Volume 9, Issue 3: Anvil
A issue or two ago, I mentioned in one of the columns that as Reformed churches go, the CRC and PCA were both beyond the help of ordinary means. What I meant by this was that, barring an extraordinary reformation, I fully expected each denomination to be outside the pale of evangelical Christianity within our lifetimes.
This was meant to be provocative, but we were somewhat surprised at the response it got. We have received numerous inquires about that statement, and the inquiries can probably be summarized thus: "What gives? What meaneth thou?"
The PCA is beyond the help of ordinary means because that communion, top-heavy with bureaucracy, is strategically situated in an appalling way. Many years ago, Thornwell argued cogently against "church boards," an extrabiblical adjunct to the scriptural government of the church, and accurately predicted the mischief that would follow from it. Neglect of his wisdom lost one great Presbyterian denomination. The point of my comment is that the same neglect is about to lose another. The PCA is an evangelical church, but the fact that so many sound people do not see her danger is prima facie evidence of that danger. Over the last century or so, evangelical believers have seen so many seminaries, parachurch organizations, publishing houses, and churches go liberal that you would think we know what it looks like by now. But we still do not. We are surprised every time; these things for us are new every morning. When it comes to understanding the takeover and capitulation drill, evangelicals are still simple Simon, going to the fair.
We should be able to anticipate these problems long before they are at last visible to us, but by then, visibly unsolvable. Corrupt doctrine functions like an infection, and gradually works through the whole body. When the infection is first introduced, its work is done in principle, whether or not we can all see it. The purpose of godly church government is to produce the right antibodies to fight off such infections. Artificial and man-made forms of government do not protect the church.
We tend to think quantitatively, and unfortunately, we do so while the enemy thinks strategically. As an example of this, someone might say, "But the vast majority of the churches in the PCA are solid." Let us grant it. But the liberals captured the (formerly) mainstream Presbyterian church when the majority of the churches in that communion were believing and sound. With Machen gone, the denomination was able to carry on, manned by liberals and outmaneuvered conservatives. After a while, the conservatives all died.
We have no real reason to think that anything has changed. Every PCA minister and elder should ask himself this question. "Do I know exactly how the liberal Presbyterians got that way? And do I know whether or not the same thing is happening to us?"
By Douglas Jones
A wise, boyhood friend of mine delighted in asking the adolescent rebels surrounding us, "Why are you such a nonconformist just like everybody else?" The same question popped into my mind recently when I read the "Toasting the Eve of Destruction" issue of Books and Culture: A Christian Review. That issue sought to display some of the "cutting-edge" thinking of evangelical postmodernists. Once again, we find evangelicals rushing to embrace an intellectual fad that has been dying for nearly a decade in non-Christian circles. We hoist the flag after sundown.
Evangelical postmodernists like Middleton and Walsh tell us that "the Spirit of God . . . can capture our imaginations and thereby liberate us from the constrictions of the dominant culture." The problem is that for all its sexy fanfare, postmodernism has never been rebellious enough. Instead of the alleged chasm between it and modernism, postmodernism has always been just another boring extension of the enlightenment project. Locke and Derrida are true bloodbrothers. Modernist and postmodernists have all happily locked themselves in an egocentric predicament of their own construction.
Since the late middle ages, secular nominalism has been constant in its belief that the human mind constructs all or part of reality. That view has been the dominant culture for over four hundred years. And in the face of such constant constructivism, postmodernists come along cockily and exhort us to embrace something totally new, totally exciting, totally different from the past: construct-ivism. Insert labrador-size yawn here.
Merold Westphal, another easily pleased evangelical, declares to his postmodernist-atheist friends, "Your claim to exclusive possession of these [postmodernist] insights, I challenge. I think I have a right to these notions, too. And I think I can put them to good use in a Christian context."
But we can even strengthen that sort of rhetoric. How about just pointing to postmodernism and saying, " Here is the wise. Here is the scribe. Here is the disputer of this age. Has not God made wise the wisdom of this world?"
Clinton's Lonely Accusers
By Douglas Jones
Many conservative cheers went up when the Supreme Court sided with Paula Jones against president Clinton. The issues in that judgment seemed pretty straightforward, and the whole court sided with Jones's argument. At least one presidential advisor admitted afterward that their own argument was merely a stalling tactic to remove Paula Jones's accusations from light of the last election.
But the fact remains that whether Jones's accusations are true or not, they involve a clear injustice. Where are her witnesses? She needs two or three. She claims these crimes occurred behind closed doors. But even if she is telling the truth, without two or three witnesses or at least another line of evidence (perhaps audio tape or photos), she ought not raise her accusation at all: "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established" (Dt. 19:15).
The standard appears to be even higher for accusations brought against those in positions of authority. The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19). This exhortation seems to be qualifying the usual requirement, and some denominations read it as requiring not just multiple witnesses but multiple witnesses who are willing to stand behind the weight of the accusation. In the usual case, the witness may not care one way or another about the charge, but in the latter case all the witnesses have to be willing to take responsibility in bringing the charge. Biblical justice sides with the President and Clarence Thomas and all who are unjustly forced to answer to a lone ranger witness.
By ignoring the multiple witness requirement, the trials of these cases often turn on who looks like they are lying. We are forced to stare at faces and judge integrity from eyes. This was quite a ridiculous sport in the Clarence Thomas fiasco.
Now a society which refused to receive charges except with two or three witnesses would certainly force a change of lifestyle. It would discourage closed office doors and lone dates. It would encourage living close to groups and remaining within the arms of the community. That's not such a bad trade.
A Concise Theology of Insult
By Douglas Wilson
Christians don't read the Bible much, and when they do, it resembles ice-skating on a pond. We touch on the surface, certainly, but do not think about what we are reading. Nowhere is this more evident than in a discussion of whether Christians ever ought to betake themselves to insult--an inquiry which is coming frequently to the ears of the docile editors of this most irenic magazine.
If we turn to Scripture to resolve this, as we should, examples immediately crowd into our minds, and they cover virtually every situation. Moreover, they are very common. Elijah taunted the priests of Baal outside the Church, and Christ needled the respected theologians within the Church. Insults were delivered with deadly seriousness, as when Peter called certain men "brute beasts," and with delightful humor, as when Christ commented on the contortional abilities of the Pharisaical esophagus. He also called them blind tour guides for the blind, a jibe which of course provoked them to gather around Him, yelling and tapping their canes. Biblical insults were both tailormade for individuals like Herod, and rendered general for inviting collective targets like the Pharisees. And this was biblically just, even though not all Pharisees were Pharisees.
Two issues are involved. The first is ethical, and concerns whether or not the insult meets the scriptural criteria--i.e. was the occasion appropriate, and was the content lawful? We are to answer this question through Bible study, and not through an appeal to our own pietistic gut feelings. Pietism wants to accuse people of being un-Christlike for talking like Jesus did. "Fools and blind!" Instead we must ask ourselves, "Scripturally, is this situation comparable to. . . ?" If it is, then we should let fly. If it is not, then we should not.
The second question is rhetorical. A man may be behaving lawfully with his tongue, and have no real sin to confess, and still be rhetorically ineffective. We know this has probably happened to us. But as a result of all the attention we have given this issue (and we have given it a lot), we believe that our rhetorical manner is far more effective with the vast majority of our readers than it is a nuisance or obstacle to some of them. And of course this majority approval justifies nothing unless the language has already passed the scriptural test.
So we will continue to write as vigorously as we are able, and sometimes, when we think it scriptural, with a blunt object. In a culture as effeminate as ours, an accusation of arrogance is bound to follow. But as the Beatles so ably taught us, "Let it be."
"The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart. Their heart is as fat as grease; but I delight in thy law" (Ps. 119:69-70).
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