Can We Call Them Brothers in Christ?

John-Piper-Rick-Warren3Recently, we received an email here at DefCon that I believe addressed a very valid and important question.  The reader asked our opinion on a discussion he was having with someone regarding Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll and John Piper. The question asked during his discussion was how can a Christian call any of these men a “true brother in Christ,” especially given the various concerns raised about them, even here on this blog. As the head administrator of this site, the task was mine to attempt to answer this particular question. After thinking the matter through, I responded to our reader with what I believe is a balanced and biblical stance on the matter. My desire is to share that response here on DefCon so that others who have a similar question may benefit from it. My response was a follows:

“Hello there. This is the Chris Hohnholz, the head administrator of DefCon. Thanks much for writing to us. I have given your email a lot of thought and will do my best to give you a decent answer. Before I do though, I want to make it clear that I am speaking only for myself. Even though I run this blog, I do not claim to speak for all the writers, not even the author of the article you linked. I say that as a means of ensuring that anything that I might blow it on is not conveyed to my writers.

mark-driscollMy thought on this is that there is a difference between not supporting or endorsing a pastor and declaring that said pastor is not a brother in Christ. To give a separate example, I’m sure you are aware of the chaos James MacDonald has caused with his Elephant Room nonsense. In years past, he has been considered a respected pastor. Even folks of a reformed theology have at least considered him within orthodoxy. Yet with his endorsing pastors who are questionable, and now declaring T.D. Jakes (who is a heretic) to be within the camp, he is NOT someone we would support or endorse. However, does his current sinful behavior mean he is not saved. I do not believe we can declare that at this time. If he truly is saved, I believe the Holy Spirit will bring him into repentance. If he is not, I think we will see him walk further and further from the truth. But until one or the other happens, I will not declare he is not a brother, but I will warn folks against what he is doing.

I think much can be said of the three pastors you have written Todd about. With Warren, I really worry about him because everything he is about is antithetical to the Bible. I think his smiling and charismatic personality carries with it a dangerous man-centered message that will definitely lead people and ministries astray. That alone makes me wonder about his salvation, but I would stop short of that because I simply haven’t seen him teach anything that is directly heretical. Much the same with Driscoll. He teaches orthodox messages, but his willingness to taint that message with foul language, to give graphic sexual messages and his unbiblical “visions” from God make him someone I wouldn’t endorse at all. But I really don’t know about him not being a brother. Is he simply just ignorant on these things or is he deliberately teaching things that will one day bear out as heretical. I can only say that we should be warning folks against him. Piper is the one who really perplexes me. He has preached so many great and godly messages that still continue to edify the saints. Yet, he is willing to lock arms with folks like Warren, he is willing to appear in conferences where contemplative prayer is going on without so much as a peep in refutation. He is giving those folks a platform that they never should have. I do believe Piper is a brother, but he is flat out wrong in what he is doing. As such, I don’t support what he is doing.

I do not know if this answer helps you in any way, but I believe that until these men either establish themselves as heretical or they repent and prove themselves as faithful brethren, our best bet is to warn against what they have said or done, but to reserve judgment of their state of salvation.

Again, I am thankful for your writing to us and am equally grateful for your support of our blog. May God bless you.

Chris Hohnholz
DefCon Administrator”

37 thoughts on “Can We Call Them Brothers in Christ?

  1. Chris, this is a bold stance and I support you 100%. We are to quick to put ourselves on the throne. We won’t accept false teachings, but we need a lot more (including first hand interaction with them) to be able to make a any judgment towards the state of theirs souls. We would be far better off to warn of the false teaching, as you have stated, and pray for these men and those in their care. We must remember that attacking other brothers can be an awful sin in itself. We must use wisdom, prayer, charity, and love to guide and teach and not seek, attack, destroy, and revel in our self-righteous judgment. Those whom are brothers are still adopted children of God and priests of the kingdom even if misguided and in need of repentance.

    In the grace of our Lord, atg

  2. Kevin,

    This seems to be a recurring problem that we have seen before. We have no means set up on our blog to subscribe anybody including you!

    I am sorry that you feel inconvenienced but the subscription had to come from your side at some point in the past.

    This is a privately owned blog and is not in the remit of any company or organization, nor does it represent any company or organization. Therefore, we are free to post as we will and while you do not like what we post (as do a small handful of others), those who do not like us do not have the remit to be blue to shut us down.

    We will remove your ability to openly post your comments from here on our, and to conclude we hope you are able to find the unsubscribe button on your screen!

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. ATG, I would also like to extend my appreciation for the letter written by you, Chris. Words of wisdom and they come across as written with Christian love. I believe this ties in very well with the previous posts about fellowship with others. We are not bringing their salvation into question but whether we can work with those who endorse and support heresy producing teachers. Thank you again, Chris, and ATG for your thoughts.

  4. the pastor of the church we attend thinks highly of Piper and plans to attend his pastor’ conference. I have voiced my concerns – all seemingly falling on deaf ears.

    Your post helps me better balance my concerns. Thank you.

  5. fleebabylon says:

    Each of the three men are completely different. Pipers error is strictly in endorsing (giving a platform to) the other two. His teaching has been sound and Christ glorifying over the years, expounded clearly from scripture, and he walks in a meekness that is a stark contrast to many “big name” reformed pastors today who act like mini popes. Sadly I can not endorse him anymore either. The other two I would never endorse to being with.

    -Jim

  6. The cancer of celebrity affects Christians as well as pagans. It must be guarded against. Piper has failed in this; Driscoll and Warren never guarded against it, in addition to embracing error in myriad ways. But we must be careful about determinations of which man is a Christian and which is not. Warren and Driscoll and Piper may be Christians – none of us has flawless theology either. However, all three of these men have failed and disqualified themselves from service in God’s church.

  7. bra-dley@hotmail.co.uk says:

    Was thinking about this today. And was only just praying about it before I opened your blog. I have to agree with you almost fully. John Piper seems like a man who loves the Lord, and it does hurt to see him endorse such questionable characters. Rick Warren, on the other hand, scares me to bits. But I still find it hard to say that he’s not saved. Even though he signed a document for unity between Christians and Muslims. Though I won’t be taking my eyes off him. 2 Cor 11:13-15

    Thanks and God bless

  8. Brethren, there is Scripture that helps with this. In I Corinthians 5, Paul describes a man who is in horrible sin. He does not declare this man to be unsaved. In fact, he says that he is to be given over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved. That suggests that this man is a believer, and that if he does not repent, chastening may even include death.

    This fits with I John 5, which talks about a sin unto death, and I Corinthians 11, which talks about believers being ill or dying because they’ve dishonoured the Lord’s Supper. It appears that believers can sin grievously, even to the point that God ends their physical life.

    I Corinthians 5 tells us what to do when someone who is called a brother sins blatantly — put them outside the church, where God judges. Matthew 18, in another church discipline passage, says they are to be treated as unbelievers. But it doesn’t actually tell us anywhere to make judgments about their eternal destiny. Many such have repented. We put them outside, where God judges, and we then >let God judge.<

    When we say someone IS NOT a brother, we are not letting God judge that matter. When we say someone IS a brother, we are not letting God judge it. If someone is sinning such that they have been put out of the church (or should have been, if their church were responding Biblically), we should not treat them as a brother (Matthew 18) but neither should we assume they are not brothers (I Cor. 5). We should let God judge.

    So for me, I'll not call them brothers in Christ, and I'll not say they aren't. We might be seeing the actions of believers whose heart is not right in some areas, who have been sucked into the celebrity game (at varying levels), but who will be chastened by the Lord as His beloved children. We might be seeing the actions of wolves whose sheep's clothing is starting to slip, and it may just slip away more and more. We can only speculate as to which it is, and we aren't omniscient.

  9. Jon,
    Thank you for your comments. I am in full agreement that it is imperative that we allow God to be the judge of the souls of men. While it does not mean that we cannot be a fruit inspector, we must use wisdom and discernment when it comes to casting shadows of condemnation. If it were not for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we would all be under the shadow of condemnation. Also, the Scripture requires us to test our own salvation to see whether we are of the faith or not and to do so with fear and trembling.

    I am reminded of the illustration that I heard early on in my ministry of an old preacher. As he was preparing to die, he was asked to the effect if he thought anything would surprise him in heaven. Thinking for a moment, he replied, “Yes, there are three things that will surprise me. First, some of the people that I thought would be there won’t be there. Second, some of the people I thought would not be there will be there. The third thing that will surprise me is that I will be there.”

    While we as individuals do not have the liberty of bringing a brother or sister in another congregation under discipline, we must seek to always warn the flocks over whom we have been placed.

  10. I appreciate the cautious and patient approach endorsed in this article when it comes to a situation as volatile as this. On the other hand, there is a point where we must indeed cry “foul” and publicly separate ourselves (the church) from a wolf, and we must not be timid when it comes time to cross that line, however uncomfortable it may be. Myself, I agree with this post on all points except those regarding Rick Warren. Every instance where he is on record preaching sound soteriology, there are also public records (conferences, speeches, interviews, etc.) of him preaching a false doctrine of salvation around the same time frame. In other words, he has a very long track record of preaching whatever people want to hear, depending on his venue. In my mind, that isn’t sound doctrine. I do not see where he has ever truly embraced biblical christianity, so asking if he has fallen out of it seems to me to be a pointless question.

  11. Mark (or should I say JM or TJM, do you care?) — I’ve heard that story, too. :) I won’t be surprised to be there, because God’s grace is sufficient even for me. But I suppose the primary point is humility.

    Which is the point most of us need just about all of the time, anyway.

  12. No, I do not care whether people use my given name or my alias or my initials! LOL No, I can’t say I will be surprised for the same reason, but the point was one of humility as you rightly stated. And yes, we all need a good dose of it on a regular basis.

  13. Michael says:

    No doubt we believe Peter to be a brother and his writings were included in the New Testament, yet, like you Chris with this response pointing out error so did Paul Peter’s!

    One other example from the Scriptures is the horrifying life lived by King Manassah who at the end did repent too!

    Your letter seems to me to be just as you prefaced it to be.

    Thanks for sharing it. It should give pause to consider its example when we are faced with a similar question?

  14. Michael, there are many examples. II Peter 2:7 tells us Lot was “just”, yet look at what Scriptures record of his actions. David committed horrible sin, and Nathan didn’t pull his punches in rebuking him, yet Nathan never said David was lost, and of course, he repented.

    If I understand II Cor. 2 properly, it refers to the repentance of the man described in I Cor. 5, who was committing horrible sin. When faced with someone in that situation, many today would say, “He’s not saved, anyone who is doing that must not be!” Yet, apparently he was — and eventually repented.

  15. Alex, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am in full agreement in regards to his Christian Hedonism – a cosmic failure both in terminology and theology!

    Lord willing, I will have a further post re: some of the recent comments as well as a brief review on Passion 2013! I hope to have this finished by tonight or tomorrow at the latest.

  16. abiding,
    If you are genuinely interested in the many problems with Piper’s Christian Hedonism there exists a plethora of rebuttals and critiques on the internet. Surely you have vetted your approval of Christian Hedonism with ample consideration of the rebuttals and critiques, at least I would hope so and that you would know what they are. But if not instead of posting lengthy material which exits online I encourage you to do a search such as “Problems with John Piper’s Christian Hedonism”. But if you already do not believe there are any notable issues or cannot be and if you have received it without consideration of the rebuttals and critiques, I imagine you are not going to be receptive to them. But let me encourage you, again, to do so. If you wish I will be willing to give you some links if you are willing to take the time to read them. But I am sure a search will bring them up readily.

    Alex

  17. Alex – I believe ATG’s question is genuine and worthy of at least providing him with a general overview of your objections. Being unfamiliar with this particular work from Piper myself, I certainly would welcome any info you can provide. But I have to say it is unfair of you to do a drive by denouncement of Piper and then tell ATG to Google it when he presses you on the matter.

  18. abidingthroughgrace says:

    Alex,

    My question isn’t what Google and other people say about it, my question is simply what YOUR primary beef is. I’m not looking for a string of weblinks for paragraphs of information, just a simple 2 sentence explanation of why you are making this accusation. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with it and you don’t know what my position on Piper’s theology actually is…but an accusation on this site deserves a simple clear explanation. Otherwise it is unfounded and inappropriate. I look forward to your thoughts.

    In His grace,
    -atg

  19. ATG, here are a couple of thoughts as to where I stand on Christian Hedonism.

    Consider this quote from his original “Desiring God” book, “This does not mean we have forgotten the teaching of Romans 15:13, that there is joy that comes from faith. Joy in God is both the root and fruit of faith. We find the hidden treasure first. Then we venture all on it … Behind the repentance that turns away from sin and behind the faith that embraces Christ is the birth of a new taste, a new longing, a new passion for the pleasure of God’s presence. This is the root of Conversion. This is the creation of a Christian Hedonist,Desiring God (original edition, HB) pg. 55.”

    Does anybody else see the problem as to where this not only starts, but where it eventually and logically must end?

    Here is another quote –

    “The fundamental problem is that hedonism as a philosophy inevitably leads to a utilitarian system of ethics. If Christian hedonism is permitted to permeate one’s thought life it will eventually undermine the deontological morality of revealed truth and some form of utilitarianism will take its place. John Stuart Mill has already wandered down this path: “If it be a true belief that God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not only not a godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other.” (Utilitarianism, 1867, p. 31.) It is sad to see men failing to learn the lessons of the past.”

    I am sorely afraid that what Piper is promoting in the original material came to a fuller fruition in “Future Grace” whereby he stated that one’s future works also had a bearing on one’s salvation. This was mentioned several times, but I would have to find where it was stated. I know others have seen and commented this on other blogs as well.

    Hope this clarifies from my own perspective. By the way, I have nothing wrong with “Joy in Christ.” I find fault with his overarching statement that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” I prefer to be in agreement with AW Pink here. God needs nothing from us. He is and will remain completely glorified in Himself regardless of what we do. he does not need us in any way to bring glory to Himself. He is far above us. So, to state that God’s maximum glory can only be defined in His creatures when we add something to the equation is wrong and unbiblical.

  20. abiding,
    I do not recall claiming I do know your position on Piper. But the above gives a few quotes which reflect my concerns. My thoughts in detail are at my blog, feel free to type in John Piper and you can read what I have written. Google does not have opinions as a search engine, in that respect it is an aggregate of various websites. There are better thinkers than me, hence my encouragement for you to explore superior resources online. I would suspect if your interest in things is genuine and you wish to learn of the concerns of Bible Teachers you would avail yourself to these. I normally do not respond to serious issues with simple 2 sentence responses and this is not my blog nor is the comments section intended or expedient for a healthy treatment of the problems with Piper. And because to say just 2 sentences is merely to give half a syllable of a ten syllable word I will wait for a better forum for this or you can email me with some specific concerns.

  21. abidingthroughgrace says:

    TJM, thank you for you answer. That is a concern I would agree with. I would tend to think that Piper’s intent isn’t to suggest that God only gets maximum glory when we are most satisfied, as if His glory is dependent on our emotions and satisfaction in reality. God’s glory can’t be reduced or increased. I don’t think that is his point though. I have always understood Piper’s perspective as God’s glory as displayed through our lives. He is saying “God is most glorified in US, when we are most satisfied in him.” Meaning that when we are fully satisfied in Christ and Christ alone, God’s glory will be maximally evident to others through our lives. Do you see the distinction I am trying to make? I’m not sure if that is clear. Either way, that is the way I read it and I would agree 100% with you if his intent is what you describe. Regarding the Desiring God quote, I’d disagree with him that joy comes before repentance, but I would agree that before repentance is a longing, love, new taste, new birth.

    Alex, I’m confused by your hostility (or at least the hostility in the way you write) and your concern about my genuineness. It is an odd response to a simple question. I’ll just point out to you for your prayerful consideration that you are unwilling to explain your accusation in a few simple sentences, but you are quick to make such an accusation in a single sentence. Either way, the thread isn’t in regard to Piper’s theology and I think it is clear where you are coming from.

    In his grace,
    atg

  22. ATG
    Hostility? I am simply frank. I suspect you may be being overly sensitive. I do speak directly but certainly there is no hostility. Now as to saying I am unwilling to explain my charge against Piper in 2 sentences, that is because it cannot rightly be stated. You set a limit which insufficiently enables a fair articulation. But unwilling…no. I offer you my website and simply type in John Piper and you will be able to read very specific and detailed objections. Maybe it is you who is unwilling namely, unwilling to read what is available
    Alex

  23. OK, as Adminstrator I stepping in to say this is getting ridiculous. Alex, you have twice now made insinuations that ATG has some sort of unwillingness to check the matter out, when clearly he has asked you to clarify your position. It is apparent that he is willing to hear you out as he did TJM. If you do not wish to discuss it here, so be it. However, I will not allow you to continue to besmirch ATG, nor would I allow anyone to do that with anyone who comments here. Let’s bring this matter to an end.

  24. Jonathan says:

    In Romans Paul tells us not to say who is going to hell, as well as who is going to heaven, but he does tell us if they do not have the Spirit of God they are none of his. Christ tells of those who will teach something so close to the truth that if it were possible even the elect would be fooled (close). And Paul said if they teach any other doctrine than what the Apostles had give that those who did, well their god was their belly. In other words it’s about earthly gain. Yes you can see them, they make them selves known to the all. Its our dutty in meekness to tell them the truth if God preadventure will give them repentance and to the acknowledging of the truth that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil who are taken captive by him at his will.
    We all have sin and are sinners, But lets be clear that those who preach another gosple are in danger of being cursed, no they are cursed… those in the right gosple are forgiven of those sins, the others remain in them and show it by their lust and as some even teach that gain is godlieness. Lets face it, by not telling the truth we are no more than dumb dogs who sleep through their watch. Just how close to the real thing is that other gosple. There be many.

  25. d v aguiar says:

    :Jesus tells us that we are for Him or against Him! HE KNEW THE HEARTS OF ALL. Unfortunately we do not have this gift. BUT we have been given the Holy Spirit to teach, convict, reproove, strengthen. and to guide into all truth. Christ did not have a problem rebuking ANYONE who taught lies, why, because He knew who the originator of lies was and still is. These people are turning their backs on their first love and are following the ” father of lies.” All I know is that LIGHT and DARKNESS are always at war with each other and these people are slowly but surely heading towards the darkness CHRIST would have NO PROBLEM TELLING THEM WHO THEIR FATHER IS , why do we???

  26. I think some folks may be misunderstanding the point of my post. Please understand that I am NOT calling for some sort of bold affirmation that these people are in fact brothers in Christ and we should accept them no questions asked. In fact, what I am saying is that we proceed with caution in proclaiming them unsaved, something that will bear itself out if in fact they are not, while sounding an alarm bell that what they are teaching, or with whom they are associating, is a big problem.

  27. I would say proceed with great caution….. Since most of the posts on here have an affinity for John Piper and say that he has in the past preached and taught sound doctrine (James McDonald too, for that matter), is it possible that these two men have taken the time to actually get to know some of the individuals in question and have the ability to examine their hearts up close by actually speaking to them and asking them some very pointed spiritual questions concerning their personal beliefs? I’ve seen quite a few blogs on here about i.e. Steven Furtick (“The Heretic”) and people claiming he either doesn’t present the gospel or it’s a watered-down version. I could give you link after link where he gives a very clear, articulate, biblically defensible gospel presentation that if given in your church would be acceptable. Could it be that it’s a matter of style in the way some of these men teach God’s word and is it possible that there is more than one correct way to do it? I’m not saying to teach what isn’t biblical or to teach on things/concepts not covered by the bible. What I’m asking/saying is that is it possible they are teaching biblically accurate messages in a way that are offensive to you, possibly because you’ve never done it that way (or your church/conference/denomination). Martin Luther did it a different way. DL Moody did it a different way. Billy Graham did it a different way. Same truth, different delivery. Just wondering aloud…

  28. In light of this debate, I appeal to you to consider the following and invite your response.

    John Piper quote about Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life:
    “Frankly, I’m appalled at the kinds of slander that have been brought against this book by people whose methods of critique, if they were consistently applied to the Bible, would undo it as the Word of God… When I read the book, I thought “what’s the issue here?”” John Piper, May 28, 2011 Christian Today

    Mark Dever (IX Marks) on Rick Warren:

    “First of all, let us affirm that we love and respect Rick Warren as a Christian brother, and we consider him a genuine comrade in pastoral ministry. His heart for evangelism is second to none. His passion to see people reached for Christ is pulsating, contagious, and quite frankly, convicting. His sincerity is unquestioned, and his apparent success is unparalleled. And we agree with Warren on the fundamentals of the faith. In fact, one of our primary concerns in releasing these reviews has been that we’ll be misperceived as turning our guns on our own guys if we say anything corrective. We’re not shooting at our comrade in arms here. Our intent is constructive, not destructive.” Mark Dever, IX Marks

    Now contrast these quotes with this new film documentary on Rick Warren vs. Scripture:
    Church of Tares: Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, Church Growth & New World Order

    http://www.theperfectpeaceplan.com/peacemedia.html

    Having written two books exposing Rick Warren, published by Southwest Radio Church, it could not be more timely in light of Rick Warren major secular media blitz with the re-release of his 10th Anniversary Purpose-Driven Life and Global Peace Plan.

    Rick Warren/John Piper Alliance

    http://www.theperfectpeaceplan.com/post/a-public-rebuke-of-rick-warren-john-piper-burk-parsons-and-kevin-young/

    I hope you will alert your people!

    Thank you!!!

    Sincerely in Christ,

    James Sundquist

    http://www.theperfectpeaceplan.com

  29. terriergal says:

    We like a lot of people. But all of them have feet of clay. Dever is no different. He flinches when he should charge forward too. I’m tired of these guys all feeling they have to say something nice about people in grave error.

  30. terriergal says:

    ” I’ve seen quite a few blogs on here about i.e. Steven Furtick (“The Heretic”) and people claiming he either doesn’t present the gospel or it’s a watered-down version. I could give you link after link where he gives a very clear, articulate, biblically defensible gospel presentation that if given in your church would be acceptable.”

    Feel free… I have yet to see them.

  31. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone….
    Of course we have to say nice things about other people! I’m sure ppl forgive your sin all the time Terrigal and say nice things about u! We’re all sinners, we all get it wrong always so how so u expect any of the mentioned men to be perfect? Do any of u obey the whole bible? Do u care for the poor, the widowed, give away a lot of money, live simply to do so, never be harsh with those in your lives? Etc etc…..
    I think there’s an over emphasis on particular view of sin..

  32. Rick Warren tweet today: https://twitter.com/RickWarren/status/311415758200655872

    “Join me today in fasting and prayer for the 115 Cardinals seeking God’s Will in a new leader. http://instagr.am/p/WvyDIWI0yI/

    Perhaps we need to fast and pray that true believers will not be deceived by the RCC, by men like Warren who effectively endorse it, and that men like Piper and Dever will wake up and realise that God does not approve of endorsements of people who do this kind of thing.

    alliebabar: It is one thing to forgive someone who sins and repents. It is quite another to ignore false teaching which is continuing.

  33. Chris Hohnholz says:

    Yeah, saw that tweet today Jon. I think we can safely put Warren in the false teacher camp.

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