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Volume 14, Issue 6: Meander

Stirrung Mud

Douglas Wilson

Controversy is deplored by most and enjoyed by some. Not surprisingly, since the world is a sinful place, those who deplore it tend to do so selfishly, and those who enjoy it tend to do the same. But all things are delivered into our lives by a sovereign God, and everything He gives us—as in the parable of the talents—He expects to be returned to Him with a profit. It is no different with controversy. In other words, when controversies and tangles come (and they will), God expects good stewardship from you in it. He will want an accounting, just as He wants an accounting from other aspects of your life. We tend to view controversy as a "going into debt" kind of situation. What possible good can come from all this? But the greatest blessings I have seen in our church have (all of them) been the result of controversies. And, flipping it around, I can think of no controversies that have not turned a profit. This is only by the grace of God, but we must remember—this is what the grace of God is up to.

Tim Gallant has written an outstanding treatment of the vexed question of paedo-communion called Feed My Lambs. The book is thorough in its treatment of the exegetical questions, completely capable with regard to the theological issues, and irenic in tone throughout. The information contained here on the practice of the Church throughout history is also very valuable. Any pastor who deals with this issue, on either side, needs to obtain a copy of the book. It is an outstanding treatment.

On a related but not identical issue, Jesus once commented that it is not right to take food belonging to the children (at the table), and give it to the dogs. But for a number of reasons, the modern evangelical church has come to the conclusion that it is not right to take covenantal food and give it to the children. In doing this, we relegate children growing up in the church to the position of the dogs in the Syro-Phoenecian woman's famous answer—down under the table, where they get the crumbs if they are quick enough.

Every time we observe the Supper, we teach our little children something about their status in the covenant in terms that they fully understand. When the trays of bread and wine go by, we teach our children that they are either "in" or "out." Anyone who believes that small children do not notice one way or another is simply demonstrating that they are not noticing their children. Which is not a heart taught by the gospel.

Every pastor who is concerned about administrative issues in the church (whether on the local level, presbytery, or worse, down at headquarters) should start by throwing away all those "Pastor as CEO" magazines. This is not because the issues are unimportant, but rather because they are very important. Instead of the current zine-smog, said pastor should then obtain copies of two underground classics—The Peter Principle, and Parkinson's Law. The Peter Principle says that people tend to get promotions until they finally reach their level of incompetence. Parkinson's Law says that work expands to fill the space or time alloted for it. Master these books and you will understand far more of what goes on around us every day.

Few areas of disobedience in the contemporary Church are quite as glaring as the problems we have with elder qualifications. The center of these qualifications can be found in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. As always in matters requiring wisdom, there are two basic errors to avoid. The first error is far more widespread, but the second, in reaction to the first, is also serious. The widespread error is to regard the requirements for office as merely idealistic, or something to "shoot for." Of course when "shooting for" something is substituted for obedience, the result is that "shooting for" gradually becomes "wishing for," and then "wishing for" becomes "actively opposed to." In such things, being a little bit disobedient is like trying to be a little bit pregnant.

But the reaction is also problematic. A rigorist solution to such problems appears to have the high ground, but in reality the Scripture still gets set aside. One of the authors of these qualifications (Peter) had at one point in his ministry been opposed publicly by the other (Paul) for his cowardice and hypocrisy at Antioch (Gal. 2:12-13). But Peter received the rebuke, and we find him ministering capably at a great council of elders just a few weeks later (Acts 15:7-10). It would be easy to put together a rigorist case against the "eldership of Peter"—but nevertheless it would be misguided.

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