The Berean See and Call

Last week I was manning TeamPyro for various reasons, and I neglected this blog for that reason. Some of you have given up on ever reading the end of a critique of Jon Zens' paper, and I apologize for that.

That said, in one of the threads, Steve Camp posted a couple of long comments, and I have said that I'm going to blog it here. Thus:

There are a dozen or so minor reasons I think Steve's comments need special attention, all of them outputs of my own personal brain jar, like the problem of "readers" like Cyd who points me to 9Marks material for my information in general when the post she is commenting in a almost entirely a citation of Mark Dever from 9Marks material. But those are minor issues -- not about the topic at hand. If there's a major reason, it's at the bottom of this post.

Steve began his first exhortation of me (which I replied to) by saying this:
1.We must remember that the pastor/elder of a church has no authority inherent in the office itself. His authority only extends to that which the Word of God affords him - no more, no less.
I let Steve off the hook on this one in my first response to him, but since he's intent on making his point by every means necessary, we're going to start here.

This statement is self-contradictory and meaningless. On the one hand, Steve wants to say that the pastor/elder has "no authority" based on office, but then he wants to say that the Word of God affords him limited authority. I would agree with the latter, and I would avoid, at all costs, the former because -- as Steve is very worried about in other people -- that statement is completely unbiblical.

To be sure, Elders are not sergeants or majors or generals (or as Doug Wilson said this weekend, "martinets") in God's army: they are ministers of the word, teachers of the people, and servants - - statements I am already on-record as affirming in many places. They don't act autonomously, capriciously, or self-indulgently, and they don't have carte blanche to do whatever they see fit. I have never implied such a thing -- I have never implied that a pastor (especially a lone pastor with no elders and no accountability) should run things in his own image.

In fact, I said this in reply to Steve: "This doesn’t mean that the Gospel is what they say it is: it means that they are tasked to be faithful, and in that fidelity they have the authority to correct, discipline and admonish in a way which is more than merely argumentative. I'd go to Titus 1 & 2 to make that point specifically." So it is hard to guess where the idea that I would say something like what comes next comes from.

Steve then makes his point for saying what he said perfectly clear, in case we were too sleepy to see it:
Subsequently, there are no protestant popes to obey.
And again, I'm pretty sure I never implied such a thing. The series Steve wants to correct here is not about the scope of the offices of the church -- it's about how people, average Christian people, ones who are not leading the church but are themselves under leadership - - should think of and treat God's church in the first place.

One of the things evident in the NT is that God thinks His church is precious: it is the exclusive place where His people are found. And in that, the idea that Christians are better off in family churches or some other such modern innovation which isolates the Christian from the body of Christ is a corruption of the commands we receive in the Bible.

But here's something I think is worth underscoring for the skimmers and the people who won't even do that before dropping a comment in the meta to defend or encourage Steve: I don't think Steve would deny that -- which is why I won't spend any time outlining the Biblical case for such a thing. Steve thinks people should be joined to a church; I do, too. The question is only to what extent does that connection have value in practice .

Thus, when Steve says this:
1. though your "don't leave church under any condition unless they force you out" sounds admirable--it is not biblical. Be dogmatic where the Word is dogmatic; but give room for conscience and wisdom given under godly counsel where Scripture is silent and preference might apply.
We have a sight line on what is bothering him: he is worried that I think there are no circumstances in which someone should leave a church -- and that's simply false.

But I want to start someplace here which Steve does not: with the view that the church -- the local church, not some hypothetical church-in-America, or the eternally-known body of all the ones effectively called-out by God to Himself -- is actually God's plan for things in our spiritual life.

As I outlined in my series at TeamPyro, from the first day -- the day of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit to fulfill the prophecy of Joel -- people who come to Christ are added to the body of Christ not in some hypothetical way but in a concrete and identifiable way. They are joined together. This adding-to is not provisional; you can't find anywhere that says that the believers are joined together until such a time when they thought something else would be better.

And what's worse, there is no command or exhortation in all of Scripture for people to abandon a local church. None. You can't find one.

What you can find is a basis for deductive reasoning which leads one to say, "you should leave that church". On pages 890-891 of his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Robert Reymond gives a specific line of reasoning to deduce a singular reason for separation: "separation from one's church or denomination is appropriate if it will not discipline heretics." This conclusion is reached by the following line of reasoning:

  1. Elders are charged to guard the church by guarding the truth
  2. Apostates and heretics ought to leave the church
  3. Unrepentent heretics who do not leave the church should be disciplined
And the 4th point is stated, above.

But, I think, Steve would reject this line of reasoning -- because he doesn't think that the the role of an elder is different than the role of a "layman". You can see this in his second point:
2. The congregation of any church should hold their leadership accountable to the office and heavenly charge they have been given by God's mercy. As faithful Bereans they have the duty to examine what they teach with the Word of God. Per Paul's instruction in 1 Thess. 5: "test all things, cling to what is good."
In some way, Steve has simply ignored all of the places Paul exhorts for honoring and submitting to the Elders, and discounted the commands for what Elders ought to be, instead choosing for a radical congregationalism which makes the elders of the church the most pitiable of men: men accountable to a consensus decision.

Now, to make sure that this statement is not mishandled by Steve's many defenders and by Steve himself, let me underscore something: I agree with Dr. Reymond about the responsibility of believers in the worst-case scenario. People should not pretend there is a church where there is no church. But the place where this occurs is not when the pastoral cup is half-empty: it occurs where the cup refuses to hold any liquid at all.

And think on this: Dr. Reymond's view is about the failure of elders to be elders in the sense that they are failing to exercising authority. The mark of a church which has stopped being a church is that the elders do no fulfill their duty to uphold the correction and discipline of heretics.

But how does a layman or woman do that? How do they decide that their church is no longer a church in that sense? The only way to do that is by employing a Biblical method for resolving differences. Steve's a very staunch advocate of Mt 18 when it comes to most things, and he should be an equally-staunch advocate of it in this case when what is at stake is not merely a personal wrong but the life and unity-through-truth of the church. It is in that context which I advocate the "don't leave until they toss you out" application. You should be clear about your concerns if you have them; you should have a couple-three witnesses who agree with you if your concerns are valid; those with whom you have issues should have a chance to respond and not merely cowtow because your nose is out of joint.

And in that process, there is something which is implied: a final submission to the judgment of the whole (local) church. See: if the church decides that your complaint doesn't have any merit, or that you're a trouble maker for bringing it up, it has to say so. And in saying so, you have an objective basis for either submitting to its judgment or doing something else.

Let's take the worst case scenario: let's say that the pastor is caught on tape with your spouse doing something which one does not describe in Christian circles. It's on video. So you take it to him, and to your spouse, and they both laugh you off -- it's nothing, they say.

Well, it's not nothing. It's on video. So you take your Sunday school teacher, the head usher, and your pastor's wife with you next time, and the witnesses agree that it is something, but those two still laugh it off as a lark -- not a sin, and not a reason to be upset.

Well, it's not: it's on video. Anyone with two eyes (you think) will see it as sin and condemn it. So you get a place at the next business meeting, and you bring up the video (you don't show it in public because of content), and a decision is called for from the church on the matter. After discussion, the church says -- to your surprise -- that it is nothing and that you owe the pastor and your wife an apology.

Listen: you have your walking papers from them. When adultery is called nothing and you are called upon to apologize for calling adultery a sin, move on. But find another church .

And if what's at stake is not in the same league as calling adultery a sin, then maybe you have to think about whether you think that you're the one who is infallible. See: having a high view of eldership cannot be confused with thinking these men are infallible -- but what cannot happen is turning your own current state of maturity and Bible knowledge into its own infallible fortress. If you are the only one who has the ability to tell the difference between the Gospel and all the damnable frauds -- and all you see is damnable fraud -- you have established a church of one member.

The view that each person must always test everything is hyper- atomistic, and negates the counsel of scripture which defines the role of elders in a church. The Elders are explicitly the ones who are tasked to guard orthodoxy, and when they fail to do so, they have fallen down on their primary task in the body.

The objection will undoubtably come -- as Steve has already posed it by citing Strauch on this matter -- that this view is authoritarian and violates the principles of Scripture. But the problem with this objection is that it misses Strauch's point and overlooks that Scripture doesn't say that any ol' guy can be an Elder. Eldership has qualifications, and as such bases the duties of the Elder on those qualifications.

Saying Elders with meaningful authority -- for example, the authority to write and deliver a sermon in church for the exhortation and edification of God's people without passing it through a series of other hands to make sure it is pure enough to be read in public -- are inherently authoritarian and somehow oppressive mistakes "having authority" with "being a law unto one's self". Of course elders are tasked to teach what the Bible teaches; of course elders are tasked not to lord over people. This is a premise of eldership in the way they are qualified to that office .

It is not authoritarian in public life to have judges who frankly decide cases every day with minimal oversight. We can see that as having authority subject to law, and we ought to be able to see that having elders who rule wisely, by God's word, not as necessarily authoritarian but as necessary for church to be church at all.

After that, Steve's comments about pastors being teachable men is fine -- who can object to that? But what is far more necessary in a church -- because it is the practical application for all but a handful of people in the church -- is that the rest of us who are not actually called to pastoral ministry be teachable, gracious and willing to admit we are not ourselves finished goods in the Christian life. The caution that Pastors ought to be teachable falls somewhat flat in a country where people are themselves unteachable -- the phrase the Bible uses is "hard hearted" .

This is where my previous comments to Steve really take some shape. Steve has made a career out of complaining about the theological and spiritual vacuum which exists in CCM. And let me put in bold letters here, he's right about that, his ministry there is warranted, and somebody should listen to him about that. But if CCM has this problem, it is a symptom of something which must, because of the kind of spiritual sickness it is, also effect the ability of the average church member to stand in judgment over his or her own elders.

If people cannot tell the difference between the great hymns of the faith and what happens on Christian radio every day, how can they be expected to hold pastors or elders accountable in the way Steve is demanding in his concerns to this point in his comments? It seems incongruous at best to think that someone (not Steve, but some randomly-selected member at a randomly-select evangelical church) who thinks CCM is a method of spiritual edification has the equipment to discern whether or not his or her pastor has made a grave theological mistake.

Steve also says this:

Here are a few ways that people can hold their leadership accountable in Christ:

1. Edify through prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
2. Examine their message (Acts 17:11-12)
3. Encourage godly character (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-8)
4. Entreat their shepherding (Hebrews 13:7, 17)
5. Exhort the unfaithful (1 Timothy 5:19-21)

The brethren of any church have a great duty in their commitment to that local body to honor their leadership by holding them accountable to their biblical duty.
It seems to me that Steve can't decide what categories he's using to make this list -- except, of course, good baptist alliteration. If this is a list of things Scripture says people should do for their pastors, that's a broad enough category to keep the list. But if Steve, for example, thinks "prayer" is a kind of "accountability" -- especially as it is exhorted in 1 Tim 2 -- he's going to have to define how he is using that word.

While I alluded to it in my previous comments to Steve, I'll say it here plainly: this is the major reason for responding to him at all. At some point, Steve is going to have to examine his own ability to handle Scripture, because 1 Tim 2:1-3 is not about leaders of the church but about government leaders , people with secular political power who are tasked to keep society at large stable and safe. While it is certainly not ungodly to pray for our elders in church (it is in fact evident in Scripture frequently -- cf. 2 Cor 1:11; Eph 6:18; Phil 1:9; Col 4:3; etc.), and it is right to pray that these men be edified and spiritually sustained by God, this passage doesn't tell us about that at all. There is actually a significant irony in Steve citing this passage because what Paul says here speaks to whether or not the men in political power are using their authority to allow us (the church) to lead a "quiet and godly life". Paul here entreats the church to prayer in order that God, in His authority, will cause those in political power to use their authority to allow the church to live in peace.

Even if Steve was looking for a passage that was supposed to be talking about "edifying" church elders in some non-specific way, I think Steve has shot pretty wide of the mark. At a glance, John Gill would disagree with him, as would the 1599 Geneva Study Bible, Matthew Henry, and A.T. Robertson. And John Calvin says this about the passage:
For kings He expressly mentions kings and other magistrates because, more than all others, they might be hated by Christians. All the magistrates who existed at that time were so many sworn enemies of Christ; and therefore this thought might occur to them, that they ought not to pray for those who devoted all their power and all their wealth to fight against the kingdom of Christ, the extension of which is above all things desirable. The apostle meets this difficulty, and expressly enjoins Christians to pray for them also. And, indeed, the depravity of men is not a reason why God's ordinance should not be loved. Accordingly, seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind, however much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force. That is the reason why believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation. [Commentary on Timothy & Titus,]
It's not about church elders at all: it's about praying for rulers who, as Paul wrote, persecuted the church, in order that God would establish peace for the sake of the church.

My concern is not whether Steve can identify the precepts of the faith: it's whether he knows where they are found in Scripture. If Steve is worried about men who are mishandling the word of God, he has to start in his own, um, camp to make sure he's not part of the problem.

For the record, I will not be answering e-mails about this post. Please bring your specific concerns about this post to the meta. This is a matter of public statements made in public forums, and it ought to be, then, discussed openly, frankly, and publicly.