Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sectarianism the real danger to the church?

John Armstrong’s article in Acts 3 is an interesting critique of the situation in the PCA churches today. It is a critique that makes the danger to PCA churches out to be not liberalism, but sectarianism. Armstrong contends that a vocal minority of PCA ministers trouble the church on a regular basis, stopping the PCA from living up to its potential in things like education and missions.

Armstrong’s definitions of liberalism and needless sectarianism are revealing. Liberalism for Armstrong is homosexual marriage, homosexual ordination, and anti-Semitic overtures. Then he defines needless sectarian bickering as:

justification and the New Perspective on Paul, the Federal Vision (with related debates about baptism and the Lord’s Supper), Norman Shepherd’s misunderstood views on justification and sanctification, the place of liturgy (including weekly communion, forms of worship expression, ministerial robes and clerical collars), the role of women (including women serving as ordained deacons and women serving in the military), paedocommunion, Bible translations, etc

Needless sectarian bickering is defined then as anything regarding justification (including adding works and sacramentalism to justification and altar-based worship), ordination of women, and translation of the Word of God. These issues have always been at the heart of the church. If these are indeed needlessly sectarian the Reformation itself was a needless exercise, and we should all still be Romanists.

In the end, Armstrong is defining liberalism as those things to the left of him, and sectarian trouble everything to the right of him. He paints himself as the martyr who will be attacked for his views. Yet, in the end he is a liberal on this point. The entire Reformed tradition places the utmost emphasis on justification by faith alone. The Reformed have always gone through great pains to distinguish the sacramentalism of Rome from what the Bible tells us about the sacraments. The Reformers viewed a high liturgy, not as a needless, unimportant difference, but as an attack upon the truth of the gospel. These things are not meaningless as Armstrong would have us think. No one in the history of the church has thought it meaningless. Clearly, it would be better for Armstrong if people quit discussing these things for then he would be able to propagate his theory on progressive Christianity unabated. However, it would not be better for the PCA, the OPC, the Reformed in general, or the church universal.


Andrew Duggan said...

I also find it of some note that he takes pains to indicate he is not a PCA minister, but reading his biography page I find no reference to which church he might belong. In Act 3 Doctrinal Foundation the most he will say is that he is in essential agreement with the confessional standards of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. He does though point out that he is a member of the "Karl Barth Society".

Isn't it cool that today's alleged conservatives are indistinguishable from the liberals of the 1920s through 1960s?

His article reads like a reprint of something that would be have been written about Machen and the PCUSA in the early 1930s.