How to Love Confessionalists

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.

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

Persecution in America? Chicken Little vs. the Ostrich

by Reed DePace

In the wake of the two same sex marriage decisions from the Supreme Court I wrote to a group of ministerial friends and acquaintances asking for copies of their church’s marriage policies. I did so because I expect churches and pastors will be facing, in just a few years, at least civil assaults via this issue.

Some reaction to my concern was that I was being an alarmist. Another labeled my concern absurd (def.: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life).

O.k., maybe like Chicken Little I don’t know an acorn from persecution. Yet, before going gaily on your way, I’d ask you to at least consider the discussion a bit more fully. Maybe the following articles will help:

I do not believe the goal is mere legitimization. No, I think that which is pushing homosexuality across our culture is a greater moral goal, one with two components. This goal is to secure the acknowledgement, in all parts of our culture:

  1. Of the moral superiority of homosexuality, and
  2. Of the moral depravity of any who deny this (and so, must be treated as the worst bigots in history, e.g., KKK, Nazis, etc.).

Think I’m Chicken Little? Stanley Hauerwas, “America’s Best Theologian” (Time Magazine, 2001) began to make just such an argument back in 1993. The Bible is already well on its way to being labeled morally degenerate in terms of its moral condemnation of homosexuality. Already opponents of same sex marriage are shying away from making a moral-based argument.

Whether I’m Chicken Little or not, at the very least the homosexual juggernaut (as another friend labels it) is on the move. Where it stops, and what it crushes along the way may be debatable. It should hardly be a debatable point that it is on an (humanly) unstoppable roll.

Will pastors face persecution via the same sex marriage issue? Christian laymen already are:

Oh, and a church has experienced persecution over this issue.

So what should we do in response? I think there are at least three faith-responses we can offer that we can say are both our Father’s marching orders and carry His promise of blessing in response:

  1. Make reasonable preparations (Matthew 10:16; Colossians 4:5; Philippians 2:15). Investigate whether or not you or church has unnecessary legal exposure in the ways in which you offer services to non-members. Take appropriate measures to remove or mitigate this exposure.
  2. Pray for God to send us into these fields that are ripe for the Harvest (John 4:35; Matthew 9:36-38). The truth is that those in homosexuality are destroying themselves. They, their family and friends are suffering the worst of the effects of the fall, just short of what a Christ-less eternity brings.
  3. Love those who consider us their enemies by bringing them the gospel (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28): God will surely do in our generation what He has done in the past (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Imagine the joy you, saved from your depravity, will experience standing beside your brother or sister who was once your enemy trapped in homosexuality’s depravity.

I do hope I am just warning about acorns. But I don’t think this is the case. So I’ll see the charge that I’m being absurd and raise a “don’t be naïve!” Or maybe I can put it this way: I’d rather be Chicken Little than an ostrich.

by Reed DePace

Niceness or Love?

Among members of the PCA, there is a huge dissatisfaction with how blogs are run today. Lack of love, harshness, unfounded accusations, and many like things are par for the course, they say. There is certainly an element of truth to this. Many people do not exercise self-control in what they say on the internet, because it is more anonymous. They say things to another person or about another person, which they would probably not say if that person were standing there in front of them. This is a large problem on blogs, and I certainly cannot claim that my blog (including my own statements) has been immune from this problem.

However, there is another side to this question, that raised by the title of the post. Most of the people I have seen talk about this issue are confusing niceness and love. By the former term, I mean never saying anything harsh towards someone else. By the latter, I mean seeking the best interests of the other person in an unselfish way. These are not the same things! Let me demonstrate from the actions of Jesus, surely one of the best places to go in examining this question.

Jesus used the proverbial carrot or the stick, depending on the audience. If He was talking to sheep, or to the disciples, or to ignorant Gentiles, He typically used the carrot (though He addressed His dense disciples on occasion with somewhat sarcastic harshness, and Peter once with downright non-sarcastic harshness). He was patiently instructing them about Himself, and about salvation in Him. When He was talking to the wolves (the scribes and the Pharisees), He wasn’t “nice” but rather quite harsh. If Jesus were to blog today about FV guys and use the words “whitewashed tombs,” would He fall foul of the niceness police? He probably would. But would anyone dare to accuse His words against the Pharisees of being unloving? I would hope not. He was loving the sheep by protecting them! It is possible to be loving and yet harsh. This does not compute with the niceness police of today. It is not even a possibility, if you read some accounts. Again, I am not panning exhortations to patience, kindness, politeness or anything else. Those are excellent and wonderful things. What I am doing is saying that there are wolves about, and we should not be “nice” to the wolves. If we are, matters will result in fully satisfied, content, sheep-filled wolves. We will “nice” the wolves straight to the dinner table full of lamb chops. Unless the niceness police wish to deny that there are any wolves about whatsoever, they need to be more discerning about distinguishing the audience. At the very least, they could extend the benefit of the doubt, the judgment of charity, towards those who believe they are addressing wolf problems, and not impute wrongful motivations to bloggers who are trying to protect sheep from the depredations of wolves. Instead, the least harshness, the least lack of niceness, is automatically judged to be from the devil, and lacking completely in the fruit of the Spirit.

One last thing I would ask the niceness police. Is it possible for a teaching elder to be in good standing in the PCA and be a wolf at the same time? Does being in good standing require niceness from everyone else? If so, I could complain about treatment I have received from the FV guys, and others in the PCA. I am not going to do so, however, because defending the sheep means getting scratched by the wolves. What I notice, however, is that the niceness police never slap the wolves’ hands when they take a swipe at confessional ministers in the PCA, if those confessional ministers have been outspoken against liberal creep in the PCA. Something to ponder.