Monday, June 18, 2007

The Voice of the Church

An interesting side debate has now occurred after the PCA adopted its report. Should the Federal Vision adherents leave the PCA because they should have a high view of church authority? Rev. Lane Kiester is one of those who thinks they ought to just leave the PCA now they know they are not welcome. Alastair argues that men ought to stay because the PCA and/or OPC do not represent the church universal. I have to disagree with both of them.

Rev. Kiester argues that if one has a high regard for the church, then he would either repent or leave the church. While I agree with the idea of repenting, leaving the church if one is not convinced is not necessarily an action I advocate. J. Greshem Machen did not leave the liberal PCUSA. He tried to change it from within, and was eventually disciplined out. According to Rev. Kiester, Machen must have had a low view of the church because he did not repent, and he did not leave.

On the other hand, Alastair, tries to argue that because so many denominations exist we cannot treat any one of them as if it were the Church capital C. Alastair seems to think that this was not the case in generations past because he states, “we cannot simply take the ecclesiologies of previous generations and apply them directly to the local denominational congregations that we attend.” Thus, Alastair seems to argue that in the ‘olden’ days the pronouncements of a church meant something because their were not denominations. With all due respect for Alastair, I think there were always denominations. The first heretic, Marcion, is excommunicated by his father, but received in Rome and there he leads many astray. Marcion ‘churches’ are everywhere by the end of the 2nd century as are Monatnist churches. Some areas had a ‘Catholic’ church, a Marcion church and a Montanist church. How is this different than the current situation? But surely we would not argue that all three of those ‘churches’ would have to speak with one accord to say the Church spoke? Even if we leave off the history of heretics, we can still see proto-denominations. Take the case of Cyprian. He avoided martyrdom, faced harsh criticism from the Bishop of Rome no less, but he refused to say that was the Church speaking and went about his own business. Is that not a denominational spirit in the second century? Alastair’s argument is what the Patriarchs of the East said for centuries. They claimed the Church as a whole could not speak unless everyone agreed. It led to wide differences between the East and the West long before open schism occurred in 1054. That does not speak well for the existence of church wide counsels either because the Robber Council of Ephesus had wide approval, but was eventually overturned. The Seventh Ecumenical Council had the agreement of all the Patriarchs, including the Pope, but was outright ignored by the vast majority of the churches because of the influence of Charlemagne and the Franks. Is that not a proto-denominationalism even in the 8th century? Alastair’s formula means the Church never speaks, ever. Such a situation is hard to countenance.

Thus, I believe the answer is to be found in discipline, rather than pronouncements. Alastair is right in thinking that the study committees of the PCA, the OPC, and even the RCUS do not equal the church of Christ speaking to all the other denominations out there. I personally would have a hard time thinking that a study committee of the CRE constituted the voice of the Church. I also regularly ignore the pronouncements of women being preachers made by the PCUSA, the UMC, the UCC, many Baptist churches, the TEC, and several other denominations that probably have more membership than the Reformed churches. I do believe that the church does speak, and that is through godly discipline rather than study committees. Lane is right that when your own denomination speaks, one ought to listen very, very carefully. However, the way the church speaks on such matters as the FV is discipline, not study committees. Lane is correct that passing the study committee at GA was a victory, but was it the church speaking? At least three presbyteries of the PCA have vindicated the FV, or at least portions of it through study committees and/or trials. Does the study committee at GA somehow trump the voice of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery that actually examined a man? Or the Louisiana Presbytery? Does it mean the Missouri Presbytery’s committee report is no longer valid or perhaps even out of bounds? Did the OPC report reverse the decision Kinnaird case? The bible shows us over and over again that the church speaks through its godly discipline. It spoke on the Judaizers at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. They spoke about lying in Acts 5. They spoke on Simon Magus when Peter and John pronounced upon him in Acts 8. Discipline is the voice of the church in matters of doctrinal deviation. I think if the PCA and OPC have spoken, it is at best a speaking out of both sides of their mouth. Admittedly discipline cases are pending in the PCA. That decision will be the PCA speaking, not this report. I should also point out that the discipline of the church must be consistent and applied to more than one person. I think I do not need to remind the Presbyterians of Charles Augustus Briggs, and what happened after he was the only one removed from office.

I commend the PCA for its acceptance of the report, but I encourage them to press on. They are not finished until they use the Biblical power of the keys to truly speak on this issue.


Ryan said...

The Study Commitie Report was not a victory, it was a grand failure. They bore false whiteness against their brothers.

The SCR misrepresents the FV men on crucial issues, writing as if...

• they deny the Reformation solas (they do not), or that

• they deny justification by faith alone (which they do not) , or

• they deny the imputation of Christ's righteousness (they do not), or

• they deny that the eternally elect will inevitably persevere (they do not deny this), or
• they deny that the covenant with Adam before the fall differs from the covenant of grace after the fall (all affirm a difference between the two covenants).

Further, the SCR writes as though the FV men believe that there are “requirements” for election, even though none of them believes or teaches any such thing.

• The SCR claims that the FV men deny a qualitative difference between the grace received by the elect and the nonelect in the visible church, but they do not deny this difference.

• The SCR claims incorrectly that FV men teach that perseverance is required for “final election” yet none teaches this.

• The SCR criticizes the FV men for a belief in the “’covenantal’ efficacy of baptism” without defining what this means or proving how it differs from what the Westminster standards and the PCA BCO say about baptism.

• The SCR criticizes Leithart’s emphasis on justification as both verdict (forensic) and as a kind of definitive sanctification, something John Murray, Sinclair Ferguson and many other theologians have taught.

• The Report fails to demonstrate that TE Leithart’s formulation runs afoul of the Westminster standards.

For all of the above, if one compares the claims of the SCR with the writings of the FV men in question, the alleged evidence for their infidelity fails to sustain the exaggerated allegations of unfaithfulness to the Westminster standards either because 1) the SCR take quotes out of context (sometimes making the FV men say the opposite of what they say in context), 2) the SCR equates saying more than Westminster with saying something contrary to Westminster, or 3) the SCR imposes a narrow interpretation of what is allowable by our standards without proving that its interpretation is correct using the Scripture. It was unwise for the Assembly to adopt a report that makes false claims about PCA ministers.

Therefore the presbyters are under no obligation to leave since the report condemns a position alien to anything they either believe or teach.

Lane Keister said...

Ryan, you can call the entire PCA liars if you want to, but just realize that that is what you are doing. Lee, I have offered a brief answer here:

Lee said...

I do not really want to get into whether or not the Study Committee report was accurate. I am not a member of the PCA, so I did not go through the statement with a fine tooth comb. I would say that almost all (if not all) the points you make are debatable, which really should have been done at the GA.
But more germaine to the topic of the post, is does the Study Committee report impose a narrow interpretation of the WCF? Does adopting a report from a committee (or perhaps just adopting the points at the end of the report) overturn previous GA decisions about Good Faith Subscription? Does it overturn Presbytery statements of what is acceptable like the Missouri Presbytery report?
I have to admit that I plead ignorance of the BCO on this matter? Does a study committee report bind the conscience of everyone in the PCA? If not, then you points 2 and 3 are not true. They impose nothing. That is my point. Only discipline can make such a claim.

Andrew Duggan said...

I think you are so right about discipline being the way the church speaks about these things. I think you are correct that Machen thought the same thing, but he also come to understand his method was flawed.

What he did was ignore Modernists, and created a rival Independent Board of Foreign Missions. He had already created a independent seminary.

Did he really do that as a test to see what the Modernists would do, or rather just a way to get Christian missionaries into the field, and ministers educated in Christianity? The Modernists didn't charge him with respect to Westminster Seminary, do you think he expected them to charge him with respect to the Independent Board?

Only after he was disciplined, did He say that he thought they should have charged every signer of the Auburn Affirmation. Did he think that would have been successful in ridding the PCUSA of Modernists?

My point is not to read too much into Machen's waiting to be disciplined, I don't know that his strategy was that well defined. At least I don't have that sense from Stonehouse's biography (although it's been 15 years since I've read it.)

Ryan said...

I don't think the entire PCA are liars, I just think that some in the PCA pushed this report through because most did not take the time to read it themselves but only trusted the celebrity theologians. There was not enough debate. There was not a minority report. A minority report would have let the FV men hang themselves with their own rope. It would have strengthened their claim that they thoroughly understood their opponents position. As it is, the committee is open to the criticism that they misunderstood the FV.

But that is not my position. I believe that what is called the Federal Vision, and incorrectly lumped in with the NPP, only exists in some people's imaginations. In as much as this imaginary concoction is applied to certain presbyters and other individuals, this I would call slander. But there is the distinct possibility that this was a mistake.

However I fail to see how it can be a mistake. When you say, "My opponent believes a, b, and c, therefore he must believe x, y, and z" and then you fail to ask your opponent whether or not you accurately described his position, but nonetheless he has continued to deny publicly and with a loud voice that he believes x, y, and z, that is not good order or Christian behavior.

Deep down I believe that the report was simply a way that the PCA can expel certain pastors that really believe what the Westminster Confession and John Calvin teach so that they can get down to the business of being Baptists.