Friday, July 12, 2013

Ecclesiology and AHA

I'd like to comment on a recent statement that Frank Turk made about Abolish Human Abortion.

Second: they have removed themselves from Gospel accountability.  That is to say, it seems obvious that there is no one with a mature view of Scripture out in front.  Yesterday we saw at least two significant errors in theology and in the meaning of the Gospel; there are more to be found on their website.  Those errors are replicated as this organization goes about its business.  It stems from failing to have a local church accountable for and accounting for their actions, and overseeing their work to make sure both that it is wholesome and godly and also that it is not a scandal.

Frank takes for granted a certain ecclesiology. If members of AHA don't share his ecclesiology, in principle or practice, then that must mean they lack a "mature view of Scripture." 

Now, I don't have any opinion about AHA in general. For one thing, I don't know much about the organization. For another thing, to the extent that AHA is a national organization with many members, it's not possible to generalize about their ecclesiastical views or ecclesiastical affiliations. That said, I'd like to cite a few counterexamples:

F. F. Bruce was Plymouth Brethren. Frank presumably thinks the Plymouth Brethren have a deficient ecclesiology.

In answer to the question: 

Is it correct to say that no local company of Christians has the right to the designation "church" unless and until elders and deacons are in evidence?

Bruce replied:

No; elders and deacons are necessary for the well-being of a local church, but not for its being. When Paul and Barnabas appointed "elders in every church" of South Galatia (Acts 14:23), the implication of that language is that the churches were there before elders were appointed in them. Answers to Questions (Zondervan 1974), 183.

Now Frank might disagree with Bruce's ecclesiology, but I hope he wouldn't accuse Bruce of lacking a "mature view of Scripture." Bruce was the doyen of Evangelical Bible scholars.

Walter Liefeld challenges the traditional category of church office:

If one obstacle to understanding the nature of ministry as servanthood is a wrong concept of and preoccupation with authority, another obstacle is our confusion of the English terms "ministry" and "office."…the word "ministry" today has come to signify something far more than service. Ministry has become "the ministry," a class of persons, the clergy. 

This misconception is further fostered by the KJV translation of Rom 11:13: "I magnify mine office." This mistranslation has been used more than once to bolster the status of a pastor. The word is diakonia, "service" or "ministry." The idea of "office" is absent. In Rom 12:4 the KJV reads: "All members have not the same office." Here the word is praxis, "function." A similar unfortunate translation has had a corresponding effect with regard to ecclesiastical leadership. That is the rendering "office of a a bishop" in 1 Tim 3:1. As in Rom 11:13; 12:4, the word "office" is introduced into the text by the translation…It is easy to see how the KJV with its ecclesiastical terminology has greatly affected thinking on the subject.  

We must ask, therefore, whether there was such a concept as "office" in the NT. "Office" in contemporary English can denote a duty or service, but it more commonly denotes a specific position, often with authority. One simple way to illustrate the difference between "office" and "ministry" is that an office exists even when there is no incumbent. No such term exists in early Christian literature before the time of Cyprian. 

Most of the passages that do refer to authority have nothing to do, as we have just seen, with teaching or pastoral ministry. Unless one accepts the idea of apostolic succession and a teaching magisterium in the Church… JETS 30/1 (March 1987), 49-61.

Now Frank might disagree with Liefeld's ecclesiology, but I hope he wouldn't accuse Liefeld of lacking a "mature view of Scripture." Liefeld is a seasoned NT scholar. 

Harold Hoehner distinguishes between church office and spiritual gifts: a distinction that might be germane to the debate over AHA. Among other things, he says:

Scripture consistently maintains a distinction between the office and the gift. Eldership is an office, whereas pastor- teacher is a gift…Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28), an indication that elders might have the gift of caring as well (1 Cor 12:28; Rom 12:7–8). 
On the other hand, it may be that Paul was encouraging elders to care for believers in Ephesus in the more general way that all Christians are to care for one another rather than their having that specific gift. Timothy, for instance, was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5); this does not necessitate that he had the gift of an evangelist (Eph 4:11) but that he was to spread the gospel as all believers are exhorted to do. 

Another confusing factor is ordination. Since the gift of pastor-teacher is often equated with the office of elder, ordination, often performed by the laying on of hands, is seen as the church’s recognition solely of an office. JETS 50/4 (December 2007) 761–71.

Now Frank might disagree with Hoehner's ecclesiology, but I hope he wouldn't accuse Hoehner of lacking a "mature view of Scripture." Hoehner was a premier NT scholar. 


  1. I don't read the Team Pyro blog regularly. In fact, up until this post (and Rho's), I probably haven't visited it many months. In fact, other than knowing who Frank is (as much as one can "know" a person via the Internet), and having a vague understanding of who Phil Johnson is, I don't really know all that much about the Team Pyro blog. Shame on me I guess for not reading a very popular blog.

    I use this to preface to ask the following question:

    Frank points out what he sees to be a danger- that is, people who form groups outside the authority structure of the church. Here I admit I indeed have strong sympathies, very strong sympathies.

    That being said, Frank stated the following: "The Gospel is not running around without a church." Frank also said that God calls some people to be bloggers.Now here's my question: Are the members of Team Pyro, as a group, accountable to a specific church? That is, do they have what they post each day approved in some sense? I don't read Team Pyro enough to know the answer to this question.

    If in fact they do, kudos to them for not blogging Gospel-related issues without the church and being consistent with the Turkian paradigm stated by Frank. On the other hand, if they are a group of individuals, called by God to be bloggers, living in different parts of the country, in different churches, that simply write what they want to, whenever they want to... I'm not sure I see how Frank can consistently criticize AHA.

    This question of course takes aim at all of us who consider ourselves the dinosaurs known as "bloggers." This of course is a different issue all together, but certainly worth the consideration of those Protestants that takes the structure and authority of the church seriously.

    1. That is, do they have what they post each day approved in some sense?

      No, they do not.
      And if I'm mistaken and they do, yikes.
      But like I said, they don't.

      I'm not sure I see how Frank can consistently criticize AHA.

      Well, you're not alone in that. :-)

  2. OK, thanks for the link to Frank's explanation. I didn't bother reading the comments.
    Frank stated:

    "For my part, I have men in my church (fellow members, deacons and elders) who all read my blogging and hold me accountable not to be a disgrace to our local church and to Christ."

    So, suppose someone in AHA stated,

    "For my part, I have men in my church (fellow members, deacons and elders) who all see the videos of my AHA activities, approve of my protests against abortion, and appreciate my zeal to do street preaching, and hold me accountable not to be a disgrace to our local church and to Christ."

    I'm not sure members of AHA would say this, but I suspect many would. In other words, I still don't see the difference between AHA and Pyro in authority structure.

  3. One of the elders of my church, which was a PCA start-up, who now is a contributor at, still continues to remind folks during services, "if you want to help out in some way, just start doing something, because if you have to wait for the elders to approve something, it likely won't get done".