[#] The needle in hays' tack

Ok -- ok. The subject line is hokey. Steve Hays has been bristling about ECBs and their usefulness in Kuyperian political philosophy, and I just posted 6-pages on his blog in response to his latest salvo. Personally, I respect Steve and think the world of him -- but we don't agree on this one.

Here's the text:

Great questions. I have a free moment before my day is over here at work and I drive 6 hours to my in-laws for the weekend. Thanks to Steve for thinking about this with me, even if we cannot come to agreement about the matter.

| 1.I’m all for godly church discipline, but just
| what, exactly, do the critics of ECB have in
| mind? Say that 30% of Southern Baptists are
| divorcees. How does church discipline apply
| retroactively? Should they all be
| excommunicated?
| I pose this as a serious question. What
| concrete proposals do the critics of ECB
| have to offer? What tough-minded measures
| do they recommend to curb moral laxity in
| the church?

Since this is a pragmatic question, it deserves a pragmatic answer: start anywhere. This is not a matter of high theology. The problem is not that we have “lax” church discipline: it is that there is no church discipline to speak of. The handful of churches that attempt such a thing have no hope of enforcing it because the offenders will simply find a church that doesn’t care.

The answer to the question is “start anywhere”. FWIW, I don’t think excommunicating all divorced people in the SBC would be a very effective first volley – because it is indiscriminate and it is also the wrong message. It says, “We didn’t bother to try to help you have a decent marriage, and we didn’t try to help you heal your marriage, so we’re going to punish you by throwing you out of church.”

How about we start with mandatory pre-marital counseling that challenges couples to see marriage in a holy and practical way – a way which places the emphasis on sacrifice and lifting one’s mate up to God as a gift rather than as a secular romantic tax-relief vehicle?

| Suppose we did excommunicate all of the
| divorcees. And suppose, for good measure,
| we were to excommunicate all of the Free
| Masons as well.
| By definition, that would purify the church.
| Yet it would do nothing to purify the general
| culture. Rather, it would simply relocate the
| problem. It would transfer the nominal
| believers from the church to the street.
| Exporting our internal rot to society at large
| would make the church better, but it would
| do nothing to make the general culture any
| better.

The issue is not purifying the church, Steve: the issue is the church acting on the Gospel first, and then acting on the results of the Gospel. The church will never be completely free of unbelievers in the ranks until the final judgment, but until then, we are tasked (and I’m going to hate saying this, so feel free to give me the business over saying it) not to give out merciless (even if justified) beatings (ouch) but to give mercy because we have received mercy.

I have not intended to make the point that the church should be doing nothing until it perfectly reflects the measures internally demanded by Scripture – I have been trying to make the point that the church’s business is the Gospel, and because the church in America is really, desperately empty of that complete message of God’s work and man’s role in responding to that call, the church needs to figure out why it’s “A-List” of activities has political action and short-term programs rather than the Gospel.

We should vote; we should write letters to the editor; we should be teachers and managers and builders and pastors and whatever you have there on the list of what people do. But in all things we should be preaching the Gospel first.

| 2.There are other complications as well. Say
| that Mom and Dad are nominal believers.
| They’re on their second or third marriage.
| But they bring their kids with them to
| church—kids from their various marriages.
| If you excommunicate the parents, you
| excommunicate the kids. So you take the
| kids out of the church and put them back
| onto the street. Does that improve the
| general culture?
| My immediate point is that it’s very easy to
| issue vague, facile imperatives about how
| the church ought to do some spiritual
| Spring-cleaning. But if this is to be more
| than empty verbiage, then it needs to be
| followed up by some very specific policy
| proposals.

As I said, I don’t think a mass excommunication is the answer. You’re building an argument against something I wouldn’t advocate – especially because the objective of church discipline is not cleaning house but reform of those who say they are disciples of the Gospel, which is to say “reconciliation and unity”.

I am not voicing a facile imperative about spiritual house-cleaning. I haven’t used those terms or anything like them. What I have been saying is that our first weapon against the evil that men do is the Gospel – not the sword. And because the church is in a frankly-disastrous state, using the sword when we can’t even pick up the Gospel is backwards and useless.

Let’s imagine that in the foreseeable future all the legislation we might want to pass about abortion and gay marriage gets passed. What do we do next? If gay marriage is illegal, what about pre-marital and extra-marital sex? These are the same kinds of evils. But I think that you would be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to stick his political neck out and say, “if you have sex before marriage, or outside of your marriage, you are violating the core of our society and your act should be illegal.”

Where this message is rightly pressed and rightly framed is inside the Gospel, and by necessity the message comes from inside the church. Does it result in some legal ramifications? I would say “yes” – but qualify that by saying whatever legislation comes of it, it is based on Gospel principles.

Until we are delivering the Gospel, all the laws we would deliver will be only secular rules that no one understands or can rightly obey. And think about this: without their epistemological foundations, those laws would be easily manipulated into something never intended.

| 3.BTW, is church discipline the same thing
| as preaching the gospel? Or is this
| something the church needs to do before it
| can get back to preaching the gospel, which
| it needs to do before it can participate in the
| democratic process?
| After all, if the church were to get really
| serious about church discipline, that would
| plunge a denomination into a very divisive,
| bitter, and all-consuming controversy.
| So what should be our priority: reaching the
| unchurched with the gospel, or taking
| remedial action against nominal believers in
| the pew?

I am certain it would be controversial. I am certain there would be fall-out. But I am certain that it is part and parcel of the Gospel. One of our problems today is that we have disjoined “discipline in the church” from “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Discipline in the church is a direct function of reverence for Christ – and is therefore a direct corollary of the Gospel.

Part of teaching the unchurched the Gospel is teaching them how to rightly live inside the Church. This is itself not either/or: it is one thing.

| And I hope a critic of ECB isn’t going to tell
| me that we can do both (evangelism and
| church discipline), for if it’s true that we can
| do both, then the C-bees would rightly reply
| that we can do evangelism and politics at the
| same time too.

The crazy thing, Steve, is that I agree that they can be done together – but the Gospel comes first! If we stick to the example of gay marriage, we reject gay marriage not because of legal or political reasoning: we reject it because it offends God. Marriage is established by God, from the beginning, between one man and one woman, and the two shall become one, leaving their parents and cleaving to one another.

So whatever law we ought to be enacting, it must reflect the categorical nature of marriage. To simply call it “a legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife” (cf. defense of marriage act) is to completely overlook what we are actually trying to defend: God’s intention for marriage.

If the Gospel leads first, the correct definition of marriage is much more specific, and is tied to the affirmation of God’s intent in creating man and woman. I don’t happen to have a draft of such legislation, but that’s what Gospel-first means: we don’t accept that those who hate the Gospel have a way to express what only the Gospel expresses. In that, we do not accept their definition of terms, especially legal terms.

| 4.One critic of ECB has said that the church
| cannot have two priorities. If true, this is not
| merely a criticism of ECB, but a criticism of
| political activism, per se—even if it were
| limited to fellow evangelicals.

That was me. What I said was that the church cannot have two first priorities – two things cannot occupy the first place. You cannot serve God and mammon, etc.

It’s a criticism of political activism for the sake of having a finger in the pie. I stand by it. Political activism is not an end unto itself: it is a derivative end, a consequence of a greater goal or premise. If the Gospel is not leading the activism, the activism is trying to lead the Gospel. I can hardly imagine how that cannot be true.

| BTW, this is a problem when you talk to the
| critics. When you press them hard, they will
| admit that political activism is legit, but
| once the pressure is off, they revert to their
| gospel-only, every-member-evangelism line.

You won’t get that from me. Political activism is appropriate if it is lead by the Gospel. If it is lead by some other urge, it’s outside the bounds of Christian ethics.

| 5.As a matter of fact, the “church” can,
| indeed, have more than one priority. As I’ve
| remarked before, the painful irony here is
| that those who presume to speak on behalf
| of the church in opposition to ECB have a
| very defective doctrine of the church.

Anyone – or any organization – can have a list of priorities – but there can only be one first priority. That’s why it’s “first”: it’s definitive. It sets the tone for the balance of the priorities.

| There is a division of labor within the
| church, for the “church” is simply the
| community of believers, who come together
| for worship, but have a wide variety of
| callings in life outside the church. Everyone
| is not called to be an evangelist. Dobson is a
| pediatrician and child psychologist; Colson
| is a lawyer.
| It is possible to have a godly vocation
| outside the ministry, is it not? Ironically
| again, critics of ECB attack the C-bees for
| being too cozy with Rome, yet the critics are
| operating with a tacitly Catholic ideal, in
| which to be a wife and mother or family
| man is second-best.

You are missing the point entirely, Steve: I have not once argued that everyone is called to be only one thing inside the body. What I have said is that the Gospel comes first. That means, for example, as a lawyer Colson ought never to lie in order to advocate for a client – even though that’s legally acceptable. It means that Dobson, as a psychologist, ought never to manipulate others into doing things – even if it is for their “own good”.

And if we have political activists, so be it: but let them live by the Gospel first, and advocate laws that come from the Gospel first. Let’s keep this as specific as possible, Steve. Here are the definitions from DOMA:
"In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling,
regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and
agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal
union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word
'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or
a wife."
Would you agree that this is an adequate definition of marriage? Is it the one you would advocate in speaking of marriage? Or is it, instead, a weak piece of legislation because it misses the point of marriage entirely?

Now what if the Gospel came first? That is, what if God’s definition of marriage was “in” this definition – for example, if the law made explicit reference to Gen 2, Ex 20, Mt 5 and Eph 5? Would that be a better piece of legislation – more powerful that merely banning same-sex marriage – or would it be merely another choice?

My gripe is that the Gospel is not in their legislation at all. The law as it was written is merely a club – “gay? No! Hell No! No marriage for you!”

You can be a Christian politician – if the Gospel comes first. Otherwise, you’re just a politician with a fish-pin on your shirt.

| I’ve said this before, yet it doesn’t sink in.
| But isn’t this a fixture of the Reformed
| Baptist theology?

It is – but in defining the role of the magistrate, the LBCF says “according to the wholesome laws”, and says that waging war may be done “under the New Testament”.

The question is not, “can a Christian be a politician”, but “he must still be a Christian if he is a politician.” “Christian” doesn’t just mean “baptized”, does it Steve? Of course not. It bears the weight of LBCF XXI,3: “They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righeousness before Him, all the days of our lives.”

That is at least as essential to the matter of defining Christian magistrates and the methods and motives of ECBs as the explicit definition of the civil magistrate as a class.

| 6.In Scripture, the church is not prior to the
| state, and the state is not prior to the church.
| Until the return of Christ, these are both
| essential social institutions.

I agree – but they are separate institutions, and in the best case the state is populated with members of the church.

| Indeed, the state exists for the primary
| benefit of the church. Although the state can
| persecute the church, yet, in the common
| grace of God, the state more often functions
| to protect the elect from the reprobate.
| Without law, there would be no church.
| Without law, the reprobate would
| exterminate the elect.

That is an interesting statement, and I will mull it over.

| And this is another reason why Christians
| need to involve themselves in the
| democratic process. For if we leave it to the
| unbelievers, then the unbelievers will turn
| the coercive powers of government against
| the church and thereby muzzle the gospel.

You are again overstepping the bounds of my argument: I’m not advocating a total withdraw from society. I am not advocating a church in a bunker. I am advocating against compromise of the Gospel to effect alleged political gains.

| A certain amount of persecution can have a
| refining effect, but persecution on a
| totalitarian scale can decimate the church.
| Just look at the impact of ironclad
| communism on Eastern Germany? And look
| at how the reunion of Germany after the fall
| of communism had the effect of secularizing
| Western Germany.

Is one of the premises of this statement that the church in Western Germany was healthy when the wall came down? I’d like to research that topic before I agree or disagree. Anecdotally, I don’t think that’s true, but I’d have to read up on it to give you a real opinion.

I really must run. Be well this weekend and do not attend any political rallies without my prior approval and the consent of your ruling elders. :-)