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The Roots of the Matter

In September of 1976, this author, along with about a dozen other men, sat around a large table in a dining room on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa. Most of the men were leaders of local groups of a national fundamentalist Christian association which has since become formally organized, and is known as Great Commission, Incorporated. (Hereafter referred to as GCI)

We met for several days in that room, attempting to formulate a position which we could all agree on together, and which would help us to cope with a thorn in our associational flesh, a troublesome local leader whom we viewed as a dissenter.

During those fall days in Iowa we institutionalized, in effect, certain aspects of doctrine in our association which remain foundational features of GCI doctrine regarding faction, slander, and church discipline to this very day. Though the doctrines have been elaborated upon and extended some since that time, the roots of the doctrinal tree find themselves firmly grounded in those five September days in Iowa.

Since those days, GCI has been no stranger to controversy. Numerous elders, deacons, and other leaders, both on a local level and a national level, have left the organization. Virtually to a man they have been outspoken in their criticisms of GCI doctrines, methodologies, or leaders, or all three.  This increasing flood of criticism has not abated, but has continued to grow throughout this past year, 1985.

In an apparent attempt to mute the affect of this criticism upon its membership, GCI has answered with a full broadside. In the summer of 1985 they published a special June/July issue of their “in house” magazine, The Cause, which they titled, “The Joy of Justice”. It is in this magazine that GCI first laid down in black and white, for all to read, its doctrines regarding slander, faction, and church discipline. The Christian world should be deeply thankful to God, and appreciative to GCI leadership that they have finally canonized these doctrines in writing, where they can be easily examined in the light of the Word of God.

It is to this end that this publication is addressed. There are doubtless many men of God and good Christian scholars more worthy of this task than this author. Nevertheless, as I was involved in the formulation and promulgation of these doctrines, I bring to the job a certain experience which others may not share. I humbly offer the ensuing critical analysis of the “Joy of Justice” to God and the evangelical Christian world to judge its merits and act accordingly.

A Three Pronged Critique

For the sake of addressing what I view as the most crucial issues, I have selected for critique only those articles from the “Joy of Justice” which address those issues most directly. Those issues are: 1) How GCI views the application of church discipline. 2) The meaning and importance of slander and faction. 3) The GCI view of elders.

In my analysis, I will take a three pronged approach. The first has to do with the matter of semantics (i.e. the study of the meaning of words). Semantics is a vital issue of concern to the Christian. When we discuss doctrines, or the truths of Scriptures, we use words to communicate. To do so effectively, we must know what those words mean, and what our fellow communicators believe those words to mean. Some might protest that we are “wrangling about words.” To this concern I would respond with the words of no less of an expert than Walter Martin:

Language is, to be sure, a complex subject; all are agreed on this. But one thing is beyond dispute, and that is that in the context, words mean just what they say. Either we admit this, or we must be prepared to surrender all the accomplishments of grammar and scholastic progress, and return to writing on cave walls with charcoal sticks in the tradition of our alleged stoneage ancestors.

…just as the American Bar Association will not tolerate confusion of terminology in the trial of cases, and as the American Medical Association will not tolerate the redefinition of terminology in diagnostic and surgical medicine, so also the Church of Jesus Christ has every right not to tolerate the gross perversions and redefinitions of historical, Biblical terminology, simply to accommodate a culture and society which cannot tolerate an absolute standard or criterion of truth, even if it be revealed by God in His Word and through the true witness of His Spirit.1
So, the words we use, and their meanings, are crucial. It is not wrangling about words if we insist that, when we discuss biblical concepts, we limit ourselves to the accepted definitions of terms which the original writers of Scripture had in their minds as they wrote. In addition, when we use the English language to communicate, we must also accept the common usage definitions of our English terms. To secretly or otherwise redefine those terms is the ultimate “wrangling about words” which leads finally to the ruin of the hearers. (II Timothy 2:14)

The second prong of approach to the questions we are facing will be the examination of context. Do the verses cited by the various authors actually say what they are represented as saying, in the light of the context from which they arise? As one astute Christian has said: “A text out of context is a pretext.” Hence, the examination of context is one of the cardinal rules of biblical interpretation. Martin again:

“It is simple…to spiritualize and redefine the clear meaning of Biblical text and teachings so as to be in apparent harmony with the historic Christian faith. However, such a harmony is at best a surface agreement, based upon double meanings of words, which cannot stand the test of Biblical context, grammar, or sound exegesis.”2
This leads us to the third approach we will take, that of examining the exegesis employed by the various authors. Exegesis is the actual analysis of a passage or text to determine its meaning. We all employ exegesis each time we attempt to understand a passage of the Bible. We may use sound exegetical principles, or weak ones, but we nevertheless do use exegesis. We will examine the exegesis these various authors employed, to determine whether the conclusions they reached are legitimately grounded in the clear meaning of the texts cited.

By carefully examining the “Joy of Justice” in the light of these three principles, Semantics, Context, and Exegesis, we will be able to honestly evaluate the questions this magazine raises in our minds.

The facilitate clarity and order, the bulk of this work will study each article separately, on its own merits. Some referencing to the other articles will be necessary, however. The concluding chapters will attempt to address the overall picture more broadly. May God give us each the ears of a disciple.

1 Martin, Walter R., M.A., The Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany Fellowship Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., 1977, pp 21,22.
2 Ibid, p 21.

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