Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Modest Rejoinder to a Rebuttal

A Modest Rejoinder

The T4G Core

(There has been some discussion of yesterday's blog over at Facebook and one who works for a para-church ministry has made arguments for the para-church. When I wrote the original A Modest Proposal my friend Eric Lowery wrote a rebuttal. I was invited to write a rejoinder which I did and which I printed below. Our exchange was spirited but cordial. Since Eric has been gracious to print other things I have written. I do not have an electronic copy of Eric's rebuttal, else I would print it here, but I think the rejoinder at least gives the main lines of his argument.)

In the interests of full-disclosure, let me acknowledge that some of my best friends are involved in para-church organizations. Indeed I need to confess that I have frequently commended Westminster West, that its President is a friend of almost 25 years, and that Eric Landry and Modern Reformation have published things that I have written that were considered “too controversial” by another pan-Reformation, para-church publication. Not only did they publish me; they paid me!

I believe my Modest Proposal and his Modest Response effectively describe our respective positions, so that no lengthy response is required.  However, since I have been offered the opportunity, and am not sufficiently modest to refuse, I offer a modest rejoinder:

1.  For the sake of historical perspective, let it be noted that Presbyterians have   been arguing about these things at least since the church began to experience the effects of the Second Great Awakening. Arguing before the General Assembly on a related subject (the propriety of more of Church Boards versus Church Committees), Charles Hodge accused James Henley Thornwell of promoting “high, high, high Presbyterianism,” to which Thornwell replied that Hodge was arguing for, “No, no, no  Presbyterianism.”

T4G at Worship
2. Mr. Landry accuses that “in the interests  of preserving confessional    boundaries”am guilty of “expand(ing)
 those boundaries unnecessarily and   unwisely.” Actually, I am all for exploring the expansion of confessional boundaries in the interest of an expansion of the boundaries of the unity of the visible church. I make a less than modest statement: I would be willing to give up any of the distinctives of my own tradition for the sake of church unity with among those who are confessionally Reformed and ecclesiastically Presbyterian. That would be a start. From there perhaps a future generation could work to resolve differences with Lutherans and even Five Points Baptists. And, if so much time and energy were not drained by the para-church organizations, perhaps there would be  and interest (and motivation!) to seek such unity.

3. Mr. Landry accuses me of the “worst sort of extra-confessional application.” Perhaps the problem is my most modest intellect, but I just don’t get it. My argument is that the Confession assigns to the church both the goal and the tools of gathering and perfecting the saints. Those of us who affirm this statement before Presbyteries without clarification or exception say just that: the teaching of the Confession, which we understand to be the teaching of the Bible, is (1) that the church is to gather and perfect the saints, (2) that Christ has given to the church the ministry, oracles, and ordinances to these ends, and (3) that Christ has promised to make these tools effective to these ends by his own and the Spirit’s presence. Does the Confession allow other organizations to do this work? Mr. Landry thinks so. Why? Because the Confession does not deny it! Again, the problem may be with me, but I have to say, “Huh?”

(4) Mr. Landry’s arguments for para-church organizations, beyond that the Confession does not forbid them, are the practical arguments that the church has not got the job done and the para-church organizations have filled the gap. As matters of fact, I do not disagree. But, what if I am right? What if Confession and Bible do (as I contend) grant the mission, authority, and tools for gathering and perfecting the saints to the church only? Then, the pragmatic arguments fail in the way all pragmatic arguments fail when they come up against principle. The church needs to repent and reform and get on with its assignment. All other organizations need to stop taking what Christ has given to his church.

(5) I close with another historical note. Back in the 1970’s a few men in Mississippi got the idea that what is called “campus ministry” was the responsibility of the church. Both within their denomination and without (a very prominent OPC founder among them) said at least that it could not be done and perhaps that it should not be done. Through the dogged persistence, organizational ability, and patient “working the system” of one man in particular, what could not be done was done. The result is the ecclesial campus work known as Reformed University Ministries. 

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