Wednesday, September 12, 2007

practicing practical church

Martin Downs writes based on the Presbyterian Controversy of 1920s and 30s that it is possible for men to hold to orthodox beliefs, but in actual practice to hold to them in quite different ways. Quoting Gresham Machen (representing the orthodox camp) from Bradley J. Longfield's, The Presbyterian Controversy, he shows that this difference was not lost on Machen.
There is between Dr. Erdman and myself a very serious doctrinal difference indeed. It concerns the question not of this doctrine or that, but of the importance which is to be attributed to doctrine as such...

Dr. Erdman does not indeed reject the doctrinal system of our church, but he is perfectly willing to make common cause with those who reject it, and he is perfectly willing to keep it in the background. I on the other hand can never consent to keep it in the background. Christian doctrine, I hold, is not merely connected with the gospel, but it is identical with the gospel, and if I did not preach it at all times, and especially in those places where it subjects me to personal abuse, I should regard myself as guilty of sheer unfaithfulness to Christ.

Downes adds:

Make no mistake, mere assent to orthodoxy without the practical consequence of dealing with error in the church is inevitably a gross compromise. Orthodox doctrine is devalued when this mindset is at work. ... In the end the choice came down not to "strict doctrinal orthodoxy" or a united church but to the very survival of the marks of the church. Someone was going to end up in the cemetery on the outskirts of the town. ... Men will always applaud an irenic spirit over against a polemical approach. But the sound of such approval can quite easily mask the noise of the destruction of confessional orthodoxy.

Downes is 100% right - but there is a balance. The balance however isn't between orthodoxy and liberalism - orthodoxy must prevail. The balance is between orthodoxy and humility. Frank Turk touches on this and references the 'new' New Attitude blog which I previously pointed at as having a lot of promise. There is such a thing as smug orthodoxy that must be guarded against.

I touched on smug orthodoxy when I referenced Turk's other post about elders and pastors. There Turk suggests that Paul is saying that elders guide "gifted people to mutual maturity, and that those who are not going to be guided in and up need to be guided (quickly, clearly, with gusto) out."

Turk was asked a couple of times (three I think) if he could elaborate but suggested the commenter read Timothy and Titus and that he was not saying anything other than Paul. I would have preferred that he elaborate because the words he chose have nuances that could stand some more 'unpacking'. Gusto implies enjoyment or some form of artistic execution. I don't see that from Paul. Also quickly and clearly are relative words. Decisive could be a more precise term but also subjective. Anyway, I would have liked more from Turk on that.

Anyway,adherence to orthodoxy strikes me as critical but as I read Timothy and Titus, I see it done with humility as opposed to 'gusto'.

More important then further defining those words however, I'm more interested in whom they apply to. That is, I also found it interesting to look at who would be considered unorthodox and should be separated from in those texts. Here are a couple of excerpts.

2 Tim 3 - People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Titus 3 - As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Clearly orthodoxy is required and deviation warrants separation rather than compromise. However I think some writers may distort what orthodoxy is or isn't and the manner spirit in which one administers discipline. In those cases, if their work leads to divisiveness, it would be within reason to suggest that they are the unorthodox ones.

Oh - and also note, all this is in the context of community which implies some kind of relationship.

**** Update: Randy no-blog pointed to the background piece on Machen by John Piper ... good stuff. ****

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1 comment:

Randy (no blog) said...

I like Piper's biography message series. He did one on Machen. Download at:

I realize the URL may wrap, but I haven't figured out the HTML tag thing.