Thursday, November 30, 2006

We must not weary

There is a discussion going on over at Greenbaggins about the Federal Vision. The discussion is about whether or not critics of the Federal Vision ever understand the Federal Vision. But that is not what I want to talk about. The author (a friend of mine for full disclosure) the following comment:

You know, this is so amazingly tiring. This is why I am so tired of the whole wretched debate.

This is the comment that worries me. The Federal Vision was a hot topic for several years, worthy of a good round of debates. But now it is working its way through the often contentious church court system, and these power struggles make people weary. “This committee report is wrong”, “This committee is stacked and unfair”, and “Do I have to read another 40 plus page report and debate it on the floor of Classis?” all are wearisome to be sure. It naturally leads to feelings of wanting it all to go away and be settled once and for all. However, that will never be. This debate is around for the long haul. The Federal Vision already controls an entire denomination that has become a safe haven for those who practice the FV theology. Many churches in multiple denominations are spouting this theology. It is not something that is going to just go away. Weariness leads to acceptance for the sake of peace. Let me use a few historical examples.

The Reformed Church in the United States is a perfect example. The debate between Mercersburg and the Old Reformed began to really heat up around 1844. It was mostly in print and not a lot of church court work was done. It began to heat up in the church courts in 1854, and not counting a small time of unity when the focus was on another subject, the debate raged until 1878 when weariness won out. Nothing was solved, only a way to keep the peace was found. People often confuse the too. Finding a way to keep the peace is not the same as solving the problem. A Peace Committee came back with some proposals that asked both sides to give a little something up, but did not take any doctrinal stands one way or the other. Of course this really made the Mercersburg Side victorious and forty years later the Reformed Church merged with a Lutheran denomination except a small remnant in the Dakotas.

Another great example is the Great Awakening and the Presbyterian Church. In 1741, the New Side broke away from the Old Side and each created a competing Synod. Harsh words were exchanged and ministers felt “vexed to death” by the intrusions and disruptions in the church. In 1746, the Old Side Synod of Philadelphia lost an entire Presbytery to the New Side as the tension continued. Yet, by 1758 the weariness had set in. The two sides met, reunited on a Plan of Union without settling any theological debates. A few practical rules were laid in place and the two became one. Yet, within three years the same debate raged through the newly created joint Synod. The 1760’s are full of Presbyteries being demolished and Old Siders being placed so they remain minorities thanks to the New Side majority in the new Synod. Presbyteries split because of theology, and one presbytery withdrew completely. It was so bad that the Old Siders were again about to make their own Synod, and were in Britain raising money for it, when the American Revolution began. This unified feelings for a time. During the War the Old Side leaders died off, the British destroyed the Old Side ministerial institution, and the Old Side vanished. By 1788 they are a footnote in opposition to the formation of the General Assembly.

One could go on forever and discuss the Princeton conflict of the 1920’s and probably find hundreds of other examples where weariness won out over theology. This can never be allowed to happen in a debate that is of importance. Keeping or restoring the peace is not the same as solving the problem. Too often the church or at least church leaders weary of the disharmony and attempt to restore harmony by finding the quickest way to peace rather than deal with the theological issues head on. The RCUS wearied, instituted peace, and within a generation was on its way to becoming the United Churches of Christ, a very liberal denomination. The Old Side wearied, joined without theological union, and (in my opinion) instituted the fundamental tension between revivalism and confessionalism that directly led to the Old School/New School split of the 1800’s and in some ways still plagues the PCA and OPC today. The Church is called to be a pillar of truth and constantly remind people of the gospel. There are times we get tired and do tedious work, but we must never weary of presenting the gospel not only to those who are lost, but to those who err as well.

(I feel that I should add, I do not think that Mr. Baggins is advocating quitting, but his expression was a nice jumping off point.)


Lane Keister said...

No, you're right on this, Lee, and I don't intend to stop fighting, although my days of debate on this are reaching their end, since I have said much of what I wanted to say.

Andrew Duggan said...

The problem is not just that men are weary of the fight, its that most of the men don't really care in the first place. They consider the entire debate nothing more than the annoying noise of children like unto a chorus of "uh-huh -- nah-huh".

They don't care, they won't listen, and in the end they will kick you out because you will not be in subjection to them when they tell you to shut up. That's when you need to decide for yourself whether or not to submit in silence, or to obey God rather than men. The PCA and the OPC might not be controlled by FV men, (although at least in the latter case that is debatable), but neither are they controlled by those who consider the subject worthy of their attention.

Lane Keister said...

Andrew, I certainly appreciate your point about people not caring. It goes hand in hand with the decline in doctrine that most denominations are experiencing.

However, I think I'm going to have to dissent from the last point you made about the PCA. I think the realy movers and shakers in the PCA are adamantly opposed to the FV, and are doing everything in their power to oust them. Think of Dominic Aquila, Joey Pipa, Lig Duncan, Rick Phillips, Guy Waters, and many others. These are the people with real power in the PCA. The SJC has ruled that the Louisiana Presbytery did not properly exonerate Steve Wilkins.