It’s a Sin to Sever Cooperation with Other Believers Over Eschatological Issues

So said Mark Dever in his sermon yesterday on Revelation 20.

He was referring specifically to the issue of the Millennium, but his comments obviously apply to lesser issues (like the timing of the rapture).  (And obviously his comments don’t apply to fundamental doctrines like the second coming and final judgment.) Here’s what he said:

“I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . .  I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together.  The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one.  Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us.  Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself.  Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture.  So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation.” (italics added)

I couldn’t agree more.  Dever’s comments fit well with Tom Schreiner’s recent discussion of whether or not eschatological questions should be considered non-negotiable (see Jason Button’s blog for a transcript of some of Schreiner’s comments).

What I appreciate about Dever’s comments is that they emphasize a vitally important truth–one that many people have failed to understand: unity among believers is a non-negotiable absolute in Scripture, and anyone who breaks fellowship or cooperation when it is not absolutely required by Scripture is sinning. Period.  Unity and cooperation among believers is not optional.  The N.T. does allow for (i.e. requires) separation from professing believers in certain extreme circumstances of blatant, unrepentant sin, but the norm is clearly unity and cooperation.

More on this later.

BTW, Dever’s whole series on Revelation is simply excellent, and a breath of fresh air from the “Left Behind” preaching so prominent on Revelation today.  As a premillennialist, however, I prefer Tom Schreiner’s premil treatment of Revelation 20 to Dever’s amil treatment.

10 comments to It’s a Sin to Sever Cooperation with Other Believers Over Eschatological Issues

  • [...] See A. J. Gibson’s “It’s a Sin to Sever Cooperation with Other Believers over Eschatological Issues,” which comments on the sermon on Revelation 20 that Mark Dever preached [...]

  • [...] that to break church unity over a difference in millennial view is sin. As transcripted by A.J. Gibson: I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am [...]

  • I agree with you, Dr. Gibson. A catholic man told my dad recently that the reason he was catholic and not evangelic is because the evangelicals are not unified. He said, “I can go to mass here, in Rome, or anywhere in the world, and there’s no problem. With you guys is completely different.” Even unbelievers in México who don’t read the Word know this is a problem!

  • [...] more than one blogger has pointed out, both Tom Schreiner and Mark Dever have been recently preaching through [...]

  • [...] Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and founder of 9 Marks has been preaching through Revelation.  He preached on Revelation 20 on Sunday and made a statement regarding millennial views and church unity that creating some buzz. I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation. (transcript from A.J. Gibson) [...]

  • Thanks for posting this excerpt! I found it very encouraging since I recently had to make a tough decision about my local church that hinged upon the Scriptural imperative for unity among believers.

    I would build upon Dever’s foundation by proposing a nuanced discussion about how unity manifests. There is perhaps room for de facto segregation even where de jure is inappropriate.

  • Steve

    I almost always agree with Mark Dever… and this is an illustration of why I say “almost.” With respect and tentativeness, I think this perspective is short-sighted. How do you deal with the divergence of views on the purpose and priorities of the local church that come from one’s millennial position?

    For example, those holding to a post-millennial view usually have different aims and approaches to such things as engagement in politics, views on social reform, place and purpose of “mercy ministry,” etc., than those who hold a pre-millennial view.

    It seems necessary for a church to explicitly define its millennial position, with charity, because it does have a direct bearing on the life of the local church. It seems that churches are often oblivious to how their millennial view/eschatology really drives their day-to-day life and ministry.

  • Steve:
    I totally hear your concern, and I share it, but I think you’re only judging Dever’s perspective as short-sighted based only on the statement he made. I don’t think our brother Dever would disagree with you.
    I would say that to have organizational unity, church leaders should probably be on the same millennial “page”. However, to demand that kind of subscription, say, at a member level or as AJ alluded to on a mission agency level treads on breaking that unity.

    Though I’m not amil, I could probably subscribe to that position and still plainly teach verses like Gal 6:10, etc. to my congregation in terms of their responsibility to do good. Dispensational chiliasts freak out about mercy ministry b/c they think they their millennial position (or better yet, their hermeneutic) demands that they not make mercy ministry a churchwide ministry and rather leave it at the individual level. In my 20+ years of being a Christian, I’ve rarely known local church believers in churces of that theological persuasion to be righteous in their obligations to show justice and mercy.

  • [...] Mark Dever says that you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular view on end times. He makes a powerful statement regarding end times and church unity. Listen to the sermon at: http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/audio/. See the quote below from his sermon on Rev. 20 given on 7/12/09: http://ajgibson.org/blog/2009/07/13/its-a-sin-to-sever-cooperation-with-other-believers-over-eschato…. [...]


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