John Macarthur vs. the Reformed Confessions

After purchasing a new book on Reformed Theology, one pastor friend looked at me warily and said, “Brod, be careful ha.” He was a John Macarthur follower. In fact, when I say that he is a Macarthur follower, I think I’m understating.  We call him actually, Pastor Perry Macarthur (not his real name of course).  To him, the measure of truth is John Macarthur and his teachings.  Whatever John Macarthur believes and teaches, he believes and teaches. He even translates Macarthur sermons in Filipino and preaches them regularly in his church.  His devotion to John Macarthur is to that extent. (And yes, and I have not even started yet.)

Now let me be clear: I have great respects for Pastor John F. Macarthur, Jr. In fact, a long-term agnostic like me was called back to the faith by the Lord thru the radio ministry of Grace To You. God used that radio ministry to call me from my disillusionment while I was a student in UP. Last 2000, I had the opportunity to go to California and one of the first things that I prioritized was visiting Grace Community Church.  I shook John’s hand personally and thanked him because his program was used by God to convert me to Christ.

I told him about this and it was my impression he held a sob in his throat as I was relating my story. Maybe I was in a emotional fit too. I was perhaps overreading but nonetheless, I was incredibly blessed to have met such a humble man.

And then because of the path that John Macarthur has helped carve in my life, I was led to Calvinistic doctrines (which I didn’t know are Calvinistic because John does not really cite Calvin that frequently as I remember).  And when you’re a Calvinist, one of the addictions you develop is the love for theology books.

I guess I could say I have read some. Not that many, I must admit. But let me say that I have gathered a library with at least 5,000 titles of Calvinistic books and commentaries. There are too many books and too little time. Most of the time, I just skim thru them, so please don’t quiz me. I’m just an armchair Calvinist.

But I guess that too has led me to part ways with Pastor Perry. I didn’t part with him. He parted from me. When a John Macarthurite (his term, not mine) like him meets someone who reads the Westminster Confession of Faith, somewhere there would be an explosion of sorts. And I could say, he was not just contented to forget about our friendship. He even resorted to tell others of my warts and all (idiomatically speaking). For example, he was even angry with me for believing that a divorce is at times necessary and biblical as the WCF says. In Section 24 of the WCF, it states:

Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. (Matt. 1:18–20) In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce. (Matt. 5:31–32) and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead. (Matt. 19:9, Rom. 7:2–3)⁠1

He did not agree with this. According to him and (of course, originally I suppose) according to the speakers of the sessions of the Shepherds’ Conference (which Pastor Perry supplied me before the age of gty.org downloads), there would be no divorce if there is forgiveness from the offended party.  “The book of Malachi says, God hates divorce, so it’s not allowable.” At one time, he added, “Only the hard-hearted do divorce! That’s according to Matthew.”

Of course he did not listen when I told him that in the case of adultery, the guilty party is the only one hard-hearted and not the innocent one. He counters, “When the innocent party decides to divorce, he/she in turn becomes hard-hearted, that’s why he/she seeks divorce.”

If there is genuine forgiveness, there would be no divorce. Tough.

Very Roman Catholic. To my opinion, very much unlike the Lord Jesus Christ’s exception on adultery as an OPTIONAL (but not necessarily an automatic) grounds of divorce. For Christians to forgive their spouses is expected. But just like the WCF says, I believe that the act of adultery gives the option to the innocent party to seek divorce. We must forgive because we have been forgiven. But forgiveness is not sine qua non to keeping the marriage.

I think what really angered Pastor Perry was when I cited R.C. Sproul’s line: “God hates divorce, sure! But God hates adultery all the more, that’s why He allowed divorce.” In biblical times, if you committed adultery, you would be stoned to death, which frankly is worse than being divorced. On answering a query about the forgiveness issue, RC even has a better example: “If you are a Church Treasurer and you stole the Church money, I will forgive you but please don’t expect me if I would not help you be Church Treasurer again.” I agree. Adultery is a breach of trust more sacred than a Church fund.

After a number of disagreements, Pastor Perry chose to part ways with me. That was almost five years ago. I didn’t want to but I guess for him, there is too much at stake when you are friends with someone who does not really agree with all the interpretations he makes on Macarthur’s teachings. I say his interpretations because I am not even entirely sure Macarthur is as angry as he is about this issue of divorce that he would leave his friendships with his fellow pastors like RC Sproul if they disagreed with him.

I think we call this ugly thing, fanaticism.  Some can go to that extent and it’s sad. I pray for Pastor Perry. I love him and sometimes I must admit, I miss him. But, he would not just forgive me for disagreeing with John Macarthur (IF John Macarthur’s stand is really that there should absolutely be no divorce, which I don’t think is, to be honest about it). Divorce is an absolute no. Pastor Perry believes that. And for him, that is also the never-changing infallible teaching of God: NO DIVORCE, NO EXCEPTIONS.

Now, please don’t make the mistake that I’m espousing divorce, period. I believe that there are exceptions though that makes divorce valid. (And besides, I’m happily married.) I’m sad for Pastor Perry though. I think he has gone to the extent where it is unhealthy spiritually speaking. I don’t think he even gets Macarthur on this issue. Nonetheless, he would die on every hill, especially if he believes that hill was stepped on by John Macarthur.

Now, what reminded me of him recently was because of a discussion I had in a group. I’m a member of a Reformed Forum in which one thread of discussion went like this: John Macarthur belongs to a false church because his church does not satisfy the ‘marks of the true Church’ in the Belgic Confession. According to some in this forum, one of the marks that makes John Macarthur’s church false is that it does not practice infant baptism. The Belgic Confession in Article 29 states:

The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.⁠2

Now, I can accept that John Macarthur’s church is not a true Reformed church given the leanings of the Reformed confessions. But to say that John Mac’s church is a false church all in one-go, is too much. Even for the sake of discussion, if hypothetically I agree that infants should be baptized, I could not say to a Credobaptist that he belongs to a false church just because he does not baptize infants. And in fairness, the Belgic Confession does not say, “If a church does not practice infant baptism, it is a false church.” Granted, that the Belgic Confession says that the true church, “maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ” as opposed to the false church, the Credobaptist can just as much the same say, “It is the Paedobaptists that do not maintain the sacraments as instituted by Christ.” This has been the debate for centuries.  And mind you, the debate has not been resolved by having the Reformed people calling the Credobaptists, belonging to the ‘false church’ because they do not baptize infants.

Instead, I am elated when parties on the opposite sides of the fence, agree to celebrate what the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is, in spite of their differences. (Please tune the www.whitehorseinn.org, where they do not forget what their confessions say but they do exchange their differences winsomely without cruel talk, without calling themselves belonging to the true and the false. One is a Lutheran, one is a Baptist, and two are Reformed Professors.) It’s one of the rare places on earth where the great King is the Lord Jesus Christ in spite of their confessional differences. They do disagree, and I believe they must, but they don’t call each other belonging to the ‘false church’ because they differ.

Should we also say, "If it's not Belgic, it ain't Church?"

It’s one thing to use and even believe that the King James Version is the only Bible translation inspired by the Almighty Lord God, but it’s another thing to denigrate and call all others as ‘false translations’ publicly and openly just because they don’t fit your learned criteria.

In the same note, I believe that to be generalizing and to be jingoistic of those who do not share John Macarthur’s teachings is wrong. Pastor Perry does no ‘fellowship’ with the Reformed folks. I think if we reach the point where Pastor Perry has went, that’s already fanaticism. But I think I could say that too for some in the Reformed Confessions. To be jingoistic and generalizing about those who do not share the Reformed teachings to the extent that you say John Macarthur’s church is a false church is wrong too.  It’s very much like Pastor’s Perry’s fanaticism. It’s ugly. It’s sad but true: there are Pastor Perrys on every side of the fench. Yes, even on the side that calls itself Reformed.

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1 The Westminster confession of faith. 1996 (Chapter XXIV, 5). Oak Harbor, WA:

2 Historic Creeds and Confessions. 1997  (Article 12). Oak Harbor:

3 thoughts on “John Macarthur vs. the Reformed Confessions

  1. Hi, I was intrigued by your library of some 5,000 Calvinistic books. I am a publisher of Reformed Christian literature and would enjoy any suggestions you might have for the republication of books that are currently out-of-print or extremely difficult to find at a price people can afford.

    Like

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