers are not to be Bareans and study the scriptures to see if what is being said is true. I am speaking from a reformed perspective (you know, the guys who emphasized sola scriptura).

    Do you realize that because modernism emphasizes individualism it sets the church and the believer on an island TO YOUR DISADVANTAGE. I am amazed that you boast it is a good thing. I spent many years in Calvary Chapel, I listened to Chuck Smith and Jon Courson teach through the bible twice over and took notes. I can honestly say, they are missing 90% of biblical Christ centered theology. They’ll tell you themselves, you could spend a life-time and not exhaust the riches of scripture; yet they reject 2000 years worth of heavy mining. You will never really understand what I am saying so long as you continue on in your modernistic bubble. I was in the same place you were a couple years back. I lived in a bubble and I did not know anything outside of it. I really believed that we were covering everything and I ignorantly defended Calvary Chapel.

    The matter is of biblical interpretation and doctrine. If it were your task to explore the earth and to expose its beauty and riches you would be a fool to reject thousands of years worth of map making and start from scratch. One man on foot could never remap the earth in its entirety. If you really believe the scriptures are richer; why then are you so adamant that the “map makers” of old can be ignored. It is clear by your comments on english/america/china and the game of telephone that you have no idea what these riches are or what I am talking about. It has nothing to do with mere commentaries or traditions. Reading your post I fear for the teachers and men who have taught you to despise doctrine and the very word of God. I pray the sovereign King to open your eyes to the riches of his Grace and Mercy. I have no doubts about your salvation (don’t misunderstand), but I recognize that your view of scriptures and the usefulness of doctrine and its value is as surface level as the modern church at large.

    You probably don’t even know this, or if you do you haven’t made the connection. But do you realize that the sixty-six books you have in your bible were a decision of a CHURCH COUNCIL? Did you as an island individually evaluate the other books under consideration in their original languages? You may have done some homework afterward to see how they decided and gave your thumbs up, but surprise surprise this CHURCH COUNCIL did all the heavy work for you. Should it be the job of every believer to start from scratch? Who deemed the gnostic gospels, gnostic? Should we start all believers out with all gospels to figure it out on their own? Surely you would say no. Now try to be a bit more consistent with your stance. Don’t start with the sixty-six books and claim being on an island is the optimal situation. Re-read my post, re-read what happened in the council of Jerusalem in the book of acts. Take a look at the conclusion of the Council of Nicea; and tell me why all of a sudden it changed in the 19th century of heresy at the birth of dispensationalism (your view), jehovah witnesses, seventh day adventism and mormonism.

    See my original post on creeds and confessions:

  5. Robert permalink

    Randy, I have read considerable material from your blog. It is articulated well and to the point. I understand your frustration with Calvary Chapel ministries at large and ‘Chuck Smith’ theology. I would hope there would be a better way to communicate to those influenced and immersed by Calvary Chapel ministries the implications. The problem today is the modern, individual, mindset that churches and larger ministries promote. As Christians we have an uphill battle.

    I too had been exposed and influenced by Calvary Chapel ministries. The lack of wherewithal in the many arenas was an issue. I don’t agree with every point you make however generally speaking your observation is correct.

    I am sifting through how to deal with this matter because I know many who are still part of these ministries. I don’t ‘church’ with them formally but associate with them on practical matters. I have close friends who are still immersed and need to remain friends.

    Thanks for the boldness…

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