Thursday, June 7, 2012

Going All the Way

A Few Comments on Stellman

When Malcolm Muggeridge converted to Roman Catholicism, he described it as a decision to go all the way. I have to acknowledge that this is not what “going all they way” meant back in my day when not everybody who said they did did.  But, I think Muggeridge meant going all the way back to what he believed to be historic Christianity and all the way over to what he saw as its oldest continuing expression. Others describe the same decision as “crossing the Tiber.”

This week many are in quite a dither about the decision of Jason Stellman to leave the PCA and possibly to take the Roman road. I do not know Mr. Stellman except as the man who took on the thankless and ultimately futile task of prosecuting Peter Leithhart, a case I followed though not closely. I may have read one or two of his blogs. Otherwise, I couldn’t tell you anything about him.

A few observations:

(1)   Carl Trueman has blogged saying this could have been seen to be coming and that it is attributable to Stellman’s riding the hobby horses of high view of the visible church and Two Kingdoms theology. Almost everyone who writes has his hobby horses, or themes to which he often returns. It might be the necessity of the new birth, the danger of nominalism, the need for revival, the critical importance of young earth 6-24 creationism, or the problem of celebrity pastors. But we should be charitable in the way we view such emphases. I think most of us have ideas about the challenges, dangers, needs, and opportunities before the church today. My view is that we need more emphasis that the visible church “is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” and that “unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints” (WCF XXV: 1, 2). Yes, that is a high ecclesiology and 2K theology. But, if others have different concerns they wish to emphasize, they have perfect freedom so to do. Just do not try to peer into my psyche if you’d don’t like mine.

(2)   I have read handwringing about the levels of distress and sense of betrayal that must be felt by Mr. Stellman’s congregation and his fellow presbyters. Distress, yes. Betrayal, I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the brother did not play the hypocrite. When he came to his conclusions, he showed integrity and courage. I honor this. Would that such honesty characterized more of us ministers. And, perhaps there is a little understanding and empathy due the man and his family. (I have seen a little of such concern.) I, for one, do not feel outrage toward the man. I’m not sure others should, at least not right now.

(3)   I could have missed it, but, while I have read criticisms of Rome and of Stellman, I have not read any self-criticism of evangelical Protestantism in general and its conservative Reformed expression in particular. This is not a new thing with me.  Back in 1991 I served on a committee of Potomac Presbytery that had to address and make recommendations to Presbytery concerning what to do about the case of man who “crossed over.” I noted then in a statement concurring with the report of the committee, problems with worship, unity, and historical continuity attaching to Protestantism. Further, I have noted many times that we got rid of the one Pope and got in the exchange millions of them, every evangelical with his Bible and inner illumination of the Spirit. It is small wonder that some feel the tug toward Rome despite its history and present condition. We’ve got problems, serious ones arising from our own history and practice.

(4)   It seems that Mr. Stellman’s evolving view is that our acceptance with God depends not on an imputed righteousness alone but on an imparted, transformational righteousness. I can only say I hope he is wrong, because there is no way I am going to heaven if my going depends on anything at all other than the righteousness of Christ.

(5)   One final thing, and I say it with some trepidation: I am not so sure as some and as I used to be that those who go over to Rome are without salvation. I say that not having a clue how one gets past issues with the mass, Mary, the saints, and Lourdes.

Not to worry. I am not planning to go all the way.

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