The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Peter Masters and two-stage separation

I have read two posts this week about an issue surrounding the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Met Tab), Peter Masters and a few articles and emails that appear to be in circulation. The ‘Who’s that preacher?’ blog commented here and ‘Andy’s Study’ comments here. Both articles make some valid and helpful points. In my view, Who’s that Preacher? is perhaps the more balanced of the two but the ultimate conclusion of both posts is much the same.

There is little to add to what has already been said, so I will limit myself to the following points:

  • The critical spirit of Peter Master’s is hardly a new phenomena. He is well known for turning his ire on anyone and anything that does not subscribe to every jot and tittle taught at the Met Tab.
  • As Andy’s Study rightly points out, Peter Master’s two-stage separation policy ultimately means “the range of those condemned is enormous”. More pointedly, this policy – taken to its logical conclusion – means members of the Met Tab must separate from themselves! Who’s that Preacher? notes, the Met Tab are in association with Joel Beeke through their Summer School of Theology. As Beeke “is himself associated, through the Gospel Coalition, with the ‘New Calvinists'”, those at the Met Tab must conclude they cannot associate with members of their own church.
  • We must take care not to be drawn into the same snare as the Met Tab. It would be all too easy to denounce that church entirely and ignore their faithfulness and zealousness in the gospel simply because they fail to recognise other faithful, zealous churches. Andy’s Study argues that Peter Master’s “broad brushstroke of condemnation inevitably leads to an Elijah like cry of “I am the only one left” and, as we know, Elijah was wrong about that!”. Whilst this is true, Elijah did not cease to be the Lord’s – nor did he become unfaithful – despite his failure to recognise that there were others who were faithful too. So, although the Met Tab are wrong to denounce others who are clearly gospel focused, we should not pretend they have diverted from the truth because they fail to seek gospel unity.
  • Equally, we should not imply the Met Tab has received no blessing nor that they have been unfaithful to gospel truth simply because we don’t like something of what they do. The facts (much to the chagrin of those us who vehemently dislike the Met Tab approach to unity) suggest that Peter Master’s has been faithful to gospel truth and blessed by God with a sizeable congregation, indeed a much larger gathering than when he first joined. They have a thriving evangelistic Sunday School and are most zealous in gospel work. To suggest they produce no fruit is simply to ignore the facts of the matter.
  • Nevertheless, a large congregation and zealous gospel outreach does not, on it’s own, indicate a good church. Scripture has much to say about love within and between faithful churches. In this instance, Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) are helpful. Jesus commends the church for much of what they do, for their faithfulness toward the truth and does not suggest they no longer belong to the body. However, he gives them stark warning that, without love, they are in real danger. The Met Tab may lean toward Ephesian ecclesiology but we would do well to remember (a) the Ephesians remained within the body of Christ and; (b) whilst we should be able to highlight and reject error, there is a danger we can become overly critical and thus find ourselves closer to the Met Tab school of thought than we care to think.

8 comments

  1. Thanks Stephen,

    I loved the point about separating from themselves!

    I think I'd want to say that this is exactly the kind of situation when it's appropriate to very clearly and pointedly reject someone else's ministry. In fact it seems to me that Met Tab's ministry is far more erroneous than many ministries that you and I would both label as liberal. I think there's no doubt that Masters and co are contemporary pharisees, denying the kingdom of God to many.

    They condemn as not being brothers, indeed as being false teachers, many who clearly are brothers and it seems to me that this is a sin which, in the NT, marks out someone who is not, in fact, a Christian. 1 John 2:9-11 is quite clear that true faith does not belong to those who hate their bothers. It seems to me the clearest way in which any Christian can do that is to deny that other Christian people are your brothers and label them in the kind of ways Met Tab do constantly.

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  2. Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I should probably say from the outset I am no great fan of the Metropolitan Tabernacle nor Peter Masters. I have known a great many defenders of them and I do think there is much to question, and even more to avoid, in what they do. Further to that, my background is in the Grace Baptist Association and I am now at an FIEC church not dissimilar to your own. Indeed, whilst I was never at Christchurch when in Liverpool, I have had occasion to visit. I have various friends who are – or have been, before moving to other parts of the country – in membership with you. So, in terms of where you and I sit ecclesiastically, theologically and in matters of practice we are not so far apart. I'm sure in terms of what and why we find this whole issue concerning, we are not wildly different.

    Nevertheless, I am reticent to write the whole of the Met Tab, and Peter Masters in particular, out of salvation altogether. I think 2 Thess 3:15 – in this instance – is more apt than 1 John 2. We must try and be charitable, even when such charity is not reciprocated.

    On your view, you are faced with the challenge of proving that Peter Masters “hates” these brethren as well as tasked with the harder job of proving the same of his whole church. That is not a claim I would want to defend. I am in no doubt he is in error, acting as he does, though I am prepared to be charitable and concede this is an over-zealous and misplaced attempt to uphold, what he perceives as, biblical truth and to remain separate from those he sees as diverting from it.

    Equally, that the Met Tab can encourage a form of Pharisaical legalism is beyond question. I have no doubt there are Pharisees in that church, just as there are in both yours and mine. I wouldn't, however, go as far as to say that the gospel the Met Tab proclaims is works-based nor do I believe they teach works save. Peter Masters, whatever his many other faults may be, regularly and faithfully proclaims the gospel. They do have a strong focus on piety and see such things as marks of, as opposed to works necessary for, salvation. Such tendencies exists – admittedly, often in a far less pronounced way – in many traditional, conservative Reformed Churches that we wouldn't write off in the same way.

    Clearly I think they as a church need to be called out on this sort of behaviour. I can even agree with Gary Benfold at 'Who's that Preacher?' that people probably should withdraw from the Met Tab. Not mimicking their militant separatism but in the spirit of 2 Thess 3:15, recognising they are brethren, but brethren in error and in need of repentance.

    Whilst there is certainly a personality cult around Peter Masters, not everybody at his church views him as some Protestant Papal figure. I know far too many sound Christian people (admittedly much harder line than me, but brothers all the same) who attend – and have attended – that church to simply write the entire church out of the corpus.

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  3. I've attended the Met Tab school of theology in the past and have always left feeling a curious mix of partly irritated and partly encouraged! PM certainly has his hobby-horses, and I think his definition of what constitutes worldliness is legalistic.

    However, he is also one of the best preachers that I've heard – particularly on themes to do with the inner spiritual life e.g. prayer, meditation etc. Really helpful, practical teaching. I sometimes think that this pietistic focus is what can be missing from a lot of modern FIEC churches I've attended – great sermons on practical christian living and good doctrinal teaching, but less teaching on and focus on the inner life.

    In person, by all acounts, Masters is very gracious. And he comes across that way in the pulpit too. And certainly, I don't think we should be writing off every member of the Met Tab as unsaved on the basis of what their minister says. You can be in membership of a church and not necessarily agree with everything that is taught form the pulpit.

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  4. Whilst you and I may agree that Dr. Masters is unwise to insist on his view of 'two-stage' separation, I think the criticisms of him by some of your correspondents are entirely out of order.

    Thye Met tab under Peter Masters is a colossal force for good in London, and a splendid example of how to 'do church.' The enormous Sunday School, the regular evangelistic sermons at the evening meetings, the support of Reformed churches in the Third World- all these are standing rebukes to many of us who do not have the ability and energy of this man in his mid-70s.

    We can oppose his views on separation without denying the good he has done in so may other avenues of Christian life.

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  5. To Martin Marprelate aka Steve Owen:

    I live in London and I can't say that the Met Tab and Peter Masters are a “colossal force for good”.

    They are isolationist and claim spiritual superiority, attracting people from all over London for whom their local churches are not good enough. That's not exactly a splendid example of how to “do church” as it treats other churches with contempt, even hatred.

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  6. I have find it rather unfortunate that people can make such spiteful and hateful comments against Dr Peter Masters. I find it very surprising that people who claim to love Christ and hence those who He bought with His precious blood (which include Dr Peter Masters)
    could resort to these forms of personal attacks against Dr Peter Masters. This is truly a reflection of what our Lord said in Matthew 5:10-12
    Let this go on record that the reformed church need more men like Dr Peter Masters who will stand for the truth, even if doing so earns them few friends. This reminds me of how many people turned against Spurgeon many years ago.
    The FIEC believes that the world must be welcomed in the church to win convert. This is evident from their promotion of false teachers such as Bill Hybels and Mark Driscoll. I was amazed to see how much the FIEC endorsed the Olympics, a wordly event that only seeks to glorify man. Of Course, the FIEC is smart not to directly admit that the world is invited into the church, hence they use terminology that hides this fact. Dr Peter Masters on the other as scripture commands abhors the world and all the things that happen in it as 1 John 2:15 commands. He also abhors false teaching and he preaches separation from it and secondary separation from those who refuse to separate from false teaching again as scriptures command. Of course this puts a question mark on the authenticity of those who love the world and the things of the world. Rather than focus on this issues and deal with them, people would rather engage in personal attacks than focus on the issue being discussed.
    I have found that the FIEC is very vehement in it's loath of Dr Peter Masters. I used to attend a FIEC church and we had to leave because of the church's theological downgrade. One of such was that the church baptised a woman who was living in a non marital relationship. Another issue was the fact that Drama was being adopted in that church as a means of evangelisation of the lost. May I ask where in the bible Drama was ever used for this purpose? Drama was something coinded by the pagan world and should be detestable to any church that loves God's word. One of the elders of this same church was spoke to me about going to the pictures. I brought it to his attention that most (if not all films) blaspheme the name of Christ, to which he looked at me as being from planet mars. Talk about being absorbed into worldliness.
    I am very thankful that we now attend an independent Baptist Church that truly subscribes to the 1689 London Baptist confession of faith.

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