Progressive Revelation: The Boston Plan

By Larry R. DeVore

In the bulletin of the BOSTON CHURCH OF CHRIST (their style of all capital letters), beginning in the May I st issue, Gordon Ferguson, forty-five year old, re-baptized gospel preacher, who was “pulled out” (his terminology, Ird) for “discipling” and “re-training,” has a series of articles on “progressive revelation” that should leave no one in doubt as to their journey into apostasy.

He does tell the truth in his very first sentence, and then he departs from the truth rapidly. He says, “Viewed in one way, the concept of progressive revelation from God is false” (BCOC Bulletin, May 1, 1988). He tries to lull Bible believers to sleep by quoting 2 Peter 1:3 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. But then he says that God “does reveal the application of those old truths” (their emphasis, Ird). He quotes 2 Timothy 2:7 and Philippians 3:15 as scriptural proof, but these hardly “prove” what he is trying to make them say.

Gordon says in the same article, “Within the discipling ministries, God has led us into some amazing discoveries.” “. . . we are willing to throw off the traditions which both bind and blind us.” So, they claim special leading by God for their activities, and they have laid aside the “traditions” (i.e., scriptural authority, Ird) which “bind” them. In other words, they are no longer going to be “bound” by the teaching of the Scriptures. He further says “non-traditional decisions (translate that as unscriptural decisions, Ird) have been necessitated by their insistence on discipleship being the standard rather than an ideal. ” He attempts to squelch criticism by these statements. “Probably some critics will no doubt say that we begin some practice and then go to Scripture in order to justify it. But the issue is whether or not the Bible does in fact justify it. Bottom line, to criticize fruitfulness for Christ demonstrates a pretty hard heart and closed mind, anyway.” This is the old argument of “Look how much good we’re doing! ” The “discipling ministries” are baptizing a lot of people (31 named in the bulletin quoted), so how dare you criticize us! In fact, we are condemned as having a “hard heart” and “closed mind” to even bring the subject up. Well, those remarks are not going to stop our examination of what they are claiming.

In Gordon’s second article, he purposes that those who “emphasized the doctrinal aspects of Scripture” are guilty of “deification of Scripture” and says this “is a tragic mistake to make” (BCOC Bulletin, May 9, 1988). He then takes a slap at the concept of a restoration movement, when he states “any religious group which strongly emphasizes doctrinal accuracy runs a risk of losing perspective and losing God. Historically, the churches of Christ have been noted for such an emphasis.”

Gordon also states, “An insistence that we must have ‘book, chapter and verse’ for anything new has virtually guaranteed that we will have nothing new, even if the old is a failure.” Can you believe it! The Word of God is a failure! God has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), but that is not enough for Gordon Ferguson and the BOSTON CHURCH OF CHRIST! They want God to be “actively leading His people.” If not, he says, “we are doomed to a stale dying religion” (bulletin, May 8, 1988).

Gordon wants to do away with the motto “we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” He wants to replace it with the following; “Where the Bible speaks, we are silent; where the Bible is silent, we speak.” Frankly, I prefer the original, which closely paraphrases 1 Peter 4:11. But Gordon prefers to mis-use the Scriptures by saying, “But if He has not (spoken, Ird), then we have the freedom to discover the most effective way to carry out His principles. Success is of God. If He is truly leading us, we will not be unsuccessful. Period!” (Bulletin, May 8, 1988) They are not going to do something because it is scripturally authorized; they are going to do it and if it works, then God must be leading them! They have exchanged sophistry for Scripture!

Gordon also affirms that the “early church did not have a ‘rule-book’ mentality.” I don’t think Gordon and I have been reading the same book. Take a look at such Scriptures as 1 Cor. 1:10; 4:6; 15:1-2; Gal. 1:6-12; Phil. 3:16; Col. 3:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:13; 3:16-17; Tit. 1:9; Heb. 8:5; 2 Pet. 3 and many others. It seems to me that the writers of the New Testament had a different understanding of the importance of God’s Word than Gordon does.

Doctrine Is Unbiblical

But his best short is coming next. Gordon says, the churches of Christ over the past one hundred years have absolutely proved that a religion focused on doctrine is unbiblical.” Gordon says that the churches of the Lord have been and are “unbiblical.” Standing for the truth, “contending for the faith” is “unbiblical,” according to Gordon. But the Boston Church is right in everything that they do, because God is leading them. Who can believe it? Gordon says, because “No group has studied more, debated more, and united less,” we are ‘ ‘unbiblical. ” All that proves is that some have contended for the truth, and some contended against the truth. Gordon also says, “Most ‘mainline’ congregations are full of worldliness and deadness.” That may be so, but I don’t known how you could prove it. But that only shows that some of God’s people are not living by God’s truth, That does not affect the truth of God’s Word, or the fact that it is our “rule book” to guide us from earth to heaven (see John 17:17). God has provided us everything that we need in his Word (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Reconstructing Or Dividing?

In the BOSTON bulletin for May 15, 1988, Gordon tries to justify their “church plantings” concept. He says, “The concept of ‘church plantings,’ with one church per city is obviously in line with the biblical examples. There is simply no biblical example of anything else.” He refers to Acts 14:23 (elders in every church) and Titus 1:5 (elders in every city) and says “the conclusion is obvious. God intended for each city to have one church!” Recognizing that many larger cities have several congregations, what does Gordon want to do about this? He says, “Actually, the answer is quite simple. Unless a congregation exists which is really making and training disciples in a multiplying way, such a church must be planted! An existing congregation that has not already sought out the effective approaches which others have been using for years is not likely open to change as a congregation anyway. If they do not want change (translate that “do it BOSTON’s way,” Ird), and if the city in which they met is not being effectively evangelized, no other choice exists except to plant an evangelistic church. Prayerfully, those in other groups which have a heart to really be disciples will join in with the planted church. No other solution seems possible. The world must be reached. No amount of sentimentality should be allowed to affect the Great Commission and its demands.” “The urgency which prompts these conclusions is the same urgency which prompts ‘church reconstructions.”‘ Gordon spells it out for us. Don’t allow any feelings of remorse or “sentimentality” to stop you from splitting churches. The BOSTON PLAN for “reconstructing” churches of Christ will not be stopped even though congregations across the country are going to be split in two. This has already happened in many places.

Women Preachers

In the BCOC bulletin for May 22, 1988, Gordon has more to say, this time about women leaders. “Another key principle which God has helped us re-discover concerns women leading women in a high-powered manner. ” Notice that everything Boston does is described in glowing terms; “powerful, exciting, high-powered.” Gordon says that “Women in the first century church had high profiles.” He refers to Acts 21:8-9 which mentions Philip’s four daughters who prophesied. From this he makes a mighty leap and says “But preach they did!” “Praise God that He is raising up high-powered women leaders . . . … Gordon says these “activities took place in women’s groups.” But we wonder how long before another “progressive revelation” will have them preaching in mixed groups as well?

The BOSTON CHURCH OF CHRIST are the only ones training church leaders in the right way, according to Gordon. “My own training in a Preacher’s School and a Graduate School, both sponsored by the churches of Christ, left me woefully inadequate in my preparation for ministry. ” (Gordon could have better spent his time in studying God’s word.) He further says, “Without question, the discipling approach practiced by Boston and similar congregations is The biblical way to do it!” If evangelists and elders are not being trained the Boston way, they are not being trained right! Gordon also states, with regard to training elders; “Unqualified evangelists (those not discipled to maturity) (translate that; ‘not trained at Boston’) cannot disciple other leaders effectively, especially elders. ” “Qualified evangelists can and must disciple elders . . it “It is time for elders to humbly submit to discipling and for evangelists to humbly disciple them. ” The plain implication in the BOSTON plan is that evangelists have authority over the elders!

Baptism Invalid?

In Gordon’s article “progressive Revelation” (Part IV, in the May 29, 1988, issue of the BCOC bulletin), he talks about “Disciple’s Baptism.” After reading and re-reading his article I conclude he is teaching that unless you are taught by a “multiplying ministry” evangelist, your baptism is not valid. Notice, “To baptize a person who has not made the decision to be a disciple is to baptize someone who does not understand repentance. ” “Anyone who does not approach baptism with that understanding (i.e., Boston’s teaching on discipleship, Ird) has been mistaught. ” Gordon says “Either these people never became disciples, or they quit being disciples. In either case, they are not saved. Calling ourselves ‘Christians’ or ‘members of the church’ means nothing.” “And my personal conviction is that may of those in ‘churches of Christ’ have never biblically repented, have never become disciples, and are thus not Christians. A large number of people, including me, have faced the issue and have been baptized with a true disciple’s repentance.” Now get what Gordon is saying. He is not talking about people who were immersed in denominations. He is talking about people who have heard the true gospel preached, have believed it and obeyed it. They have been baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27). But Gordon says, “they are not saved,” they “are thus not Christians.” If you haven’t been taught according to the BOSTON method of evangelism, you cannot be a Christian! I don’t believe that! Do you?

Progressive Revelation and Church Autonomy

In the BCOC bulletin for June 5, 1988, Gordon has somewhat to say about the concept of church autonomy. I believe he’s against it! He says, “One real hindrance to brotherhood unity has bee an ungodly view of church autonomy.” “The idea of a non-cooperative, and often prideful, separation from each other as congregations is absolutely non-biblical.” Have you noticed from all these quotations; that if you’re not doing it BOSTON’S way, it’s “non-biblical”? Gordon says church autonomy is “contrary to the very purpose of God and is sinful. ” He also said, “‘church autonomy’ as we have practiced is an invention of sinful man – an ungodly tradition.” He wants to do away with church autonomy because he wants Boston-trained “leaders” and evangelists to be “brotherhood leaders rather than simply congregational leaders.” He mentions several men in the New Testament, such as Philip, Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Erastus and others. He then affirms, “These men were brotherhood leaders! They were world Christians, not simply Philippian Christians or Ephesian Christians! Leaders with less training were ‘pulled out’ and later ‘plugged in’ by fully-trained leaders as the needed dictated.” Gordon admits he is part of this new concept. “I personally have repented of my pride and erroneous thinking, and am now a world Christian. I have been ‘pulled out’ for more training (voluntarily, of course) and a more equipped brother (Bruce Williams) has been ‘plugged in’ (yes, also voluntarily) to San Diego in my place.” “The results? . . . a united brotherhood through a united leadership” United? Well, I guess “united in error.” If you have Boston-trained leaders sent out to take over or “reconstruct” congregations around the world, then you will have “unity” by the Boston plan? But the only unity that will please God is the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). That only comes by following his word. The word “autonomy” is not in the Bible but the concept is. The word autonomy simply means “independent; self-governing. A self-governing community or group” (Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary). This concept is taught in such passages as Acts 14:23 (“elders in every church”) and 1 Peter 5:2 (“feed the flock of God which is among you”). Paul said in Ephesians 5:24, “the church is subject to Christ.” The church in Ephesus wasn’t subject to “brotherhood leaders.” It was subject to Christ! Period! The apostles could be classed as “brotherhood leaders” and they traveled a lot, preaching the gospel. But we have no living apostles today! The Boston trained leaders are poor substitutes for apostles! Faithful churches cannot accept these men and women from Boston as “modern day apostles” or even as faithful teachers of the word. They have a totally foreign concept of “church hierarchy” and “leadership” than that which is taught in the New Testament.” “Mark them” and “avoid” them (Rom. 16:17).

To be fair to Gordon, we should go back and look at his “proof texts” for this doctrine of “progressive revelation. to He cited 2 Timothy 2:7 and Philippians 3:15 as his “proof” (quoted from the NIV, Boston’s favorite translation). 2 Timothy 2:7 simply says the Lord will give you “insight” (NIV). The KJV says “understanding.” There is no “revelation” involved her. How does one obtain “insight” or “understanding”? Paul says in Colossians 1:9, “be filled with the knowledge of His will in a wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Plain enough! Study God’s word. In Philippians 3:15 the NIV says, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” The KJV says “reveal.” Here too, the text simply involves getting a clear understanding by studying God’s Word. There is no “modern day revelation.” God is not going to “progressively reveal” anything to anybody today, Gordon Ferguson to the contrary notwithstanding! I have nothing personal against Gordon Ferguson, I have never met him. But how can you separate the doctrine from the one who is teaching it?

A final note. I probably won’t be receiving their bulletin any more because of their stated intentions of no longer sending it out free, but of charging $26.00 a year for it. It is a beautiful printing job; blue and gold inks on enameled paper, with a stated circulation of 9,200. But no matter how attractively you package false doctrine, it is still false doctrine! The devil is an expert at this (see 2 Cor. 11:13-15).

The Boston Plan is not God’s plan! Avoid it!

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 23, pp. 712-714
December 1, 1988