Right to Rebuke? (2)

I have read iMonk’s opening statement for this little exchange, and kudos upon him for being open-minded about that multiple places where this whole discussion goes awry. As one wades through his points, one would find he and I share a lot of the same concerns, but of course at some point he and I have to disagree or else the universe will implode as even a sovereign and omnipotent God cannot have that.

The current trend in Mark Driscoll apologetics has caused me to think about something: I’m thinking about this guy who was well educated, fluent in the common languages of his culture, and learned-up in theology. He spent time learning the religious practices of the people he was with. He was not, however, a cleric. He was certainly well known in his home city, both for his public life as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. His reputation there earned him praise early in his career even from many of the leaders of the church in his day, who referred to him as a "saintly man." However, he was later accused of lying about his own teachings in order to avoid public condemnation. Most of his later life was spent defending himself against other theologians.

The guy I’m thinking about is Pelagius, a self-made theologian from the 4th century who, it turns out, was a heretic – his theology was not only bad but actually damaging to the faith of others. For whatever it’s worth, Mark Driscoll would repudiate all of Pelagius’ errors, and that’s why so many people like MD: he’s in the right camp when it comes to how Christ saves and why Christ must save – which is the Gospel.

But here’s why I’m thinking about the monk Pelagius: you’d think that Pelagius – as a guy who wasn’t even ordained – should have been handled by the leaders of his local church. That is, he should have been handled by his local elders, if we take the current iteration of counter-concerns about the MD situation at face value. There was no sense in, for example, Augustine refuting and condemning Pelagius: Pelagius was not his man, nor was he Pelagius’ elder. Better to have left it, apparently, with the pastors and bishops in Rome because this sort of thing speaks to the high road of Congregationalism.

Right? Or not so much?

It seems to me that it is “not so much”. Let’s concede something for the sake of clarity: Pastor Driscoll is not disqualifying himself as a Christian (some might say “yet”; MD himself might say it since he has taken the highest [and in my view, right-minded] view of repentance). The question is whether he is disqualifying himself as an elder and as a teacher.

iMonk has rightly said that, by Ipanema, we’re not Presbyterians or Rome: we’re Congregationalists at heart, champions of the local church. And he’s right in theory. It’s his interpretation of what that means which we ought to consider fully. In his view, if MD sinned, it’s up to his elders to measure that out, counsel him, and seek the fruits of repentance from him as they see fit – that’s how we do this, congregation by congregation, local church by local church.

But here’s the thing: if that’s the hardcore view we’re going to take, Mark Driscoll needs to stay home. He needs to stay off the TV. He needs to get off the conference circuit. No more books, RE:lit. In short: he needs to stop interfering with the local elders in other churches if that’s the standard for congregationalism.

However, since he’s not going to do that ever, we have to admit that, in the first place, “congregationalism” does not, and has never, meant “local church isolationism”. It’s a respect for the boundaries of the local church based on the responsibilities of the local elders for the people they have been given to for God’s purpose. So in that, Mark Driscoll doesn’t need any more elders – but none of the local churches he’s influencing need any more elders, either. And when someone is coming to their church – invited or uninvited – they have the same responsibility to their local church that they had to start with: raise up disciples and protect them from error.

It’s the “protect them from error” part here which, frankly, has to be the focus of attention. But to do that, let’s track the arguments in favor of cutting MD some slack from what I perceive to be the beginning of this little square dance – at or around the time of Phil Johnson’s Shepherd’s Conference message.

The first round of objections to the criticism was: “You should take this to him in private and not out in public.” However, when it was disclosed that both Phil and Dr. MacArthur had actually taken the concern to MD privately and his response was less than engaging, the tune changed.

The next round of objections was: “Are you really criticizing a sin, or is this just a difference in ministry approach?” The first one I thought was totally expected because that’s the fall-back for any criticism these days: yer a crude watchblogger, dude. But this second one, frankly, made me laugh – because it’s amazing in its own willingness to ignore the obvious.

Here’s the test -- you go find someplace by yourself where nobody can hear you (in case this would make you look foolish), and say this sentence out loud to yourself and see how it sounds:

According to the Bible’s standard for Christian behavior, anyone should be allowed to make jokes about masturbation in public without any shame.

“yeah but,” comes the response, “there’s a difference between doing something you ought to be ‘ashamed of’, and something that’s actually a ‘sin’.”

Really? Then while you’re there in your personal moral reflection zone, try saying this to yourself:

The objective of Christian sanctification is that we should strive toward becoming ashamed of things which we do which the Bible does not define as sin.

The third round of objections looked like this: “Because MD has done so much good for the Gospel, by calling him out on this activity you’re adding to the Gospel and becoming a legalist.” And I liked that round because it was a nice gambit to chide someone like Phil Johnson or John MacArthur (or in the cheap seats, someone like me) for being a moralistic fundie. The problem, of course, is that John Piper preaches on personal holiness; CJ Mahaney preaches on personal holiness; Matt Chandler preaches on personal holiness. They just don’t bring it up when Mark Driscoll might be associated with it.

Nobody who’s serious about the sufficiency of Scripture would deny that a qualification for the elder is that he already has very broad and deep evidence of personal holiness. The question is whether Mark Driscoll has ever had such a thing, and whether that should matter to those of us outside his local church who he is trying to influence.

Then there’s the one about the difference between “repent” and “apologize” – a distinction that the people proffering such a complaint fail to see as a difference with almost no meaning whatsoever. Before you bring your offering to God, go make it right with your brother and then bring your offering, you know?

And there may be some others from the “greatest hits” in this discussion which I have missed; sorry about that for you who offered them up. But this last round is the one which really gets us into the minutia. Since it has been taken up unsuccessfully in private, and it is actually a sin, and the elder really should be someone who demonstrates personal holiness, and part of that is actually repenting in a way which reflects the scope of the error, we have come down to an appeal to “congregationalism”.

Really? Two bloggers – or a blogger and the people in his comments – are going to appeal to “congregationalism” to avoid saying plainly that a pastor who tells salacious jokes on TV needs to repent in such a way that his repentance speaks to the public nature of his error?

Here’s the bottom line: those people who are elders, or teachers with a spiritual responsibility to those to whom they are given, have an obligation locally to speak to the errors which come into their churches. That includes the errors which look like a failure to repent.

As I am at my self-imposed limit of 3 pages in WORD, I leave it to iMonk to ask the obvious questions this post raises.