Sunday, July 28, 2013

Reactionary polity

I have already pointed out Hays’s unfortunate characterization of why men call upon this text in discussions about biblical submission. The subtle inference is that we must watch out for men who call upon this text in such discussions because their motivation is more than likely to abuse or lord it over the poor layman.

Well, if the shoe fits...

Gossip? One of the reasons discipline becomes public is so that we can know these things. 
As I've pointed out before, this illustrates the hypocrisy of Ed Dingess and Frank Turk on this issue. They say this is about accountability to the elders of a local church, but their real complaint is that AHA members aren't directly answerable to Ed Dingess and Frank Turk. If, however, this is really about church discipline, then church discipline is not a public affair. Only members of the local church would be privy to that information.
Given, moreover, the stress that Frank and Ed lay on elders, the only folks who should be in the loop would be the elders and whatever laymen they discipline.

You seem to have an answer for everything and will stop at nothing to defend Hunter. 

I haven't defended Hunter (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that).
I would presume you would demand to know this since Hunter's behavior would be a reflection on you because he is one of your associates.
Hunter is not one of my associates (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that). 
You claim to know very little about AHA but your defense of it either puts you in the position of being dishonest and knowing more than you are willing to admit or of adamantly defending something from ignorance. From my point of view, neither behavior is recommended.
I haven't defended AHA. Rather, I've criticized the reactionary, opportunistic ecclesiology of Frank Turk and Ed Dingess. I don't need to know anything about AHA to do that. 
Elders derive their authority from Scripture. Abandon basics of the faith, and elders decommission themselves as qualified leaders. See Matthew's gospel 18 on binding and loosing.

A telling example of Ed's spooftexting:

i) To begin with, Mt 18 says nothing about elders or church officers, in distinction to the laity. Ed is importing that into the text out of thin air.

ii) Mt 18 deals with actual sin, not mere accusation. Ed keeps divorcing authority from truth. Where does Mt 18 say the church has the authority to bind and loose even if the accused is actually innocent? Where does Mt 18 suggest that even if a layman is falsely accused, he must submit to church sanctions? 

Steve makes the point that we must make allowance for the implied situation if we are to properly interpret Scripture. The standard way of saying this is that we must take into consideration the historical context within which the text was written. However, an overemphasis on this principle could lead to situational ethics even within the Christian system of ethics and this could have disastrous results.

i) Notice that in the same breath, Ed both classifies me as a situation ethicist, yet also warns about the "disastrous results" of my position. But, of course, judging a course of action by the results is, itself, a criterion of situation ethics. So I guess that makes Ed a situation ethicist.

ii) The word "situation" in "situation ethics" is simply a brand name. When I discuss the relevance of analogous situations, that no more makes me a situation ethicist than belonging to the McDonald clan makes me an employee of a fast-food chain. The fact that Joseph Fletcher co-opted the word "situation" to label his value system hardly makes every reference to the situation equivalent to, or even similar, to his value system. Ed's equation is inept. 

What I said was:  

To be faithful to Biblical commands and prohibitions means we must make allowance for the implied situation, and apply those biblical injunctions to analogous situations. Far from honoring the authority of Scripture, to disregard the implied situation can make a mockery of original intent.

How is that equivalent to Fletcher's system? 

While it is true that there were no denominations at the time of the writing of Hebrews, it is not true that there were no rival theological traditions. The NT is replete with doctrinal and theological threats to the truth claims and values of the Christian group. Perhaps these did not rise to the level that Steve has in mind, but the fact of the matter is that there were heretical competitors lurking everywhere. 

But in that event, were there not heretical elders running amok? So how is Ed's appeal to eldership any safeguard?

I agree with Steve that the number of churches and denominations, especially in American culture can be confusing and challenging for any young Christian. But isn’t this approach to interpreting Hebrews 13:17 anachronistic. 

Ed has it backwards. I didn't cite the modern situation to interpret Heb 13:17. Rather, I contrasted the modern situation with Heb 13:17.

Shouldn’t we first seek to understand exactly what that writer was getting at before attempting to apply it in our context? 

That's exactly what I did.

Does a layman decide for himself, or is there more to it than that? Are we free to pick and choose which church we attend based on our own personal preferences?

i) Notice how often Ed sounds like a sockpuppet for Bryan Cross. The same Catholic-style objections, viz. ecclesial consumerism, ultimate interpretive authority.

ii) As a matter of fact, a layman must decide for himself. Who else will decide for him? Who will decide whether he joins a Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Pentecostal church (to name a few)? Who made that decision for Ed? 

Who determines when the leaders are NOT accountable to God?

Clearly not the leaders. That would be viciously circle. 

By what standard? How can we protect ourselves from both error and insubordination? Where is the balance? Safety is found in the perspicuity of Scripture.

Appeal to the perspicuity of Scripture won't broker disagreements between Lutherans and Baptists (to take one example), for both sides grant the perspicuity of Scripture.

Hays seems to imply that ancient ecclesiology was what it was for merely pragmatic reasons. 

i) Not merely. But where church governance is concerned, there's nothing wrong with taking pragmatic considerations into account. Governance is a process. A means to an end. Not an end in itself. A process is not a point of principle, but, at best, a way of facilitating the principle. 

ii) It's obvious from Acts 6:1-7 that the early church didn't have a blueprint of church polity. They are adapting to the demands of the situation. Improvising the details. 

iii) However, Ed's objection is highly ironic given the pragmatic tactics of Ed Dingess and Frank Turk. They are clearly incensed by AHA's Church Repent project. In reaction, Frank and Ed resort to the same arguments as Bryan Cross. They make up their ecclesiology on the fly, to oppose AHA. 

iv) Keep in mind, too, that Ed judges a position by its allegedly "disastrous results." But judging a position by the anticipated results is nothing if not pragmatic

On the one hand, Ed levels this  objection to my position, which he caricatures:

We are, presumably, past that now. We have progressed. We don’t need the structure they needed because we are, after all, more sophisticated. We can read it for ourselves! We can read commentaries! 

On the other hand, Ed elsewhere says:

Of course new Churches with new elders under the new covenant are going to struggle with doctrinal issues. They don't even have a NT document yet to provide the standards and guardrails upon which to operate.

So which is it, Ed? Does the fact that we can read it for ourselves, unlike 1C Christians (who didn't have a copy of the NT), make a difference or not?

Hays seems to say that we don’t need to do it that way any longer because our situation has changed. This raises concerns around Hays’s version of situational ethics based upon his situational hermeneutic. This method introduces a degree of subjectivity that should make any theologian or pastor squirm with discomfort.

Applying Biblical norms to analogous situations is no more "subjective" than any argument from analogy. Is Ed contending that an argument from analogy is inherently subjective? 

I agree with Steve when he says that entire sessions have been given to serious error and even heresy. But this is not easy to pull off. One does not flip a switch and end up with an apostate church. It generally takes several years for this to happen. Believers must be discerning about their Church. Their loyalty must be to God, to His Truth first. True believers have the Holy Spirit and are enabled to recognize, in time, when the deceiver has the floor…A plurality of elders in Spirit-filled Church helps to mitigate such behavior.

So is the difference between Lutheran sacramentology and Baptist or Zwinglian sacramentology owing to the fact that Baptist elders are Spirit-filled whereas Lutheran elders are flat tires? Ed keeps appealing to this folk charismatic criterion. If you disagree with Ed, that just goes to show that you're not one of the Illuminati. 

We think we have rights to pick our own church based on whatever criteria WE decide. 

Once again, notice that Ed is channeling Bryan Cross. Yet Ed himself picks which church to join based on his own theological criteria.  

I see no positive statement about biblical submission in Hays’s ecclesiology. It simply does not exist.

To the contrary, I've said repeatedly that we're obligated to submit to revealed truth. 


  1. "As I've pointed out before, this illustrates the hypocrisy of Ed Dingess and Frank Turk on this issue."

    What are the chances of them owning up to their hypocrisy?

    1. Calling us hypocrites doesn't make us hypocrites. Why would we own up to an argument that is so completely bankrupt of sound exegesis? Steve shows his true colors at the end when he says we "submit to revealed truth." His version of submission is to the autonomous man's and that man's own view of what revealed truth is. And that is the issue. It is no wonder he gets creamed on the issue of sola scriptura by the Catholics. He is essentially his own magisterium. In Steve's world, Steve is the final reference point. It is also no wonder that I see such a wild smattering of apologetic method on Triablogue. It all makes sense now. Steve consistently refuses to represent other's views correctly, preferring to smear them and distract by using ad homs and red herrings ad nauseum.

    2. Once again, Dingness is channeling Bryan Cross, viz. "final reference point," "final interpretive authority." Dingess is an Oreo Evangelical: Protestant on the outside, but Catholic on the inside.

    3. The irony is that Ed makes himself "the final reference point" when he decides to be Baptist rather than Lutheran, or when he favors premillennialism over amillennialism eschatology (to take two obvious examples). In each case he must exercise his private judgment.

    4. If your analogy holds, then it would follow that each man is unavoidably his own reference point, including you as well as the rest of us. It is my opinion that a serious flaw exists in your hermeneutic and this explains why you reason along these lines. By your logic we end up in pure skepticism. I have pointed to:

      1. The authority of Scripture
      2. The God-ordained offices of the Church
      3. The Great Teacher Himself, God the Holy Spirit
      4. The promise of Christ that the elect can not be deceived
      5. Added to this the gift of communication, which is, like nature, uniform and universal. In other words, communication is possible because God made it so.

      This is hardly making me the reference point. And I am confident that any theologian worth his salt reading this would agree.

      On the one hand, I am opposed to the Magisterium who expect to be blindly followed into their heresy and false gospel. On the other hand I am opposed to a judgeless Israel where each man does what is right in his own eyes. The unity of the body is far more important than the typical American Christian realizes. You continue to refuse to provide a positive case for what true biblical submission looks like.

    5. So you're saying Lutherans and Baptists disagree because Lutherans are unregenerate reprobates. Is that the differential factor?

      Ed is a premil. That's how he interprets Scripture. His interpretation reflects his own viewpoint. That's how he sees it. He can't avoid making his personal perception of the truth his final reference point. Same thing with Ed's position on the sacraments. We could go down the list.

      Appealing to church officers won't salvage your claim. Each church officer is his own reference point.

    6. Great point Steve.

      Ed Dingess said...

      4. The promise of Christ that the elect can not be deceived

      That would imply that all of Ed Dingess' doctrines are correct and that everyone who disagrees with his theology must be deceived and non-elect. Since Dingess is a Baptist and Lutherans aren't Baptists, therefore Lutherans aren't elect. Q.E.D.

      The fact is that the elect can be deceived both before and after their regeneration and eventual conversion. The elect never have absolutely perfect doctrine while here on earth. The doctrine of election only ensures that the elect will come to a sufficient saving knowledge of, and faith in, the Gospel before they die (leaving out for the moment the issue of infants and the mentally handicapped). It does not ensure that all their doctrines will be correct.

    7. Christians are free in Christ to pursue whatever ministry they see fit, unless their pastors/elders can show from Scripture where they have gone astray with regard to essential Christian doctrine. I know that if my pastor expressed a serious concern about a ministry I was involved in, I would take it to heart. However, in areas in which there is room for disagreement and diversity of opinion among godly people, there should be no issues made by church leadership. There are too many pastors in reformed circles who tend to squelch legitimate ministry because they are so concerned about every theological duck being in a row.

      From what I understand of this debate, Ed and Frank are promoting what I refer to as "American Baptist Churchianity". I don't think that equivalent to biblical ecclesiology.

      Also, I'm unclear as to who Ed thinks should decide which local church a believer should become a part of. And lastly, private interpretative judgment is the right of every Christian within the bounds of orthodoxy. Frank and Ed follow their personal convictions with regard to what Scripture says, why deny this right to others? I think Steve is right on this point. Neither of them care for AHA, and if they were in control they would drop the hammer. That's why I'm glad the Lord protects his people from such hammers.

    8. > There are too many pastors in reformed circles
      > who tend to squelch legitimate ministry because
      > they are so concerned about every theological duck being in a row.


      Doesn't that beg the question?
      If your theological ducks aren't in a row, then shouldn't you be concerned about whether your ministry is legitimate?

    9. Hi Mike,

      No, I mentioned in my comments where there is room for disagreement and diversity of opinion among godly people. If someone has to have perfection of understanding in order to engage in ministry, we're all in trouble.

  2. Another excellent entry, Steve. Well done.

    Ed Dingess is just a control freak with no leverage, and his arguments are indeed Catholic in style. He can't cause a storm with the elders of the churches to which the members of AHA and Triablogue belong, he can't shame them into giving him that information, so he just morphs into a Catholic and does what many a Catholic has done- undermine other people's authority structure in hopes that they'll simply default to Ed Dingess's model in lieu of not being able to defend their own.

    Reformed people would naturally recoil at such tactics- but for Ed Dingess, it doesn't matter. He has an undying thirst for control. At the end of the day, it's okay for a man to run a site called Reformed Reasons to suddenly change sides and argue like a Catholic so long as he manages to silence a dissenter to his position.

    God help the young people in his church, and God help his soul.