Have you ever noticed that when differences of opinion come up between the confessionalists and the “can’t we all get along” (hereafter abbreviated “cwaga”) folks, that incredibly shrill and unloving voices come from the latter group directed towards the former group, all in the name of love? I have experienced this first-hand almost innumerable times. There are several reasons for this. The first reason is that the cwaga folks almost always take doctrinal criticism personally. The second reason is that they confuse private and public offenses. By this I mean that when someone’s teaching is under scrutiny, the cwaga folks run to Matthew 18, which actually only applies to private offenses. It is Galatians 2 that applies to public offenses, especially teaching and/or morals that are leading people astray. Thirdly, the cwaga folks have confused love with niceness. In this aspect, they have drunk the culture’s koolaid that states that everyone’s opinion is ok, except for the person who denies that statement. That person is unloving (says the culture). And, of course, the cwaga folk have also swallowed the idea that culture is almost always wonderful and sparkling. So for them, culture functions pretty much as a parallel source of revelation to the Bible. Hence the use of movie clips as sermon texts. To them, confessionalists come from a different planet which is not called earth. The reason I am writing this post is (believe it or not, out of love for these folks!) to help them love confessionalists better. This will require clearing the air of wrong ways of loving them, so that right ways can be substituted.
Here are a couple of wrong ways to “love” confessionalists. Firstly, make sure you take everything personally when a confessionalist raises a point of doctrine. Secondly, make sure you make it all about the good ol’ boys club, and not about the sheep. Make sure you don’t care about whether the sheep are getting poisoned or not. That is irrelevant. It’s all about the pastor. Thirdly, make sure that any concern that a confessionalist raises from the confession is accused of raising the confessional standards to the level of Scripture. Fourthly, going along with the third point, make sure that the said issues raised from the confession are belittled as being peripheral concerns, with the implied harsh and unloving criticism that the confessionalist doesn’t care about the gospel, but only cares about minutiae. Fifthly, make sure that the real doctrinal standard of the denomination is not the Westminster Standards, or the Three Forms of Unity, but the nebulous, undefined “Reformed tradition,” which consists of anything anyone might have said in the past, whether taken in context or not, and reread anachronistically in the light of modern disputes, thus creating a very handy wax nose out of said tradition that can allow anything and everything. Sixthly, belittle the Westminster Standards as being out-of-date and irrelevant, and in need of complete overhaul. And when someone objects to this, make sure you accuse them of putting the Standards on the same level as Scripture. Seventhly, belittle the Westminster divines as being overly scrupulous legalists. Eighthly, any time a doctrinal point is raised, make sure you immediately and without evidence or argumentation (or any of the steps of the process that you insist on confessionalists following in their harsh and unloving prosecution of…wolves), accuse them of breaking the ninth commandment. Ninthly, make sure that if any talk of church split happens, that you accuse the confessionalists of being the schismatics, instead of those who are shifting the boundaries. We haven’t moved anywhere, folks. We haven’t moved the ancient landmarks. And, by the way, when someone creates a list such as this, make sure you assume that they are being bitter about past experiences. If you have fallen foul of the confessionalist, make sure you now believe and act on the principle that he is the devil incarnate, and does not deserve any love from here on out. After all, he has no feelings (since he only cares about truth, not love: perpetuate that false dichotomy between truth and love), and cannot be hurt by anything you say, so make sure you lay it on thick. By all means, get entire Presbyteries in on the action, especially if there is one man in particular to attack. Presbyteries, after all, can do no wrong. Ever. And they never need to apologize for anything. Ever. They are infallible. And if anyone questions that principle, accuse them of not submitting to the brethren.
So there are 9 ways not to love confessionalists. Just about all of them have happened to me and many of my friends at one point or another, most of them dozens of times. Now let me tell to you the heart of a confessionalist. He is quite a different species than the cwaga folk, and operates on different principles. So if you really are concerned about love, and are not just mouthing off words of unity and love in order to score political points off the confessionalist, then here is how to love the confessionalist. Firstly, don’t speak about love without speaking about truth. Truth and love are not in competition. The Bible says that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. “God is love” is in the Bible. So is “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” God is not MORE love than light. Stop pitting the attributes of God over against each other, or claiming that there is a fundamental attribute of God more important than any other. Secondly, remember that confessionalists love the sheep and are trying to see that the sheep (and not just their own!) are getting fed the Word and not poison. Confessionalists know that pastors are eminently expendable. Pastors are going to get attacked. It comes with the territory. Stop idolizing comfort and recognize that people can easily get poisoned by false teaching, and that confessionalists are trying to protect the sheep. In other words, stop misreading motivations. Thirdly, enough with the good ol’ boys club. This creates political machinations that are extremely distasteful to the confessionalist. Fourthly, stop patronizing the confessionalists (not to mention speaking out of both sides of your mouth!) by telling them that they are needed in the denomination, and then doing everything you can to thumb your nose at them and push the envelope. Going along with this, stop claiming to be confessionalists yourselves, if almost all your actions undermine the Standards. Fifthly, recognize that true creativity in theology does NOT mean shifting sideways and discovering new and uncharted doctrines. Rather, true creativity means understanding the SAME doctrines better and deeper. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints. Going along with this, stop pushing the boundaries! There is NOTHING that confessionalists hate more than this. Stop telling them to accept this, accept that, accept this, be quiet about it, don’t debate it, or else we’re being unloving. The envelope is not infinitely extendable, and many in the PCA have already pushed it way too far. Sixthly, stop pretending that the Reformation is irrelevant and was really unnecessary. If you believe that, go back to Rome. You should never have left the Roman Catholic Church in the first place unless you have a principled gospel reason for it. Seventhly, assume that a confessionalist, when quoting the Standards, is using them as shorthand for what he believes the Bible to be saying, as opposed to worshiping the Standards.