Friday, August 05, 2005

Church discipline

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.

15 comments:

  1. Well...I guess YHVH must be very frustrated with the situation you've just described.

    No law = no church. Hmmm...

    So, now, He must send out some His children to leaven the existing system of government with the proper type of laws so that He can have a called out chosen people who will not be completely overcome by the lawless hordes of the ungodly.

    My goodness, whatever shall He do? YHVH certainly wants the good news of His deliverance to be preached to every soul, but, He must also allocate some of His resources to holding back the flood of iniquity which threatens to exterminate His "church".

    Hmmm again....

    I do believe that the true brothers and sisters in China would dismiss your argument rather quickly. And they would probably continue to wonder why YHVH has allowed so many freedoms and comforts for His people in this country, that they can spend so much time engaged in such fruitless discussions.

    And what's that sound I hear? Why, it sounds just like pruning shears cutting through branches. Dead branches. Without leaves, without fruit. Dead. Dry. Producing nothing of value. It should cause one to tremble and to seek His mercy.

    We all need His mercy.

    Btw, the word "church" is not found in Scripture. And it does not mean what you think it means. No matter how you use it.
    And a restoration is just that. A restoring of the original, that which has been and is still of value. How original and how much value is obtained would depend on whether YHVH or man is doing the restoring.

    For there is a way that seems wrong to a man, but the end of it is life.

    Shalom.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great questions. I have a free moment before my day is over here at work and I drive 6 hours to my in-laws for the weekend. Thanks to Steve for thinking about this with me, even if we cannot come to agreement about the matter.

    | 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?

    Since this is a pragmatic question, it deserves a pragmatic answer: start anywhere. This is not a matter of high theology. The problem is not that we have “lax” church discipline: it is that there is no church discipline to speak of. The handful of churches that attempt such a thing have no hope of enforcing it because the offenders will simply find a church that doesn’t care.

    The answer to the question is “start anywhere”. FWIW, I don’t think excommunicating all divorced people in the SBC would be a very effective first volley – because it is indiscriminate and it is also the wrong message. It says, “We didn’t bother to try to help you have a decent marriage, and we didn’t try to help you heal your marriage, so we’re going to punish you by throwing you out of church.”

    How about we start with mandatory pre-marital counseling that challenges couples to see marriage in a holy and practical way – a way which places the emphasis on sacrifice and lifting one’s mate up to God as a gift rather than as a secular romantic tax-relief vehicle?

    | 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.

    The issue is not purifying the church, Steve: the issue is the church acting on the Gospel first, and then acting on the results of the Gospel. The church will never be completely free of unbelievers in the ranks until the final judgment, but until then, we are tasked (and I’m going to hate saying this, so feel free to give me the business over saying it) not to give out merciless (even if justified) beatings (ouch) but to give mercy because we have received mercy.

    I have not intended to make the point that the church should be doing nothing until it perfectly reflects the measures internally demanded by Scripture – I have been trying to make the point that the church’s business is the Gospel, and because the church in America is really, desperately empty of that complete message of God’s work and man’s role in responding to that call, the church needs to figure out why it’s “A-List” of activities has political action and short-term programs rather than the Gospel.

    We should vote; we should write letters to the editor; we should be teachers and managers and builders and pastors and whatever you have there on the list of what people do. But in all things we should be preaching the Gospel first.

    | 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.

    As I said, I don’t think a mass excommunication is the answer. You’re building an argument against something I wouldn’t advocate – especially because the objective of church discipline is not cleaning house but reform of those who say they are disciples of the Gospel, which is to say “reconciliation and unity”.

    I am not voicing a facile imperative about spiritual house-cleaning. I haven’t used those terms or anything like them. What I have been saying is that our first weapon against the evil that men do is the Gospel – not the sword. And because the church is in a frankly-disastrous state, using the sword when we can’t even pick up the Gospel is backwards and useless.

    Let’s imagine that in the foreseeable future all the legislation we might want to pass about abortion and gay marriage gets passed. What do we do next? If gay marriage is illegal, what about pre-marital and extra-marital sex? These are the same kinds of evils. But I think that you would be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to stick his political neck out and say, “if you have sex before marriage, or outside of your marriage, you are violating the core of our society and your act should be illegal.”

    Where this message is rightly pressed and rightly framed is inside the Gospel, and by necessity the message comes from inside the church. Does it result in some legal ramifications? I would say “yes” – but qualify that by saying whatever legislation comes of it, it is based on Gospel principles.

    Until we are delivering the Gospel, all the laws we would deliver will be only secular rules that no one understands or can rightly obey. And think about this: without their epistemological foundations, those laws would be easily manipulated into something never intended.

    | 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?

    I am certain it would be controversial. I am certain there would be fall-out. But I am certain that it is part and parcel of the Gospel. One of our problems today is that we have disjoined “discipline in the church” from “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Discipline in the church is a direct function of reverence for Christ – and is therefore a direct corollary of the Gospel.

    Part of teaching the unchurched the Gospel is teaching them how to rightly live inside the Church. This is itself not either/or: it is one thing.

    | 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.

    The crazy thing, Steve, is that I agree that they can be done together – but the Gospel comes first! If we stick to the example of gay marriage, we reject gay marriage not because of legal or political reasoning: we reject it because it offends God. Marriage is established by God, from the beginning, between one man and one woman, and the two shall become one, leaving their parents and cleaving to one another.

    So whatever law we ought to be enacting, it must reflect the categorical nature of marriage. To simply call it “a legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife” (cf. defense of marriage act) is to completely overlook what we are actually trying to defend: God’s intention for marriage.

    If the Gospel leads first, the correct definition of marriage is much more specific, and is tied to the affirmation of God’s intent in creating man and woman. I don’t happen to have a draft of such legislation, but that’s what Gospel-first means: we don’t accept that those who hate the Gospel have a way to express what only the Gospel expresses. In that, we do not accept their definition of terms, especially legal terms.

    | 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.

    That was me. What I said was that the church cannot have two first priorities – two things cannot occupy the first place. You cannot serve God and mammon, etc.

    It’s a criticism of political activism for the sake of having a finger in the pie. I stand by it. Political activism is not an end unto itself: it is a derivative end, a consequence of a greater goal or premise. If the Gospel is not leading the activism, the activism is trying to lead the Gospel. I can hardly imagine how that cannot be true.

    | 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.

    You won’t get that from me. Political activism is appropriate if it is lead by the Gospel. If it is lead by some other urge, it’s outside the bounds of Christian ethics.

    | 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.

    Anyone – or any organization – can have a list of priorities – but there can only be one first priority. That’s why it’s “first”: it’s definitive. It sets the tone for the balance of the priorities.

    | 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.

    You are missing the point entirely, Steve: I have not once argued that everyone is called to be only one thing inside the body. What I have said is that the Gospel comes first. That means, for example, as a lawyer Colson ought never to lie in order to advocate for a client – even though that’s legally acceptable. It means that Dobson, as a psychologist, ought never to manipulate others into doing things – even if it is for their “own good”.

    And if we have political activists, so be it: but let them live by the Gospel first, and advocate laws that come from the Gospel first. Let’s keep this as specific as possible, Steve. Here are the definitions from DOMA:

    {{
    "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling,
    regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and
    agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal
    union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word
    'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or
    a wife."
    }}

    Would you agree that this is an adequate definition of marriage? Is it the one you would advocate in speaking of marriage? Or is it, instead, a weak piece of legislation because it misses the point of marriage entirely?

    Now what if the Gospel came first? That is, what if God’s definition of marriage was “in” this definition – for example, if the law made explicit reference to Gen 2, Ex 20, Mt 5 and Eph 5? Would that be a better piece of legislation – more powerful that merely banning same-sex marriage – or would it be merely another choice?

    My gripe is that the Gospel is not in their legislation at all. The law as it was written is merely a club – “gay? No! Hell No! No marriage for you!”

    You can be a Christian politician – if the Gospel comes first. Otherwise, you’re just a politician with a fish-pin on your shirt.

    | I’ve said this before, yet it doesn’t sink in.
    | But isn’t this a fixture of the Reformed
    | Baptist theology?

    It is – but in defining the role of the magistrate, the LBCF says “according to the wholesome laws”, and says that waging war may be done “under the New Testament”.

    The question is not, “can a Christian be a politician”, but “he must still be a Christian if he is a politician.” “Christian” doesn’t just mean “baptized”, does it Steve? Of course not. It bears the weight of LBCF XXI,3: “They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righeousness before Him, all the days of our lives.”

    That is at least as essential to the matter of defining Christian magistrates and the methods and motives of ECBs as the explicit definition of the civil magistrate as a class.

    | 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.

    I agree – but they are separate institutions, and in the best case the state is populated with members of the church.

    | 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.

    That is an interesting statement, and I will mull it over.

    | 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.

    You are again overstepping the bounds of my argument: I’m not advocating a total withdraw from society. I am not advocating a church in a bunker. I am advocating against compromise of the Gospel to effect alleged political gains.

    | 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.

    Is one of the premises of this statement that the church in Western Germany was healthy when the wall came down? I’d like to research that topic before I agree or disagree. Anecdotally, I don’t think that’s true, but I’d have to read up on it to give you a real opinion.

    I really must run. Be well this weekend and do not attend any political rallies without my prior approval and the consent of your ruling elders. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Efrayim,

    This is all very interesting. And if you had any supporting argument to plug into your string of bare assertions, there might even be something to respond to.

    ReplyDelete
  4. >>>>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?


    Regarding the Southern Baptist Convention, it’s not just the divorce rate in the Convention that's an issue. Those divorce rates have another context to consider, and many of us are pretty certain there's a connection.

    I’m quoting here from Tom Ascol’s blog at founders.org:

    The recently compiled statistics from the Annual Church Profiles of SBC churches indicates that in 2004, we had:

    • 16,287,494 members
    • 6,024,289 Sunday morning attendance
    • 37 percent of the total membership typically attend Sunday morning worship


    When you move beyond Sunday morning worship attendance, the picture becomes even more bleak. Less than 1 out of 4 Southern Baptist church members attend Sunday School and considerably less than that attend any other function of the church. The median church baptized 5 people into membership and added 5 other members during the previous year. Despite this, Jones concludes, the median church is growing by only 1 member a year. Closer analysis indicates that this one member is more likely to wind up inactive than active. Jones concludes, "Although the typical church in the SBC appears to be barely growing, it is, in fact, in decline" (p. 23).

    What this means is that the typical Southern Baptist church baptizes lots of people who simply do not hang around long enough even to become regular Sunday morning attenders. This is precisely what Jack Smith, a "soul-winning evangelism associate" for NAMB, has discovered in his own experience with Southern Baptist churches. According to a Baptist Press story, He has found that "only about 30 percent of baptized believers in SBC churches typically are active in Sunday school a year later. When actual retention rates of new Christians are considered from the time of their decision, the percentage often drops to the single digits."

    Now, take note: what the "soul-winning evangelism associate" calls "new Christians" are those people who have been led to "make decisions" in the typical SBC way of evangelism; ie. agree to some facts, pray a prayer, assume your saved. But, notice what he has discovered from this kind of evangelistic approach: LESS THAN 10% OF THE CONVERTS PRODUCED ACTUALLY STICK.

    Unfortunately, the solution that Smith proposes is, "better follow-up" of new converts. Certainly intentional discipleship efforts are important in the lives of new believers. But folks, the problem here is not a lack of follow-up. If it ain't alive, it can't grow.

    The problem isn’t just our evangelism. Have you ever seen the Sunday School curriculum Lifeway publishes? It’s awful, yet many churches still use it. It doesn’t challenge people who know nothing, much less folks that don’t know the Lord at all. The typical lesson ends with “Jesus is Lord, so we should listen to Him.” The Herschel Hobbs Commentary is sacrosanct for many teachers, even though it is just plain wrong most of the time. The good news is that more churches are discarding the curriculum, but that’s putting pastors and ministers of education in the position of having to write their own material, many for the first time. Lifeway itself, however, remains unresponsive to our criticisms. Yet we’re consistently asked to get our churches onto another boycott or bandwagon. We agree that churches should be in the business of teaching citizenship, and we don’t advocate complete isolation. Then, along comes the back of the July 3 church bulletin from Lifeway with a lovely quote from an associate editor at the Ethics and Religious Life Commission that refers to "those who prattle on about the separation of church and state." How does one square such unguarded statements in print to one's church members with the BFM? It's because of these trends and issues, that many of us in the SBC simply believe the SBC would be better served if we channeled our energy into reformation in our churches so that those that choose to engage in ECB come at it as disciples of Christ and well grounded in the faith, not, well...that’s the issue in the SBC, we’re trying to figure out what to put after the “not.” Please understand that much of the criticism from the SBC regarding ECB has to do with the context in which many of us have found ourselves in our churches and frustration with the nonresponsiveness we've had from them on these issues, while they expect us to get behind them with ECB.

    >>>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?

    That’s a good question, Steve. Consider that as we speak here, the regeneracy of the Convention itself has been an issue discussed in Baptist Press. All this is to say that, in the SBC, more and more we’re discussing: the gospel, what evangelism is, how one actually becomes a Christian, the definition of a church, etc. We say we’re 16 million strong. We say we have our act together so we can do ECB, but the fact is that these numbers are a farce, and many of us simply feel that we need to take a long hard, honest look at ourselves before we jump on the bandwagon for another moralistic crusade or boycott. The current SBC president wants us to baptize a million people between now and next June. The irony of that statement lies in the fact that his church has 4000 members, but only 2000 show on any given Sunday morning. Many of us are tired of the heavy emphasis on weak evangelism and numbers and the corresponding emphasis on ECB coming from many of our leaders. We want our folks to get on the ECB bandwagon, but we’re not doing such a hot job with our churches and actually having to discuss whether or not we’ve raised a generation of unregenerate church members. So...in the SBC, it’s not just divorce and “church discpline,” the issue is wider right now and more fundamental.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Centuri0n wrote:

    We should vote; we should write letters to the editor; we should be teachers and managers and builders and pastors and whatever you have there on the list of what people do. But in all things we should be preaching the Gospel first.

    Centuri0n, I'm sick and tired of this rubbish. No one here denies the above. Stop acting like anyone denies this. Stop tossing in these utter irrelevancies that serve no argumentative purpose.

    Your posts are riddled with inanities like this. Please stop it. No good can come from you harping on positions that no one affirms.

    If the Gospel is not leading the activism, the activism is trying to lead the Gospel.

    Do you not believe that Mohler, Dobson, Colson, and Land are involved in political activism _because_ they have been converted by the gospel? If you asked them, what do you think they would say?

    Stop spouting irrelevancies. It gets tiresome after awhile.

    You won’t get that from me. Political activism is appropriate if it is lead by the Gospel. If it is lead by some other urge, it’s outside the bounds of Christian ethics.

    You have access to the 'urges' of ECBers? That's rich.

    My gripe is that the Gospel is not in their legislation at all.

    Hello?! What, now the law _is_ the gospel? This is ridiculous.

    The law as it was written is merely a club.

    Yeah, that's what it was under imperial Rome. It certainly wasn't the gospel! And Paul dared to call imperial Rome "the minister of God". What is so hard about accepting this fundamental point? The state is not Jesus Christ, and it will not redeem you, much less get you a cuddly blanket and suck your thumb for you. Get over it.

    You are again overstepping the bounds of my argument: I’m not advocating a total withdraw from society.

    This is rich, coming from someone who _repeatedly_ imputes to us arguments we haven't come close to making.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Gene seems to raise two basic objections to, or at least reservations about, ECB. One has to do with the extent of nominal membership and low retention rate.

    This is, of course, the natural consequence of evangelism based on easybelievism. The only remedy for that is if the SBC becomes more Reformed in its understanding of Christian conversion and discipleship.

    But I’m not surely how this directly bears on ECB. To my knowledge, the only leader of ECB who happens to be a Calvinist is Mohler, so he’s the only Reformed leader within both the SBC and EBC who is trying to divide his time and efforts between both causes.

    Or is the objection that he is asking for the support of other Reformed Baptists within the SBC, and thereby diverting their time and attention away from discipling and evangelism?

    That, in turn, raises the question of how much time they're asking from the average pastor or layman? Is it just a question of dashing an email off to one’s senator on a particular judicial nominee or piece of legislation?

    A second complaint is, I guess, that the leaders of ECB have been to outward-looking that they have been insufficiently inward-looking. The example of the abysmal Sunday School curriculum is given.

    Again, this is a valid grievance, but I’m unclear on how germane it is to ECB. I assume that the SBC has committees of committees of committees that are directly responsible for this sort of thing.

    Is the objection that Mohler and Land have failed to throw their institutional clout and moral support behind the push for better Sunday school curricula?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thus saith the CenturiOn:

    ***QUOTE***

    The problem is not that we have “lax” church discipline: it is that there is no church discipline to speak of. The handful of churches that attempt such a thing have no hope of enforcing it because the offenders will simply find a church that doesn’t care.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Well, if that’s the problem, then there’s no solution, for offenders will never be at a loss to find a liberal church which will take them in.

    BTW, I personally don’t see that as a real problem. Church discipline applies at the level of the local church. If an offender picks up his marbles and leaves, that still accomplishes the purpose of purging out the old leaven for the church he leaves behind, and the pastor is only responsible for his own charge.

    ***QUOTE***

    It says, “We didn’t bother to try to help you have a decent marriage, and we didn’t try to help you heal your marriage, so we’re going to punish you by throwing you out of church.”

    ***END-QUOTE***

    I’m all for marital and premarital counseling. However, it’s unfair to lay all the blame, or even most of the blame for divorce, on bad pasturing. Couples generally divorce for selfish reasons. Or selfish reasons precipitate the divorce (e.g., an affair). It’s not that they don’t know any better. Let’s not make the liberal mistake of blaming the system for the sins of the individual.

    ***QUOTE***

    The issue is not purifying the church…

    ***END-QUOTE***

    I completely disagree. That’s precisely what church discipline is for. No, complete purification is impossible, and the effort would be undesirable. But that’s still the purpose. Maintaining moral and spiritual standards.

    ***QUOTE***

    The church’s business is the Gospel, and because the church in America is really, desperately empty of that complete message of God’s work and man’s role in responding to that call, the church needs to figure out why it’s “A-List” of activities has political action and short-term programs rather than the Gospel.

    We should vote; we should write letters to the editor; we should be teachers and managers and builders and pastors and whatever you have there on the list of what people do. But in all things we should be preaching the Gospel first.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    I don’t know what this means, exactly. You mean it’s the pastor’s business to preach the gospel? You mean it’s the business of the laity to support the pastor in preaching the gospel? You mean it’s the church’s business when we’re in church—when Christians gather for worship?

    Or do you mean every-member-evangelism? If so, where is your biblical justification?

    Ironically, the biblical justification for enlisting the laity in evangelism operates at the same level of warrant as the biblical justification for enlisting the laity in political action.

    Neither has any specific biblical warrant. Rather, both are based on simple common sense inference. In the case of ECB, it is based, as JD points out, on the application of such general principles as neighbor-love, the role of the law and the theology of the state.

    In the case of every-member-evangelism, it is based on the practical reasoning that everyone who dies outside of Christ is damned, there are not enough ministers of the gospel to reach the lost, and hence, the laity must do their part to reach the lost.

    At the same time, some Christians are much better at their own profession than they are at personal evangelism, and it makes perfect sense for them to use their particular skills and talents doing what they know best and do best—like Colson and Dobson and Wilberforce.

    ***QUOTE***

    As I said, I don’t think a mass excommunication is the answer. You’re building an argument against something I wouldn’t advocate – especially because the objective of church discipline is not cleaning house but reform of those who say they are disciples of the Gospel, which is to say “reconciliation and unity”.

    I am not voicing a facile imperative about spiritual house-cleaning. I haven’t used those terms or anything like them.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Not everything I said was directed against your position or your remarks. Permit me to initiate you into the mysteries of Triablogical hermeneutics. Whenever I agree with a critic of ECB, that’s you, and whenever I disagree with a critic of ECB, that’s Camp or Chad or some other such.

    Oh, sure, there were some allusions to your actual words in my post, but you mustn’t take that so personally or literally. Rather, that refers, at the anagogical level, to Camp, and at the tropological level, to Chad—Chad Bresson, that is, and not his hanging, dimpled, or pregnant cousins. You just need to brush up on your medieval exegesis, that’s all!

    ***QUOTE***

    What I have been saying is that our first weapon against the evil that men do is the Gospel – not the sword.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Really? That’s the first weapon we reach for against the mugger or house-burglar or suicide bomber? We wallop ‘em with our study Bibles? (Not the slim-line edition, I trust!) That’ll larn ya…yew…yew naughty little serial killer, yew!

    Why do you keep saying things that cry out for counterexamples—for counterexamples that you can think up as well as I? Why do I have to qualify your own statements for you? This really gets to be a bit tedious, you know. You make an obvious overstatement. I offer an obvious caveat. Can’t we move to the next level?

    ***QUOTE***

    Until we are delivering the Gospel, all the laws we would deliver will be only secular rules that no one understands or can rightly obey

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Rightly obey? You mean in terms of the right motive? Frankly, that’s pretty secondary to me. I’ll settle for deterrence, however ill-motivated.

    ***QUOTE***

    And think about this: without their epistemological foundations, those laws would be easily manipulated into something never intended.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Yes, and what a wonderful reason to have more Christians involved in the democratic process!

    ***QUOTE***

    If we stick to the example of gay marriage, we reject gay marriage not because of legal or political reasoning: we reject it because it offends God.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Yes, that’s why “we” reject it. And for those who don’t reject it for God-fearing reasons, we give them another reason—it’s against the law.

    ***QUOTE***

    That was me. What I said was that the church cannot have two first priorities – two things cannot occupy the first place.

    Anyone – or any organization – can have a list of priorities – but there can only be one first priority. That’s why it’s “first”: it’s definitive.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    To me, adding adjectives to “priority,” as in “first priority,” or “only one first priority” is redundant. I mean, does it make much sense to speak of my 19th priority?

    The problem here is that both law and gospel are means rather than ends. The priority is to do our duty to God and man, by whatever and every available and authorized means.

    ***QUOTE***

    You are missing the point entirely, Steve: I have not once argued that everyone is called to be only one thing inside the body. What I have said is that the Gospel comes first. That means, for example, as a lawyer Colson ought never to lie in order to advocate for a client – even though that’s legally acceptable. It means that Dobson, as a psychologist, ought never to manipulate others into doing things – even if it is for their “own good”.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    This is a rather rubbery definition of the Gospel. You seem to be defining the Gospel as inclusive of Christian ethics. I don’t necessarily object, but it confronts your own position with a couple of problems:

    i) At a minimum, it gets you back to the moral law.

    ii) At a maximum, it would refer to a distinctively Christian value-system. But neither you nor I would write all that into the criminal law code, in the sense of compelling unbelievers to act like believers across the board.

    ***QUOTE***

    Here are the definitions from DOMA

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Actually, I happen to think that DOMA is a distraction, an empty gesture, a token or symbolic prize. It will never pass, and even if it did it still allows for same-sex civil unions, which is marriage by another name.

    In addition, it’s just a band-aid. Congress already has the authority under article 3 of the Constitution to delimit the jurisdiction of the lower courts. That’s the political solution.

    ***QUOTE***

    You can be a Christian politician – if the Gospel comes first.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    The problem is that you’re either offering a real solution to a pseudoproblem or else a pseudosolution to a real problem.

    Yes, by definition, a Christian will put the gospel first. The problem is what to do with the unbeliever--who doesn’t put the gospel first, or second, or third, or…

    ***QUOTE***

    It is – but in defining the role of the magistrate, the LBCF says “according to the wholesome laws”, and says that waging war may be done “under the New Testament”.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    We’ve had this conversation before. The LBCF identifies the moral law with the Decalogue. That’s OT law, not NT law. Or, rather, it’s a carryover.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Mr. Hays wrote:

    That, in turn, raises the question of how much time they're asking from the average pastor or layman? Is it just a question of dashing an email off to one’s senator on a particular judicial nominee or piece of legislation?

    This is an excellent point. All this talk about 'priorities' is mystifying to me. When it comes down to the practical, person-in-the-pew level, ECB pretty much comes down to what you say above, which is fairly nominal on an individual level, but can be fairly effective on a corporate level (just like voting). It's not like the ECB 'Fab Four' (to use Mr. Camp's derogatory phrase for Mohler, Land, Colson, and Dobson for a moment) are calling Christians to fundamentally restructure their church and work commitments. So the idea that ECB somehow undermines the work of the gospel, practically speaking, is just foolish.

    Of course, the ECB leaders themselves devote considerably more time to it. But that's their choice, given their gifts and opportunities. No one's seeking to coerce the church at large to follow their personal priorities here.

    The whole controversy smacks of being made up out of thin air.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Centuri0n wrote:

    What I have been saying is that our first weapon against the evil that men do is the Gospel – not the sword.

    And Mr. Hays replied:

    Really? That's the first weapon we reach for against the mugger or house-burglar or suicide bomber? We wallop 'em with our study Bibles? (Not the slim-line edition, I trust!) That'll larn ya…yew…yew naughty little serial killer, yew!

    LOL! I simply don't understand this talk about "our first weapon against the evil that men do," etc. What is so hard to understand about the basic position you've been outlining? So many of the things that Centuri0n writes are subject to such obvious counterexamples. In response, Centuri0n will surely say, "Ah, that's not how I meant it," and then qualify, qualify, qualify, down to some thesis about 'priorities' that's so innocent that it's not clear there's really any disagreement anymore. And then when we point that out, Centuri0n will come out charging again with yet more bold claims, which are in turn subject to more obvious counterexamples, and then the whole process starts over again.

    That's my summary of the last week :-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think we have reached an impasse.

    Steve: you have stimulated my interest in this topic, but I think we do not have a basis for agreement. It is, perhaps, a flaw in my understanding of the topic. You might get a kick out of my post of John Roberts from this weekend after all this heat and light.

    JD: Apparently, you have a problem with the idea that the definition of marriage is a function of the Gospel, among other things. If you do not see Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as a central part of the Gospel, there's not reason to argue with you. You and I have completely divergent understandings of what we must take as essential teachings regarding the life of the church.

    Be well.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I just saw JD's last response, and it warrants something in return.

    Here's the relevent piece:
    {{
    LOL! I simply don't understand this talk about "our first weapon against the evil that men do," etc. What is so hard to understand about the basic position you've been outlining? So many of the things that Centuri0n writes are subject to such obvious counterexamples. In response, Centuri0n will surely say, "Ah, that's not how I meant it," and then qualify, qualify, qualify, down to some thesis about 'priorities' that's so innocent that it's not clear there's really any disagreement anymore.
    }}

    The odd thing is that we are not talking about whether mass murder or rape or theft ought to be illegal: we are talking about whether homosexuals ought to have the civil right to be married.

    If you want to place homosexual marriage in the same social evil bucket as mass murder or rape, you go ahead and work out the moral calculus. However, what Dobson, Colson and company are working on is not legislation to restore the law to keep mass murderers and rapists off the street: they are talking about making the Law define marriage according to an alleged Christian standard.

    If we were talking about draft the body of US Law from scratch, your incredulity toward my statement could be understood. But we are not talking about whether mass murder or rape or theft should be illegal: we are talking about the definition of marriage.

    If you want to wail about irrelevent statements, wail about your own inability to participate in this discussion without blowing the opinion you disagree with out of proportion. When you do this, you yourself are making irrelevent statements.

    If the example of being attacked personally by one person who intends harm is the one you wanted to base the rest of this discussion on, we shouldn't be talking about ECBs. They are not talking about new laws regarding violent crime: they are talking about fighting against the redefinition of marriage.

    ReplyDelete
  12. oh man. JD also said:

    {{
    Of course, the ECB leaders themselves devote considerably more time to it. But that's their choice, given their gifts and opportunities. No one's seeking to coerce the church at large to follow their personal priorities here.
    }}

    Are you kidding? You're saying that the ECBs are not trying to represent the church or "inform" the church that their view is the view all Christians should take?

    Would you care to substantiate that by some method -- like who follows these guys, and who they target with their message?

    Please: find a fact. In order to get your point across you have said that ECBs do not try to get the church at large to follow them, and that their most important work apparently has to do with combatting violent crime rather than working to combat homosexual marriage. Both of these arguments don't even pass the smell test.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Actually, the institution of marriage is infinitely more important than petty theft. I'm not hearing any moral or exegetical argument on how to draw a line between the two.

    ReplyDelete
  14. And what's with this nonsense that "the definition of marriage is a function of the Gospel"? Last I checked, the definition of marriage was a function of Ge 1-2.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I wrote:

    Of course, the ECB leaders themselves devote considerably more time to it. But that's their choice, given their gifts and opportunities. No one's seeking to coerce the church at large to follow their personal priorities here.

    And Centuri0n replied:

    Are you kidding? You're saying that the ECBs are not trying to represent the church or "inform" the church that their view is the view all Christians should take?

    No, I'm not saying that the ECBers are not trying to represent the church. Nor am I saying that the ECBers are not trying to inform the church that their view is the view all Christians should take. I think it's perfectly fine for them to do either of these things. What I said is that they're not trying to coerce the church to follow their personal priorities, where this is defined by how the ECB leaders use their time every week, according to their gifts and opportunities. Obviously, not everyone can have a radio show every day. The ECBers aren't calling the Christian in the pew to have a radio show every day, and devote the massive hours to this cause that they are devoting to it. As I put it in the paragraph that immediately precedes the one you cite, they are not "calling Christians to fundamentally restructure their church and work commitments."

    Get it? They're trying to get other Christians to vote in a certain way, and write a few letters, which is a pretty trivial amount of time per week. They're not trying to get other Christians to spend as many hours on ECB-related activities as they do. So the notion that the time spent by a handful of ECB leaders somehow undermines the work of the gospel in the churches, in any substantial way, is foolish.

    Stop taking quickie potshots, and spend more time reading thoughtfully before you post.

    ReplyDelete