Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just Tell Me What You Want

Clarity and Honesty Might Help

I do not think this is in any way the only issue. But, I think sometimes it would be good for men and women considering marriage and for those experiencing marital difficulties to say to say to one another, “Just tell me what you want.” It can help both the answer-giver and the answer-receiver to know what is negotiable, what is non-negotiable, and what doesn’t matter.

The healthcare debate might be helped by a little more clarity and honesty. What do you want? What are the costs of what you want?

You want everyone to have healthcare provided by some kind of government coverage (single payer) or government mandate? How much money will it take? Who will pay? Who will be taxed and how much? What will it add to the cost of doing business and what will be the impact on business? How much and what quality of care will be provided to all? Who will decide?

You want everyone to take care of himself and his family on his own? How do you propose that people do that? What will you do Medicaid and Medicare? What will you do about those who do not have the money or the insurance and show up at the emergency room asking for treatment? How much will depend on voluntary charity? What are you willing to see happen to those who for whatever reasons, worthy or unworthy, cannot or will not make the necessary sacrifices to pay for healthcare?

To put it in terms of personal impact: I’d like for the first group to tell me how much money it will take out of my pocket in taxes or increased costs of goods and services and what it will do to the accessibility and quality of my health care. I’d like for the second to tell me what will happen if I cannot afford my healthcare and under what circumstances, given that I must die, they are willing to see me die of curable or treatable conditions.

Of course, there are a great number of political questions where I would prefer that I be told exactly what people want to do and what they are willing to do or live with to get what they want. But I don’t believe for a minute the parties and politicians are going to talk straight.

I would like to see the same kind of clarity and honesty about ecclesiastical issues, though I am not very optimistic about it happening.

Some sample questions:

To those who believe mercy ministry (not just the church taking care of its own needy but the church doing justice, engaging in social action, and helping the poor in society) is a mark of the church: Are ready to require transferring ministers and ordinands to accept mercy ministry as a mark? What would say and do about churches that do not possess this mark? If not practicing mercy ministry is a something close to a denial of the gospel, why is not baptizing covenant children?

To those who believe that Scripture and Confession require belief in six ordinary 24 hour days of creation and in a young earth: What would you do with those who do not believe that the days were 24 hours or that the earth is young? About those who do but would not require others to? If Warfield were alive today would you have the church condemn his writings? Would you exclude Machen from its ministry? What would you do with those already ordained who do not hold your views?

To those who take a broader view the regulative principle: How far can it stretch before it is meaningless? How much do you think culture is determinative of worship? Do you think the forms of traditional Reformed  worship are Biblical and transferable to cultures in which it did not originate or are they historically and culturally limited? To those who take a stricter view: At what point is the principle violated? When Christmas and Easter are observed? When a choir sings both with and to the congregation? To both: To what extent should a member of the PCA expect he could worship with a comfortable conscience regardless of what congregation he may attend on a Sunday? How much uniformity can we expect? How much diversity can we live with?

It can be helpful to the clarity of our own thinking when we ask ourselves questions: What do I really want? What would be the consequences of getting what I want? What differences can I live with? Not live with? 

Then honestly with others can help toward understanding and toward mutual acceptance, if it is possible, or separation, if it is necessary. We can quit the games and the sloganeering and just say what we think.

I don’t know if this kind of thing happened in the recent “Meeting of Understanding” in the PCA, but I hope it did. And I hope eventually the whole church can be informed what men of stature and influence think are the issues that need to be understood, where and where not they have attained understanding, and what all this means for the rest of us.

Tell me what you want. And, if you’re interested, I’ll try to tell you what I want. Is this really so hard?


mozart said...

Great article. "Just tell me what you want," doesn't work with my wife, though, and I'm not sure it will work here, much as I'd like it to. My pastor, Ken Roth, says "hello," says he knew of you in MS days?

Dave Sarafolean said...


Great post. With regard to the recent "Meeting of Understanding" I'd like a PCA that isn't scorned or laughed at by our NAPARC brethren. That we considered severing ties with them when the Strategic Plan was first announced, was very troubling. I'm glad that we stepped back.

mozart said...

With regard to YEC, 24-hr creation, I thought the answer from G.I. Williamson was obvious: he wants those who disagree to shut up.

Don K. Clements said...

Seems to me this won't work in today's society. Bill, you and I are old enough to understand what we want. I figured it out at about age 35. But today I think you've got to be at least 55 to grow and and know what you want. I honestly think that's why the PCA has this huge leadership gap. Most folks don't know what they want until someone else tells them what they should (or shouldn't) want.

Rae Whitlock said...

Good word here, Rev. Smith.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bill,
What do I want? The operative word "I".
Diversity, acceptance, tolerance appear accumulative and harmless.
What ever beame of searching for,knowledgeable of and believing "the will of God"?
Might the queston be begged; "What does God want".

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Well, Anonymous, on one level you are obviously right. But since none of us are God, we end up having to say what it is we think God wants. (Similar to having to say what you think the Bible teaches, when you say, "The Bible says" and do anymore than quote it.) But, then again, what I am asking is for an exercise in self-knowledge and awareness. "Do I know what it is I want? Do I know what getting it would mean?" For instance: "I want a church that affirms and requires belief in six 24 hour days of creation and in a young earth. That means I am willing to condemn B.B. Warfield's writings, exclude J. Gresham Machen from ministry, and file charges against men in my presbytery who do not hold that view."

Anonymous said...

Christian Curmudgeon
Thanks for answering the question, what ever became of.
So much for the perspective will of God. Revealed in scripture.
Thanks be to God that Christ came to do his Father's will.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Anonymous: Huh? I don't know what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

John 4:34

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I got the part about Jesus. It was the rest I didn't get.

David Yoder said...

Good fences make good neighbors. I want to fellowship with those that " affirm and requires belief in six 24 hour days of creation and in a young earth". I can still admire B.B. Warfield and Machen from the other side of the fence.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

That's fine, David. What you do is put out of your church the greatest defender of Biblical inerrancy and authority in the history of the church and Mr. Valiant for truth who founded Westminster and the OPC. If I have to choose I think I'd rather be on the side of the fence with Warfield and Machen than you.

David Yoder said...

Fair enough, I am just a deacon serving in a Presbyterian church in Tennessee. But even great men, when they go against God aren't allowed in the promise land. It doesn't diminish the fact that God used them to lead his people out of Egypt.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Curmudgeon,
Shall we use the familiar term, the revealed will of God.Is this not more than, as you put it,"we end up having to say what it is we think God wants."
Do we not live our lives by the revelaed will of God?