One oft-heard criticism of ECB is that the church ought to get its own house in order before it tries to clean up society by legislating morality. This objection takes more than one form.
There is the hypocrisy version, to wit: that it’s just plain hypocritical of the C-bees to lobby for laws against, say, homosexual marriage, if heterosexual marriage is in such a sorry state within the Evangelical church. The divorce rate about Southern Baptists is cited as one such example.
Another is the pragmatic version, to wit: it’s just plain ineffectual of the C-bees to lobby for laws against homosexual marriage if we’re not doing a better job ourselves, if we are not modeling a constructive alternative.
What we really need, so goes the argument, is a healthy dose of church discipline before we paddle society at large.
To this general line of objection, a number of comments are in order:
1.I’m all for godly church discipline, but just what, exactly, do the critics of ECB have in mind? Say that 30% of Southern Baptists are divorcees. How does church discipline apply retroactively? Should they all be excommunicated?
I pose this as a serious question. What concrete proposals do the critics of ECB have to offer? What tough-minded measures do they recommend to curb moral laxity in the church?
Suppose we did excommunicate all of the divorcees. And suppose, for good measure, we were to excommunicate all of the Free Masons as well.
By definition, that would purify the church. Yet it would do nothing to purify the general culture. Rather, it would simply relocate the problem. It would transfer the nominal believers from the church to the street. Exporting our internal rot to society at large would make the church better, but it would do nothing to make the general culture any better.
2.There are other complications as well. Say that Mom and Dad are nominal believers. They’re on their second or third marriage. But they bring their kids with them to church—kids from their various marriages.
If you excommunicate the parents, you excommunicate the kids. So you take the kids out of the church and put them back onto the street. Does that improve the general culture?
My immediate point is that it’s very easy to issue vague, facile imperatives about how the church ought to do some spiritual Spring-cleaning. But if this is to be more than empty verbiage, then it needs to be followed up by some very specific policy proposals.
3.BTW, is church discipline the same thing as preaching the gospel? Or is this something the church needs to do before it can get back to preaching the gospel, which it needs to do before it can participate in the democratic process?
After all, if the church were to get really serious about church discipline, that would plunge a denomination into a very divisive, bitter, and all-consuming controversy.
So what should be our priority: reaching the unchurched with the gospel, or taking remedial action against nominal believers in the pew?
And I hope a critic of ECB isn’t going to tell me that we can do both (evangelism and church discipline), for if it’s true that we can do both, then the C-bees would rightly reply that we can do evangelism and politics at the same time too.
4.One critic of ECB has said that the church cannot have two priorities. If true, this is not merely a criticism of ECB, but a criticism of political activism, per se—even if it were limited to fellow evangelicals.
BTW, this is a problem when you talk to the critics. When you press them hard, they will admit that political activism is legit, but once the pressure is off, they revert to their gospel-only, every-member-evangelism line.
5.As a matter of fact, the “church” can, indeed, have more than one priority. As I’ve remarked before, the painful irony here is that those who presume to speak on behalf of the church in opposition to ECB have a very defective doctrine of the church.
There is a division of labor within the church, for the “church” is simply the community of believers, who come together for worship, but have a wide variety of callings in life outside the church. Everyone is not called to be an evangelist. Dobson is a pediatrician and child psychologist; Colson is a lawyer.
It is possible to have a godly vocation outside the ministry, is it not? Ironically again, critics of ECB attack the C-bees for being too cozy with Rome, yet the critics are operating with a tacitly Catholic ideal, in which to be a wife and mother or family man is second-best.
I’ve said this before, yet it doesn’t sink in. But isn’t this a fixture of the Reformed Baptist theology?
6.In Scripture, the church is not prior to the state, and the state is not prior to the church. Until the return of Christ, these are both essential social institutions.
Indeed, the state exists for the primary benefit of the church. Although the state can persecute the church, yet, in the common grace of God, the state more often functions to protect the elect from the reprobate. Without law, there would be no church. Without law, the reprobate would exterminate the elect.
And this is another reason why Christians need to involve themselves in the democratic process. For if we leave it to the unbelievers, then the unbelievers will turn the coercive powers of government against the church and thereby muzzle the gospel.
A certain amount of persecution can have a refining effect, but persecution on a totalitarian scale can decimate the church. Just look at the impact of ironclad communism on Eastern Germany? And look at how the reunion of Germany after the fall of communism had the effect of secularizing Western Germany.