Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Internet Discussions and Church Discipline

A post by Mark Horne made me think about the role of the blog-o-sphere and the Internet in theological debates. On the one hand, the Internet is a very handy way to discuss theological topics. One can post thoughts and receive immediate interaction from people of all backgrounds and time zones. It is also very easy to interact with other theologians or bloggers via comments and trackback pings and all sorts of fancy things I do not fully understand. Clearly this is easier (and quicker) than exchanging long, handwritten letters, and it’s cheaper than making long-distance phone calls. On the other hand, it is a poor way to communicate theological debates because it is impersonal. It is easy to bash the character of someone that we have never met and who we know only by his or her web address. Too often things are done anonymously and behind the backs of men who are in ‘good and regular standing’ within the church.

I do not agree with the broad brushstrokes of Rev. Horne’s post, nor do I know anything of the specifics alluded to in the post and the comments, but I do agree with his critique that “No charges or (sic) ever filed; no direct interaction ever takes place.” The Internet is not the church, and it’s definitely not a church court. The Federal Vision controversy has been raging for over 5 years now, yet no cases have come before the Standing Judicial Commission in the PCA. Individual presbyteries make their own pronouncements in Special Study Committees that never result in action on a wider scale. ‘Good and regular standing’ means nothing on a denominational basis anymore.

The Internet and web logs are good for theological discussion, but when theological discussions become theological battles, action should be taken outside the computer room. It is evident from my blog that I do not favor the Federal Vision, I believe it to be in error; however, I do think many Federal Vision ministers have a legitimate complaint when it comes to how they have been treated by their denomination. Five years is too long for this level of disagreement to go on with neither exoneration nor conviction from the church courts. It is the loving thing to do. If one believes this or any other error to be that serious, then it would be unloving not to bring it up before the church. I worry that this impersonal, electronic format has led us to forget to treat each other with love, including the love of church discipline. The so-called ‘TR’ churches need to either take their case before the courts or take their accusations off their web sites and blogs.


DrFunk said...

One of the problems I think happens in this debate is that it seems as if it boils down to a lot of Reformed people jumping on (selected folks in) the PCA church (and Doug Wilson, and whatever ecumenical group he started in Idaho) for agreeing with an Anglican bishop in England over the issue of Pauline theology. So long as we agree on the issues, we're all for ecumenicalism among the various Reformed denominations; but once there is a debate, we tend to plug our ears to what Christian brothers in other denominations are saying. The RCUS, for instance, can't bring "church discipline" against the PCA, because there isn't any "higher body" that both subscribe to. At best, we can continue discussions like these on the blogs (and in real life) among individuals who willingly submit to hear each other's side, and hope that enough complaints from our friends in the RCUS will sway the PCA to decide the issue once and for all.

Yes, as a member of the PCA, I would like to see us address Federal Vision once and for all, for the reason Lee describes--its unloving to not say whether a view is in error. As Lee knows, I have not studied the issue enough to decide myself for one side or the other. However, if you are going to try to correct the errors of other denominations, shouldn't you start with the Pentecostals? ;-) They're such an easier target...

(Some disclaimers: I know Lee was formerly in thePCA, [he's the guy that led me to join the PCA] so he does have a "dog in this fight"; I realize that the FV controversy does involve several denominations other than the PCA; and I believe that Lee's blogging is done to try to help encourage the PCA to make a decision on this issue.)

Lee said...

I did attack the Pentecostals. You obviously did not read the post on Cessationism! It is still on the top page. Follow the links. It is worth it.